Thomas Docherty at the University of Warwick has an excellent ItunesU podcast on literary theory. Here are some notes I got from his lecture, which you can find here:

The class also has a blog:

My notes from the above:

Marxism Notes:

Critique is an investigation into how a form of knowledge is possible, which stems from Kant. Exploration, then, attempts to examine the origins and limitations of a system; for instance, Marx’s critique of capitalism.

Kant attempted a transcendental critique (which is also Hegelian)—In other words, Kant attempted to get outside the system he was exploring. Marx, on the other hand, wanted to examine a system from within.

The whole question of Marxism arises from political commitment. In the 18th primer he states, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly in terms and inherited from the past. The traditions of the old generations of the dead weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the loving.”

We are historically situated so that our possibilities to make our own history are de-limited in certain ways and it is de-limited by our historical situation.

Marxist literary criticism strives to go beyond merely relating a text to society (more than a mimesis: how a text represents something else). Marxist literary criticism reacts against formalism’s wish to look at the words for themselves, outside of historical context; the
bourgeoisie way of looking at a text (since Matthew Arnold) was in objectifying the text, isolating it from its context and attempt a scientific examination.

Marxist views text as produced in a historical context: the environment shapes everything about a text—words, content, form, etc.—, along with the historical and social moment. For Marxist critics, our social, historical juncture defines and determines what it is we can write and how.

Our social moment and historical time determines text since writers do not write in a vacuum; they write in context and are affected by society.

The bourgeois writer is working at the level of the superstructure; Marx wants to find out what makes the superstructure possible.

In classic Marxism the Base means the economic base (mode of production and of economics). The supersctructure is the ideology of society and culture. Economic relations are predominate in a given society and shapes every thing else. The superstructure keeps society in line and reproducing itself.

If our basic human relations are goverened by economic structures—for instance capitalism that shapes and dominates our society—then we can understand how we realte to one another. For instance, through economic terms:

Employer and employee: Employer has a certain amount of capital and wants to make that capital bigger, so he will use the employee to produce more. The employee has no capital so he is beholden to the employer for capital.

[For example: a worker makes shoes by using the employer’s capital; the employer sells those shoes for 200 dollars, but only gives 5 dollars to the worker and keeps the surplus. Thus, we created a system based on exploitation]

That structure shapes everything else in society. Think of all societal interactions: you fall in love, you make an investment of time and emotions hoping for a pay off; you go to school and make an investment in your future and you hope to get a job; you spend time with people and hope it will pay off in friendship, etc… Since we have this economic base, it shapes everything else in society.

Problems arise when my interest as a worker conflicts with your interest as an employer. If we end up acknowledging that conflict, then the worker might feel exploited and tell employer to stop, and the worker would rise up and seize control in order to more evenly spread the wealth. Of course, capitalism suppresses worker revolt.

The employer tells his employee that the surplus needs to go back into the business to invest in material, the factory, and pay other workers so that the workers can keep their jobs. This system ends up creating different classes with different interest; hence, this relation of class struggle affects all relations under a superstructure: non-material or cultural aspects of society. Marx finds this one opposition (class struggle) dominant, “Class struggle is the model of history.” Only through class struggle will tomorrow be different than today; it’s how we are IN history.

History progresses as classes struggle against each other for preeminence or for fundamental survival. Marxism aims for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this way, Marxism is utilitarian: we should be aiming for the greatest happiness for the greatest amount. Marx says we should start from the biggest group—the working class (the small group is the employers/rich class). Therefore, we should pursue working class interest.

The ruling class knows its power, so it tries to convince everyone that we all have the same interest (this point is seen in political discourse and literary criticism alike with phrases such as “it’s common sense that…” “A common reading of the text is…” Discourse that makes appeals to “universal truths”).

Ruling class uses ideology to try to stop history and to control certain institutions. By appealing to universals of common interest, the ruling classes stay in power. For instance, marriage, which is less about equality, love, or sanctity, but hopes people will assume certain roles. By defining marriage, the ruling class contains conflicts because those who agree to marriage agree to following certain rules. [On a side note, one would think that the ruling classes would be all for same-sex marriage since it would inject more capital into the system with weddings and divorces, and would “control gays” because if they want to marry, they would have to follow the marriage rules].

The ruling class uses ideology: a system of beliefs and assumptions, which are dominant and normative in a society at a given moment. Beliefs don’t need to be true; they just need to be believed by all—and normative. For example, why are all priest men? Because that is a man’s job—and we don’t question the assertion but take it for granted. Pink is a girls color and blue a boys—just because, without question—that is ideology.

Marxism wants to question these normative beliefs and ideology and unmask them.

Ideology: the ways in which a social formation represents itself to itself. The way society thinks itself. The way society gains and accepts norms and beliefs that constrain or define it.