Thursday, September 25, 2008

Response to Dr. Craig

In a continuation of last week's post, I'll be responding to some of Dr. Craig's thoughts on Marxism and how our ideologies (Communist or Capitalist) pervade most aspects of society.
I think the most fascinating idea Dr. Craig has commented on is the notion that all literature, whether it consciously acknowledges it, still directly or indirectly, perpetuate the dominance of the ruling class. Even those who deliberately and forcefully write in opposition to the prevailing ideology in their society are in some way legitimizing their own subjugation. In a sense, it seems to suggest that there is no "outside of ideology", for our very sense of self and consciousness is shaped and molded by powers beyond our control.
The "ruling class", in whatever methods or forms it chooses to use, attempts to hide our very subjugation from us. Most people would raise issue with this and try to assert that our small forms of rebellion (i.e. reading the Communist Manifesto, hanging pictures of Che in our dorm rooms, attending protests) are a manner with which we can voice dissent. Yet these small liberties are not true measures of freedom, at least according to many Marxist theorists. Dr. Craig summarizes the idea succinctly when he states, "radical departures from the dominant values of society are nonetheless engaged with those values, even when, and perhaps, especially when, they claim that they are not."
This is a difficult idea for me to grapple with, and one that I'm not sure if I completely agree or disagree with. I'm with Marx when he asserts that ideologies are central to how we understand ourselves and our place in society, and further more that these dominant ideologies are culturally constructed. Yet the question that really plagues me is the difference between recognizing your relative subjugation by hegemonic forces and freeing yourself from said forces. Surely if ideology was as inescapable as Marx and Engels believed, nobody would be able to truly revolt against anything, especially not the Bolsheviks and other socialist and Communists who DID succeed in restructuring their society. This is a question I actually ponder often, and one that keeps me awake at night (so to speak). I think that for Marxism to function, it must require some great faith in humanity for without that a true revolt of the people could never take place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Marxism and Danielle Steele--Not so strange bedfellows?

As a political philosophy, I think Marxism asks a lot of us capitalist pigs. In direct opposition to the tenets of liberal humanism, it mandates that our ideologies are in fact socially constructed, and that our notions of human nature, independence, and freedom are blatantly untrue. While I agree on most levels that there is no intrinsic human nature, I take issue with the assertion that I am unable to understand my personal freedoms outside of a capitalist context. Sure, ideologies are a product of culture, but that doesn’t validate all of Marxism’s demands. This premise does not warrant the wholesale redefining of already solid concepts like “liberty” and “freedom”. It seems to me that while Marxism tries to deconstruct what we think of self-determinism and freedom, it cannot wholly redefine what those things are. Freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without restraint". Communism/Marxism is in direct opposition to this definition, and asserts that the only true form of liberty can be found within the strict confines of community. That, in my estimation, is the antithesis of autonomy.

Qualms with Marxist political theory aside, its literary component is a bit more fluid, but still fundamentally flawed. Marxist literary criticism in all of its forms inserts class struggle and economics into your favorite books. This Marxist reading can take many forms. Some theorists strictly consider the work’s author and try to find the conscious or unconscious influence of his own social status as reflected in his/her work. Others scrutinize the text more thoroughly and view the relationships between characters, plot, and setting as a direct result of their economic statuses and the dominant political forces present (however minor they may appear).
At first, I assumed that this brand of criticism would fall apart if I took some ostensibly “unpolitical” books and read them through the Marxist filter. But, try as I might, I couldn’t find so much as a trashy romance novel that was completely devoid of fodder for a Marxist critic. Take the complex Danielle Steele classic Bittersweet. Danielle's protaganist India is a disenfranchised ex-journalist who decides to seek some form of self-actualization after she realizes that she is but a useless second fiddle to her working husband. In the process she is swept off her feet by the wealthy and savvy Paul Ward. While he does dazzle her with his masculinity, good looks, and sexual prowess, his wealth and success is as much of factor as his other charms. She contrasts her relative anonymity and lack of riches to his abundance and is spurred towards upward mobility. In fact, this quest for personal betterment is as much of a plot point as her torrid love affair. As she attains a sort of class consciousness, she is affected enough to seek a change. Of course, none of this is explicitly stated by either the brilliant Mrs. Steele or India, but I assume that most texts dissected by Marxist critics contain covert signs of economics and class struggle. (I also assume that most literary critics tend to save their profound insights for more serious literature).

Now that I've not-so-coherently ranted about both Danielle Steele and Marxism in my inaugural blog post, I think I'll give it a rest. This was long enough anyways, right? Next week I'll try to end my posts with something a more memorable. However now, hunger calls.