marxist criticism - alex e. literary criticism outside the text. blazer, alex e. “marxist...
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Dr. Alex E. BlazerEnglish 4110/511018 August 2015http://alexeblazer.com
Liberal Humanism, the pre-theoretical practiceof English studies that views literature as a meansof moral and intellectual cultivation
New Criticism (and Russian Formalism), closereading of the text itself, paying particular heedto its unifying tensions and analysis of internalform.
Structuralism (and Semiotics and Narratology),the analysis of signs and codes within linguisticsystems
A Survey of Literary Theory
Post-Structuralism (and Deconstruction andPost-Modernism), the analysis of a texts plays,slippages, and aporias of meaning
Psychoanalysis, the analysis of the psyche of theauthor, text, and culture
Marxism (and Cultural Studies), socio-economichistorical and cultural analyses
Cognitive Criticism, analyses of literature fromthe perspective of cognitive science andevolutionary psychology
Existentialism and Phenomenology, examines theself-conscious subjectivity and free choice ofcharacters, creative writing as meaningful action,and the being of the literary work in the world.
Reader-Response Criticism, analyses based onthe transactional, affective, subjectiverelationship between author, text, and reader.
Feminism and Gender Studies, analyses based onthe the agency of women in the patriarchy aswell as socially constructed gender identity.
Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Theory, analyses of thepolitics and poetics, consciousness andunconsciousness of (queer) sexuality andidentity.
African American Criticism, analyses of AfricanAmerican (literary/aesthetic) history and heritageand the social construction of racial identity.
Postcolonialism, analyses of colonial ideology(oppression and othering) and postcolonialresistance.
Ecocriticism, analyses of literature from theecological, environmental, and naturalperspective.
Marxism, named after economic, political, and culturalphilosopher Karl Marx, is a school of thought thatexamines how politically endorsed economic systemsstructure societies (organized communities) and cultures(the beliefs and values of communities).
Base: economics the material modes of production
Superstructure: sociopolitical ideology the culture such as education, philosophy, religion,
government, arts, and science
SocietyAccording to Marxism, societiesare composed of two elements.
(Socio-)economic class: a group of peoplecategorized by a particular relationship toeconomic and social power, i.e., its relationshipto the base and superstructure
The two basic classes in classical Marxism:bourgeoisie: in a capitalist system, those who own and
control the base and implement the superstructureproletariat: in a capitalist system, those who manage
(but neither own nor control) the base and areprogrammed by the superstructure
ClassWithin a society, people are divided into classes.
In contemporary America, the classes are morecomplicated than the bourgeoisie and theproletariat:Lower class, lower-middle class, middle class, upper-
middle class, upper classWorking class, middle class, affluent professional,
executive elite (from Jean Anyon)Working poor Intellectual class (from Antonio Gramsci)The 99% and the 1%
Capitalism: a free-market economic systembased on the private ownership of the means ofproduction and distribution of goodsCapital: Money used to make more money, either by
purchasing goods or labor to make goods and sellingfor profit
The bourgeoisie own the capital while the proletariathire their bodies for wages (wage labor).
Types of SocietiesMarxism predominantly looks at three kinds of societies.
Socialism: the stage after the proletarianrevolution when a society is changing fromcapitalism to communismThe people control the means of production and
operate it based on fairness rather than free-market.
Types of SocietiesContinued
Communism: the political theory in which allproperty and wealth is owned in a classlesssociety by all the members of a communityAlthough the former Soviet Union and the present
China and Cuba, for example, call themselvescommunist, they are oligarchies (government by asmall group of people) and dictatorships (governmentby one ruler).
Although communism is the goal of Marxism, many(Marxists included) consider it a utopian dream, andinstead focus on achieving at least class consciousnessin the culture and socialism in the government at best.
Types of SocietiesConcluded
Materialism: focus on the physical world (forexample, wealth and possessions), based on thebelief that the mind follows the body
History: study of the past and how the pastprogresses into the present and future
The Dialectical MaterialistView of History
Dialectic: the progressive process by which twoopposing thoughts, thesis and antithesis, becomecombined in a unified whole or synthesisDialectical materialism: the historical process by which
opposing forces such as the bourgeoisie and theproletariat or the material reality and a culture'sconsciousness of its material reality perpetuallystruggle to bring about a justly organized and self-reflective society
Praxis: method by which theory is put into practice
Three Types of ValueUse Value: the utilitarian value of a commodity based
on its use (the value of an iPad to an individual user)Exchange Value: the market value of a commodity
based on its raw material, labor, and production costs(the value of an iPad based on design, material, labor,production, and shipping costs)
Sign Exchange Value: the value of a commodity basedon its status (the value of an iPad based on thecoolness, hipness, and hype of Apple iDevices)
Commodification: treating objects and peoplefor their economic or social status rather thanfor their aesthetic or human valueCommodification of Desire: humanity's wants and
needs become entangled in conspicuous consumptionand commodity fetish such that the ruling class doesnot need to physically oppress the classes that areunder them if those classes purposefully sacrificethemselves as wage-slaves in order to acquire the stuffthat the ideology programmed them to fixate on
Reification: the alienating way thatcommodification reduces social relations, ideas,and people to things
Ideology: in classical Marxism, a belief systembrought about by cultural conditioning thatportrays arbitrary structures of existence asnatural and innate ways of being, such ascapitalist ideology or Marxist ideologyHowever, in contemporary Marxism, the term has
come to mean (because of Althusser) in manyinstances how the culture blinds an oppressed class toits material conditions of existence by erecting anillusion; common ideologies that operate in the serviceof American capitalism and those who hold powerunder capitalism are the American dream, patriotism,religion, individualism, and consumerism.
Ideology and Consciousness
Interpellation: from Althusser, the ideologicaland economic system reproduces itself byimplicitly hailing us as subjects who passively andunconsciously support the dominant socialassumptions
Alienation: originally from Marx, meaning theestrangement from one's own laborHowever, the term now also suggests the
estrangement from self and society, and the feeling ofnot belonging to and subsequent withdrawal from theworld.
Ideology and ConsciousnessContinued
Hegemony (from Antonio Gramsci): dominationof one social class over others through the use ofcultural power and influence that creates theconsent of the massesOrganic Intellectuals: leaders who rise from within the
masses to use civil society to speak for the people
Class consciousness: awareness of the (alienatingand commodified) socioeconomic conditions ofone's classFalse consciousness: the lack of awareness or
ideological illusions of one's conditions of existence
Ideology and ConsciousnessConcluded
Marxist literary critics approach a text either as 1)detached scholars, examining economic and class issuesboth inside and outside of the text, or 2) culturaladvocates revealing the texts ideological or revolutionaryforces, and/or 3) both.
Marxist Literary Criticism
The Marxist critic looks inside the content ofthe text (for example, at the character and plot)for issues, ideas, and themes relating to thematerialist history of capitalist socioeconomicclass struggle.
The Marxist critic interprets how the work ofliterature either exposes and challenges ormanifests and reifies class ideology.
Marxist Literary CriticismInside the Text
The Marxist critic looks outside the text at theauthors class, the literary genre and period, thereaders social assumptions, and the literaryforms politics to determine how the class of textderives from and/or reifies its societys dominantmode of production.
The Marxist critic evaluates whether the formemploys realism or experimentation, and thenshe evaluates whether the realist orexperimental form serves ideological orrevolutionary ends.
Marxist Literary CriticismOutside the Text
Blazer, Alex E. Marxist Criticism. English 4110/5110Literary Criticism. Georgia College & State University,Milledgeville, GA. 18 Aug. 2015. Class Lecture.