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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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Chapter 1. Art and History in Croce’s Early Writings

Extract

At the origin of Croce’s concept of history and his philosophy of absolute historicism, there is a seemingly innocuous “shift” (salto) from La storia ridotta sotto il concetto generale dell’arte (History Reduced under the General Concept of Art) (1893), in which history is defined as a form of art, to the Logica (Logic) (1909), in which history is said to be identical to philosophy.1 In the earlier work, Croce characterized the difference between art and history as “knowledge of the imaginary individual” and “knowledge of the individual real” (SRA x). In the Logica, the difference between art and history is decided on the basis of the predicate, the logical element in historical representation: “the effective presence [of the predicate] is the force which converts pure intuition in individual judgment, and changes poetry in history” (L 208).2 If history cannot be thought without the logical or philosophical element, philosophy cannot be thought without the historical element (L 223). This does not mean that history and philosophy are two forms of the spirit: they are only one, they do not condition each other, but are identical: “From intuition, which is indiscriminate individuation, we rise to the universal, which is discriminate individuation, from art to philosophy, which is history” (L 233).

Croce’s justification for history’s shift from art to philosophy comes in a Note (Postilla) to the Logica, in which he claims that it was only a change in point of view, “without discontinuities and shifts,” which he made along...

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