Chapter Six: Thinking with Antonio Gramsci

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In 2017, to mark the 80th anniversary of Antonio Gramsci’s death, the Italian Cultural Institute in London hosted an exhibition featuring the original copies of his famed Prison Notebooks. According to the curators, this was the first time that the Notebooks had been exhibited outside of Italy (Italian Cultural Institute, 2017). The years Gramsci spent as a prisoner of Italian fascism (1926–37) amounted to ‘an eleven-year death-agony’ (Fiori, 1990). His ‘teeth fell out, his digestive system collapsed so that he could not eat solid food, his chronic insomnia was so severe that he could go weeks without more than an hour or two of sleep at night, he had convulsions when he vomited blood, and he suffered from headaches so violent that he beat his head against the walls of his cell’ (Hoare and Nowell Smith, 2005, p xcii; see also Gramsci, 1979). Gramsci was to die under guard in a clinic in Rome at the age of 46. At his funeral, ‘held as quickly as possible on April 28, 1937 the watchful police guards far outnumbered the mourners’ (Buttigieg, 1986, p 2). The ‘product of those years of slow death in prison were … 2,848 pages of handwritten notes which he left to be smuggled out of the clinic and out of Italy after his death’ (Hoare and Nowell Smith, 2005, p xviii). Written between February 1929 and June 1935, substantial obstacles face readers of the subsequently published Notebooks today. First, Gramsci’s web-like prose can appear fragmentary, even lacking coherence. The Notebooks ‘consist of a massive series of notes and essays, sometimes rewritten and redeveloped with no single plan to give them structure’ (Martin, 1998, pp 3–4; see also Schwarzmantel, 2015).

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