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+Kaos (of autodidacts and adepts of Primo Moroni)

Autistici/Inventati, together with Rise Up!, is the preeminent provider of network resources and infrastructure to social movements worldwide. An English translation of the Italian tech collective’s history has now been published. The account should get some oxygen at hacker events over the next while and fills an important gap in the literature around politics and technology.  The origin and development of the sharply political sensibility behind the collective is set out here in a rich combination of recent Italian history and participant self-narration.

“Condividere saperi, senza fondare poteri” 

‘Share knowledge, without installing power’

– Primo Moroni (1)

Mediterranean hacktivism is distinct from the ‘hacker spaces’ of the US and the engineering influenced hacker culture of northern Europe (think Chaos Computer Club), more confrontational and embedded in a broader political atmosphere. This is a world where computer science faculties have competition from autodidacts who stay up late in squatted industrial buildings, equipped with recycled hardware running free software, a net connection, and subversive intent. Their knowledge is different, as is the way they produce it: outside of institutions and political parties, somewhat and unevenly self-organised, and yes, chaotic.

Published by Agenzia X in Italian in 2012, +Kaos covers the decade after the collective’s birth, in the ferment of the summer of 2001, before the trauma of Genoa and the political upending of September 11th. But it also looks back to the genesis of radical computer networking in the 1980s & 1990s – a homage to the pioneers and their predecessors.. From April 2001 onwards this is a tale of the slow assembly of a global infrastructure, punctuated by periodic setbacks, occasionally technical but mostly legal, and more joyfully the sleepless annual ritual of the hackmeeting. Like the networks A/I supports these legal attacks were both global and local, and functioned as a catalyst for the development of innovative solutions and resilient attitudes. The English edition comes with a technical glossary and extensive footnotes to help non-Italians get a grip of the peninsula’s peculiarities.

The world it describes already appears somewhat distant, before the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, the Syrian Civil War and Trump. But history seemed to accelerate in 2001 as well – how to stand up to these phases is the question and the challenge. This is an account of one attempt to do so, a collective agency combining operation of technical systems with political analysis amidst conflict, crisis and opportunity.

(1) This phrase has served as the unofficial motto of A/I since its creation. Primo Moroni (1936-1998) was a key figure of the revolutionary and countercultural milieu in Milan for over forty years. An autodidact, writer, and professional dancer, he opened a bookshop, Calusca/City Lights, in 1971 which became a faucet for political and cultural heterodoxy, including the introduction of beat and hippie literature that would quickly have a significant impact in Italy. His book L’orda d’oro, co-authored with Nanni Ballestrini, remains the definitive account of the revolutionary movement in Italy in the ’60s and ’70s.

May 31, 2017 Posted by | /, hackers, history, italy | Leave a comment

Il Badalone; Brunnelleschi and an Early Patent

Normal service on boring enforcement related matters will resume later today, in the meantilme a little history. The initial draft stated the Badalone patent was the world’s first, this turns out to be incorrect, in a variety of ways! On a purely formal level, the first patent was granted to Francisco Petri in 1416 for the fulling of wool and was awarded in Venice.
Having been in Florence for the last months, I discovered that it was the site of what was apparently the world’s first patents: a boat design created in 1421 by the builder of the Duomo’s famous cuploa, Filippo Brunelleschi, and christened “Il Badalone”. We don’t have the detail of the design, but thee is an image by Taccola in his book De Ingenis.

Il Badalone from Taccola's De ingenis

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March 9, 2011 Posted by | /, history, italy, patent | 7 Comments

Welcome home Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin met his end in the border town of Portbou in Spain on September 27 1940. Part of a group of refugees, he received assistance from Lisa Fittko at Port Vendres on September 23rd, who knew clandestine routes out of France to Spain through the mountains. Apparently he was the first refugee she assisted, later she was recruited by the Varian Fry network and would help hundreds of others along the same path (1). Some accounts claim they were already acquainted from Paris and Germany, but what is certain is that Benjamin had met Hans Fittko whilst imprisoned in the Vernuche camp near Nevers in 1939,who advised him to contact Lisa if he managed to get south towards Marseille (2).

Traveling with two others, Frau Gorland and her son, they crossed the border on foot via Banyuls and into the mountains (3). Once into Spain the intended destination was Lisbon, from where they hoped to embark for the United States.

Given its strategic location, Portbou received special attention from the secret police and it is known that the Gestapo were present. The cause of Benjamin’s death has never been clear; suicide or murder are the two most bandied about, and were explored by the documentary maker David Mauas in his 2005 film, Quien Mato a Walter Benjamin.

He is buried at a beautiful site, overlooking the small bay on which Portbou is built, in the communal cemetery. One of his fellow travelers paid for his niche in the cemetery wall. A peculiar aspect to this method of burial is that the niches are not owned but rented, and in WB’s case this was a tenancy of five years. After that it is up to family members to renew the payment. As Benjamin had no affective connection to Portbou, his remains were consequently removed and placed in the communal grave. Somehow it seems strangely appropriate.

In 2008, with my friends from Pirate Cinema Berlin, we made a journey to visit this place, on a stormy day where the wind whipped up the sea, the waves crashed over the coast, and rain came down in torrents; if Klee’s Angelus Novus was lacking physically, it was rearing up in my imagination. The view onto the bay through the glass panel at the end of Kanavan’s memorial, a staircase/passage, is obscured by a thought that is also a program:

“It is more arduous to honor the history of the nameless than that of the renowned. Historical reconstruction is devoted to the memory of the nameless.”

European Copyright law specifies that works remain proprietary for seventy years after the death of the author, entering the public domain on the First of January of the following year. Having died in 1940, Benjamin’s seventy year sentence ended last year, and he was liberated on January 1st 2011. Works published during his life in German are now in the public domain.

Welcome home, Walter, we never stopped thinking of you.
Walter Benjamin memorial at the communal grave, Portbou.
“There is no document of culture that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”

(1) Sheila Isenberg, A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry
(2) Michael T. Taussig, Walter Benjamin’s grave
(3) Lisa Fittk, Escape Through the Pyrenees

January 31, 2011 Posted by | copyright, history | 1 Comment