Clearly there are many ways to study literature and our understanding of the “best” or “most useful” practice(s) continues to be contested and to change over time. This course focuses in on one of the critical practices that dominates in the contemporary academy and that informs scholarship being done by members of the profession, and by members of the UW department today: Marxist materialism and related critical frameworks that often fall under labels such as “critical theory,” “cultural studies,” “feminist theory,” “critical race theory,” and “postcolonial theory.” By contrast to earlier models of literary criticism, which sought to find in literary texts transcendent messages and universal meanings, Marxist literary theory has sought to situate literary and cultural texts within their historical contexts of production and reception; to understand the power dynamics, including dynamics informed by gender, race, and class conflict, that necessarily shape textual meaning; and to understand how such conflicts impact literary content, genre, style and form.
Our study of Marxist literary theory will involve us in close, intensive reading of dense philosophical arguments about economics (a.k.a political economy), ideology (a term we will unpack as the quarter proceeds), and literature. Along the way we will read several key texts by Marx and his collaborator Engels. Among other things, this course will examine how a literary critical framework such as Marxist materialism has been developed out of a body of philosophical and political thought (Marxism), that is not necessarily concerned with literature (although Marx actually did say a few things about literature and we will consider these carefully).
Over the course of the quarter we will treat two or three literary texts/films. We will consider how our understanding of each is shaped by the critical practices explored in this course, and how these texts, in turn, reveal the (in)adequacy of Marxist theory and/or suggests new and alternative ways of thinking about cultural production and interpretation.