ABSTRACT

In 1962, the poet and literary critic Franco Fortini published in the journal Il Menabò an essay titled “Astuti come Colombe” (Shrewd as Doves).1 The title inverts Jesus’s famous exhortation to his disciples “to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” With this statement, Fortini presented a critical program for intellectual work vis-à-vis capitalist development. The article critically responded to a previous issue of the journal entirely devoted to the theme of culture in relationship to industrial work. In this issue there were essays written, among others, by Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco. For these “progressive” intellectuals, the factory became in the 1960s the new cultural epicenter of literary and artistic experimental practices. This new sensibility that mixed socialist reformism and artistic experimentation gave impetus to the avant-garde revival in Italy of which Eco’s Gruppo 63 became the most important manifestation. Avant-garde techniques such as collage, estrangement, and technological experimentation became the devices through which the members of Gruppo 63 attempted to sublimate the effects of industrialization on social relationships. Fortini directed his critique at this ideological use of cultural experimentation in order to mediate (and mystify) the effects of production both on society and, especially, on intellectual work. The two poles that defined Fortini’s critique comprised, on the one hand, an analysis of the political economy of intellectual work and, on the other, an analysis of its aesthetic manifestation. Political economy was used by Fortini as a tool to

describe the way capitalist affirmation within society manifested itself through its systematic cultural self-deception. This self-deception was, according to Fortini, achieved often by capitalism’s instrumentalization of progressive, utopian and socially committed culture. The use of aesthetics was a way to trust artworks not only as authors’ products but also as artifacts that revealed in their concreteness the sensual features of capitalist integration. Drawing on political economy and aesthetics, Fortini constructed a critique that was neither aimed at a rational reform of capitalist development, nor at a romantic resistance against the effects to such development. The main objective of Fortini’s critique was to demonstrate how capitalist development was the source of a number of ideological manifestations that were meant to satisfy the good conscience of progressive intellectuals.