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Marxist Literary Theory

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Cameron Turner

on 20 February 2016

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Transcript of Marxist Literary Theory

AP Lang
Turner & Hildreth
2015-16

Karl Marx: An Overview
The first real Marxist critic
* Georg Lukács (1885-1971), a Hungarian Marxist critic, invented REFLECTIONISM by applying Marx and Engels' ideas to literature.

*Texts
reflect
the society that produces them.

*Based on the kind of close reading advocated by New Critics--but to discover how literary characters and their relationships reveal class conflict or oppression/liberation in an economic system.
How do we learn about economics?
Marxists and Literature
* Most are proponents of DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM: who owns a society's means of production controls that society's beliefs. The
telos
of history, for Marxists, is communism, and literature is deeply embedded in that journey.

* Literature is reflective of--and can dramatically influence--the economic conditions of a society.


Marxist Literary Theory
Louis Althusser
* French-Algerian philosopher who argued, against Lukács, that literature doesn't reflect society... it can actively change it.

* Interpellation: The proletariats (working class/working poor) are manipulated to accept ideology of the powerful

* Believed in possibility of working class to establish own literature/change their conditions
How/why do Marxist theorists critique capitalism as it manifests in literature?
* Capitalism preys on consumers' insecurities to sell more goods to amass more capital for those who already hold economic power. Commodities are produced because they can be sold, not because they're needed.

* Commodification: valuing things not for their utility (use value), but for their power to impress others (sign value).

* When consumers obsess over sign value, it leads to conspicuous consumption, regardless of its societal/environmental costs.
Other key Marxist terms

False consciousness
: Cultural conditioning that leads marginalized people to accept a system that is unfavorable for them without protest or
questioning, accepting it as the logical way for things to be. Marxists work to rid society of such deceptions, making people aware of how they have unconsciously accepted the subservient, powerless
roles in their society that have been prescribed for them by others by raising class consciousness. (E.g. consider a radical Marxist critique of the ideology of college education...)



*
Alienation:
when a worker "invariably loses the ability to determine his or her life and destiny, when deprived of the right to think (conceive) of himself as the director of his actions; to determine the character of said actions; to define his relationship with other people; and/or to own the things and use the value of the goods and services, produced with her labour."


Some Questions Asked by Marxist Theorists


.. How are the powerful people in society depicted in the text? Who are the powerless people? Are they depicted with equal attention?
.. Why do the powerful have that power? Why do others lack it?
.. Do we find evidence of class conflict and struggle?
.. Do you find repression and manipulation of workers by owners?
.. Is there evidence of alienation? How does the novel treat the effects of different kinds of work on people from different classes?
.. Does the bourgeoisie in the text, either consciously or unconsciously, routinely repress and manipulate less powerful groups? If so, what are the tools they use? News? Media? Religion? Literature?
.. What does the setting tell you about the distribution of power and wealth?
.. What is the text's attitude towards conspicuous consumption? .
.. Do you find evidence in the text that it is a product of the author's class status?
.. PARTICULARLY IN REFERENCE TO AMERICAN LITERATURE
: How does the work treat socioeconomic mobility, meritocracy, and the materialistic elements of "The American Dream"?
Some Criticisms of Marx
Historical impracticality and consequences
(Mikhail Bakunin: "Marxist regimes lead to the despotic control of the populace by a new and not at all numerous aristocracy.")

The conviction that Marx was right about "false consciousness" can encourage a manipulative form of elitist thinking.

Competition and conflict are at the heart of human behavior and create excellence (Adam Smith's "invisible hand" theory). The free market creates better living conditions for all and safeguards freedoms.

Marx - "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
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