The Contribution of Marxism in Literary Criticism
THE CONTRIBUTION OF MARXISM TO THE STUDY OF LITERARY CRITICISM It is evident that Marxism has made great contribution in the study and criticism of Literature, there is need to explain a little bit on Marxism before we discuss its contribution. Marxism is a social and political theory based on the works of Karl Marx and his followers, associated with the socialist and communist movements, these works mainly are Manifesto of the Communist Party and the German Ideology.
It should be understood that Marx never formulated a complete literary or aesthetic theory, but he laid down the foundation to the emergence of Marxist literary critics, to mention only few ideas which we think are very important in the study and criticism of literature are: The history of any society is characterized by the history of the class and class struggle,that means oppressor and oppressed always are in constant opposition.
The ruling class or those who own capital tends to perpetuate self interests and exploitation, with the help of ideological instruments and coercive instruments, all these make possible the maintenance of the status qua. Necessity of violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie for the sway of proletariat, this means that, proletariat can take power only through the use of force and not through peaceful means, therefore the oppressed people should get prepared for the revolution which need to be carried out by themselves.
Law, morality and religion for Marx, are so many bourgeoisie prejudices behind which hark in ambush just as many bourgeoisie interests, therefore all these are should not be trusted at all,and once the working class takes an upper hand are to make sure all these are destroyed. Another idea is concerned with the role of ideology, as for him ideology is made of false consciousnesses and its role is to disguise the realities in the society.
The ruling class control the means of production and superstructure, so the ideology is made to work on the ruling class’s interests. Consciousness, ideals, conceptions are produced by men depending on the material activity, intercourse, mode of production, and language of real life, of a single individual as well as the whole society, due to this Karl Marx argued that circumstance are made and can be changed by, also the nature of an individual is determined by material condition.
After considering the basic ideas given by Karl Marx and hiss followers, it should be understood that Marxism is not one, but several branches of which attempts to understand the relations between the literary text and the social world, recognizing that Literature is a process and that the social world involves contexts of production and those of reception. Apart from that, all Marxists critiques agree on the fact that Literature should be analyses in n historical and materialist terms or in other words , as an integral part of a social structure resting on economic foundation. The following individuals are key figure on Marxism as a theory of literary criticism: Georg Lukas who ha contributed a lot on realism, Theodor Adorn o who came with the idea of culture industry, Pierre Macherey who has contributed on literature as one form of production and Walter Benjamin who explained the need to politicize art.
Every individual here is Marxist with different position from the other,sometimes arguing against his fellow Marxist critic, and among the most significant issue which has led the divergence among the Marxist is realism, where by for example Lukas consider realism as the representation of social world exactly as it is but for Theodor Adorn o, although he agree that realism aim to reflect the social reality but is not the exact reality, therefore there is need to supplement the literary text as there is a lot of information left out by write, this is intentionally or unintentionally.
The following are the contribution of Marxism on the study and and criticism of Literature: Emphasized the place of history in the study of Literature, as the Marxist critics argue that, history is the horizon within which Literature should be written and understood, up to now a novel, poem,or a play can only be best analyzed if the experiences of the people, their political and economic relations, and their social systems are all examined.
Due to this emphasis, those who are considered as good writers tend to recast the historical record in an artistic way, without reducing a literary text into a history book, this has even made possible to trace the history of a particular society through the use of literary text, for example in Tanzania you can use a novel or a play to trace the history of Tanzania from pre colonial period to post independence era.
This also can be seen through Ngugi’s novels whereby he begins from the history of his people as the starting point: from Kikuyu and Mum-bi, the Father and Mother of the tribe; the prophesies of ancient seers like Mugo wa Kibiro; the coming of European colonialists; the colonial encounter with Africans; the maumau struggle for independence and the post independence scene in Kenya
Emergence of the view that, Literature should aim at a truthful reflection of reality, this means it must demonstrate both concrete and abstract potentialities of human being, the literary representation of this kind, implies a description of actual person’s inhabiting a palpable, identifiable world. This is put clearly by Lukas as he says ….. Am interested in what is typical, in what one might call the ghostly aspect of reality ….. ( pp. 112).
For Lukas, great art is supposed to be a realistic art and which presents a social totality. Pierre Macherey also contributed to the discussion on the relations between the literary text and social reality (realism), for him literature reflects the social condition not exactly as it is, therefore in order to get the exact reality, there is need to uncover the significant absences in the texts, the ideological pressuppositions on which the text was at once founded but of which it could not speak.
