Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reactions to Craig

I giggle a little bit every time I hear Lou Reed's A Walk On the Wild Side on in public. The last time I heard this song in public was while i was shopping in a grocery store with my mother. Now normally if I was listening to a song about blow jobs, transvestites, overdosing, and prostitution I would feel awkward, but somehow none of the adults in the grocery store acknowledged this. Half of them were even singing along with it and singing the chorus. The reason I giggle is because if there had been a rap song on the store radio then I am sure a lot of the shoppers would have raised a fuss, but Lou Reed nestled in between Jim Croce and Harry Chapin goes unnoticed.
I thought of this phenomenon in relation to Christopher Craig's Thoughts on Ideology. Craig says that "the ruling class appropriates those ideas which it finds most threatening. It commodifies them and mystifies their meaning, while also potentially taming the subversive behaviors that might result from them". This is especially applicable when it comes to rebellion in popular culture. Elvis is a household name, kids commonly go through a "punk rock phase", and Lou Reed is lost in the shuffle of a light rock station. Marxist theory points out how we turn ideologies into material things that can be bought and sold therefore losing its power. In this same way literature, whether it is known to the author or not, is judged by how well it can turn the ideologies of the ruling class into a nice little package that can be sold. Books are packages of ruling class capitalist ideology.
Returning to the popular culture it makes me think of rap. I am not 100% up to date on the state of rap music but I feel like in my lifetime it has already started to be turned into a commodity. When I was growing up, NWA had just broken up, Public Enemy was being banned from the state of Arizona, and Biggie and 2pac both died. But also within my lifetime Vanilla Ice, Kriss Kross, MC Hammer and Lil’ Bow Wow (now just Bow Wow) have all flourished. So is rap no longer dangerous? When I went to the observatory on the top of the prudential building this weekend there was a rap song explaining how you become a U.S. Citizen. Does that make rap safe? Are there book versions of rap? What books aren’t safe? Or are they all safe because even if they try to be subversive and have opposing voices are their existence just reinforcing the normal superstructure? These are the questions I still have.

Marx the Great

I couldn't really incorporate this into my real blog for this week so I figured I would post it separately just to make sure I understand Marxist theory. If anything in this is wrong or you can add to it let me know, I am just trying to apply it to something I know to better understand it.

In the Great Gatsby, which teaches us the dangers of greed, Tom and Daisy walk away from the whole situation without a scratch because they are old money. Myrtle and George Wilson both end up broken and dead because they are from the Valley of Ashes and don't have the money to shield them. And Gatsby ends up dead because he is new money and he was foolish enough to have an ideological dream (Love) instead of material ones like Tom and Daisy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Marx was skint, but he had sense... Engels lent him the necessary pence"

According to Peter Barry liberal humanism has ten tenets that shape their view on literature. Most, if not all, of these tenets are disagreed with by Marxist theory. I choose Barry’s second tenet of liberal humanism to contrast with some of the tenets from Marxist theory. The second tenet of liberal humanism is:

The literary text contains its own meaning within itself. It doesn’t require any elaborate process of placing it within a context, whether this be:
(a) Socio-political - the context of a particular ‘background’ or political situation, or
(b) Literary-historical- whereby the work could be seen as the product of the literary influences of other writers, or as shaped by the conventions of particular genres, or
(c) Autobiographical- that is, as determined by the personal details of the authors life and thought.

Of course, as scholars, most academics would assert the value of studying these contexts, but as critics their adherence to the approach which insists upon the primacy and self-sufficiency of the ‘words on the page commits them to the process which has been called ‘on sight close reading’ essentially this removes the text from all these contexts and presents it ‘unseen’ for unaided explication by the trained mind. (Barry 17)

This tenet is in obvious conflict with Marxist theory. In Marxist theory you reverse the their tiers of this tenet of liberal humanism. Engels actually preferred the opinions of the author to be as hidden as possible so one would have to look at the work with a socio-political, literary-historical, and autobiographical eye.

(a) socio-political- Marxist theorists do not see authors as independent from the work. In fact Marxists see authors as “constantly formed by their social contexts in ways which they themselves would usually not admit.” (Barry 158) This means that the reader should not stay “on site” like liberal humanism claims. The reader has to search for a meaning that the author may not have necessarily meant to put in the text.

(b) Literary Historical - Marxist reading is not just tied to the content of the novel but also the form. Barry uses Catherine Belsey’s theories to show that the form of realist novels is used as a way to discourage the questioning of reality because it leaves how we see reality intact. In the same way absurd texts like Kafka’s Metamorphosis are a “response to the contradictions and divisions inherent in late capitalist society” (159)

(c) Autobiographical - All of Marxist theory implies that autobiography is used in text, maybe not overtly or consciously but Marxist theory believes that an authors social class has a major influence on what is written.

As critics the liberal humanists put blinders on when they adhere to their ‘words on the page’ theory. This commits them to ignoring the benefit of ‘off sight analysis’ which, essentially, puts the text into a context where it can be “seen” and aided in explication by a trained mind.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lou Reed invented Cool.

I am Ben Kelley a History and Literature major and this is my senior year. I will admit I am somewhat new to both blogging and theory which makes this first post somewhat daunting. I chose the blogger alias of Richard Grayson because I love comic books and it is Nightwing's secret identity. Part of my vision for this blog is to try and incorporate comic books whenever possible because I think it is a pretty underrated art form and looked down upon by the intelligentsia. As far as theory goes I did a little theory in my senior year high school English classes and I've also had a little taste of theory from Persuasive Strategies. I find that I usually read texts from a Marxist perspective (most of the time unintentionally) so I guess my vision for this blog is to use and expand my knowledge of Marxist theory as well as working out, in writing, some new theories I learn.