Antonio Gramsci: Prison Notebooks
At Antonio Gramsci’s 1928 trial, the prosecutor famously demanded, “we must stop this brain working for twenty years!” Despite being imprisoned in rather brutal conditions by Mussolini’s fascist government, this goal was not achieved. Gramsci would produce, in the notes, scraps, fragments, commentaries, and essays, that constitute his so-called prison notebooks, his most famous thinking. Although the work covers tremendous ground—from interpretations of classic political philosophy to questions of historical and economic development to cultural analysis—the central question around which Gramsci’s mind orbited in this period was: what went wrong? Why had the Russian Revolution, to some degree, succeeded, while other socialist parties crashed against the nationalist wave of the First World War? What had Marxist theory and analysis missed in understanding politics?
In trying to answer this central and related questions, Gramsci ended up—despite the conditions, shifting positions in his own analysis, and evasions of the censor’s eye—creating one of the enduring classics of modern political thought, deeply influential on many Marxist and non-Marxist authors and activists alike. In this class, we’ll read some of the most famous selections of Gramsci’s prison notebooks as we examine some of the key concepts and arguments that Gramsci introduced into the social and political lexicon. What is hegemony? What is ideology? How should we understand the function and practice of politics and culture? What, for Gramsci, is a “war of position” as opposed to a “war of manuevre”? What is a state? What are the roles of intellectuals? Parties? Gramsci’s reflections cover not only a shocking variety of areas (from geography to sport to war to publishing to economy to religion and beyond) but provoke readers to ask our own questions about what constitutes—and what impedes—social and political change today.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 11 — August 01, 2023