More notes on the idea of Marxism–with a nod to neo-marxist:

Althusser believes that capitalism doesn’t solely determine relations. The base and superstructure are engaged in dialectic so that changes in the superstructure can affect the base. For example, changes in the ways we think about marriage can change things at the base, such as sexual relationships, which have changed over time.

Marx (and Engels) invert the Hegelian dialectic—rather than start from abstract ideas (master-slave), Marx starts with material world. The base is the economic base, the modes of production, the relations of production, the forces of production (technology, etc). The superstructure is culture and ideology. The question is: what relationship exist between these two?

Ideology distorts reality, and in a hegemony, ideology operates by way of consent. The distinction in ideology between communist Russia and the U.S.A. is that in Russia people were not free but knew it. In the U.S. people are not free but fail to notice.

The U.S. doesn’t know it isn’t free because, according to Althusser, of ISA-Ideological State Apparatuses that make us think we are free, individual thinkers, when we are not.

Every child goes through a social production, and the ultimate form of production are the conditions for reproduction; that is, social formation that will keep reproducing itself. Soceity reproduces itself through ISA, such as religion, schools, family, legal system—all of culture. All these things that are in place to make you a good, normal, conforming citizen with religion and education as the biggest ones in place to make sure society reproduces itself.

“To be a subject is also to be subjected”

Marx wants to examine this ideology and change it so that the worker is no longer exploited.

Capitalism is built on production, so the people who own the means of production exploit the worker. Perpetually, capitalism builds its wealth on unfair premises: it pays the worker as little as it can get away with—Marx argues this system does not work.

Part of the problem arises out of capitalist practices that determine values in society. For instance:

Use-value: value an object has because of its use—the value an object has that you are willing to put in labor into it to create it.
Vs.
Exchange-value: arbitrary value placed on object (such as gold). A pound of gold against a pound of iron where iron is useful and gold is not, but someone, somehow, put more value on gold. The ruling class determines the value of an object that has nothing to do with its actual use-value.

These values have ramifications for consciousness in dialectical materialism; for example:

A farmer has a rake and a hose an the land to grow crops, harvest, and sell them. Then trackers are invented, which means less work for the farmer, but you need people to make a tractor. Now you have people working in a tractor factory to make money to buy the food that the tractor is used to harvest, instead of just growing the food yourself. Then to make things go faster, one worker tightens three screws on the tractor, and that is all he does. To save money, the factory makes robots to tighten screws, but now you need factories to make robots to make tractors to make the food that you are making robots for in order to make money to buy the food. One idea creates a need for the next idea, but sometimes the ideas contradict.

This line of ideas create alienation; the worker is alienated from the product and from the original goal. In alienation, all relations among people become monetary and cease to be human, rather merely a relation between labor.

Where the farmer would make food and trade it for goods, now someone makes tightens one screw on a robot that makes a tractor to harvest food, and the factory worker has no idea what his finished product looks like or what it is used for.

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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?

I finally read the infamous A Clockwork Orange, a book that more people can talk about, but that few have actually read. They aren’t missing a whole lot.

The book displays a mastery of language, employing and inventing a futuristic slang, mixing Russian with English—an irony of two opposing ideologies merging together. Stylistically, Burgess created a masterful dystopian universe and tackled some complicated issues of violence, aesthetics, free will, and the connection of these issue in a moral universe.

The protagonist Alex only loves classical music more than he does extreme and arbitrary violence. After letting his hubris get the best of him, Alex’s friends betray him at an old woman’s house filled with cats. Alex breaks in to rape and rob the old woman, but he slips on a saucer, the cats and the old woman attack him, and his friends knock him out and leave him to be arrested by the police.

The state sentences Alex to fourteen years in prison. While there, he befriends a chaplain that allows Alex to play the music during mass and introduces Alex to the Bible—Alex identifies with Jesus’s captors and torturers and enjoys the violence. The prison becomes overcrowded and Alex has a confrontation with a fellow inmate and Alex ends up killing the man.

The state decides it will use Alex for a new program they have. Alex is injected with something and forced to watch hours of horribly violent films, which cause him to have a physical reaction of nausea and sickness, along with fear and anxiety. Eventually cured (after two weeks), he leaves and finds himself in a different world. The state has cleaned up crime on the streets, and Alex can no longer defend himself since he cannot even think about violence without getting sick.

