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Molière and Marx: Prospects for a New Century James F. Gaines OF ALL THE AVATARS OF STRUCTURALISM that fueled the critical imagination during the third quarter of this century, none now seems more doomed than Marxism. The social-philosophical colossus that once commanded respect from worldwide scholars (in many cases, all too literally) finds itself banned in Russia, micro-miniaturized in Western Europe, and forgotten like a dimestore turtle in Asia, as Deng Chaiao-Ping uses his last breath to revive the merchant class and Castro holds photo-ops with the Chevaliers du taste-vin. The former reverend fathers of leftist thought, like Louis Althusser, and their fellow travelers, including Sartre and Foucault, are bespattered with the shame of little murders, club-footed deceptions, and careless propagation not of revolution, but of the AIDS virus. Yet at the very time when Marxism seems to have attained its absolute nadir, there may be some sense in examining a kind of intellectual counter-investment strategy, returning to see if there are any salvageable elements amid the rubble of its onceproud towers. To recapitulate historically—for that, after all, was one of its great watchwords—the impetus for Marxist criticism of seventeenth-century literature did not come primarily from Marx himself, whose literary pronouncements are mainly limited to cryptic passages in the German Ideology, where notions about the secondary role of literature as a product of ideology are associated with an odd collective concept of the process of early modern artistic creation.1 Nor were seventeenth-century studies much indebted to Engels, nor Lenin, nor even Revolutionary-era writers like Gorky or Mayakovsky, whose views were largely framed by the dichotomy between decadence and utilitarian futurism, but to Stalinist -era thinkers like Boris Porchnev.2 Although mainly a social historian, Porchnev influenced subsequent Marxist images of the century of Louis XIV by laying down the broad outlines of class straggle, in which authoritarian monarchs played off a haughty, but extravagant and ineffectual nobility against a greedy bourgeoisie , with the help of a nefarious and frequently homicidal clergy, while all of the above exploited a downtrodden mass of peasants. One Vol. XXXVI, No. 1 21 L'Esprit Créateur problem with the official party line was that it left little room for literature , since writing was lumped together with the rest of art as a frivolous superstructural indulgence or worse, and the "popular" element in seventeenth-century literature was so restricted that even highly motivated communists seldom bestirred themselves to seek it out.3 In light of recent historical research, we also know today that much of Porchnev's paradigm was faulty: even the peasant revolts which he highlighted, far from anticipating proletarian action, were more often than not fomented by nobles or burghers and grafted onto concepts of a (horrors!) religious or spiritual nature. More creative readings than Porchnev's were, it is true, being formulated by marginalized leftists such as Bakhtin and Bulgakov, but their works would have to await the end of the Stalin, and in some cases Khrushchev, eras before becoming widely known, even in the communist world. It is significant that the greatest opus of Marxist literary structuralism , Lucien Goldmann's Le Dieu caché (Paris: Gallimard, 1959), adopted a much more subtle "genetic" approach that sought to link class origins indirectly with intellectual expression through the mediating factor of ideology, which he called "la vision du monde." Unfortunately, Goldmann's fascination with Pascal's and Racine's participation in the Jansenist experience led him to a tenuous association between the relatively restricted ranks of the trésoriers de France and a much broader pietistic movement. One wonders what would have become of genetic structuralism if Goldmann had focussed his efforts on Molière instead. As it was, the prevalent Marxist voice on Molière became that of the crypto-Stalinist John Cairncross, who strove to identify the playwright as an eminent bourgeois libertine. Without really intending to, Cairncross 's argument reverted to the positions of nineteenth-century positivists and Catholic revivalists such as Brunetière and Faguet. His method consisted of classification by association, insisting that, since Molière consorted with known libertines such as Bernier and Chapelle...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 21-30
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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