Habib, M.A.R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005. ISBN:0-631-23200-1.
Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing about Literature with Critical Theory. 5th ed. New York: Pearson, 2008. ISBN: 032144907X.
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. ISBN: 1405106964.
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. ISBN: 0415974100.
[These are our four primary course texts on theory. The Rivkin and Ryan anthology contains your collection of primary sources about literary theory as written by the pioneers and theorists who helped develop them. Use the articles from the anthology (and any others I publish for you on our course libguides page) as your primary sources for your final mock conference papers].
Posted by lhobbs at March 25, 2012 04:09 PM
ENG 435 Students of 2009,
In this entry, you will be entering:
 Your two self-designed reading-response questions (short answer) based on the "overview" summaries of this theory you were assigned from various textbooks. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.
 Your two self-designed discussion questions (longer answer) based on the application of specific terminology from this particular theory toward the primary works we have read for this course. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.
 your precis of the article assigned to you from the Rivkin and Ryan anthology about this particular theory. Due in the comment box below, in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com, AND as a hardcopy in class according to the deadline listed on our itinerary (see syllabus). Be prepared to discuss your article with the rest of the class.
READING-CHECK & DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
the base from which social, political, and ideological ideas stem (Tyson 53)?
A: Economics (Tyson 53).
Marxists what is the motive behind all social and political activities (Tyson
A. Getting and keeping economic power is behind every motive because economics is the base of every superstructure on which social and political ideological realities are built on (Tyson 54).
to some Marxists, what is the ideological myth that blinds the middle class to
the socioeconomic inequities in contemporary America? (Tyson 57)
A: The American Dream
to Tyson, what does Marxism say about the “American dream”?
A. The American dream is an ideology, not an authentic way of seeing the world and that is why it is so difficult to obtain (Tyson 54).
meant by the term ideology? (Tyson 56)
A: An ideology is a belief system defined by (shaped) by cultural conditioning (Tyson 56).
How does a commodity’s value differ
between Capitalism and Marxism?
A. For Marxism, a commodity’s value lies in its exchange value, what it can be traded for, and not its use value, what it can do, like capitalism. In Marxism, a product is assigned a certain “value” by how much labor it takes to produce it, as opposed to what the “demand” for that particular product is, which is how Capitalism determines a value.
What does it mean to “colonize the consciousness
of subordinate peoples” (Tyson 60)?
A. It means to convince them that they are indeed lesser or inferior to the dominate culture or class in some way, and they will be better off following the rules set by the dominant culture (Tyson 60).
Marxists analyses of human events and productions focus on?
A.They focus on the relationships that exist within socioeconomic classes.
Marxists refer to socioeconomics instead of economic class when they are
discussing class structure?
A.Because it is on “economies,” as the “base,” on which the superstructure of social/political ideological realities are built.
the difference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat classes.
A.Bourgeoisie is the class that controls the world’s natural, economic, and human resources. The proletariat is the class who live in substandard conditions, perform manual labor, and have very little control over resources.
Marxists referring to when they use the expression “material circumstances”?
A. They are referring to economic circumstances.
Tyson cite as the reason for the failure for the "homeless" to rise
up and shift culture?
A.They are barely surviving with no time to cause social change.
to Tyson, what is the problem that some students have initially when dealing
with Marxist criticism?
A. They think the failure of Communism is proves the defunctness of the criticism.
Why is it
not important to the validity of Marxist criticism that the Communist Bloc in
A: In history, there has never been a true Marxist society. Even if the societies with Marxist tendencies were true and did fail, the theory would still be important to help one understand the past.
For a little bit of history on Marx from a British educational program, see the very short clip below:
Video URL Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RDRfkEMoF4
Here's a--bit dated--illustration of a Marxist structure. It still works. Study it for a bit:
Image Source: http://www.genderracepower.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/the-system-top-to-bottom.gif
This student did a project explaining the basic concepts of Marxism when it is applied as a critical theory to literature. The second half of the presentation is on reader-response theory--you can ignore that one. Check it out:
Video URL Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAnTSAB7be0
Marxist Short Answer Questions
1. For Marxist what is the motive behind all social and political activities?
A. Getting and keeping economic power is behind every motive because economics is the base of every superstructure on which social and political ideological realities are built on (54).
2. How is a commodity’s value differ between capitalism and Marxism?
A. For Marxism, a commodity’s value lies in its exchange value, what it can be traded for, and not its use value, what it can do, like capitalism.
Posted by: kristin b. at March 25, 2009 12:07 AM
March 24, 2009
1. According to Tyson, what does Marxism say about the American dream?
The American dream is an ideology, not a real way of seeing the world and that is why it is so difficult to obtain (54).
2. What does “colonize the consciousness of subordinate peoples” mean (Tyson 60)?
To colonize the consciousness of subordinate peoples means to convince them that they are indeed lesser or inferior to the dominate culture or class in some way, and they will be better off following the rules set by the dominant culture.
Do you see an attempt by any of our authors to reinforce a class system within the text of a novel?
Posted by: Liz H at March 25, 2009 12:24 AM
Short Answer Question: (p. 54)
Q: What is the base on which social, political, and ideological ideas stem off from?
Discussion Question: (p. 53)
Q: Why is it not important to the validity of Marxist criticism that the Communist Bloc in Europe failed?
A: In history, there has never been a true Marxist society. Even if the societies with Marxist tendencies were true and did fail, the theory would still be important to help one understand the past.
Posted by: Jessica Pall at March 25, 2009 08:47 AM
24 March 2009
Marxism Quiz Questions
Q: What is meant by the term ideology? (Tyson 56)
A: An ideology is a belief system defined by (shaped) by cultural conditioning.
Q: “What is the ideology that blinds the middle class to the socioeconomic inequities in contemporary America?” (Tyson 57)
A: The American Dream
Posted by: Travis R at March 25, 2009 09:46 AM
According to Tyson, what is the problem that some students have initially when dealing with Marxist criticism? They think the failure of Communism is proves the defunctness of the criticism.
What does Tyson cite as the reason for the failure for the "homeless" to rise up and shift culture? They are barely surviving with no time to cause social change.
Posted by: Wesley J. at March 25, 2009 11:11 AM
25 March 2009
Reading Check Questions on Marxist Criticism
1.Why do Marxists refer to socioeconomics instead of economic class when they are discussing class structure?
A.Economics is the base on which the superstructure of social/political ideological realities are built.
2.What are Marxists referring to when they use the word material circumstances?
A.They are referring to economic circumstances.
3.What do Marxists analyses of human events and productions focus on?
