Marxism, Romanticism, Postmodernism
An American Case History
PROF. J: Then what can it mean, to practice a Marxist literary criticism?
PROF. M.: As an American issue in the post-Vietnam period, Marxism in literary studies has largely involved the appropriation of a set of interpretive tools of a sociological and historical character. Marxian models set a special privilege upon materialist analyses of culture and society. Investigations of literary and artistic products—even primarily formal or hermeneutical investigations—require, from a Marxian perspective, detailed study of the social and institutional determinant of cultural practice.
To the degree that Marxian thought has (historically) invested itself in a philosophy of historical determinism, its protocols for studying cultural works have tended to be coherently, sometimes even rigidly, organized. Marxian thought has always been closely tied to teleological, holist, and organic conceptions of human activity. This slant in Marxian thinking has proved significant so far as its Americanization is concerned. Its holism marries well with some of the synthetic critical trends of mid- and late-twentiethcentury American aesthetic theory. I’m thinking here of all the various types of high formalisms—from Eliot’s neoclassicism to New Critical, structuralist, and psychoanalytic methods.
PROF. J.: In a Marxist view, however, synthetic processes are structured as a dialectic of collisions and contradictions. Classical Marxist theory inclines to display cultural works—poems or novels—as reflections, perhaps even instances, of significant