Gramsci, ‘A Dialogue’

Something has changed, fundamentally. This is evident. What is it? Before, they all wanted to be the ploughmen of history, to play the active parts, each one of them to play an active part. Nobody wished to be the ‘manure’ of history. But is it possible to plough without first manuring the land? So ploughmen and ‘manure’ are both necessary. In the abstract, they all admitted it. But in practice? Manure for manure, as well draw back, return to the shadows, into obscurity. Now something has changed, since there are those who adapt themselves ‘philosophically’ to being ‘manure’, who know this is what they must be and adapt themselves. It is like the problem of the proverbial dying man. But there is a great difference, because at the point of death what is involved is a decisive action, of an instant’s duration. Whereas in the case of the manure, the problem is a long-term one, and poses itself afresh at every moment. You only live once, as the saying goes; your own personality is irreplaceable. You are not faced abruptly with an instant’s choice on which to gamble, a choice in which you have to evaluate the alternatives in a flash and cannot postpone your decision. Here postponement is continual, and your decision has continually to be renewed. This is why you can say that something has changed. There is not even the choice between living for a day as a lion, or a hundred years as a sheep. You don’t live as a lion even for a minute, far from it: you live like something far lower than a sheep for years and years and know that you have to live like that. Image of Prometheus who, instead of being attacked by the eagle, is devoured by parasites.

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