Marxism and art

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Sun Jul 9 14:50:32 MDT 1995


Of course, there are many ways to be a Marxist art or literary critic.
Saying "X" is how a Marxist would or should read _Huck Finn_ is
reductive, and all too similar to the liberal "pot-pourri" surveys that
have a chapter on how a Marxist would read Y text, a chapter on how a
feminist would, how a "new critic" and so on, as if one could just
saunter up and pick one's critical method from the literary supermarket.

Terry Eagleton's _Literary Theory: An Introduction_ usefully avoids this
problem (though runs into a fair number of his own), while his _Marxism
and Literary Criticism_ is refreshingly brief.  And both are very
engagingly and clearly written.

Me, I'm somewhat uninterested in interpretation (which is the thing
Jameson tries desperately to defend in _The Political Unconscious_) and
am more interested in what a text does than what it means.  Such "doing"
could of course still be various: how the text functioned historically;
how it operates within the critical or scholastic or educational
institution (John Guillory's _Cultural Capital_ is interesting on this);
or how it could be put to use, reappropriated (cf., among a million and
one examples, Cesaire's and others' uses of _The Tempest_).

I also like the following quotation, here from Deleuze and Guattari:

"For reading a text is never a scholarly exercise in search of what is
signified, still less a highly textual exercise in search of a
signifier.  Rather it is a productive use of the literary machine, a
montage of desiring-machines, a schizoid exercise that extracts from the
text its revolutionary force."      (_Anti-Oedipus_, 106)

But then I am in a "Literature" program, and would wish that I was doing
something useful at the same time.

Oh, and Seamus: how can you pronounce so clearly on the "best" (whatever
on earth that means?!) art works of the 80s!?  If nothing else, and a
little more democratically, you should allow for a ballot.  I'll vote for
Rushdie's _Satanic Verses_ and Tarkovsky's _The Sacrifice_.  That'll
clear our minds of Lacanianism...

Take care

Jon

Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~spoons


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