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Christopher Norris IMAGE AND PARABLE: READINGS OF WALTER BENJAMIN Marxist literary criticism is a house with many mansions, most of diem claiming a privileged access to the great central chamber of history and truth. Only the most blinkered polemicist could nowadays attack "Marxist criticism" as if it presented a uniform front or even a clearly delineated target. Differences of oudook have developed to a point where debates within Marxism are often more highly charged and polarized man anything brought to bear by its downright opponents. These differences will seem a crippling liability only from the viewpoint of a hard-line determinist creed which insists both on the rightness of its own reductive methodology and on a one-track notion of historical necessity and reason. The alternative, as New Left theorists have argued, is to examine the diversity of present-day Marxist thinking and show how its manifold traditions take rise from various backgrounds of political and cultural development. Perry Anderson's Considerations on Western Marxism is one such attempt to "situate" the work of thinkers like Sartre, Almusser, and Adorno in terms of their beleaguered position as left intellectuals outside the active mainstream of any revolutionary movement.1 Another example is Terry Eagleton's Criticism and Ideology, a book which sets out to rethink the bases of a Marxist-theoretical approach to English literary history.2 Eagleton, like Anderson, takes it as axiomatic that no such critique can get underway without first coming to terms with the problems and dilemmas which others have faced in trying to make new sense of a communal enterprise. For Eagleton this means a diagnostic treatment of the gaps and significant sUences which have marked the texts of those — like Arnold or Leavis — engaged in a class-based mystification ofliterary history and values. The critique extends to what Eagleton sees as the inbuilt problems of a homespun British Marxism, whedier of the crudely determinist variety (Caudwell) or the "left-Leavisite" amalgam of radical mêmes and traditionalist assumptions represented by Raymond Williams. Eagleton's approach lays claim to a power of unmasking die 15 16Philosophy and Literature latent ideology at work both in literary and critical texts. Ramer than simply collapse that distinction — as desired by the current post-structuralists, with whom he is wholly out of sympadiy — Eagleton strives to articulate the different structures and relations of discourse which situate criticism vis-à-vis literary history. He proposes a Marxist "science of the text" which would bring out its ideological modes of production, inscribed in the twists and unconscious blind-spots of meaning where a project comes up against its own impossibility. Criticism "deconstructs" the literary text, but not (like the Yale deconstructors) with a view to breaking down all possible distinctions between literature and commentary, merging both in the infinite freeplay of signs. For Eagleton there is indeed a knowledge of die text which stands at a definite remove from its object, just as literature itself"works" and transforms the raw stuffoflived ideology, mus offering it up to critical knowledge. Eagleton's theory of literary production was worked out in response to a powerful new current of Marxist thought, associated mainly with the French philosopher Louis Akhusser. What mis program involved, very briefly, was a rigorous re-reading of Marx's texts, aimed at defining their precise theoretical structure and die place within mem of such concepts as "knowledge," "ideology," and "structure" itself. Only thus could Marxist science attain the clarity and grasp of its own first principles which would set it apart from other, deviant or "ideological" discourses. This meant drawing a firm critical line (or "epistemological break") between the early, humanist Marx and the later productions —including Das Kapital— where his thought took on the full rigor of its scientific basis. Such a theory, in Althusser^ words, "makes it possible to distinguish a word from a concept, to distinguish the existence or non-existence of a concept behind a word, to discern the existence of a concept by a word's function in the dieoretical discourse . . . ." 3 This structuralist reading of the Marxist text is intended as an immanent critique, a means of salvaging the essential Marx from fhose elements in his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 15-31
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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