He goes home and finds his room has been rented out. He ends up at a library trying to research ways to kill himself peacefully, where he meets a man who Alex had robbed and abused. The old man and his friends attack Alex and the police are called; however, the police are his old rival and his old droog, Dim, who betrayed him earlier. They take Alex out to the country where they beat him senseless. Alex ends up at a home where he raped a writer’s wife (the dude’s book was called “Clockwork Orange”). The writer is a dissident who wants to use Alex as a pawn against the government. The writer’s friends take Alex to an apartment and lock him in. He wakes up to classical music, which now reminds him of violence and he gets so crazy he jumps out of a window.

At the hospital, Alex is “cured” and realizes he can fantasize about horrendous shit again without getting sick. The government, in a moment of p.r. with elections coming up, make a big show about curing Alex and offer him a great job and a stereo. Alex rejoices in knowing he will return to his old criminal life while accepting this job—the writer was going to kill him anyway, so everything really works out for Alex. (The American version ends here)—the British version has a final chapter where Alex is older, and while he has a new gang, he begins to lose his taste for violence. He runs in to one of his old droogs, who is married and working now, which further makes Alex realize that all his violence was childish.

One of the central themes of the book is the necessity of free will for good and evil. If the state “cures” Alex, making him incapable of even choosing to commit crimes, then he cannot be good. Much of the commentary I’ve seen discusses this central concern: the text’s examination of free will and good, claiming, correctly I believe, that good only exist if we have free will. My problem with all this talk of free will is Alex’s characterization. If Alex has no capacity for shame or guilt, is that free will? How can Alex chose good if he doesn’t even know what good is? Grant it, that might be a weak argument: he knows what good is; he manipulates people in a knowledgeable way. Alex views violence as an art form, and he reveals his sense of violence as art, claiming some things wrong and something correct when it comes to inflicting violence; however, when one feels no remorse, no guilt, no empathy, that person is a psychopath, an the idea of free will and choice is skewed. When the doctors tell Alex, “What is happening to you now is what should happen to any normal healthy human organism contemplating the actions of the forces of evil, the workings of principles of destruction. You are being made sane, you are being made healthy” (Norton Critical Edition 71), they are partially correct. Alex has no sense of remorse at all for the violence he inflict; not even when he is helped by F. Alexander, knowing the women he raped died because of it. Alex feels no remorse at the violence he inflicted on the old man at the library—Alex is a psychopath, and the normal rules of society, or free will, apply to him.

Furthermore, these readings arguing for Alex’s lost free will overlook his suicide attempt, his choice to not tell F. Alexander that he(Alex) was the criminal who two years earlier broke in and raped his (F.) wife. Alex lies, purposefully and with malicious intent. While Burgess says “Goodness is nothing if evil is not accepted as a possibility” (135), I would also argue that evil is nothing if goodness is not accepted as a possibility.

Nonetheless, the novel displays the government as the ultimate psychopath, unrelenting in its manipulations, without remorse for its victims. The state uses Alex and the thugs to patrol the streets and keep common people scared and indoors, and then later, the state hires those thugs as police. On this point, the novel does an excellent job of revealing the ironies of a totalitarian regime.

But now this is all much too much to review later when I study for comps…

George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House fashions itself in the Russain tradition according to its author, but the humor aptly employs classic British understatement for its humor, and the play’s subtle sarcasm reminds me of an Oscar Wilde work.

Hesione Hushabye invites Ellie Dunn, her fiancé, and her father over for dinner to the house that Hesione’s father, Captain Shotover, built, resembling a ship. Before the dinner begins, Hesione’s sister, who had been away for years, arrives, supposedly unrecognized by her father, who might be crazy but highly intuitive. Throughout the play, the house affects all the characters in peculiar ways, revealing that all the characters are the opposite of the image they project.

The play takes place on the eve of WWI, and according to Shaw, reflects the debased society of British society that lead to war. The characters are all superficial in their way, liars, scoundrels, easily manipulated.

I believe the play informs the Lacanian symbolic space and the other. The characters mask, who they present to the world, breaks down, and the breakdown represents the breakdown of society as a whole, which leads to WWI. Zizek explains here.

We need to keep the illusion of the symbolic space, even if we all know the truth behind the illusion, in order to maintain a civil society. The play breaks down this space; the characters deny the pleasantries of knowing someone is a bad person but not pretending s/he actually is.


Richard Rodriguez deftly captures the experience of growing up between cultures. Reading about his childhood, I felt a great affinity with many of the struggles he went through, while also realizing the stark differences, which reflects what this book manages well: tension.

