Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Marxist Criticism (3)

Walter Benjamin, for a while associated with Adorno, took a contrary view to him and was pro-Brech. He surveyed the importance of technology in 19th and 20th century urban and industrialized society, and also the enormous development of the media. As a Marxist he is interested in ‘mass culture’ and in the way in which culture is packaged and consumed by the masses. In his view the media – in close contact with reality – have the power to eliminate the ritual and bourgeois elitism of art and literature and give it a kind of political ‘freedom’. He is more concerned with technique and with artistic forces at work than with the correct position of art and literature socially and economically. So, the emphasis is on the relation of a work of art to the ever changing conditions of production of art itself. In his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” he suggests that modern technological innovations (e.g. the cinema [especially], radio, photography and the gramophone) have radically transformed the whole idea of a work of art: the very concept, status and value of such an object. Technology enables individual works of art to be reproduced in various ways, by various means, indefinitely, thus making them ‘available’ to the masses rather than to a minority elite.

Yet other theories and attitudes were expressed by the Romanian critic Lucien Goldmann, who developed a theory of ‘homologies’. The term ‘homology’ is more commonly used to denote a concept in the natural sciences. For example, the pectoral fins of a fish, a bird’s wing and a mammal’s forelimbs are ‘homologous’ because they occupy morphologically equivalent positions in the body and are genetically cognate. Thus, it denotes affinity of structure and origin apart from form or use. Goldmann’s ‘homologies’ are structural parallels between literature, ideas, and social groups. In his view literary texts are not the work of individual geniuses but are based on ‘transindividual mental structures’ which belong to groups or classes. The ideas which exist in these structures are discovered and then re-created in literary form by outstanding writers. Goldmann elaborates this theory through “The Hidden God 1964” in a discussion of Racine’s tragedies, Pascal’s philosophy and the social group called “noblesse de la robe”. In his book “Towards a Sociology of the Novel (1964) he pursues the ‘homology’ idea in an analysis of the structure of the modern novel in relation to the structure of market economy.
(To be continued...)

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