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Marxist Criticism

Along with psychoanalytical, feminist, and cultural criticism, Marxist literary criticism exemplifies what the
French philosopher Paul Ricouer terms a "hermeneutics of suspicion." These are approaches that concern
themselves not with what the text says but what it hides. As Terry Eagleton, a leading Marxist critic, writes, the
task of Marxist literary criticism "is to show the text as it cannot know itself, to manifest those conditions of its
making (inscribed in its very letter) about which it is necessarily silent." By its very nature, ideology is silent.
Like the water in the aquarium breathed by the fish, ideology is virtually invisible but essential. In culture,
ideology's invisibility gives it greater power. Ideology - defined in general as the shared beliefs and values held
in an unquestioning manner by a culture - exerts a powerful influence upon a culture. Those who are
marginalized in the culture are most aware of the ways in which an ideology supports the dominant class in
the society. Those who enjoy the fruits of belonging to a dominant group of the society barely generally are
filled with what Marx called "false consciousness." Since it is not in their interest to notice the ways in which an
economic structure marginalizes others, they tend to buy into an ideology that supports that structure.

Recurrent Terms in Marxist Literary Criticism

Base vs. Superstructure: "Base" in Marxism refers to economic base. "Superstructure", according to Marx
and Engels emerges from this base and consists of law, politics, philosophy, religion, and art.

Ideology: the shared beliefs and values held in an unquestioning manner by a culture. It governs what that
culture deems to be normative and valuable. For Marxists, ideology is determined by economics. A rough
approximation: "tell me how much money you have and I'll tell you how you think."

Hegemony: coined by the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, this "refers to the pervasive system of
assumptions, meanings, and values - the web of ideologies, in other words, that shapes the way things look,
what they mean, and therefore what reality is for the majority of people within a given culture".

Reification: often used to describe the way in which people are turned into commodities useful in market
exchange. For example, some would argue that the media's obsession with tragedy (e.g. the deaths of Jon
Benet Ramsay, Diana Princess of Wales, John F Kennedy Junior, the murders at Columbine High School in
Colorado) make commodity out of grief. The media expresses sympathy but economically thrives on these
events through ratings boost.

How does Marxist Criticism Work?

Marxist critics explore ways in which the text reveals ideological oppression of a dominant economic class
over subordinate classes. In order to do this a Marxist might ask the following questions: Does the text reflect
or resist a dominant ideology? Does it do both? Does the main character in a narrative affirm or resist the
values of the bourgeoisie? Whose story gets told in the text? Are lower economic groups ignored or devalued?
Are values that support the dominant economic group given privilege? This can happen tacitly, in the way in
which values are taken to be self-evident. They look at the conditions of production for the work of art. For
example, they ask: What were the economic conditions for publication of a work? Who was the audience?
What does the text suggest about the values of this audience?

Marxist literary criticism often shares with feminist criticism a desire to challenge the power structures in
contemporary society. For feminist, the issue is a marginalized gender; for Marxists, the issue is not gender
but economic power, leading to political power. Marxist literary criticism can also be viewed as a type of
cultural criticism, in that it seeks to analyze a discourse (of power) that makes up one of the discourses that
determine a text's historical meaning.

Postcolonial Criticism

The field of Postcolonial Studies has been gaining prominence since the 1970s. Some would date its rise in
the Western academy from the publication of Edward Said's influential critique of Western constructions of the
Orient in his 1978 book, Orientalism. The growing currency within the academy of the term "postcolonial"
(sometimes hyphenated) was consolidated by the appearance in 1989 of The Empire Writes Back: Theory
and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. Since then, the use
of cognate terms "Commonwealth" and "Third World" that were used to describe the literature of Europe's
former colonies has become rarer. Although there is considerable debate over the precise parameters of the
field and the definition of the term "postcolonial," in a very general sense, it is the study of the interactions
between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period. The European empire is
said to have held sway over more than 85% of the rest of the globe by the time of the First World War, having
consolidated its control over several centuries. The sheer extent and duration of the European empire and its
disintegration after the Second World War have led to widespread interest in postcolonial literature and
criticism in our own times.

