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Croce on History

Aesthetic Defiguring

Massimo Verdicchio

The book is the first critical reading of all the major writings on history by Benedetto Croce. The study is not a summary but a critical assessment based on the relevance of Croce’s aesthetics for his concept of history. This account differs from previous studies which are characterized by the excluding or by minimizing the aesthetic, a process the author calls “defiguring.” Within this framework Croce’s concept of history is not a total philosophy but only an allegory of history: a narrative of the impossibility of history. In other words, Croce’s history is not unlike his definition of Hegel’s Phenomenology or his system as fiction. It is also not unlike Vico’s New Science, the other major influence on Croce’s concept of history, as an imaginative science. This study realigns Croce’s concept of history with Hegel’s and Vico’s to redefine, thanks to Croce, how we understand history.
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Even in the world of thought we survive in our sons who contradict us and replace and bury us (and not always with the required devotion.)

Croce, Logica (228–229)

This study of Croce’s concept of history is the third of a series of studies I have devoted to the philosophy of Benedetto Croce. The first, Naming Things: Aesthetics, Philosophy and History in Benedetto Croce, gave an in-depth analysis of his aesthetics (Estetica and La poesia) and its implications for a reading of Giambattista Vico’s Scienza nuova, an account of his history of the Baroque Age (Storia dell’età barocca in Italia), and a discussion of his reading of Dante, Ariosto, and Pirandello. The second, A Croce Reader: Aesthetics, Philosophy, History and Literary Criticism, provides a general account of Croce’s aesthetics, philosophy, and history, with relevant passages translated by myself.

My approach to Croce’s philosophy in Naming Things takes its starting point from a close reading of the Estetica of 1902, in which Croce posits the identity of aesthetics and linguistics, as the title Estetica come scienza dell’espressione e Linguistica generale (Aesthetics as the Science of Expression and General Linguistics) indicates.1 By linguistics, Croce does not mean the science of linguistics as we know it, but “linguistics as philosophy,” namely, rhetorical or figural language and, more specifically, language conceived as symbol, a concept he derives from Hegel’s Aesthetics (Vorlesungen über die Äesthetik). In the last chapter of the Estetica, Croce sums up the absolute identity...

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