Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Marxism and liberal humanism are incongruent. And not just because Marxism makes me angry while liberal humanism and I are on decent terms.

Marxism responds violently (if not in a whiney way) to many of the ideas offered by liberal humanism. One of liberal humanism's basic tenets speaks of essential and unique individuality. Marxism denies this on several levels. It contends that there is no human nature (as theory tends to) and that our "essence" is simply the markings on a blank slate made by culture and politics, which in turn are both influenced by the economy. Art, then, is also influenced by these entirely materialistic factors. Liberal humanism argues that literature can bring us to human nature while Marxism argues that literature --- while perhaps not completely confined to the base-superstructure model --- can tell us no such thing, as no such thing exists. All it can show is a reflection of the text's cultural influence. And damn that culture if it's capitalist, the theory at least likes to hint with a wink and a nod.


Kate said...

I added you to my blogroll. Since I often ponder many theories as well, it seemed like a sensible match.

Anyways, I absolutely agree with your analysis. I don't really feel like basic liberal humanism or Marxism really is able to fully capture the essence of literature's relation to human nature. But then again, you already know how I feel about Marxism as we just had a lengthy discussion about it!

City Slicker said...

I too find that I better relate with the liberal humanist perspective. In high school, I had always been taught that "great literature" was defined by timeless themes and addressed universal ideas about human nature. Thus, it proves difficult for me to break from this perspective as it has been drilled into my head time and time again. Yet while I feel as though I better relate to liberal humanism I also find that I agree with much of what Marx has to say in regards to why we are the way we are. I think that to deny that our actions are influenced by our culture would be a naive assumption to make. At the same time, I also find it troubling that politics, culture and society have these underlying ways of making us think we have free will when in fact our thoughts are not free at all. You specifically make reference to society's influence on art...however I question what marxist critics would say about individuals like Michael Moore who create cinema (a form of art) which specifically challenges society...any thoughts?

Mr. Ree said...

I actually very much so agree with Marx's ideas regarding why we are the way we are and do not personally believe in concepts of the soul. I believe that we do all have an individuality but that that individuality is shaped by other forces. What I take issue with is Marxist politics and socialist realism, and that leads to snide comments here and there. As an aside, I'm beginning to think that it's absolutely possible to be a hardcore capitalist who considers him/herself a Marxist theorist, and find that pretty interesting.

As for Moore, is it fair to call what he does art if we're not going to classify non-fiction books as literature?