By Sebastiano Timpanaro
This polemical work presents to the English-speaking world one of the most original philosophical thinkers to have emerged within post-war Europe. Sebastiano Timpanaro is an Italian classical philologist by training, an author of scholarly studies on the nineteenth-century poet Leopardi, and a Marxist by conviction. With great force and wit, On Materialism sets itself against what it sees as the virtually universal tendency within western Marxism since the war, to dissociate historical materialism from biological or physical materialism. Whereas the philosophical legacy of the later Engels has been decried by most prominent Marxists since the 1920s, Timpanaro eloquently defends its essential purpose and relevance, by unfashionably re-emphasising the permanent weight of nature within history. In doing so, he returns to the heritage of Lucretius and Leopardi, and argues for a more consistent materialism that is at once more pessimistic and more hedonistic than any other contemporary version of Marxism. Timpanaro emphasises the insuperable limits of frailty and mortality as unalterable conditions of society whose transformation is the goal of revolutionary socialism. Timpanaro vigorously attacks what he regards as the widespread entente between a diluted Marxism and a fashionable idealism in the west, whether in the form of an “existentialist” or a “structuralist” union of the two. The aversion of the former to the work of Darwin and Engels receives a spirited refutation, no less than the indulgence of the latter towards the work of Saussure or Levi-Strauss. A special introduction written for this English edition deals with the phenomenon of the recent revival of “vulgar materialism” in the Anglo-Saxon world, in the fields of psychology and anthropology, and its relationship to racism. On Materialism will be one of the central focuses of cultural and intellectual controversy within and beyond Marxism in the next decade.