A.They focus on the relationships that exist within socioeconomic classes.
4.Describe the bourgeoisie and the proletariat classes?
A.Bourgeoisie is the class that controls the world’s natural, economic, and human resources. The proletariat is the class who live in substandard conditions, perform manual labor, and have very little control over resources.
Posted by: Ava at March 25, 2009 11:39 AM
28 March 2009
Meeting in the Middle
G.W.F. Hegel’s 1816 essay on “Dialectics” explains the way society continues to compromise on issues that are not universally accepted. Hegel invented the process of taking the particulars of a designated issue including politics, law, art, and history, and adapting those particulars to make it universal. Marx adopted Hegel’s method and applied it to economic history and the structure of a capitalist economy (Hegel 647). Hegel’s concept is based on the idea that any and all attempts to reach a universal acceptance are completely dependent upon the two opposites attempting to negate each other in order to find a happy medium. The idea is that unity requires the constant opposition of two negatives in order to achieve a universal. Hegel addresses the fact that there is always something negative to find in the positive and always something positive to find in the negative. This back and forth tug-of-war results in the constant movement forward to find a universally accepted idea. Hegel states that “all opposition that are assumed fixed such as infinite and finite and universal and individual are not in contradiction with each other” (Hegel 647). What they do instead is re-invent an idea that eventually is torn down to allow room for recreation of the idea. The new idea is a meshing of the two original oppositions that attempted to negate each other. The first opposition is contained within the second opposition and results in the third idea being comprised of both. The third idea is met with opposition and results in a new idea that is dependent upon the original opposition. It is a system of breakdown and building that requires ideas to oppose each other in order to form a new idea. The first and second ideas of opposition are retained in the third idea and so on. Hegel states that the “relationship of the negative to itself is to be regarded as the second premiss of the whole syllogism, just as the first premiss is the moment of universality and communication”, so the second is determined by the first (Hegel 649). This pattern of negatives opposing each other results in a new idea which encompasses a portion of both negatives. The new idea is the universally accepted one until a new opposition is proposed, resulting in the re-evaluation of the idea. This concept continues to repeat itself until a true universally accepted idea can be achieved. In all likeliness this approach is impossible because there is always a negative waiting to oppose the idea.
Hegel, G.W.F. “Dialectics.” 1816. Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998.
Posted by: Ava at March 29, 2009 07:07 PM
March 29, 2009
Human Commodities and Labor
Karl Marx’ essay, “Wage Labor and Capital,” details what constitutes wage labor and capital. Although he approaches these two topics, separately both seem to have a unified goal. Obviously, this essay seems intent upon proving the inherent inequality arising from the ideals of wage labor and capital. Also, he illuminates how these two aspects of the communist system commodify workers.
Marx sets up initially what is meant by the term “wages.” Basically, he is referencing the common notion that wages are the payment for one’s production of a thing. For Marx, the problem of this definition is that workers neglect the fact that they have a power. This he terms “labor power” (Marx 659). This definition, the power of a worker to produce a good, labor, produces the notion of a commodified worker. If she produces something with her own power, she is a tool of labor. After this, Marx makes another important point. He sets out to show that inequality is in the technique by which the worker is paid; the worker is not even paid with money gathered from the selling of the workers product. In fact, the wage of the worker comes from monetary reserves from the capitalist employer.
One might ask, why does the employee work if he is getting ripped off? Karl Marx’ response, the worker is trying to live. But, to further illustrate the inequity of wage labor, under capitalism, the worker is forced to use his time for work simply so he can subsist. The employer simply rides the coat tails of the worker. He exploits the employee without wasting any time to produce things.
Ultimately, Marx finishes his article on the notion that within the capitalist system, a place in which labor becomes commodified to the point of a worker actually being a thing, inequality is supported. As commodities and their production become the centrally important aspect of capitalism, there is no room for human importance. ‘Things’ become the northern most aspect of the western metaphysical grid. People are simply not important if the consumption and maintenance of monetary gain is the penultimate reason for capitalism.
Marx, Karl. “Wage Labor and Capital.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 659-664.
Posted by: Wesley J at March 29, 2009 08:50 PM
29 March 2009
Forms of Ownership: The German Ideology
In Karl Marx’s socioeconomic essay, “The German Ideology,” he succinctly delves into different aspects of ownership and successfully composes a history of labor. Marx begins by stating that humans distinguish themselves from animals when they begin producing their own means of existence, and it is not only what they produce but how they produce it that defines their mode of life. Different stages in the division of labor determine individuals’ interactions with one another and are dependent upon the material, instrument, and product of labor.
The first form of ownership is found in tribal societies. The main mode of existence for people in this form is fishing, hunting, or agriculture, and the division of labor is rudimentary and confined to members of the family: Paternal, fatherly figures are at the top of the familial division of labor and are followed by members of the tribe and finally slaves (collected either through conflict or trade). The second form of ownership is communal and State ownership, which is birthed out of the union of multiple tribes into a city-state. This form is accompanied by slaves and the development of private property slightly removed from communal ownership. In addition, citizens had control of their slaves only in their community and were thus bound to communal ownership. Finally, the third form of ownership is found in feudal or estate property. This form of ownership, like the second, is one based on community. However, instead of slaves, enserfed small peasantry is the producing class. The hierarchical structure of landownership is also a product of this form and gives the nobility power over the serfs.
Marx, Karl. "The German Ideology." 1846. Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Ed.
Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 653 - 658.
Posted by: Travis R at March 29, 2009 08:59 PM
30th March 2009
Précis on Karl Marx’s “Capital”
From this brief section on Marx’s critique of economic systems, a discussion on commodities and the fetish that accompanies them is revealed in “Capital.” As Marx explains it, commodities or “objects outside us that by their properties satisfy human want” (665) are mistakenly believed by society to be producers of wealth. Consequently, society does fetishize these objects that are appealing, and thus overlook the true relations of production that “give rise to those objects” (665). Marx cautions that the way the economy operates is the opposite of how society views it. For example, a commodity such as iron possesses a “use-value” and an “exchange-value” or quality and quantity, respectively (666). Using the exchange-value, Marx argues that “an hundred pounds of iron is as of great value as an hundred pounds of gold,” but the use-values are different since their worth is determined by their individual utility for society (667). As a result, the same occurs with human labor and the fetishism of commodities. “Labor,” Marx contends, “has taken on the form of commodities” (667) and therein lies the false system of value that has been ascribed to each individual. Essentially, Marx insists that the social-exchange between people has been governed by their fascination with objects, and therefore, abstract human labor has been reduced to the same. However, as Marx believes, labor should be looked at as a social function which operates to support a community rather than exclusive individuals who create personal standards of value.
