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From: zend...@aol.com 
To: jgram...@gmail.com 
Cc: r...@googlegroups.com ; geraldjme...@aol.com 
Sent: Saturday, September 15, 2012 1:21 PM
Subject: Re: [S&D] extracts from Annette Rubinstein article [identical 

Fundamental Problems in

Marxist Literary Criticism:

Form, History and Ideology


Annette T. Rubinstein


[Introductory and concluding passages from article published in Socialism and 
Democracy, no. 21, Spring 1997]


What has generally been called marxist literary criticism in the United 
States.is, with rare exceptions, actually sociological rather than marxist. 
That is, it is concerned only with the raw material, the manifest content, of a 
novel, play or poem, and with the author's attitude towards these facts. This 
misrepresentation is related to the popular stereotype of marxism as simple 
economism. Unfortunately it is not entirely the fault of unfriendly outsiders. 
All too often communists themselves, in their opposition to formalism, have 
proclaimed or implied indifference to formal literary values. Despite recent 
theoretical developments these images of marxism —rooted in the 1930s and 
before—remain with us. It therefore makes sense to revisit some of the 
formative figures of the tradition to see how their understanding of certain 
key problems can ground the present discussions of literature and of criticism.

In the early thirties, when almost the only approach most New York literary 
circles took seriously was either that of the "New Critics" or that of the 
communists, Mike Gold's attack on Thornton Wilder's "Genteel Christ" 
preoccupied three full issues of The New Republic. But Gold's polemic dealt 
only with Wilder's subject matter and personal values. In The New Masses, first 
edited by Gold, the prolonged debate on the nature of proletarian literature, 
which he initiated, continued long after his two years in office. Still there 
were really no issues raised as to formal criteria. The questions argued were 
whether proletarian literature meant literature about proletarian life, 
literature written by proletarians, or simply literature which took the side of 
the proletariat in the class war.

Of course the critical practice of the debaters in discussing individual works 
was often much better than their theorizing, and their creative achievements 
were, as Alan Wald and others are now showing, among the most valuable of their 
time. But I am here speaking only of their conscious aesthetic. This simplistic 
approach is all the more surprising in that both Marx and Engels attributed 
such enormous importance to the specific form of economic exploitation as it 
varied from slavery through serfdom to wage labor. They both stressed the 
extraordinary effect on all human relations and social institutions when 
exploitation took the disguised form of commodity production, and envisioned 
another upheaval only when the capitalist forces of production became 
incompatible with the form. Emphasis on the historical specificity of a given 
form applies as well to the matter of literary production.

No doubt, attention to formal values is characteristic of all good literary 
criticism. There is no claim that it is peculiar to marxism. But since few 
students in the United States today have any idea that marxist critics are, and 
always have been, seriously concerned with literary form as well as content it 
is worth taking time to provide some illustrations from the formative years of 
our practice.

As with all original thinkers, there are often differences between individual 
marxists as well as between marxist and catholic or freudian critics. I will 
therefore make the obvious explicit by stating directly the general assumptions 
which all marxists accept.

We believe there is an external world, which exists independent of our beliefs, 
and that our representations of it can, more or less accurately, refer to and 
describe this world, including our reactions to it. We believe that it is a 
natural world with no supernatural powers in control, and that we ourselves are 
part of it with a real biological and social history relating us to, and in 
some respects distinguishing us from, other living things. We believe that 
people as they now exist are social beings with needs, capacities, emotions and 
ideas formed through thousands or hundreds of thousands of years of group life, 
and that our imaginative ability to create and enjoy aesthetic experiences is 
an important part of our being.

We also believe that while men and women generally act so as to serve, or in 
ways that they think will serve, their individual interests this is by no means 
true of all of them at all times. Human beings, like dogs and cats and birds 
and many other species, will often deliberately sacrifice their individual 
well-being or even their lives for the benefit of others. Men and women may 
also do so in support of an idea or an ideology.

In the following pages we will be dealing with the treatment of three central 
literary problems by a number of very diverse marxist critics, drawn 
predominantly from the classic works of the twenties and thirties, since these 
have come to inform later discussions. It is our conviction that without this 
historical grounding, contemporary debates, whatever their merits, would lack 
sufficient context to evaluate the larger significance of critical endeavors. 
The problems are: 1) the relation of form to content, 2) the relation of 
literature to history, 3) the relation of an author's ideology to his or her 
creative work.


[…] […]

[concluding paragraphs:]


The good critic, whatever his or her orientation, must first of all be a good 
reader interested in, sensitive to, and respectful of, the writer's work. There 
may be levels of meaning of which the writer was not fully aware, and 
appreciative criticism may well make those accessible to readers and even to 
the writer himself or herself, but one should not treat creation as automatic 
writing. A novel is a work, not a dream. Brecht did not patronizingly assume 
Moliere to be ignorant of the context in which his miser showed absurd as well 
as greedy; Kettle did not suppose Hardy indifferent to the historical 
development he mourned but could not propositionally present.

A good marxist critic will use his own materialist understanding of history and 
his consciousness of social forces to make more fully apparent the significance 
of a work and the art of its creator, not to substitute for them. This is true 
whether or not the writers have fully accomplished the task they set 
themselves. As in Leo Marx's analysis of Huckleberry Finn, the discussion of a 
partial failure may also enhance our appreciation of an intention not fully 
realized and deepen our understanding of the artist and his world. And that is, 
finally, the critic's essential function. Marxist literary criticism adds an 
attention to the relation between the inner world of the work and that which 
lies beyond it. This critical relation operates in both directions. In the 
controversies over interpretation of the formal qualities of a work, in which 
the sense of history is always brought to bear, the different ways in which 
history can be understood, are also often opened up.

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