Erri de Luca: A dissenting word

Below, we share a commentary on the writing of Erri de Luca and his trial  for the crime of inciting to terrorism for having said that it is necessary to sabotage the construction of the TAV train and a partial translation of his published response to his prosecution, by a friend of Autonomies.

Medea of Euripides is said to speak and act through her guts. Philip Levine refers to true poets as those who know something in their blood, those who have sexuality and rage that come out of their experience. In line with these, Erri de Luca is a writer who speaks through the senses and through elements of the body that flow and mix. These are all forms of literature that come from below, from the bottom of the human senses and from the underbelly of the human condition. In the case of de Luca, the attempts to penetrate into life acquire almost an anatomical nature: as he dissects the body he dissects the words. To go to the very bottom of ethics, to the very core or rather multiple cores of words, and to the entrails of politics is what de Luca aspires to.

Neapolitan by birth, Erri de Luca is one of the most renown writers in Italy today. Having been affiliated to what was known as the revolutionary left in Italy in the 1970s, de Luca spent his life doing manual jobs. Literary works that he created along the way were published by Feltrinelli and translated into many languages.

De Luca is convinced that a writer, as a public figure, has a duty to speak the words for those who have been silenced. It is for this reason that in an interview given to ‘Huffington Post’ Italy and Ansa, he expressed his position on the TAV (High Speed Train) Turin-Lyon (for the article on the TAV see here).

The position stated: it is necessary to sabotage the construction works of TAV.
Accusation: incitement to violence.
Today Erri de Luca is facing a trial.

In response to this de Luca wrote a short book La parola contraria (A dissenting word) in which he states his position once again, in more detail, and he does so in three brief chapters: chronicle, influences, incitement. Below is a translation of some passages from the ‘Influences’ of A Dissenting Word.

A webpage, was put together for those who wish to express their support for Erri de Luca.


September 2013. LTF, the construction company of Turin – Lyon High Speed Train (Tav) announces an accusation against me for the phrases said and published by ‘Huffington Post’ Italy and Ansa. The accusation is submitted on the 10th of September 2013 to the public prosecutor’s office of Turin.

“More specifically, De Luca during an interview given to the website Huffington Post – Espresso group, on 1/9/2013 and to Ansa on 5/9/2013 incited to damage the construction site of Tav-LTF making the following statements:

“‘[Huffington Post] The Tav must be sabotaged. This is why the shears were needed: they are useful to cut the nets. Nothing to do with terrorism… these are necessary to have people understand that Tav is harmful and useless… negotiations with the government failed, so did the mediations: the sabotage is the only alternative…’”

As a reader I didn’t have a preference for literature that is more attentive to social and political themes. The learned labyrinths of Borges have opened wide my third eye, having me stretch over the depths of the sagas and mythologies.
In the same way I read the stories of Kolimà of Salamov, absorbing the unbound patience and resistance of a prisoner of forced labour. Literature is a goal that doesn’t obey to genres or themes. It happens, and when it happens, it is a feast for the one who reads it.

As a young man I became an anarchist having read the Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. I chose my side in that age that contains all the possibilities. The way I feel towards that choice hasn’t changed.
Literature acts upon nerve fibres of the one who comes across the fortunate meeting between the book and one’s own life. These are meetings that can neither be reserved nor recommended. It’s up to every reader to live the surprise before the sudden mix between his days and the pages of a book.

Orwell didn’t move me an inch with his 1984 novel, where he invents the character of Big Brother, referred to inappropriately by a TV program. But he changed the direction of my life with the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War, in which he was a volunteer fighter.
It might be that in my Neapolitan emotional upbringing there is a predisposition to resist against authority. It might be that it was due to that city that surrounded me that I was more imbued with the feelings of fraternity towards Spanish anarchists than towards Russian bolsheviks.
Homage to Catalonia was the first peg of a tent I planted outside every party and every parliament.
The death of the anarchist rail worker Giuseppe Pinelli, who on the 15th of December 1969 fell from the open windows of the fourth floor of police headquarters of Milan, reaffirmed that peg. In the following years my generation had struggled to defend the innocence of the anarchists accused in the massacre of the Banca dell’Agricoltura in Milan on the 12th of December 1969. And we won; the anarchists were exonerated. And we lost; no real culprits were convicted.

Through myself at that age I try to imagine what would move today’s young person to expose himself by being a part of a struggle as massively defamed and repressed as that of Val di Susa. A young person from other parts of Italy puts at risk his name, face and criminal record to be on the side of No Tav of Val di Susa.
May be this person does not need any Orwell to learn about a great popular struggle. It is enough to know that there is a popular will of civic resistance in order to join.
But if there was among the readings that he happens to come across, an Orwell of our time who triggers that, then I would want to be the one.
Precisely like this, I would want to be the writer that one came across by chance, who mixed his pages with the newly born sentiments of justice that form the character of a young citizen.

In this way I do my best to introduce the accusation that was put against me: incitement.
To incite a sentiment of justice which already exists but still hasn’t found the words to say it and hence to recognise it. And it makes you to suddenly rise and to put aside the book because the blood surged up in your face, the eyes burn, and you cannot continue reading.
To go to the window, to open it, to look outside without seeing anything, because everything is happening inside.
To breath deeply in order to feel with the oxygen the circulation of an unknown will.
To start being an apprentice of new justice which forms itself from below and hits against a completely different justice that lays down the law in the court.
To incite, as it happened to me with the Homage to Catalonia of Orwell.
In the face of this incitement to which I aspire, that of which I am accused is nothing.


For a recent journalistic account of Erri de Lucca’s trial, click here.  And for a reflection on the no Tav movement in italy, see Inspirations/stories from la valle che resiste.

We close with a poem by Erri de Luca, the poem Considero Valore/What I value

I value any form of life, the snow,
the strawberry, the fly,
I value the mineral kingdom,
the constellation of stars.
I value wine, the time of the meal,
an involuntary smile,
the tiredness of someone who did not spare their efforts,
and two elder persons in love.
I value all that will not be valuable tomorrow and all that has not yet much value today.
I value all wounds.
I value sparing water,
repairing a pair of shoes and
keeping silent when needed,
rushing up to the first cry, asking permission before sitting, feeling grateful without even knowing why.
I value knowing where the North is in a room, the name of the wind that dries the laundry.
I value the travel of a vagabond, the nun’s enclosure,
the patience of the condemned man, no matter the wrong.
I value the use of the verb “to love”,
and the hypothesis there is a Creator
Many of those values, I have not known.

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2 Responses to Erri de Luca: A dissenting word


    May I ask who did the wonderful translation of Erri’s poem “Considero valore” ?
    Heartfelt thanks!
    Antoine Cassar

  2. Julius Gavroche says:

    A friend of autonomies. Thank you for your kind words.

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