Marxism

 

A sociological approach to literature that viewed works of literature or art as the products of historical forces that can be analyzed by looking at the material conditions in which they were formed. In Marxist ideology, what we often classify as a world view (such as the Victorian age) is actually the articulations of the dominant class. Marxism generally focuses on the clash between the dominant and repressed classes in any given age and also may encourage art to imitate what is often termed an "objective" reality. Contemporary Marxism is much broader in its focus, and views art as simultaneously reflective and autonomous to the age in which it was produced. The Frankfurt School is also associated with Marxism (Abrams, p. 178, Childers and Hentzi, pp. 175-179). Major figures include Karl Marx, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams, Louis Althusser (ALT-whos-sair), Walter Benjamin (ben-yeh-MEEN), Antonio Gramsci (GRAWM-shee), Georg Lukacs (lou-KOTCH), and Friedrich Engels, Theordor Adorno (a-DOR-no), Edward Ahern, Gilles Deleuze (DAY-looz) and Felix Guattari (GUAT-eh-ree).

 

- German philosopher Karl Marx & German sociologist Friedrich Engels (Communist Manifesto 1848) called for a state ownership of means of production, distribution, and exchange (industry, transport, etc.)

- Started as philosophical system in 19th century offering humanity social, political, economic and cultural understanding of reality, society and individual.

- Marxist literary theory emerged in the 20th century: reality can be defined and understood, society shapes our consciousness, social and economic conditions influence how and what we believe and value.

 

Key Terms:

 

- Commodificaion - "the attitude of valuing things not for their utility but for their power to impress others or for their resale possibilities" (92).

- Conspicuous consumption - "the obvious acquisition of things only for their sign value and/or exchange value" (92).

- Dialectical materialism - "the theory that history develops neither in a random fashion nor in a linear one but instead as struggle between contradictions that ultimately find resolution in a synthesis of the two sides. For example, class conflicts lead to new social systems" (92).

- Material circumstances - "the economic conditions underlying the society. To understand social events, one must have a grasp of the material circumstances and the historical situation in which they occur" (92).

- Reflectionism - associated with Vulgar Marxism - "a theory that the superstructure of a society mirrors its economic base and, by extension, that a text reflects the society that produced it" (92).

- Superstructure - "The social, political, and ideological systems and institutions--for example, the values, art, and legal processes of a society--that are generated by the base" (92).

- Marx is a materialist (explaining things within the boundaries of the natural world, as opposed to the idealist belief in the existence of a spiritual world) dialectic (following Hegel's thesis, antithesis and synthesis: conflict between opposing forces and ideas leads to the development of new forces and ideas)

- Class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat leads to alienation as workers are deskilled in the industrial/capitalist mass production of items they might not use (unlike pre-industrial society where home and workplace were one)

- Alienated workers undergo a process of reification as they are regarded not as human beings but rather as ‘hands’ or ‘the labor force.’ People become things.

- Marxism sees society to be constituted by base (material means of production, distribution, and exchange) and superstructure (the cultural world of ideas, art, religion, law) resulting in economic determinism where superstructure is determined by base.

- Ideology: ideas and beliefs of ruling class that circulate in the superstructure.

- Gramsci’s hegemony: internalized form of social control making certain views seem natural, resulting of the bourgeoisie's control of the economic base through institutions like churches, schools, etc (Althusser calls these Ideological State Apparatuses)

- Althusser’s Interpellation: hailing the subject: world’s worldview is shaped by hegemony. But since dominant class’s hegemony isn’t complete, alternative hegemonies exist and compete for supremacy, revolution usually occurs.

- False consciousness: proletariat ascribe to bourgeoisie ideas though contradicting with theirs.

 

Methodology:

- Analyze the different classes presented in the text, the values each class represents.

- Analyze any conflict you see between the class values the work outwardly supports as opposed to that it actually endorses.

- Analyze how characters from different classes interact or conflict.

- Study how/if the text presents the emptiness of bourgeoisie life.

- Analyze the protagonist and/or author’s defend or defect from the dominant values of society.