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Benedetto Croce' biography

Benedetto Croce (1866-1952)


http://kirjasto.sci.fi/croce.htm
 


Italian critic, philosopher, politician, historian. Croce deeply influenced aesthetic thought in the first half of the 20th century, including Robin C. Collingwood's Principles of Art (1934) and John Dewey's Art as Experience (1934), although in the latter the philosophical background is totally different. Croce's main thesis was that art is intuition. His best-known work in the English-speaking world is Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic (1902).

"It is deeply ironic that Croce, defender of the autonomy of art, aesthetician, a man endowed with a great sensibility, good taste, and judgment, was finally unable to develop a theoretical and analytical scheme of criticism and had to be content (like many other critics) with defining his own taste, selecting his canon of classics, and persuading others that he was right. He was successful only for a time." (René Wellek in A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950, vol. 8, 1992)
Benedetto Croce was born in Pescasseroli, Abruzzi, into a moderately wealthy land-owning family. His parents, who were both pious Catholics, had him educated at a Catholic boarding school. In 1883 Croce lost his parents and his sisters in an earthquake on the island of Ischia - he was buried for several hours and severely injured. He went to live with his uncle in Rome and studied law at the university. Croce left without taking a degree and returned to Naples, where he lived the life of a gentleman-scholar, writing about every issue of contemporary concern. He never held a university position.

During the next years Croce travelled in Spain, Germany, France, and England. He became interested in history after reading the literary historian Francesco De Sanctis. Under the influence of Gianbattista Vico's (1668-1744) thoughts about art and history he turned to philosophy in 1893. Croce also purchased the house in which Vico had lived. His friend, the philosopher Giovanni Gentile encouraged him to read Hegel. Croce's famous commentary on Hegel, What is Living and What is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel, appeared in 1907.

Croce, Antonio Labriola (1843-1904), and Georges Sorel (1847-1922) were known as the Holy Trinity of Latin Marxist studies, but Croce rejected Marx's determinism. In art nothing can determine in advance the direction our expression will take. In Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx (1900) Croce stated that "the capitalist society studied by Marx is not any society that ever existed or does exist."

Croce entered the cultural scene in 1896 with his book about the concept of history in its relationship to the concept of art. He noticed that the philosophical foundations of aesthetics did not yet exist and in the following works he attempted to demonstrate the superiority of arts over the natural sciences, which Croce considered as a system of "pseudo-concepts." In 1903 he founded with Gentile the magazine La Critica, which appeared until 1943. However, when Gentile started to support fascism and signed the 'Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals,' in the 1920s, Croce denounced the paper. From 1906 Croce worked as an adviser with his publisher, Laterza and Sons, Bari, to produce three highly influential literature series, 'Writers of Italy,' 'Classics of Philosophy,' and 'The Library of Modern Culture.'

In 1910 Croce was made senator for life. He married Adela Rossi in 1914; they had four daughters. In 1920-21 he was Minister of Public Instruction and planned school reform. During the reign of Mussolini and World War II, Croce supported democratic principles, although he was skeptical about democracy: "Sound political sense has never regarded the masses as the directing focus of society..." During the Fascist period Croce lived in isolation as one of the major anti-fascist thinkers in Italy. He never joined any underground movement, but his historical essays, in which he defended the liberal ideals of the Risorgimento, made him a high-profile opponent of the regiment. Visitors at his home were listed in police reports and his houses were under surveillance. As a senator, Croce could not be arrested without the consent of the Senate, but fascist partisans planned in 1944 to kidnap him in the Villa Tritone in Sorrento, where he lived after leaving Naples to escape the bombings.

After the war Croce was appointed Minister without Portofilio of the new democratic government and member of the Constituent Assembly. From 1943 to 1947 he served as President of the reconstituted Liberal Party. In 1947 he resigned from politics. On his retirement Croce established the Institute for Historical Studies in his Naples home, where he had a magnificent collection of books. Croce died in Naples on November 20, 1952.

