WP 8: Left

What Remains of the Italian Left of the 1970s?

Jonathan Mullins

Suddenly a photograph reaches me; it animates me and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction which makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in no way animated (I do not believe in ‘life-like’ photographs), but it animates me: this is what creates every adventure.

—Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida1

In September 1977, 20,000 young leftists descended upon Bologna for a convention at the Palasport stadium. The convention is largely identified with the end of the movement of 1977, in which youth on the far left broke with the Italian Communist Party (PCI), ridiculed institutional politics and the very idea of the social contract, and adopted forms of direct action. It is known for its mass protests, which usually ended in confrontations with the police in the streets, and for its broadcasts, via free radio stations, of messages of refusal that mixed aesthetic forms and political discourse. These young people had come to Bologna, the historical stronghold of the PCI, to protest the police repression of the movement, to re-vitalize collective forms of dissent and just be together. This scene was one of the last hurrahs of non-violent, collective far leftist revolt of 1970s Italy. It was captured in forty-nine minutes of unedited 16mm footage by the commercial production company Unitelefilm that is held at the Audio-Visual Archive for Democratic and Labor Movements (AAMOD) in Rome.2 The footage is remarkable for its recording of what happened on the margins of the Palasport convention and not the convention itself; the viewer never sees any of the orations, banners or charged publics that gathered at the Palasport stadium where the convention took place. It is a striking historical record of a movement for which there are precious few audio-visual archival sources.

Many have argued that the movement’s break with the PCI made the Italy of the 1970s a laboratory for dissent in late capitalism.3 The movement of 1977 had sought to extricate itself from a bankrupt political system that, in one crucial example, led to the PCI forming a government with the conservative Christian Democracy party (DC) beginning in 1973.4 For these young radicals, this “compromesso storico” (Historic Compromise) between the left and right begged the following question: what is the sense of a leftist orientation if it is not an alternative to the right? Above all, the movement was characterized by the overwhelming participation of young people, who decried the defunct, internecine squabbles between extra-parliamentary groups in the nine years following the revolt of 1968.5 The youth turned to re-theorizations of Marxist thought from figures such as Mario Tronti that distanced them from the PCI’s long-standing idolization of work to power their searing refusals of labor, political institutions, and the tangled relation of the Italian republic with mainstream media and liberal economy. These refusals were further instantiated in emergent practices of resistance, ranging from creative forms such as free radio (the occupation of empty radio frequencies after the liberalization of airwaves decreed by the Italian constitutional court in 1976), to everyday forms such as auto-riduzione (the practice of not paying bills, bus tickets, or movie tickets). While more radical elements of the movement embraced armed violence, the majority of the protestors remained non-violent.

Historical accounts of the movement of 1977 and, in particular, the Palasport convention, held on 23-25 September, have not turned to archival documents such as this footage to narrate the specificity and power of such political events, and have pointed instead towards voter participation statistics, economic data, body counts and State documents. In what is probably the most influential account of the postwar period, Paul Ginsborg notes that the convention was a “damp squib marked by opportunist interventions by the French ‘nouveaux philosophes’, and by squalid hand-to-hand fighting for control of the microphone at the mass meeting.”6 The historiography of leftist dissent of the 1970s has tended to sidestep quotidian practices of dissent and aesthetic productions of resistance and instead has read the left through two dominant discursive registers of political recall: that of political violence and that of failure. First, accounts of the trauma of violence perpetrated by radical leftists are pervasive in histories of the 1970s. Popularly known as the “years of lead” (anni di piombo)—a term that refers to the munitions used in the numerous assassinations, kidnappings and acts of domestic terrorism—the period remains an open national wound so painful that memories of non-violent resistance tend to be forgotten or left unnarrated. Second, the 1970s have often been periodized as a time of catastrophic failure for the left that led to its weakness from the 1980s to the present.7 As a result of these two dominant tendencies, the subjective character of memory and the evidentiary claims of history have led to a flattening of the vast, complicated field of leftist intervention for which terrorism and political dissolution have become monolithic signifiers. According to the dominant historiography of the period, this footage can be read as yet another failed nothing, something that doesn’t really amount to anything in the eyes of the state or liberal historians.

