THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

4 posts from January 2021

29 January 2021

A radical duo and their Italian connection

Antonio Gramsci’s influence and legacy has been extraordinarily rich and vast, producing new ideas, interpretations and seeds all over the world. But how is Gramsci indirectly related to the current BL exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights?

Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) was the only regular foreign correspondent for the Italian newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo (‘The New Order’), established by Gramsci and three other editors (Angelo Tasca, Palmiro Togliatti, and Umberto Terracini) on 1 May 1919 in Turin. Her monthly contribution entitled Lettere dall’Inghilterra (‘Letters from England’) was translated by Palmiro Togliatti (1893 –1964).

Front page of L’Ordine Nuovo

Front page of L’Ordine Nuovo, 11-18 December 1920, n. 22. Source: Wikipedia Commons 

More than just a workers’ newspaper, L’Ordine Nuovo was the vibrant engine of the mass education policy set up by Gramsci in Italy’s vibrant ‘Motor City’. During the strikes of 1919-20 (the so-called Biennio Rosso), Turin became the ‘City of Factory Councils and Red Guards’, the ‘Mecca of Italian Communism, the ‘Italian Petrograd’, almost on the verge of a Bolshevik-style Italian revolution. At the heart of this revolutionary hive was L’Ordine Nuovo’s office, where all sorts of people flocked to visit Gramsci. Among the international visitors to Gramsci’s office, during the turbulent year of 1919, was Sylvia Pankhurst. The trait d’union, who arranged the meeting between two advocates of working-class interests, was Silvio Corio (1875-1954), Sylvia’s partner and interpreter during their clandestine journey across Italy (Turin, Milan and Bologna).

Photographs of Sylvia Pankhurst and Silvio Corio

Sylvia Pankhurst and Silvio Corio. Source: Westminster Libraries 

An anarchist printer and journalist, Corio joined the network of Italian radical activists in London in 1901. The elective affinity (of heart and mind) between Corio and Pankhurst blossomed in 1917 and produced the first and most influential duo of antifascists in Great Britain during the two World Wars. Corio worked shoulder to shoulder with Pankhurst at the London communist newspaper Workers' Dreadnought (1917-24), being a major source of influence and support in all her campaigns and activities, although he was keeping a low profile to avoid any trouble threatened by the Aliens’ Act of 1918.

Front page of The Workers' Dreadnought,

The Workers' Dreadnought, 3 May 1919 (LOU.LON.702). Image from Spartacus Educational 

Three years before Mussolini’s ascent to power, the contacts with Gramsci and the other leftist intellectuals ignited the spark of anti-fascism in Pankhurst. During her critical journey to Italy she experienced first hand the polarization of Italian society, and realised the risks arising from the fascist and colonialist propaganda on the international arena. Back in London, together with Corio and other activists, she was the first influential voice to ring alarm bells against Mussolini’s regime, the Italian occupation of Ethiopia (1935-1937) and the looming prospect of a second world war.

I picture Pankhurst, along with Corio, supporting the international campaign organised by the economist Piero Sraffa (1898-1983) at Cambridge University and Gramsci’s sister-in-law Tatiana Schucht (1887-1943) in order to demand Gramsci's release in 1934.

Thanks to this trio of visionary activists and thinkers the seeds for a modern civil society, such as we have and enjoy today, had been sown.

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing team

References/ Further reading:

Rachel Holmes, Sylvia Pankhurst: natural born rebel (London, 2020). ELD.DS.553677

Maurizio Rodorigo, ‘Una storia di amore e di tenebra: mostra a Manchester sugli antifascisti italiani negli anni ’20 in Inghilterra’ in La Repubblica. Londra, 9 April 2019, available here 

Alfio Bernabei, Esuli ed emigrati italiani nel Regno Unito, 1920-1940 (Milan, 1997). YA.2000.a.20751

Antonio Gramsci, Il giornalismo, il giornalista: scritti, articoli, lettere del fondatore de “l'Unità” a cura di Gian Luca Corradi (Florence, 2017). YF.2019.a.4541

Antonio Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo 1929-1920, in Opere, v. 9 (Turin, 1954). 12228.bb.4 and YA.1999.a.4692

Antonio Gramsci, Socialismo e Fascismo: L’Ordine Nuovo 1921-1922, in Opere, v. 11 (Turin, 1966). 12228.bb.4 and YA.1999.a.4692

M. Ledwith, ‘Antonio Gramsci and Feminism: The elusive nature of power’, Educational Philosophy and Theory (vol 41, number 6, 2009, pp. 684-697) 661.480000

Laura E Ruberto, Gramsci, migration, and the representation of women's work in Italy and the U.S. (Lanham, 2007). YK.2009.a.8920 and m07/.36400

Selections from political writings [of] Antonio Gramsci, selected and edited by Quintin Hoare (London, 1977). X.0700/1032

Video of Rachel Holmes in conversation with Shami Chakrabarti on latest biography “Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel” available on the British Library Player

https://www.fondazionegramsci.org/archivi/archivio-antonio-gramsci/

www.marxists.org/archive/gramsci/index.htm

 

25 January 2021

Beyond the Exhibition: Unfinished Business – Curators' Lunchtime Session

From bodily autonomy and the right to education, to self-expression and protest, the British Library’s exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, explores how feminist activism in the UK has its roots in the complex history of women’s rights.

