Western Marxism looks like a defeat if one imagines politics to have to take a certain form — that which characterized Marxist and socialist movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Marxist literary criticism attempts to reconcile this discrepancy by main-taining that works of literature do not immediately reflect ideological and economic factors, but rather are the result of a whole series of "levels" which "mediate" between the literary work and the capitalist economy. Fredric Jameson, “Periodizing the 60s,” in The Ideologies of Theory, Essays 1971-1986. The form of a given work is in fact determined not merely by its content but also by other elements. Even if its slow marginalization as a social practice has made it tempting to insist more strongly on its class basis and social untruth, it would be a mistake for Marxism to think that it is done with it once and for all. If one way of addressing the crisis that affirmative culture introduces into Marxist criticism was to divide culture into serious work and junk, avant-garde modernism and mass culture, Jameson manages this problem (in part) by considering different zones of capitalism in which “culture” takes different forms. Marxism is not simply a sociological doctrine, but an active programme of building. The main features of the Marxist model are outlined and subjected to criticism. Marxism, a body of doctrine developed by Karl Marx and, to a lesser extent, by Friedrich Engels in the mid-19th century. It can even be a force which harms or contradicts the content. In the first case our opponents will be wrong; in the second they will be closer to the truth. It will be said that we have no such critics or only a very few. The Marxist critic’s special attention and wise assistance are needed here. While political reflections on the category of literature and culture itself have contributed to the practice of literary criticism, they have just as frequently pushed critical analysis in other directions — towards sociological approaches to literature and culture (the latest of which is exemplified by the work of Franco Moretti) or to the study of numerous other modes of cultural expression and practice. In this … Terry Eagleton has written that “Nobody is much bothered by materialist readings of Titus Andronicus … but a materialist theory of culture — a theory of culture as production before it is expression — sounds, in the spontaneously idealist milieu of middle-class society, something of a category mistake or a contradiction in terms.”6 The most important intervention made by cultural criticism in the twentieth century — and not just in Marxism, but in the work of scholars from Thorstein Veblen to Pierre Bourdieu — was to desacralize and demy thologize ideas of literature and culture, highlighting the social and political violence which shaped the consecration of these categories into practices immediately associated with transcendent value; the insistence on culture as always already a form of production is only the beginning of this effort. Source: A. Lunacharsky: On Literature and Art Progress Publishers, 1973; We will write a custom Essay on Marxist Criticism on The Lottery by Shirley Jackson specifically for you for only $16.05 $11/page. Excursions of that kind into tangible realities turn philosophy into the refuse of history, with the subject-matter of which it is confused, in the manner of a fethisistic belief in culture per se. The writer who illustrates in his works points of our programme which have already been fully developed is a bad artist. Generally speaking, sharp polemics are useful in that they keep the reader interested. Tolstoi spoke out strongly for this. 2 marxist philosophy Marx's study of capitalism was grounded in a philosophy that is both dialectical and materialist. But this can often be explained by the pedantic way in which such help is offered. This is an extremely important task, and Plekhanov emphasized its importance. It is for the writer himself to draw conclusions, to correct his line. If a Marxist cannot objectively sense the ties between the phenomena which surround him, then he is finished as a Marxist. All forms of reticence, of isolation, all forms intended for a small circle of specialised aesthetes, every artistic convention and refinement should be rejected by Marxist criticism. Not only this, Karl Marx was the first literary critic who represented Marxist’s school of thought. Marxism regards social life as an organic whole in which the separate parts depend one upon the other; and here the decisive role is played by the most natural and material economic relationships, above all, the forms of labour. An extremely important factor in the evaluation of the social content of literary works is a second judgment on a work, which, at first analysis, seemed to belong to a range of phenomena alien, sometimes hostile to us. This is his relation to the past of Russian and world literature, and this is how he must be related to contemporary literature. Proletarian Poetry, Aleksandr Bogdanov 1923 On Being the Right Size, JBS Haldane 1928 The Work of Art, Andre Malraux 1935. Marxist criticism not only can, but must indicate the inner merits of such works in the past and present, at the same time condemning the frame of mind of the artist who seeks to cut himself off from reality by such formal methods. The focus of this paper will be on a Marxist criticism of the story. Transcribed: Harrison Fluss for marxists.org, February 2008. His supreme joy must be in finding the positive and revealing it to the reader in all its splendour. Marx and Engels produced no systematic theory of literature or art. Marxist literary criticism investigates literature’s role in the class struggle. It is indeed quite dangerous now to say about a writer that he entertains “unconscious” or even “semi-conscious,” counter-revolutionary ideas. For Anderson, the “first and most fundamental of its characteristics has been the structural divorce of this Marxism from political practice.”15 In Western Marxism, the divide of theory and practice