Claire Fontaine | Insurrection Mao

By Claire Fontaine

The humorous and unconventional reception of Mao and Maoism will be approached in two cases. The first and best known one is Godard’s La Chinoise where Maoism (and leftist politics more generally) are used as an aesthetic, almost chromatic material and the contents expressed by the actors are in open contradiction with the context in which the film is staged. Politics as theatre, the theatricality of cinema are guidelines throughout the movie, reaching their peak in the famous scene where Jean-Pierre Léaud takes the bandages off his unwounded face to “denounce” the brutal repression of the Chinese government. The complex dialectics between truth and fiction is deeply connected in this movie to ambiguities of radical politics and their fictional representation.

Because Maoism was experienced as an exotic political theory, a form of orientalism strongly inflects its European reception. This appears clearly in the second example that we will explore, 77 mao-dadaism. Maoism was there poetically understood as a form of Dadaism, and from this assumption the most inventive and radical wing of the 77 Italian movement created a language called mao-dadaism whose manifesto declared:

“…We say DADA and we refer to our position elsewhere. Today – outside of here – in the exciting life of the flexible young proletariat, of the struggling working class, of women and gay people experimenting non sexist and non competitive life forms, we declare the birth of MAO-DADAISM, a practice of writing, non-separate, transversal, capable of recomposing the orders of our existence. Beyond the politics of compromise, beyond the culture of compromise, made in order to reproduce and justify the domination of capital on the time of life, we declare the birth of TRANSVERSALISM, theoretical form that interprets the practical journey of writing-creativity-subversion. The new writers are inside the young flexible proletariat, amongst gay, women absentee factory workers, amongst the revolutionary, the intellectual workers that hurry the end of a society based on misery and work.”

Mao-dadaism was the linguistic expression of “debauchery, tumult, party,” the main aspects of the daily revolution of that time: Radio Alice, A/traverso in Bologna, and masses of people uprising throughout the country were for a few years a real force that left indelible traces in the official culture and the collective subconscious. The orientalism that appears in the use of two foreign, imported references (such as Mao and Dada) was acknowledged and exorcised by the “Metropolitan Indians.” This group of people whose fictional political existence resulted from a joke made during an unauthorized demonstration also came from the same political area of the Autonomia that A/traverse and Radio Alice were part of. They showed through their mythological foreignness, manifested by American Indian customs and feathers, a true marginalization of the youth and the proletarians. Their language, often mimicking a broken Italian spoken by some colonized people, like Indian English in Westerns, was an important part of the revolutionary project.

The most relevant aspect of Mao-dadaism was its relationship with truth: in an article published on A/traverso in 1977 entitled Fake news that produce true events we can read that counter-information was over because it was an activity aiming to affirm the truth, by unmasking fake news, deformed by power’s mirror. This was insufficient because it corresponded in a specular way to the discourse of power, whereas a more interesting strategy was to denounce the truths of power, to speak with its voice: “the strength of power resides in speaking with the power of strength. Let’s get the prefecture to say that it’s right to take meat for free from the butcheries. […] Reality transforms language. Language can transform reality. Building the cells of action maodada.”