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The ‘living philology’ of Joseph A. Buttigieg

by Peter Ives on February 20, 2019
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The news of the death of Joseph A. Buttigieg on January 27, 2019 was greeted with sadness among the communities of scholars, researchers and students who have been deeply touched by his life and work. Among many other accomplishments, Joe was a central figure in the world of those conducting scholarship on, and inspired by, Antonio Gramsci. Those of us who knew him or admired him from afar mourn the loss of a friend, mentor, interlocutor, scholar, and source of inspiration. His approach and contribution to how to read, understand and engage with Gramsci’s texts were and remain invaluable. Moreover, his extension of critical engagement with key ideas and political analysis to creating a multi-generational, international community of intellectuals is a lasting gift to us all.

Joseph Anthony Buttigieg was born May 20, 1947 in Hamrun, Malta, the eldest of eight children. Having received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Malta, he earned a B.Phil from Heythrop College in Oxford, England and then his Ph.D. at the State University of New York, Binghamton in 1976. After a short but important period teaching at New Mexico State University where he met his wife, Anne Montgomery, Joe took up a professorship in the English Department (and later, in the Comparative Literature Program) at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana. Prior to his deep engagement with Gramsci’s writings, Joe published a book on James Joyce’s aesthetics, A Portrait of the Artist in Different Perspective.

Joe’s very influential essays on Gramsci, including such topics method, civil society, philology and their connection to historical and political analysis, were published in Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Japanese and English. He was the editor and translator of the English language publication of the critical edition of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks with Columbia University Press. He was president and a founding member of the International Gramsci Society, and appointed by the Italian Minister of Culture to the commission responsible for the ‘edizione nationale’ (the complete, national edition) of Gramsci’s writings. He was also the founding general editor of the ‘Reading Gramsci Series’ with Pluto Press, which has published seven titles to date and is still ongoing.

Joe was the epitome of the “living philology” of which Gramsci speaks in Notebook 11, §25. In the relation between history and sociology, Gramsci argues knowledge is not the product of hunches backed up by the identification of statistical laws. Rather, the task of historical materialism is to develop critical knowledge through a collective organism acquired by ‘active and conscious co-participation’, through ‘compassionality’, and ‘through a system which one could call “living philology”’, forming a complex whole between intellectuals and those wider collective organisms constituting and contesting civil society. This was Joe. Critical knowledge. Co-participation. Compassionality. Living philology. Contesting civil society.

His humanity, compassion and scholarship created a world of living philology for the past, present, and next generations of Gramsci scholars in multiple ways. His passing is an incalculable loss in this ‘great and terrible world’.

We welcome any further tributes to the legacy of Joseph A. Buttgieg, in English, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese here. Please email:

Peter Ives p.ives@uwinnipeg.ca or Adam David Morton Adam.Morton@sydney.edu.au or David Ruccio dfruccio@gmail.com

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Álvaro Bianchi, Universidade Estadual de Campinas

No início dos anos 2000 fiquei fascinado com as possibilidades reveladas pelo método filológico no estudo do pensamento Antonio Gramsci. Foi nesse contexto que descobri dois artigos maravilhosos escritos por Joseph Buttigieg, ambos publicados pela revista boundary 2: Gramsci’s method (1990) e Philology and Politics (1994). O impacto desses artigos em minha maneira de ler os Quaderni foi enorme. Neles encontrei a exposição mais acabada daquele método filológico e um guia para minha minha própria pesquisa. Mais tarde encontrei Joe várias vezes. A conversa aberta, o espírito generoso e a paixão com que ele abraçava e estimulava o trabalho de pesquisa coletivo marcaram esses encontros. A última vez que estivemos juntos foi no Colóquio Internacional Antonio Gramsci, realizado na Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) em 2017. Durante o Colóquio ocorreram fortes discussões entre os defensores do método filológico e aqueles que viam na filologia uma tentativa de despolitizar o pensamento gramsciano. Joe acompanhou com atenção as discussões, embora insistisse que não onde estava afinal a questão, uma vez que para ele filologia e política sempre andaram de mãos dadas. Sua conferência naquele encontro deixou isso claro. Conversamos bastante sobre a importância de publicarmos rapidamente seu texto em português, coisa que fizemos poucos meses depois na revista Outubro, e fizemos planos para um livro sobre filologia e política. O livro ficou apenas em nossa imaginação. Mais real é a memória de um ser humano extraordinário, inscrita no espírito de seus amigos e alunos e em uma obra notável e inspiradora.

