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My Twin Brother, Bruno Argento

by Bruce Sterling
interpreted by David Orban

Buongiorno! Thanks for inviting me to your fascinating event here at Icograda Design Week!

Since I'm a writer of science fantasies—I write fantascienza—I'm extremely interested in the
topic today—which is multiverses and parallel worlds. I'm very, very familiar with these issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that you think that a "multiverse" is a metaphor, a far-fetched
idea. You do not expect any public appearance from anyone who *came here* from a world
parallel to your own.

However, I did that. I am a native of a parallel world. Yes, I am

Bruce Sterling, the science fiction writer. Or rather, I am Bruce
Sterling from another part of the multiverse. In my own world,
Bruce Sterling is not American. He was not born in Texas. Not
at all. Never! In my world, Bruce Sterling is Italian! He was born
in Torino. He is a Turinese science fiction writer. And yes, that
man would be me. My name is—of course—Bruno Argento. I
am the Italian Bruce Sterling!

I know this is hard for you to believe. Don't worry—we

science fiction writers are used to that problem. As you can see, I know everything Bruce Sterling
knows—I am here when Bruce Sterling is supposed to be speaking—and yet I am Bruno
Argento, and I can speak fluent Italian. As you can see, I am here and he is gone. This form of
travel is much easier than you think. You yourselves don't know how to travel the multiverse. You
have only vague ideas. In my own Torino, our ideas are specific and practical. We know how. We
can move from one multiverse to another rather easily. In fact, as soon as I finish this speech, I am
going back. You can look all over Torino, you will find no trace of Bruno Argento. Instead, you will
find that Bruce Sterling is back in Torino. I hope this relieves your doubts.

Now, when I first arrived here in your multiverse, I realized that I, Bruno Argento, was a Texan in
this world. No, I was not pleased. This Texan and I do have parallel careers. I am in my mid-fifties,
just like him. I write novels, I write popular science, I write about computer technology quite a

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lot. Just like him. I am also keenly interested in design issues. So I am, in many ways, rather like this
American you know as Bruce Sterling.

There is, however, a major difference. Your Bruce Sterling is a foreigner who can barely read
Italian. He knows almost nothing about our real Torino. When he wanders among you he is like a
small child, he's full of wonder and childlike astonishment. Italians should pity this man. They
should try to help him. Whereas I myself am Torino's best known writer of futuristic science
fiction. I was born here, I was educated here, I was married here, I have children here. But I don't
want to boast about my successful career. I certainly don't want to talk any more about Bruce

Instead, I want to talk, in detail, about Torino. My own Torino. Torino: a literary city. An engineering
city. A city of design. A city of education. A city of architecture and urban planning. A capital city.
Yes, Torino. Torino in the multiverse.

Now, my Torino, the Torino of Bruno Argento, is

a Torino from a parallel world. So my Torino is
not entirely and totally identical to your Torino. I
do not want to tell you that my Torino, the
Torino of Bruno Argento, is superior to your
Torino. I do not claim that—because Torino is
unique in all the multiverse. All forms of Torino
are, in some sense, Torino.

However, I do know Torino. I know every

quarter, I know every street. I know every every
variety of chocolate and I know every café
where you can get bicerin. I know my city
almost as well as Giuseppe Culicchia.

All forms of Torino have some form of Beppe Culicchia in them. I thought it was important for
you to know that.

Now to the point of my visit here. I must tell you, frankly, as a fellow Turinese, that in my
futuristic, visionary, fantascienza Torino, we have certain features that you seem to lack.

First, there is Slow Food. I know that all Piedmontese are properly proud of your Slow Food
Movement. I certainly don't want to hurt your feelings. But our Slow Food is slower than yours.
Much slower. In your world, Carlo Petrini, Carlino from Bra, he is considered an oppositional
figure. He's an anti-globalist, he's against McDonald's and fast food. Carlo is someone pushing
against the grain.

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In my Torino, Carlo Petrini is an establishment figure. He is a gentleman and a key part the power
structure. Mr Petrini has been elected to office. He owns a TV network. He's a multimillionaire
who manages a giant Italian global grocery chain. When Petrini shows up in town in his convoy or
armored limousines, people show up to *protect* the McDonalds. McDonalds' cowers in fear in
front of Carlo Petrini. Signor Petrini is a major agent of Turinese cultural imperialism.

I see that you're looking somewhat puzzled. I think I had better explain this term, "Turinese
cultural imperialism." To you, these words sound strange. In my multiverse, we Turinese have to
hear that all the time. In my world, whenever people say "Turinese cultural imperialism," they
mean that they feel the pressure, the power, of Turinese culture. Our culture is changing them.

