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Paris: a new biography of Antonio Gramsci

In recent years, French culture and publishing have paid special attention to the figure and work of Antonio Gramsci. Between 2020 and 2023, there have been many publications of studies and translations.

The exhibition “Gramsci, the Prison Notebooks and France”, organised by the Italian Cultural Institute in Paris in collaboration with the Gramsci Foundation from 24 September to 15 October 2020, allowed the French public to discover for the first time a large selection of original autograph documents (the Prison Notebooks, letters) and books and journals from Gramsci’s library.

The following year saw the publication of the collections of studies edited by Yohann Douet (“Une nouvelle conception du monde. Gramsci et le marxisme, Paris, Éditions sociales, 2021) and by Romain Descendre and Jean-Claude Zancarini (La France d’Antonio Gramsci, Lyon, ENS Éditions, coll. “Gouvernements en question(s)”, 2021) as well as, in a paperback edition, a large selection of the Cahiers de prison, edited by Jean-Yves Frétigné (“Folio essais”, Paris).

In 2022, we must mention at least the monographs of André Tosel, Le Fil de Gramsci. Politique et philosophie de la praxis, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, coll. “Lignes rouges”, 2022 and by Yohann Douet, L’Histoire et la question de la modernité chez Antonio Gramsci, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2022.

Finally, a few days ago, Éditions de la Découverte published what is arguably the most complete and up-to-date study in French of the biography and work of Antonio Gramsci (Romain Descendre and Jean-Claude Zancarini, L’œuvre-vie d’Antonio Gramsci, Paris, La Découverte, 2023). The authors are two professors at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, where they have been running a study seminar on Gramsci for the past ten years.

Combining the tools of historical enquiry with those of philosophical analysis, Romain Descendre and Jean-Claude Zancarini study the process of elaboration of Gramsci’s thought, before and during his incarceration, by placing it in close relation to the course of political events that followed the end of the First World War, from the Russian Revolution to the seizure of power by fascism in Italy.

The commitment to following the ‘rhythm of the development of thought’ is supported by a rigorous reconstruction of the biographical journey, marked by three stages: the formative years, the activity of the revolutionary activist; the period of imprisonment and the writing of the Quaderni. As Gramsci progressed in the writing of the Notebooks, the authors write, he understood that the “philosophy of praxis” needed new conceptual tools, both philosophical and political, and he took it upon himself to invent them and make them evolve in the course of his life: “hegemony”, “war of position”, “passive revolution”, “subaltern classes”. Concepts that are still useful for thinking about our own ‘big and terrible’ world today.