Jennifer Crewe, Director of Columbia University Press

When I arrived at Columbia University Press in 1986 I was told by our former director, John D. Moore, that a contract had been signed between the Press and the Istituto Gramsci three years earlier for publication of a translation of the complete Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, and that I was to be in charge of shepherding the multi-volume work through to publication. The project had been highly recommended to us by Edward W. Said, a close adviser to the Press.

Gramsci was a founder of the Italian Communist Party and was recognised as its head by 1924. Two years later he was arrested and imprisoned by Mussolini’s fascist regime. Although he was moved to a clinic because of his failing health in 1933, he never fully regained his freedom and died the month he was to be released. During his imprisonment he read and wrote constantly and in his tiny, clear handwriting he filled 33 notebooks with his ideas on myriad topics, including Italian history, Marxist theory, political theory, culture, philosophy, and literature.

We published the first volume of Joseph A. Buttigieg’s translation in 1992, with volume 2 following in 1996 and volume 3 in 2007. All the volumes contain Joe’s extensive notes, which guide readers through Gramsci’s extraordinary series of reflections. The translations are a work of extraordinary ambition: Joe devoted over three decades of his life to a project that, once completed, will exceed 3,000 pages. The time, care, and effort that he put toward creating a complete, scholarly edition of this incredibly complex text still astonishes me.

I got to know Joe through numerous phone conversations during which he painstakingly and patiently explained the contents of each of our volumes, the challenge of everything he was going through to get the manuscripts ready. As Joe writes in his preface to volume 1:

The notebooks were not written sequentially—during any given period of time Gramsci was making entries in several different notebooks, although he did not always have access to more than one or two… at a time. To further complicate matters, numerous notes appear in two different versions in separate notebooks. In many instances the differences between the two versions are quite significant; but even when the variations are minimal the reordering of materials in itself merits close examination. Whenever Gramsci elaborated, adapted, or simply transcribed a note, he crossed out its earlier version. … The cancellations are executed with characteristic neatness so that the text remains perfectly legible. Still, nothing in any of the notebooks enjoys definitive status; all the notes remain provisional, including those that appear in a second draft.

During my conversations with Joe I learned that after Gramsci’s death at the age of 46 in 1937 the notebooks had been kept in the vaults of the Banca Commerciale Italiana for safe keeping by Raffaele Mattioli, an executive of the bank and a friend of Gramsci. (I couldn’t imagine a bank in the US guarding work by a Marxist thinker!) The bank even provided the Press with a subsidy to help cover the costs of translation and publication of the Notebooks.

The book files in our office are filled with my handwritten notes from our many talks—many of them include mention of Joe’s trips to Malta and to Rome, his upcoming sabbaticals that would enable him to finish this or that Cuaderno. During his final days, Joe was still working on what will be volumes 4 and 5, the final volumes. We are expecting that Joe’s colleagues will pick up where he left off and finish the project, achieving what will be the only complete critical edition of these seminal writings.

While working on the final notebooks Joe also produced, with Marcus Green, a critical edition of Notebook 25—Subaltern Social Groups, which we will publish in August.

In addition to the translations of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Joe did many things at Notre Dame—among them serving as director of the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program, as a faculty member in English, and as director of the Stamps Scholars Program. But to my mind his life’s work was as a Gramsci scholar; he was selflessly devoted to bringing into English the wide-ranging, influential, and absorbing writings of an extraordinary intellectual of the last century.