Rodriguez establishes a tension between his private and public life and the manner in which his education blurred that line, separating him from his family and his past. He realizes that his ability to write an autobiography in this essay format for the “gringos,” he reveals his rupture from his past: “In singing the praise of my lower-class past, I remind myself of my separation from that past, bring memory to silence” (6). Rodriguez explores his education in order to discern his alienation from his family, a result of mixing private and public selves, represented in language.

As a child growing up, he spoke a private language with his family, Spanish; opposed to his public language, the language, English, he learned in school. This tension runs throughout the book, even when he explores the tension in the old, Latin Catholic mass–a private experience between the individual and God– and the new liturgy in English with the hand shaking and the congregation pronouncing the prayers with the priest– a communal experience.

Ultimately, though, the desire for authority, represented in the old mass, and his views on affirmative action, while thought provoking, slow down the narrative essays and present a Rodriguez cut off from his past (something he readily admits), ultra conservative, and at times, pedantically pretentious.

Rather than feel too privileged and over-educated to relate to the less privileged, Rodriguez might find that empathy and imagination, two essentials for any writer, might take him a long way. While I respect his acknowledgment of never being able to relate to poor migrant workers, he might empathize more and find ways to relate and help the less fortunate. At the same time, I can also respect how he doesn’t offer any concrete solutions to complicated problems.

Nightwood presents the narrative of people’s heartbreaking. The main character, Robin Vote, leaves broken hearts behind her the way the heartbroken leaves tissues and empty Ben and Jerry’s behind. The story begins with Baron Felix Volkbein’s history–all fake, which he attempts to uphold,because family name and European traditions define his (false) identity, and he believes that marrying Robin and siring an heir will keep his legacy alive. Robin gives birth to Guido and realizes that she desires something different from life, so she spends her nights away in debauchery and distracting herself with various affairs. Finally, she moves to America and shacks up with Nora Flood, who fails to hold Robin’s attention, who feels driven by the conflicts of “love and anonymity,” spending her time debauching and in elicit affairs away from home while Nora waits for her. During one such night Robin meets Jenny Petherbridge, a widow four times over, who “gains happiness by stealing the joy of others.” Jenny turns her attention to stealing Robin away from Nora, and succeeds. In her despair, Nora (like Felix before her) turns to the counsel of Dr. Matthew O’Connor to recover from the loss of Robin.

The doctor reminds me of a darker version of something Oscar Wilde might imagine. Matthew’s speciality is stories; he expertly weaves stories that help the people who seek his consul until the end of the novel after Nora unloads on him and he turns to alcohol to forget. His monologues present an interesting mediation on love and heartbreak and memory and death and desire– his locution amazes.

The novel ends with Nora back in America, camping in a forest with her dog, near Robin, who wanders the forest and ends up at an abandoned church. Nora’s dog gets away and Nora goes after it; the dog ends up leading Nora to the church where she finds Robin kneeling before an alter. In a mad fit, Robin sprints towards the door knocking Nora unconscious. Robin plays with the dog until she falls asleep.

Many critics discuss this novel as a mediation on heartbreak and love, but the love here is selfish and violent. Robin’s love manipulates her lovers, Nora’s heartbreak results from ego, Felix gives his love as part of a lie– the characters are misguided, selfish people who engage in love that fixes their object of love in an image and results in heartbreak when the object of love breaks the image. Robin is a spoiled brat, an Nora is a spineless nitwit. The doctor, the biggest lier of all, manages to know himself better than anyone else in the novel.

Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
-James Joyce, Ulysses

Jose did not eat with relish the inner organs of fowls. Maybe he should have used relish to mask the taste.

Burnt sand.

Maybe he should have battered and fried it, but the liver tastes like burnt sand. The texture is crunchy and plastic and not awful but not good.

He wondered if he ruled out the possibility of pleasure because it put up a wall in front of his openness to the experience. How can he describe the taste, which must be subjective since people eat this all the time and like it? This meat brings no pleasure to his palate, and if Taste comes to provide the chief analogy by which the apprehension of the beautiful and of fine artistic qualities and even social style is explicated, then this taste in his mouth can be used to describe the ugly.

Shit.

Not literally shit, but what he imagines the word “shit” taste like. Not actual shit, which can be guessed by the general smell and look. No, liver tastes like what the word “shit” might taste like or the word “yuck.” As the piece of organ hits his tongue there is not the initial taste he expected, which was a taste of blood and urine. (Maybe because Bloom describes his kidney as tasting of urine). He has to chew and chew because the texture is plastic. He chews quickly so the experience can be over. This is the opposite of mindfulness.