The list of former colonies of European powers is a long one. They are divided into settler (eg. Australia,
Canada) and non-settler countries (India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka). Countries such as South
Africa and Zimbabwe which were partially settled by colonial populations complicate even this simple division
between settler and non-settler. The widely divergent experiences of these countries suggest that
"postcolonial" is a very loose term. In strictly definitional terms, for instance, the United States might also be
described as a postcolonial country, but it is not perceived as such because of its position of power in world
politics in the present, its displacement of native American populations, and its annexation of other parts of the
world in what may be seen as a form of colonization. For that matter, other settler countries such as Canada
and Australia are sometimes omitted from the category "postcolonial" because of their relatively shorter
struggle for independence, their loyalist tendencies toward the mother country which colonized them, and the
absence of problems of racism or of the imposition of a foreign language. It could, however, be argued that the
relationship between these countries to the mother country is often one of margin to centre, making their
experience relevant to a better understanding of colonialism.

The debate surrounding the status of settler countries as postcolonial suggests that issues in Postcolonial
Studies often transcend the boundaries of strict definition. In a literal sense, "postcolonial" is that which has
been preceded by colonization. The second college edition of The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as
"of, relating to, or being the time following the establishment of independence in a colony." In practice,
however, the term is used much more loosely. While the denotative definition suggests otherwise, it is not only
the period after the departure of the imperial powers that concerns those in the field, but that before
independence as well.

The formation of the colony through various mechanisms of control and the various stages in the development
of anti-colonial nationalism interest many scholars in the field. By extension, sometimes temporal
considerations give way to spatial ones (i.e. in an interest in the postcolony as a geographical space with a
history prior or even external to the experience of colonization rather than in the postcolonial as a particular
period) in that the cultural productions and social formations of the colony long before colonization are used to
better understand the experience of colonization. Moreover, the "postcolonial" sometimes includes countries
that have yet to achieve independence, or people in First World countries who are minorities, or even
independent colonies that now contend with "neocolonial" forms of subjugation through expanding capitalism
and globalization. In all of these senses, the "postcolonial," rather than indicating only a specific and materially
historical event, seems to describe the second half of the twentieth-century in general as a period in the
aftermath of the heyday of colonialism. Even more generically, the "postcolonial" is used to signify a position
against imperialism and Eurocentrism. Western ways of knowledge production and dissemination in the past
and present then become objects of study for those seeking alternative means of expression. As the foregoing
discussion suggests, the term thus yokes a diverse range of experiences, cultures, and problems; the
resultant confusion is perhaps predictable.

The expansiveness of the "postcolonial" has given rise to lively debates. Even as some deplore its imprecision
and lack of historical and material particularity, others argue that most former colonies are far from free of
colonial influence or domination and so cannot be postcolonial in any genuine sense. In other words, the
overhasty celebration of independence masks the march of neocolonialism in the guise of modernization and
development in an age of increasing globalization and transnationalism; meanwhile, there are colonized
countries that are still under foreign control. The emphasis on colonizer/colonized relations, moreover,
obscures the operation of internal oppression within the colonies. Still others berate the tendency in the
Western academy to be more receptive to postcolonial literature and Theory that is compatible with
postmodern formulations of hybridity, syncretization, and pastiche while ignoring the critical realism of writers
more interested in the specifics of social and racial oppression. The lionization of diasporic writers like Salman
Rushdie, for instance, might be seen as a privileging of the transnational, migrant sensibility at the expense of
more local struggles in the postcolony. Further, the rise of Postcolonial Studies at a time of growing
transnational movements of capital, labour, and culture is viewed by some with suspicion in that it is thought to
deflect attention away from the material realities of exploitation both in the First and the Third World.

Major Issues in Postcolonial Criticism

Despite the reservations and debates, research in Postcolonial Studies is growing because postcolonial
critique allows for a wide-ranging investigation into power relations in various contexts. The formation of
empire, the impact of colonization on postcolonial history, economy, science, and culture, the cultural
productions of colonized societies, feminism and postcolonialism, agency for marginalized people, and the
state of the postcolony in contemporary economic and cultural contexts are some broad topics in the field.

The following questions suggest some of the major issues in the field:
How did the experience of colonization affect those who were colonized while also influencing the colonizers?
How were colonial powers able to gain control over so large a portion of the non-Western world? What traces
have been left by colonial education, science and technology in postcolonial societies? How do these traces
affect decisions about development and modernization in postcolonies? What were the forms of resistance
against colonial control? How did colonial education and language influence the culture and identity of the
colonized? How did Western science, technology, and medicine change existing knowledge systems? What
are the emergent forms of postcolonial identity after the departure of the colonizers? To what extent has
decolonization (a reconstruction free from colonial influence) been possible? Are Western formulations of
postcolonialism overemphasizing hybridity at the expense of material realities? Should decolonization proceed
through an aggressive return to the pre- colonial past (related topic: Essentialism)? How do gender, race, and
class function in colonial and postcolonial discourse? Are new forms of imperialism replacing colonization and

Along with these questions, there are some more that are particularly pertinent to postcolonial literature:
Should the writer use a colonial language to reach a wider audience or return to a native language more
relevant to groups in the postcolony? Which writers should be included in the postcolonial canon? How can
texts in translation from non-colonial languages enrich our understanding of postcolonial issues? Has the
preponderance of the postcolonial novel led to a neglect of other genres?