Croce maintained that there is no physical reality, nothing exists except the activity of spirit in history. Like Hegel, he identified philosophy with the history of philosophy. History moves on with no final stage: it is the only reality, and the only conceptual and genuine form of knowledge. The physical is solely a construction of mind. Croce distinguished two basic aspects of experience - the theoretical, which included among others intuition, and the practical. In this category he placed all economic, political and utilitarian activities. The categories are dialectical, there is no action without thought. In normal experience intuition and concept combine, but in aesthetic experience we hold the two apart. In a work of art, form and content are inseparable. Intuition is free from concepts, it "is blind: the intellect lends its eyes to it." Criticism cannot be founded on rules or theories. "It is said that there are certain truths of which definitions cannot be given; that cannot be demonstrated by syllogistic reasoning; that must be grasped intuitively... The critic holds himself honour bound to set aside, when confronted by a work of art, all theories and abstractions and to judge it by intuiting it directly. " (from The Aesthetic as the Science of Expression and of the Linguistic in General, trans. by Colin Lyas).

As a critic he started from the widely used assumption that analysis of texts themselves must precede other analysis. Works of art must be viewed in the light of their own, entire context. The intentional world of the poet is one thing and, and poetry is another - "what matters is not what the poet proposes or believes to make, but only what he has actually made." Croce distinguished expression from representation. Representational works of art tell a story, and if our interest is merely in the story, then the work has for us instrumental value. But when we are interested in expression, we are interested in the unique experience expressed by this special work of art.

"The artist is always morally blameless and philosophically irreproachable, even though his art may have for subject matter a low morality and philosophy: insofar he is an artist, he does not act and does not reason, but composes poetry, paints, sings, and in short, expresses himself." (from Nuovi saggi di estetica, 3th ed., 1948)
Croce believed in intuition as the main source of artistic creation. Art is based on intuition which exists before it is apprehended by an individual artist. A poet realizes his intuition verbally, through the process of writing. According to Croce, poetry is emotion, an expression of the soul at the moment of intuition. The task of an art critic is to characterize the image of the work, an unified mental picture of a particular thing, define its emotional aspects and evaluate how faithful the image is to emotion. Image consists of smaller parts, plot, setting, language.

Croce's conservative, classical taste led him to view with suspicion French symbolist poetry and experimental movements. He also dismissed translation as a logically imposible task, which probably delayed the development of translation studies in Italy. Croce disliked Pirandello, Rimbaud's 'Bal des pendus' showed him "stupid inhumanity," he ridiculed Valéry for his poetic theory, and criticized D'Annunzio for not having inner clarity. Thoroughly disappointed with contemporary literature, he eventually gave up writing.

For further reading: Bededetto Croce by Rafaello Piccoli (1922); Benedetto Croce by C. Sprigge (1952); The Philosophy of Benedetto Croce by by A. De Gennaro (1961); Benedetto Croce by G.N.G. Orsini (1961); Le origini del pensiero di Benedetto Croce by Mario Corsi (1974); Benedetto Croce's Aesthetic by B. Bosanquet (1977); Croce and Literary Criticism by O.K. Struckmayer (1978); The Romantic Theory of Poetry by A.E.P. Dodds (1979); Benedetto Croce's Poetry and Literature by G. Gullace (1981); Introduzione a Croce by Paolo Bonetti (1984); Benedetto Croce Reconsidered by M.E. Moss (1987); Croce and Marxism by E.G. Caserta (1987); Benedetto Croce and the Uses of Historicism by D.D. Roberts (1987); A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950, vol. 8, by René Wellek (1992); Antifascisms: Cultural Politics in Italy, 1943-46: Benedetto Croce and the Liberals, Carlo Levi and the 'Actionists by David Ward (1996); The Legacy of Benedetto Croce: Contemporary Critical Views, ed. by Jack D'Amico et al (1999); Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism by Fabio Fernando Rizi (2003)
Selected works:

