Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Silone police informer turned novelist

& Skinner's gansta rap lyrics!

DOES art mirror life?  Is it possible to find in the fictional writings of a novelist or the lyrics of a song-writer historical evidence of real events or even confessions of past sins?   

Prosecutors and law enforcement officers in the USA have used FBI analysts to look at rap lyrics when investigating gangs.  The New Jersey Supreme Court will soon hear arguments on if 13 pages of lyrics written by Vonte Skinner – including lines like 'four slugs drillin' your cheek to blow your face off and leave your brain caved in the street' – should have been admitted at his trial for attempted murder.   

Erik Nelson, an assistant professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond, has said:  'What's getting really unnerving, is the amount of time it appears both police and prosecutors are spending over rap lyrics and videos on social media rather than using that time to go and rather more convincing, more conventional evidence.'   

Lorne Manly, a journalist on the New York Times writes: 
'In the profane world of hardcore rap, verisimilitude is prized.  Growing out of the ghettos on the West Coast in the 1989s, gangsta rap made the gritty reality of gangs, violence and drugs central features.'   

Prosecutors believe that such lyrics can be useful in building cases because of the search for status:  attaining it, crowing about it, expanding it, is, some think, integral to gang life.  It is claimed that if you listen to these songs you will hear gang members confessing to crimes they had committed previously and were through their art disseminating within their neighborhoods.   

Similarly, in an essay entitled 'The Secret Life of Ignazio Silone' by John Foot in Left Review it is claimed that between 1920 and 1930 Silone was an informer to Mussolini's political police.  A letter from Silone, written in early 1930 and addressed to Emilia Bellone, sister to Guido Bellone, General Inspector of Public Security charge with stamping out subversion in which he pleaded to be released from 'all falsehood, doubt and secrecy', expressing a desire 'to repair the damage that I have caused, to seek redemption, to help the workers, the peasants (to whom I am bound with every fibre of my body) and my country.'  

An article detailing Silone's history as an informer almost up to his expulsion from the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1931 was written by Mauro Cananli entitled 'Ignazio Silone & the Fascist Political Police' and published in Modern Italian Studies, 5 (1) in 2000, it was greeted with consternation because Silone after his career as a police informer went on in the 1930s to write books that represented some of the best attacks on Fascism and which John Foot describes this by saying 'his novels had become very effective weapons against it (the Mussolini regime).'  He was central to Italian literature of the period and widely respected outside the circles of the communist party.  George Orwell wrote of a special class of literature that had come out of  the European struggle since the rise of Fascism: 
'Some out of the outstanding figures in this school of writers are Silone, Malraux, Salvemini, Borkenau, Victor Serge and Koester himself.  Some of these are imaginative writers, some are not, but they are all alike in that they are trying to write contemporary history, but unofficial history, the kind that is ignored in the text-books and lied about in the newspapers.'  

As with the US police investigators into gangsta rap some Italian intellectuals claim to be able to see in Ignazio Silone's novels such as 'Bread & Wine', 'The Fox' and 'And He Did Hide Himself' an author finding himself wrestling with issues of treachery and collaboration.  The spy in 'Bread & Wine' relates:  'In my solitary broodings, that left me not a moments peace,I passed from fear of punishment to fear of non-punishment..'  And Adriano Sofri asked in La Republica on the 15th, April 2000:  'One re-reads all of Silone, and one thinks: how could we not have seen it before?'  John Foot's essay doesn't provide us with any clear evidence as to what might have been Silone's motivation for becoming an agent of the secret police and why he became one at the age of nineteen, but there was 'little to reveal ideological commitment to Fascism later'.  Foot writes:  '... it is striking that the regime did not expose Silone in the thirties, when his novels had become very effective weapons against it.'  The problem was that once Silone had begun to inform it was, says Foot, 'very difficult (and dangerous) for him to stop'.   

Crime fiction was used in the USA to establish the guilt of an author and show he had a violent streak three decades ago, but the case was overturned on appeal, with the decision rejecting the proposition 'that an author's character can be determined by the type of book he writes'.  In the Skinner case the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has used 'Crime & Punishment' and 'Folsome Prison Blues' to make a  similar point:  'That a rap artist wrote lyrics seemingly embracing the world of violence is no more reason to ascribe to him a motive and intent to commit violent acts than to saddle Dostoyevsky with Raskolnikov's motives or to indict Johnny Cash for having “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”.'   

The mystery still remains about the relationship between between the artist's real live experience and his creative work.  George Orwell writing his essay about Artur Koestler in 1944 wrote that 'there has been nothing (written in England) resembling for instance, Fontamara or Darkness at Noon, because there is almost no English writer to whom it has happened to see totalitarianism from the inside.'   Orwell continues:  'Most of the European writers I mentioned above (Silone, Malraux, Victor Serge and Koestler) and scores of others like then, have been obliged to break the law in order to engage in politics at all; some of them have thrown bombs and fought street battles, many have been in prison or concentration camp, of fled across frontiers with false names and forged passports.'  Orwell then says one could not expect Professor Laski 'indulging in activities of this kind' nor  indeed today, nor could one anticipate anything of this kind from the henpecked anarchists who operate the Manchester book fair or those Londoners who stay stum about malicious and false allegations of 'anti-Antisemitism' and the destruction of book stalls. 

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