[ Roberto, May 2000: These were written in December 1999 as the final words on my activism in the L***** B******** Project. People still ask me about that phase of my life, and I never answer. It may be useful to forward this farewell essay, which was not translated by myself. The uncensored bilingual text is now included in the catalogue of an international exhibit called "Vanished Paths: Crisis of Representation and Iconoclasm in Art from the 1950's to the End of the XXth Century" (Bassano del Grappa, Italy, June 17 - August 20, 2000). For info: < email@example.com]
FLESH AND BLOOD, ONE PERSON AFTER ANOTHER
Muddled Reflections In Articulo Mortis on the L****** B******** Project and on Neoism
by Roberto Bui (Wu-ming Yi), December 1999
"Perhaps I am the poet of the Revolution, as a fellow inmate, moaning, once said? No. The poet of the Revolution is the people: the people in Flesh and blood, one person after another;..."
[Music Recommended for reading: Aaron Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man, 1942]
The inclusion of "L***** B*******" in an exhibition devoted to the aesthetic avant-garde movements from the Second World War to the present day, and more generally to "iconoclasm in the arts" in the century that has just come to an end, poses quite a number of problems for someone who has followed the development of this multi-use collective pseudonym. L***** B******* has no more to do with Art than dothe Chinese Communist Party or the Italian Football Federation. True, L***** B******* has crossed the fied of the practical criticism of art just as it has crossed that of politics, sports, religion, etc. B******* has declared its solidarity with "vandals" such as Piero Cannata and Alexander Brener, and with "art thieves" like http://www.0100101110101101.org, as well as with a number of acts of vandalism claimed by the Multiple "in first person" (if this expression can still be used with reference to a spectre generated and moved by the collective imagination, "the invisible insurrection of a million minds"), like the decapitation of a statue by Henry Moore in Bologna (1996) and the sabotage of the computers in the Austrian Pavillon at the Venice Biennale of 1997...
The people behind this project are, however, far from considering themselves the heirs of an aesthetic-political path that began with the revolutionary Surrealists and the Lettristes. The whole B******* experience is like a continuous échappement, a movement in flight from any inappropriate twentieth-century comparison, whether it be "high" or "low" (the Situationist, Mail Art, Cyberpunk, Neoism, etc.), with a number of provocative exceptions (Autonomia Operaia, for example).
B******* has gone so far as to choose its "historical" precedents in ancient mythology (both Indo-European and Far Eastern) or in pre-modern peasant revolts and uprisings: the epic of multiple names that leads to L***** B******* includes Armen Konrad (sixteenth century), Captain Swing (eighteenth century) and General Ludd (nineteenth century). So-called multiple names (individual names adopted by more than one person) date back to "Buddha", and are therefore an ancient practice, which was certainly not born with the historical avant-garde movements (and here I disagree with the genealogy proposed by Stewart Home in The Assault on Culture). This non-compromise with the twentieth century has allowed the practice to flourish again at the end of the century, riding the digital revolution. already beyond the steel age, Fordism, the two world wars, Hiroshima, etc. In the L***** B******* Project there is no artistic process, except that evoked by the expression "martial arts": the art of guerrilla warfare *within* and *against* that which in ancient times was called "the cultural industry" and now coincides with the entire semiosphere. As a rule, there are no works to exhibit, the work has been the action itself, the ambush, the rush, the hand-to-hand combat with fists, elbows, knees, clubs, throws, lever moves.
The arbitrary inclusion of L***** B******* in this exhibition is actually the umpteenth infiltration, the self-inoculation of this extraneous body, an "overnight sensation" that stir things up.
[Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring, 1944]
Luther Blissett was and is first of all a style, a word that
crops up recurrently in writings signed with the name of the Multiple,
and with various meanings:
- style as a series of unwritten, yet rewritable rules, in which the attention to detail serves the beauty and the efficacy of the whole (the reputation of L***** B******* as an imaginary person who performs actions - often extremely political - in reality);
- style as a series of techniques of a psychic martial art that is perfected from one combat to the next, for the use of new combatants, whether they be individuals or collectives;
- style as the etiquette (small ethics) of a community, an etiquette that spreads by empathy and by contagion: there are, for example, no Tables of the Law which say: "Thou Shalt Have No Copyright", but the rejection of intellectual property was a natural feature of the Project, eventually becoming one of its cornerstones.
As well as a style, L***** B******* is an auto-poietic organism, a concrete body, made of the flesh and blood of those who use the weapon of the name. Countless individuals have tried to raise constantly the profile and the quality of the Project, trying to keep it as inclusive as possible, but at the same time pointing out that, like any other organism, L***** B******* could reject certains uses that trivialize its nature. There has never been a "watchdog committee", let alone a "board of censors", but networks of different B******** can express a practical criticism of particular uses of the name. The name, for example, cannot and must not be used for racist or nationalist purposes, or for those of paranoiac identity - such uses would clearly contradict the style and the nature of the LBP.
The lack of need for censorship in the improvement of the practice has been a collective victory of the entire network: "Quality is our strenght".