Literature is supposed to reflect the real situation of a society, simply because Literature is considered as a tool for social – political transformation, and for Marxist critics this is the most important aspect, that is why in the study and criticism of literature we find the aspect of change being much emphasized, for example Ngugi’s committiment to activism and need for change is seen through his novels like Devils on the Cross, Petals of Blood, and Matigiri, he calls upon the Kenyan masses to rise in a popular revolution and fight for their land and their rights, therefore the role of literature for the marxists is to cause change where change is due. This has influenced very much the belief that literature can enforce change in a particular society and this has made a writer to become an activist as the writer’s main goal is to heighten people’s feelings and desires to rise up and demand for radical change, this is put as follows by Marxist critics …….
Marxist agree that Literature is produced in material condition, that it reflects back upon those conditions and can help to change them ( pp. ) Due to this tendency, it has led the emergence of various literary works striving to bring social, cultural, economic and political change, for example in Sembene’s Gods Bit of Wood, he presents a massive strike of railway workersdemanding for their rights,better pay and improved working conditions, and this for marxists critics is supposed to be the main function of literature: to cause change where change is necessary. Furthermore, Marxism has contributed a lot on the understanding that literature reflects society’s superstructure, economic base and class relations, it is very important to define these terms, to start with uperstructure it means the institutions of the rulling class or those who wield power to govern, such institutions include the judiciary, the legislature, the exacutive, the military and the religious institution, in other hand the economic base is also often called the production relation or mode of production ,this is the process of production and the social and economic relations people engage in during the process of producing and sharing wealth between classes. This is explained by Philip and Patricia as they say the first question perhaps for each of Marxist critic is how does a literary work take its shape from society as whole, from its mode of production and being totally determined by its economic base or superstructure (pp . , this argument has helped to challenge the formalistic argument on art for arts sake, Marxists argue that there is nothing like objective literature as writer’s are bound to reflect their social class leaning on what they write, therefore a text can either reinforce the ideology of the superstructure, or challenge and expose it in order to promote the interest of the exploited and the oppressed. In addition to that, they contributed very much on the relationship between form and content, whereby they rejected the formalist emphasize on form alone and ignoring the importance of content, some Marxist literary critics have argued that in Literature the artistic content is the divisive element of the literary work as whole but also they appreciate the importance of form in making sure that the intended content is presented as it was aimed.
Apart from this, they also argued that a form of a given work is not merely determined by content alone but there are other factors such as a style of a living class(writers class), the general level of the material culture of a given society, the influence of its neighbor, the inertia of the past or the striving of the innovation. , this view has led the domination of the notion that there should be the balance between the form and content as both of them are equally important. Georg Lukas goes beyond this kind of relationship between form and content, as he argues that content determine form, as he attempt to answer the question what determine the style of a given work of art, he says the intention of the work of art is very important in determining the form of a particular literary work. He put these in the following way …. we are concerned here, of course with the intention realized in the work; it need not coincide with the writer’s intention ( pp. )
Due to the arguments given by Lukas, we find that style ceases to be a formalistic category rather is rooted in content, that is why we find a lot of literary works written on the perspective that content is very important than form, hence they little attention to the form, for example in Tanzania there are many literary works written during the time of Arusha Declaration, these works put much emphasis on the content rather than on form, hence no balance between the two elements, one example of such woks is Ngomoi’s novel Ndoto ya Ndaria , Senkoro’s novel Mzalendo. It should also be understood that , not all marxist critic follow Lukacs emphasis on content rather than on form, as there are number of marxist critics consider form also to be equally important as content.
Another contribution made by Marxism is concerned with the relationship between Literature and ideology, it has been realized that Literature is a product of particular society or group, therefore it is not free from the ideological positions of the writer and the people , it is argued that ideology creates blind spots in people’s vision,also ideology is socially constructed with the aim to maintain the social relation, this is put clearly by Balibar and Macherey as they say Literature is one form of ideological states apparatus and its function is to reproduce the ideology within the french education system (pp. ) What does this mean to the writer, he or she should not propagate a dominant ideology for its own sake. Rather he or she should challenge certain ideologies that are considerable untenable, dangerous or misguiding for society. due to the existence of contradictory ideologies, there is no neutral literature, as each Literature is either of the oppressor or of oppressed. Macherey says the objectivity of literary production, therefore is inseparable from social practices in a given ideological state apparatus.
Furthermore Marxism provided a criterion on which the evaluation of a work of Literature is based, the basic criterion is that everything that aids the development and the victory of the proletariat is considered as good literary work and everything that harms or hinder the development of working class (oppressed) is considered not good, due to this perspective , there is a lot of literary works, written in favor of the development of the working class (oppressed) and are considered as good works as they address the social problems of a given society, for example a novel by Shafi Adam Shafi Vuta Nkuvute, portray a struggle between the ruling class and the oppressed , it addresses the social economic problems of the majority, this tendency has dominated the study and criticism of literature.
