Gramsci and culture



The cultural policy guided by the philosophy of praxis seeks to lead the “simple” to a superior conception of life.

Gramsci occupies a solitary place in Marxist reflections on culture. In his last years of life, there was a debate about the meaning of expressionism among German exiles, a debate that would influence discussions about aesthetics throughout the XNUMXth century. The prisoner was unaware of this important debate. On the other hand, he was certainly well acquainted with the discussions about art that took place in revolutionary Russia.

In his youth he showed enthusiasm for proletkult and by futurism, an enthusiasm that did not survive the intellectual maturation revealed in the prison notebooks (CC, hereinafter). Perhaps for, so to speak, “diplomatic” reasons, the Italian leader did not want to interfere in the quarrels between the various artistic trends, each of which presents itself as the “true representative” of Russian revolutionary art. Stalinist truculence was soon to reach the field of the arts, which certainly explains Gramsci's sparse prudent comments against those who wanted to see art at the service of propaganda. The primacy of politics in the Gramscian project respects the autonomy of the various spheres of human activity and their specificities. Prioritizing politics does not mean submitting art to its immediate demands, as, as he pointed out, “one speaks of political art only by metaphor” (CC, 3, 222).

In another passage Gramsci returns to the theme by contrasting the politician with the literati: “the literati must have less precise and defined perspectives than the politician, must be less “sectarian”, if you can say so, but in a “contradictory” way. For the politician, every image “fixed” a priori is reactionary: the politician considers every movement in its becoming. The artist, on the contrary, must have images “fixed” and filtered in their definitive form. The politician imagines man as he is and, at the same time, as he should be, in order to achieve a certain objective. (…) The artist necessarily represents “what is” at a certain moment (…) in a realistic way”. (CC, 6, 262-3).

Gramsci, certainly influenced by Croce, was sensitive to the need to maintain the relative autonomy of the “distinct”. However, the Neapolitan philosopher understood these spheres as independent entities, as “moments of the Spirit” circularly linked to reality. Thus thinking, he moved away from the Hegelian dialectic and approached analytical reason (“understanding”), committed to the task of distinguishing, separating, differentiating concepts, thus aiming to classify them in their positivity and highlight their characteristics. unique and unmistakable. The act of discerning, necessary for clarification, is, however, a moment to be overcome, denied, in dialectical logic. In it, difference is always a determined difference: it presupposes otherness and, in its movement, reunites the different into a new unity.

As an author who has always fought positivism and its derivations and, in maturity, idealism, Gramsci takes sides on this issue. With Hegel, he understands that autonomy does not mean indetermination, and, with Marx, he affirms the ontological priority of the material base: “the distinction will not be between moments of absolute Spirit, but between structure and superstructure” (Prison notebooks, II, 977, hereinafter Q). The concept that encompasses these two dimensions is the historic block. Marx did not replace the Hegelian idea with matter, as Croce said, but the place occupied by the spirit in the Neapolitan philosopher is replaced in Gramsci by the materiality-ideality of the historical block (“Concept of historical block: in historical materialism it is the philosophical equivalent of the “spirit ” in Crotian philosophy: introducing a dialectical activity and a process of distinction into the “historical bloc” does not mean denying real unity”). (Q, II, 854).

Analyzing superstructures, Gramsci states that every cultural manifestation contains ideological elements, but this does not mean diluting culture in ideology. It is significant, for example, the reference to Shakespeare, criticized by several authors (Tolstoy, Shaw, Ernest Crosby) due to his aristocratic positions: “in all of Shakespeare's work there is almost no word of sympathy towards the people and the masses workers (…) their drama is essentially aristocratic. Almost every time he introduces burghers or commoners onto the scene, he presents them in a derogatory or disgusting way, making them an object or subject of laughter.” This type of commentary, says Gramsci, is directed "against Shakespeare 'the thinker', not Shakespeare 'the artist'". Gramsci criticizes the “moralistic bias” of those interpreters who reduce art to mere ideological expression.

