A gramscian?

by CarlD

Every once in awhile friends are kind enough to describe me as a gramscian, as when Levi wondered in relation to the commentary on the grey vampires post how a “Gramscian would participate in such ugly exchanges, much less make his blog a venue for such remarks.”

In response to this particular query I would say that I am never more gramscian than when I supply a venue for the free exchange of objectionable ideas. Of all the marxists Gramsci was perhaps the most open to the messy diversity of what I called in my dissertation ‘sociological consciousness’ and he called ‘common sense’, that is, all the junk that actual people actually think (as opposed to what they’re supposed to think for theoretical convenience). He thought you’ve got to work with what’s out there, not what you wish was out there, which is pretty much the main thing I like about him. For more on this you could start here (pdf).gramsci1

Even so, I would not say that I consider myself a gramscian exactly. He was a revolutionary and I’m not. And although I’m on the listserv I’m not part of that dedicated cadre of aficionados who labor assiduously to keep Gramsci’s work and memory alive. I’ve read just about every word he ever wrote and back when I was writing my dissertation I probably knew as much about him and his thought as anyone in the world. I think he was wicked smart, I learned a lot from him and he’s part of my conceptual toolbox. But when there’s something I want to understand or talk about I don’t go to Gramsci as my default source, or try to shoehorn every issue into something he said. It is possible to do that of course, but I’d rather go to someone who got at the issue directly than try to reconstruct what Gramsci might have thought about it. In short, I am not religious about Gramsci in the way that earns a disciple label.

Still, when it comes time to pony up some piece of ephemeral scholarship Gramsci is indeed my go-to guy, so when Mikhail suggested that the always-interesting Rethinking Marxism conference might be a good occasion to meet for some beverage and chat I shot out a proposal for a paper on Gramsci, ANT and the practice of bloggery. I think it might possibly be interesting (and very helpful to me) if I rero (release early, release often) stuff from that paper here as I work through it. So after this post has had a chance to settle I’ll start by sketching out what I think Gramsci, ANT and blogging might have to do with each other. Hint: it has something to do with the ‘journalistic’ mode of conceptual micropractice discussed in the comments on the Latour/Bloom post.

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2 Comments to “A gramscian?”

  1. Didn’t know you were a that far Left. I’ve heard of Gramsci, don’t know much about him. Don’t really know what to think about the whole Marxist vs Capitalism thingie. Generally I tend to think that middle paths work out for the best so I like the idea of regulating corporations and such but I’m fairly cautious of the claims made by either extreme.

  2. Noen, I’m not sure how far Left I qualify as any more. I got into marxism as a younger man, for whom middle ways looked like excuses to tolerate the persistence of suffering and injustice and who therefore found big, comprehensive Solutions to All the Problems appealing.

    By the time I picked Gramsci to work on (as much as anything because I speak Italian but not French, German or Russian) I had found that my distrust of orthodoxies did not stop at the borders of marxism, and therefore Gramsci’s rich flavor of heterodoxy was very tasty. But as I read him in context of other marxists both in and out of the mainstream (for example 2nd Internationalists like Bernstein who had for all intents and purposes abandoned the revolutionary project), and framed him in a larger tradition of cultural and political sociology, I ended up deciding that he had died before he was able fully to draw the conclusions of his own work and experience. As a result, his surviving programmatic statements leave him as an iconic revolutionary figure, while the vastness, depth and subtlety of his analytical work points to a much more patient, moderate political practice.

    So anyway, I’m with you on the caution about extreme claims.

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