Language and Postcolonialism

"I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be
a new English, still in full communion with it is ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings."
(Chinua Achebe)

Orality as a literary form has been devalued in modern Western literature, implying as it does a certain
primitiveness and lack of education. Written discourse is characterized by integration: more information is
packed into each idea unit, therefore giving a sense of greater sophistication. Oral discourse is characterized
by fragmentation: idea units strung together without connectives, a trait which is not usually seen as
commendable in the literary. The relationship between the oral and the literary is of particular importance in the
production and reception of texts written about non-English cultural communities, and even more so if the text
was written by a member of this community. Literary texts written in English (or other colonial languages) by
authors with an indigenous ancestral background and drawing on and technically exposing their non-English
cultural experience have always run the risk of being conceived of as representing either a continuation or,
depending on the critics' point of view, a replacement of traditional forms of oral cultural life which themselves
are vanishing rapidly or have vanished already.

During colonization, colonizers usually imposed their language onto the peoples they colonized, forbidding
natives to speak their mother tongues. In some cases colonizers systematically prohibited native languages.
Many writers educated under colonization recount how students were demoted, humiliated, or even beaten for
speaking their native language in colonial schools. In response to the systematic imposition of colonial
languages, some postcolonial writers and activists advocate a complete return to the use of indigenous
languages. Others see the language (e.g. English) imposed by the colonizer as a more practical alternative,
using the colonial language both to enhance inter-nation communication (e.g. people living in Djibouti,
Cameroon, Morocco, Haiti, Cambodia, and France can all speak to one another in French) and to counter a
colonial past through de-forming a "standard" European tongue and re-forming it in new literary forms. Most
radical among those writers who have chosen to turn away from English. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, a Gikuyu writer
from Kenya, began a successful career writing in English before turning to work entirely in his native language.
In Decolonising the Mind, his 1986 "farewell to English," Ngugi posits that through language people have not
only describe the world, but also understand themselves. For him, English in Africa is a "cultural bomb" that
continues a process of erasing memories of pre-colonial cultures and history and as a way of installing the
dominance of new, more insidious forms of colonialism. Writing in Gikuyu, then, is Ngugi's way not only of
harkening back to Gikuyu traditions, but also of acknowledging and communicating their continuing presence.
Ngugi is concerned primarily not with universality, though models of struggle can always move out and be
translated for other cultures, but with preserving the specificity of his individual groups. In a general statement,
Ngugi points out that language and culture are inseparable, and that therefore the loss of the former results in
the loss of the other:

"[A] specific culture is not transmitted through language in its universality, but in its particularity as the
language of a specific community with a specific history. Written literature and orature are the main means by
which a particular language transmits the images of the world contained in the culture it carries.

"Language as communication and as culture are then products of each other... Language carries culture, and
culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we perceive
ourselves and our place in the world. Language is thus inseparable from ourselves as a community of human
beings with a specific form and character, a specific history, a specific relationship to the world."
On the other side of the language debate is Salman Rushdie. Although Rushdie's novels often tackle the
history of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Great Britain, his comments have wider relevance, particularly
considering his stature in world literature. He comments on how working in new Englishes can be a
therapeutic act of resistance, remaking a colonial language to reflect the postcolonial experience. In the essay
"Imaginary Homelands" (from the eponymous collection published by Granta in 1992), he explains that, far
from being something that can simply be ignored or disposed of, the English language is the place where
writers can and must work out the problems that confront emerging/recently independent colonies:

"One of the changes [in the location of anglophone writers of Indian descent] has to do with attitudes towards
the use of English. Many have referred to the argument about the appropriateness of this language to Indian
themes. And I hope all of us share the opinion that we can't simply use the language the way the British did;
that it needs remaking for our own purposes. Those of us who do use English do so in spite of our ambiguity
towards it, or perhaps because of that, perhaps because we can find in that linguistic struggle a reflection of
other struggles taking place in the real world, struggles between the cultures within ourselves and the
influences at work upon our societies. To conquer English may be to complete the process of making
ourselves free."

