Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Conversations on Gramsci: Revolution and Context

By Alexandra van Doren

A screenshot of Nadim Mirshak and Peter Mayo from the video version of the interview.
This interview with Peter Mayo by University of Illinois Professor and anthropologist Linda Herrera and Univeristy of Manchester Lecturer Nadim Mirshak explores how foundational Gramscian principles can be and have been transposed, translated, and applied across cultures and geography. We begin first by exploring Gramsci’s influence on Professor Mayo and the way in which he, in turn, influenced Dr. Mirshak throughout the course of his Ph.D. program ,primarily through his book Gramsci, Freire and adult education.

Professor Mayo delves into a Gramscian philosophy which he refers to as “the Southern Question.” This question is directly related to geography, which was the theme Professor Mayo found most relatable as a citizen of Malta, as both Malta and Sardinia were islands. He was deeply interested in the political and cultural climates of archipelagoes, how they are formed, and how they participate in or rebel against hegemony, though he argues the two are not mutually exclusive and are invariably intertwined. What sorts of transformations occur in these civil societies and how do they happen? Moreover, he felt Gramsci contextualized his own understanding of revolution in his country and the Mediterranean in general.

Dr. Mirshak reveals his own interest in Gramsci and Professor Mayo’s perspective on such philosophies as stemming from his experiences as a citizen of Egypt. From 2011-2013, Egypt’s participation in the Arab Spring (a term Professor Mayo admittedly avoids) brought about many questions regarding the successes and failures of revolution, the way in which a revolution comes about and is executed, and the failed “hegemony” of Mubarak’s regime. Dr. Mirshak, too, felt Gramsci could help him contextualize the political state of his country as these events were unfolding and in the aftermath as well.

The conversation between the two scholars continues to touch on issues of the importance of critical media literacy and an awareness of misinterpretations of Gramsci’s philosophies, particularly in the Middle East. They acknowledge and discuss the transformation of a text when it is interpreted by and applied to a particular society, which is a reference point for the entirety of the interview. It is fascinating to see the multifaceted uses of Gramsci’s texts and principles as well as its transnational applicability, as evidenced by both Professor Mayo and Dr. Mirshak’s experiences with Gramsci and their home countries. That is to say, all of the observations about each society internalizing Gramsci’s texts in their own way must come with an awareness that the text transforms in some way with each application.

The interview ends on an intentionally positive note with a phrase Gramsci borrowed from Romain Roland, “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” What is optimistic about this interview is its exchange of ideas about not only how Gramsci can help us understand our own political and social contexts, but also how social worlds can be constructed “from below” in a grassroots fashion to combat repressive regimes, a concept critical for the Global South. The interview itself illustrates the importance of intercultural educational exchange and the ways in which two vastly different societies can find themselves linked by various forms of literature and philosophy.

You can watch a truncated version of the interview on YouTube, or read a longer transcript on the openDemocracy website.


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