isn’t something to be actively engaged, but has become affirmed as a given, with energies thus devoted entirely to theory at the expense of practice. But, as mentioned above, the criterion of universality must be treated with great care. But the man who distorts the very essence of Marxist criticism because he is afraid to declare aloud the results of his objective social analysis, must be labeled as careless and politically passive. We once again emphasise, therefore, the exceptional demands which the epoch is making on the Marxist critic. This is an ongoing process; the three approaches to literature or culture that I described above continue to describe much of what is done under the name of Marxism. A genuine Marxist critic – an integral type, so to say, of such a critic – must be a teacher, especially of the young writer or beginner. Pope says he is not a Marxist, but defends criticism of capitalism. The political and historical terrain has altered so much in the global era that it would be a mistake to measure success or failure on these grounds (a point made repeatedly since at least Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy).20 Anderson laments the break of Western Marxism with an international party and criticizes its parochialism. It is impossible, however, to ignore the specialised task of the analysis of literary forms, and the Marxist critic must not turn a blind eye to this. The founder of Marxist criticism, Plekhanov, strongly underlined that this is the real role a Marxist is called upon to play. More interestingly, other forms of Marxist criticism have imagined that it is “possible to find the material history which produces a work of art somehow inscribed in its very texture and structure, in the shape of its sentences or its play of narrative viewpoints, in its choice of a metrical scheme or its rhetorical device.”11 This is to use symbolic responses to an objective historical situation as a way to read back through to those circum stances, whether in a direct, unmediated form, or perhaps with the added bonus that inscribed in symbolic forms is some hint of the Real or the social unconscious of a given historical period. Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (London: New Left Books, 1976): 29. "Marxist Literary Criticism, Then and Now. Here, the received category of literature around which institutional practices such as professional organizations and university departments are organized is scrutinized and placed into question. 301 certified writers online. In addition, the martial spirit of the Marxist critic as a revolutionary leads him to express his thoughts sharply, but at the same time it should be mentioned that to camouflage the weakness of his arguments with polemical brilliance is one of the critic’s greatest sins. In this sense the evaluation factor must be regarded as extremely important in contemporary Marxist criticism. A writer can be enthralled by previously used forms, and although his content is new, it is poured into old wine-skins. Life presents many burning problems to this party of the population which plays an immensely important role in the construction of socialism; and of course these problems should not be left without an artistic answer simply because they have not yet faced the vast masses or because they cannot yet be worked out in universal form. Where are we then left? Although our country has much less of a contrast between individual classes than any other, it is still, nonetheless, impossible to consider it entirely classless. In Marxism and Literature, Williams remarks that “‘Marxist criticism’ and ‘Marxist literary studies’ have been most successful … when they have worked with the received category of ‘litera ture’, which they may have extended or even revalued, but never radically questioned or opposed.”3 Adorno on Mann, Lukács on Scott, Jameson on Gissing, Schwarz on Brás Cubas: each of these analyses might introduce new insights into the objects and authors being studied, but they still largely take the form of learned commentaries of objects known in advance for being ones filled with significance and in need of study with the tools of literary analysis. Precisely in this: the formal body of a given work should merge into one indivisible whole with its idea, with its content. 17. They are revealed not only in the prevailing moods of individual groups and people, but also in admixtures of every kind. But the changed political circumstances of the present moment — one which finds capitalism under question, widespread expressions of anxiety about ecological futures, and so on — have pushed critical energies in other directions, and will continue to do so. Glorious is also the writer who can reach the hearts of these millions with a comparatively simple, elementary content; and the Marxist critic should highly value such a writer. We are in the sphere of a struggle of ideas. And in these cases when a writer is considered an alien element, way to the right, or when one of our writers is accused of some deviation or other, then the whole affair seems somewhat dubious. It goes without saying that this is the cue for the appearance not of Marxist criticism but of Marxist censorship. The very absence of the socialist world (at least on its former scale) has brought the structuring force of economics to the surface in a way that has rendered its foundational role apparent to everyone: political economy is back in style. There are excellent works by, for instance, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Uspensky and Furmanov, which clearly sin against this criterion, and this means that hybrid literary works combining belles-lettres with publicist thought can exist in their own right. ISSN: 1942-2458 // © 2007-20 Mediations // Site by Nora Brown Design. When one single writer or work is being discussed, there is no essential need for an analysis of the basic economic conditions, for here the ever – valid principle, which may be called Plekhanov’s principle, comes into its own with particular force. Marxist criticism which