These and other forays into cultural and artistic themes accompanied our author's entire trajectory. In newspaper articles Come on!, the young revolutionary, in addition to analyzing political life, devoted hundreds of pages to Pirandello and Ibsen. Us prison notebooks, reflection on cultural themes is an integral part of a “pre-established plan” that he laid out to his sister-in-law in a letter dated March 19, 1927. In it, Gramsci intended to carry out: (1) a survey of Italian intellectuals; (2) a study of comparative linguistics; (3) a study of Pirandello's theater; (4) an essay on the feuilleton novel and popular taste in literature (Letters, I, pp. 128-9). The four themes that make up Gramsci's research are part of the project of the fight for the moral reform of society.

This political-cultural project was based on a diagnosis of Italian cultural life that noted the existing divorce between artists and the people. This divorce has a historical explanation that begins with Caesar, who transferred all the intellectuals of the Roman Empire to Rome, thus creating a “cultural organization”. Thus begins “that category of “imperial” intellectuals in Rome, which will continue in the Catholic clergy and will leave many marks in the entire history of Italian intellectuals, with its characteristic of “cosmopolitanism” until the eighteenth century”. (CC, 2, 163). Cosmopolitanism means detachment from the people-nation, a tendency that was reinforced in the Renaissance and in the Risorgimento. Croce, according to Gramsci, is part of this tradition, being “the last man of the Renaissance” (CC, 1, 371).

The result of this long-lasting process was the transformation of Italian intellectuals into a caste distanced from the people and alien to national problems. The people, in turn, began to identify with foreign literature (especially French), more precisely with the melodramas published in special newspaper supplements, the feuilletons (in Italian, romanzi d'appendix). The divorce between national literature and the people interested Gramsci deeply. And not only him: in the same period, in Germany, a country that, like Italy, was reunified late, Walter Benjamin wrote in 1932 a radio play that had the ironic title: What Germans Read While Their Classics Wrote.

In the repeated comparison with France, Gramsci tried to point out the specificity of the national formation and the relations between intellectuals and artists and the people. In France, the development of the bourgeois revolution brought intellectuals closer to the people and allowed the flourishing of a national and popular literature as an expression of the nation-state. The approximation was possible thanks to the radical action of the Jacobins pushing the bourgeois revolution beyond its limits.

In Italy, on the contrary, a total division was consolidated, lacking, therefore, “an efficient Jacobin force, precisely that force that, in other nations, created and organized the national-popular collective will and founded the modern States” (CC, 3, 17).

Thus, Gramsci's interest in relating Risorgimento, intellectuals and literature: in Italy, as in all countries, the formation of national literature was directly linked to the formation of the nation-state and to what Machado de Assis called the “instinct of nationality”.

References to the feuilleton are also part of this historical perspective. The passion that this minor literature aroused in the prison of Turi caught his attention, as well as the fact that the major newspapers resorted to it (in particular, the works of Alexandre Dumas) to increase sales. This alliance between journalism and literature arrived late in Italy. In France, shortly after the Revolution of 1930, the newspaper La Presse lowered the price of subscriptions to earn profit from advertising. The creation of a stable and permanent public started to be guaranteed with the publication of serials. Otto Maria Carpeaux observed the consequences of this initiative: “The success of this invention was so great that even the oldest newspapers, with a worthy ideological tradition, were forced to imitate the example: the Journal of Debates published the Mysteres of Paris, by Sue, and the Constitutional offered the Juif errant, by the same novelist. Dumas père, Georges Sand, Balzac, will appear among the authors of serial novels. An alliance between journalism and literature begins (...) literature begins to live off the public of newspapers. When Gustav Kolb reorganized, in 1832, the Augsburgische Allgemeine Zeitung, from the publisher Cotta, publisher of Goethe and Schiller, hired Heine as a correspondent in Paris. In 1843 Charles Dickens appears among the reporters of morning chronicle (...). A Belgian Independence, founded in 1831 in Brussels, will have among its foreign collaborators a Thackeray, a Mazzini, a Gutzkow, a Multatuli, a Dostoievski (CARPEAUX, Otto Maria: 1982, p. 1396).

