noc18-hs31-Lecture 21-Marxist Literary (I): Marx and Brecht

noc18-hs31-Lecture 21-Marxist Literary (I): Marx and Brecht


Hello and welcome back again we will start
discussing today Marxist Literary Theory and we will continue with our discussion on Marxist
literary theory over the course of three lectures. So, this will be the introductory lecture
on Marxist theory. Marxist literary criticism has represented
for quite some time now one of the major strands of theory within the field of English literary
studies yet ironically Karl Marx himself did not produce any coherent theoretical approach
to literature, what this means is that the whole of Marxist literary theory is a derivative
discourse and dealing with this derivative discourse mainly poses two different kinds
of problems. The first problem is that all Marxist literary
theory refers back to the original theories of Marx, which are primarily on political
economy and as a consequence of this studying Marxist literary theory often means learning
aspects of Marxist economics, which otherwise do not have any direct relationship to literary
studies as such. The second problem is that Marxist literary
theorists whom we will study in our course borrows different things from different works
of Marx, now since Marxs work constitutes a hugely elaborate set of ideas it becomes
difficult to give you a brief gist of all the relevant ideas of Marx that you will find
useful in your studies of the various Marxist literary theorists. Therefore the strategy that we will follow
in our course will be something like this we will ah first start with a brief sampling
of Marxs ideas and then we will move on to study in more details the works of individual
Marxist literary theorists, whose works have a direct impact on how literature is read
and understood and ah in todays lecture the Marxist literary theorists that we will be
discussing particularly is Bertolt Brest, but before ah we start discussing Brest ah
let us dwell upon the writings of Karl Marx. Now, Karl mars dates are 1818 to 1833 and
he was born in the German city of Trier indeed Trier celebrated in a very big way at the
200 birth anniversary of its most famous son Karl Marx. Now interestingly though Marx is today known
primarily for his contribution to political economic and also of course, for ah his communist
ideology which he in turn based on his ah findings as a political economist, he actually
started off as a student of law ah and later he switched to philosophy and he. In fact, did his PhD thesis on the work of
two Ancient Greek philosophers ah Democritus and Epicurus ah indeed it was not till 1859
that his first major work on ah economy was published under the title Contribution to
a Critique of Political Economy; that means, 11 years after he had published the communist
manifesto along ah with his friend and collaborator of Friedrich Engels and as you will know the
communist manifesto was published in 1848, but it was not directly an analysis of the
economic situation or communist manifesto is not known for its contribution to political
economy as such. Now, Marx of course, had worked on his economic
theories ah for a prolonged period before the publication of contribution to a critique
of political economy and indeed he also wrote a number of elaborate works ah much before
1859, but none of these works were published during his lifetime and some of these texts
like. The Economic and Political Manuscripts or
the German ideology, which were later published posthumously are today considered as important
preparatory exercises done by Marx for his magnum opus titled Das kapital which translates
in English simply as Capital. Now, let us come to capital Marx originally
planned this work as a multi volume commentary on the various aspects of capitalist economy
on how the capitalist economy functions ah, but unfortunately he was only able to bring
out the first volume of capital, capital volume one during his lifetime and ah this volume
was published in 1867 ah after his death two more volumes of capital, ccapital volume 2
and capital volume 3 ah were published by his friend and collaborator. Friedrich Engels who compiled and edited the
notes left by Marx to come up with these volumes, but even then these three volumes do not represent
the entire work as was originally planned by Marx. Now, to give you a brief sample of Marxs work
I would like to briefly explore the first chapter of capital volume one ah and this
will of course, not give us any comprehensive understanding of Marxs ah work ah or his elaborate
set of ideas nor will it help us understand literature better, but even then I want to
do it because it will definitely help us get a glimpse of some of the key features, that
characterizes how Marx intervenes as a theorist into whatever field that he intervenes in
and ah some of these key features that characterize Marxs critical approach to something would
later inform much of Marxist literary theory. So, we start with the first section of capital,
which interestingly is not on capital itself it is on commodity, but commodity is an interesting
starting point because ah it is one of the most widespread manifestations of the capitalist
economy. So, what is a commodity? Well a commodity is anything that we use and
that we buy from the market ah this means that we are basically surrounded by commodities
and everything that we buy be it from a brick and mortar store around the corner or be it
online through various web portals and be the things that satisfy our physical needs
like food for instance or clothing or our intellectual or aesthetic needs like a book
or a painting all of these things are commodities, I do not know whether you have noticed it
or not, but while making this attempt to ah define commodity for you I was actually repeatedly
harping on two different aspects that characterize a commodity. The first aspect is that a commodity can satisfy
a need be it a physical need, be it an intellectual need, be it an aesthetic need and this first
aspect is characterized or is labeled by Marx as the use value of a commodity, every commodity
should have a use. On the other hand the commodity by the virtue
of being something that can be bought and sold in a market has another aspect to it,
which we will call after Marx the exchange value. So, every commodity should be exchangeable
and therefore, exchange value basically refers to the quality of a commodity to be exchanged
in the marketplace with any other commodity, ah let us say that I manufacture shirts for
instance and I need a pair of trousers and ah therefore, I can go to the market and let
us say the exchange rate is 3 shirts to get 1 pair of trousers. So, I can exchange the three shirts that I
have manufactured and I can buy one ah pair of trousers with it now do not get confused
here by thinking that we cannot usually directly exchange three pairs of shirt for a pair of
trousers ah in a marketplace rather what we get when we sell our shirts is some amount
of money, which we can then go and exchange for a pair of trousers .
