back to

Alberto Toscano on Franco Fortini, criminally neglected Italian Marxist writer


In Salvage magazine, Alberto Toscano writes about Franco Fortini, an Italian poet, translator, critic, and militant whose life spanned the upheavals of the mid-twentieth century, and whose particular brand of Marxism bridged the stubborn gap between radical theory and practice. (The current issue of Salvage includes two essays by Fortini translated from the Italian by Toscano.) Here’s a snippet of Toscano’s text:

This is because, from the more optimistic horizon of the 1950s, when he reflected on forms of cultural production that could prefigure socialism, to his Brechtian interventions in the 1960s on the need for an ‘ecology’ of left literary production, to his unsparing diagnoses of the degradations of Marxist intellectual life, Fortini worked against the commonplace conceptions of intellectual life that permeated the Left – be it the instrumental and populist Gramscianism of much PCI policy or the sloganeering romanticism of much far-left agitation … Synthesising in unique ways the contributions of Brecht, Benjamin, Adorno and Lukács (it’s no accident that Fortini, with rare attentiveness to debates across the Atlantic, will preface Jameson’s Marxism and Form in 1975), and fighting what with reference to Foucault he called ‘the funeral of the dialectic’, Fortini will hold fast to the idea that the material and ideal forms of cultural production are laden with strategic content, that politics and syntax – to use a favourite dyad of his – are inextricable, and that the Left’s complacency about the forms of its cultural production (from logos to grammar, sources of funding to circuits of distribution, choice of genres to use of metaphors), not to mention its subalternity to capitalist communication, can prove lethal (as it arguably did for much of the Italian Left from the 1980s onwards)…

Against a Eurocentric Marxist progressivism that would see the communist movement raise the flags of Enlightenment liberalism that the bourgeoise fecklessly deposited in the mud of history, Fortini always affirmed the fact that Marxism had to be a politics of unevenness, of a difference, an otherness, an antagonism that couldn’t be happily resolved, of ineliminable ‘anthropological’ dimensions of human suffering, of the tragic. This critique of a Marxism of continuity, which sees itself as the sublation of liberalism and Enlightenment, is a red thread in Fortini’s work, which joins his acute ear for Pascal and Kierkegaard with his capacity to dislocate the securities of Western Marxism in the face of the writings of Fanon or Lu Xun. In Fortini’s writings we learn that the Marxist tradition can only be a tradition of discontinuity, of wagers and unevennesses – where our greatest allies may turn out not to be on ‘our’ side – and that communism can only perdure if it is a communism without guarantees.

Image of Franco Fortini via