Shot at eye-level, the film captures a walk around town; it does not venture to the Palasport stadium, the seat of the convention. We see posters with slogans such as “No to the social contract / Direct action for revolution” and “Before Bologna, after Bologna, no trust in the State” that reflect resounding defiance toward institutional and state politics and suggest a counter-practice: embodied dissent through action.8 However, it rarely shows intense mass protest; only at the beginning do we see a standoff between the military police and the crowd, with a space parceled out between them and helicopters flying overhead. Scenes of loitering, hanging out, street performance and graffiti predominate. After shooting one scene, the camera operator would seem to have turned off the camera, which leads to a gentle stop-start rhythm that structures the passing of time in the footage so that a shot of a group of young men gathered around a poster, defacing the politicians it denounces, segues—via a jump cut—into another merely descriptive, almost touristic shot of a portico-lined street typical of Bologna. There is a certain leisureliness to the pace of the footage; the camera operator rarely seems rushed. Absent is a soundtrack; silence pervades the footage, leaving the viewer only a visual field through which to read this milieu. There is no voice-over that does the work of discursively plotting a point of view on this ever-increasing accumulation of detail. The viewer is left with a tangle of different spaces, a scene that never coalesces into a mise-en-scène.

I first viewed this footage at the AAMOD on Via Ostiense in Rome in a room devoted solely to its conversion from 16mm film to analogue video and then digital formats; the space seemed to metaphorize the very labor of making the obsolete formats of the past current. I heard only the continuous, ever predictable whir of the BETA cassette player, and not the sounds of these young leftists from 35 years ago talking, chanting and performing. The reproduction of this event created noise, whereas a silence enveloped the scene in Bologna. It failed to speak, to hand over words that would allow me to come up with a quick gloss on the point of view of this camera operator. Despite the very animated movement of these young leftists on the screen, the silence conferred a sense of opacity upon their actions and the general scene. The footage seemed to shut down any facile classification of the intentions of these leftists. The footage seemed a vacant archival record whose intensity was lost in a chain of equivalences. My archival notes bear witness to these equivalences. They comprise a catalogue of the actions seen in the footage—graffiti, loitering, reading, street performance—that form an index of the charm of this contingent configuration of a past moment of leftist activity: the participants’ clothes that were so Seventies, cyclostyled posters, the naiveté of the street performance that now seems so outmoded. Derrida once suggested in an interview that the idiomatic is “a property that you cannot appropriate; it somehow marks you without belonging to you”.9 I found myself playing out this idea of the idiomatic as I watced; I was in the thrall of the idioms of this scene that seemed to be part dissent and part everyday life.

Because of the lack of sound and the fact that the footage is entirely uncut, this footage stops short of making meaning of the happenings in Bologna, and provides instead a purely visual index of the contingent spaces and practices found on the margins of the convention. These constraints endow the footage with undecidable valences of meaning: is it an attempt to capture emergent radical practices of dissent? Or was the camera operator more interested in filming what he or she saw as a non-politicized everyday, the counterpoint to the politicized speeches and gatherings that were taking place at the nearby Palasport stadium?

The footage was shot by cameramen and women of Unitelefilm, a production company that was frequently retained by the PCI to film events and happenings.10 Never subsequently edited or used in a documentary or television, the footage has remained in the archive. After its filming, it was held initially in PCI archives and then transferred to those of the AAMOD after the collapse of the PCI. Its archivization in such institutions codes it as a political record, yet its dormancy remains a curious fact that confers upon it a political potentiality that has not been tapped. The footage is thus an inert archival object, absent from historical accounts; it presents a contingent field of events that is irreducible to a specific diegesis. Its ability to speak to the political dimensions of the event it captures is produced as much by its archivization as by its indexical force. This is another way of claiming, following Derrida’s Archive Fever, that its signifying force as an archived record is animated by its future intelligibility, what Derrida calls the “dependency with respect to what will come.”11 The present analysis of the footage is thus animated by the desire to engage with this temporal tangle in order to enable this silent object to speak. This attempt to make the footage speak is an anachronistic critical gesture that film makes possible; as a record of contingent moment, its opacity can be explored through these different registers of how the film indexes the event, the archive registers the film, and my own negotiation of its archivization.

