Thirty years after his death, the Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli remains an enigma. In some ways, the sensitive, detailed biography written by his son makes the enigma appear still more perplexing. The Feltrinelli who is most securely embedded in the collective memory is the would-be revolutionary and terrorist, a figure both tragic and absurd, who blew himself up while trying to destroy an electricity pylon in a Milan suburb. Even if he had succeeded, a temporary interruption in Milan’s electricity supply hardly seems like a very convincing demonstration of revolutionary ideals.
Feltrinelli was both richer and more radical than anyone else on the fashionable left. How could one take seriously a figure who at the same time issued an ultrarevolutionary manifesto and appeared in Italian Vogue modeling fur coats for men? Yet there was much more to Feltrinelli than this kind of exhibitionism. He inherited from his father, a Milanese tycoon, not only his enormous wealth but considerable business ability, and he put this in the service of a cultural mission that he interpreted with daring, originality, and imagination.
A number of exceptionally talented publishers—Giulio Einaudi, Vito Laterza, and Adriano Olivetti, among others—did much to shape the contours of a new and more modern Italian culture in the late 1950s and the 1960s (not coincidentally, the high years of the Italian economic miracle). But Feltrinelli was distinguished from his Italian peers by his panache and his willingness to take risks. Although for years he had been a loyal and obedient member of the Italian Communist Party, he challenged pro-Soviet orthodoxy by publishing Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago in 1957. In a more subtle way, he defied the pieties of “progressive” culture by accepting the writer Giorgio Bassani’s advice to publish a work by an unknown Sicilian aristocrat, Giuseppe di Lampedusa. His novel, The Leopard, had previously been turned down by Einaudi, thanks to the negative opinion of the Marxist writer Elio Vittorini.
Dr. Zhivago and The Leopard, apart from their enduring literary value, were the two most extraordinary publishing successes of their day; they proved the hitherto unexpected existence of a large mass market for serious literature in Italy. 156,000 copies of Dr. Zhivago had been sold in Italy alone by 1960.
It was Feltrinelli, too, who took the lead in the discovery of Latin American literature. I can remember the excitement of first reading Borges’s Aleph in a Feltrinelli paperback. Later on, he became the publisher of Asturias, Vargas Llosa, and García Márquez. Naturally, he championed sexual as well as political liberation, defying censorship to publish Henry Miller. The statement of his aims as a publisher, which he wrote in a 1968 article, seems frank and intelligent. He explained that he did not want to compete with the “behemoths” of publishing with “half a million titles” and “a dozen low-quality magazines,” but to restore the “morality” of the business by publishing books which were “necessary.” These already included the writings of Che Guevara, but he had not yet given up on fiction. He defended the continued vitality of the novel against its detractors: “Living novels are the ones that capture changes in the world’s intellectual, aesthetic, or moral awareness, a new sensitivity,… or that explode the superstition about the unchanging identity of human nature.”1
It should not be thought that Feltrinelli was an idealist indifferent to the practical realities of commerce; he set up a chain of bookstores that were revolutionary in conception. Their design, their display techniques, and their use of debates and appearances by famous authors for promotion all set new standards in a trade which was still largely unequipped to deal with the mass market in Italy. Placed in strategic locations in the center of Italian cities, they became centers of civic sociability. The natural place to meet a friend in Bologna is still in front of the Feltrinelli bookstore, and this is not by chance; Feltrinelli and the city’s mayor, Renato Zangheri, spent a day searching for the most suitable site. Young people were lured in by jukeboxes, pinball machines, and the latest inventions of Carnaby Street: “Marilyn made up to resemble Mao, silver belts in the form of snakes, ties, grass-green miniskirts, mock-leopardskin hats.” Feltrinelli took a leading part in creating the new cultural exuberance of the Sixties.