LA STORIA RIDOTTA SOTTO IL CONCETTO GENERALE DELL'ARTE, 1893
LA CRITICA LETTERARIA, 1895
IL CONCETTO DELLA STORIA NELLE SUE RELAZIONI COL CONCETTO DELL'ARTE, 1896
MATERIALISMO STORICO ED ECONOMIA MARXISTA, 1900 - Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx (transl. by C.M. Meredith, 1914)
L'ESTETICA COME SCIENZA DELL''ESPRESSIONE E LINGUISTICA GENERALE, 1902 - Aesthetics as Science of Expression and General Linguistic (transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1909/1922) / The Aesthetic as the Science of Expression and of the Linguistic in General (transl. by Colin Lyas, 1992)
LA FILOSOFIA DELLO SPIRITO, 1902-1916 (4 vols.)
RIDUZIONE DELLA FILOSOFIA DEL DIRITTO ALLA FILOSOFIA DELL'ECONOMIA, 1907
LETTERATURA E CRITICA DELLA LETTERATURA CONTEMPORANEA IN ITALIA, 1908
LA LOGICA COME SCIENZA DEL CONCETTO PURO, 1909 - Logic as the Science of Pure Concept (transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1917)
LA FILOSOFIA DELLA PRACTICA. ECONOMIA ED ETICA, 1909 - Philosophy of the Practical, Economic and Ethic (transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1913)
PROBLEMI DI ESTETICA, 1910
LA FILOSOFIA DI GIAMBATTISTA VICO, 1911 - The Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (transl. by R. G. Collingwood, 1964) / Poetry and Literature (transl. by G. Gullace, 1981)
SAGGI SULLA LETTERATURA ITALIANA DEL SEICENTO, 1911
SAGGIO SULLO HEGEL, 1912 - What is Living and What is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel (part; transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1915)
BREVIARIO DI ESTETICA, 1913 - The Breviary of Aesthetics (transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1915) / The Essence of Aesthetic (trans. 1921) / Guide to Aesthetics (transl. by Patrick Romanell, 1965)
LETTERATURA DELLA NUOVA ITALIA, 1914-1940 (6 vols.)
ANEDDOTI E PROFILI SETTE CENTESCHI, 1914
CULTURA E VITA MORALE, 1914
ZUR THEORIE UND GESCHICHTE DER HISTORIOGRAPHIE, 1915
TEORIA E STORIA DELLA STORIOGRAFIA, 1917 - Theory and History of Historiography (trans. 1921) / History: Its Theory and Practice (US title, transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1921)
LA SPAGNA NELLA VITA ITALIANA DURANTE L RINASCENZA, 1917
CONTRIBUTO ALLA CRITICA DE ME STESSO, 1918 - An Autobiography (trans. 1927)
CONVERSAZIONI CRITICHE, 1918-1939 (5 vols.)
PRIMI SAGGI, 1919
CURIOSIT€ STORICHE, 1919
STORIE E LEGGENDE NAPOLETANE, 1919
UNA FAMIGLIA DI PATRIOTI ED ALTRI SAGGI STORICI E CRITICI, 1919
PAGINE SPARSE, 1919-1926 (3 vols., ed. by G. Castellano)
GOETHE, 1919 - Goethe (transl. by Emily Anderson, 1923)
ARIOSTO, SHAKESPEARE E CORNEILLE, 1920 - Ariosto, Shakespeare, and Corneille (transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1920)
NUOVI SAGGI DI ESTETICA, 1920
GIOSUÈ CARDUCCI, 1920
GIOVANNI PASCOLI, 1920
LA POESIA DI DANTE, 1921 - The Poetry of Dante (transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1922)
STORIA DELLA STORIOGRAFIA ITALIANA NEL SECOLO DECIMONONO, 1921 (2 vols.)
NUOVE CURIOSIT€ STORICHE, 1922
FRAMMENTI DI ETICA, 1922 - The Conduct of Life (transl. by Arthur Livingston, 1924)