This attempt is itself a unique form of labor: an animation of this footage’s political intensities. How do you animate the inert archival object that is literally animate? The footage dulls the powers of my critical reading tools; its undisclosed political valences force a dwelling, or hanging out, with it, in which its inertia modulates my own. What follows can be understood as an account of the perilous task of parsing the ironies that make this object so hard to read.

Such an attempt to engage retrospectively with this record takes advantage of the abundance of critical theory focused on everyday life and ephemeral cultural forms that has emerged in the thirty-six years since its filming. The first critical work on Italian radical leftist thought—usually known as autonomist, or post-workerist—was Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi’s 1981 Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, which largely introduced the movement to Anglophone theoretical circles and enabled its eventual uptake within the academic institutional framing of critical theory.12 In his introduction to the text, Lotringer grasps the importance of ephemeral forms of dissent for the radical left of the late 1970s, particularly that of the “creative” radicals for which Bologna was known. “For the Bolognese, the problem now is not to choose between more or less centralized types of organization but to devise forms of intervention that would be operational in real situations, and yet easy enough to jettison when they begin to solidify,” he writes.13 Such critical glossing of late 1970s Italian leftist politics—which Lotringer and Marazzi term “post-political politics” due to its embrace of ephemeral forms of dissent over the solidity of political institutions—appeared roughly contemporaneously with the release of a wave of French critical theory that re-evaluated ephemeral and minoritarian cultural practices of dissent, including Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster (1981)and de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1980). While it is imprudent to suggest that such texts were directly impacted by the movement of 1977, the reception and success of these texts arguably capitalized on a general interest in the 1980s in theorizing and understanding the vehicles and modes of resistance available to subjects on the margins of socio-political life. Such theory allows the practices seen in the footage to become legible in a way that at the time of its filming were most likely perceived by PCI onlookers as banal and lacking seriousness.

The emergence of performance studies and queer theory has been a major boon for the conceptualization of the force of ephemeral traces of the past. Theorists at the vanguard of these disciplines, such as Rebecca Schneider and José Esteban Muñoz, have proposed forceful analytics for reading archival “remains,” particularly those of minoritarian political subjectivities. Both Muñoz and Schneider read traces of the past in ways that disturb the temporal logics of both the then that the traces reference and the now of their critical engagement with these traces. In Performing Remains, Schneider eschews a linear temporal progression and describes instead how remains materialize a chiasmatic temporal order: “[T]o find the past resident in remains—material evidence, haunting trace, reiterative gesture—is to engage one time resident in another time—a logic rooted in the word remain.”14 Schneider sees remains’ inertness bearing a potentiality precisely through their ability to endure across time. Ephemera, for Muñoz, are “those things that remain after a performance, a kind of evidence of what has transpired but certainly not the thing itself”.15 Unstable and contingent, ephemera comprise a form of “anti-evidence” that can be marshaled to understand the social and political life of minoritarian subjects.16 Both of these projects are animated by touching the trace in the present, and both perform revaluations of its time signature—at once past and present—and cultural value.

The importation of such critical methods to the scenes of the Palasport convention facilitates an act of materialization on my part. What remains of the 1970s Italian left is thus also the very performative gesture of my scholarly methodology, which capitalizes on the since-quasi-institutionalized desire to make material the otherwise lost history of the “anti-archive.” In what follows I will explore the potentiality of this filmic record of scene after scene of loitering, reading, graffiti, and street performance outside the Palasport convention, in order to see in them not banal, irrelevant instances of the everyday, but to reconceive them as politically powerful loci of dissent. The footage does not take pains to separate the participation of specific different leftist groups and identify them as such in its shots. I take a cue from the footage in this sense; I am not interested in figuring out what groups were present and what their intentions were for coming to Bologna. Instead, my focus on these practices puts into relief their political potentiality, regardless of the affiliation of those engaged in them.