Unfortunately, he also exemplified the decade’s most characteristic illusions. It was even more difficult to remain levelheaded in Italy than in the rest of Europe. The expectations for change aroused by the formation of the center-left coalition between the Christian Democrat and Socialist parties had been disappointed, and under the skillful but soporific guidance of the Christian Democratic leader Aldo Moro the country seemed condemned to political immobility. Then, between 1967 and 1969, a period in which nothing seemed to happen was succeeded by one in which everything seemed to be happening at once. Of course, in both cases, the appearance did not entirely reflect reality; but certainly protest achieved a new dynamism. In Italy Il Sessantotto (1968) was less sensational than the Parisian May in the short term, but much longer-lasting in its effects. The wave of cultural and political radicalism which it set off did not recede until after 1980. The autunno caldo (hot autumn) of 1969, which saw the greatest number of strikes since the war, raised hopes for a revolutionary alliance between students and the working class.
A violent response to this wave of radical protest was not long in coming. On December 12, 1969, a bomb exploded in a bank in Milan’s Piazza Fontana, killing sixteen people and injuring eighty-four. The police immediately accused anarchists of the crime. Feltrinelli was known to be under investigation and feared arrest. Although the case has never been officially solved, it seems fairly certain that the action was instead undertaken by a neo-Fascist group in collusion with elements of the Italian secret services, with the intention of spreading fear and laying the blame on the revolutionary left. The Piazza Fontana bombing was the event that inaugurated Italy’s “years of lead,” of escalating terrorism and counterterrorism. Between 1969 and 1974 the fear of a right-wing coup was widespread on the left, and it cannot be dismissed as paranoid.
One must remember that at this time Italy was the only functioning democracy in southern Europe; the neo-Fascist right in Italy had active help from the colonels in Greece and to a lesser extent from Franco’s Spain. On December 7, 1970, a small group led by Prince Valerio Borghese, a former Fascist war hero, actually took over the nerve center of the state, the Ministry of the Interior. But his coup was called off after he received a mysterious telephone call. Like the bombs, this and other conspiracies were part of the “strategy of tension” designed by shadowy right-wing plotters to keep the left in check, a strategy which had already been tried out in 1964 when the rumors of a coup to be carried out by the general of the Carabinieri (military police), General De Lorenzo, had been decisive in convincing the Socialists that they must moderate their demands for reform.
However, the fears of a coup only confirmed Feltrinelli’s revolutionary romanticism. Already inflamed by the example of Che Guevara and other third-world revolutionaries, Feltrinelli now saw himself as the leader of a new Resistance against Fascism. At the same time he could feel both that he was embracing a new, global revolutionary cause and that he was returning to the heroic era of the Italian partisans who had fought the Germans and their Italian Fascist satellites in the last years of World War II. A former Communist partisan, Giovanbatista Lazagna, cooperated with Feltrinelli in setting up the GAP (Gruppi di Azione Proletaria). The acronym itself was borrowed from the Resistance, when it denoted the Communist-led groups organized in the cities for sabotage, the assassination of Fascist officials, and urban guerrilla warfare. Although the actions of Feltrinelli’s GAP were ineffective, they were the first organized group of the left to advocate armed resistance and terrorism. They were a precursor of what came to be known as the partito armato (armed party), of which the Red Brigades were the most dangerous but not the only exponents. Although this is a story which still has many obscure aspects, it seems that Feltrinelli gave money to their founder, Renato Curcio, as well as to other violent revolutionaries. So it cannot be said that Feltrinelli’s espousal of armed struggle was without serious consequences.
In the years before he died, Feltrinelli retreated more and more into the life of a fugitive. He was fearful of being arrested or even killed. These fears were not fantastic. In the murky world of the Italian secret services and their contacts among the neo-Fascist paramilitary groups Feltrinelli was soon identified as a target of primary importance. He was both dangerous and vulnerable, and his wealth made him a good scapegoat. The police tried to associate him with the Piazza Fontana bombing. Later on, Marco Foscari, a neo-Fascist from an ancient Venetian family who lived near Feltrinelli’s Austrian country house, hatched a plot to kidnap him. Yet it is impossible to explain Feltrinelli’s behavior as having a rational purpose. Becoming a fugitive seems to have fulfilled a deep psychological need. He had tried to rid himself of the stigma of wealth through becoming a model member of the Communist Party, then through being a committed publisher, and finally by financing and organizing revolutionary groups.
