On a more specific literary interpretation:

Production and materialism:

For Marx, what sets humans apart from animals is history. We are real individuals, living with real material reality (which reflects the 18th primer). Furthermore, men are distinguished from animals in consciousness—when they begin to produce substances to live for themselves. We, humans, are distinguished because we produce ourselves: 1- in way we keep ourselves alive; 2-through sex, literally reproducing ourselves.

[side note: in terms of animal studies, these views are questionable. Animals have consciousness, produce means to live for themselves, keep themselves alive, and have sex to reproduce themselves. The argument might be made that Marxism can be applied to animals by analyzing animal’s base and superstructures since animals have rituals and “ideology” in a way, especially the more sophisticated primates and mammals]

Marx starts from material history—not ideas. [For example, texts, like everything else, are produced and determined by history and context, not freely shaped by ideas of an author. Those ideas an author has are shaped by his/her material reality and history]. Even the materiality of body affects the manner in which you think. If your body is being tortured, that will shape the way you think. If you are wearing certain clothing—fashionable clothing, tight clothing, comfortable clothing—will shape the way you think].

In terms of literary criticism: Some critics will look at author as if he/she didn’t exist in a certain historical moment. The critic examines the text in an idealist manner or non-materialist manner. Idealism—a way of thinking that divorces consciousness from history; 1-in the realm of which you fall down, scrape your knee, eat dinner, all of material history; 2- in the realm in which you think about this things (in 1) or imagine these things. Idealism believes these two points are separate.

Marxist critic believes, however, that an author is a product of his time and produced in a certain historical moment. The author, furthermore, is a producer of his time. An author takes raw materials (language, old texts, form, style, etc.) and will produce a story by transforming those material, creating a text. As in any production, a surplus remains that in Marxism is Signification: the text says more than the author meant to say because the text uses all these other voices, raw materials in its creation. Also, the text carries a tension between the author’s intention/meaning and the linguistic capacity of these other voices of the text.

A bourgeois critic thinks the author is to be found in the raw materials (the cotton) of the text, but a Marxist critic would say that the tension needs examination. The text becomes fissured, decentered. The text’s historical time dictates what the text can say so that there are certain things the text cannot say or even think. For a Marxist literary critic, the questions to explore are what is impossible for the text to say? What couldn’t the author say because of ideology? How does the text perform society?

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:http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/modes-of-reading-theory/id407477532

The class also has a blog: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/itunesu/entry/modes_of_reading/

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.

The introduction to the book, which outlines the main arguments:


Firmat assesses the “Latinization” of the United States that began, he posits, with Desi Arnez, que tenía tremenda personalidad. Arnez fue el modelo for Cuban (Latin) culture and provided Americans with an image of Cubanness. Firmat explores Arnez’s influence in shaping Cuban identity in order to theorize the immigrant experience and explore the development of what he terms the one and a halfers: los balseros of his generation who are both/neither fully Cubano and/nor fully gringo. His generation was born in and lived its adolescence in Cuba pero grew up in America, so they are able to embrace a Cuban identity while understanding and relating to American identity. These immigrants easily vacillate between both cultures and are able to speak, think, love, and pun, as Firmat puts it, in either English or Espanol, though usually in Spanglish.

While Firmat never uses the term, I would argue that the one and a halfers embody Baudrillard’s idea of simulacra—a copy of a copy, without original. Arnez becomes the copy of Cuban identity based on an empty model without original. Firmat describes one of his students conveying that the young man learned how to be un Cubanaso by watching Arnez. The one and a halfer, likewise, embody an Arnez Cubaness, which is an American constructed Cubanness. His generation’s identity seesaws between Anglo and Cuban cultures; what Firmat describes as neither Anglo nor Cuban but rather Cubanglo.

Firmat addresses three stages that the Cuban-American exile passes, as a group that is neither aquí nor allá. Substitution marks the first stage, and Miami became the Cuban-American simulacra where immigrant Cubans made Miami the substitution of Cuban culture. The nostalgic Cuba de ayer plays out in Miami’s Cuban restaurants and Domino Parkin an attempt to re-root uprooted identity. This recreation dissolves as Cuenica’s “This is not Havana” photograph reproduces the affects of Margritte’s “This is not a pipe,” to illustrate that the substitution is not the thing itself. With the realization of the empty substitution, the immigrant para de comiede meirda and falls into destitution, which Firmat elucidates means “no place to stand on.” The immigrant feels perdido—estranged with “nowhere” to call home. This feeling, after some time of Comiéndose un cable, gives way to institution. A new relationship forms between person and place. With nowhere but here, here becomes home. Firmat dice que the hyphen is not a minus sign but a plus sign; Cuban+Americans of his generation maneuver two identities.

I would argue that Firmat’s identity arises necessarily out of postmodern identity described by Lyotard: with the break down of grand narratives, identity springs from the mix of cultures across the globe. Lyotard describes (in my rough paraphrase) how someone eats Macdonalds, watches British TV, listens to music from Japan, drives a German car, and wears clothes from Italy. I would admit that Firmat’s ideas on identity are more complicated than what Lyotard outlines but there are similarities. Close to twenty years since this book, some of Firmat’s more political questions—the idea of return, the problem of identity in the face of going back to Cuba—might be outdated. Most Cubans in 2012 have given up the illusions of return; however, Firmat’s analysis of the one and a halfers manifest in much of the Cuban-American literature. Actual content aside—Cuban-American writing differs greatly as Borland and Bosch outline in Cuban-American Literature and Art: Negotiating Identities—nonetheless, many writers still write from the hyphen, borrowing aspect from both Cuban and gringo traditions in Firmat’s Cubanglo phrase. Much Cuban-American writing published after Firmat’s analysis, regardless of content, engages in Cubanglo culture: mixing, borrowing, embodying both sides of the hyphen in the manner Firmat states the one and a halfers are able to “give both ends of the hyphen their due.”