Kate Crehan, College of Staten Island, The City University of New York

Joseph Buttigieg was an exemplary progressive intellectual of a kind we are much in need of in these turbulent times. Like Gramsci, he believed that the truly important knowledge is knowledge that travels beyond the academic ghetto, but, again like Gramsci, he was also committed to serious and meticulous scholarship. Joe’s writings were always a pleasure to read.  One of his many gifts as a scholar was an ability to explain complex ideas in straightforward, accessible prose.  And he was just as good at doing this orally.  He had a clear understanding of the links between scholarship and activism.  Many of us no doubt have experienced the tension between activists and academics that all too often erupts at conferences and workshops.  I have indelible memories of Joe on such occasions skilfully and forcefully, but never confrontationally, explaining through straightforward and concrete examples why effective activism needs to be grounded in careful analysis of the relevant structural realities.  In this, and in many other ways, he provides us with a model of the progressive engaged intellectual. Joe also had the gift of being able to inspire others.  My conversations with him were always incredibly stimulating, filling me with new ideas, new questions, and renewed enthusiasm for all things Gramscian.  It was Joe who asked me to write a book about Gramsci and anthropology.  Something I would never have had the confidence to propose without his encouragement.  His comments on my work were always thoughtful and generous.  Everything I have ever written on Gramsci owes a huge debt to Joe. In addition he was a wonderfully warm, funny and generous man, always interested in new ideas and how others saw things, someone with whom it was a delight to hang out.


Eloisa Gordon-Mora, University Chief Diversity Office, University of Nevada, Reno

I had the—for me, intellectually and personally transforming—good fortune of meeting Joseph Buttigieg, as a graduate student of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame during the early 1990s. This encounter was precipitated, in a very auspicious manner, by my rather solitary attempt at reading Gramsci, in a mindboggling, as well as futile, effort at deciphering the “fragmentary and cryptic”—terms that Buttigieg constantly used—passages. Gramsci was oftentimes cited but never formally studied—at least not then—in the Department of Political Science. My thesis advisor, the recognised Latin Americanist, Guillermo O’Donnell, suggested I make an appointment with the then Chair of the English Department, who, unbelievably, happened to be one of the most respected Gramscian scholars in the world and who also happened to have undertaken, for the first time ever, the complete translation of the Prison Notebooks into the English language. Expecting what might be a cursory discussion, at best—I was not even in Professor Buttigieg’s department, and he was the Chair, on top of it!—the person I met was the person he always was: one of the most vibrant and engaging minds I have ever experienced, as well as one of the most committed and inspiring teachers, in the profound sense of the word, one always hope to meet. As he did with countless students, both in the English Department and throughout the university, he made me feel not as just a student, but as a valid thinker. Undoubtedly, my active engagement with the world as an active political scientist has much to do with what I learned from him, while I was at the university and beyond. I do not know if a great teacher has to be a great thinker, or if I great thinker ought to be a great teacher, but most certainly he was both. Always remembered and always present.

