Under the soles of his shoes, you can still recognise the dirt of history. “This is all that remains. A mix of straw and shit by which we delude ourselves into erecting cathedrals to the worker’s dream.” Here’s a man, I say to myself, imbued with a consistency that bursts through in a total melancholy. It’s Mario Tronti, the most celebrated of the theorists of Operaismo. He has only recently finished writing a book on this subject: the origins of his thought, how it has changed and what it is today. I don’t know who will publish it (I would guess a decent publisher). I read a profound sense of despair. Like a chronicle of defeat articulated through the long agony of a past that has not yet passed at all, that refuses to die, but is no longer wanted.
“It’s the others who keep you going”, he says ironically. When life, if only, demands other trials, other choices. Perhaps it is for this reason – to find an escape – that he has distracted himself with Tai Chi: “the gestures of this oriental martial art reveal, in their slowness, a secret harmony. Everything is concentrated on respiration. I did it for a bit. With curiosity and attention. But in the end I realised I wasn’t good enough. Out of place. The orient requires a mindset that can create empty space [il vuoto]. I live in a house full of the things I’ve accumulated over time.
How did your interest in Tai Chi start?
Thanks to my daughter who loves and practices oriental culture. She would have wanted to become a nun, so she chose the same profound consistency in this world that I’ve only touched.
And how have you taken this decision of hers?
With the respect that is required whenever approaching what concerns those close to you.
Is there an element of unpredictability with children?
Always: with individuals, just like with history.
Did you expect that the story – I mean yours – would end this way?
I always expect the best. Then come the knocks. Coming up against facts without an airbag can do you damage. I was a communist, marxist, operaista. Some things end. Some things last. I have learnt and applied the lesson of political realism: you can’t ignore the facts.
And the facts today are indicative of a great crisis?
Great and long. It concerns all of us a little, at many diverse levels. It’s lasted at least seven years and still nobody is able to tell us how to get out of it. We’re living in a time without epoch.
What does it mean?
It is our time, however it lacks an epoch: this period that has arisen and will continue into the future. History has become small, the daily report has prevalence: gossip, complaints, platitudes.
So the epoch is time hastened with thought?
Not just that. It is the time that leaps forward. It occurs when things happen that visibly transform our living world.
Nostalgia for revolutions?
No, if anything the twentieth century was the century of revolutions. But not only that. Where are the grand ideas, the great literature, the grand politics or the great art? I don’t seen anything like what the first half of the twentieth century produced.
When did the explosion of creativity end?
In the 60s.
Your golden years?
That’s the irony of history. There was a great twentieth century, and a small twentieth century built out of an awareness that it is no longer able to reflect on itself.
Is this a farewell to the idea of progress?
These days Progressivism is the thing furthest from myself. I reject the idea that whatever is new is always better and more advanced than what was there before.
It was one of the inviolable creeds of Marxism.
It was the false security of thinking that the defeat was only an episode. Because meanwhile, we thought, history was on our side.
We saw how it went, didn’t we?
Do you feel like you’ve been defeated, or you’ve failed?
I am defeated, not a victor. The victories are never final. But we have lost – not a battle – but the war of the twentieth century.
And who has triumphed?
Capitalism. But without class struggle, without an adversary, it has lost its vitality. It has become something of a monstrosity.