determination, Williams, & literature

Guy Yasko guyy at
Fri Mar 17 14:47:58 MST 1995

Dear Kenny, Howie and all,

Kenny, I agree with you about the potential for Williams to go off in a non-
radical direction.  I include myself in the category of the suspicious and wary.
I have a little trouble pinpointing just where Williams goes wrong, since I
don't want to reject his positions on culture and language entirely,@but
neither do I want to reduce marxian thought to ethics or voluntarism.  The
question is how to supplement Williams in such a way that we avoid this dilemma.
(Having said that, I'll have to excuse myself from the discussion of Williams
since I just lent my copy of _Marxism and Literature_ to a friend.)  This isn't
only an issue with Williams of course.  It's also a problem with Gramsci, whose
theories of hegemony and cultural politics are popular fare in right-wing study

   Howie Chodos asked for references to Williams' criticisms of Lukacs.
Williams explicitly criticizes him in several spots in _Marxism and Literature_.
On p. 68 he writes that Lukacs' claims for the proletariat were no more
convincing than postivist claims for science.  On p.102, Williams calls Lukacs'
description of social reality an advance in so far as it is dynamic, but finds
that the laws that govern the typification of this reality in art essentially
nullify the dynamism.  Williams disagrees with Lukacs' use of totality:

"The relation of Marxism to a theory of genres is subject to these variations of
tendency.  We face again the familiar problem of a complex relation between open
social and historical anlaysis, which includes social and historical analysis of
the received categories, and that 'transformation of idealism,
in post-Hegelian tendencies, which retains the categories in (presumably)
altered forms.  Thus some Marxist accounts of genre retain an academic
categorization, to which they add, in an epochal dimension, social and
historical notes, and 'explanations.'  Other, more Hegelian accounts, as in
Lukacs, define genres in terms of their intrinsic realtions to 'totality.'  This
leads to important insights but does not overcome the problem of the mobility of
the category of totality between an ideal (non-alienated) state and an empirical
(but then also diffrentiated) social whole.  For any adequate social theory, the
question is defined by the recognition of two facts: first, that there are clear
social and historical relations betwen particular literary forms and the
societies and periods in which thery were originated or practiced; second, that
there are undoubted continuities of literary forms through and beyond the
societies and periods to which they have such relations. In genre theory,
everything depends on the character and process of such continuities."

And finally, Williams quotes Brecht's criticisms of Lukacs' Stalinist desire to
control other people and their productive activity on p.199.  As the Brecht
quotes indicates, Williams' criticisms aren't entirely new.  Merleau-Ponty made
similar comments in _Adventures of the Dialectic_, and I think he borrowed
insights from people like Goldmann and even from Lukacs' own self-criticisms.

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