Marxist Vocab and Discussion Questions
Marxist Vocab and Discussion Questions English 491-01 (3674)
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This 8 page Class Notes was uploaded by Courtney Notetaker on Tuesday February 23, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to English 491-01 (3674) at University of Louisville taught by Karen Hadley in Fall 2015. Since its upload, it has received 42 views. For similar materials see English Interpretive Theory in Foreign Language at University of Louisville.
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Date Created: 02/23/16
English 491 Karen Hadley from: Lois Tyson, Critical Theory Today: A UserFriendly Guide (Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, 2006) Ch. 3: Marxist Criticism Terminology (partial list): Basethe economy that holds power in society Superstructure Marxist theory, human society consists of two parts: the base (or substructure) and superstructure; the base comprehends the forces and relations of production—employeremployee work conditions, the technical division of labour, and property relations—into which people enter to produce the necessities and amenities. Material circumstances/Historical situation Bourgeoisie“the high class who are in control of the means of production” Proletariat“the working classthey preform the duties, they make the high class rich. They are the labor” Underclass/lower class/middle class/upper class/“aristocracy” Ideologybelief system that is a product of cultural conditioning The American dreamit is the financial success, which is the product of initiative and hard work; the drive to get ahead based on competition. “Anyone could do it.” Marxism conflicts with the American dream; if the poor you are automatically lazy and purposeless. Marxists believe that the American dream is pointless because our efforts to get ahead only put money into the bourgeoisie. Capitalism (capitalist economy/barter econom y)an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. False consciousness especially in Marxist theory) a way of thinking that prevents a person from perceiving the true nature of their social or economic situation. Classism prejudice against or in favor of people belonging to a particular social class. Patriotism patriotism is a noun that means love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it. If you're full of patriotism, you're full of love for your country. Religion a particular system of faith and worship. Rugged individualism It refers to the idea that each individual should be able to help themselves out, and that the government does not need to involve itself in people's economic lives nor in national economics in general. Consumerism the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers Alienated labor the process whereby the worker is made to feel foreign to the products of his/her own labor. Commodity/Commodification means that it has exchange value or sign exchange value, but not necessarily use value. English 491/Hadley Question: Why do we study Marxist criticism now that the Communist Bloc in Europe has failed, thereby proving that Marxism is not a viable theory? Question: What would Marxist critics say about the preceding chapter on psychoanalytic criticism? They would say that in the psychoanalytic theory childhood/environment would affect the way you turn out ex: core issues. Marx would say you had a rough childhood because of the economy. Question: Why don’t the economically oppressed fight back? The poor are struggling to make ends meet to rise up. They are too busy trying to sustain their life, may not have the education, etc. They are subject to the false consciousness of the American Dream. Question: How do repressive ideologies prevent us from understanding the material/historical conditions in which we live? Patriotism, you wont see the top 1% working in the military. The working class are the soldiers, the disadvantaged, etc. The government and politicians can gain $ from war. Question: Why is it that in political matters, the middle class generally sides with the wealthy against the poor (with whom they have more in common economically)? The money in the middle class is being taken out in taxes for the poor. They are trying to distance themselves from the poor. Blinded by the American dream which tells them that they are working to better their lives/finances, and that the poor are lazy and shiftless, therefore they identify with the rich, because that’s what they are working to. Question: How does the American dream enlist the support of all Americans, even of those who fail to achieve it, in promoting the interests of those in power? Lois Tyson, Critical Theory Today: A UserFriendly Guide (Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, 1999) Ch. 3 Marxist Criticism Note usefulness of Marxist theory today, even after the fall of the Communist Bloc countries: there never really has been a true Marxist society; also, even if there were and all had failed, the theory would still give us a meaningful way to understand history and current events. The Fundamental Premises of Marxism 50.) For Marxism, getting and keeping economic power is the motive behind all social and political activities . . . thus, economics is the base upon which the superstructure of social/political/ideological realities is built. Economic power therefore always includes social and political power as well. Economic conditions are referred to as material circumstances, and the social/political/ideological atmosphere generated by material conditions is called the historical situation. . . . 50.) theoretical ideas can be judged to have value only in terms of their concrete applications, only in terms of the applicability to the real world. From a Marxist perspective, differences in socioeconomic class divide people in ways that are much more significant than differences in religion, race, ethnicity, and gender. . . real battle lines are drawn between the bourgeoisie—those who control the world’s natural, economic, and human resources—and the proletariat, the majority of the global population which live in substandard conditions and who have always performed the manual labor . . . that fills the coffers of the rich. (see bourgeoisie [noun] vs. bourgeois [adjective]) The Class System in America 52.) Posit five groups in America as the underclass, lower class, middle class, upper class, and “aristocracy” . . . Question of the middle class: they benefit from institutionalized forms of economic security, such as good medical insurance and pension plans, but they shoulder an enormous (and, many would argue, unfair) tax burden relative to their income. Q: Why don’t the economically oppressed fight back? (answer next section: ideology) The Role of Ideology For Marxism, an ideology is a belief system, that is, a product of cultural conditioning . . . 53) though not all ideologies are equally productive or desirable. Undesirable ideologies promote repressive political agendas and, in order to ensure their acceptance among the citizenry, pass themselves off as natural ways of seeing the world instead of acknowledging themselves as ideologies. By posing as natural ways of seeing the world, repressive ideologies prevent us from understanding the material/historical conditions in which we live because they refuse to acknowledge that those conditions have any bearing on the way we see the world. . . all [Marxists] agree that the most successful ideologies are not recognized as ideologies but are thought to be natural ways of seeing the world by the people who subscribe to them. The middle class tends to resent the poor because so much middleclass tax money goes to government programs to help the poor. However, the middle class fails to realize two important socioeconomic realities: 1.) that it is the wealthy who decide how the money will be spent, and 2.) that the poor receive but a small portion of the funds earmarked for them because so much of it goes, through kickbacks and “creative” bookkeeping, into the pockets of the wealthy who control our social services and the middleclass employees who administer them. . . . the middle class is blinded by their belief in the American dream, which tells them that financial success is simply the product of initiative and hard work. Therefore, if some people are poor, it is because they are shiftless and lazy. American belief in “getting ahead” is the belief in competition as a natural or necessary mode of being. [see also Darwinian survival of the fittest, all as part of the American dream. And yet, Marxist analysis reveals that the American dream is an ideology, a belief system, not an innate or natural way of seeing the world. . . the success of the American dream—the acquisition of a wealthy lifestyle for a few—rests on the misery of the many. . . . the power of ideology blinds us to these realities. 55.) def. False consciousness: when an ideal functions to mask its own failure, it is a false ideal whose real purpose is to promote the interests of those in power. Q for Marxists re. America: “How does the American dream enlist the support of all Americans, even of those who fail to achieve it, in promoting the interests of those in power?” A: American dream holds open the possibility that anyone can win. . . the power of the American dream to mask material/historical reality is such that it can invoke an America for whom class doesn’t matter and plunk that ideology down right in the middle of an American whose class system is too complex to map. . . Def. Classism: an ideology that equates one’s value as a human being with the social class to which one belongs: the higher one’s social class, the better one is assumed to be because quality is inborn. Def. Patriotism: an ideology that keeps poor people fighting wars against poor people from other countries, while the rich on both sides rake in the profits of wartime economy. Because it leads the poor to see themselves as members of a nation . . . rather than as members of a worldwide oppressed class, opposed to all privileged classes including those from their own country, patriotism prevents the poor from banding together to improve their condition globally. Religion, which Karl Marx called the “opiate of the masses,” is an ideology that helps to keep the faithful poor satisfied with their lot in life, or at least tolerant of it, much as a tranquilizer might do. The question of God’s existence is not the fundamental issue for Marxist analysis; rather, what human beings do in God’s name—organized religion—is the focus. [those who own the wealth have a vested interest in promoting the belief that the poor, if they remain nonviolent, will find their reward in heaven. Rugged individualism: an ideology that keeps the focus on “me” instead of on “us,” thus working against class action and giving us the illusion that we make our own decisions and are not significantly influenced by ideology. Consumerism: an ideology that says I’m only as good as what I buy: gives the illusion that I can be “as good as” the wealthy, and fills the coffers of wealthy manufacturers who also reap the 1520% interest on my creditcard purchases. 57.) Our goal, as Marxist critics, is to identify the ideology at work in cultural productions—literature, film, painting, music, television programs, commercial advertisements, education, popular philosophy, religion, forms of entertainment, and so on—and to analyze how that ideology supports or undermines the socioeconomic system (the power structure) in which that cultural production plays a significant role. . . . culture in the narrower sense is the primary bearer of ideology because it reaches so many people in what seems to be an innocent form: entertainment. Human Behavior, the Commodity, and the Family 58.) Marx himself began as a social psychologist, [observing that factory workers] produced such large quantities of products, none of which bore a mark of their individual contribution, became dissociated not only from the products they produced but from their own labor as well, and he noted the debilitating effects of what he called alienated labor on the laborer and on the society as a whole. For Marxism, a commodity’s value lies not in what it can do (use value) but in the money or other commodities for which it can be traded (exchange value) or in the social status it confers on its owner (signexchange value). An object becomes a commodity only when it has exchange value or signexchange value, and both forms of value are determined by the society in which the object is exchanged. . . . 59.) If I purchase and display costly goods or services excessively in order to impress people with my wealth, I am guilty of conspicuous consumption. From a Marxist perspective, because the survival of capitalism, which is a market economy, depends on consumerism, it promotes signexchange value as our primary mode of relating to the world around us. 6061.) Capitalism’s constant need for new markets in which to sell goods and for new sources of raw materials from which to make goods is also responsible for the spread of imperialism: the military, economic, and/or cultural domination of one nation by another for the financial benefit of the dominating nation with little or no concern for the welfare of the dominated. 60.) def.: to colonize the consciousness of subordinate peoples means to convince them to see their situation the way the imperialist nation wants them to see it, to convince them, for example, that they are mentally/spiritually/culturally inferior to their conquerors and that their lot will be improved under the “guidance” and “protection” of their new leaders. Marxism’s concern with human psychology overlaps with that of psychoanalysis: both disciplines study human behavior and motivation in psychological terms. However, while psychoanalysis focuses on the individual psyche and its formation with the family, Marxism focuses on the material/historical forces—the politics and ideologies of socioeconomic systems—that shape the psychological experience and behavior of individuals and groups. . . . 61.) while psychoanalytic critics examine the family conflicts and psychological wounds that determine individual behavior, Marxist critics examine that same behavior as a product of the ideological forces carried, for example, by film, fashion, art, music, education, and law.
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