POESIA E NON POESIA: NOTE SULLA LETTERATURA EUROPEA DEL SECOLO DECIMONONO, 1923 - European Literature in the Nineteenth Century (transl. by Douglas Ainslie, 1924)
CONVERSAZIONI CRITICHE, 1924
ELEMENTI DI POLITICA, 1925 - Politics and Morals (transl. by Salvatore J. Castiglione, 1945)
STORIA DEL REGNO DI NAPOLI, 1925 - History of the Kingdom of Naples (transl. by Frances Frenaye, 1970)
PAGINE SPARSE, 1927 (ed. by G. Castellano)
UOMINI E COSE DELLA VECCHIA ITALIA, 1927 (2 vols.)
PAGINE SULLA GUERRA, 1928
STORIA D'ITALIA DAL 1871 AL 1915, 1928 - A History of Italy, 1871-1915 (transl. by C.M. Ady, 1929)
STORIA DELL'ET€ BAROCCA IN ITALIA, 1929
ALESSANDRO MANZONI, 1930
ETERNIT€ E STORICIT€ DELLA FILOSOFIA, 1930
NUOVI SAGGI SULLA LETTERATURA ITALIANA DEL SEICENTO, 1931 (rev. ed., 1949)
ETICA E POLITICA, 1931 - Politics and Morals (transl. by Salvatore J. Castiglione, 1945)
STORIA D'EUROPA NEL SECOLO DECIMONONO, 1932 - History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century (transl. by H. Furst, 1933)
POESIA "POPOLARE" E POESIA D'ARTE, 1933
NUOVI SAGGI SUL GOETHE, 1934
ORIENTAMENTI, 1934
LA CRITICA E LA STORIA DELLA ARTI FIGURATIVA, 1934
ULTIMI SAGGI, 1935 - The Defence of Poetry: Variations on the Theme of Shelley (selection translated by E.F. Carritt, 1933)
LA POESIA: INTRODUZIONE ALLA CRITICA E STORIA DELLA POESIA E DELLA LETTERATURA, 1936 - Poetry and Literature (transl. by Giovanni Gullace, 1981)
CULTURA E VITA MORALE, 1936
VITE DI AVVENTURE, DI FEDE E DI PASSIONE, 1936
LA STORIA COME PENSIERO E COME AZIONE, 1938 - History as the Story of Liberty (translated by Sylvia Sprigge, 1941)
POESIA ANTICA E MODERNA, 1941
IL CARATTERE DELLA FILOSOFIA MODERNA, 1941
STORIA DELL'ESTETICA PER SAGGI, 1942
ANEDDOTI DI VARIA LETTERATURA, 1942 (3 vols., enlarged edition 1953-54)
PAGINE SPARSE, 1943 (3 vols.)
CONSIDERAZIONI SUL PROBLEMA MORALE DEL TEMPO NOSTRO, 1945
PENSIERO POLITICO E POLITICA ATTUALE, 1945
IL CARATTERE DELLA FILOSOFIA MODERNA, 1945
DISCORSI DE VARIA FILOSOFIA, 1945 (2 vols.) - My Philosophy and Other Essays on the Moral and Political Problems of Our Time (selection ed. by R. Klibansky, translated by E.F. Carritt, 1949)
POETI E SCRITTORI DEL PIENO E DEL TARDO RINASCIMENTO, 1945-52 (3 vols.)
QUANDO L'ITALIA ERA TAGLIATA IN DUE (ESTRATTO DI UN DIARIO), 1948 - Croce, the King and the Allies: Extracts from a Diary by Benedetto Croce, July 1943-June 1944 (trans. 1950)
NUOVE PAGINE SPARSE, 1948-49 (2 vols.)
FILOSOFIA E STORIOGRAFIA, 1949 - My Philosophy and Other Essays on the Moral and Political Problems of Our Time (selection ed. by R. Klibansky, translated by E.F. Carritt, 1949)
LA LETTERATURA ITALIANA DEL SETTECENTO, 1949
LETTURA DI POETI E RIFLESSIONI SULLA TEORIA E LA CRITICA DELLA POESIA, 1950
FILOSOFIA, POESIA, STORIA, 1951 - Philosophy, Poetry, History (transl. by Cecil Sprigge, 1966)
INDAGINI SU HEGEL, 1952
TERZE PAGINE SPARSE, 1955 (2 vols.)
SCRITTI E DISCORSI POLITICI, 1963 (ed. by Angela Carella)
Essays on Marx and Russia, 1966 (ed. by Angelo De Gennaro)
Essays on Literature and Literature Criticism, 1990 (edited by M. E. Moss)
DIECI CONVERSAZIONI CON GLI ALUNNI DELL'ISTITUTO ITALINO PER GLI STUDI STORICI DE NAPOLI, 1993

 

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