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 Marxist criticism is
based on the political
and economic
theories of Karl Marx
(1818-1883).
 Some representatives
of this school are
Christopher Caudwell,
George Lucas, Luciene
Goldmann, and Walter
Benjamin.
 Economic structure is the main driving
force behind all social conditions and
historical changes.
 Marx considers human history as a
series of struggles between classes
-between the oppressed and the
oppressing.
 Capitalism is based on exploitation of
laborers.
 The workers’ revolution is the
inevitable result of exploitation and
the means of emancipation.
 The aim of Marxism is to bring about a
classless society, based on the
common ownership of the means of
production, distribution, and
exchange.
 Karl Marx (1818-1883), a German
philosopher and Friedrich Engels (1820-
1895), a German sociologist, were the
joint founders of this school of thought.
 Marx was a son of a lawyer but spent
most of his life in great poverty as a
political exile from Germany living in
Britain.
 Engels had left Germany in 1842 to work
in Manchester for his father’s textile firm.
 They both met each other after Marx
had read an article by Engels in a journal
to which they both contributed.
 They themselves called their economic
theories ‘communism’ (rather than
‘Marxism’), designating their belief in the
state ownership of industry, transport
etc., rather than private ownership.
 The aim of Marxism is to bring about a
classless society, based on the ownership of
the means of production, distribution, and
exchange.
 It is a materialist philosophy: that is, it tries to
explain things without assuming the
existence of a world beyond a natural
world around us.
 It looks for concrete, scientific, logical
explanations of the world of observable
fact.
 Marxism sees progress as coming about
through the struggle for power between
different social classes.
 This view of history as class struggle regards
it as ‘motored’ by the competition for
economic, social and political advantage.
 Marxism also built upon the socialist thinking
which was produced in France at the time
of the French Revolution, and it inverted
some of the ideas of early economic
theory, especially the view that the pursuit
of individual economic self-interest would
bring economic and social benefits to the
whole of society.
 The simplest Marxist model of society
sees it as constituted by a base and a
superstructure, which is the cultural world
of ideas, art, religion, law and so on.
 The essential Marxist view is that the latter
things are not ‘innocent’, but are
determined by the nature of the
economic base.
 The belief about culture, known as
economic determinism, is a central part
of traditional Marxist thinking.
 Marxist literary criticism maintains that a
writer’s social class, and its prevailing
ideology have a major bearing on what
is written by a member of that class.
 Marxist sees the authors as constantly
formed by their social contexts in ways
which they themselves would usually not
admit.
 Traditional Marxist criticism tends to deal
with history in a fairly generalized way. It
talks about conflict between social
classes, and clashes of large historical
forces, but, contrary to popular belief, it
rarely discusses the detail of a specific
historical situation and relates it closely to
the interpretation of a particular literary
text.
 Lenin had argued in 1905 that literature
must become an instrument of the party.
He said ‘literature must become part of
the organized, methodical, and unified
labors of the social- democratic party’.
 Experimentation was effectively banned
and state realism was imposed.
 Steiner calls the two mainstreams of
Marxist criticism as:
1. The Engelsian kind, which stresses the
necessary freedom of art from direct
political determinism and;
2. The Leninist’ which insists on the need for
art to be explicitly committed to the
political cause of the Left.
 Much recent Marxist thinking on literature
has been influenced by the work of the
French Marxist theoretician Louis Althusser.
 Ideology is a key term for Althusser, as for all
Marxists. It is a broad concept variously
defined within Marxism. Althusser defines,
“ideology is a system of representations
endowed with an existence and an
historical role at the heart of a given
society.
 Decentering is a key term in Althusser to
indicate structures which have no
essence, or focus or centre. The notion of
decentering implies that there is no
overall unity: art has a relative autonomy
and is determined by the economic
level only ‘in the last instance’.
 Althusser makes a useful distinction
between the state power and state
control.
 State power is maintained by repressive
structures.
 State control is maintained by
ideological structures.
 The general purport of these Althusserian
ideas is to enable a much more subtle
view of how society works than that
provided by traditional Marxism.
 The attraction of Althusser to recent
Marxist critics is that he offers ways of by-
passing the crude base/ superstructure
model without giving up the Marxist
perspective altogether.
