Our Decentralized Literature: Cultural Mediations in Selected Jewish and Southern Writers

By Jules Chametzky | Go to book overview

Three
Immigrant Fiction as Cultural Mediation

The concept of mediation in my title may be taken in several ways, although I start with a conception deriving from the Frankfurt School of Critical Theorists' use of the term. They were concerned to address and correct the old base-superstructure dichotomy in classic--some would say simplistic--versions of Marxist thought, in which culture and consciousness are regarded as reflections of a social, economic, historical base--Marx's "real foundation." This reflective theory of consciousness--which has not been limited to Marxists, of course--and its products (literature and art chief among them) has the effect ultimately of burying cultural artifacts in their contexts, which makes it impossible to justify or understand the uniqueness of literature and art. These ideas have been frequently and adequately refuted numerous times in the past--I do not want to rake over old coals. But I do want to establish my basic thesis and the ground for it. That is, consciousness and its products are integral and constitutive elements of "reality," not mere reflections of some other more basic, primary reality. They are the essential means by which human beings live, by which they know and shape what their experience is all about. Human culture is the creation of forms and modes (of behavior, ritualizing, representing) that enable people to grasp, give meaning to, and get through their lives.

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A paper presented at MLA, 29 December 1981, as part of a panel on "Jewish Immigrant Fiction: A Retrospective View."

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