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New Left Review I/117, September-October 1979

David Forgács

Della Volpe’s Aesthetics

Della Volpe’s Critique of Taste (1960) represented the first attempt in Italy at what its author describes as ‘a systematic exposition of a historical-materialist aesthetic’. [1] Critique of Taste (Milan, 1960, 3rd edition 1966) translated by Michael Caesar, nlb, London, 1978, p. 11. Previous Italian Marxist aesthetics had been sketchy and, apart from a very few cases, compromised with the idealist aesthetics of Croce or Gentile, despite intentions and claims to the contrary. Gramsci’s notes on literature, although a more problematical case, also fall into this category. Gramsci posed an entirely fresh set of questions about art, in particular about the distribution and readership of literature and about the function of literary intellectuals in the national culture, but he continually slid back into a Crocean perspective when he dealt with aesthetics as a distinct sphere of inquiry. [2] On Gramsci’s notes on literature, see A. Guiducci, Dallo zdanovismo allo strutturalismo, Milan, 1967. Della Volpe’s early work on aesthetics, predating his active interest in Marxism in the 1940’s, both opposed and was influenced by Croce and Gentile, and Critique of Taste itself shows some traces of Croce’s system in its rejection of differences between literary genres and in its general empirical approach. Yet Della Volpe made a significant break with the dominant tradition of literary criticism in Italy, and to grasp his innovation fully, this tradition should be briefly examined.

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