Marx, Karl. “Capital.” 1867. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and
Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell Pub., 1998. 665-672.
Posted by: Cecilia at March 29, 2009 10:11 PM
March 29, 2009
Précis of “Rabelais and His Word”
In Mikhail Bakhtin’s article, “Rabelais and His Word” (1965), Bakhtin studies the event known as Carnival, or a feast day for the masses where normal rules of society are suspended and behavior like drunkenness is encouraged.
Carnival comes from the Middle Ages where the Church dictated the lives of its followers. Bakhtin delves into the root meaning of the word carnival and he emphasizes the fact that it means “second life” (686) or a departure from normal or ordinary behaviors and where laughter ensued.
Bakhtin explains Carnival’s Marxist leanings when he explains the structure of such an event. Everyone had to dress according to his or her station in life. Bakhtin explains that the costumes allowed “a consecration of inequality” (686). Bakhtin further examines Carnival from a Renaissance author, Rabelais’ perspective. Rabelais explains the scientific and philosophical groundings of Carnival. For Rabelais, Carnival is a time where “form and symbols” abound (687). Carnival is a rich, vibrant festival where color and other symbols become ways for people to express themselves. A term that helps to explain why Carnival was so popular for the people of the Renaissance is “grotesque realism” or rather, “the folk culture…differs sharply from the aesthetic concepts” of the prevalent age (687). Furthermore, to Bakhtin, the “essential principle of grotesque realism is degradation, that is, the lowering of all that is high, spiritual, ideal, abstract” (688). When this degradation occurs in Carnival, it offers the masses a chance to shed their old ways of life and bad habits when the festival ends. It is a ritualistic way to purge oneself of less than stellar impulses and habits.
Essential for the Renaissance author Rabelais’ depiction of Carnival is his explanation of how the marketplace is the center for life. In the marketplace, people were able to be true to their nature. For Rabelais, a different kind of speech was heard here, too (689). This speech is unrefined and sometimes grotesque; the Church’s walls and rules do not shelter it. Rabelais, Bakhtin notes, also emphasizes scatological details within his work because it is a topic that would be so disdainful to the world of the Church and ruling powers, but it is necessary because it is realistic and true to everyday life.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. "Rabelais and His Word." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie
Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 686-92.
Posted by: Liz H at March 29, 2009 10:26 PM
30 March 2009
Ideologies: Materialistic or Real?
In 1968, Louis Altheusser wrote a ground breaking essay in the field of Marxism entitled “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”. In this essay he discusses the state of ideologies by exploring its structure and its societal and personal functions. It is through this examination that he is able to come to the conclusion of two different theses concerning the state of one ideology.
The first thesis argues the concept that an ideology is a representation of an imaginary form. It is the representation of a shared outlook of a specific idea; one example being religion and the belief in God. These commonly accepted outlooks are imaginary and do not correspond to reality; however, Althusser states that the imaginary ideology can be used to interpret a world’s reality because it is an “imaginary representation” of a real world belief (693). Althusser applies this to Marxism by explaining that the ideology represents the imaginary relationship people form to the relations of production and the relationships that are produced from it.
The second thesis presented by Althusser is “ideology has a material existence” (695). One might wonder how this can be because the typical idea of something material is an item that can be held such as a brick. However, there are different modalities to existence and this is what the material existence of an ideology is. The best explanation to this thesis is through the example of religion and one’s belief in God. If one has a close relationship to the ideology of God and faith then it will be exemplified through their way of life. This person would practice and demonstrate their belief. It is through the practice of their belief that the material existence of the religious ideology can be found.
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 693-702.
Posted by: Sarah T. at March 29, 2009 11:50 PM
Précis of “For a Theory of Literary Production”
“For a Theory of Literary Production” written by Pierre Macherey provided insight into the meaning of texts. Macherey supposed that criticism begins with an incompletion of speech within the work. The speech within a work comes from what the text does not say but still proclaims. “The book is not self-sufficient; it is primarily accompanied by a certain absence, without which it would not exist” (705). Macherey utilized Freud’s concept of the “absence of words” and the unconscious (705). “Speech eventually has nothing more to tell us: we investigate the silence, for it is the silence that is doing the speaking” (705).
Due to the absence of speech questions arise. Macherey cites Nietzsche “Hinterfrage” questions and view the question as an “interrogation” that breaks through the text’s diversion and hiding techniques (706). “The work is revealed to itself and to others on two different levels: it makes visible, and it makes invisible. Not because something has to be hidden in order to show something else; but because attention is diverted from the very thing which is shown” (706-707).
Critics dissect the text by asking questions and the form of the text “takes or changes shape” by different ideas. The new ideas proposed by critics changes the “path of ideological history” (709). According to Marx “the ideological is the economic in another form” and ideological history is present in the work (709). The ideological history influences the work and provides its position. “This history, […] entirely determines the work: gives this work its reality, but also what which it is not” (710).
Macherey, Pierre. “For a Theory of Literary Production.” Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1998.
Posted by: Kristin B. at March 30, 2009 12:53 AM
Précis of Discourse in the Novel
Mikhail Yachting wrote an article, Discourse in the Novel, which states that literary discourse is constructed together from different sources. Further, he created a theory which states that all words exist in dialogue with other words. Composed of literary language, Yachting defines novels as a diversity of social speech types which are artistically organized.
Both spoken and written, literary language is formed by social life and historical settings. Language is further split into genres. Thus, language is classified into different categories such as oratorical, newspaper, journalistic, etc. In different situations, different types of language are used. Language is constructed through social situations where verbs like slogan words, curse words, and praise words are formed. Each generation at each social level creates their own language. Yachting further states that language is a living, socio-ideological concrete thing which represents the ideologies of culture.
Prose writers and Novelists take these different languages and use them to construct their stories. The basic condition that makes a novel a novel is the speaking person and his discourse. In comic novels, comic discourse from all different styles of language is used. Further, in novels, one finds hybrid construction of language where utterances belong to a single speaker but contains two separate speech styles. Additionally, one will find pseudo-objective motivation which is a form for concealing another’s speech. Discourse, from which novels are constructed, can be split into both authoritative discourse and internally persuasive discourse. Yachting concludes his article with ending that the semantic structure of language is not finite but an open dialogue that can continually change.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Discourse in the Novel”. 1934-35. 1900. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 674-685.
Posted by: Jessica Pall at March 30, 2009 08:52 AM
According to Samuel Johnson, “labour by the day, labour divided into tasks” is the definition of what Marxist term?
