[Marxism] Marxism and film criticism
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jan 2 05:55:00 MST 2015
(Shane, this didn't even bounce. Not sure what happened.)
I posted a version of this to the list but your blog won't let me post
it (perhaps there's a word limit or something.
Thanks for that Louis. Its got me thinking more about the issues and to
Peter for the heads-up about Jonathan Rosenbaum.
Whatever their limitations at least WSWS has put some serious work into
developing some cultural critique for their organisation. I had read
over a number of lectures by David Walsh before putting my query to
Louis and so I thought it might be useful to put my summary here of the
classical Marxist position a la Walsh.
In his lecture 'Socialism and Cinema'
(http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/11/cine-n10.html) Walsh stated
that "the best film work in the past—including at the US studios—was
inconceivable without the powerful presence of socialist ideas and thus
the revival of global cinema requires a socialist movement and "the
emergence of a consciously socialist and revolutionary tendency in film
making and criticism." Historical events like Cold War and Collapse of
Communism are ultimately the cause of the decline in quality of art
since "all serious art contains the element of protest, direct or
indirect, against the conditions of life, and that all serious criticism
of social life gravitates toward Marxism" and the present state of the
world is certainly crying out for more artistic creations that are about
the big human problems we face. This is elaborated in two parts as
“Film, history and socialism”
(http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/01/york-j22.html) which are worth
reading. In Part Two Walsh argues that ‘great films’ have ‘what Trotsky
called a definite and important feeling for the world. They make a
genuine engagement with reality, with the way people are, the ways in
which they behave... Trotsky speaks beautifully of this quality, which,
he says, “consists in a feeling for life as it is, in an artistic
acceptance of reality, and not in a shrinking from it, in an active
interest in the concrete stability and mobility of life.”’
But it is in 'The Aesthetic Component of Socialism'
(http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2008/10/aest-o11.html ) that Walsh
takes up the importance of Trotsky's 'Literature and Revolution'. Walsh
argues that the role of the critic is not to give a 'Marxist' blessing
to this or that work, artist or style - we are partisans of free
artistic creation and of access to those creations in art – just as we
would be in science - in promoting scientific exploration of physical
universe and education about their discoveries.
Walsh goes on to say that Trotsky understood that culture was impacted
by history and class relations and that culture (which Trotsky defines
as "everything that has been created, built, learnt, conquered by man in
the course of his entire history, in distinction from what nature has
given....") was *both* an expression of human powers and that these
powers have forged art into a basic instrument of class oppression. It
was in this contradiction that Trotsky urged workers to study and master
the best of bourgeois culture. Walsh, following Aleksandr Voronsky,
argues that just as sciences need to be mastered (analysis as rational
conceptualisation in the form of laws) so too do the arts (synthesis as
sensuous contemplation in the form of images). Trotsky suggests that the
role of Marxist critique is to "to help the most progressive tendencies
by a *critical illumination* of the road."
The tension is between seeing art and culture in instrumental terms -
the aim of 'good art' is to 'advance the class struggle' or some such -
and in solely individual expressionist terms (of 'art of art sake'). If
the former then why study Shakespeare? The latter posits that the artist
is an isolated individual. Walsh goes on ‘a work of art, Trotsky
observed, must speak directly to the reader or the viewer in some
fashion, must move or inspire or depress him or her’ and this can happen
across time and space. Great art can transcend its conditions of
production - even as it expresses the very ‘way of life’ of its
particular time and place – it shows us something about the human
condition. There is a role for examining the social context and
emergence of art forms but this isn’t strictly an aesthetic assessment –
knowing the class outlook of an artist is hardly the end of the matter.
Walsh argues that creating an audience for revolutionary ideas cannot be
about mere political propaganda and cannot be separated from a culture.
The socialist movement before 1917 ‘which brought into its orbit and
assimilated the most critical achievements of bourgeois political and
social thought, art and science’. A revolution requires the critical
consciousness of the mass of the population and is not just expressed in
political or scientific ideas but in art as well – ‘it’s great power
consists in its ability to connect human beings, as though by invisible
wires, at the most profound and intimate levels’.
Walsh then asks since there is an objective aspect to art - what of the
subjective? In what sense does art have a subversive or disturbing
quality? Is this a matter of the content of a work as in a ‘political’
film? What then of abstract art or orchestral music? Walsh suggests that
great art represents an impulse to freedom, the striving for a better
existence, and quotes Breton saying that artistic expression ‘is the
beginning of a protest. This protest, conscious or unconscious, is an
element of every creative work’ and calls forth a reaction in us.
Marx’s 1843 Letter to Ruge says "Hence, our motto must be: reform of
consciousness not through dogmas, but by analysing the mystical
consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests
itself in a religious or a political form. *It will then become evident
that the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has
only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality.*
Walsh concludes: ‘Bringing this "dream of something" into humanity's
conscious and unconscious life is the eternal labour of art.
More information about the Marxism