Sometimes it's slow and subtle, like Savoyard marriage politics.

Sometimes it is rapid and astonishing, like the Risorgimento. But they
do feel it. Because it is real. They know we are there.

It's not a military imperialism. It is not a financial imperialism. It is an

imperialism that other people do not know how to resist. They do not
resist. They are barely able to describe it.

It is something like the incredible presence of one of Piemonte's more

famous daughters: Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Carla Bruni, the Premiere
Dame of neighboring France. No, that was not plausible; that did not
seem likely. Bruce Sterling being suddenly replaced by Bruno Argento, that is easy to believe,
compared to Carla Bruni becoming the Premiere Dame of France. It happened anyway. People
simply don't know what to make of it, yet they are overwhelmed by its charm. In my world.
Torino is the Carla Bruni of cities. That's what they mean when they say "Turinese cultural
imperialism." They mean that something—the structure of our lives, our attitude, our way of
being—emanates from us.

Let me try to talk about this in a more practical, more immediate way. As we all know, Torino is
"World Capital of Design 2008." The same is true in my own Torino. My Torino also the "World
Capital of the Food Heritage Industry." And my Torino is the "World Capital of Green Vehicles."
We're also the "World Capital of Palace Restoration." Also the "World Capital of Artistic
Cyberculture." We are even the "European Capital of Endangered Regional Languages." We
stopped asking to be the capital of these enterprises. People FORCE us to be the capital.

My Torino is not the capital of Italy. That would be Rome, known as "the Eternal City." Torino is
not "eternal." My be I be frank here? It is no practical use to be "eternal." If you are an eternal
capital, it means, by definition, that nothing interesting ever happens to you. Tombs are eternal. If
you want to be a tomb, you should call yourself eternal. Torino is not a tomb. Torino is the World
Capital of Futurism.

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Now, industrial design is large enterprise. The International Conference of Societies of Industrial
Design, that is a big organization. So Torino is only the World Capital of Design for one brief year.
And that year is almost over.

Futurism, by contrast to design, is a small enterprise. Anyone can name many superstar designers.
Michele di Lucchi. Luigi Colani. Massimo Vignelli. Mario Bellini. Then there are other, more minor
figures such as Philippe Starck, Karim Rashid, and Ross Lovegrove.

Now try naming a superstar futurist. I will make it simpler: name any Italian futurist. Since Italy
invented futurism, there ought to be a great many of them. But no. All the most famous Italian
futurists have been dead for almost a hundred years. Italian futurism is so old that Italian futurist
statues are on the coinage.

Nevertheless, my Torino has been the World Capital of Futurism for many years. This has been of
great use to us. Let me explain to you how you do this. It's surprisingly simple. First, you have to
declare yourself the World Capital of Futurism. That is the hard part.

Then you have to create and endow a

small cultural institute where you feed and
shelter some futurists. Fifty futurists is
plenty. If you put fifty futurists in one
building, then you really are the World
Capital of Futurism.

Luckily, Torino is covered with small

cultural institutes. It was easy to create just
one more institute for a few dozen eager
futurists. They have conferences, they do
research, they write white-papers, they
have an academic press, that is all easy. The hard part was convincing the world that we, Torino,
were the capital of the future.

This bold declaration did not fit our natural reserve, our Turinese dignity. It did some small
violence to our self-image when we Turinese declared ourselves to be the world's most futuristic
city. There was some fear that we would have to sell all our heirloom furniture and live in strange
plastic furniture designed by Joe Colombo.

But that problem was an illusion, because the future of the 1960s, the epoch of Joe Cesare
Colombo, is not the future. That is the past. A professional futurist can find many good reasons to
prove that Torino is a city of the future. Torino embodies many of the most powerful trends of
the early 21st century.

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Torino has the demographic profile of the future. Torino has the ethnic variety of the future.
Torino is a post-automobile city. Torino is even a post-financial panic city. Torino is not about the
dead Space Age future of the 1960s. Torino has the qualities of actual futurity.

Most importantly, Torino can do something about the future. Futuristic ideas are difficult to put
into practice. Consider the various physical scales of political and social organization. There are
the scales of the planet, the European Union, the nation, the province, the city, the neighborhood,
the building and the individual.

What about futurism? Most professional futurists are individuals. They are simple, scholarly, crafts
people. They might even be a novelist and a journalist, like myself. Sometimes futurists gather in
small think-tanks and institutes. There are a few futurist consulting companies. Mostly, they are
individuals. Writers, scholars, thinkers.

So: can an entire planet be futuristic? No. Is the European Union futuristic? Certainly not. Is the
nation of Italy futuristic? Most people in office in Italy today were in office twenty years ago. Can
a province like Piemonte be futuristic? Yes—in a mild way. But can a city be futuristic? A city is the
first one of these enterprises that can be genuinely futuristic.

