Benedetto Croce's Poetry and Literature: An Introduction to Its Criticism and History

By Benedetto Croce; Giovanni Gullace | Go to book overview

Translator's Preface

Although the impact of Benedetto Croce's esthetic theory on the Anglo-Saxon world has been pervasive and of long standing, translations of his works on the subject still remain astonishingly skimpy. The only major book to appear in English was his Aesthetic, which, in its somewhat inaccurate translation, has been widely circulating since 1909. And it seems that all of the knowledge about Croce's esthetics in the English-speaking countries is generally based solely on that work, which represents no more than the first sketch of a thought that developed, clarified, and corrected itself through new literary experiences and more mature reflection. Croce, in fact, considered his Aesthetic "as a sort of program or outline to be completed . . . by means of a series of books, theoretical and historical, which should serve to define my philosophical position more precisely."1.

If the Aesthetic ( 1902) marks the first major step in Croce's career as a philosopher of art, La poesia ( 1936) represents his full thought on the problem of man's creative activity. It condenses the basic theoretical discoveries of his previous speculation and, at the same time, opens up a broader perspective which sheds new light on the whole of Croce's work on esthetics, literature, and criticism. But of his numerous writings in these areas, which appeared after the Aesthetic, only a few pieces were published in English;2 and most of them, for one reason or another, passed almost unnoticed or at best attracted the attention of very few specialists and are now completely forgotten. The knowledge of Croce's esthetics in the English-speaking world remains, therefore, regrettably incomplete, and in most cases is derived from second-hand sources which have often corrupted its real meaning. By and large, the most genuine judgments or misjudgments of the doctrine have been based on the pronouncements contained in that early work: the sympathy from the New Critics, the attacks by the New Humanists, and the many remarks about Croce's esthetics found in books and articles had no other point of reference.

The lack of a full and direct familiarity with Croce's thought has caused general misunderstanding which still persists.3 A major case in point is that of John Dewey, who, despite the many ideas he had in common with Croce, especially in the field of esthetics, showed a knowledge of Croce's philosophical position far removed from the true one. Croce's philosophy is not a philosophy of the abstract; it is not meant to go beyond the sphere of the activity of man: human action does not aim at something beyond the human. Croce felt no need to conduct any inquiry into the problem of being, to examine ontological questions. For him metaphysical speculation would result in a "theologizing philosophy." Yet Dewey mistook him for one of those abstract Hegelians having no touch with human reality.4

In the hope of filling a part of the gap concerning Croce's theory of art and literature, I have undertaken

____________________
1
An Autobiography, trans. R. G. Collingwood ( Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1927), p. 67
2
See Gian N. G. Orsini, Benedetto Croce: Philosopher of Art and Literary Critic ( Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1961), pp. 304-06; and Benedetto Croce, Philosophy, Poetry, History: An Anthology of Essays, trans. Cecil Sprigge ( London: Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 215-494.
3
See Frederic S. Simoni, "Benedetto Croce: A Case of International Misunderstanding", Journal of Aesthetic and Art Criticism 11 ( 1952):7-14.
4
See Croce, Indagini su Hegel e schiarimenti filosofici, pp. 291-92.

-vii-

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Benedetto Croce's Poetry and Literature: An Introduction to Its Criticism and History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Translator's Preface vii
  • Translator's Acknowledgments xi
  • Translator's Introduction xiii
  • Foreword 3
  • I - Poetry and Literature 5
  • II - The Life of Poetry 84
  • III - Criticism and History of Poetry 119
  • IV - The Formation of the Poet and the Precepts 175
  • Bibliography 203
  • Index 207
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