Street Performance

There are numerous scenes of street performance—“teatro di strada”— in the footage. At one point, playwrights Dario Fo and Franca Rame, famous for their politically engaged theater, arrive, but their appearance here hardly seems to qualify as a focal point; it appears as one detail among others, with no heavier weight attributed to it than to the papier-mâché monster that passes in a procession a few minutes later. Some of the performance looks quite practiced and scripted, with the performers reciting lines, an audience gathered around them in a circle, an invisible line separating spectators from the action. Other scenes involve young men and women parading with trumpets and flutes through a square mobbed with people, chanting or singing, their words or melodies lost in this silent footage. Most of it, apart from a scene roughly in the middle of the footage, in which a few members of the audience are begrudgingly pulled into the center of the circle to listen to a monologue, seems to be quite comic. Such street performance was quite common among Italian leftists in the 1970s. One article in particular from the Communist newspaper L’Unità—entitled “Theatricality”—documents the prevalence of the practice. Written by what would seem to be a rather cranky journalist, it reports that an extra-parliamentary leftist publication advocates a “guerrigilia informativa,” guerrilla strategies of information dissemination. Thejournalist cites the article, which claims,

Theatricality has emerged as a communication practice… theatrical actions in the square that recount the history of the giorni caldi, [the so-called “hot days” of protest in 1969]. Comrades dressed as police men. Comrades dressed as comrades. Water pistols. Cardboard tanks. Readings of the most idiotic articles about the movement. Retaking the city…

The journalist’s sardonic comment follows:

All good. Everyone tries to have as much fun as they can. But—just to remember one thing—wasn’t there University reform and youth employment to deal with? These are things that give off little theatricality.17

The article evidences a classic PCI narrative about radical leftists in the Italian 1970s, namely the critique that their “theatrical” forms of action do not seem to add up to something that looks like serious politics. An appropriation of the city’s space, much like the graffiti that the journalist says “dirties Bologna’s walls, streets, buses and private automobiles,”  street performance seems to be the labor of youth that have too much time on their hands.

The footage archives the visible signs in which these street performances traffic. The papier-mâché monster seen in the procession at the beginning of the footage was a commonplace in demonstrations of late 1970s Italy, a metaphor for the state that gobbles up its citizens (one also seen in some graffiti examined below). Its reptilian eyes and sharp teeth give it a menacing appearance as it dwarfs the protestors below. The face make-up that we see on many of the street performers typified the Metropolitan Indians, an extra-parliamentary leftist group that associated native culture with liberation from modern forms of socio-economic oppression. This type of costuming was another way for these youth to perform a collective identification.18 The impromptu dance we see performed by a young woman wearing a headscarf with her male partner wearing white face make-up twelve minutes into the footage also manifests such a tendency to Orientalize. Her wide, deep arm movements seem like a white woman’s attempt to appear vaguely eastern. Shots of a group of youths with similar face make-up and musical instruments appear near the end of the footage; they skip across the screen, hamming up their performance for the camera.

Since the footage is shot on silent film stock and is bereft of any accompanying sound recording, we must negotiate the absence of these performers’ speech, songs, and noise. The visual signs are the traces of a form of performance—mostly improvised, it would seem, and politically problematic at times, given the manifest Orientalism—that become legible as what Muñoz calls “those things that remain after a performance, a kind of evidence about what has transpired but certainly not the thing itself”.19 They are the material trace—the “residue” of which Muñoz speaks—that points to the presence of the appropriation of the body as a site of dissent. These are not “solidified” political interventions, but practices that Lotringer describes as “easy enough to jettison” before they become codified and routine.

At several moments in the footage, several Palasport participants show discomfort with the presence of the camera. In the first few minutes, one man, participating in an impromptu parade, comes towards the camera with his hand raised in a gesture of refusal, seemingly a demand to the camera operator to stop filming. The operator turns the camera off, and the next shot we see is of an entirely different scene. Such moments reveal that some were wary of such forms of visual capture, perhaps out of fear of how these images might be subsequently circulated and instrumentalized for political prerogatives. This form of capture is indeed antithetical to the idea of practices of dissent that are operative and effective precisely because they can be discarded. Furthermore, we might read such a gesture of protection as indicative of a wider practice, elucidated by Muñoz, in which the political actors adopt ephemeral cultural forms in order to avoid policing.20 After all, if there is little evidence to be found, how can one be arrested and prosecuted?