Photograph of people at a women's rights march

Image © Molly Adams, CC BY 2.0

Although the physical exhibition space is currently closed due to lockdown restrictions, you can discover more about the stories, people and events that have shaped society, as well as the work that remains unfinished, through the exhibition web resource, podcast and fantastic series of online events.

As part of this events series, on Friday 29 January curators will discuss women’s rights in Europe, the Americas and Oceania through items from their collection areas that they think deserve a spotlight.

Looking beyond the UK focus of Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights, the curators will be in conversation about their handpicked choices that speak to the themes of the exhibition and, in many cases, challenge and disrupt pre-conceptions of women’s activism, experiences and struggles for equality.

This free, online event will take place on Friday 29 January 2021, 12.30 – 1.30pm. To register, please visit the Library’s event page. Bookers will be sent a Zoom link in advance giving access.

22 January 2021

Antonio Gramsci: translator, storyteller and educator

Between 1926 and 1937 Antonio Gramsci was rotting away in Italian prisons, having been sentenced to 20 years by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime, in spite of his parliamentary immunity. Mussolini had got rid of the most revolutionary and influential opponent to Fascism in Italy and, in so doing, hoped to silence the rest of his opposition. Despite his precarious state of health, Gramsci would never ask for pardon and realised that he was condemned to a lengthy period of isolation.

Photograph of Antonio Gramsci in 1915

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) in 1915. Source: Wikipedia Commons 

How to survive annihilation and despair in prison? He turned to his singular willpower and fortitude, as he was used to doing since childhood, and plunged himself into an extensive programme of studies and critical writing. His antidote to death is collected in two major works entitled Lettere dal carcere (Letters from prison), and Quaderni del carcere (Prison notebooks).

The 33 notebooks (four of them dedicated to translations) are a compilation of all the intellectual activities undertaken by the prisoner Gramsci in order to keep his cool. Between 1929 and 1931, Gramsci perfected his knowledge of European languages through translating, starting with German and Russian, and continuing with French and English. Notebooks XV and XIX contain his exercises from the German, namely 24 fables translated from the classic Brothers Grimm collection. In 1932, thinking of a gift for his favourite sister’s young children (whom he would never meet), the author had the idea of copying his translations and posting them to his sister, Teresa Paulesu, as “my contribution to developing the little ones’ imagination” (from a letter dated 18 January 1932 [my translation]). A sketchbook, Album disegno, catalogued as notebook D (XXXI), remains as evidence of Gramsci’s intention.

Covers of Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks

Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks (1929-1935). Source: Wikipedia Commons

Unfortunately, the sketchbook never reached the children, due to the prison rules that prevented prisoners from sending anything outside. That is why the Album contains only the first half of fable number one, Rapunzel, in Gramsci’s final handwritten draft.

First page of the Album disegno from Favole di libertĂ 

First page of the Album disegno from Favole di libertĂ  (Florence, 1980) YL.1988.a.772

Gramsci’s translations, as well as his children’s stories, were neglected until 1980, when, finally, they were published for the first time in Favole di libertà. A second and more complete collection entitled Fiabe appeared in 2010, including letters to his two young sons, Delio and Giuliano.

Cover of Favole di liberta

Cover of Fiabe

Covers of Favole di libertĂ  and Fiabe (Florence, 2010) YF.2011.a.21857

What these translations and the children’s stories show is Gramsci’s natural vocation as an educator. Whilst in prison, he never lost his ability to listen, to empathise and to be sensitive to the needs of his family, just as the intellectual had put his prodigious mind at the service of the ‘subaltern classes’ when he was a free man. Prison writings often reveal the man behind the author. Gramsci’s Fiabe reveals how he lived according to his theories and teachings, and what ‘organic intellectual’ meant in reality.

On the one hand, the philosopher deeply believed in the educational role of folklore, popular literature, and popular arts in the building of a national popular culture for the progressive society he dreamt of. Gramsci’s stress on literature and critical theory in the Prison notebooks is not accidental at all. On the contrary, his classic concepts and definitions in politics and philosophy originate from his approach and methodology as a historical linguist. He was fully aware of how language and literature are pivotal in shaping societies. As a result, his ‘pedagogy of praxis’ is a proactive call for the working class to be the protagonist of its own education and to produce its own culture. No wonder several Italian authors and educators in the 1950s-1960s followed in Gramsci’s footsteps, and one in particular, Gianni Rodari, established modern Italian children’s literature.

On the other hand, writing, translating and storytelling enabled Gramsci to shape a new relationship with his loved ones. The kindness and support that emerge from his letters and comic short stories to children and relatives testify to how much he was willing to be part of the life and education of his family beyond the bars. Writing and study became, at the same time, a way of caring for others and a way of human and intellectual resistance for the prisoner, a lifeline that lasted eleven years.

To be continued.

