Tag Archives: karl marx

Marx & Lit

“Mortality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking” (Marx, 409). This seems to take any spontaneity (maybe what Williams calls “determination”) out of art or negate originality in writing. It’s also interesting to place in the context of jazz and the improvised nature of it. Williams alludes to the production of art amongst the bourgeois as a privilege of “leisure”. I would say “leisure” is sometimes the saving grace of the subjugated classes. (1278) I think Marx is making an astute observation about what Williams refers to when he talks about “the dominant.” He states, “At any time, forms of alternative or directly oppositional politics and culture exist as significant elements in society (1279).”

Marx is a historian looking at the whole (and the cycles/patterns) of history, so when he approaches something more abstract than material production in the economic or political sense, and places the products of ideology and art in the context of his analyses, we can look at the ways in which cycles of art production come about (like the Harlem Renaissance…) in opposition to the “dominant” force and at moments of self reflection or awareness.

future text/love prints

In the latter half of “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” Marx poses quirky, future oriented questions. One of these is “Is the view of nature and social relations which shaped Greek imagination and Greek [art] possible in the age of automatic machinery, and railways, and locomotives, and electric telegraphs? . . . What becomes of the Goddess Fame side by side with Printing House Square?” (Marx 411). What comes to mind is the reality of how fast everything in our culture, community, and processes are advancing, especially in the methods of communication and expression, which ultimately alter the different ways artists now express their art. We live in a digital age where almost everything can be found online. The world’s leading magazines and newspapers post their content online and through social media accounts. The written word is not as valued as it once was. Makers of literature are looking at all the new ways to publish their work and struggling to find a place where they can be recognized; more writers than ever have turned to blogging to project their voice in this eruption of technology. Even tweets, with the restriction of 140 characters per tweet, can be argued as an evolving form of literature with the popular emergence of “two-three sentence stories.”

“The difficulty is not in grasping the idea that Greek art and epos are bound up with certain forms of social development. It lies in understanding why they still constitute with us a source of aesthetic enjoyment and in certain respects prevail as the standard and model beyond attainment” (411). Though we have largely participated in social media interaction and reading online media, there remains a deep admiration for the printed word. Physical books are still read,  libraries are still frequented, and writers still want to be published in print. The “aesthetic enjoyment” of literature is not only constituted by every  natural, enjoyable, and relevant facet of literature, but reading a novel with a physical form is slowly becoming a novelty. Soon enough, physical prints will become the previous “standard and model beyond attainment.”

Marxism and Literature

I felt that the connection between the theories of political, economic, and social history and literature was made in both pieces by Karl Marx. In “Consciousness Derived” from The German Ideology, Marx begins by going into production and the labor force and explains the different stages of development in the various forms and hierarchies of ownership. He then uses this to explain that “Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. . . . men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking” (Marx. 409). In this sense, people’s positions and beliefs are created by their material, political, and economic circumstance. In “On Greek Art in Its Time,” Marx and Engels explain that art is the product of that social order of the time, “the product of the latter” (Marx, 411). Perhaps this is the connection between literature and historical context of the time. Although I personally had a hard time understanding Raymond William’s criticism, I found the ending to be rather interesting, where he cultural emergence in relation to both dominant and residential. Williams’ idea of the “structure of feelings” also struck me in its importance to his cultural theory, where he explains how they have changed in the social change to language.