Material, language, and the production of ideas

The anthology’s introduction to Marx helps clarify Marx’s relationship to literature in discussing how according to Marx “individuals can only think thoughts that are thinkable in their society. …On the other hand, in artistic matters at least, individuals can continue to think thoughts that their society no longer considers thinkable” (399). This contextualization helps focus Marx’s statements about the production of ideas. Marx posits that “the nature of individuals… depends on the material conditions determining their production” (406). In contemplating the role of literature in a society, we can interpret that literature is a type of expression of nature, that is thus dependent on material conditions. Thus, literature (and any type of artistic expression) is dependent on questions of material. This asserts again that both the ideas of individuals as well as their expression are both the output of surrounding, collectively-shared input, and therefore an individual can only produce what can be produced given material circumstances.

Further, the dimension of the individual being able to retain ideas that are no longer supported by surroundings seems to be expressed in Marx’s contention that “men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking (409). While the degree of independence of man in the ability to deviate from the presented material world is not clear (at least to me), it seems that Marx is expressing that individuals hold a certain power over their ideas and the expression of these ideas.