Lost Surfaces: Posters and Graffiti

The footage includes a vast number of shots of graffiti and posters scrawled on or affixed to the city’s surfaces. The posters and the graffiti graft dissent onto these surfaces, appropriating its spaces for ludic, often negative portrayals of conservative politicians of the DC.21 The graffiti we see is an ephemeral formation that has long since been painted over or disappeared naturally. The PCI establishment railed against such graffiti because it countered notions of good taste and civic propriety; the l’Unità journalist compares it to filth. Graffiti has long been conceived of as an appropriation in which the graffitist spreads his or her filth and shit on the space of the city.22 The PCI saw graffiti as urban blight.

The shots of a wall mural ten minutes into the footage exemplify how dissent manifests in these urban spaces. Unlike the street performance that took place on the margins of the convention, whose sounds are not mediated in the footage, the graffiti is a remain that speaks visually. A giant dragon spreads across the wall of a portico, surrounded by the words “taxes,” “environmental disorder,” “system” and “ciellini” (the nickname given to adherents of the Catholic youth movement Communion and Liberation, which countered leftist dissent with the idea that true revolution could only come through Christ). The drawing dramatizes the sense of social and political crisis that defined the moment. Just to the right of the dragon and this jumble of words is a drawing of a military police officer with a pistol in hand. Presiding over this ensemble is the shield of the DC, which suggests that the party is the architect of this toxic situation. As the camera pans right we see a drawing of a row of Native Americans with headdresses, most likely representing the aforementioned Metropolitan Indians. Below them are scrawled the words “FUORI I COMPAGNI”, a call to release the “comrades” who had been jailed by the State. The camera takes in all these details of the wall mural and then pans out, revealing a few people passing by, some of whom take the time to look at the mural.

The l’Unità journalist would likely see this wall mural as a scourge, a transgressive act of defacement that should be painted over in order to maintain the seemliness of the city’s spaces. The mural is the remainder of an interaction between the body of the graffitist(s) and the surface of urban built space, one that is vulnerably exposed to the public life of the city. The progression of time, as well, is an onslaught that endangers its durability. The footage seems to index the temporal folds that mark the act of appropriating a wall; the lethargic camera work, this slow pan, indexes this contingent formation as if the camera operator was conscious of the reality that the mural would soon disappear. David Fieni, writing in the present-day context of graffiti found in the French banlieue and on the walls that separate Gaza from Israel, suggests that graffiti is always bound and constituted by the time of its disappearance:

The time of erasure or overwriting prefigures all graffiti: the time it takes for a tag or a piece to be crossed out by a rival, or to enter into improvised collaboration with other writers, or be painted over by graffitists who are serving time by doing community service to pay for their own art crimes—all of these durations inform the act of writing on a wall as its preconditions.23

The footage seems to take this fragile visual formation that is at least in part animated by its own disappearance and make that fragility its own. Its impulse to archive the political intensity of this mural seems to indulge in the promise of film—that its own material durability will somehow guarantee the survival of the wall mural—even as the film’s own circulation has been limited, to say the least.

The proliferation of posters around town seems to be of particular interest to the camera operator, who shoots a number of them, zooming in to read the text, and at other times frames bystanders’ interaction with them. Early on in the footage, the viewer finds a sequence that shows a wall with a few posters that read “Incontro internazionale contro la repressione per un nuovo ciclo di lotte” [International Meeting against Repression, for a new Cycle of Struggles]; the ironic line, “la violenza di stato è giusta e bella” [State violence is just and beautiful]; and a call to the convention participants, “tiriamo fuori i compagni dalle galere” [Let’s get the comrades out of jail]. Pointedly, the camera does not search out any information on these posters that would disclose their authors. In fact, in the lower left hand corner of the shot we see the insignia of the anarchists, but the framing of the shot suggests that authorship that does not particularly interest the camera operator. The camera then pans to the left towards the wall and continues to reveal that these posters decorate a portico; the next shot, which makes clearly the camera has been turned off and on again, frames a wall with illegible scratching. The camera pulls back to reveal two figures seated against the wall that seem to care little that they are being filmed. Next the camera cuts to another shot of a poster that reads “Prima Bologna, Dopo Bologna, nessuna Fiducia allo Stato” [Before Bologna, After Bologna, No Trust in the State] on which someone has written “FACCIAMO LA FESTA ALLA SOCIETA, PRIMA CHE LA SOCIETA FACCIA LA FESTA A NOI” [“Let’s rock out society, before society rocks us out].