Renate Holub, University of California, Berkeley

When Joe and I first met I do not recall with the greatest precision. It must have been in the second half of the 1980’s, and perhaps it was Frank Rosengarten who had introduced us to each other at a scholarly event in New York City. There were discussions about a prospective International Gramsci Society. By that time, Joe must have been involved in the preparation of a Special Issue of Boundary 2 on The Legacy of Antonio Gramsci, which would not only contribute to the introduction of Gramsci’s thought into the discursive spheres of North American academic postmodernisms. But it would also set a certain tone for subsequent evolutions in the reception of Gramsci’s work that transcended the postmodern paradigm. As Joe stressed in his introduction, ‘reading Gramsci effectively’ (…) would call for the ‘development of new analytical and critical skills appropriate to the special character of Gramsci’s writings.’ Ideally, the treatment of Gramsci’s legacy would entail four interrelated ‘spheres of analysis’ and critique, ranging from a ‘historical investigation of the social, cultural, economic and political context’ of Gramsci’s work and a ‘a rigorous textual scrutiny of all his writings,’ to a ‘thorough study’ of the ‘concepts he articulated’ and an ‘extension of his efforts by way of a sustained critique of hegemony at the present time.’  It was this pedagogical program that I had shared with Joe over many years and on account of his fantastic translation of the Gerratana edition I had been enabled to execute it with greater success in the university classrooms. While I may not precisely recall the historical beginnings of our long friendship, I will never forget the circumstances of our last personal encounter in Rome and the last telephone conversation in which we engaged. In Rome, we were at an extraordinary International Gramsci Conference in May of 2017. I had just previously learned through the press what Mayor Pete had been up to, and I could not wait to congratulate Joe. This was so impressive, exciting, fabulous. Joe’s critique of my paper on Gramsci and Multicultural Studies In North America – next to that of Ursula Apitzsch and Anne Showstack Sasoon – was to the point and constructive. It was such a pleasure to work with him and them again. Based on his intervention, I eventually sought additional clarifications. When I did, on January 19 of this year, Joe and I had an extensive, a very interesting, and a very enriching telephone conversation on the Gramsci reception in North America as compared to the British, French, and German receptions. Joe was, as usual, resourceful, gracious, generous, respectful, thoughtful, informed, modest, eloquent. He also mentioned that he was not well. When, a week later, the emails arrived from everywhere with the sad news, I was stunned. The Gramsci community has lost an intellectual of integrity to whom we are immensely indebted. I know that we will continue his project.

Peter Ives, University of Winnipeg

Of the many qualities I have always appreciated about Joe, his mentoring of junior scholars and the way he fostered connections among us is near the top. Gramsci was, of course, also attuned to the importance of intergenerational exchange and education as well as concerned when it broke down. It is no mere accident that the first time I met Marcus Green was when he was accompanying Joe as the external examiner at my doctoral defense—a defense, I will add, that was remarkably richer due to Joe’s input. The first time I met Adam Morton, at a conference in Mexico, we realised Joe had told each of us about the other. My collaboration with Rocco Lacorte was also initially facilitated through Joe. Indeed, the first time I met Joe, at the Rethinking Marxism Gala Conference in 1996, after attending a couple of panels on Gramsci, at Joe’s invitation, I found myself at lunch with an intimidating collection of notable Gramsci scholars. Anyone who has read Joe’s essays on, or translation of, Gramsci knows his meticulous attention to detail although always in context of the broader themes, rhythms, methods and purposes. Joe also mobilised such energy in how he drew people in to the community of scholars surrounding Gramsci’s work. I mourn the loss of such a great intellectual, mentor and friend. It is at least some comfort that he has left a vibrant community in which to reflect on his legacy.

Peter Mayo, University of Malta

News of Joe’s passing shocked me. I had not heard from him for a while and was not aware he was ill. This explains his lack of answers to recent e-mails and attempts to contact him on Skype. Only the week before, I tried Skyping him to congratulate him on his son, Pete Buttigieg, who had revealed his intentions to run for US President. It was only in 1993 that I got to know him thanks to his brother Franco who was about to write a long essay under my supervision. I had just returned from Canada, working on my PhD. A year earlier, after having written my comprehensive exam, feeling great about having scoured the vast literature on Gramsci, I spotted a copy of his annotated and translated Vol 1 of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks in a prominent Toronto bookstore. My immediate reaction was “Darn! I missed this one”. The surprise was even greater when I spotted the author’s surname “Buttigieg”.  I thought: “This must be an American of Maltese descent” only to be told back home (Malta) that, like me, he is Maltese born and bred. He was a graduate at BA and MA levels in English, of our Alma Mater, the University of Malta. We finally met thanks to Franco and became very good friends to the point that, whenever he visited his homeland, he made it a point to come and visit me at my university office and we would spend the best part of the day together. An edited book once emerged from our friendship, involving a mutual friend, Carmel Borg. Joe was affable, always cracking jokes and very happy to see ‘refreshing’ work coming out of his country of birth. He opened doors for many people worthy of support. What is it with us Maltese to become attracted to Gramsci: proximity? Exposure to Italian culture (often first hand)? Knowing and speaking Italian as a third language after Maltese and English? Being islanders and Mediterranean islanders at that? Finding that most of what Nino wrote resonated with the Maltese experience, for several years in its history, the country being virtually an extension of the Italian Meridione? The Southern Question could easily have been written with regard to priest, teacher and traditional freewheeling professional-dominated Malta; especially lawyers, notaries and medical doctors. Mercantilist activity was the economy’s hallmark. And the interesting thing is that despite our Island’s proximity (cultural and geographical) to Italy which once claimed it as  terra irridenta, we both came across Gramsci in North America of all places. I wonder why? I have lost a friend, mentor and collaborator in Joe. My sincere condolences go to Anne, Pete and the rest of his family, including Franco and fellow Manchester United supporter, John.