ah, But please remember that the money here is actually just a mediating agent that facilitates
the exchange between shirts and trousers and it does nothing more than that. So, in effect irrespective of whether I am
using money or doing a barter I am exchanging 3 shirts for 1 pair of trousers. Now a commodity not only has these two aspects
use value and exchange value, but also these two aspects are in contradiction to each other
ah let us take the example of a car that your parents might have bought now a car is; obviously,
a commodity and like any other commodity it should have two aspects. So, let us say that ah you are a car enthusiast
and you tend to drive your parents car quite a lot. This means that you are primarily focused
on the use value of the car. Now let us assume that your parents have it
in their mind to sell the car in future if they ever require a large sum of money, which
means that though they use the car they are also focused on the cars future exchange value
right, now in this situation there will arise an obvious contradiction you might want to
drive the car more and more to it extract as much use value from it as possible , but
that will reduce the future exchange value of the car through excessive wear and tear. On the other hand if your parents want to
preserve the car in as intact a condition as possible to protect its future exchange
value they might want to limit the amount of time that you get to drive the car thereby
restricting its use value. So, as you can see there is a contradiction
between exchange value of a car and use value of a car. Now, this internal contradiction that underlines
the existence of a commodity is important and we will ah have to written to it later
, but for now let us focus on the question of value that Marx poses to a commodity. The question is simple when we encounter a
commodity say on the rack of a supermarket we see a price tag attached to it, which is
an indication of how valuable that commodity is the question that Marx asks is. What determines this value? Now, as we have seen Marx identifies a commodity
through it is two aspects its usability use value and its exchangeability exchange value
and Marx argues that the value of a commodity derives from combining together these two
contradictory things use value and exchange value, to show this he starts by looking at
the exchange value and he argues that if a commodity can in principle be exchangeable
with any other commodity then it has to have a common factor, which will make it exchangeable
with any other commodity. So, if all the commodities do not share a
common factor of course, you cannot know how much of this particular commodity you would
need to have in order to exchange it for a particular amount of another commodity right. So, in other words there has to be something
in common for me to reach the equation if you go back to our previous example to reach
the equation that 3 shirts will equal 1 pair of trousers. Now this common factor cannot be the material
constitution of the commodity because while discussing about shirts and pants one might
assume that because they are both made of cotton. So, we will just look at the amount of cotton
that goes into 3 shirts and then compare it with the amount of cotton that goes into taking
a pair of trousers, but that will give us a wrong idea because you will remember that
any commodity can be exchanged with any other commodity ah and therefore, the constituent
material of a shirt for instance would be very different from the constituent materials
of a car yet in principle it is possible to exchange a particular number of shirts for
a particular number of cars. So, what is the common factor that gives a
commodity its exchange value. According to Marx it is labour time all commodities
become commodities through the expenditure of certain amount of labour, which is measurable
by time. So, let us say for instance that a car takes
more labour time to be made than a shirt and this labor time of course, is common feature
both in case of the shirt as well as in case of the car, the only thing that is different
is you need more of labour time to make a car than you need to make a shirt and this
will mean that a car will be more valuable than a shirt and you will need quite a number
of shirts indeed to be able to exchange them for one car. So, the theory of labour time explains why
commodities are exchangeable, but how does it incorporate the concept of use value because
as I have said Marx shows that the value of a commodity is ultimately dependent on a combination
of use value and exchange value to understand this ah let us look at the concept of labour
time again. Now ah let us say you spend an enormous amount
of labour to construct a car which has only one slot for a wheel and which makes it impossible
to drive it, now will it be of any value this particular car that you have designed with
only one slot for a wheel will it have any value when you take it to a market well the
answer is of course, not and the reason why it will not have any value in spite of you
having spent so much of labour time making it is that that car that you have made does
not have any usability it does not have any use value. So, when we say that the measure of value
is labour time we need to qualify the statement by saying that it should be labour time dedicated
to manufacture things that are needed within the society. In other words value is seen to be predicated
on socially necessary labour time, which combines in itself both the notion of exchangeability
and also as we have seen usability. So, value is therefore, a combination of what
we otherwise saw as a contradiction use value and exchange value and if we simplify our
discussion on commodity in the form of an equation it will take a form that will look
something like this. A commodity splits into use value and exchange
value and then they combine together to form value which is defined as socially necessary
labour time. So, what are the key takeaways from this discussion
