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Marxist Literary Theory

Updated on July 9, 2012

In Literary Criticism, Bressler explicates Marxist literary theory as an approach that takes into consideration a text’s historical time period, the author’s experiences, the culture of the time, and the socio-economic issues of the time. The economic system seems to be of the utmost importance to Marxist theorists who believe that the economy directly influences a society’s ideologies and institutions. Marxists focus on the class differences and social relationships between the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. The bourgeoisie have the control over a society’s ideology enabling them to oppress the proletariats.

A Russian Marxist, Plekhanov argued that artists “best serve society and promote social betterment when their art and societal concerns intersect.” He seemed to argue that art shouldn’t just reflect culture and society, but should also influence society towards progress. It is interesting how Russian Marxism later transmuted into Stalin’s retaining only propaganda writers. The Frankfurt school of Marxist critics argued that art cannot be a purely aesthetic activity in relation to human consciousness. On one hand, I agree since artists’ work is a part of the market and artists need money. On the other hand, art may still be art whether it is in the traditional marketplace or not.

Althusser proclaimed that art can be used as a revolutionary tool by proletariats to overcome the bourgeoisie’s dominant culture. When considering all the writing and art that occurred during the French Revolution, I think Althusser might be correct.


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