Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Marxist Criticism (5)

Marxist criticism in Britain has not flourished to the extent it has elsewhere. The first English Marxist critic of note was Christopher Caudwell (1907-37). In “Illusion and Reality” (1937) and “Studies in a Dying Culture” (1938), he attempted definitions of Marxist theories of art. It is more important since Raymoond Williams (1921-88) attempted an historical assessment of culture and literature in Marxist terms. His relevant works are, notably, “Culture and Society 1780-1950” (1958), “The Long Revolution” (1961), “The Country and the City” (1973), and “Marxism and Literature” (1977). The principal theorist of Marxist criticism in Britain is Terry Eagleton, who has developed various views of Althusser and Macherey and suggests that a basic problem is to make clear the relationship between an ideology (e.g. Marxism) and literature. In his view, texts do not reflect reality but influence an ideology to produce the effect or impression of reality. By ideology, he does not necessarily mean political or Marxist ideology but all systems and theories of representation which help to make up a picture of a person’s experience. He examines ideologies ‘outside’ the text and also the ideology of the text. In developing his ideas he has displayed flexibility and tactical open-mindedness and revises his position. Apart from “Literary Theory” (1983), a witty and challenging exposition of and commentary on many modern ideas and “-isms”, some of his main books have been “Marxism and Literary Criticism” (1976), “Criticism and Ideology” (1976), and “Aesthetics and Ideology” (1990).

The leading exponent of Marxist criticism in America is Fredric Jameson, who makes eclectic use of a range of theories (Including structuralism, deconstruction, archetypal criticism, qq.v., allegorical interpretation and Jacques Lacan’s interpretations [or reinterpretations] of Freud), any of all of which he may find useful in the critical interpretation of a literary text, and which he does use in “The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act” (1981). It is his contention that Marxism ‘subsumes’ other interpretative modes when it comes to a political interpretation which exposes the ‘political unconscious’ of a text. Like Macherey, he is concerned with the ‘sub-text’ but more specifically with that sub-text which historically and ideologically constitutes the ‘unspoken’, the concealed and suppressed. Thus a Marxist interpretation looks for levels of meaning in the mode of allegory (q.v.).