Volume 3, Number 3 (2010)

New Insights into Gramsci’s Life and Work: Conference Report

Alex Loftus

University of London

Conference organised by Alessandro Carlucci in association with the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies (School of Advanced Studies, University of London), Senate House, University of London on May 28, 2010. Sponsored by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust, and by the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Royal Holloway, University of London

Gramscian scholarship has undergone something of a quiet revolution within the English-speaking world over the last decade or so. In some ways this reflects a more productive synergy with Italian scholarship and also the emergence of more philological approaches (Buttigieg 1994), facilitated by the slow but steady translation of a critical edition of the Prison Notebooks by Joseph Buttigieg (Gramsci 1992; 1996; 2007). But it also reflects the death of both Eurocommunism as a political project (and with it the unjustified attempt to claim Gramsci as its theoretical fount) and also of various “post-marxisms” in which Gramsci was stripped of his awkward marxist baggage and co-opted for a range of utterly alien theoretical excursions. During the 1970s and 1980s, as Terry Eagleton noted, perhaps unfairly, “the Leninist Antonio Gramsci could be remoulded as a polytechnic lecturer in cultural studies” (2006: xii) and in so doing Gramsci’s remarkable development of the philosophy of praxis was frequently (although certainly not always) lost sight of. Now, however, a somewhat different reading of Gramsci is possible; one more attuned to the context and aims of his writing as leader of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) that begins to follow the intricate development of his ideas and their defiance of both disciplinary and thematic conventions (it should be remembered, of course, that Gramsci never held an academic position so these disciplinary boundaries make very little sense in the first place.) This both builds on and informs the current revitalisation of historical materialist thought. Here, we return to an interpretation of Gramsci as committed to a revolutionary transformation of society, deeply aware of questions of social difference and pluralism and driven by what Thomas (2009:159) describes as “a singular and consistent concern: the attempt to elaborate a political theory which would be adequate to give expression to – and just as importantly, to shape and guide – the popular and subaltern classes’ attempts to awaken from the nightmares of their histories and to assume social and political leadership”.