Kitchen Notebooks - Gramsci, Journalism and Rational Thinking

Like Antonio Gramsci found himself confined to Mussolini's dungeons, having to jot down short lines of thought in small notebooks, I at times find myself confined to the kitchen table, by a laptop, forced by an uncontrollable impulse to comment on something I have seen or read, to write a few short lines about some subject.

I recently started reading Monthly Review Press’ edition of Antonio A. Santucci’s Antonio Gramsci. In the section of the book centered on Gramsci’s Political Writings (in a Gramscian context this means parts of Gramsci’s pre-prison journalism), Santucci brings to light a passage by Gramsci that effectively contrasts the currently dominating view on journalism. Santucci quotes Gramsci (LC, p. 478, Santucci p. 44) from one of his letters from prison, describing his earlier role as a journalist:

I was never a professional journalist, who sells his pen to those offering more money, thereby being compelled to lie constantly as part of the trade. I was the freest of journalists, always of a single opinion and I never had to hide my deep convictions just to please some boss or ruffian.

In a sense Gramsci here has an opposite view of free journalism than what seems predominant in western society today. After the decline and fall of the "party press" it seems an ideal for journalists to portray themselves as neutral, although as we all know, neutrality does not exist. Probably neutrality is often confused with a centrist position, or perhaps the human fallacy of "dualism" giving equal room for two opposing positions, thinking they are the only ones (normally then choosing two positions creating a rather centrist article, but not at all a neutral one).

For Gramsci, on the other hand - a free journalist is a journalist free to write according to his own convictions (and being open about it), probably realizing there is no such thing as neutrality (or "objectivity") in journalism. At best there is indifference, but that does not make good journalism, and we all know what Gramsci thought about indifferent people. Santucci later also quotes this, perhaps one of the most famous passages of Gramsci, from when he edited La Città futura:

I hate the indifferent, also because I am annoyed by their whining as eternal innocents. i ask each of them how he carries out the role that life ordained him and daily imposes on him, what ha has and especially has not done. And I feel like I can be relentless and not have to waste my pity, nor share my tears with them. ... I live, I am a partisan. Therefore I hate whoever does not take sides. I hate the indifferent.

("Indifferenti" in CF, pp. 14-15, Santucci p. 61)

Perhaps there is a degenerated understanding of politics among journalists - an understanding we can trace in the media coverage of political parties, as noted in "Gramsci and the Mass Party", as well as in their naïve ideas about their own "objective" position. But perhaps we can also trace this back to a limited understanding of the basics of rational thinking, as mentioned in relation to the logical fallacy of "dualism" and as I have elaborated in a longer piece about the "unscientific balance" of mass media (Uvitenskapelig balanse, Klassekampen 21/9 2012 (in Norwegian only)).

Gramsci, on the other hand, was early in pointing out possible fallacies of thinking (as shown in "Gramsci and Scientific Method"), and he was equally rigorous in warning against the possible misuse of his own journalistic texts. Santucci points out how Gramsci "was against the idea of collecting his articles into volumes because they would have given the false appearance of an internal coherence expected in a book, instead of preserving the provisional and contingent characteristics of their original publication."

As Santucci’s points out, Gramsci’s articles were "written for the day", and drawing general assessments from individual texts, may quickly lead to erroneous interpretations. (Santucci p. 44 - 45) The same should of course be kept in mind reading other thinkers. There are more than a few examples of misuse and strategic quoting from Marxist thinkers, be it from critics on the right trying to put this or that figure in a less than fortunate light, or from internal bickering by someone on the left wit the erroneous belief that it would strengthen his political line having his ideas spoken by Marx, Lenin (or Gramsci) (Your logical fallacy is: Appeal to authority).

So how to conclude?
1) Everybody has an opinion, if only in the sense Gramsci claims "everybody is a philosopher" (se quote in "Gramsci, Language and Understanding") (Santucci p. 141). So be honest about it - to yourself and to others - even if you are a journalist.
2) Don't quote out of context (even if you aren't a journalist), and brush up on your logical fallacies, or you might just stumble into one, whether you are a journalist, or just a philosopher like the rest of us.

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