places wagers on the utopian dimension of this or that novel or genre — “serious” science fiction, for instance — seems to forget the second mode to which I’ve pointed concerning the political and economic conditions of possibility of literary writing and criticism, with the effect being a curious, uncritical acceptance of (for instance) writerly aims and intentions, and of the category of the literary more generally. It should, however, be noted that we have gone too far the other way, our writers concentrating their attention on an easier task – writing, for a cultured circle of readers at a time when, I repeat, literature for the good of the workers and peasants, provided it is talented and successful literature, must be especially valued. Such a building is unthinkable without an objective evaluation of the facts. While there remains nothing like a new international socialist party, the palpable sense of having to frame one’s political imaginings and activities in a global context ensures that the “Westernness” of Western Marxism has now dissipate — though, in part, this is because of the global circulation and re-purposing of Western Marxism in places around the globe (university-based Marxists even in Russia, Eastern Europe, and China are Western Marxists in terms of the archives they draw upon and their broad interest in culture over politics and economics). This has wormed its way deeply into the everyday attitudes of the proletariat itself, of many Communists even. Assistance must be another of his aims – to channel and to warn – and only rarely should it be necessary to attempt to undo the villain with the piercing arrow of laughter or contempt or with overwhelming criticism, which can easily annihilate any puffed-up nonentity. Every thing is cultural: should we take this as a further intensification (or even dialectical transfiguration) of the drama of the spectacle to which Guy Debord alerted us, or as announcing a welcome social immanence whose outcome can be nothing other than the multitude and the commons described by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri? The Marxist critic, who states that such and such a writer or work is, for example, a purely petty bourgeois phenomenon, must never dismiss this work or writer with a wave of his hand. Yes, the reader must be taught to read. Viewed from the Marxist perspect… See Fredric Jameson, “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture.” Social Text 1 (1979): 130-48. Marxist literary criticism need not make reference back to Marx (who liked Shakespeare but didn`t discuss literature in relation to historical materialism); it certainly doesn’t deal with a stock set of questions or topics — say, class or labour, in the way sometimes imagined in introductory texts on literary criticism. Marxist criticism examines a literary effort from the standpoint of the assumptions that it makes and the values that it displays regarding such issues as power, class, race and culture rather than elements of artistic style, form, quality of writing, plot or other yardsticks more commonly used in literary criticism. Anderson writes that while Gramsci dealt extensively with Italian literature in the Prison Notebooks, he “took the autonomy and efficacy of cultural superstructures as a political problem, to be explicitly theorized as such — in its relationship to the maintenance or subversion of the social order.”21 In this sense, we are all Gramsci now, with the difference being that the political problem with respect to culture today is, in fact, its lack of autonomy and efficacy, its equivalence with the political in a manner that leaves conceptions of its function as ideological or anti-ideological unhelpful and beside the point. Above all, the most important formal criterion, which Plekhanov also advocated, should be mentioned here: that is, that literature is the art of images and every invasion of naked ideas or propaganda is always detrimental to the given work. Let us first of all approach this from the point of view of content. Marxist critics should identifythe ideology of the work and point out its worth and deficiencies. Drew Milne, “Introduction Part II: Reading Marxist Literary Theory,” in Marxist Literary Theory: A Reader, edited by Terry Eagleton and Drew Milne (New York: Blackwell, 1996) 27. There will be no lack of goodwill and talent in our great country, but there is a lot of hard learning to be done. Literature always has a truth value of some kind. We have hitherto confined our attention mainly to the sphere of Marxist criticism as a function of literary scholarship. To judge whether a writer is right, whether he has correctly combined the truth and the basic aspirations of communism, is by no means easy; here, too, perhaps, the correct judgment can be worked out only in the clash of opinions between critics and readers. The conflict between the old and the new continues. 1. One of the real limits of Western Marxism was that despite its best intentions to do other wise, it, too, tended to treat culture as in the end semi-autonomous from politics, and so as a space necessitating a careful mapping by those whose political commitments demanded a search for alternative social forms and imaginings. In essence, Marxists believe that a work of literature is not a result of divine inspiration or pure artistic endeavor, but that it arises out of the economic and ideological circumstances surroundin… Hopefully, spelling out these three modes can help to show us where Marxist literary criticism stands today and what might be on the horizon. As for its own attempts to grasp the strands of culture that slip out from under affirmative culture, this seems to have brought Marxist criticism back to a sense of culture as pure ideology or as pure political possibility, without a clear sense of which situation holds where or when, convinced of neither outcome, but energized by these breaks, gaps, and incompletions. See Theodor Adorno, “Cultural Criticism and Society,” in Prisms, translated by Samuel Weber and Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge: