Marxism as Liberating Ideology / Marxism as Repressive Ideology

        Marxist theory reminds us that literature is not a decorative abstraction, that many artists write for money and power, that many readers read seeking myths to sustain themselves in disappointing lives, that the production and consumption of literature can further enslave the mind in myth or it can liberate the mind by exposing the myths previous literature has implanted.         Marxist theory pedals its own myth that ideology can be exposed, even as it tells them ideology is omnipresent and too subtle to see in operation without the aid of Marxist methods, that its material and historical analysis of literature accounts for everything that matters, and that no other analysis of literature is "progressive"--at best they're wasting your time and at worst they're actively coopting your mind to serve false ideologies.
        Marxist theory is a personal discipline that keeps one from falling in love with myths rather than studying their real, measurable effects, like a biologist so loving a new amphibian species that she forgets to identify and classify it, or to discover its life-giving or death-dealing powers.       Marxism is a kind of demonic-possession theory, claiming to exorcise the demons it alone can see, but the demons it identifies vary depending upon which "Marxism" you follow (doctrinaire revolutionary political Marxism; philosophical neo-Marxism, feminist Marxism, Marxist New Historicism).
        Marxism promotes social communion with critics from many cultures who believe that material and historical analysis can resist the otherwise triumphant powers of the now-global myths of capitalism, imperialism, commercialism, etc.         Marxism promotes a cabal-forming, us-vs.-them antagonism among literary scholars who tend to recognize either friends or enemies in the field based on whether the other critics adhere to the particular formula of Marxist theory they implement.
        Marxists have aided the development of a constellation of related theories of interpretation, including Feminism, New Historicism, Cultural Criticism, Queer Theory, etc.. Sometimes, Marxists' worst enemies are other Marxists, but at most other times, everyone from Ayn Rand fans to liberal pluralists want to run them out of the discipline.

Don't give up hope.  You can accept the partial truths of both sides of this argument without losing your mind--just remember that results depend upon what specific form of the theory you use and how you use the theory you have chosen.  If you buy Marxism's most hard-core values, you render yourself vulnerable to the "repressive ideology" critique, but if you ignore Marxism as a set of considerations that often yields shareable insights, you lose the opportunities offered by its role as a "liberating ideology."

        This web page is dedicated to Jordi Rozenman, English 215 class of Spring 2005, who helped me think back to my own undergraduate encounter with the "Red Menace."