The reception in Italy of the French serial led Gramsci to look into this type of literature. In his evaluation, the feuilleton is considered minor literature, but, what is more important, it is an element of culture (“an effective element of culture, of a certainly degraded culture”). (CC, 6, 39). In a letter to Berti (8-8-1926), he confessed: “I have a blessed ability to find interesting aspects even in the lowest intellectual production, like serial novels, for example. If I had the opportunity, I would accumulate hundreds and thousands of files on various topics of diffuse social psychology” (Letters, I, 176).

This “blessed ability” distances Gramsci from other theorists who study cultural issues. Lukács and Adorno, for example, are authors who, so to speak, look upwards, to high culture, to masterpieces. Popular culture, in Lukács' condescending gaze, is included in his monumental Aesthetics, in what he called the “problematic cycle of the pleasant”. Adorno, in turn, condemned popular culture to disappear under the steamroller of social homogenization that encompasses, levels and de-characterizes everything. Althusser, committed to establishing his interpretation of Marxism, had the experimental works of the so-called avant-garde as an aesthetic reference, not writing anything about popular culture.

Gramsci and Bakhtin are the only Marxist theorists who looked down on and valued popular culture. Unlike Bakhtin, Gramsci did not limit himself to highlighting the critical aspects of popular culture, but, as we will see later on, to highlight its contradictory character.

Gramsci's attitude, therefore, is not at all elitist, since he understands that popular interest comes from “something deeply felt and lived”. At the same time, he sought to understand the underlying psychological schemes that attracted the reader's interest: “The baroque, the melodramatic, appear to many common people as an extraordinarily fascinating way of feeling and acting, as a way of escaping from what they consider low. , petty, despicable in their life and education, in order to enter a more select sphere, of high feelings and noble passions” (CC, 6, 214). The serial, therefore, “satisfies a requirement of life”, but, he adds, it does so based on a commercial criterion, “given by the fact that the “interesting” element is not “naive”, “spontaneous”, intimately fused in the artistic conception (intuition), but brought from outside, in a mechanical way, industrially dosed as a sure element of immediate success. However, this means, in any case, that also business literature must not be neglected in the history of culture: on the contrary, it has enormous value from this point of view, since the success of a book of business literature indicates (and often is the only existing indicator) what is the “philosophy of the time”, that is, what is the mass of feelings (and conceptions of the world) that predominates in the “silent” crowd. This literature is a popular “narcotic”, it is an “opium”” (CC, 6, 168-9).

Thus, on the production side there is the purely commercial interest that uses “psychological excitants” to involve the public; and, on the side of literary consumption, there is an anonymous crowd that dreams with open eyes, projecting their frustrations and their desire for social justice onto the serial heroes. Narcotic, opium: expressions similar to those used by Adorno to condemn the cultural industry. The difference is that Gramsci's attention is primarily focused on the reading public and their feelings: literature responds to a real felt need that precedes production. Writers, aware of this, seek to satisfy these needs, but these could also be satisfied by artistic literature, recalling the people's appreciation for Shakespeare and the Greek theater. Thinking like this, Gramsci beckons to reception studies.

For Marxism, what should be privileged: production or consumption? Marx faced this question in the floorplans when discussing the moments that form the economic cycle: production, distribution, circulation and consumption, understanding these terms as integral parts of a “dialectical syllogism”, as moments of an interactive process in which each one of them acts as a mediator, changing places in permanent motion. What matters to Marx is the requirement to relate all these terms, treating them as moments of the same process, so as not to make any of them autonomous. But the “determining moment”, the starting point of the economic cycle, is production. The same criterion should apply to literature, as taught by Antônio Candido. When did our literature begin? Before Arcadianism there were “literary manifestations”, but not a literature per se. This, says the critic resorting to functionalist sociology, must be understood as a system formed by three connected parts: work, author and public, parts that were only established after Arcadianism. Both Marxism and Functionalism, so different in every way, come close in claiming a holistic perspective.

