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09 February

The Role of the Writer

re: Thomas Ponniah's Essay "The Role of the Writer at the WSF"
[World Social Forum] 

Dear Thomas (and all), below pls find some reflections, caused by your writing:

1. "To reformulate Gramsci in terms of the dynamics at the World Social Forum (WSF) one could say that all political activists have the impulse to write but for some of us writing is our primary contribution", you write But has it come to your mind that this would hardly apply to Gramsci himself? He was undoubtedly an intellectual, but was he "a writer"? Before answering this question one has to consider the fact that G. did not publish a single book of his own writing. He wrote, of course, a lot of articles and reviews for the newspapers. Furthermore, he was not considered an especially good orator. So in that sense, at least, he was "a writer". However, would it make sense to say that writing was his "main contribution"? In my view it would not, just like it would not be fair to appreciate  a Gandhi, or  still less, a Socrates on the basis of their writings (Socrates, by the way, seems to have left no writings at all).

One may ask, of course, if not the famous Prison Notebooks of G. plus his beautiful letters to his loved ones and friends, - did not those enormously influential essays and notes , and letters, in the end become his "main contribution"?

G. somewhere speaks of his own contribution as "fertilizer" - "Nessuno voleva essere «concio» della storia. Ma può ararsi senza prima ingrassare la terra?"  (By the way: it takes some extra courage to  look at oneself in the mirror of the history, speaking about  one's own contribution as "shit" which fertilizes the history.)

For whom did G. scribble all his fascinating (as it turned out after the war and the end of the Fascist state, when G. was already dead since a decade) notes in his notebooks? I would suggest that  he wrote them, first and foremostly, for himself.
 Of course G. had in  view the possibility that others would read his notes, and most probably he hoped that others, too, would enjoy them. But he could by no means be sure about that. We know, indeed, of cases where the writings of the political prisoners just disappeared. This happened, for instance,  to Altiero Spinelli, one of the founding fathers of the European Union.  
A revealing text, in this sense, is the beginning of G:s introduction  to philosopy. Or, should we rather call it his essay on how to write an introduction to philosophy. Here we have G. making notes, not for an audience of students of philosophy, but in order to set some  guidelines for himself (the presumtive writer!) :

"It is essential to destroy the widespread prejudice that philosophy is a strange and difficult thing just because it is the specific intellectual activity of a particular category of specialists or of professional and systematic philosophers."

2. "The writer" is very often understood to be a poet or a novelist, and thus somebody who is inventing a whole world of his/her own,   cementing, if necessary, the whole with more or less elaborate lies.  The philosopher also strives to understand, explain etc. the whole world - or at least a small part of the world; but how can one understand or explain the part if one does not try to understand the whole? -  and is therefore also, in a certain sense, a Writer. And, following Gramsci and yourself, one may constate that all have the impulse to write. Especially so today, when 2.5 billion mobile phones have already been sold, and are being used for the text messaging, in other words, for writing.

But let's forget about these considerations for the moment, and consider instead  our favourite Authors, who manage to spellbind us, their Readers, with their astounding books and writings!  Did you see them at the World Social Forum?

I once suggested to one of my favourite authors that she would go to the WSF herself to participate. "Does somebody arrange an  Asocial Forum ", she responded, "because in that case, I would rather go there". The sheer thought of going to meet 50.000 unknown persons from all corners of the world makes some Writers feel Angst, if not pure horror.

Yet, think of it: there are not too many Writers at the WSF. Why? Perhaps our writings are not yet good enough?

3. When you speak about the role of the writer at the WSF, I cannot avoid thinking of the Hoperaisers, a band of young men from Korogocho (they still go to school, if they can afford the fees and the schoolbooks), who are obviously writers, because they write their own music and their own songs, like Voices from the South, G8, and Another World Is Possible. Before and during the WSF, the Hoperaisers played the role of the Gramscian intellectuals, that is,  the role of the political activist, the writer, the organizer, etc., who helped to make hundreds, if not thousands of young people from the shanty-towns aware of the existence of the WSF, in the first place.   A week before the Nairobi WSF, I wondered whether the young slum-dwellers from Korogocho would ever find the researchers and more or less educated and well-organized activists from near and afar, who had registered so many activities for the WSF. As it turned out, one could see some positive efforts in that direction on the side of the inhabitants of Korogocho and Kibera. They came to the WSF, and some of them protested against the food prices there, for instance. Fine! Others, like the Hoperaisers,  sang political songs...

- - -

Who can "evaluate" what  50.000 or so people have being doing during a whole week, including all the conferences and meetings that were not necessarily registered as WSF-activities, although they took place in Nairobi just before, during or just after the WSF?

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