Those who use the name just once are L***** B******* as much as those who use it twenty-hours a day, but only if the name is used in the respect (and I stress the word respect) of its characteristics and peculiarities, as well as of the commitment of others, with whom it is useful and possible to interact.
"The aim seems, once again, to be the creation of a network of interpersonal relations based, after the crumbling of the logic of pure profit, on free exchanges of the production of the unconscious, with an immoderately utopian slant." (Riccardo Boglione, 1998).
L***** B******* is spelled with two 't's, and is pronounced exactly as it is written, not forgetting the dental occlusive. This has always been the case: anyone who needs further proof can consult the Almanacco del Calcio 1984 and the Panini picture-card of the eponymous football-player, whose name we "borrowed". The recurrent error "B******" (with one 't', sometimes horribly pronounced in French manner as Blissé) is the litmus test, the acid test (or whatever other idiomatic expression that gets the idea across): it serves to assess the superficiality in approach and the respect of the B******* style by those who adopt the name or those who write about it. In the early years of the Project, the error was extremely annoying, so much so that some B******** begane to write"B*********" with three 't's, knowing that the cultural hacks would adopt their usual selective blindness and eventually use the correct spelling. Later we became inured to it. You can't illuminate or save everyone: some people have condemned themselves to ignorance, and it is only right that it should be their own business.
"The premise of my initial L***** B******* critique were wrong indeed [...] While I am still skeptical about the 'counter-cultural' claptrap running through the B******* writings [...] and the milieux pusing the concept, I have come to terms with B******* up to the point of adopting the name myself and pasting it below my door bell."
- Florian Cramer, in a letter to Stewart Home, Oct. 2nd 1995
"However, I do not share your obsession with [Monty Cantsin], my own playful engagement with quasi-Hegelian metaphysical versions of history (and history is always reductive bunk, so don't imagine I believe any of this shit, it's been said before but BELIEF IS THE ENEMY), leads me to favor [L***** B*******]. A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of L***** B*******!"
- Stewart Home, in a letter to Florian Cramer, Oct 19th 1995
The inclusion in the exhibition of so-called Neoism is less problematic, though by no means easy. The best definition of Neoism is: a prefix (neo-) and a suffix (-ism) with absolutely nothing in the middle. Neoism does not exist, except in the reactions it creates; it is no coincidence that the favoring aphorism of the Neoists, a detournement of a famous saying by Amadeo Bordiga, is: "the best product of Neoism is anti-Neoism." In reality Neoism is a multiple name, freely adpatable by any action or phenomenon that chooses to define itself as Neoist. Born at the end of the 1970s in the US and Canada on the initiative of semi-legendary figures like David "Oz" Zack and "Blaster" Al Ackerman, the expression originally defined a vague mixture of Dada, Fluxus, Futurism, Mail Art, electronic music and video making, with a clear fascination for mathematics, psychiatry and the science-fiction world of the 1950s and 1960s.
Another strand tends to interpret early Neoism as a mad science of behavior, the extra-artistic fall-out of Dada, Viennese Action Art and Body Art.
One of the most interesting exponents of Neoism is tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, a musician, performer, writer and swimming champion who wears a 3-D tattoo on his skull, a detailed representation of the human brain. In the 1990s, tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE took an active part in the L***** B******* Project; he contributed, for example, to the anthological CD The Open Pop Star (WOT4, 2000) with a number entitled "Whoop Up @ the Funny Farm".
In the "heroic" phase, all Neoists signed themselves with the multiple name "Monty Cantsin" (a clear reference to the heresies of the Free Spirit: "Monty Can't Sin"). During the 1980's, especially thanks to the English writer Stewart Home, Neoism underwent various mutations, soaking up Situationist theory (re-read - and perhaps deliberately misunderstood - through the lens of the new "plagiarist" culture: the opposition to copyright, the subversive use of scissors, recorders, computers, photocopiers and later samplers). It was in this period that the multiple journal SMILE appeared: anyone could produce a magazine with the name. SMILE is another multiple name, as is "Karen Eliot", a pseudonym that gradually joined Monty Cantsin (and ended up almost completely replacing it), publishing wiritings and graphics in SMILE and organising two "Festivals of Plagiarism" (Glasgow 1988 and London 1989). During the period in question, Home took part in a three-year "art strike" which he promoted and organized himself, taking up an old idea developed by Gustav Metzger. The idea would be taken up again ten years later by various Spanish brainworkers, whose "Huelga de Arte" will last from January 2000 to December 2001 (see < http://aleph-arts.org/eco2web/eco/ecoidx0.htm > adn < http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/8666/refractor.htm >).
[...] When he re-emerged from this period of public inactivity, Home established himself as a novelist (never translated in Italy, unfortunately), joined the L***** B******* Project and founder a para-esoteric group, the Neoist Alliance - which, in his words, "has nothing to do with Neoism: I simply liked the idea of using the same name for completely different things".