At other points, people gather around the numerous posters that covered the city, watching as others use markers to transform the faces of famous politicians into what look like devilish-looking characters from leftist comic books of the time. Such a scene appears six minutes into the footage, when a young man defaces a poster of Andreotti. A group of young men circle around him, looking on, some laughing, while others photograph the event. It’s a performance de petit dimension, an everyday act that inverts extant political hierarchies. The appearance of such a performance on film instantiates its political potentiality because it is animated through the crossing of two different media, performance and film, that create aknotted temporality.

Loitering and Reading

Loitering, watching someone else tag a poster, laughing while they do so: these are refusals of work, akin to “laziness,” which Kristin Ross has taken up in her work on Rimbaud and the Paris Commune. Numerous scenes of such slothful loitering accumulate in the footage, which, in its persistent evenness, does not seem to discriminate against it. This hanging out is very much an evasion of work. As Ross suggests: “the refusal of work is not an absence of activity, nor, obviously, is it leisure since leisure reinforces the work model by existing only with reference to work; it is a qualitatively different activity, often very frenetic, and above all combative.”24 The lingering, the loitering, and the reclining young people that we see throughout this footage are themselves forms of denunciation, ephemeral as they are, of work.

The final moments of the footage show a Bologna that is slowly emptying out; people stand around or sit, taking the time to read. It is here that the viewer sees a few Convegno participants reading an edition of the far leftist paper Lotta Continua that has come out during the proceedings. This newest edition bears the headline “Bologna, oh cara” [Bologna, oh dear]. We see three shots of people sitting in Piazza Maggiore reading the newspaper. One of them, a young woman, reads intently only to look up suddenly and realize that her act of reading is being filmed. She glares at the camera, and returns to her newspaper.

This woman’s glare is the opposite of a passive glance; her look seems to express an aversion to being watched. Jacques Rancière has also complicated the idea that looking is always passive. In The Emancipated Spectator he argues that supposed oppositions between active and passive modes form a “partition of the sensible” that limit the political potentiality of supposedly inert, neutral activities. In “The Emancipated Spectator”, Rancière asks:

Why identify the fact of being seated motionless with inactivity, if not by the presupposition of a radical gap between activity and inactivity? Why identify ‘looking’ with ‘passivity’ if not by the presupposition that looking means looking at the image or the appearance, that it means being separated from the reality that is always behind the image? Why identify hearing with being passive if not by the presupposition that acting is the opposite of speaking, etc.? All these oppositions—looking/knowing, looking/acting, appearance/reality, activity/passivity—are much more than logical oppositions. They are what I call a partition of the sensible, a distribution of places and of the capacities or incapacities attached to those places.25

This glare and the acts of reading filmed in the Palasport footage could be thought through Rancière’s critique. In the postwar PCI mentality, the proletariat’s ability to work was the basis of his or her political might. The everyday act of reading took place after work, a form of leisure that was too weak a form of activity to be conceived as a practice of dissent, but following Ross, could be considered as the other side of the workday that “reinforces the work model.” De Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life casts reading as one of the numerous “silent productions” or seemingly passive practices of consumption that actually undermine the distinctness of active and passive modes of engagement. The drift of one’s eyes across the page constitutes a capillary mode of habitation and appropriation for the reader, who, for de Certeau, “insinuates into another person’s text the ruses of pleasure and appropriation: he poaches on it, is transported into it, pluralizes himself in it like the internal rumblings of one’s body.”26 The political potential of such an act fades from visibility when we think through the PCI’s vocabulary, which privileges “serious action”, and would situate reading as a form of leisure time consumption rather than as an act that, seen through the work of de Certeau, possesses nascent political vitality.

In de Certeau’s account of reading and Rancière’s account of spectatorship, the passivity ascribed to these practices of responsivity is overturned in a sleight of hand by which they become active. Reading is no longer just an act of consumption; spectatorship becomes active. Ultimately these accounts do not provide enough traction to give a clear account of the force of this archival record to register ephemeral forms of dissent, because they themselves do not fully trouble the categories of the active and the passive. These analyses continue to inhabit and, arguably, extend the binary that animates their structural difference.