Going back to Gramsci and Adorno's remarks, we can see that both give priority to the sphere of production. The central difference between them lies in two points. Firstly, the importance given to the reception in Gramsci and the need to carry out sociological research on the reading public should be highlighted. Adorno, in turn, does not rule out the sphere of reception, but this is deduced from the “previous schemes of understanding” and from psychoanalysis. Secondly, there is Gramsci's strong conviction that one cannot speak of homogeneity (massification, as Adorno would say): “a given historical-social moment is never homogeneous; on the contrary, it is full of contradictions” (CC, 6, 65).

Deepening this idea, he stated: “there are different cultural strata among the people, different “feeling masses”, predominant in one or another extract”. Consequently, there is a “variety of types of popular novel”. Gramsci even hinted at a typology to be used in the extensive research he intended to do: novels of a clearly ideological-political character, linked to the ideologies of 1848; sentimental type novel; romance of pure intrigue, with conservative-reactionary content; historical novel; police romance; horror novel; scientific adventure novel (CC, 6, 45-6). In other passages he sought to point out internal differences within each type. In the case of the detective novel, for example, he highlighted in one of his letters the literary qualities of Chesterton, “a great artist”, contrasting him with Conan Doyle, “a mediocre writer”: “Chesterton wrote yet another very fine caricature of detective stories. than actual detective stories. Father Brown is a Catholic who mocks the way of thinking of Protestants (...), Sherlock Holmes is the “Protestant” policeman, who discovers the thread of a crime from the outside, based on science, on the experimental method , in induction” (Letters, I, 445).

Discernment in the study of popular literature also extends to folklore, which mixes “fossilized” and “progressive” elements, forming “an indigestible agglomeration of fragments”. Perhaps for this reason, it was seen as something “picturesque”, “a bizarre thing”, when, in fact, it should be understood as “a reflection of the cultural life conditions of the people”.

Within folkloric manifestations, different extracts must be distinguished: “the fossilized ones, which reflect past life conditions and which are, therefore, conservative and reactionary; and those which are a series of innovations, often creative and progressive, spontaneously determined by forms and conditions of life in the process of development, and which are in contradiction with the morality of the ruling strata, or are merely different from it” (CC, 6, 133-5).

The effort to discern nuances within popular cultural manifestations does not exist in Adorno's analyses. But, there is another difference that cannot be minimized – the temporal distance between them. Adorno, in the United States, could see the cultural industry realized and fully functioning. Gramsci followed his first signs, showing concern with the new threats to his project of disputing hegemony: “Among the elements that recently disturbed the normal direction of public opinion on the part of organized parties and defined around defined programs, must be placed in the front line the brown press and the radio (where it is very widespread). They make it possible to provoke extemporaneous explosions of panic or fictitious enthusiasm, which allow the achievement of certain objectives, in elections, for example” (CC, 3, 270). The prisoner's perplexity seems to indicate the birth of a new moment that will require new forms of action. In another passage, he observes: “Today, spoken communication is also a means of ideological diffusion that has a speed, an area of ​​action and an emotional simultaneity enormously wider than written communication (theatre, cinema and radio, with the distribution of loudspeakers in the squares, surpass all forms of written communication, from the book, to the magazine, the newspaper, the bulletin board), but on the surface, not in depth” (CC, 4, 67).

Let us remember that until then the communist movement followed Lenin's orientation in What to do? using newspapers and magazines as priority means of dissemination – the first, aimed at immediate agitation, and the magazine for the propaganda of revolutionary ideas. At the time Gramsci was making his notes, the Germany of the Weimar Republic was going through a moment of political turmoil. The validity of the fragile democracy allowed the experiences of Walter Benjamin in his radio plays, as well as the revolutionary texts on the radio written by Brecht between 1927-1932. In Fascist Italy, these attempts to use the then new means of communication by the labor movement could not take place. Restricted to the written word, Gramsci bet on the “birth of a new culture among the popular masses”, which will make “the separation between modern culture and popular culture or folklore” disappear, a movement that “would correspond at the individual level to what the Reformation was in the countries Protestants”. (CC 6, 136).

