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Antonio Gramsci: persons, subjectivity, and the political

Jackson, RP (2017) Antonio Gramsci: persons, subjectivity, and the political. In: Subjectivity and the political: contemporary perspectives. Routledge studies in contemporary philosophy, 98 . Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, pp. 135-158. ISBN 9781138291645

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Abstract

Michel Foucault once observed that the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci is an author who is ‘more often cited than actually known’ (cited in Joseph Buttigieg, ‘Introduction’ in Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks. Volume I. edited by Joseph Buttigieg. New York: Columbia, 2016). While Gramsci’s concepts have become diffused across a kaleidoscope of intellectual disciplines, the historical-theoretical laboratory of his Prison Notebooks remains an underexplored resource through which to articulate the complex interrelationship between subjectivity and the political. The central axis of the Notebooks is the nexus between philosophy and the political that retains a power to provoke stimulating encounters with more contemporary thinkers. At the same time, Gramsci cuts an unorthodox figure in recent discussions since his articulation of the political withdraws from more conventional deployments of the category of the subject. Peter Thomas argues that Gramsci operates ‘with the much older and more ambivalent category of the ‘person’, or more precisely, a particular reformulation of this category that is not easily assimilable to the modern (epistemologically founded) discourses of the knowing subject that have often subsumed the older category’ (The Gramscian Moment. Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism, Leiden: Brill, 2009, p.397). Despite Gramsci’s infrequent use of the term ‘subjectivity’ in his prison writings, I argue that he elaborates a distinctive conception of subjectivity in the Notebooks, which entails a discourse of persons rather than subjects. Gramsci’s conception of the political has often been characterised as valorising human agency in a ‘subjectivist’ or voluntarist manner, due to his critique of the prevailing ‘scientism’ and ‘metaphysical materialism’ of his age. I argue that this reading underestimates the significance of Gramsci’s confrontation with the sophisticated early ‘post-Marxism’ of Benedetto Croce. I consider the importance of Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis for the relationship between subjectivity and the political, and his politico-gnoseological conception of the effective reality of human knowledge as social relations, before concluding that Gramsci’s modern conception of the person offers a way of conceiving of subjectivity that neither diminishes the role of consciousness nor succumbs to the criticisms of ‘theoretical anti-humanism’. Gramsci’s ambitious project, through the philosophy of praxis, is to open up ‘a completely new road, renewing from head to toe the whole way of conceiving philosophy itself’ (Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere, Volume II. edited by Valentino Gerratana. (Turin: Einaudi, 1975), Q11§27).

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