Guide to Week 4: Tuesday
In the web page hyperlinked to this week's reading in Tyson, I have abstracted key terms and theoretical principles that identify various authors who helped create this critical theory and its interpretive methods. After you have read Tyson, review the terms and principles, and make sure you understand them. The first portion of our discussion will be a review of Tyson, and then we will look at some broader issues like those below.
If you are unfamiliar with Karl Marx's life and work, you should consult this biographical note, produced by the Marxists Internet Archive, which traces his life and work in a short summary. As in the case of the Freud Museum site (in the Psychoanalytic class page), this site actively recruits visitors to pursue Marxist political projects in a wide variety of forms, and for this reason it must be considered a lobbying organization with ideological and pecuniary interests in representing Marx's work, rather than a scholarly site. Again, consider this aspect of the site as evidence of the powerful long-term effects of Marxist theory and critical methods which live on long after their founder's death. Think about the forces which cause contemporaries to turn to Marxist thinking long after the end of successful Marxist nation-states. Does consumerism still blind people to their own best interests? Do people still make terrible choices while thinking they're pursuing "the American Dream"? Does the commodification of people and ideas ever produce situations in which their "sale" becomes revolting but unstoppable? These circumstances enable Marxist theory and interpretive methods to generate insights unavailable to classical formal criticism, or to psychoanalytic criticism. If you have not already done so, click here for a list of terms of art and processes necessary to applications of Marxist interpretive methods.
Marxist interpretation requires us to be aware of the "historical situation" and "material conditions" in which cultural productions, like Marxist theory, come about. Using the dates below and some historical background, try to familiarize yourself with the world which gave birth to Marx (and to Freud), especially the dates of the most catastrophic wars, which for Marx were the "wars of Imperialism" in which the ruling class sent the working class to die in order to secure greater colonial possessions from which more wealth could be extracted. All historical events have roots in the past, of course, and those of "materialist thinking" (vs. "idealist thought" like Plato and Freud) might be said to become most powerful in the Renaissance as the new thinking collided with surviving medieval modes of thought. The rise of science as a disciplined way to investigate material reality (vs. Middle English for "learning" of any kind) originates in the 1600s. One of its early martyrs, the intuitionist philosopher Giordano Bruno, was burned as a heretic conveniently in 1600, making him the first, though not the last, to die for insisting that facts precede ideas about facts.
Dates of Major Books by Marx
1844 (with Frederick Engels, published posthumously, 1937) The German Ideology
1848 (with Frederick Engels) The Communist Manifesto
[1849 Banished from Germany--takes up residence in London, with Engels' financial support]
1867 (published posthumously, 1887) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy
Click here for a comparison of Marx's publication history with Freud's. Though Marx lived somewhat before Freud, his ideas began to be used in literary criticism somewhat later than Freud's. Why?
Useful Web Pages
Class in America: Nick's and Tom's relative economic status and what Fitzgerald is trying to tell us about the sheer excess of Tom's lifestyle
Titles Communicate Theory: Can You Tell Which Theories These Articles Use?