The theoretical and scholarly debate about language is addressed in detail in The Empire Writes Back (1989).
Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin explore the ways in which writers encounter a dominant, colonial
language. They describe a two- part process through which writers in the post-colonial world displace a
standard language (denoted with the capital "e" in "English") and replace it with a local variant that does not
have the perceived stain of being somehow sub-standard, but rather reflects a distinct cultural outlook through
local usage. The terms they give these two processes are "abrogation" and "accommodation":

"Abrogation is a refusal of the categories of the imperial culture, its aesthetic, its illusory standard of normative
or 'correct' usage, and its assumption of a traditional and fixed meaning 'inscribed' in the words." (38)

"Appropriation is the process by which the language is made to 'bear the burden' of one's own cultural
experience. . . . Language is adopted as a tool and utilized to express widely differing cultural experiences."
(38- 39)

The authors are careful to point out, however, that abrogation alone, though a vital step in "decolonizing" a
dominant language is not sufficient, in that it offers the danger that roles will be reversed and a new set of
normative practices will move into place.

The great West Indian writer and historian, C.L.R. James, once asserted that cricket and Shakespeare were
the two great gifts brought to him as a young boy at a colonial school in Trinidad. The attraction of each was
the same: a bright local youth could reformulate either, restoring to the art of cricket or to the interpretation of
Shakespeare a beauty and rigour which once they had, before they were commodified by the mindset of
commercial and imperial Victorians. In his classic Beyond a Boundary, James suggested that the lure of
cricket for colonial peoples lay in its notion of a boundary drawn by the white man but breachable by his
opponent. The mastery of cricket by Indian or Caribbean peoples may be likened to what is now achieved in
literature by writers such as Salman Rushdie, Amit Chaudhuri or V.S. Naipaul. A persistent theme of these
authors is that of an affluent, charismatic person who comes from India or Jamaica to an England which looks
increasingly like a Third World country and which frustrates all his or her high expectations of it. "For a man
like Saladin Chamcha," writes Rushdie of the protagonist of The Satanic Verses, "the debasing of Englishness
by the English was a thing too terrible to contemplate."

The "writing back" in post-colonial literature is based on a frequent reinterpretation of the masterpieces of
European culture. If Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a subversive revision of the
Bildungsroman, a novel such as Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian Chinua Achebe is written to question and
rewrite the portrayal of Africans in Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In
these books, native intellectuals often learn how to criticise masterpieces which misrepresented them, or
which were written on the blithe assumption that they might never intervene in literary debates, much less
write their own books about them. Equally, a novel such as Tayib Salih's Season of Migration to the North is a
clever inversion of Heart of Darkness: for in this case an Arab worker leaves his people and goes to Europe in
search of employment, finding in the process that he has indeed entered his own heart of darkness. Such
writing has its counterpart in the literary criticism practised by a Palestinian such as Edward Said or an Indian
feminist such as Gayatri Spivak: each fulfils the role of "reverse anthropologist", for instead of moving from
First to Third World, to use there the sophisticated techniques of an advanced society in the study of a
"primitive" one, they invert the trajectory, often bringing the critical insights of an Arab or Indian upbringing to
bear on a culture of Europe or North America.

The impression that a continuation of traditional orality is desired is found in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall
Apart (1958), which employs scenes and passages which expressly refer to or make use of allegedly oral
material in a way that makes the orality of that material recognizable to readers with no intimate knowledge of
the culture depicted in the text. For instance, Achebe uses place names which imply 'otherness', even if they
mean nothing geographically to his Western readers. The short, breathless sentences which Achebe uses
imply an oral voice, whilst the transcription of the wailing song of the old women at the death of Okonkwo:
"eeeeee eeeee eeeee" calls the reader's attention to the orality of the rest of the text. This is merely an
extreme version of what he is attempting to do with the oral voice in the novel. By means of literary technique,
these textual elements are inscribed as "oral" and separated from their "written" surroundings.

The Fabrication of Orality

The term "oral literature" is by nature oxymoronic. Orality may enter the written text in a number of different
forms. However, in most of these cases the oral original is reduced by its transcription. This holds particularly
true for most early recordings and transliterations of oral folk texts. Focusing mostly on content, transcribers
and collectors like the Grimm brothers in Germany not only neglected the intricacies of oral performance and
audience orientation, they also made the recorded text conform to pre- fabricated genteel models. Whatever
was considered crude, scatological, sexually loaded, or simply redundant was deleted, and suppressed. In
colonial environments, recordings were usually made in the local language but the published versions
appeared in English translation.