Apart from that, Literature is produced in material condition, that it reflects back up on those conditions, and can help to change them, therefore it has helped the understanding that, Literature is not concerned with writer psychology but rather with the material condition of the society, therefore Marxist criticism recognize that consciousnesses and its products grow out of material condition, due to this ,Literature whatever its relation to ideology is never completely transcendent and nor may it ever achieve that degree of disinterestedness. Not only that but also has enabled the placement of a writer and a literary critic at a very significant position, as up to now they are considered as teachers of the society, a writer in Marxist perspective is supposed to be informed with the social conditions of his or her society, also a writer is supposed to suggest the ways towards overcoming the social and political problems,this means a writer is supposed to write for the people( majority) so as to change the existing situation which hinders the prosperity of the society, even for the case of a literary critic.
Is also supposed to teach a writer, this is put clearly by lunacharsky as he says, in trying to teach the writer usefully, the Marxist critic must also teach the reader. The critic as a commentator as a person who warns of a poison which may taste sweet. ( pp. ) The last but not least is concerned with the acceleration towards the rise of other theories in literary criticism, such as Feminism, Black Aesthetics and Negritude,all these emerged as the reaction of class struggle where by one group in a society develop a feeling of being humiliated or oppressed by the other dominant group. Some of these theories emerged as a critic to Marxist literary criticism.
After long discussion on the contribution of Marxism, it is very important in this section to discuss prominent individuals who have made significant ideas towards the study and criticism of literature, these figures are: Georg Lukas, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Pierre Macherey. These people are discussed in the following order: Georg Lukas (1885-1971) He is the Hungarian Marxist philosopher, literary critic and politician, Lukas was born in Budapest on April 15, 1885. From 1930- 1945 he lived in Moscow, editing the journal which was known as Literary criticism ( literaturnyi kritik) and writing books upholding the realism of 19th century against the modernism of his own time.
Lukas works also represents one of the earliest attempts within Marxist criticism to address the problem of the relationship between form and content in developing a historical materialist account of literature, in 1930, Lukas started to develop a Marxist theory of the novel which would draw on Marxist critique of German idealist aesthetics. In his famous critique to the modernism, he argued that modernism was a formal reflection of bourgeoisie modernity in all its alienation, it also denies the role of history in literature, therefore he proposed realism literature to take the place of modernism literature, as for him great art is the one which is realistic and it must present a social totality. Theodor Adorno (1903- 1969)
He is a German Marxist philosopher,sociologist and musicologist, in 1930 he become an associate of institute for social research of Frankfurt University, which spawned the Frankfurt School of which he went on to become a leading member, in this school they engaged in developing a critique of Western philosophy and providing analytic studies of contemporary culture. Adorno regarded the culture industry as potent force for holding the masses in a state of submissive ignorance and believed that only an avant- garde art which utterly repudiated realism might articulate any kind of oppositional position. Therefore it can be observed that Adorno do not concur with Lukas idea of rejecting modernism,but they concur on the importance of literary text to reflect the social reality. PIERRE MACHEREY
He is a French Marxist critic, he contributed much on the idea that literature function is to reproduce the ideology, he also discussed the relationship between the literary text and social reality, to fulfill this he used the model which involved uncovering the significant absences in the texts, the ideological presuppositions on which the text was at once founded. he appreciate that Literature reflects the social reality, but for him this reality not is not the exact reality as he says .. literature can not be reduced to a straight mirroring, but it is true that the text does produce a reality- effect, more precisely it produces simultaneously a reality effect and a fiction effect (pp. , this for him Literary discourse institutes and projects the presence of the ‘real’ in the manner of an hallucination. Benjamin Walter (1892-1940) He is the German writer, Marxist theorist and aethetician. Benjamin was born in Berlin to a middle class Jewish family,he worked in Berlin as a literary critic and translator. During the 1920s Benjamin developed Marxist learning, under the influence of the German Philosopher Ernst Bloch and the Marxist critic Georg Lukas. He wrote classic Marxist essays on aesthetics and literary topics, Benjamin argues that the rise of fascism and mass society are symptoms of a debased age in which art is merely a source of gratification to be consumed, but communism could politicize art and thus politicize the masses.
All in all Marxism has contributed a lot on the study and criticism of literature, as it has made possible for literature to be considered as something very useful, especially on explaining the social conditions of a particular society and can be used to enforce change. REFERENCES Eagleton,T. (1997),Literary Theory:An Introduction,oxford:Blackwell Publisher Ltd Rice,P. And Patricia, W. (eds. ) (2001), Modern Literary Theory : A Reader,Easton Road-London: H odder Headline Group. Riv-kin, J. and Ryan, M. (1998),Introduction: “Formalism” In Riv-kin, J. and Ryan,M. (eds)Literary Theory: An Anthology,USA:Blackwell Publishers. Literary Criticism(2009). In Encyclopedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica Online retried on11, November 2009