This passing moment in which the woman glares occurs in a long procession of images; it comprises just one “there” that is collated with all the images in the recording. The accrual of detail in this footage of street performance, graffiti, posters, reading and loitering in the complete absence of narrative or sound creates a series of theres in which the then gets lost; these details appear within a continuous present within the temporal bounds of the then of the days of the convention. The accumulation of these contingent practices loses its chronology because the form of the footage does not prioritize one moment over another. This chronological slurring is a function of this even-handed recording of these days in Bologna. The work of the camera men and women, which must have been grueling, given the weight of the camera and the heat of September in Bologna, is overwritten by the lightness and steady rhythms of the footage. It never portrays their labor just as it never seems to be frenetically active or explicitly passive in its indexing of the scene.

The political potentiality of this footage resides in the accumulation of the appearance of small, almost weak moments of dissent whose opacity frustrates their uptake in a facile historical account that might see in their smallness an alibi for the failure of the movement of 1977. The attempt to tease out the footage’s political intensities, to controvert its dormancy, to make it speak, is posited within the lexical field of the active and the passive, yet the inertness of this footage, due to both its silence and its non-appearance in extant historical accounts, frustrates such categories. It demands a dwelling withthis accumulation that is ultimately a form of responsiveness to the footage’s procession of images. It is an engagement with its inertia that incurs a slipping along its chain of equivalences between act, film, archive, reading.

This impossible maneuver of demanding speech from a silent visual object is an act of animation. It is a decidedly political intervention prompted by the question of what remains of this particular configuration of the left. (In contrast, when Barthes writes “suddenly a photograph reaches me”, there seems to be not one trace of the political but pure happenstance). This impossibility of the maneuver prompts this question because it involves attending to the inter-penetration of the acts on display, their registration on film, their codification as a political, if dormant, document in the archive, and my own encounter with it. While these are clearly different registers and activities, they also represent forms of mediation which inter-animate one another, and thus raise unsettling questions of liveness and deadness, the active and the passive. Most recently engaged in Fred Moten’s In the Break and Schneider’s Performing Remains, inter-animation (or the subtly different term Moten uses, inter(in)animation) describes a critical practice that reads against the grain of medium specificity and the relation between viewers, spectators and readers and the media as discrete entities; it instead shows an imbrication in these configurations. Schneider, reading Moten, points to the itinerancy that characterizes inter-animation:

Moten wants to posit, instead, ‘something like a mimetic improvisation of and with materiality that moves in excess of meaning’. Moten engages with medial specificity through mimesis, arguing that the meaning of one medial expression (one call) is located most compellingly in another medial expression (a response), so that the site of any expressing, like the torture/aestheticization of Emmett Till, is understood as on the move, or like the title of his book, ‘in the break.’ This inter(in)animation of sensual modes always moves meaning off of the discrete site of material support and off the discrete site of temporal event and onto not only the ‘spectator’ or passer-by or reader (which would suggest only a one way contingency in a linear temporal mode), but into a chiasmatic reverberation across media and time in a network of ongoing response-ability.27

As I attempt to animate this archived-archiving material’s political intensities, a jumping occurs between these different registers, a subtle play of inter-animation between event, film, archive, and reading. The “site of expressing”—like the political intensities I have traced through the footage—produces a radical surplus that cannot be inscribed, fixed, caught, captured in any one medial paradigm. I can only ontologize the footage’s political intensities by engaging multiple mediums that in turn produce this temporal tangle. The knotted relation of these different medial registers—film, archive, critical reading—emerges from an attempt to protect this fragile moment from the “archiviolithic” drive, the destruction that Derrida says animates every desire to archive. But they do not just attempt to preserve this moment of contingency by converting this supposed passive document into an active agent; rather, they are different forms of medial accumulation which, as I read across them, give this filming of Bologna in September 1977 a future. That a particular moment in the history of the Italian left can be positioned as a future anterior can only occur through this attempt to inter-animate, in which I attempt animate the record and the record in turn animates my critical act.


Jonathan Mullins is a Ph.D. student at New York University in Italian Studies and Visiting Lecturer of Italian at Dartmouth College. He is the author of “Desiring Desire in Visconti’s Ossessione” (Journal of Romance Studies, Summer 2012) and co-editor, with Valeria Castelli and Alessandra Montalbano, of Denuncia: Speaking Up in Modern Italy (Fairleigh Dickinson Press, forthcoming in 2014).