 The Marxist idea of society sees it as
constituted by a base (the material
means of production, distribution, and
exchange) and a superstructure, which
is the “cultural” world of ideas, art,
literature, religion, education, law, and
so on.a
 The material conditions control thought,
not vise versa. It is not the consciousness
of men that determines their existence,
but their social existence that determines
their consciousness. Marxist theory
argues that the way we think and the
way we experience the world around us
are conditioned by the way the
economy is organized.
 Economic and social conditions affect all
aspects of life including art and literature.
All intellectual and artistic production are
the product of these conditions. In other
words, all intellectual and literary
production is ideological.
 Art reflects the social and economic
conditions (and class conflict).
 Art aims at improving the social and
economic conditions.
 Since literature represents ideology,
Marxist critics see it as a way to
understand social structures. They
look for political ideas and ideologies
in a text, and explore how society and
economic forces influence literature.
 Marxist critics explain the class
structure and class relations in a
literary work.
 Social and economic conditions
inform not only the content of
literature, but also the literary form
and techniques.
 They make a division between the overt
and the covert content of a literary work
and then relate the covert subject matter
of the literary work to basic Marxist themes,
such as class struggle, or the progression of
society through various historical stages,
such as, the transition from feudalism to
industrial capitalism. Thus, the conflicts in
King Lear might be read as being ‘really’
about the conflict of class interest between
the rising class and the falling class.
 Another method used by Marxist critics is
to relate the context of a work to the
social- class status of the author. In such
cases an assumption is made that the
author is unaware of precisely what he
or she is saying or revealing in the text.
 A third Marxist method is to explain the
nature of a whole literary genre in terms
of the social period which ‘produced’ it.
 A fourth Marxist practice is to relate the
literary work to the social assumptions of
the time in which it is ‘consumed’, a
strategy which is used particularly in the
variant of Marxist criticism known as
cultural materialism.
 A fifth Marxist practice is the
‘politicization of literary form’, that is, the
claim that literary forms are themselves
determined by political circumstance.
 What role does class play in the work?
 What is the author's analysis of class
relations?
 What does the work say about oppression
and social conflicts?
Marxist criticism

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Marxist criticism

  • 1.
  • 2.  Marxist criticism is based on the political and economic theories of Karl Marx (1818-1883).  Some representatives of this school are Christopher Caudwell, George Lucas, Luciene Goldmann, and Walter Benjamin.
  • 3.  Economic structure is the main driving force behind all social conditions and historical changes.  Marx considers human history as a series of struggles between classes -between the oppressed and the oppressing.  Capitalism is based on exploitation of laborers.
  • 4.  The workers’ revolution is the inevitable result of exploitation and the means of emancipation.  The aim of Marxism is to bring about a classless society, based on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
  • 5.  Karl Marx (1818-1883), a German philosopher and Friedrich Engels (1820- 1895), a German sociologist, were the joint founders of this school of thought.  Marx was a son of a lawyer but spent most of his life in great poverty as a political exile from Germany living in Britain.  Engels had left Germany in 1842 to work in Manchester for his father’s textile firm.
  • 6.  They both met each other after Marx had read an article by Engels in a journal to which they both contributed.  They themselves called their economic theories ‘communism’ (rather than ‘Marxism’), designating their belief in the state ownership of industry, transport etc., rather than private ownership.
  • 7.  The aim of Marxism is to bring about a classless society, based on the ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.  It is a materialist philosophy: that is, it tries to explain things without assuming the existence of a world beyond a natural world around us.  It looks for concrete, scientific, logical explanations of the world of observable fact.
  • 8.  Marxism sees progress as coming about through the struggle for power between different social classes.  This view of history as class struggle regards it as ‘motored’ by the competition for economic, social and political advantage.  Marxism also built upon the socialist thinking which was produced in France at the time of the French Revolution, and it inverted some of the ideas of early economic theory, especially the view that the pursuit of individual economic self-interest would bring economic and social benefits to the whole of society.