The new culture projected by Gramsci has caused a succession of misunderstandings. The bone of contention is a passage in which Gramsci makes two statements that, unfortunately, were not developed: (1) “only from the readers of serial literature will it be possible to select the sufficient and necessary public to create the cultural base of the new literature”. (2) For this, it is necessary to abandon prejudices, and “the most common prejudice is that the new literature should be identified with an artistic school of intellectual origin, as was the case with futurism. The premise of the new literature cannot fail to be historical-political, popular: it must have as its objective to elaborate what already exists, no matter if in a polemical way or otherwise; what matters is that it deepens its roots in the humus of popular culture as it is, with its tastes, its tendencies, etc., with its moral and intellectual world, even if backward and conventional” (CC, 6, 234).

The proposal of a new literature based on the “humus of popular culture” led to several accusations of “populism”, accusations reinforced by the reference to the national-popular. After all, what is to be understood by this expression? In an enlightening text, Maria Bianca Luporini recalled the Russian origin of the expression: the word nation served, up to a certain point, to designate both the people and the nation, because in the Frenchified Russian culture of the XNUMXth century there were no words to translate nationality e popular. The combination of the abstract noun narodnost with the adjective narodnyj was born in the polemic waged by romantic literati against the abstract universality of classicism.[I]

Gramsci spread the expression in Italy. Us notebooks, observed: “in many languages, “national” and “popular” are synonyms or almost. (...). In Italy, the term “national” has a very restricted meaning ideologically and, in any case, does not coincide with “popular”, since in Italy the intellectuals are far from the people, that is, from the “nation”, being linked, to the contrary to a caste tradition, which has never been broken by a strong popular or national political movement from below”. (CC, 6, 41-2).

Some time later, the expression ended up being pejoratively associated with the narodniks, the Russian “populists”, a revolutionary political movement of the XNUMXth century. Gramsci, however, was very clear in showing that the national-popular was something that did not exist in Italy. It was, therefore, a project that aimed to reconcile the writers with the people and the nation.

One question remains open. National-popular: which of the two terms is more important? Should we privilege a national literature that would place itself above class divisions or a popular literature as a direct expression of the experience of subordinate classes? Gramsci's disciples oscillated between these two possibilities.

Gramsci, however, kept the terms together, marking a distance either from nationalism or from what would come to be called populism. As for nationalism, he pointed out: “It is one thing to be particular, it is another to preach particularism. Herein lies the misconception of nationalism. (...). That is, national is different from nationalist. Goethe was a German “national”, Stendhal a French “national”, but neither was a nationalist”. An idea is not effective if it is not expressed in some way, artistically, that is, privately. But is a spirit particular insofar as it is national? Nationality is a primary particularity; but the great writer still distinguishes himself among his countrymen and this second “particularity” is not an extension of the first. (CC, 2, 72).

Gramsci, here, sought to differentiate himself from the fascism that had also established the divorce between writers and the people to claim the national character of literature, understood, however, only as a first particularity. The appeal to the “national soul” is an ideological device. Wagner, says Gramsci, "knew what he was doing when he claimed that his art was the expression of German genius, thus inviting a whole race to applaud itself in his works." Holding on as a representative of the national soul “it is useful, for those who lack personality, to decree that the essential thing is to be national. Max Nordau writes of someone who exclaimed, “You say that I am nothing. But look, I am something: I am a contemporary!” (CC, 2, 73 and 72). In the specific case of Italy, the nationality claimed by fascism, in a country of historic cosmopolitanism, was an “anachronistic excrescence” that boiled down to the “exaltation of the past”, “of tradition” – while Gramsci was concerned with developing a “merciless critique of tradition”, a necessary step for “cultural-moral renewal, from which a new literature may be born”. (Q, II, 740).