So: when we in Torino declared that we were the World Capital of Futurism, we found that we
had no rivals. The crown was ours.

Let me explain the benefits we derived from this. They were cultural.

Until we Turinese declared ourselves to be futurists, and we began to think futuristically, we

considered ourselves to be under attack by the future. We were a people of many
disappointments who were defending our own values. In a word, we were reactionaries. Although
we had a great many avant-garde aspects, we did not see ourselves as an avant-garde. We
thought we were a border city; since we did not perceive the trends, we did not know that we
our position on the edge was a position of leadership. We thought we were peripheral in world

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events—we were unable to see that we were the first in world events. We were a capital in
shadows. The sun had not revealed the lineaments of our own strength.

Torino has often been an obscure place. However, Torino has always been a strong place. On the
contrary: historians describe Savoyard Piedmont as a Mediterranean Prussia. Torino is a
stronghold, it is a fortress. Every other major city in Italy was at one time a city-state. Torino was
never a city-state. Torino is the only major city in Italy that was deliberately designed. So Torino
has never been a place of loose, careless, organic growth. Torino has always been a place of
plotting, scheming, and deep intent: sometimes dynastic, sometimes industrial, but always with that
element of deliberate foresight.

Then there is one other important factor. As a novelist, I think this may be our secret. Torino has
never achieved any greatness through attention to our own problems. It is always other people's
crises that bring out our great, yet latent, power. Torino becomes great when other cities, other
regions, other nations are completely

It is not our own pain that matters.

When Victor Emmanual was about to
become king of Italy, he did not make
his famous speech and declare "I can
hear the cry of my own pain." If he
had made such a declaration his
dynasty would never have united Italy.
Nobody ever hears the cry of Torino's
pain. When we cry to ourselves about
the cries of our own pain, nobody
ever cares about that. They never
heed our lamentations! Not a bit of it.
It's when WE hear OTHER people
cr ying in pain, that's when life
becomes interesting.

Nor are we hasty about it. You may recall, if you know your glorious, Risorgimento, 150-year
history, that Victor Emmanuel said that "he could not remain deaf to the cry of pain that reached
him from all parts of Italy."

"Remain deaf." That was a very Turinese thing to say. Clearly the cry of pain had been reaching
Victor Emmanuel for quite some time. He wasn't hastily reacting. This was not some sudden,
passionate, emotional overreaction. On the contrary, he admitted to his Parliament that he had
chosen to be deaf.

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Torino is in a similar situation. Torino is a remarkably well-educated and well-informed city. The
people of Torino take a lively interest in public affairs. The city is a center of publishing. It's full of
architects, designers, engineers, industrialists, programmers, the military. It's a city full of skills and
resources. Everyone in Torino hears the cry of pain. We choose to be deaf. We have always had
the potential to rally ourselves to end the cry of grief. We choose to be deaf.

It's a cry of rising general distress. It is the cry of a world civilization incapable of defining and
creating a better life for itself. It is a world that has abandoned itself to random fluctuations, and
called that "wisdom." It's a world that refuses to constructively intervene to save itself from clear
and present dangers. The world has terror, the world has war. The world has grave environmental
decline. The world has corruption, the world has weak and hollow governmental institutions, and
now, to the grave alarm of the wealthy, the world has the world's first truly global financial panic.
And Torino remains deaf. Because Torino finds it difficult to imagine itself as a world capital. Not
that Torino is INCAPABLE of being a world capital. After all, Torino was once the capital of Italy
and no one expected that either. Torino is the World Capital of Design. Design is important.
Torino could be the world capital of any number of important things.

That is the cry of pain. That cry is a gigantic Turinese opportunity. In my Torino, we understand
that. In fact it's obvious to us.

We did not simply become the city of the future. First: we

imagined ourselves to be the city of the future. Soon we
found ourselves becoming that change. The change was
subtle. It takes literary skill to describe a change in public
temperament. But we did change. I can tell you a story
about it. A personal story.

After all, I'm a novelist. Therefore my life was full of literary

clutter. For instance, old copies of "Italo Calvino's
Fantascienza Magazine." This is Torino's pre-eminent futurist
publication. Of course I write for it, and so do all the most
famous Italian fantascienza writers: Valerio Evangelisti, Gloria
Barberi, Massimo del Pizzo... yes, the whole world knows
these names.

Soon my small Turinese apartment was filled up with

literary clutter: awards, plaques, foreign editions of my novels, Hollywood adaptations, mementos,
cover paintings of my books, and so forth. It was becoming impossible to move. I was being
slowly overwhelmed.