According to Lynn, “Marxist criticism thus strives to see literature in terms of its relationship to society, and a work is assumed to reinforce the current social structure or undermine it,” True or false?
Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at April 1, 2012 05:10 PM
Q: What is Milton’s definition of “daylabourer” and how does it apply to Marxists theory?
A: “daylabourer” in Milton’s poem refers to a worker who does messy, mind numbing jobs. The pay would be poor for non-specialized work and as such would be subjected to the lower class status, a proletariat, which by Marx’s definition, should rise up and unite against the middle and upper class and overthrow the power they control. (Lynn 159).
Q: What is the definition of Marxism criticism as it pertains to literature and text?
A: striving to see the relationship between society and work and its reinforcement of the current social structure, or undermine it, or a combination of both. (Lynn 161).
Posted by: brooke king at April 1, 2012 09:09 PM
OK question writers. A few things to remember: Don't ignore the Tyson text. While Lynn is important, I want you to focus on more than just Lynn's reading of Milton. We should be more concerned about the theoretical concepts of Marxism at this point. With that in mind, please be ready to answer the following questions about both the Lynn and Tyson texts for the next reading-check (the rest of the question writers should focus on Rivkin/Ryan:
1. According to Steven Lynn, “certain features of” the expression “ ‘When I Consider,’ for instance, can be highlighted by Marxism’s drive to see the world in terms of” what?
2. According to Lois Tyson’s discussion of Marxism, what is the all important base from which social, political, and ideological ideas stem?
3. For Marxism, in what does a commodity’s value lie?
4. According to Steven Lynn’s understanding of “Marx’s labor theory of value,” the true value of something reflects what?
5. According to Lois Tyson’s explanation of Marx, what is the primary motive behind “every superstructure on which social and political ideological realities are built” upon, both then and now?
6. According to Steven Lynn, “Marxist criticism [ . . .] strives to see literature in terms of its relationship to” what?
7. According to Lois Tyson’s understanding of Marxist theory, is the “the American Dream” an ideological myth that blinds the middle class to the socioeconomic inequities in the United States?
8. According to the entry in Steven Lynn’s glossary of terminology at the end of his chapter “Connecting the Text,” what did Marx and Engels mean, in their Communist Manifesto, by the term “bourgeoisie,” a word with sixteenth-century French origins?
9. According to Lois Tyson, what might a Marxist reading of the “American dream” say about it?
10. According to the entry in Steven Lynn’s glossary of terminology at the end of his chapter “Connecting the Text,” what did Marx and Engels mean, in their Communist Manifesto, by the term “proletariat,” a word once used in ancient Rome?
11. According to Lois Tyson, what is meant by the term ideology?
12. According to Lois Tyson, what does the expression “to colonize the consciousness of subordinate peoples” mean?
13. According to the entry in Steven Lynn’s glossary of terminology at the end of his chapter “Connecting the Text,” what does Marxist critic Antonio Gramsci mean by the term subaltern?
14. What do Marxist analyses of human events and productions focus on?
15. Why do Marxists refer to socioeconomics instead of economic class when they are discussing class structure?
16. Explain the difference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat classes.
17. What are Marxists referring to when they use the expression “material circumstances”?
18. What does Tyson cite as the reason for the failure for the "homeless" to rise up and shift culture?
19. According to Tyson, what is the problem that some students have initially when dealing with Marxist criticism?
20. Why is it not important to the validity of Marxist criticism that the Communist Bloc in Europe failed?
Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at April 1, 2012 10:52 PM
Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
1 April 2012
Marxist Criticism Discussion Questions
Q: According to Tyson’s understanding of Marx, economics is the base upon which the superstructure of social/political/ideological realities is built (Tyson 54).
Q: What ideology equates one’s value as a human being with the social class to which one belongs (Tyson 59)?
Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at April 1, 2012 11:00 PM
Question: In the online Lynn article, Lynn states that “The pay would be poor for such nonspecialized labor, and the social status would be somewhere below the seventeenth century’s equivalent of a hamburger flipper” (Lynn 159). What is the name for the non-specialized laborer to whom Lynn refers?
d. Hourly wage-slave
Answer: c. Daylabourer
Question: In Critical Theory Today, Lois Tyson supplies two terms that define “economic conditions… and the social/political/ideological atmosphere generated by material conditions” (Tyson 54). What are these two terms?
a. Material circumstances and the historical situation
b. Production output and societal consequence
c. Factory block and the sociological bloc
d. Proletariat and bourgeoisie
Answer: a. Material circumstances and the historical situation. “In Marxist terminology, economic conditions are referred to as material circumstances, and the social/political/ideological atmosphere generated by material conditions is called the historical situation” (Tyson 54).
Posted by: douglas phillips at April 2, 2012 03:17 AM
Q1. True or False. According to Rivkin/Ryan, the end of colonialism in the 1960s and 1970s spurred a new interest in Marxism in Left politics in the US and in England.
A1. True (643).
Q2. According to Rivkin/Ryan, Marxism begins with the assumption that literature can only be understood if its full context - historical, economic, social, cultural - is taken into account. How is this different from Formalism?
A2: Formalists isolate the literary work from its historical context. (644)
Posted by: Diego Pestana at April 2, 2012 01:30 PM
Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
4 April 2012
Marxist Criticism Précis: “Dialectics”
In “Dialectics,” Hegel defines logic as the linchpin of what he considers philosophical science. Hegel stresses that when a form of consciousness realizes itself it paradoxically eliminates and transcends its meaning. The concept includes its opposite and therefore becomes something more; in other words, a form of consciousness is defined by itself and its opposite. This newly formed concept, then, is superior to the previous concept because it includes the negation/opposite meaning of itself and is in unity (and contains) this opposite form. Hegel stresses that speculative thought exists in the unifying grasping of opposites; speculative thought exists in the dialectic.
Hegel continues by stating that oppositions are not fixed in their composition. For example, finite and infinite do not have a contradictory relationship; they have an external connection. A study of their nature determines they are a transition; their culminated synthesis and subject is produced by conceptual reflection. The first contains within itself the second and the second contains within itself the first. As witnessed, contradiction is a crucial element in the composition of a concept. Ultimately, the truth of a concept is derived from a three step process involving the original idea (thesis), the contradiction to this idea (antithesis), and the combination of these competing points (synthesis) to create within the concept a new relation to itself. It is from this point that the truth of the concept is produced.
Hegel, G. W. F. “Dialectics.” 1816. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 647-49. Print.
Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at April 4, 2012 09:39 AM
4 April 2012
Antonio Gramsci’s Hegemony Précis
In this excerpt from Gramsci’s essay Hegemony, he discusses the relationship between the intellectuals and the world of production. The intellectuals are the dominant group’s “deputies” that exercise the subaltern functions of the social hegemony and political government. He states that their relationship is not as direct as it is with the fundamental social groups (this group is the dominant group). This group is mediated by the entire construct of the society as well as by the superstructures. The intellectuals are the “functionaries,” as Gramsci calls them. He goes on to say that, it should be possible to determine the “organic quality” of the intellectual’s contributions, as well as their connection with the fundamental social group and their station within the superstructure on a scale from the base on upward.
He points out that there are two superstructure levels. It starts out with the civil society that is split into the private and the “political public” or “the State.” These two levels work to create the hegemony that on one side where the dominant group uses these levels throughout society and on the other side, the two levels work as a “direct domination” through the use of State and judicial power/government. Gramsci says that these two levels, private and political public, are organizational and connected. The intellectuals of the dominant group exercise the subaltern function, which encompasses the “spontaneous” consent given by the masses to the direction that is imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group. Gramsci says that this consent has been historically those who have the prestige, which the dominant group benefits because this position and function in the world usually comes the means of production and power. He also points out that the state/ government uses their power to “legally” enforce discipline on the groups who do not consent either passively or actively. He concludes that this sort of power is enforced for the entire society just in case a “crisis of command and direction” of the “spontaneous consent” fails.
Gramsci, Antonio. “Hegemony.” 1930-2. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie
Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 673. Print.
Posted by: brooke king at April 4, 2012 01:00 PM
ENG 435 – Literary Criticism
4 April 2012
“The Sublime Object of Ideology” Precis
In “The Sublime Object of Ideology,” philosopher Slavoj Zizek makes connections between psychoanalysis, which he is most known for, and Marxism as laid out by Karl Marx himself. Zizek begins by illustrating the foundational similarities between what Freud and Marx in terms of their ideas of what is most important in analyzing dreams, for the former, and commodities, for the latter. According to Zizek, for both Freud and Marx, it is not the “content” or the “secret” of a dream or commodity that is to be analyzed, but, as Zizek says, “the 'secret' of this form itself” (712). What this means is that, for example, a dream, it is not the content of the dream that is of utmost importance. Rather, it is understanding why the dream took the form it did that is vital. In this same way, Zizek argues that it is understanding how the commodity assumes its form that is central to understanding economic structure because once this is realized, for Zizek, economic structures are founded on very dubitable grounds.
Zizek begins illustrating the shaky grounds of commodity exchanges by stating that “the commodity remains for classical political economy a mysterious, enigmatic thing” (713). For Zizek, it is important to deny the premise that a commodity's value depends on something as circumstantial as supply and demand relationships as that is how it is commonly believed that commodities' achieve their respective values. According to Zizek, when two people engage in an exchange of commodities, they are ignorant of the abstractness of the action they are committing. But this ignorance is what Zizek claims classical political economy's need. For Zizek, the economy's basis of exchange is “whose very ontological consistency implies a certain non-knowledge of its participants” (716). This is an example of a Marxian symptom for Zizek. And this symptom is emblematic of a popular understanding of ideology according to Marx where he writes in Captial that “they do not know it, but they are doing it” (717). According to Zizek, if the participants in an economy were to realize the abstractness of the actions they commit when they exchange commodities, the economy would seize to function as it was designed to.
Zizek, Slavoj. “The Sublime Object of Ideology.” 1989. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden : Blackwell, 2004. 712-24. Print.
Posted by: Diego Pestana at April 4, 2012 01:54 PM
04 April 2012
Cultural Materialism Précis
In Alan Sinfield's essay, "Cultural Materialism, Othello, and the Politics of Plausibility," Sinfield opens his arguments with a discussion of Othello, a famous play by William Shakespeare. Sinfield uses the play to highlight the use of plausibility by society, specifically how the racist arguments made by Brabantio against Othello would have had value for audiences at the time because the racism that was prevalent at the time would have been plausible. Thus, the arguments made by Brabantio and Iago are compelling not because Iago is such a great speaker, but because the culture has a common value assumption, even if it is a racist one, when it comes to Othello because of his skin color; the racism is the common sense logic of the time.
Sinfield uses this as an example of how ideology gets its strength: it becomes the default logic of the society. Ideology, much like a good, is produced by society, and institutions that support the primary powers in society tend to produce the strongest ideologies. Iago, who undermined the authority of the power structure by manipulating plausibility, is tortured as the state seeks to manipulate his story so that they can hear the story that will legitimize the state's own violence. Othello, because he is wholly converted to the state ideology, views his own suicide as his final act of murder, the murder of a Turk, an outsider, which is good.
Sinfield goes on to state that "the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production" (748). In other words, the bourgeoisie, who control material production, will also, by default, control the production of ideologies within the society. Because of this control, it becomes difficult to organize a resistance to the dominant culture, so subcultures are created which refute the dominant culture, but only in part, not in the entirety. There is also an issue with New Historicism Sinfield calls the "entrapment model" wherein even the arguments and products that go against the system of power end up maintaining that system. One reason that the power structure so easily absorbs the dissident ideology is that such an ideology must be created in reference to the dominant ideology. Sinfield argues that dissidence within society will arise not from individual people, but from inevitable conflict created by society. It is also explained that the term dissident is used instead of subversive because the term subversive is suggested of some measure of success, whereas dissident is more neutral, suggesting only that resistance of an aspect of the dominant ideology has occurred.
It is because of the ease with which a dominant culture can assimilate the dissident cultures that are created in response to it that a cultural materialist will need to "shift the criteria of plausibility" (759) before he or she can review a work by an author such as Shakespeare in a culture that will attempt to retell one of his stories.
Sinfield, Alan. "Cultural Materialism, Othello, and the Politics of Plausibility." Critical Theory: an Anthology. Second Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Pgs. 743-62. 1998. Malden: Blackwell P. Print.