The nuanced analysis of the meaning of the national in the arts accompanied, as we saw, the differentiating approach to popular culture with its schematisms and ambiguities. To overcome these limits, the action of a cultural policy guided by the philosophy of praxis is essential. This, he said, “does not seek to keep the “simple” in their primitive philosophy of common sense, but seeks, on the contrary, to lead them to a superior conception of life. If it asserts the need for contact between intellectuals and simple people, it is not to limit scientific activity and to maintain unity at the lowest level of the masses, but precisely to forge an intellectual-moral bloc that makes mass intellectual progress politically possible and not only from small groups of intellectuals” (CC, 1, 103).

That is: it becomes necessary to overcome the limits of popular culture, which, despite containing critical elements, also presents the limitations of a population that has not had access to education and good literature.

And it is precisely in high literature that Gramsci finds the model for his project: “Popular literature in the pejorative sense (such as that of Sue and epigones) is a political-commercial degeneration of national-popular literature, whose model is precisely the Greek tragedians. and Shakespeare” (CC, 6, 227).

The national-popular, it should be repeated, is a project subordinated to the imperatives of the moral reform of society, of the struggle for hegemony. It makes no sense, therefore, to consider it a literature actually existing in Italy. The emphasis on the national, as we will see later on, obeyed the logic of following Lenin's example and acclimatizing Marxism to Italian conditions. Hence the incursions into the history of the Renaissance and Risorgimento and the study of the role of intellectuals. In the field of arts, the “nationalization” of Marxism pointed to a path that was totally contrary to the pasteurization promoted by Zdanov from 1934 onwards.

Later, Gramsci's observations would be considered outdated by scholars who, extracting them from their historical and geographical context, affirmed their total inadequacy in modern times of globalization and the advent of an alleged "international-popular" culture (strictly speaking, the cultural industry products). National-popular culture for Gramsci is part of a moment to be overcome when the “unification of the human race” takes place – when, then, “universal literature” will prevail, as predicted by Marx in the The Manifest.

Divergences aside, there is a consensus among the various interpreters in the observation that Gramsci opened an original path in the Marxist tradition by including the study of literature within culture, and no longer seeing it as exclusive to linguistics or aesthetic theories. And, in doing so, Gramsci once again finds himself in the shadow of Croce, author of elaborate books on aesthetics. Gramsci, by including literature within culture, did not fight Croce in the specific field of aesthetics. Moving away from his former master and his “frigidly aesthetic” analysis, he drew on De Sanctis: “… the kind of literary criticism proper to the philosophy of praxis is provided by De Sanctis, not by Croce or anyone else (… ): in this type, the struggle for a new culture, that is, for a new humanism, the critique of customs, sentiments and conceptions of the world must merge with aesthetic or purely artistic criticism” (CC, 6, 66) .

Instead of fighting for a new art, as the futurists intended, Gramsci proposes the formulation of a new culture capable of reconciling artists with the people. The “national-popular” proposal was the core of the cultural policy defended by Gramsci. Literature and aesthetic issues are seen from this educational concern, this desire to raise the consciousness of the masses, because what truly interests the Sardinian revolutionary is the cultural value and not just the aesthetic value of the literary work.

When analyzing a work, teaches Gramsci, it is necessary to separate artistic value and cultural value.

A literary work can have little artistic value, but an important cultural value (it can express, for example, the way of life of the subordinate classes). Shifting the focus of literary criticism from aesthetic theories to the study of culture, he also asserts that literature is not a branch of linguistics, as structuralism will claim in the future. Art is not only language: this is the material, the vehicle of literature. Therefore, Gramsci does not propose a new language, a new art, as claimed by the various avant-garde currents that emerged in revolutionary Russia, but a new culture.

This project of cultural renewal, of the fight for a new hegemony, is based on the defense of a national-popular art. But such renewal is not the result of an endogenous process, of the natural evolution of culture itself. Gramsci, to assert his ideas, resorts to a passage by Croce in Cultura e vita morale and then “translates” it into materialist terms: “Poetry does not generate poetry; parthenogenesis does not take place; the intervention of the masculine element is necessary, of what is real, practical, moral”. This passage, says Gramsci, “may be characteristic of historical materialism. Literature does not generate literature, etc., ideologies do not create ideologies, superstructures do not generate superstructures except as an inheritance of inertia and passivity: they are generated, not by “parthenogenesis”, but by the intervention of the “masculine” element – ​​the history – the revolutionary activity that creates the new “man”, that is, new social relations” (Q, II, 733).

