Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

The Negation of a Negation Fixed in a Form: Luigi Nono and the Italian Counter-Culture 1964-1979

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

The Negation of a Negation Fixed in a Form: Luigi Nono and the Italian Counter-Culture 1964-1979

Article excerpt

At the outset of this discussion I would like to propose a definition or two that will hold throughout it. First, I would like to define the term 'counter-culture', which appears in my title, as the organised and self-conscious articulation of an alternative to hegemonic capitalist culture-alternative in terms of values, institutions and sign systems. second, I would like to define the date Ι968' as the historical moment at which various nationally specific counter-cultures actually coalesced, despite the fact that these counter-cultures were often composed of individual elements that predate 1968. Thus I am defining the two terms reciprocally: a counter-culture is that alternative framework that emerges when a confluence of quantitative changes (in labour conditions, educational access or values, tolerance of ethnic/gender/cultural differences, and so on) crosses a threshold and produces a qualitative shift in consciousness, critique and creativity, and 1968 marks the various ways that threshold was crossed in the USA, Europe and elsewhere. From this viewpoint, for example, the American '68 marked the emergence of a counter-culture defined by a relatively fleeting politicisation of students and a temporary cultural alliance between students and people of colour, while the French '68 gave rise to a counter-culture characterised by a similarly fleeting political alliance of students and factory workers. The Italian '68, which I propose we call the 'Long '68', created a much more robust and long-lived counter-culture than either of the better known ones, a counter-culture that was based upon a long-term (though highly unstable) political alliance of workers and students, which later expanded-not without difficulty-to include feminists and other activist groups.1

As I have argued elsewhere, all of these versions of '68 and their ensuing counter-cultures functioned as much through the creation and circulation of art, literature and music as through political theory, historical critique and militancy,2 and my goal in what follows is to trace the role of avant-garde music in the rise and development of the Italian counter-culture from the early 1960s until its destruction at the end of the 1970s. Instead of approaching this issue along quantitative, sociological lines, I will focus on one figure whose simultaneous engagement with musical innovation and sociopolitical revolution was exemplary in its intent (though exceptional in its extent): the avant-garde composer Luigi Nono, whose career parallels the rise of the Italian counter-culture during the 1960s and early 1970s. I will also briefly examine how the forcible destruction of the Italian counter-culture in 1979 is reflected in the last phase of Nono's musical career.

In conversation with Anne Dufourmantelle, Antonio Negri recently reminisced about his early days as a political activist in Venice, where he lived from 1963 to 1971. His fondness for Venice arises, he says, not only from the great beauty of the place, but also from the fact that it was there he experienced 1968. Now the French '68, particularly the Parisian events of May, is well known in the Anglophone world, but the Italian '68 is not, despite its importance locally and globally. Venice was one of its key sites, as Negri explains:

In 1968 students from Venice and Padua joined forces with the workers at Porto Marghera. This worked out quite smoothly because they had been in constant contact for a decade: the school of architecture was a gathering place for the working class. And the intellectuals of Venice-led by the musician Luigi Nono and the painter Emilio Vedova-gave their whole-hearted support to the movement. In June 1968 we blocked the opening of the famous art exhibition, the Biennale-it finally took place three months later after being moved to another location!3

As Cesco Chinello notes, the disruption of the 1968 Venice Biennale made front-page headlines and television newscasts around the world, and some of the images from it are among the most famous of the era. …

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