Massimo Modonesi, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Conocí a Joe en el siglo pasado, en 1997 en Puebla (México), en ocasión de un evento gramsciano, cuando yo era un joven estudiante de posgrado. Me sorprendió su humanidad, su cálida sencillez. La última vez que lo vi fue en 2017, veinte años después, en Campinas (Brasil), en un encuentro patrocinado por la International Gramsci Society (IGS), ejerciendo la presidencia da la Asamblea con el mismo estilo fraterno y amigable. Sus virtudes humanas, su labor intelectual y su capacidad de promover y sostener iniciativas quedarán en la memoria de quienes tuvimos el placer de conocerlo y son parte fundamental de la historia de los estudios gramscianos a nivel mundial.

Adam David Morton, University of Sydney

I first corresponded with Joseph Buttigieg in 1999 on his translation into English of the critical edition of the Prison Notebooks and then met him in 2003 at a personal meeting in Manchester to discuss a book for his ‘Reading Gramsci Series’. Quite simply without Joe there would have been no Unravelling Gramsci. As recounted in my acknowledgements to that book, we met at Manchester’s Royal Exchange on St. Anne’s Square, a building that still reminds me of Gramsci’s insights on capillary power and the role of architecture as one social condensate of the ‘material structure of ideology’. Our conversation spanned from his love of Manchester United — that he was in town to see — to his enormous task in undertaking the English translation of the Critical Edition of the Prison Notebooks. In his brilliant essay ‘Gramsci’s Method’ published in boundary 2, Joe wonderfully captures the molecular process of the Prison Notebooks by referring to the ‘multi-directional, multi-perspectival complexity’ of their composition. Present in his introduction to the translation of the Critical Edition, this multi-directional, multi-perspectival emphasis also wonderfully sums up Joe’s character in terms of his humanity, compassion and scholarship that created a world for the past, present, and next generation of Gramsci scholars. The method at work in Gramsci’s notebooks also seemingly represented Joe’s own specific individuality, with both striving for an anti-dogmatic historical materialism. He is missed profoundly.

Anne Showstack Sassoon, Emeritus Professor, Kingston University

I first met Joe, his wife Anne, also a gifted academic and artist, and their then 2 ½ year old son Peter 35 years ago when Joe came to London to run the University of Notre Dame junior year abroad programme. He had become interested in Gramsci and got in touch. I last saw the 3 of them and met Peter’s now husband, Chasten, when Mayor Pete, as he is known, gave a talk at a fundraising lunch for Democrats Abroad in autumn 2017. Mayor Pete announced just days before Joe died that he is entering the US 2020 presidential race. His grounded, positive, ethical approach reflects his upbringing very well. He has made Anne and Joe so proud. Whenever Joe and I met at conferences or seminars, I asked about Peter, and the proud father shone through in his updates. In the intervening years, Joe became the Gramsci scholar that so many people have described, and helped to lay the foundation for contemporary Gramsci studies. No praise is too high for his translations and annotations of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. His mentorship and encouragement of so many young people in his work at Notre Dame and more widely, in different fields of study, provide a model of academic and ethical commitment. His positive engagement with other scholars, young and old, never denigrated their contributions. Instead he devoted his energy to suggesting the rich possibilities of Gramsci’s writings and provided insights that were always constructive and engendered continued enthusiasm in the rest of us.  His interventions were grounded in wide and deep knowledge across disciplines and across cultural traditions. He provided an example that more of us should emulate. He always looked for what others could, to use a colloquial expression, bring to the table.  For him critique meant precisely this, positive engagement accompanied by critical discernment, never the metaphorical destruction of the other. His warmth, his sense of humour, his smile, his laughter made him a delightful companion. I knew that he was ill, but his death is still devastating. I will miss him terribly. In an expression used in my cultural heritage, he was a mensch.

