§ Consciousness and Critique

gramsciIn 1916, with hopes for the success of the Italian workers’ councils still high, revolutionary Antonio Gramsci wrote that “man is above all else mind, consciousness—that is, he is a product of history, not of nature.” As if the two were not abstractions from a deeper unity! He then added that “there is no other way of explaining why socialism has not come into existence already.” But isn’t it precisely because “man’s” intelligence is an expression of an existential field wholly shared with the rest of nature, and because “man” is wholly embedded in it with his body, desires, mood and emotion, that we can even talk of him/her wanting anything like socialism?; that we can talk of them, in other words, of striving for a social and natural milieu conducive to their individual and collective well-being?; that we can speak of them struggling for the good life? If “man” was not embedded in the thick of reality before it is split into nature and history, why would we even care? If we didn’t  encounter the world through ceaseless rapport, exchange, and co-emergence, how could mind or consciousness even arise? How could they arise if not as a response to that encounter ? Consciousness comes fairly late in the order of things, ultimately inseparable from nature, and may not be the crowning achievement it is usually taken to be among us socialists. In fact, it might not be more than a moment in the process of life, resistance, and reconciliation. Rather than insist on its primacy, it is more adequate to view it as derivative of the body’s encounter with its surround; and to say that it’s because we encounter the world as nature-embedded animate beings that we can can perceive, suffer, assess, and criticize the reality around us that, in its contemporary configurations, is unacceptable to us. And it is through bodily insertion into the flesh of nature that we reinvigorate ourselves in our struggles.

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