Jonathan Wolstenholme

Marxism and Literature

Instructor: Rebecca Ariel Porte
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Literature and Marxism are neither stable nor static categories. From Marx’s preoccupations with Shakespeare to Leninist debates about the role of literature under communism to the contemporary theorist Sianne Ngai’s explorations of the aesthetics of advanced capitalism, Marxism and literature have shaped one another in complex and dynamic ways. Among many other things, Marxist critics have positioned literature as a window onto structures of class, political economy, feeling, totality, ideology, history, and contemporaneity; an alternative hegemony; a reactionary opiate; a challenge to coercive realities; the “roses” in “bread and roses”; a trick utopia; and a key to utopian possibility. Meanwhile, historical shifts in literary modes have goaded Marxist thought into a continual attempt to adapt its descriptions to account for what new forms have to say about the world that produced them. What do we gain, and what might we lose, from taking a materialist approach to literary study? How can we understand the relationship between Marxism and literature?

An introduction to the various, agonistic, and generative relationships between Marxism and literature, this course will offer a selection of entry-points into the major questions and debates of Marxist literary criticism.Our study will center on four concepts: history, ideology, mediation, and form—and questions of aesthetics and dialectics will be with us throughout. These will be some of our primary questions: In what sense is literature historical, and what can it tell us about history? What is ideology, and what role does literature play with respect to ideology? What do Marxist critics mean by mediation, and why has literature proven such a valuable instrument for theorizing mediation? What kinds of politics inhere in form, and is there, in form, anything that exceeds or escapes the political? What uses have Marxist critics found for different kinds of literary genres and forms, from realism and the novel to high modernism and poetry? How should we understand the tensions between different strains of Marxist literary criticism and theory and the stakes of these debates about making and receiving literature? The syllabus is likely to include some of the following figures: Theodor Adorno, Louis Althusser, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, Angela Davis, Barbara Foley, Antonio Gramsci, Fredric Jameson, György Lukács, Pierre Macherey, Karl Marx, Fred Moten, Sianne Ngai, Jean Starobinski, and Raymond Williams.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 08 — July 29, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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