Marxism and Marxist Literary Theory
This course will introduce you to several key works by Marx and his collaborator, Engels, and to the debates that have grown up around them. At the center of the course is the question of how a body of 19th century writings principally about political economy (a.k.a economics), history, and philosophy got taken up by 20th century literary scholars, and how a distinct tradition of interpreting literary culture from a Marxist perspective, using Marxist tools, has developed over time. By contrast to other models of literary criticism which often seek 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 shape textual meaning; and, to understand how such conflicts impact a text’s message, genre, style and form.
Our study of Marxist theory will involve us in close, intensive reading of dense philosophical arguments. We will also seek to understand how a materialist method indebted to Marxism has emerged as a dominant method within contemporary literary scholarship, and thus how diverse literary critical practices (often given such labels as “critical theory,” “feminist theory,” “critical race theory,” and “cultural studies”) ought to be situated within the Marxist analytical tradition. Over the course of the quarter we will also engage two works of fiction--one filmic and one literary. We will consider how our understanding of each might be shaped by the Marxist frameworks that the course explores, and how such texts can, in turn, be used to reveal the (in)adequacy of Marxist methodologies.