  • 9.  The simplest Marxist model of society sees it as constituted by a base and a superstructure, which is the cultural world of ideas, art, religion, law and so on.  The essential Marxist view is that the latter things are not ‘innocent’, but are determined by the nature of the economic base.  The belief about culture, known as economic determinism, is a central part of traditional Marxist thinking.
  • 10.  Marxist literary criticism maintains that a writer’s social class, and its prevailing ideology have a major bearing on what is written by a member of that class.  Marxist sees the authors as constantly formed by their social contexts in ways which they themselves would usually not admit.
  • 11.  Traditional Marxist criticism tends to deal with history in a fairly generalized way. It talks about conflict between social classes, and clashes of large historical forces, but, contrary to popular belief, it rarely discusses the detail of a specific historical situation and relates it closely to the interpretation of a particular literary text.
  • 12.  Lenin had argued in 1905 that literature must become an instrument of the party. He said ‘literature must become part of the organized, methodical, and unified labors of the social- democratic party’.  Experimentation was effectively banned and state realism was imposed.
  • 13.  Steiner calls the two mainstreams of Marxist criticism as: 1. The Engelsian kind, which stresses the necessary freedom of art from direct political determinism and; 2. The Leninist’ which insists on the need for art to be explicitly committed to the political cause of the Left.
  • 14.  Much recent Marxist thinking on literature has been influenced by the work of the French Marxist theoretician Louis Althusser.  Ideology is a key term for Althusser, as for all Marxists. It is a broad concept variously defined within Marxism. Althusser defines, “ideology is a system of representations endowed with an existence and an historical role at the heart of a given society.
  • 15.  Decentering is a key term in Althusser to indicate structures which have no essence, or focus or centre. The notion of decentering implies that there is no overall unity: art has a relative autonomy and is determined by the economic level only ‘in the last instance’.
  • 16.  Althusser makes a useful distinction between the state power and state control.  State power is maintained by repressive structures.  State control is maintained by ideological structures.
  • 17.  The general purport of these Althusserian ideas is to enable a much more subtle view of how society works than that provided by traditional Marxism.  The attraction of Althusser to recent Marxist critics is that he offers ways of by- passing the crude base/ superstructure model without giving up the Marxist perspective altogether.
  • 18.  The Marxist idea of society sees it as constituted by a base (the material means of production, distribution, and exchange) and a superstructure, which is the “cultural” world of ideas, art, literature, religion, education, law, and so on.a
  • 19.  The material conditions control thought, not vise versa. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. Marxist theory argues that the way we think and the way we experience the world around us are conditioned by the way the economy is organized.
  • 20.  Economic and social conditions affect all aspects of life including art and literature. All intellectual and artistic production are the product of these conditions. In other words, all intellectual and literary production is ideological.  Art reflects the social and economic conditions (and class conflict).  Art aims at improving the social and economic conditions.
  • 21.  Since literature represents ideology, Marxist critics see it as a way to understand social structures. They look for political ideas and ideologies in a text, and explore how society and economic forces influence literature.
  • 22.  Marxist critics explain the class structure and class relations in a literary work.  Social and economic conditions inform not only the content of literature, but also the literary form and techniques.
  • 23.  They make a division between the overt and the covert content of a literary work and then relate the covert subject matter of the literary work to basic Marxist themes, such as class struggle, or the progression of society through various historical stages, such as, the transition from feudalism to industrial capitalism. Thus, the conflicts in King Lear might be read as being ‘really’ about the conflict of class interest between the rising class and the falling class.
  • 24.  Another method used by Marxist critics is to relate the context of a work to the social- class status of the author. In such cases an assumption is made that the author is unaware of precisely what he or she is saying or revealing in the text.
  • 25.  A third Marxist method is to explain the nature of a whole literary genre in terms of the social period which ‘produced’ it.  A fourth Marxist practice is to relate the literary work to the social assumptions of the time in which it is ‘consumed’, a strategy which is used particularly in the variant of Marxist criticism known as cultural materialism.
  • 26.  A fifth Marxist practice is the ‘politicization of literary form’, that is, the claim that literary forms are themselves determined by political circumstance.
  • 27.  What role does class play in the work?  What is the author's analysis of class relations?  What does the work say about oppression and social conflicts?