Yet none of this was enough. The taint of money continued to pursue him. When he spoke to a student assembly in Rome, they shouted, “Give us the cash.” Only by acting out his imagined role of the revolutionary in full, by becoming a partisan on the mountains or by merging into the great mass of the metropolitan working class, could he hope to disguise his identity. Of course, this attempt was also bound to fail. Whether in an absurd Tyrolean disguise or in workers’ overalls, Feltrinelli was inevitably conspicuous. It is hard to believe that the secret services let him out of their sight for long, although the belief that they actually organized his death does not stand up to investigation. Feltrinelli was a man of practical as well as intellectual curiosity, and he became fatally proud of his ability in handling explosives. It is not too much to say, moreover, that he had an impulse to self-destruction. He appeared to his friends increasingly desperate, a lost soul, unwashed and in bad health.
Giangiacomo Feltrinelli had a privileged childhood, but also a peculiarly lonely and deprived one. Many of the contradictions of his character can plausibly be traced to his upbringing. His father, Carlo, one of the richest men in Italy, with a fortune valued at more than 800 million lire, then valued at over $50 million (from banking, timber, and real estate), died when he was only eight years old. His father could claim to be a victim of the Fascist regime, but for hardly creditable reasons. He fell into disgrace and had a fatal heart attack after it had been discovered that the family had defied Fascist exchange controls by holding large assets in Switzerland.
Following his father’s death Giangiacomo was left in the care of his mother, Giannalisa. Although Carlo Feltrinelli Jr. remembers his grandmother with some affection, the portrait that he draws of her is devastating. A beautiful woman twenty-three years younger than her husband, she did not waste much time in mourning for him, and was more than happy to be left alone to enjoy her huge fortune. She led the nomadic life of the super-rich, and her children had little chance to settle down or make friends. Grasping, ruthless, and domineering, she was, toward her children, alternately neglectful and interfering.
As her second husband she chose the up-and-coming journalist Luigi Barzini Jr., whom his stepson detested. He, too, fell into trouble with the dictatorship when on the eve of war he gave away top-secret information in order to impress British diplomats at a dinner party. It was characteristic of Mussolini’s Fascist regime that he was sentenced to confino (confinement), but was allowed to spend it on his honeymoon with Giannalisa in a grand hotel in Amalfi. It is easy to see why Giangiacomo should have had little respect either for Fascism or for those who profited from the regime but were too cynical or frivolous even to serve it faithfully.
Like many lonely rich children, Giangiacomo found friendship only among workers and servants. At the age of seventeen, during a period of heavy Allied air raids, he ran away from his mother’s house on the Tuscan peninsula of Monte Argentario and hid with the gardener and his son. His mother, preoccupied with saving herself and her jewels from the bombs, did not notice his absence for a while. In 1946, as a passionate monarchist horrified and embarrassed by her son’s involvement with the Communist Party, she tricked him into fleeing to Portugal in the belief that he was about to be arrested for illegal possession of arms. Not content with this, she tried to have him arrested to prevent his return to Italy.
In a strange fashion, after a brilliant, successful, and productive career, in his alternately tragic and farcical final phase, Feltrinelli recapitulated these early dramas of flight and the fear of arrest. A successful lover (if not a good husband) and a very affectionate father, Feltrinelli was not lacking in warmth in his human relationships. He knew a great many famous people, from Fidel Castro to Henry Kissinger and Isaiah Berlin. And yet those who knew him detected an inner loneliness that could not be appeased.