Posted by: douglas at April 4, 2012 02:09 PM
Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
4 April 2012
Précis: “Ideology & Ideological State Apparatuses” by Louis Althusser
In his 1968 article, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Louis Althusser explains “ideology, which traditionally had been characterized as a species of ‘false consciousness,’ as a set of practices and institutions that sustain an individual’s imaginary relationship to his or her material conditions of existence” (693). He describes his arguments being based upon two theses: (1) “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” and (2) that “Ideology has material existence” (Althusser 692). Basically, Althusser argues that our views of an ideology are limited by the fact that we see them as illusions and interpretations of reality, as opposed to believing these ideologies to be the truth and forming the reality that we live in. He explains the differences in interpretation, considering mechanistic interpretation and hermeneutic interpretation where the first is categorized by the figure of God being the “imaginary representation of the real King” and the second being categorized by schools of religion that follow the earliest “Church Fathers” (693). Essentially, the issue becomes how much we need to rely on these “imaginary” ideologies to make sense of the world around us, the texts we read, and what we are interpreting. He goes on to explain these types of understanding ideology in terms of Marxism by explaining that “all ideology represents in its necessarily imaginary distortion not the existing relations of production, but above all the (imaginary) relationship of individuals to the relations of production and the relations that derive from them” (Althusser 695). He considers the importance and various interpretations based on a series of these ideologies including religious, political, legal, ethical, and even aesthetic ideology. He explains that we as individuals base our behavior in society off of these ideologies and in turn, also base the way we interpret the world around us off of our understanding of these ideologies, especially in relationship to how we see these ideologies playing into our own lives (reality). Our practices and actions are directly related to the types of ideologies that we follow and understand. He goes on to say that terms like “ideas” disappear from the equation and are replaced with terms such as “practices” and “rituals” when these ideological shifts happen. He further states that his ultimate claim is that “ideology interpellates individuals as subjects” (Althusser 697). What that means then, in terms of our understanding of how ideology works then, is that there is no concrete ideology that we can attribute to those subjects and and the way that those subjects and ideologies function in our life. As a result, individuals become subjects, are “abstract,” and can be defined as “a center of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions and a subjected being who submits to a higher authority” (Althusser 701). As a result our interpretations are subjective based on the subjective ideologies that we come to understand, follow, and practice.
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” 1968. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 693-702. Print.
Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at April 9, 2012 02:18 PM
March 09 2012
August Wilson explores the hidden structure and wickedness of capitalism within Fences. His study focuses on the African American culture and family—he depicts the never-ending struggle of the African American Family. The economic struggle of African Americans stems from an ideology—the American Dream. The relationship between Troy (father) and Cory (son) symbolizes the struggle (conflict) between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In the eyes of Marx, the relationship between Troy and Cory depicts the truth behind the struggle of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat because their relationship excludes class distinction—class distinction (race) does not influence their actions and decisions. Thus, “When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power . . . is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another” (Marx). Despite Cory’s enthusiasm and academic achievements, Cory is forced to follow the steps of his dad (he will never be able to please Troy). His actions as a human being are a depiction of his suppressed emotions.
Lyotard examines the relationship between language and history, which directly applies to August Wilson’s Fences. The characters within this play embrace the English language quite differently—they communicate by speaking words that are uniquely used by African Americans. Characters such as Troy, Cory, and Rose, identify themselves with black dialect because it symbolizes their background, heritage, and culture. These three characters, evidently, share a common background and heritage, which allow them to interact with one another without being misunderstood. Based on Lyotard’s argument, Troy, Cory, and Rose are not using black dialect to distant themselves from their current society (white society). They are using black dialect because the relationship between their history and language is too difficult to separate from one another. For instance, Troy is rejected by white society, which is symbolized by his struggle to survive and by his struggle to provide for his family. He, of course, never overcomes the society that has been holding him back both psychologically and emotionally. Hence, he can only overcome white society by creating something unique of his culture that nobody can take away from him but other African Americans—he relies on language. He also uses his culture against his family members—he is disguised behind his skin color. Black dialect within Fences not only symbolizes the struggle of African Americans, but it also symbolizes the direct relationship between history and language. Language evolves as societies and people grow older, which is symbolized by history. Lyotard argues that new languages should not be overlooked or ignored because they stem from humanity—they are the product of history. Lyotard writes that “new languages are added to the old ones, forming suburbs of the old town” (360). The black dialect used by Troy, Cory, and Rose represent the beauty of evolution. However, Troy does not necessarily use black dialect to distant himself from white society, but he also uses black dialect to oppress those around him.
The black dialect used by Troy, Cory, and Rose not only represents a relationship between history and language, but it also represents the economic struggle that stems from their background as African Americans. Wilson begins to symbolize the economic struggle of African Americans by introducing the reader to a garbage man, Troy. His position as a garbage man not only represents the struggle of some African Americans, but it also symbolizes oppression. Troy is collecting the waste of wealthy Americans—he collects garbage from white citizens. He, of course, is not satisfied by his social status as a garbage man, and thus he decides to question his position as the oppressed. He, however, knows that the likelihood of success (of getting a different job) is very low. He says, “I ain’t worried about them firing me. They gonna fire me cause I asked a question? That’s all I did. I went to Mr. Rand and asked him . . . you got the white [mens] driving and the colored lifting?” (211). Troy’s question also symbolizes the hierarchy that exists between poor whites and wealthy whites. This not only implies that there is a racial issue within the system, but it also implies that there is a possibility for self-destruction. For instance, poor whites can possibly overthrow the system by becoming allies with African Americans. Wilson, however, implies that the possibility of overthrowing an oppressing economic system is difficult to reach because the racial barrier is too strong. The social barrier is created by the bourgeoisie with the sole purpose of maintaining control within the proletariat—regardless of race or color. Troy not only struggles to survive because he is part of an unprivileged culture and race, but because he is part of an unfair economic system. Tyson briefly describes this economic system as a structural system. She writes, “We might loosely refer to these five groups as America’s underclass, lower class, middle class, upper class, and aristocracy” (55). Troy belongs to America’s underclass group.
Troy’s frustration does not allow him to see beyond reason. He does not decide to take a stand against the oppressing class—he takes a stand against his own people. Troy’s decision not only symbolizes his continuous struggle to survive, but it also symbolizes the successfulness of an oppressing economic system—a system controlled by the bourgeoisie. Troy knows that he cannot defeat the bourgeoisie because he is a black male. Hence, his decision to take his fear and misery as a human being against his own race is understandable. This, however, does not mean that Troy’s decision is acceptable. After all, he belongs to an unfair economic system. Tyson believes that “. . . the success of the American dream—the acquisition of a wealthy lifestyle for a few—rests on the misery of many. And it is the power of ideology, of our belief in the naturalness and fairness of this dream, that has blinded us to the harsh realities it masks” (58). Troy embraces Tyson’s comments indirectly. He is partly miserable not only because of his financial status as a black male, but because he decides to embrace and believe in the American Dream (pain is the result of desire).
