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This review is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

GRAMSCI'S ASHES Michael Caesar and Peter Hainsworth (editors), Writers and Society in Contemporary Italy (Berg Publishers) £18

Gramsci's ashes drift through this book. John Gatt-Rutter's reading of Pasolini, a tour deforce of a chapter, invokes his poem 'Le ceneri di Gramsci' and many of the writers discussed in this volume are seen working in an artistic-political tension where Gramsci's 'pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will' seems the best available stance. The undercurrent of most of the essays continues Gramsci's concerns with the role of intellectuals in the ideology of the modern capitalist state, in the apparatus of its national culture, and the way literary intellectuals fit - or are fitted - into those structures.

The opening chapter provides a wide-ranging but succinct account of social and cultural changes in postwar Italy, mapping the economic and industrial developments, the consequent social shifts and political conflicts, and the changes in literary culture - developments in education, in consumerism, in the publishing industry, and in patterns of readership. This leads to a section on 'writers and writing' in the period Pasolini characterized as an 'anthropological mutation'. Reductive, determinist explanations are avoided and by a consideration of Neo-Realism - its dominance and demise - the arguments can turn on genre rather than 'commitment', the social formation refracted through cultural form. The section is, however, too brief to follow this through in more than a patchy way.

One further general chapter surveys the Neo-Avantgarde (label and all) from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. A consideration of Gruppo 63, its creative and critical writing, takes up ...

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