Like many of his generation, Feltrinelli idealized the partisan experience. He had not actually been a partisan himself, but he had enlisted in one of the regular combat units recruited to fight alongside the Allies. Still, this did not delay for long his acceptance of the ideals of the partisan Resistance as a movement designed to renew Italy’s political and social life through a process of revolutionary change and the mobilization of the masses of workers and peasants. In March 1945, when he was eighteen years old, he joined the Communist Party while his unit was training in Tuscany. At the time, this was not as radical a decision as it now might seem to be. Many of his contemporaries were drawn to the Communist Party in those years by its effectiveness in the Resistance and by its propaganda promising to build a “progressive” democracy in alliance with other democratic forces. But Feltrinelli’s profound estrangement from his family and milieu ensured that his commitment would be earnest and lasting.
He seems to have set out to become a model comrade, anxious to correct his defects by the approved method of self-criticism, as one can see from the revealing autobiographical profile he wrote for the Communist Party’s consumption in 1950, and which is reproduced in his son’s book. He applied to attend political courses run by the Party in order to have the experience of living in a community for three months, “therefore modifying my character,” and learning how to work alongside other comrades. He claimed that his Party work had already helped him to control his “impulsiveness” and “impetuosity” and given him some experience of the real life which his over-sheltered upbringing had denied him.
Feltrinelli even made a model Communist marriage, with a fellow comrade, the beautiful Bianca Dalle Nogare. Feltrinelli’s mother and his enemies portrayed her as a fanatical proletarian pasionaria, but in fact she came from a middle-class background and her greater maturity made her a steadying influence in his life. Sensibly enough, she persuaded him that it would be better to use his wealth productively rather than give it away. Neither his marriage nor his obedience to the Communist Party were to last. As a husband, he was both vulnerable and extremely demanding. He expected his wives to show daring and intellectual independence while efficiently organizing their social life.
He was unfaithful to Bianca, and was devastated when his second wife was unfaithful to him. But at least three of his four wives continued to speak of him with real affection. The Communist Party leaders may have contributed to the breakup of his first marriage; they regarded Bianca as more reliable than Giangiacomo, and seem to have suggested that she spy on him. In fact, she was not the pillar of orthodoxy that both the Party and its enemies believed her to be. Like Giangiacomo, she became disillusioned with the Party’s devious ways and its restrictions on free thought.
The Communist Party had in some ways a very positive influence on Feltrinelli. It turned him into a hard, capable, and conscientious worker, and made him feel useful for the first time in his life. His first important intellectual venture—gathering a collection of materials on the history of the working class—was carried out in close collaboration with the Party and particularly with its leader Palmiro Togliatti. Feltrinelli not only used his money to build an impressive library and archive, called the Feltrinelli Institute, in a remarkably short time, but he also recruited a talented group of young researchers. The experience was invaluable for his later career as a publisher. His entry into publishing itself took place under the sponsorship of the Party. When a cooperative that had been founded on Togliatti’s instructions to produce suitable cheap editions for the masses was facing financial disaster, the party turned to Feltrinelli, who made it a success.
Nevertheless, the Party did not altogether put to rest Feltrinelli’s perennial suspicion that he was valued not for his talents but for his wealth. Even in the autobiographical account I have mentioned there is one note of criticism of the Communist Party, when he relates how at first it had denied him a constructive role and had instead preferred to use him “to gather information in milieus hostile to the party,” which is to say his mother’s monarchist friends. No doubt, there was always a chance that Feltrinelli’s self-described “impulsiveness” and “impetuosity” would have clashed sooner or later with Party discipline. But in fact the breach came about as a result of the Soviet intervention in Hungary in October 1956. In Milan, Feltrinelli and the intellectuals attached to his research institute led the protest against the Italian Communist Party’s support for the Soviet repression of what the Communists described as the Hungarian “counterrevolution.” Even before Hungary, some of the Party intellectuals had openly objected to the Party’s heavy-handed and conservative cultural policy. Togliatti, for all his subtlety and skill, was slow to react to the expectations of change that had been aroused among intellectuals by the “thaw” in the Soviet Union’s grim orthodoxy after Stalin’s death.
