Marxism and Literary History


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Culture is an object of suspicion as a result of its structural function and, indeed, its very existence, but is also a field which requires critical study — and not just because of its ideological function to which Eagleton points here , but because it is also imagined as a space in which the crystallization of power can be interrupted or halted, and submission turned into autonomy and genuine self-expression.

A difficult task: playing with and against the false autonomy of culture established by bourgeois social life since the late eighteenth century. The criticism of the past several decades, whether looked at individually or as a whole, has taken this challenge up with more or less rigor, but without any coherent plan of attack. 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.

The most powerful of these approaches is found in the work of Fredric Jameson, who famously views literature as a symbolic practice that provides imaginary and ideological solutions to unresolved sociopolitical contradictions.

Shakespeare, literary history and Marxism

Here, the hope that culture yields political tools and insights if not transcendence of an older, spiritual kind is tied together with a more sociological, institutional approach: one gets the rewards of literary criticism while approaching things from a Marxist perspective. 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.

This spatial move is also a temporal one — it suggests questionably that literature and other cultural forms once lived out the political promise of their semi-autonomy from social life, before collapsing into the undifferentiated murk of instrumentality. 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?

Where are we then left?

A Brief Introduction to Marxism

How, then, do we relate these approaches to literature and its potential end s? Literature always has a truth value of some kind. 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. What other path could it follow? 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.

To get a sense of why this might be the case — and what might come next — we need to think about the historical conditions of Marxist criticism itself. In the context of our circumstances, it is easy enough to see the depth of this defeat as something we are still in the process of coming to under stand.

In the context of postmodernism, gender theorists, led by the work of Judith Butler, initially viewed the category of "gender" as a human construct enacted by a vast repetition of social performance. The biological distinction between man and woman eventually came under the same scrutiny by theorists who reached a similar conclusion: the sexual categories are products of culture and as such help create social reality rather than simply reflect it.

Gender theory achieved a wide readership and acquired much its initial theoretical rigor through the work of a group of French feminist theorists that included Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous, and Julia Kristeva, who while Bulgarian rather than French, made her mark writing in French. French feminist thought is based on the assumption that the Western philosophical tradition represses the experience of women in the structure of its ideas.

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As an important consequence of this systematic intellectual repression and exclusion, women's lives and bodies in historical societies are subject to repression as well. Their work beyond the descriptive stage becomes an intervention in the history of theoretical discourse, an attempt to alter the existing categories and systems of thought that found Western rationality. French feminism, and perhaps all feminism after Beauvoir, has been in conversation with the psychoanalytic revision of Freud in the work of Jacques Lacan. Two concepts from Kristeva—the "semiotic" and "abjection"—have had a significant influence on literary theory.

Masculine gender theory as a separate enterprise has focused largely on social, literary, and historical accounts of the construction of male gender identities. Such work generally lacks feminisms' activist stance and tends to serve primarily as an indictment rather than a validation of male gender practices and masculinity.

Having long served as the de facto "subject" of Western thought, male identity and masculine gender theory awaits serious investigation as a particular, and no longer universally representative, field of inquiry. Much of what theoretical energy of masculine gender theory currently possesses comes from its ambiguous relationship with the field of "Queer theory. To "queer" becomes an act by which stable boundaries of sexual identity are transgressed, reversed, mimicked, or otherwise critiqued.

Michel Foucault's work on sexuality anticipates and informs the Queer theoretical movement in a role similar to the way his writing on power and discourse prepared the ground for "New Historicism. Eve Sedgwick is another pioneering theorist of "Queer theory," and like Butler, Sedgwick maintains that the dominance of heterosexual culture conceals the extensive presence of homosocial relations.

For Sedgwick, the standard histories of western societies are presented in exclusively in terms of heterosexual identity: "Inheritance, Marriage, Dynasty, Family, Domesticity, Population," and thus conceiving of homosexual identity within this framework is already problematic. Much of the intellectual legacy of "New Historicism" and "Cultural Materialism" can now be felt in the "Cultural Studies" movement in departments of literature, a movement not identifiable in terms of a single theoretical school, but one that embraces a wide array of perspectives—media studies, social criticism, anthropology, and literary theory—as they apply to the general study of culture.


  • New records of teleosts from the Late Turonian (Late Cretaceous) of the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin (Czech Republic);
  • Literary Theory;
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  • Marxism and Literary History — John Frow | Harvard University Press?
  • Jagdpanzer IV/L/70;
  • National Geographic (August 2006);

Stuart Hall, Meaghan Morris, Tony Bennett and Simon During are some of the important advocates of a "Cultural Studies" that seeks to displace the traditional model of literary studies. Vince Brewton Email: vbrewton unanov. Literary Theory "Literary theory" is the body of ideas and methods we use in the practical reading of literature.

What Is Literary Theory? Traditional Literary Criticism Academic literary criticism prior to the rise of "New Criticism" in the United States tended to practice traditional literary history: tracking influence, establishing the canon of major writers in the literary periods, and clarifying historical context and allusions within the text.

Formalism and New Criticism "Formalism" is, as the name implies, an interpretive approach that emphasizes literary form and the study of literary devices within the text. Marxism and Critical Theory Marxist literary theories tend to focus on the representation of class conflict as well as the reinforcement of class distinctions through the medium of literature.

What made Shakespeare?

Structuralism and Poststructuralism Like the "New Criticism," "Structuralism" sought to bring to literary studies a set of objective criteria for analysis and a new intellectual rigor. New Historicism and Cultural Materialism "New Historicism," a term coined by Stephen Greenblatt, designates a body of theoretical and interpretive practices that began largely with the study of early modern literature in the United States. Ethnic Studies and Postcolonial Criticism "Ethnic Studies," sometimes referred to as "Minority Studies," has an obvious historical relationship with "Postcolonial Criticism" in that Euro-American imperialism and colonization in the last four centuries, whether external empire or internal slavery has been directed at recognizable ethnic groups: African and African-American, Chinese, the subaltern peoples of India, Irish, Latino, Native American, and Philipino, among others.

Gender Studies and Queer Theory Gender theory came to the forefront of the theoretical scene first as feminist theory but has subsequently come to include the investigation of all gender and sexual categories and identities. Cultural Studies Much of the intellectual legacy of "New Historicism" and "Cultural Materialism" can now be felt in the "Cultural Studies" movement in departments of literature, a movement not identifiable in terms of a single theoretical school, but one that embraces a wide array of perspectives—media studies, social criticism, anthropology, and literary theory—as they apply to the general study of culture.

References and Further Reading a. General Works on Theory Culler, Jonathan.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, During, Simon. The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge, Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory. Lentricchia, Frank.

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Marxist Criticism

After the New Criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Postcolonial Criticism. New York: Addison, Wesley, Longman, Rice, Philip and Waugh, Patricia. Modern Literary Theory: A Reader. Richter, David H. Bedford Books: Boston, Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael. Literary Theory: An Anthology.

Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, Literary and Cultural Theory Adorno, Theodor. Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy: And Other Essays. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review Press, Auerbach, Erich. Willard R. Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.

Marxism in Literary Criticism

Barthes, Roland. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, The Pleasure of the Text.


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Richard Miller. Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. New York: Knopf, Benjamin, Walter. Hannah Arendt. Harry Zohn.

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Marxism and Literary History Marxism and Literary History
Marxism and Literary History Marxism and Literary History
Marxism and Literary History Marxism and Literary History
Marxism and Literary History Marxism and Literary History
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