The inclusion of art in the sphere of culture is the way in which Gramsci countered Croce's aesthetics. Morals, affections, intuition, terms dear to Croce, were substituted in Gramsci's displacement through cultural history and social relations.

The Neapolitan philosopher wrote about art at a time when in Italy two antagonistic positions were confronting each other: the rationalist current, heir to Hegel, which understood art as a “sensible manifestation of the Spirit”, and the irrationalist current, which understood art as a phenomenon unconscious. Croce, in this clash, followed his own path by affirming art as a product of intuition. Speaking about poetry in Breviary of aesthetics, he states that it is “lyrical intuition” or “pure intuition”, insofar as it is pure from any historical and critical reference to the reality or unreality of the images from which it interweaves, capturing the throbbing of life in its ideality” (CROCE, Benedetto: 1997, p. 156). Separating lyrical intuition from any contact with the outside world, Croce, as can be read in Alfredo Bosi's essay, considers that “the poem's images are ideal beings, the production of intuition, and not of perception. Therefore, they cannot be the object of empirical and classificatory sciences, such as sociology, cultural anthropology, psychology. (BOSI, Alfredo: 2003, p. 401).

Gramsci's criticism reinforces the social and historical character of art. “Why do poets write, why do painters paint? (…) Croce answers more or less as follows: to remind themselves of the works themselves, since, according to Croce's aesthetics, the work of art is “perfect”, already and only, in the artist's brain. (...). In reality, it returns to the question of the “nature of man” and to the question of what is the “individual?” If the individual cannot be thought outside of society (and therefore if no individual can be thought of except as historically determined), it is evident that every individual and also the artist, and all his activity, cannot be thought of. outside of society, of a given society. The artist, therefore, does not write or paint, etc., that is, he does not externally “record” his fantasies only for “his personal memory”, in order to be able to relive the moment of creation, but he is only an artist insofar as he “records” externally, in which it objectifies, it historicizes its fantasies” (CC, 6, 240).

Bringing art back to the social world, Gramsci shifts the focus from interpretation. In Croce, we have the literary work as an a priori, an ideality, which invites the interpreter to focus on works of art as a world apart, disconnected from social history. This individualizing view of art, understood as lyrical intuition, an a priori conceived in the artist's mind, is contested by Gramsci who refers the question to the function of art: ““Beauty” is not enough: a “human and moral” content is needed ” that is the expression of the aspirations of the public. That is, literature must be both a current element of culture (civiltà) and a work of art (of beauty) (Q, I, 86-7).

Croce's intuitionist aesthetics receives the addition of a content, a mass of feelings, in tune with the public's aspirations: art, therefore, ceases to be a feat restricted to the writer's mind ("inner art") and starts to be thought of in historical terms and inserted in a circuit of social relations. In the words of Niksa Sticevic: “Gramsci will actually focus most of his attention on the “communicability” of the work of art, and more precisely on the reverse part of “communication”: not from work to reader, but from reader to work. . If Croce asks himself “what is art”? Gramsci, on the contrary, asks himself what motives are capable of creating an atmosphere of lively interest around a work; in other words, for what reasons does it assert itself in time” (STICEVIC, Niksa: 1968, p. 56).

The change of focus, however, did not lead our author to propose what would later be called “aesthetics of reception”. Gramsci's suggestion is closer to a sociological approach to the various moments of literary activity, an integral part of the “cultural front” in the struggle for hegemony. Once again, the relations between literature and politics reappear – sectors of the superstructures to be thought of in their relations of relative reciprocity and autonomy.

