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

By Benedetto Croce; Giovanni Gullace | Go to book overview

Translator's Introduction

1. One or Four Crocean Esthetics?

Readers who did not follow closely Croce's intellectual career would perhaps find it difficult to appreciate fully the importance of La poesia, unless they are brought up to date concerning the author's thought as it evolved up to the time of the publication of the work. This introduction, addressed mainly to such readers, is meant to provide a broad outline of the major steps through which Croce's esthetic theory unfolded, of the problems it raised, and of the contribution La poesia represents in the total picture of the theory.

No serious system of ideas or theoretical doctrine in any field of intellectual endeavor has ever come into being fully developed in all its parts and in all its possibilities. Every conception, however illuminating and well founded, must always struggle its way through to maturity. Croce's theory of art is no exception. Students of his philosophy speak of a first, a second, a third, and even a fourth Crocean esthetics (or phases of it). "The first esthetics," wrote Luigi Russo, "is that of 1900, the Tesi fondamentali;1the second is that of the Breviary of Aesthetics of 1912,2 to which the Nuovi saggi d'estetica of 1920 must be attached;3 the third is the Aesthetica in nuce written in 1928,4 to which various pieces of research collected in Ultimi saggi ( 1935) are related;5 the fourth is the one having as its central volume La poesia, to which essays of these last years and the years to come are probably associated."6Croce himself, in a note added to the end of his essay "Pure Intuition and the Lyrical Character of Art," stated: "This is the first integration of my Aesthetic of 1900; a second integration is found in my essay of 1918, 'The Character of Totality of Artistic Expression' (now in Nuovi saggi d'estetica), a third in the book La poesia ( 1936), in which the distinction between art and literature is more precisely indicated. I use the term "integration" because in none of these further developments have I ever felt the need to abandon or change the principles which I had already set forth; I needed only to go deeper and expand them."7 And years later,

____________________
1
Fundamental Propositions of an Esthetics as Science of Expression and General Linguistic. This work, as Croce states in the preface to his Aesthetic, "was read at the Accademia Pontaniana of Naples during the sessions of February 18 and May 6, 1900, and printed in vol. 30 of its Proceedings." The author, then, reworked the text, amplifying it and rear- ranging the sequence to make the exposition plainer and easier. In this second version it constitutes the theoretical part of his Aesthetic (pt. 1), published in 1902. As for the historical part of the volume (pt. 2), only five chapters appeared in the Neapolitan review Flegrea ( April 1901), under the title "Giambattista Vico: First Discoverer of Esthetic Science," and were then reworked and "brought into harmony with the rest" in the final arrangement of the 1902 work, Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic.
2
Breviario d'estetica, written for the Rice Institute. The English translation by D. Ainslie was published in The Book of the Opening of the Rice Institute ( Houston, Texas, 1912), vol. 2, pp. 450-517; republished as The Essence of Aesthetic ( London: Heinemann, 1921).
3
New Essays of Esthetics, which contains major developments of Croce's theory.
4
This constitutes, in the translation of R. G. Collingwood, the entry "Aesthetics" in the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica ( 1929). The original was collected in Ultimi saggi ( 1935).
5
Last Essays, containing an entire section (pp. 3-209) devoted to esthetic problems from the theoretical and historical point of view. It includes the "Difesa della poesia," a lecture given at Oxford on October 17, 1933.
6
La critica letteraria contemporanea, nuova edizione ( Florence: Sansoni, 1967), p. 212.
7
"Pure Intuition and the Lyrical Character of Art," a lecture given at Heidelberg in 1908; see Problemi d'estetica e contributi alla storia dell'estetica italiana ( 3d ed., 1939, pp. 3-30), originally published in 1910 as a 500-page volume containing a large number of writings complementing his Aesthetic, with particular reference to the problem of literary criticism; some additions were made in subsequent editions, but several questions dealt with in the volume received, as the author indi

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