In the early 1950s, the Einaudi publishing house, then the most culturally prestigious in Italy, normally consulted not only the Italian but the Soviet comrades before translating anything from Russian. It is a sign of the changed cultural climate that by 1956 its links with the Communist Party were becoming an embarrassment. Giulio Einaudi was angry when he found out that Feltrinelli had acquired the manuscript of Dr. Zhivago. The experts on Russian literature on Einaudi’s payroll were more highly qualified than those who worked for Feltrinelli. However, the younger man acted with greater speed and daring.
The decision to publish an original edition translated directly from Pasternak’s manuscript was not an easy one. Publication in the Soviet Union had been promised, and the appearance of an unauthorized edition abroad was bound to be dangerous for Pasternak and those close to him. When he handed over the manuscript to Feltrinelli’s agent, Sergio D’Angelo, he told him that “you, sir, are hereby invited to my execution.” Carlo Feltrinelli discovered the correspondence between his father and Pasternak in a safe which had never been opened since the publisher’s death. It documents both the poet’s courage under almost intolerable pressures and Feltrinelli’s determination to support him. They agreed on a secret code which authorized Feltrinelli to ignore Pasternak’s letter requesting him to suspend publication of what he described as a “preliminary draft requiring thorough revision.” The letter had, of course, been extorted from Pasternak by the cultural bureaucrats of the USSR under threat of arrest. But Pasternak’s conviction that “ideas are not born to be hidden at birth, but to be communicated to others” triumphed over any concern for his personal safety. In his secret messages, he urged Feltrinelli to disregard his request.
Feltrinelli, although an avowed dissident, did not break with the Communist Party until the end of 1957. The Party leadership seems at first to have been confident that they could bring him to heel. Some ground for compromise existed so long as the publication of the novel in the USSR was assured. Although Feltrinelli refused to repudiate the “draft” which he had had translated, he did agree to delay publication until it came out in the Soviet Union in September 1957. But during the summer Pasternak grew increasingly pessimistic about the chances of the book ever appearing except in a mutilated form. Khrushchev’s own guidelines on literary and artistic questions had become increasingly restrictive, but the leaders in the persecution of Pasternak were the members of the Soviet literary establishment. The secretary of the Writers’ Union, the appalling Alexey Surkov, was dispatched to Italy in a final, unsuccessful attempt to bully Feltrinelli into submission. Feltrinelli memorably described him as “a hyena dipped in syrup.”
At his best, Feltrinelli was a very good publisher. He made snap decisions and followed them up with hard work. His energy and personal magnetism won him the genuine admiration of editors and writers alike, and he recruited exceptionally talented people to work for him. At the same time, he was never an easy man to work with. His friendly relations with his collaborators were punctuated by fits of suspicion and irascibility. He made rash decisions without consulting his staff. He would buy entire series from other publishers without looking into their content. He was also in a sense the victim of his own success. Although his list, particularly in fiction, contained many brilliant names—Doris Lessing, Günter Grass, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, and even Alfred Hitchcock—he never found another best seller to repeat the extraordinary triumphs of Dr. Zhivago or The Leopard.
Encouraged by his third wife, the intelligent and well-traveled photographer Inge Schoenthal, who was to rescue the firm after his death, he encouraged the younger writers of the avant-garde, like Alberto Arbasino, who founded Group 63. But he did not succeed in maintaining the cultural pluralism of his best years. The “young Turks” of Milan persuaded him to get rid of Giorgio Bassani, whom they unfairly regarded as tediously old-fashioned. In an unpleasant incident, Feltrinelli had Bassani’s office searched for evidence that he had been dealing behind his back with other publishers. By the middle of the 1960s the publishing house was seriously in the red.