In the meantime, from the end of the 1980s, the Neoists began a paradoxical "self-historicisation", or a "hermeneutic drift" that leads each exponent to re-interpret the common path in any way s/he likes. The main exponents of this trend are Florian Cramer (a German philologist and a leading exponent of the L***** B******* Project) and the American entrepreneur John Berndt. Neoist self-historicisation soon became an impassable maze. This explains why it is so difficult to approach this art whose only work has been the incessant mologoue about itself. To complicate things even further, Florian Cramer now refuses categorically to reply to any questions or requests for information about Neoism.
Is there ultimately any close association between Neoism and the L***** B******* Project? Or would it be more correct to say the the LBP has allowed the more intelligent of the Neoists to abandon a ship that was already sinking, at the end of a voyage that had become boring? It depends on what type of historical interpretation we wish to adopt: if, following the liberal line, we believe that history is the diachronic history of ideas, and that ideas improve following a linear, teleological development, then we can define Neoism as the precursor and inspirer of the LBP. I, however, prefer a different reading, that which sees the two phenomena side by side synchronically, as part of the same great landslide set off by the micro-electronic revolution, which has "democratised" access to strategic media and instruments, extending the DIY culture, creating new figures of brainworkers and mass-intellectuals. By re-appropriating the means of cultural production, these small units, mobile and intelligent, have threatened the obsolete belief in intellectual property, eventually attacking the very idea of the Author (Author = Authority), trying to demolish all fossilized identities and belongings.
"...He withdrew from view. There were no opportunities for disenchantment [...] He never told us how he had managed to be Cary Grant so well for so long. He cared too much, or too little, to let on; he liked to keep us guessing. To accept definition was to invite disqualification. He was content, it seemed, just to live with - or behind - the mystery. The mystery had, after all, served him very well. Why let in daylight upon magic?"
- Graham McCann, Cary Grant: A Class Apart, Columbia University Press, New York, 1996
[Aaron Copland, Saturday Night Waltz, 4th movement of the Rodeo suite, 1942]
An inalienable clause of style will prevent me from talking about L***** B******* after the symbolic seppuku (ritual suicide) I am about to commit. If I continued in the future to reply to questions and requests, I would rapidly turn into a "B*******ologist" - a fate which does not appeal to me - and, what's more, I would be perceived as a sort of "Breton of the L***** B******* Project", which would not do justice to the horizontal, open character of the transnational network that adopts the multi-use heteronym.
My function, assigned to me by no-one except myself, within the LBP (it is strange to use the term "within", since there have never been any walls fences), has been - "simply" - as an information hub: for five years i have edited, with the help of various other people, the electronic newsletter LBP News. The Italian edition of LBP News was mailed once or twice a week to almost 400 subscribers, who often forwarded the messages to an "outer ring" (mailing lists, newgroups, or individual contacts), doubling and at times even tripling the circulation. All this material can be consulted at the archive site < http://www.LutherBlissett.net/ >.
I also edited an English version, with a rather more limited
circulation: it was received by about a hundred people around
the world, and sent regularly to the Nettime list (about 1,000
subscribers). Nothing could be better, to explain what the Seppuku
consists in, than the following excerpts an open letter circulated
in the autumn of 1999:
I want to (and can) live without the Multiple. If you meet B******* in the street, knock him out, left tae lam tua to the stomach, jarakee fad hang to the head. I will not let my Tyler Durden hit me and knock me down the stairs (cf. Fight Club).
There is a huge difference between seppuku and harakiri: harakiri consists in mere disembowelment; with seppuku, after the disembowelment a second officiant decapitates the person who has committed suicide. Anyone who adopts the name in the future will contribute to the decapitation of the late B*******s. The LBP will not die with our choice to no longer use the name.
Perhaps the best thing to do to understand Seppuku is to rent the videotape or the DVD of the movie The Mask of Zorro (1998), starring Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. The film explores the figure of Zorro as an open character, a mask that can be worn by different people. The fact that Don Diego de la Vega stops using the name does not imply the death of the character, for the young Alejandro Murrieta receives suitable instruction in the martial arts to become the new Zorro. It is a classic cloak-and-dagger film, with some strange features.
This is what will happen to L***** B*******.
For Vanished Paths, Piermario Ciani (pioneer and first publisher of the L***** B******* project) has worked on the media impact of the Multiple over the years. In various European countries, but above all in Italy, the actions of L***** B******* have produced an orgy of headlines; hundreds of articles in newspapers and weeklies of all kinds have been dissected, glossed and put back together by the various L******, in an endless mythopoietic cut-up. Ciuani has searched through the archives and press reviews, mixed everything up and put the material together according to his own will. A long film of pseudo-definitions of B*******, spelling mistakes, inappropriate quotations and examples, sensationalism and superficiality. Standing on the promontory of the years, looking back at the nonsense I have had to put up with from slovenly hacks "as ignorant as a slap on the ice" (to use an idiom from Ferrara) I cannot conclude this article with anything other than a fine phrase by Carmelo Bene: "The press have always got on my nerves. They have pissed me off so much that I don't know how I managed not to give everything up even before I started."
But it was worth it.
"If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?"
(Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996)