His mind thinks of the other choices he contemplated. Cover your heart, Indy.

He is glad he passed on the chicken hearts. It was more from the ignorance of how to cook them than from aversion to them although he does have an aversion to them. Disgust wasn’t the right word, but it was the first word that came to mind.

“What food grosses you out?” he asked the tall blond sitting across the table from him.
They were in a fancy burger joint; the kind of place with buffalo burgers, turkey burgers, tuna burgers, and a choice between angus or prime meat.

James Joyce’s Ulysses played in his head because he kept noticing just how much food comes up in the novel. Also, he had to write about a food he dislikes. He mistook the instructions of eating one food he hated and amplified those instructions to eating a food that he finds gross. Jose did not eat with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He preferred the outer body and fat of beast and fowl—maybe an occasional rib or wing of beast or fowl.
“Crickets,” she said without hesitation.

“Ya, I think eating any bug would be gross, but that seems too obvious. So why crickets?” he asked as he took a bite from a pulled pork eggroll. She made a face and began to explain: “Because… they have all those legs and those weird eyes. It is grossing me out just thinking about it.” She took a slow bite from her eggroll after looking at it to make sure it was pulled pork and not cricket.

“It’s interesting what we think of as gross. If you think about it, bugs eat leaves and stuff, so they’re pretty clean.”
“Maybe if it didn’t look like a cricket, I could eat it. But I couldn’t do it if I was putting all those legs in my mouth” she repeating the ritual of looking at her food before eating it. Jose thought about how the food we eat doesn’t look like the animal it comes from. The only time he has ever seen the actual animal he is eating is when his family cooks a whole pig for the holidays or a big event.

They sipped some beer and made small talk about life. Jose thought about what he could eat that he finds gross. And maybe a part of him wanted to rationalize how eating an insect would be too obvious. He was too grossed out at the thought of trying to eat with relish an insect. Where would he even find a cooked insect? He thought if he could find a chocolate covered worm, then maybe he would be brave enough to stuff that down his gullet.

“I think I am going to recreate the Ulysses episode where Bloom buys, cooks, and eats a kidney, and I’ll accompany it with some gizzard” he thought aloud.

“You think this pork is cooked all the way through?” she said.

The next day Jose checked what he had written down for the assignment:
Response Paper:

Eat 2 foods
One that appeals to you
Never tasted
One food you hate

He wondered how accurate his notes were. If all he had to do was eat a food he hates, he would go down to the butcher, as Bloom does, and ask the guy for some mutton kidney.
But the butcher didn’t have mutton kidney—or any kidneys.

“What about liver?” Jose asked since liver is an inner organ of fowl.
“We got some chicken liver over there” the butcher said pointing Jose in the direction of his breakfast for the morning. Jose looked forward to the second part of the assignment.

It taste like good poetry. Silky and smooth like violets or roses. It taste like the word “sin.”

“Are you a fan of desserts?” He asked the Ulysees reading brunette sitting across from him at the coffee shop.

“Oh ya, I like desserts better than I like food; I just don’t have them often.”
He couldn’t think of a food that appeals to him that he hadn’t tasted. If something appeals to him, he is going to try to eat it. However, living so close to Bern’s steakhouse, he thought that indulging in a dessert he had never eaten would qualify as something that appeals to him he has never tasted:

Dulce de Leche Liquid Center Cake 11.00
A rich dark chocolate cake filled with dulce de leche, and served with vanilla bean ice cream and dark chocolate sauce.

The first bite was just chocolate cake accompanied by cold, creamy ice cream and warm chocolate sauce. He thought creamy is the word ice cream taste like. And sticky sweet is the word for chocolate sauce. He thought “heaven” does not apply to desserts, which are too sinful and decadent to be associated with a savior begotten from a virgin.

The next bite was perfect: a combination of the smooth, sticky texture of sweet dulce de leche, surrounded by a moist chocolate cake with a side of cool ice cream and sauce—the texture changed from sticky to moist to the hard cold of ice cream until all the textures and tastes mixed together to form a perfect utopia in my mouth. With more room to describe this experience, he would describe the private booths with their private music, he would describe the brunettes face as she closes her eyes in that thing we all do when we taste something so good we try to deny ourselves all our other senses to concentrate on just taste and smell. If he had more room to describe things, he would relate these private booths for eating this decadent food as an extension of Glenn Kuehn’s essay about sinful food.

But it’s time for lunch…