on commodity and its value well, there are two important points that are being made here
and I want you to focus on them the first thing that I want you to focus on is Marxs
characteristic dialectical approach. So, as I said that ah what this brief sample
of Marxs work will provide us with is it will show us how Marx critically approaches something
and now we can see that this is a peculiar kind of a critical approach which has a name
it is called the dialectical method. And this dialectical method is an enquiry,
which proceeds by identifying the internal contradiction underlying something and then
explores how this contradiction is resolved. So, as in the case of Marxs analysis of commodity
we are presented with two constituent concepts use value and exchange value which are in
contradiction to each other. Now in the language of the dialectical method
one of these terms would be labeled as thesis and the other would be labeled as antithesis,
we then follow how this contradiction is subsumed and dissolved in a third concept which in
our example is the concept of value as socially necessary labour time and in the language
of the dialectical method this third term would be called synthesis. So, thesis and antithesis leading to a synthesis
where they both dissolve in each other. In Marx; however, each synthesis is again
found giving way to a new set of internal contradictions. In fact, that is how capital is structured. So, each synthesis opens up a new thesis and
a new antithesis which are then subsumed within a new synthesis and that again breaks down
and so the chain continues. ah Indeed the Marxist scholar David Harvey
has extensively argued how the whole of capital can be read as a series contradictory terms
producing synthesis and then again breaking down into further contradictions and as Harvey
points out in several of his books each of these contradictions represent crucial conflicts
within the process of capitalist economics and ah consequently within the social political
and cultural order that is informed by capitalism. This identification of ah contradiction is
very crucial because the dialectical method ah through which Marx unravels these contradictions
and then engages with them goes on finally, to play a very important role in the work
of later Marxist literary theorists that we will study. So, this was the first take away, but there
is also a second take away that I would like to focus on. Which is Marxs treatment of the mundane reality
as an appearance or as a façade. For instance when we go to purchase commodities
from the market we are only confronted with price tags of different denominations ah in
if you are buying your ah things from a supermarket for instance usually you do not even see any
human presence behind that not even that of a shopkeeper , but as our discussion of Marx
has revealed these commodities are ultimately different in value because they are all products
of human labour and it is precisely this human labour labour time which gives these commodities
their value. However this underlying reality of labour
relations goes unnoticed when we encounter a commodity as such. So, much. So, that we develop a habit of looking at
a commodity as an independent thing, which is almost fallen from the sky as it were. So, let us say when we consume a packet of
rice that we have bought from the supermarket we are not usually aware of the chain of labour
processes and labouring individuals who have produced the rice this means that whereas,
the packet of rice is now made consumable for us because we live within a human society
and because as a consumer I am in a social relationship with other human beings who are
producers the capitalist economy centered on commodity makes us impervious to this underlying
social reality to this underlying chain of social relationships. The appearance of this social relationship,
which manifests itself in the commodity form gets accepted not as appearance or facade
of the true reality, but indeed as reality itself both Marx and Marxist literary theorists
would be deeply concerned about this distinction between the surface appearance what gets accepted
as reality and the actual underlying reality of all the commodities that surround us and
the world that it creates around us and ah just like the post structuralist that we ah
have discussed in our previous lectures. Marxist literary critics too would remain
interested in problematizing our ah mundane perception of reality and in revealing their
conventional nature even though we often take them to be eternal and universal. So, what the reveal is that they are only
conventional and this point actually becomes very clear, when we look at bertolt brecht
and the kind of intervention that he made. Now, Brecht was born in 1898 in the southern
German province of Bavaria and belonged to that generation which passed through the first
world war as young men and women. Now as you will know from our discussion on
the topic of new criticism we had said that the world war presented for Europe not only
a political, but also moral crisis of value and the very basis of the bourgeois civilization
that had been built in the west over the past 4 centuries appeared to be crumbling appeared
to be falling apart. So, between 1920 and 1930 when Brecht made
his appearance as a dramatist he started by expressing this collective disillusionment
of his generation with the realities of the bourgeois civilization and he did that by
developing a strikingly new form of drama which he called epic theater. This epic theater would go on to become one
of the strongest form of Marxist aesthetic manifestation in the 20th century and we will
take this up for discussion in this lecture, but let us continue with Bertolt Brechts biography
for a moment. So, in 1933 with the rise of Nazism Brecht
like so many other intellectuals left Germany and again like, so many of them finally, found
refuge in America where he stayed till 1947 it was in these years of exile part of which
he ah of course, spent in the Scandinavian countries, but most of which is spent in America. Brecht produced some of his most well known
