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How convincing was the Marxist critique of the capitalist state?
This next unit of theory is entitled "Ideology and Discourse." The theorists we're examining--Althusser, Bakhtin, and Foucault--are discussing how ideology works, and how ideologies construct subjects. All of these theorists are coming from a Marxist perspective, using ideas and terms developed in Marxist theory, though only Althusser actually claims to be a Marxist. So to start off, I want to talk a bit about some basic ideas of Marxist theory.
Marxism is a set of theories, or a system of thought and analysis, developed by Karl Marx in the nineteenth century in response to the Western industrial revolution and the rise of industrial capitalism as the predominant economic mode. Like feminist theory, Marxist theory is directed at social change; Marxists want to analyze social relations in order to change them, in order to alter what they see are the gross injustices and inequalities created by capitalist economic relations. My capsule summary of the main ideas of Marxism, however, will focus on the theoretical aspects more than on how that theory has been and is applicable to projects for social change.
As a theory, Marxism is pretty complicated. You can think of Marxism as being three types of theory in one: philosophy, history, and economics. First, Marxism is a philosophical movement; Marx's ideas about human nature, and about how we know and function in the world come from traditions articulated by Hegel, Feuerbach, Kant, and other German philosophers. All of these guys, including Marx, are interested in the relation between materialist and idealist philosophy. As a philosopher, Marx helps create and define a branch of philosophy called DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM.
Materialism in general is the branch of Western philosophy from which science (Aristotelian or Newtonian) comes. Materialist philosophy is based on empiricism, on the direct observation of measurable or observable phenomena; materialist philosophy is interested in studying how the human mind, via the senses, perceives external reality, and particularly with the idea of how we know things "objectively," without the interference of emotions or preconceived ideas about things. Materialist philosophy often wants to ask how we know something is real, or, more specifically, how we know that what is real IS real, and...

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...other forms of ideology (like religious ideology), and thus can provide insights into how ideologies are structured, and what their limits are. This view is also followed by Georg Lukacs, who argues that Marxist literary criticism should look at a work of literature in terms of the ideological structure(s) of which it is a part, but which it transforms in its art.
For other Marxists, including Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, and Louis Althusser, literature works the way any ideology does, by signifying the imaginary ways in which people perceive the real world; literature uses language to signify what it feels like to live in particular conditions, rather than using language to give a rational analysis of those conditions. Thus literature helps to create experience, not just reflect it. As a kind of ideology, literature for these critics is relatively autonomous, both of other ideological forms and of the economic base. You can't trace one-to-one direct ties between literature and any particular ideology, or between literature and the economic base. (When you can, we call it bad literature; literature directly linked to an ideology we call "propaganda," for instance).

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how the marxist critique of the capitalist state was convincing. theorists like althusser, bakhtin, and foucault are discussing ideologies and subjects.
  • Explains that marxism is a set of theories developed by karl marx in the nineteenth century in response to the western industrial revolution and the rise of industrial capitalism as the predominant economic mode.
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