Carlo Muscetta (22 August 1912 – 22 March 2004) was a poet who became better known as a literary critic and, later, as an editor of literary magazines. He also had a parallel career in teaching, employed as a university professor of Literature successively at Catania, Paris (as a “visiting professor”) and Rome. During the 1960s and 70s he came to wider prominence as a free-thinking Marxist commentator.
Carlo Muscetta was born and grew up at Avellino, a midsized town with a rich history, located approximately 50 kilometres (30 miles) inland to the east of Naples. Angelo Muscetta, his father, was an energetic businessman with a wide range of commercial interests. Between 1925 and 1928 he attended the Liceo Pietro Colletta (technical secondary academy) in Avellino, which according to one evidently unimpressed commentator might have led him to a career as a cost accountant. He then switched to the “Liceo classico Pietro Colletta” (secondary school) which held out the likelihood of a more academically oriented set of qualifications. While still living in Avellino he came to know Guido Dorso, who exercised a lasting influence on his thinking, both politically and more broadly.
In 1931 he enrolled as a student at the University of Naples Literature faculty. He had already, as a teenager, established a “respectful” relationship with Benedetto Croce, to whom he frequently submitted written questions and from whom he received written answers. Croce is widely seen to have been instrumental in steering Muscetta towards literary criticism as a career path and historicism as an important philosophical prism. In 1932 he transferred to the University of Florence, where he was taught by Luigi Russo. He graduated in 1934, successfully concluding his student career with a dissertation, supervised by Luigi Foscolo Benedetto, concerning the nineteenth century literature scholar Francesco de Sanctis, a subject to which he returned in his subsequent writings. Muscetta returned to the south in 1935, settling in Molfetta, where he taught at the “istituto pubblico” (secondary school”. It was during his time in Molfetta that he became friendly with the left-wing intellectual Tommaso Fiore. He was dismissed from his teaching post after he was overheard criticising the colonial war inAbyssinia, but found a new position at the “Istituto Di Cagno Abbrescia”, a secondary school in nearby Bari through the intervention of Fiore.
There are indications that even when he was a literature student in Naples, during a period in which Italy was increasingly governed as a one-party dictatorship, there were members of the university who regarded Muscetta as politically suspect. He association with Benedetto Croce and others of a liberal mindset may have been one of the factors behind his transfer to Florence in 1932. Nevertheless, in 1937 he became a party member. (Party membership had been a precondition of application for a public sector position since, formally, 1933.)