Stefano Cingolani Dedication
“This boundless region, the region of le boulot, the job, il rusco--of daily work, in other words—is less known than the Antarctic and through a sad and mysterious phenomenon it happens, that the people who talk most, and loudest, about it are the very ones who have never traveled through it." Primo Levi explored this thoroughly, and in his novel, The Monkey's Wrench, published in 1978, he portrayed it in a way that at the time seemed to go against the grain, poised between the elegy and the eulogy of universal values. Even the main character, the hero of Levi's unusual epic, was different from the stereotype of the worker prevalent in public debate, in the newspapers, and on television at the time. The current image, if anything, was that of Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, the tramp without a trade who did a thousand odd jobs, the perfect figure for the Fordist model that dominated the American century, overwhelmed by the cogs of the assembly lines, shattered by a task too brainless to be human, with motions that were always the same and faster and faster, when assembly line work became the labor chain. Today, Chaplin's world is vanishing, while that of Primo Levi continues to assert itself with all its strength and uniqueness, with all the meaningfulness of what can never be replaced by a machine.
Libertino Faussone, better known as Tino (he was supposed to be named Libero, but the Town Secretary who oversaw the ledgers wouldn't allow it, Primo Levi points out), loves his job, which gratifies him. He thinks about "the Almighty when he made the world" while raising his platform in the gray sea off the coast of Alasca [sic] (he calls it that, using a "c" instead of a "k.") The Piedmontese construction worker travels the world to build machines bordering on reality, cranes, bridges, dams, "with his socket wrench hanging from his belt, because for us, it is what a sword was for the knights in olden times." It is the image, of ingeniousness and creativity taken around the world. If Chaplin, finds in the United States, where mass industry triumphs, his typical environment, Faussone is the Italian "brait gai" (as he would say) summoned to the most far-flung places, to the mud of the Lower Volga region, to scorching hot India prey to monsoons, or to freezing cold North America, to do impossible jobs because he knows and loves what he does so deeply.
It isn't clear who invented the wrench; even the one that in Italian is commonly known as the "English" wrench in actual fact should be called "American," but perhaps it was introduced for the first time by a Swede. The paradoxes of industrial labor that is actually group labor, the result of constant innovations, adaptations, endless metamorphoses. It has become a commonplace to state that the Industrial Revolution was born in the English spinning mills of Manchester when, a little after 1770, the Jenny arrived, known in Italian as "la Giannetta," a multi-spindle spinning frame, and the mother of all inventions well beyond the textile industry alone. But the production of goods by means of goods, to expand and transform the whole of society, needed roads, bridges, railways, dams, electrical power stations, wells to be dug in the deserts, and tunnels in the bowels of the mountains: the infrastructures of development and modernity, the arteries and the nervous system of the economic and social body.
This is the world of a very particular form of work, in which effort, toil, ingeniousness accompany the "pleasure of seeing your creature grow, beam after beam, bolt after bolt, solid, necessary, symmetrical, suited to its purpose; and when it's finished you look at it and you think that perhaps it will live longer than you, will serve someone you don't know, who doesn't know you." A rhetorical epic? Not at all, there are failures, difficulties, dangers, when one's life is often at stake.