Gramsci’s Ashes

I was in Rome this past spring and went to an exhibit on Pasolini at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, which included an excerpt from his poem ‘Gramsci’s Ahses’. I particularly like this bit:

Here are the seeds – I testify –

still undispersed by the ancient rule,

these dead men chained to ownership

that over centuries submerges their shame

and their grandeur: at the same time, obsessed –

the striking of anvils, stifled,

quietly grieving – of the lowly

quarter – attesting to its end.

And here I am… a poor man, dressed

in clothes the poor ogle in store windows

of coarse splendour, that have faded,

in the filth of more lost streets,

of streetcar benches, from which my day

is removed: more and more rarely

I have these days off from the torment

of deciding to live; and if it should happen I

love the world, it’s not with a violent

and ingenuous sensual love

like I had, a confused adolescent, a season

I hated; if in it I hurt the bourgeois

affliction of my bourgeois self: and now, the world

– with you – cleft, that part which had the power

doesn’t it seem now an object of bitterness,

almost mystical contempt?

Yet without your rigour, I exist

not because I choose to. I live in the non-will

of postwar decline: loving

the world I hate – in its distress

contemptuous and lost – in a dark scandal

of consciousness…

Read the whole thing here.



The other day I was thinking about the term micro-agression. I was mostly thinking about the term because of James KA Smith’s unhelpful article and Anthony Paul Smith’s satisfying smack down. At the same time, I’ve been looking at Gramsci, popular education and the relationship between philosophy and the politics of resistance.

In moments of great tension (IS, Ferguson, Gaza) talking about philosophy and resistance/liberation can feel foolish and cheap. True revolutions happen in the streets, collaborating with other workers, not in the comfortable isolation of university offices banging away on a Macbook. Yet the classroom provides a valuable opportunity to teach patterns of resistance – a basic refusal of accepting things as they come to us. Exposing the contingent nature of systems of meaning and production opens up the space for alternatives.

This understanding of micro-resistance highlights what is so disturbing about Smith’s piece (the core message of which is strikingly similar to the Faith and Theology post about apocalypticism that I discussed earlier). A student who has just discovered Freud, Marx, Focault or Said is developing an alternative view of the world. I remember when I was in high school and read Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It was utterly disorientating. Facilitating those moments of disorientation and helping students decide how to respond is the greatest part of undergraduate humanities.