plays and they include Mother Courage and her children the life of Galileo the good
woman of Setzuan and of course, the Caucasian chalk circle Brecht; however, became one of
the victims of ah the communists beating that gained prominence in America during the mid
20th century and ah as a consequence he had to leave America in 1947 after he left America
he moved to east Germany, which was at that point of time a satellite state of the soviet
union and it was there that he died in 1956. So, now, that we know a little about Brechts
life let us take up for discussion Brechts innovation ah of epic theatre. In coining this particular kind of experimentation
that he did with the dramatic form as epic theater, what Brecht was doing was he was
actually drawing from the distinction between epic and tragedy that we can find in Aristotles
poetics and as you will know from our discussion of Aristotle the key effect, which tragedy
is supposed to produce as far as poetics is concerned is Catharsis. Now to achieve catharsis irrespective of whether
you understand catharsis as approbation of ah the audiences emotion or as the education
of the audiences emotion, there is a need for the audience to identify with the characters
and their actions portrayed on the stage and this kind of identification is often actually
felt to be at the core of the pleasure that we derive from art. So, we often like a theater or a movie for
instance because ah we identify ourselves with the fate of the hero or the heroine and
we feel happy when something good happens to them and we feel devastated when they come
to some harm, what Brecht sought to achieve through his epic theater was to break this
sense of identification between the audience and the characters and their actions, which
were being portrayed on the stage thus whereas, in the case of tragedy we have identification
at the heart of the whole thing. In case of Brechtian epic theatre we have
something that is referred in German as verfremdungseffekt which in english literally translates into
the alienation effect. Now, in talking about the alienation effect
we will focus on two questions the first question is. How is alienation effect practiced or applied
as a dramatic strategy? And the second question that we will ask is. How does alienation effect change the way
in which a drama functions? Well to start with the first question alienation
effect as a dramatic strategy is applied in various different ways ah so, for instance
in some Brecht and play you might see that rather than speaking out ah their dialogues
what is expected in ah a usual play the characters will come onstage carrying placards with things
written on them. So, rather than ah listening to them we will
have to read what they are carrying. ah In other plays you might see for instance
an actor suddenly stepping out of his character ah stepping out of the role that he is playing
and directly delivering a lecture to the audience ah sometimes you might see ah some of them
coming out of their role to summarize ah what they have said as when they were playing ah
that particular role or maybe they will randomly start singing a song for instance. The stagecraft might also be used to produce
ah this alienation effect where lights, ropes and other things of stagecraft which are usually
hidden will be exposed to the audience. Now, in all of this the effort is to break
the sense of reality, that drama usually conveys because when we go and see a drama when we
go and see ah a movie we take it as a slice of reality alienation effect ah through employing
these various strategies that I just mentioned wants to break this sense of reality that
a drama usually tries to project and it tries to expose this reality as an appearance as
a facade and illusion and consequently makes the projected reality foreign or alien to
us it no longer appears to us as reality that appearance becomes foreign becomes alien that
is why it is called the alienation effect, what exactly is achieved by this alienation
effect now we know how it is done, but why should one do it. Brechts argument is that a drama by asking
the audience to identify with its version of reality naturalizes a particular kind of
world order. So, for instance a drama produced from within
ah bourgeois society presents the bourgeois worldview as the most usual and the most eternal
form of reality and when the audience identifies with this reality it loses the power to critique
it and to conceptualize alternative forms of reality by jerking the audience out of
this complaisant identification with anyone projected reality, what Brechts alienation
effect does. Is it transforms the audience into a group
of critics the social the economic, the political, the cultural relations depicted through the
epic theater loses their aura of naturalness and in turn opens them up to criticism and
also to the possibility of change because now in the form of epic theater these things
do not appear to be usual they do not appear to be natural they appear as a facade as an
illusion. It is ah; however, important to remember here
that because the alienation effect involves the jerking out of completion see the audience
is jerked out of completion see there can be no single way of achieving the alienation
effect this is because if for instance imagine the same strategy is applied in play after
play, then it will become a convention in itself and it will stop disturbing the audience
out of its complacency. That is why when we ah talk about alienation
effect we can talk about it in a general way , but we cannot pinpoint one particular way
in, which this effect can be created because Brecht suggests that we will need to constantly
change our strategies through which this alienation can be affected. So, with this discussion on Brecht we end
todays lecture on Marxist literary theory. In the next lecture we will move to a discussion
of another major Marxist critic Louis Althusser. Thank you for listening.

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