Cory is another person who embraces and believes in the American Dream. He wants to be a professional athlete. Thus, Cory decides to give away his job during the football season because he wants to try out his luck. Unlike Troy, he is not only being undermined by the society around him, but he is also being neglected and discriminated upon by his own father. The discrimination between family members symbolizes a successful oppressing system (economic system). The bourgeoisie not only keeps control of the proletariat by limiting its resources, but the aristocrats also keep control of the unfortunate by creating chaos among its own people. This technique is employed by the aristocrats because they do not want the proletariat to revolt against them. Wilson symbolizes this undermining technique through Troy. This is depicted in the passage that says, “Who the hell say I got to like you? What law is there say I got to like you? Wanna stand up in my face and ask a damn fool-ass question like that” (217).
Even though Troy is a member of the proletariat, he symbolically overcomes his social status by undermining and oppressing those around him. Not only does Troy oppress his family members, but he also manipulates them in order to climb up the economic staircase. He becomes more confident as the play progresses. For instance, his confidence is reaffirmed once he wins his case against the commissioner’s office. He can now be the first black truck driver. Troy’s success becomes hell to others. For instance, Cory is amazed to find out that even though Troy has slightly overcome some of his harshness of a member of the proletariat class, he is still trying to bring him down as a professional. This is symbolized by Troy’s attendance to Cory’s high school. Troy informs the football coach that Cory may not be playing for him anymore. This is problematic not only because Troy’s decision emotionally hurts Cory, but because he is holding him back economically. Troy’s insecurities are the burden of the lower class (symbolically). This is evident when Troy says, “I don’t care what he’s doing. When he get to the point where he wanna disobey me . . . then it’s time for him to move on” (220). Troy’s comment once again represents the oppression of the lower class. Cory cannot possibly overcome his social status because he is being held down by his father. However, if Cory decides to take a stand against Troy, he will never be able to overcome his social status. For instance, Cory does not have the resources to survive among white society. He does not have shelter, food, or love. Hence, his desire to survive will blind him from reality. He will always be trying to live day by day. He will never have time to think about the future. Therefore, he cannot possibly think about becoming part of the bourgeoisie. This strategy is not only used by the bourgeoisie, but it is also used by minorities because they want to think that they still have a chance to overcome their social status and reach the American Dream.
Once a person has overcome his/her social status as a proletariat, racial differences are ignored and left behind. Members of the bourgeoisie are neither white nor black, they are green. Their values are defined by how much money they possess. Troy, of course, is never able to become part of the bourgeoisie, and thus he becomes frustrated and takes his anger against his family members. Although Troy is not really part of the bourgeoisie, he likes to think that he is. Hence, that is why he is really concerned about building a fence around his house. He wants to keep his family members inside and wants to always be the authoritative figure. The fence will allow him to be the king. If Cory decides to stay, Troy will have total power over him. Troy’s concern is depicted when he says, “I’m gonna take and build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. See? You stay over there until you’re ready for me. Then you come on. Bring your army. Bring your sickle. Bring your wrestling clothes. I ain’t gonna sneak up on me no more” (227). Troy’s comment not only depicts his desire to build a fence, but it also depicts his desire to have absolute power. His words are manipulative because he wants to destroy his family members’ identity. He wants to impose identities to them. Troy wants to impose false identities to his family members because that will guarantee him that he will be able to control them all the time. Troy’s family members do not have a chance but to accept the identities given to them. They cannot survive on their own because they will not only have to find a way to stay alive, but they will also be harassed by white society (poor and rich). This argument conclusively states that the capitalist system is an inhumane economic system. Not only is the capitalist system an inhumane economic system, but it is also a finite system. Capitalism is not likely to survive indefinitely because it creates hatred where there is love. It also creates confusion where there is knowledge. It creates sorrow where there is happiness. This, of course, is symbolized by Troy and his family members. Troy does not care whether or not they belong to the same culture and race; he only cares about being a member of the bourgeoisie.
Posted by: Emmanuel Cruz at April 23, 2012 01:53 PM
ENG 435 – Literary Criticism
18 April 2012
The Invisible Influence: An Examination of the Economic Factors in Fences
August Wilson's Fences is a tragic play that revolves around the life of a middle aged black man living in segregated America during the 1950s. Troy Maxson, the play's main character, is a victim of his environment – an environment that has limited what he can achieve and do in life based on simply the color of his skin. And it is that environment that is the play's hidden, or invisible, antagonist. From the time he is a young man in the prime of his athletic prowess in baseball to when he is a grown man with a family to support looking for a promotion in his line of work, the political, social, and economic conditions of what is believed to be Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania constantly prevent Troy from achieving his dreams and desires. No one character affects or dictates the outcome of the play more than the economic system that Troy and his family suffers from. An examination of the characteristics and makeup of this economic system can shed some light into understanding the intrinsic importance the economy is to the freedom, desires, and lives of those that partake in it. Thus, by developing an economically sound understanding of the system that exists in Fences it can then be deciphered how such an unjust system can exist, and how similar models can be avoided by understanding its inherent flaws.
Before an analysis of the economy in Fences can begin, it must first be established what type of lens will be employed in criticizing the play's economic system, and how that lens is best fit to analyze the economy's features. While a more traditional route to take in examining a literary work's economic structure would be that of a more Marxist origin, employing a framework that is more economically sound and less skeptical of the market economy illustrates that much of the troubles caused by the economic and political system in Fences is a result not of a true market economy, where a complete separation of economy and government exists, but a result of an economy that has been corrupted by government interference. Thus, employing a Marxist perspective in analyzing August Wilson's play would be economically disingenuous as the economy Troy partakes in is not that of a true market economy, as will be illustrated. But, before the economic system of Fences can be dissected, it will help to understand the key differences between employing a Marxist analysis and a more libertarian, or free market, analysis.
As Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan point out in an overview of Marxist criticism in Literary Theory: An Anthology, one essential assumption present in Marxist criticism is “that culture, including literature, functions to reproduce the class structure of society” (644). This is very much in line with the defining work of the namesake of this analysis, Karl Marx's Manifest of the Communist Party, wherein Marx states, “The History of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (341). For Marx, the paradigm that exists for these class struggles consists of the bourgeoisie, the more capitalist class, or owners of the means of production and wages, and the proletariat, who are primarily the laborers for the bourgeoisie. Now, while Marx is not wrong in pointing out grave disparity between the proverbial haves and have-nots, where Marx, and his subsequently styled literary critics, go astray is in judging the guilty entity of such injustices to be the capitalist economic system. In his Manifesto, Marx goes on to decry what he believes to be the ills of capitalism when he writes that it “has left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest” (342). Marx also goes on to denounce the burgeoning, capitalistic practice of what he calls “unconscionable freedom – Free Trade” which he says “has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” (343). And once more, while the complaints Marx lodges are not unduly, the inherent flaw in Marxism places the blame on market economies. This flaw is culminated where Marx writes, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (342). This statement by Marx illustrates that the founder of the ideology surrounding Marxist criticism did not have a whole understanding of what Capitalism is and what it entails. An understanding of the opposite economic perspective – an Austrian perspective – will assist in realizing where it is Marxists go astray.
