Your Morning Gramsci

I just came upon this excellent blog by historian of European thought Carl Dyke. One of his recent entries mentioned Borges’ story On Exactitude in Science, thus endearing his blog to me immediately. Another recent entry discusses the sociology of knowledge, and philosophers’ frustrations with said subject, citing a lovely passage from Gramsci:

Words and things pt. 5: Practice of theory – Dead Voles:

“The unitary … elaboration of a homogeneous collective consciousness demands a wide range of conditions and initiatives. … A very common error is that of thinking that every social stratum elaborates its consciousness and its culture in the same way, with the same methods, namely the methods of the professional intellectuals. … It is childish to think that a ‘clear concept’, suitably circulated, is inserted in various consciousnesses with the same ‘organizing’ effects of diffused clarity: this is an ‘enlightenment’ error. ? When a ray of light passes through different prisms it is refracted differently: if you want the same refraction, you need to make a whole series of rectifications of each prism.”

I always think of this problem as the “liberal fallacy” (liberal in the modern American sense of politically progressive). “If only they knew the facts,” cries the liberal, “then they would see the world as I do.” Apparently, as with so much else in the world, the problem is an old one. Silly enlightenment, making us want so badly to believe that there is truth, a single, universal, explicable truth which could shine like a light through a vacuum, unrefracted.

Carl ends with another snippet of Gramsci, which reminds me of my favorite quote of late:

Words and things pt. 5: Practice of theory – Dead Voles:

“Hence it is a matter of studying ?in depth? which elements of civil society correspond to the defensive systems in the war of position. The use of the phrase ‘in depth’ is intentional, because these elements have been studied; but either from superficial and banal viewpoints, as when certain historians of manners study the vagaries of women’s fashions, or from a ‘rationalistic’ viewpoint ? that is, with the conviction that certain phenomena are destroyed as soon as they are ‘realistically’ explained, as if they were popular superstitions (which anyway are not destroyed either merely by being explained).”

Baudrillard, echoing Nietzsche, writes, “We don’t believe that truth remains truth after it is unveiled.” (“On Seduction”)



  1. Thanks, Dan!

    It’s fascinating, isn’t it, how ‘reason’ and ‘truth’ are both something we wish everyone had and pride ourselves on having in unequal measure. It’s almost like a cult or somethin’. Have you gotten around to reading Durkheim’s Elementary Forms?

    Really enjoyed your ‘what is rationality’ post, and the prompt to go give my sweetie a Clark Gable kiss.

    Cheers – Carl

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it – I’m sure I’ll write about it again, as the varied definitions of rationality continue to confound me.
    I read Elementary Forms in my theory sequence a year and a half ago. I did not get too much out of it at the time, alas. Why do you ask?

  3. It’s an ur-source for the cultural construction of rationality. You’re right that Division of Labor is a critique of functionalism from a supposed functionalist; Elementary Forms is a critique of positivism from a supposed positivist. He shows that religion and science work the same way. Start with the conclusion, then work backward.

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