Monday, July 8, 2013

Academic Theory: Marxist Criticism

Today we will be discussing the attributes of a style of criticism. This may seem odd given that we have been discussing philosophies the past few weeks, but, in learning how to critique a work, we are attempting to understand it's philosophy. Marxism was a driving philosophical ideology in the latter 19th century. In the wake of Existentialism, individuals began perceiving themselves in how they existed in context to society. This is where Marxism comes in, and how we critique it will embody the focus of today's lesson.

As a society we are industrious, and at any point of human civilization, we as a race have produced goods or have valued goods as a commodity. Those that possess a commodity, like a fish, or a field that produces crops, maintain the ability to leverage that product to their advantage. The greater the commodity one possesses, the greater ability one can leverage power over another. Hence, Marxist Criticism deals with the social structure of a society in which a ruling class, the Bourgeoisie, leverages power over a working class, the Proletariat. In each era, the rationalization for how the ruling class carries out their exploitation is referred to as an ideology. The ideology is considered the foundation of society and civilization. On top of this ideology, the ruling class structures society to the detriment of the lower and poorer classes they take advantage now. A good example of this now, is globalism and worker exploitation in developing countries. In this case, American companies have created a false economic prosperity that is dependent upon enslaving workers from across the globe. Rich Americans enjoy relative splendor, while a Vietnamese child works 16 hours a day making the shoes they wear, for a dollar a day.

How this relates to literature is interesting. Our goals as writers is to emulate realistic characters as well as understand the philosophies that influence our works. Consequently, in Marxist Criticism, a story is one of two things. First, a story substantiates the oppression of any era to the working class subconsciously because the ruling class's influence determines the mindset of the un-awakened worker still in dogmatic slumber. Second, as more moderate Marxist writers have allowed, the author unconsciously (through his/her characters) will express the need for justice and plight of the worker. Even though the author is dogmatically writing to express a particular view, characters in the work will subconsciously rebel against the author's intentions. What all this means is that you, as an author, will write something invariably influenced by your class association.

For example:
Six days. Six days on the calendar. Holstein month. Cows of the twentieth century. Made in China.  My wife got it for me as a stocking-stuffer for Christmas. Call me a cow connoisseur. 
A vacation I have been planning is six days away and I can't stop thinking about the beaches. Those golden beaches for miles on end. My mind disappears into the wet aqua fantasy, warming me like an infant in the womb. Some brown person gives me a tropical tonic. The Tequila elixir washes my cares away. Thirty years, I've chased this. I traded a family for the promotion. Got the kids Saturday. Like father like son. Six days, it will all go away. Six days I will be free. 
Here the unnamed narrator is a business man in yearning. He profits off the success in his life, which he learned from his father. This dedication to work and industry is the instrument that has divided himself from his family resulting in a divorce. Living in the wake of his father's influence he has successfully continued the legacy of fiscal prosperity at the expense of his own identity. He and his family are both exploited in this instance by class distinctions. His family is neglected at the expense of pursuing capital, while he himself is also the victim of class organization, having given up true happiness for superfluous wealth. Just like the Holstein cow on his calendar, he too has become a beast of burden, milked dry and forced to produce without gratification or happiness. He longs to do what the ruling class has done to him, which is exploit another. As a product of his environment he has been conditioned to crave power over another. If I can step back and look at my own writing, I'd say that subconsciously I have written into this scenario an oppressive atmosphere that I myself feel as an american citizen. This would then be the honest and redeeming article of my work, in light of Marxist Criticism.

Take a look at the example again and see what I mean.


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