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So I asked myself a simple question. "Bruno," I said to myself, "you are a citizen of the World
Capital of Design. How can you allow yourself to be overwhelmed by this uncontrolled debris?
You are behaving as if you are completely helpless, a victim of random market forces—like an
American, almost."

So I set myself three rules. I considered every object in my life, I put my own hands on it. Did it
have great beauty? That was my first question. Was I emotionally attached to it—if it vanished
from my life, would I notice its absence, would I truly care? That was the second question. And,
lastly, did it efficiently perform some useful
function in my home? In other words, was it well
designed and in good condition?

I forced myself to answer these questions

honestly. Most of the objects in my life
immediately failed this test. They were ugly, or I
didn't care about them, they were partially
broken and I was too lazy to get better ones.

I wrote an essay about this for ABITARE. I don't

mean your ABITARE—I mean my ABITARE, the
one that is so popular in Berlin, Tokyo and

These useless objects, these clumsy possessions...

they were harming me. They were hindering me
from achieving my goals. They were making me a lesser version of Bruno Argento, a lesser human
being. They were a sentimental layer of chaos. They allowed me to hide within my own confusion,
to wrap myself in shadows and passivity. This material clutter took away my existential freedom.
Each one of these objects occupied my space like an invader. It stole my precious time.

I found that when I was surrounded by things that truly helped me, that genuinely meant a great
deal to me, and that really spoke to my sense of civilized beauty, I was much more myself. I had
more clarity, more purpose. I had more time for my friends. When they came over to my flat:
"Bruno, how well you look," they said. They did not even notice that I had rid myself of half my
physical possessions! Some were even envious. They saw that all remaining objects in my flat
were quite handsome and well-designed. So they thought I must have come into money.

I had not come into money. I had come into futurity. I had more futurity because I was less
oppressed by this burden of material rubbish.

Today I set myself other design rules. Before I acquire a new object, I must look for some object
to sacrifice. You may recall that I wrote a novel about this subject. Oh wait—in this world, there

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are no Bruno Argento novels. You have only the unfortunate cyberpunk novels of that Texan
science fiction writer. Well....

Well, if you think the clutter in my home was bad, imagine when I lifted my eyes, and thought
about the clutter in my political convictions. Were they beautiful political convictions? If I forgot
these doctrines, would I ever want to remember them again? Did they clearly help me achieve
any practical benefit in my everyday life? Perhaps you can imagine the remarkable debates we
had... the novels of ideas, the burning, newly energized theater, the revitalization of our public life.
A futurist has to prototype, to postulate, to speculate, to experiment. A designer has to engage
with the grain of the material.

So: imagine a city that experiments with the grain of the material. It seems so simple to say. But to
live in that kind of city... why would I ever leave? Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

I would never claim that we have achieved a Utopia.

Mankind is a crooked timber. Nothing straight can be
built out of us. I would say that Torino has achieved a
Turinese self-awareness. Through design and futurism,
through looking outside our own boundaries, through
hearing the cry of pain, we have resolved some of our
internal inconsistencies and come to a position of

People point to our city as a model of what can be

achieved under contemporary circumstances. This is
good. Of course leadership is troublesome by nature.
For a city, even prosperity can be troublesome. We're
not the world's largest metropolis. It's dificult for us to
deal with the huge inrush of people who want to join us.

However, the duty of a capital is to civilize and organize

other, lesser cities. That is why we expor t our
organizational abilities. Or, as other people would call it, we practice Italian cultural imperialism. It
is the only kind of imperialism we have, the only kind that is practical, the only kind that is
possible. And my Torino has it and does it. The Italian heritage industry is rebuilding palaces all
over Europe. Italian publishing is considered the great think-tank for issues of European
integration, which is the great unification problem of our times. The Italian military is closely
focussed on genuine and contemporary military problems—mostly state-building. In a world
where global finance is in shadows and weirdly opaque, Italian finance is genuinely creative.

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Furthermore, while most countries have a feeble creative-publishing industry, Italy still literature.
We have literature because even our fantasists have a sense of urgency. Like Galileo, like
Columbus, like Marco Polo, like Calvino, we aim to map the world.

We aim to map the multiverse! To map parallel worlds! To intellectually visit and develop as many
worlds as we can touch!

So, thank you for your hospitality to me, the twin brother of Bruce Sterling. Please don't expect
to meet me again. I have some urgent deadlines in my own world. I will be leaving now. Thank

Presented at the Multiverso conference, part of the ICOGRADA conference series for Torino World
Design Capital 2008, on 19 October 2008 in Turin.

Photos from: kandinski, lonesome cycler, zac mc, sedoglia, torephoto

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

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