Following on from Q (authored as Luther Blissett) and 54, comes a new novel Manituana by the Bologna fiction collective known as Wu Ming. Verso are publishing Shaun Whiteside’s English translation, the proof copies were circulated last month, and the book will be available in both the UK and the US shortly. Like the earlier tomes by the same authors, Manituana is a heavily researched historical novel that speaks as much about a future we have yet to make, as the past in which it is set. The main action takes place around the ‘American War of Independence’, with the focus on the alliance the Iroquois Indians made with the English.
The Iroquois way of life was destroyed by the development of capitalism, and this entailed the exploitation of both Africa and the Americas, as well as the European working class. The diseases that accompanied European traders and their goods decimated the indigenous American population and thereby opened the way for their conquest. The Iroquois were caught between a rock and a hard place and mostly chose to ally with ‘perfidious Albion’, rather than the equally barbarous French or – slightly later – the genocidal armies of George Washington. However, for me the real ‘heroes’ of this novel are not the characters who take up the bulk of its pages (some are actual historical figures), but rather those shadowy proletarian figures who attempt to make an alliance with the Iroquois when some of their leaders visit London. From page 199 of Marituana:
“For the sake of clarity let us say straightaway that we Mohocks of London – with the exception of him who writes to you – have not a drop of Indian blood in our veins, but we feel similar to you in every way. The so-called honest men, in fact, see us as savages and like to attribute to us the most cruel misdeeds, before remembering us when they need cannon-fodder for their armies… The Mohocks of London, weighted down for centuries by deprivation and abuse, never had the opportunity to establish a pact with a sovereign. But they do have one advantage over their American brothers, which is that they live in the heart of the Empire, a few streets away from the house of His Majesty, and that they can raise a loud voice of their own. Imagine the Indians of the Colonies and those of the Motherland joining forces to form a single great nation….”
This band of rebels are a real prefiguration of the future. They are called ‘Sohocks’ in Marituana but they might as well be referred to as ‘Metropolitan Indians’ – a name attached to those segments of the 1970s Italian autonomist movement who favoured Indian imagery and names, and who attacked the ongoing commodification of culture by tearing down fences at pop festivals and expropriating luxury goods. Marituana’s Metropolitan Indians rough up the rich and free those who have been imprisoned and abused in the Bedlam ‘lunatic assylum’. A continuation of this short thread will hopefully form the basis of a future Wu Ming novel, since in the one under review we follow the Iroquois leaders back to the Americas, where they meet defeat with dignity.
At the end of the book, a character called Esther (another prefiguration of the autonomists of the 1970s), views the future as a return-at-a-higher-level to earlier modes of human existence: “There is no destruction for those who understand the law of time. She thought of what she had seen in her sixteen years and the world that had collapsed around her. She thought of the life that awaited her and the new world they would build in the Garden in the middle of the Water. The Thousand Islands. Manituana.” This, of course, is the world we must win!
It has been a long time since English language readers had a new Wu Ming book, but when y’all get yo mits on this tome, you’ll see it was well worth the wait! Manituana is a groove sensation!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check - www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!