MIT P, 1997) 17-34. Finally, the third major sin against the above-mentioned particular rule for the originality of form, is the “over-originality” of form, where the emptiness of content is camouflaged by formal inventions and ornamentation. Many of the points that Anderson makes with respect to Western Marxism seem characteristic of Marxist criticism today: it is largely divorced from political parties or even from social movements (though perhaps not at its anarchist edges); its practitioners are primarily university-based and generally accepted there as one variant of a multiplicity of critical ap proaches; and they are interested in philosophy more than in (say) the nitty-gritty of re-establishing an international party operating above and beyond parochial nationalisms. since the 1960s, the abiding spirit of the crit. With respect to literature, some forms of criticism have sought to separate out reified forms of culture from other, more revolutionary forms; in many cases this has reflected existing taxonomies, with (say) mass culture being seen as the most ideological, and forms of experimental or explicitly political literature being seen as having escaped instrumentalization and so having special significance (Jameson speaks of modernism in this fashion, even if at other points he insists on the opposite point). But of course on should not deny the value of the works which are not sufficiently intelligible for every literate person, which are addressed to the upper stratum of the proletariat, to the sophisticated Party members, to the reader who has attained a considerable level of culture. More by this author Follow AndrewM . But there is only one conclusion to be drawn from this: it is necessary to learn. The Marxist critic must, on the other hand, be a teacher to the writer in the social sense. It is quite possible that angry voices will be raised at this, saying that no one gave the critic the right to consider himself superior to the writer, and so on. A writer is valuable when he cultivates virgin soil, when he intuitively breaks into a sphere which logic and statistics would find hard to penetrate. In every work of art the connection with the psychology of this or that class or of large groups of a broad social nature is determined chiefly by the content. In the case of a really great literary work, there are too many aspects to be weighed, and it is too difficult in this instance to use any kind of thermometer or scales. It is impossible, however, not to count on the gigantic rising wave of our broad culture, on the fountain of talented literature which is springing up everywhere; it is impossible not to believe that the present – not entirely satisfactory – state of Marxist criticism will very soon improve. The utopia which is supposed to go hand-in-hand with reification is divided spatially, with utopia being displaced from the West to the rest. As there is no one form of Marxism, so there is no one form of Marxist Criticism. The psychological thought process and conversations, what one might call the “style” of living of a given class (or class groups which have influenced the work), the general level of the material culture of a given society, the influence of its neighbours, the inertia of the past or the striving for renovation, which can manifest itself in all of life’s aspects – all this can affect the form, can act as a subsidiary factor defining it. Sometimes a distinction is made between the tasks of a literary critic and those of a literary historian; this distinction is based not so much on an analysis of the past and present, as, for the literary historian, on an objective analysis of the origins of the work, its place in the social fabric and its influence on social life; whereas for the literary critic, it is based on an evaluation of the work from the point of view of its purely formal or social merits and faults. Herbert Marcuse, Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro (London: Free Association Books, 1988) 109 and 110. This is said not as an insult to the writer, but partly almost in his praise. Theodor Adorno, “Why Philosophy?” in The Adorno Reader, edited by Brian O’Connor (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000) 53. It is indeed very important to know the attitude of one’s foes, to make use of eyewitness accounts coming from a background different from ours. They, in turn, should be socially interpreted. When the question is properly phrased, such objections become completely invalid. Glorious is the writer who can express a complex and valuable social idea with such powerful artistic simplicity that he reaches the hearts of millions. Already in the “Reification” essay we find him introducing the idea that revolutionary cultural expressions can be found only in those places whose conditions of possibility — formal, but not yet real, subsumption into global capital — allow for forms of cultural production that don’t obey the inexorable logic of affirmative culture. And finally, this question: Are sharp and bitter polemics to be allowed? Literature still provides cognitive, utopian, or aesthetic insights, and writing itself remains a political practice — “one of the most transgressive and most easily ex changed cultural forms through which dissidence can be articulated, not least because the material prerequisites of pen and paper” — or the keyboard and the wireless connection — “are relatively easy to acquire.”14 But this persistence of literature (a persistence which finds analogs in the figures of excess animating poststructuralist philosophy or Deleuzian politics) doesn’t find an easy counterpoint in Marxist literary criticism, much of which seems to me to continue to work within one of the three modes I’ve just outlined, if (to be ungenerous) with an increasing lack of purpose and direction. Does its en counter with literature in the twentieth century mean for the writer who in... This must be treated with great care and acquire an isolated, elusive nature be a.. 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