More serious than any of these problems, however, was Feltrinelli’s growing impatience with publishing. He had found a cause in the defense of free expression against Communist Party censorship. But his breach with the Party left him without a political anchor. He liked and respected the old leader of the Socialist Party, Pietro Nenni, and at one time it did not seem impossible that he might identify with the “opening to the left” and the cause of reform. But, aside from the very limited and disappointing results achieved by the coalition between the Socialists and the Christian Democrats, his temperament and convictions resisted such compromises. As a publisher whose scope was international, he was drawn to international causes such as the Algerian revolution, and he soon was involved in helping pro-Algerian activists accused of terrorism to escape and in providing them with jobs. In 1963 he decided that the activities of his research institute were too far removed from the revolutionary struggle; his team of researchers, who included several of the most talented younger historians in Italy, found themselves overnight without a job. He even tried to sell the library to Harvard, but negotiations broke down because he insisted that it should continue to bear his name.
Ironically, the next stage in his growing involvement with revolutionary third-world politics was prompted by the search for another publishing coup, when he learned that Fidel Castro was thinking of writing his memoirs. After the first contacts with Castro had been made, Feltrinelli flew to Cuba. The memoirs, however, turned out to be an unreadable compilation, and while trying to get Castro to come up with something more valuable Feltrinelli found himself forced to listen to the leader’s interminable and rambling monologues. He was by no means an uncritical admirer of Castro. He described him as “a sort of Garibaldi, utterly unsuited to government work, incapable of working, reasoning, and hard thinking. Impulsive, rhetorical”—and “ideologically confused.” He was so absorbed in his own half-baked ideas that “talking to him is useless.”
Feltrinelli was disturbed by the regime’s growing intolerance of dissent and its puritanical attitude toward homosexuality. But he was nonetheless irresistibly flattered by the attention and intimacy bestowed on him by one of the world’s most famous revolutionary leaders. These were after all the years in which Havana surpassed Moscow and even Beijing as a goal for political pilgrimages. Castro’s memoirs might be an ever-receding mirage, but in the meantime he and Feltrinelli played basketball together.
Che Guevara’s Bolivian expedition set off the series of events which finally persuaded Feltrinelli that he had to devote himself wholeheartedly to the cause of world revolution. After he had flown to Bolivia in August 1967 to help defend the arrested French writer Régis Debray, Feltrinelli was himself arrested and spent forty-eight hours in jail. His current companion, Sibilla Melega (later his fourth wife), who had joined him for a holiday, was also arrested and was deeply shaken by the experience. At a stroke Feltrinelli had found, or had thrust upon him, a new and intoxicating role, that of political victim. His reactions betrayed shock and indignation, but also pride. This was the reality which he had been seeking.
Here again Feltrinelli was not at all an isolated or untypical figure. Che Guevara’s death made him into a revolutionary pop icon, and Feltrinelli had a great deal to do with this. He published Che’s Bolivian diary, which had a huge international success, and the Feltrinelli bookshops launched the famous image of “Che in the sky with jacket,” printed from a photograph by Alberto Korda, and repeated on countless posters and T-shirts. But the writings of neither Che nor García Márquez could halt the decline of the firm’s fortunes. After 1968, the normal business of publishing ceased to concern Feltrinelli. As one of his best editors wrote, “In Cuba he lost his identity as a publisher: the conviction that through books and culture one could influence…the reality of the world.”2 He was only interested in Carlos Mariguella’s manual for the urban guerrilla, and in producing a series of repetitive and dogmatic pamphlets on the coming world civil war, in which Italy would be a crucial site. Some of these he wrote himself. After the Greek colonels’ coup in 1967, he was convinced, and not without some plausible reasons, that Italy was next on the list.
What belonged strictly to the realm of political fantasy, however, was Feltrinelli’s belief that the backward regions of Italy might provide the conditions for a guerrilla “war of liberation” on the Latin American model, or at least the detonator for revolutionary civil war. Sardinia was to be his Cuba, and he dreamed of enlisting the famous bandit Graziano Mesina to lead the armed struggle. In his last years, he abandoned his hopes for Sardinia and turned back toward the industrial metropolis as the incubator of revolution, and here he encountered the nascent Red Brigades.
