Birth of Prison Notebooks

Arup Kumar Sen

In his Notes from Prison (written in November, 2019) titled ‘Chained Muse’, the activist-poet, Varavara Rao penned some thoughts about his experience in the prison and the carceral nature of the state. (See The Wire, July 13, 2020)

History does not repeat itself in the same fashion. However, Varavara Rao’s Notes from Prison remind us of the context of birth of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. To put it in the words of the editors of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith:

Finally, in the autumn of 1926, on the pretext of an alleged attempt on his life, Mussolini decided to make an end of even the semblance of bourgeois democracy that still survived. All remaining opposition organisations and their publications were banned, and a new, massive series of arrests was launched throughout the country. Among those arrested was Antonio Gramsci…He was 35 years old. At his trial in 1928, the official prosecutor ended his peroration with the famous demand to the judge: “We must stop this brain working for twenty years!” But, although Gramsci was to be dead long before those twenty years were up, released, his health broken, only in time to die under guard in a clinic rather than in prison, yet for as long as his physique held out his jailers did not succeed in stopping his brain from working. The product of those years of slow death in prison were the 2, 848 pages of handwritten notes which he left…

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Aug 4, 2020

Arup Kumar Sen

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