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Introductory Essay: Reading Gramsci Stuart Hall* Gramsci's influence on people like me, who first read him, in translation, in the early 1960s, has been profound. Our interest in Gramsci was not scholastic. We approached Gramsci for ourselves in our own way. Reading Gramsci has fertilised our political imagination, transformed our way of thinking, our style ofthought, our whole political project. Certainly, 'appropriating Gramsci' has never licensed us to read him any way that suits us, uncontrolled by a respect for the distinctive grain and formation of his thought. Our 'reading' is neither wilful nor arbitrary - precisely because that would be contrary to the very lessons we learned from him. It is, after all, Gramsci himself who first taught us how to 'read Gramsci'. He re-tuned our intellectual ear to the historically specific and distinct register in which his concepts operate. It is from Gramsci that we learned to understand - and practise - the discipline imposed by an unswerving attention to the 'peculiarities' and unevenness of national-cultural development. It is Gramsci's example which cautions us against the too-easy transfer of historical generalisations from one society or epoch to another, in the name of'Theory'. If I were to try to summarise, in a sentence, what Gramsci did for people of my generation, I would have to say something like 7 GRAMSCI'S POLITICALTHOUGHT this: simply, he made it possible for us to read Marx again, in a new way: that is, to go on 'thinking' the second half of the 20th century, face-to-face with the realities ofthe modern world, from a position somewhere within the legacy of Marx's thought. The legacy of Marx's thought, that is, not as a quasi-religious body of dogma but as a living, developing, constantly renewable stream ofideas. If I had to make that general claim more specific, I would probably choose to emphasise - out of an array of possible arguments - the following points. First, his boldness and independence of mind. Gramsci came to 'inhabit' Marx's ideas, not as a strait-jacket, which confined and hobbled his imagination, but as a framework of ideas which liberated his mind, which set it free, which put it to work. Most of us had been fed on a diet ofso-called Marxist writing in which the explicator, mindful of the quasi-religious character of his (definitely his) task, allowed himself only the occasional free-range moment of textual emendation. Consequently, we ex~rienced the freedom and freshness of Gramsci's writing as liberation, revolutionary in its impact. Here, what was undoubtedly a limitation from a textual point of view - namely, the fragmentary nature of his writings - was, for us, a positive advantage. Gramsci's work resisted even the most concerted effort to knit up its loose ends into a seamless garment of Orthodoxy. Then, there is the way in which Gramsci, without neglecting the other spheres ofarticulation, made himselfpar excellence the 'theorist ofthe political'. He gave us, as few comparable theorists ever have, an expanded conception of 'politics' - the rhythms, forms, antagonisms, transformations specific and peculiar to it as a region. I am thinking of the way he advances such concepts as 'the relation of forces', 'passive revolution', 'transformism', 'strategic conjuncture', 'historical bloc', the new meanings given to the concept of'party'. These concepts are required ifwe are to think the political in modem terms, as the strategic level into which other determinations are explosively condensed. 8 INTRODUcrORY ESSAY Next, I would want to fasten on the manner in which his notion of 'hegemony' forces us to reconceptualise the nature ofclass and social forces: indeed, he makes us rethink the very notion of power itself- its project and its complex 'conditions ofexistence' in modem societies. The work on the 'national-popular', on ideology, on the moral, cultural and intellectual dimensions of power, on its double articulation in state and in civil society, on the inter-play between authority, leadership, domination and the 'education of consent' equipped us with an enlarged conception of power, and its molecular operations, its investment on many different sites. His pluri-centered conception of power made obsolete the narrow, one-dimensional conceptions with which most ofus had operated. The same could be said for the astonishing range ofhis writing on cultural questions, on language and popular literature and, of course, his work on ideology. The notion of the production and transformation of 'common sense', of'the popular' as the cultural terrain which all ideologies must encounter...


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