Marxist Terms: Domains, Attributes, and Processes

        After Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels developed the basic materialist analysis of culture, Marxist thinking went through several important stages of development in the hands of later theorists.  If we can ignore the horrific misuse of the theory in the realm of political science, where it utterly failed, late-C20 Russian, Italian, French, English and American Marxists like Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Terry Eagleton and Frederic Jameson rode the basic materialist analysis methods into a psychoanalytic, socio-political, and postmodern adaptations which took literature as a subset of all cultural codes which were its analytical topic.  We will encounter Eagleton and Jameson again in Structuralism and Deconstruction.

        Marxist methods work best when authors provide a great deal of contextual and/or historical evidence in which to ground characters' behaviors.  Tyson's choice of Fitzgerald's Gatsby enables her to take advantage of the novel's frequent reference to the economic conditions in which characters live.  You can try Marxist readings of fables or folk tales, but they often have such sparse localizing detail that Structuralist or Deconstructionist, Psychoanalytical, Feminist, or Reader-Response methods may work better.

Historical Domains/Agents/"Scenes" of Cultural Construction--

Socio-Economic Class Historical Situation Material Circumstances
False Consciousness Class Consciousness Revolutionary Consciousness
Use Value Exchange Value Sign-Exchange Value

Ideologies (Repressive and Liberating)--

the "American Dream" Patriotism Religion--"narcotizing" forces
Classism Individualism Consumerism
Capitalism Imperialism Marxism


Ideological Programming Cultural Production Commodification
Conspicuous Consumption Colonization of Consciousness Repression (Political, Mental)
Reification "the personal is the political" Content Analysis & Formal Analysis

Do you want to test your ability to use Marxist critical methods?

Do you find Marxist "intuitionist" assumptions about sociology and economics too weakly grounded in evidence but you still want to explore the role of material circumstances in the construction and consumption of literature?  Click here for a short description of evidence-based theories of how historical context, including socio-economic factors, can shape the production and consumption of literature.