The Austrian School of Economics is named as such because the economists credited with its founding and flourishing, men like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich August Hayek, were of Austrian origin. The Austrian School differs significantly with Marxism because of the value it places on the free market and the actions of free individuals participating in an economy. As Paul Cantor points out in Literature and the Economics of Liberty, Austrian economics “focuses on the freedom of the individual actor and the subjectivity of values” (10). Where Marxists see actors in an economy as unknowing sheep, so to speak, falling victim to an all-powerful capitalist system, Austrians may see individuals acting on their own volition according to the values they subjectively place on goods and services. And if there is corruption in the economic system, it is not Capitalism that is to blame, but the interference of government and rent seekers. While Marx decried the capitalist notion of self-interest, Cantor, in line with the Austrian perspective on self-interest, writes that capitalism involves “the free and uncoordinated interaction of individuals who may be aiming at their own limited goals but nevertheless end up producing a larger social good” (11). Yet, the main difference between Marxism and Austrian economics is how the former views capitalism as the cause of human suffering while the latter contends that, as Cantor points out, “capitalism has vastly improved the human condition and that many of the evils laid at its doorstep are really the result of government interference with the normal functioning of the market” (11). It is this difference between Marxism and Austrian economics that affects the very core of any economic analysis of a literary work. If it is opted to use a lens that views capitalism as a system in which government and private business collusion is inherent, as Marxists believe, then that analysis will differ greatly from one that believes government and private business collusion to be antithetical to a market economy. At this point, an Austrian perspective will be employed to view the economic structure of Fences to show how they very problems with government interference in the economy is largely to blame for the misfortunes Troy goes through.
From the outset of the play, the audience or reader is introduced to some of the economic problems that Troy is facing at his place of employment. On his way back home from work, Troy tells his friend Bono about a conversation that he had with one of his supervisors regarding his duties at work. The issue that Troy is contending deals with how, as a garbage man, the colored employees are the ones who are delegated to do the heavy lifting while the white men are designated as the drivers of the garbage trucks. In attempt to accept responsibilities he'd be more open to doing in driving the garbage truck, Troy says to Bono, “All I want them to do is change the job description” (11). Thus, within the first few lines of dialogue of the play, the importance of the economic, social, and political conditions that affect Troy and his family are made apparent. From the moment the audience first meets Troy, he is combating the economic system that has consigned him to a lesser role where the labor is more arduous, but the pay unrewarding. A closer examination of Troy's situation at his place of employment through both a Marxist lens and Austrian lens will be able to illustrate which economic analysis is more sound and that, in turn, will lead into a greater understanding of the economic system that exists in the play.
From a Marxist perspective, the situation Troy faces at work is emblematic of the idea of constant class struggle. In this case, the struggle would be between the proletariat working man, Troy, and the bourgeoisie, the wage payers in charge of the capital utilized in delivering the trucks. For Marxists, the struggle that Troy goes through is trying the “change the job description” is par for the course when it comes the capitalist economic system. As a result of the white bourgeoisie pursuing their own self-interest, the black proletariat are left suffering financially because of an inability to be put on an equal level with the white men in the workplace. This, for Marxists, is a predictable result when it comes to a market economy; the bourgeoisie are in control of the means of production and do what they can to ensure the proletariat remain in a state of dependence. However, once an Austrian analysis of the same situation is utilized, it can actually be shown that the problem Troy faces is not the fault of capitalism, but of government interference in the market.
Bearing in mind that for adherents to Austrian economics the root of most economic trouble is government interference in the marketplace, historical context must be taken into account to understand the government's role in Troy's misfortune. While it is supposedly a private garbage collection company for which Troy works, to simply claim that its practice of differentiating labor between the whites and blacks is purely a profit-seeking one resulting from a capitalist system would be to discount notable influence governments wielded during the timeframe in which the play is set. Fences is set in the 1950s, and during that time in the United States governmental laws that promoted racism and segregation, like Jim Crow laws, were still very much influential on how businesses conducted themselves and how individuals in the economy acted. One of the most abhorrent ideas that was prevalent during this timeframe resulted in the status of “separate but equal” for African Americans. And, true to the disruptive nature of government for Austrians, this idea was largely a result of policies set forth by the government. Thus, even if the white employers where Troy worked had it in them to pay blacks the same pay for same work as the whites, societal and governmental pressure would have prevented them from doing so. And this prevention in and of itself is antithetical to a true capitalist system as it bars the most important and effective regulator of any free market: competition. Therefore, a reading of this situation in Fences from an Austrian perspective results in an understanding that the economy that causes Troy to suffer is not a truly capitalist one. Rather, the suffering that Troy goes through, for Austrians, is exactly what is to be expected when government interferes with employment and other business practices in the economy.
By understanding what truly characterizes a capitalist economy, that is an economy with no government interference, it becomes evident that the play's antagonist, the economy, is not a capitalist one, but one where government has stepped in and dictated certain rules and practices that do not favor all individuals who participate in the economy. In this respect, August Wilson can be seen as illustrating the ill effects of government interference in his place as his main character suffers greatly from it. Given this possibility, it appears that Wilson is making the case that Austrian economists have spent centuries trying to convey, but in a much more artistic and creative matter.
Cantor, Paul. Literature and the Economics of Liberty. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009. Print.
Marx, Karl. Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1848. Nineteenth-Century Philosophy. 3rd ed. Eds. Forrest Baird and Walter Kaufmann. Upper Saddle River : Prentice Hall, 2003. 340-51. Print.
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. “Introduction: Starting with Zero.” 2004. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden : Blackwell, 2004. 643-46. Print.
Wilson, August. Fences. 1983. New York: Theatre Communications, 2007. Print.
Posted by: Diego Pestana at April 23, 2012 05:39 PM
"What Marx argued for is that there can be no silnge correct theory. Every theory is affected by reality and in turn affects the reality itself"That's an interesting point, we had a debate about it in philosophy class.
Posted by: Carlos at June 3, 2012 01:42 AM
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved. 2006.