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing team

References / Further reading:

Antonio Gramsci, Lettere dal carcere (last Italian version Palermo, 1996) YA.1998.a.1937. English translation by Raymond Rosenthal, Letters from prison (New York, 2011) 3v., YC.2012.a.2007 and YC.2012.a.1189

Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere (Turin, 1975) X.978/118. English translation by Joseph A. Buttigieg and Antonio Callari. Prison notebooks (New York, 2011) 2 v., YC.2011.a.8399-8401.

Ferial Ghazoul, “La prospettiva gramsciana sulla lingua e la letteratura” in Studi gramsciani nel mondo arabo: Gramsci nel mondo arabo, a cura di Patrizia Manduchi, Alessandra Marchi e Giuseppe Vacca (Bologna, 2017, pp. 157-84). YF.2018.a.9753

Chronology of Gramsci’s life and work 

Derek Boothman, TraducibilitĂ  e processi traduttivi: un caso: A. Gramsci linguista (Perugia, 2004). YF.2005.a.5162

Alessandro Carlucci, Gramsci and languages: unification, diversity, hegemony (Leiden, 2013). YD.2013.a.3106

Antonio Gramsci: a pedagogy to change the world, Nicola Pizzolato and John D. Holst (editors) (Cham, Switzerland, 2017) ELD.DS.331125

Antonio Gramsci, Arte e folklore, a cura di Giuseppe Prestipino (Rome, 1976). X:972/303

Gramsci and educational thought, edited by Peter Mayo (Chichester, 2010). YC.2013.a.13402 and m10/.17512

Gramsci, language, and translation, edited by Peter Ives and Rocco Lacorte (Lanham, 2010). m10/.20216

Gramsci y la educación: pedagogía de la praxis y políticas culturales en América Latina, Flora Hillert ... [et al.] (Buenos Aires, 2011). YF.2013.a.18303

Deb J. Hill, Hegemony and education: Gramsci, post-Marxism, and radical democracy revisited (Lanham, 2007). m07/.35617

Peter Ives, Language and hegemony in Gramsci (London, 2004). ELD.DS.66257

Riccardo Pagano, Il pensiero pedagogico di Antonio Gramsci (Milan, 2013). YF.2013.a.21073

15 January 2021

How to trick a lion

Do you ever look at a three-pin power socket and see a face in a place

Lions do too, according to Ramon Llull.

Scene of a lion attacking a man from The Queen Mary Psalter

Scene of a lion attacking a man from The Queen Mary Psalter (England, 1310-1320), Royal 2 B. VII, f.87

Llull wrote his Rhetorica nova (‘New rhetoric’) in Catalan in Cyprus in 1301. Only the Latin translation, made in Genoa in 1333, has come down to us.

Llull gave his personal twist to everything he wrote, and his Rhetoric is more like his philosophical works (with chapters on Order, Beauty, Science, the Lullian Art and Charity) than the works of Cicero and his followers.

Cover of Ramon Llull's New Rhetoric

Cover of Ramon Llull's New Rhetoric (London, 2020), ELD.DS.525609

His chapter on Beauty has a section ‘De pulchris exemplis’ (‘on beautiful examples’), i.e. illustrative stories or similitudes. Which is where we find the following:

Leo propter suam fortitudinem est tantae audaciae, ut neminem contra se venientem cum lanceis, ensibus vel cum quibuslicet iaculis timeat. Si quis vero contra eum ierit cum una corda longa, ipsam trahendo per terram, nimio terrore perterritus velocius fugiet quod ideo accidit quia per instinctum naturalem una victoria non timet aliam, sed victoria timet artem et magisterium unde leo timet ne forte per hominis magisterium cum corda capiatur captusque ligetur.

Istud exemplum reddet verba pulchra si pugne verbis et sententiis applicetur (ed. Batalla et al., p. 130).

The lion, because of his strength, is so daring that he does not fear anyone who comes against him with lances, swords or any kind of spear. But if someone confronts him with a long rope which he drags along the ground, he will be afraid of it and will take flight. This happens because by natural instinct one victory [I think he means ‘strength’] does not fear another victory [strength] but craft and skill. Thus the lion fears that perhaps man, with the device of a rope, will capture him, and once captured bind him.

This example, applied to words and thoughts of war, will beautify the words.

So, if I understand him right, Llull says that the lion knows he is strong enough to defeat man physically, but recognises that man’s dexterity with a rope shows man can’t be outsmarted. Brains beat brawn.

Lion and snake vignette

Lion and snake vignette, 12620.bb.28

Llull doesn’t mention snakes, but then Llull rarely makes his sources explicit. However, I think he had been reading his bestiary, which says:

The lion, although he is the king of beasts, gets harassed by the tiny sting of a scorpion, and snake poison kills him (trans. White, p. 11).

So I think man’s victory over the lion consists in exploiting his natural fear of snakes by dragging a rope along the ground to imitate the action of the serpent and exploiting the lion’s ability or weakness to see a snake in a moving rope.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

Ramon Llull, Rhetorica nova, ed. Josep Batalla, Lluís Cabré and Marcel Ortín (Turnhout, 2006) YF.2008.a.29279

T. H. White, The Bestiary, a Book of Beasts, being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century (London, 1954) W57/2400