Cosimo Zene, School of Oriental and African Studies

In 2002, when I started rereading Gramsci, Giorgio Baratta urged me ‘You must meet Joe Buttigieg. You will like him and his way of interpreting (and translating) Gramsci. He is from Malta, a Mediterranean like you, and he loves Sardinia.’ I finally met Joe in 2007, at the conference in Rome and then in Ghilarza, where his wife Anne was accompanying him. That was the start of a beautiful and enriching friendship. From that moment on, Joe became also an invaluable mentor, not solely on matters relating to Gramsci, but in helping me to deal, with a smile rather than an angry face, with the unreasonable bureaucracy of academia. It was thanks to him, that I found the right way to bring together my interest for Ambedkar and the Dalits, interpreted through Gramsci’s concepts, and to do so with the help of other scholars when, with Joe’s support I organised a workshop in London. Joe was also instrumental in planning and implementing my last commitment at SOAS, the BA World Philosophies, a further Gramsci-inspired initiative. I have met many people in my life, and many of them academics, but I can truly say that I never met anyone like Joe: a genuine scholar, naturally gifted and sincerely humble at the same time. While I was spending most of my academic life studying and researching on ‘dialogue’, Joe represented for me the living incarnation of dialogue, ‘always attempting to bring people together’, as Marcus Green has said. The depth of his thought never prevented him from seeing the smaller things happening around him, those Gramscian ‘traces’ which help us to cultivate the ‘optimism of the will’, as a true integral historian. His heart would sink when describing his anguish for his son Pete, deployed in Afghanistan, but his eyes lit up when he talked so proudly about Pete and what he was achieving as Mayor of South Bend. Joe’s love for Sardinia extended to its people and the troubled history of our Island. He taught me how to rediscover and love Sardinia, again. Not long ago, he wrote a preface for the autobiography of Umberto Cardia (1921-2003, Il mondo che ho vissuto), a fellow Gramscian enthusiast and a committed member of the PCI. The way he described Cardia is not altogether dissimilar to the manner in which many of us remember Joe: “Empathy, einfühlung, the ability to share, understand, and concretely represent the emotions, ideas, aspirations, and actions of others – this is a quality of mind or of the imagination that is attentive to the multiple perspectives, the different prisms through which reality is viewed and interpreted. Empathy stresses specificity …” Remembering him, my only wish is that we have the courage, will and strength to pass on to younger generations, just as Joe did, his love for life and for a better world.

Peter Ives
Peter Ives is Professor of Political Science at the University of Winnipeg, Canada. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Reed College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social & Political Thought from York University, Toronto. His research is broadly centred on language and political theory with a more specific focus on the ‘politics of global English.’ He is author of Gramsci’s Politics of Language: Engaging the Bakhtin Circle and the Frankfurt School (University of Toronto Press, 2004, Turkish translation 2011, Chinese translation 2018); Language and Hegemony in Gramsci (Pluto Press, 2004); co-editor, with Rocco Lacorte, of Gramsci, Language and Translation (Lexington, 2010), and with Thomas Ricento and Yael Peled, Language Policy & Political Theory (Springer 2015). His articles have appeared in Language Policy, Political Studies, Educational Philosophy and Theory, Historical Materialism, Rethinking Marxism and the Review of International Studies. His articles have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese.

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