To the younger, post-1968 student revolutionaries, Feltrinelli appeared at first old-fashioned and something of a joke. Mao’s China was the new fashion among extremists since the Cultural Revolution, while Feltrinelli, presumably persuaded by his Cuban friends, became drawn once more to the Soviet Union. One of the sadder aspects of Carlo Feltrinelli’s book is that it shows how the publisher of Dr. Zhivago and the courageous critic of the invasion of Hungary ended up defending Brezhnev’s USSR as the homeland of the world revolution.
The Red Brigades were critical of Feltrinelli’s failure to condemn the “revisionist degeneration” of the Soviet Union, and of his anachronistic attachment to the idea of a partisan war based in the mountains. But in 1979, during a joint trial of the Red Brigades and the GAP, some members of the Brigades said that Feltrinelli had been important to them as the precursor of the new phase of armed revolutionary struggle of which they claimed to be the leaders. In fact, Feltrinelli acted as a kind of all-purpose patron to the organizations of the partito armato. He gave them not only money but advice on falsifying documents, setting up safe houses, and getting publicity. He was on particularly good terms with Antonio Negri and Franco Piperno, the leaders of the most radical of the new left movements, Potere Operaio (Workers’ Power), and with Valerio Morucci, the head of its clandestine paramilitary organization, created in 1971. Feltrinelli helped Morucci buy arms in Liechtenstein.
Feltrinelli seems to have had the illusion that he could unite the different factions of the partito armato; but the Potere Operaio group and the Red Brigades were divided by irreconcilable differences about the strategy for insurrection, and neither of them was willing to accept his leadership.3 The element of fantasy in his plans did not escape them. He showed Morucci a special aluminum suit that would allow him to survive under the snow when he took to the mountains. Still he had a very real and tragic responsibility for the origins of left-wing terrorism in Italy.
Carlo Feltrinelli’s immensely informative biography includes many revealing letters from his father, some to Carlo himself, and it is remarkable in being affectionate without being apologetic. It is not the last word on the subject; although Carlo Feltrinelli has consulted archives both in Washington and Moscow, further research might still shed light on the obscure features of Feltrinelli’s international revolutionary activities.4 In the meantime, his son has made it possible for us to understand better both the contradictions of this complex, talented, and infuriating man, and his place in a period of Italian history that seemed bright with hopes and dark with fears.
September 25, 2003
It cannot be said that the publishers of the English version of Carlo Feltrinelli’s biography have lived up to the exacting standards of his father. The translation on the whole reads well, but it contains errors that should have been corrected. The translation of borsisti as “bursars” makes the Feltrinelli Institute sound like an Oxford college. A borsa is standard Italian for a scholarship or a research grant. More seriously, the English version omits large sections of the original text without any warning to the reader. Some of these omissions can be justified as containing material of lesser interest to an English-language audience; but others are important, such as the passage dealing with the attempted coup of Prince Borghese in December 1970. This makes Feltri-nelli’s obsession with the possibility of a coup appear less comprehensible. ↩
Aldo Grandi, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli: La dinastia, il rivoluzionario (Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 2000), p. 296. ↩
For a clear account of Potere Operaio and the divergence between the Red Brigades’ model of a tightly organized clandestine terrorist organization and Negri’s conception of “mass illegality,” see Alexander Stille, “Apocalypse Soon,” The New York Review, November 7, 2002. ↩
Since the publication of the Italian version of Carlo Feltrinelli’s book (Senior Service, Feltrinelli, 1999), another biography by Aldo Grandi has appeared (see note 2 above). It is well researched and contains a great deal of material from interviews. I have drawn on it extensively. I should also like to thank Enzo Collotti, Giuliano Procacci, and Michele Ranchetti for their help. ↩