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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 7. Revisiting Hegel

Extract

Hegel’s philosophy, my love and my torment (La filosofia di Hegel, mio amore e mio cruccio). (Croce, IH 45)

We will never be finished with the reading or rereading of Hegel. (Jacques Derrida)1

As our discussion of Croce’s concept of history has shown, Hegel was a dominant presence, more than Vico, throughout these writings. If Vico’s philosophy often serves to consolidate the possibility of a science of history made by humanity, Hegel provides Croce with the stimulus for his conception of philosophy as history. The preoccupation with Hegel lasted until his final years and took the form of reaffirming, on the one hand, his criticism of Hegel’s system, which he formulated as early as 1907 in What Is Living and What Is Dead in Hegel’s Philosophy, and, on the other, of suggesting changes to a system that he had by now made his own.

Croce’s idyll with Hegel dates from the early years of the twentieth century, at the time of his Estetica of 1902, which is greatly indebted to Hegel’s Vorlesungen über die Aesthetik.2 He returns to Hegel in his writings on history after the Second World War to discuss the differences that separate him from Hegel, his concept of distincts as opposed to the dialectic, and his concept of the identity of history and philosophy in opposition to Hegel’s philosophy of history and universal history. He returns to Hegel between 1948 and 1952 in two essays that are now collected in...

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