Marxist Literary Criticism

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What is the Marxist view of the relationship between Ideology and Literature ?

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The Marxist response to literature is complex and multifaceted, but it is fair to say that, in general, Marxist critics view literature as the product of ideology.

To be clear, let us define “ideology“ using Louis Althusser’s definition. His definition states that ideology is “a system (possessing its logic and proper rigor) of representations (images, myths, ideas, or concepts according to the case) endowed with an existence and a historical role at the heart of a given society.” For a Marxist critic, then, literature, both in its content and in its form (as poetry, novel, essay, and so on) are expressions of the ideology of the culture that produced it. The job of the Marxist reader is to reveal the ideological origins of work and, in doing so, more fully comprehend its meaning. The results of such analyses are, therefore, inherently political. An underlying principle of Althusser’s concept of ideology is that it exists in a kind of closed loop. As a “system“ of “representations,” ideology makes sense to those who exist within the loop, but the assumption is that there is a vantage point (the vantage point of the critic) from which we can see the system for what it is: self-limiting and self-justifying. In this sense, the purpose of literary criticism is to reveal the ideological basis for literature as a kind of critique of ideology itself.

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The Marxist view of the relationship between ideology and literature is a profound one.  For the Marxist literary critic, ideology is the basis for the production and formation of literature.  As Eagleton notes, it is more than mere references to "the working class."  Marxist literary criticism believes that examining the literature's ideological point of view actually enhances an understanding of it:

Its [Marxist literary criticism] aim is to explain the literary work more fully; and this means a sensitive attention to its forms, styles and meanings. But it also means grasping those forms, styles and meanings as the product of a particular history.

For the Marxist literary critic, examining the relationship between literature and ideology enhances the understanding of the work.  It delves into the nature of how the work came into existence as well as the fundamental issues of class and socio- economic reality that is in the work.  Ideology is seen as the basis of consciousness, and the Marxist literary critic argues this point in assessing the relationship between it and the literature in question.  This relationship is a strong one, and one that will allow a greater understanding of the premises of any given work.

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