“Political activity is precisely the first moment or first degree of superstructures” (Q, II, 977). Priority does not mean submission of art to the conveniences of politics, warns Gramsci, aware of the politicization of art in Russia and, therefore, interested in separating the two spheres. For the same reason he kept his distance from avant-garde movements in his efforts to create a new art. No concessions, therefore, either to content or formalism: “one should speak of the struggle for a “new culture” and not for a “new art” (in the immediate sense). Perhaps it cannot even be said, to be exact, that there is a fight for a new content in art, since this cannot be thought of abstractly, separated from form. Fighting for a new art would mean fighting to create new individual artists, which is absurd, as it is impossible to create artists artificially. (...). That individual artists cannot be created artificially, therefore, does not mean that the new cultural world, for which they are fighting, arousing passions and warmth of humanity, does not necessarily give rise to “new artists”; that is, it cannot be said that Fulano and Beltrano will become artists, but it can be said that new artists will be born from the movement. A new social group that enters historical life with a hegemonic posture, with a self-assurance that it did not have before, cannot fail to generate, from within, personalities that, before, would not have found enough strength to express themselves” ( CC, 6, 70). Here too, and not only in political life, the “disturbing” will is present, as it is what “sets artistic fantasy in motion”.

We are far, therefore, from the Kantian conception of art as an “endless purpose”, since artistic manifestations are conceived aiming at a finality: a superior conception of life. It is understood, therefore, that art, language, common sense, folklore, philosophy, etc. they are integral parts of the same “family of concepts”, of a “categorical network”. The Gramscian definition of culture thus becomes comprehensible: “a coherent, unitary and nationally diffused “conception of life and of man”, a “secular religion”, a philosophy that has been transformed precisely into “culture”, that is to say, , which has generated ethics, a way of life, civic and individual behavior” (CC, 6, 63-4).

*Celso Frederico is a retired senior professor at ECA-USP. Author, among other books, of Sociology of Culture: Lucien Goldmann and the Debates of the XNUMXth Century (Cortez).


ARANTES, Paulo Eduardo. “An Intellectual and Moral Reform,” in Resentment of Dialectics (São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1996).

BOSI, Alfredo. “The aesthetics of Benedetto Croce: a thought of distinctions and mediations”, in Heaven, hell. Literary and ideological criticism essays (São Paulo: Two cities/34, 2003).

CANDID, Antonio. Formation of Brazilian Literature (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1969).

CARPEAUX, Otto Maria. history of western literature, vol. 6 (Rio de Janeiro: Alhambra, 1982).

CROCE, Benedetto. Aesthetics Breviary. aesthetics in nuce (São Paulo: Ática, 1993).

GRAMSCI, Antonio. prison notebooks, 6 volumes (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2000).

GRAMSCI, Antonio. prison letters, 2 volumes (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2005).

GRAMSCI, Antonio. prison notebook (Torino: Einaudi, 1975).

MACHADO, Carlos Eduardo Jordan. The Debate Over Expressionism (São Paulo: Unesp, 2011).

LUPORINI, Maria Bianco. “Alle origini del “nazionale-popolare””, in BARATTA, G. and CATONE, A. (eds.). Antonio Gramsci and the Intellectual Progress of the Mass (Milano: Unicopli, 1995).

RICUPERO, Bernardo. Romanticism and the idea of ​​nation in Brazil (1830-1870) (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2004).

STICEVIC, Niksa. Gramsci and the literary problem (Milano: Mursia, 1968).


[I] . See LUPORINI, Maria Bianca, “Alle origini del “nazionale-populare”, in BARATTA, G. and CATONE, A. (eds.), Antonio Gramsci and the “mass intellectual progress” (Milano: Unicopli, 1995). But this hand is Gramsci's only source. Before him, Vicenzo Gioberti had criticized cosmopolitanism and waved, in a conciliatory way, to the national-popular. Another source of Gramsci comes from Germany, a country of late reunification, through authors affiliated with German idealism. Cf. ARANTES, Paulo Eduardo, “An intellectual and moral reform”, in resentment of the dialectic (São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1996).

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis