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REVIEWS Lee Baxandall & Stefan Morawski, eds. Marx and Engels on Art and Literature : A Selection of Writings. Telos Press, 1973. 175 pp. Price not given. Adolfo Sanchez Vasquez, Art and Society: Essays in Marxist Aesthetics. Monthly Review Press, 1973. 287 pp. $13.50. The new selection of the writings of Marx and Engels on aesthetics is a welcome event in the current revival of interest in the Marxist theory of art. This selection is more substantial than the earlier one of 1947, gives a broader representation to the aesthetic views of Marx and Engels and draws upon some of the hitherto unavailable sources. In place of the four classifications of the 1947 selection, the present selection has about nine heads with a section each on form and style, class values in literature and the origin of aesthetic sensibility. The introduction by Stefan Morawski is quite comprehensive and takes in the entire scope of the Marxist aesthetic theory. Vasquez's Art and Society, first published in Mexico in 1965, is perhaps the most daring attempt since Caudwell's writings of the thirties to present a complete statement of the Marxist aesthetic theory. It seeks to propose a human rather than a rigidly idological approach to art and, like Caudwell's work, raises some fundamental questions, such as the relationship of art to labour, of art and science, the hostility of capitalism to art, the problems of realism and the autonomy of art. On all these questions Vasquez displays a sharp critical intelligence and, while he draws upon the writings of early Marx, goes beyond them to handle questions particularly relevant to our own situation. Vasquez's starting point is the repudiation of all normative theories of art. Rejecting the purely ideological and formal conceptions of art (p. 40), he sees art as primarily a 'human creation' which exists in the creative power that it incarnates (p. 41). He firmly repudiates the neat reciprocity of the base-superstructure model and confirms the assertion of early Marx that art and society possess one in an uneven relationship. Art activity, says Vasquez, 'emphasizes the specifically human character of aesthetics in general ... by relating it to concrete, real and historical human beings and their practical, material activity' (p. 57). This statement steers clear of both the Hegelian concept of the aesthetic activity as an aspect of the 'unfolding of the Absolute Spirit' and the naive, sociological notions of art as a form of labour directly dependent upon productive relations. It establishes the autonomy of art and makes it relevant to man's creative activity as a whole. As he says, 'art has its own internal history which can only be ignored at the cost of the impoverishment of art' (p. 100). Yet the autonomy of art is not to be understood in terms of an idealist perspective, as in the writings of Wolfflin. In fact the external factors do operate in the manifestations of the art activity (p. 101). Though the artist does not create in response to external needs, he 'directs his energies to fully realize the objectification of the human being' 116 (p. 83). The trouble with the vulgar Marxist theory of art is that it has sought to knock the artistic activity into a procrustean mould of ideology, thereby making it subservient to 'normativism', which is characterized as the 'expression of a subjectivism that ends by congealing . . . the development of reality, of life itself (p. 108). Being a free activity, art constitutes a praxis in its own right whose validity qua art is not conditioned by the exigencies of time and place (p. 100). This assumption recognizes the need for art to objectify human creativesness even in a non-alienated social order. Such is the function that dissident art serves in Soviet society. Vasquez makes some useful distinctions that help us to understand his argument. He distinguishes between what he calls the 'humanized reality' that man makes and the 'human reality' 'radiating through humanized external reality and enriching our knowledge of men' (p. 33). The latter is the domain of art while the former is the domain of material labour. Vazquez, like many Marxist theoreticians before him, sees a complex relationship between...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 116-120
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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