The professed aim of literary texts using fabricated orality may be to invoke a sense of an oral tradition, but
granting that already anticipates a reader-response adequate to the author's intentions. What it does on the
page is generate an impression of textual otherness. On this formal level it does not matter whether the
material is used in an attempt at reconstruction or if it is entirely fictional, or even both, if it is an invention of
tradition (Hobsbawm).

Khalil Gibran is perhaps the best known of all Arabic writers. His great work of homily and philosophy, The
Prophet was a massive success in post First-War America, offering as it did an alternative to traditional
religion, and capturing enthusiasm for Eastern learning. Gibran, however, was a New York socialite who was
engaged to a society hostess, Mary Haskell. His work is a watered-down version of actual Arabic oral homily,
translated both literally and metaphorically into the language of his American friends. It is notable that it took
another twenty years for the work to be translated into Arabic, and has not sold anywhere as well in Gibran's
land of birth. The Prophet manages to superimpose the 'otherness' of Arabic sentence structure onto English,
aided by constant collaboration between Gibran and Haskell. The work deliberately fuses a Biblical register:
thus associating it in Western readers' minds with the Holy Land, and giving it a sense of age and holiness,
with the register of traditional Arabic storytelling: therefore creating a sense of the 'other':

"And a man said, "Speak to us of Self-Knowledge."

And he answered, saying:
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart's knowledge."

Thus Gibran performs an effective but cynical rendition of his native culture through the manipulation of oral

Given these conditions, it becomes obvious how indigenous writers using oral traditions in their texts are
working under a special predicament. Not only do they use languages (English, Spanish, or French) not native
to their groups of origin, but also, the idea that their literary productions constitute part of a "culture of
resistance" (Hobsbawm) is mostly romantic myth, as long as the texts are written for distribution in the
dominant culture's marketplace. Their process of writing takes place within a system that is directly related to
the colonial discourse which helped to threaten and/or displace indigenous oral traditions and languages (and
on many occasions also with their bearers/speakers). But what has been more significant until the very recent
past is the fact that current perceptions of orality and oral tradition as both generating and transporting a set of
positive values are basically a romantic irony.

The modern concept of orality as different from and even opposed to the written comes to full bloom first
during the Romantic age and in the novels of Sir Walter Scott, whose "Scottishness" found its expression
among other things in vernacularized dialogues, songs, and instances of traditional behaviour and ceremony,
all of which were, formally speaking, instances of fabricated orality.

Not only the ideological concepts of orality date back to the 18th century. Most of the techniques employed by
authors, indigenous or not, to authenticate orality in their texts likewise use well-trodden paths. Attempts to
oralize literary language so that it will signify spoken language in general, a spoken dialect, or another
language usually take on a limited number of forms, the most important of which is the distribution of
authenticity markers in the text: names of places, occasions, and characters are given in the "other"
languages; individual language phrases or expressions appear together with their English translation, or the
translation stands alone but its form signifies its different origin. In many aspects, the way indigenous authors
like Achebe and Gibran (if we indeed consider him indigenous) mirrors the intentions and aims of a Thomas
Hardy or a George Eliot. Orality in this context stands for a societal form that is perceived of as endangered by
or already lost to the impersonal forces of progress. In Things Fall Apart the standpoint is retrospective: things
have already fallen apart; the narration takes place after the fact, after mere anarchy has been loosed upon
the world. The positive values of the older society are usually transmitted orally and the disruptive new society
is aligned with writing. The utter incomprehension of the incidents which led to the violent outburst and ensuing
suicide of the protagonist, Okonkwo, are going to materialize for posterity in a book the District Commissioner
is going to write:

"Every day brought him some new material. The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged
himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole
chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in
cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the
Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger."

From this ironic conclusion to the book and other evidence in the novel, an "oralist" interpretation would draw
the apparent conclusion that the colonial/written system is to be held responsible for the destruction of a pre-
colonial/oral society. The limitations of such an interpretation are obvious to the reader of Things Fall Apart,
which is so interesting and controversial because it does not encourage one-dimensional interpretations.

Achebe uses orality and storytelling as a trope: as one of many literary techniques in the construction of a
fictional text. It is a specialty of those texts that hold a mediating position between several cultures that they
deal differently with aspects of orality and the oral tradition. Incorporating aspects from several cultures, they
are in turn operative in more than one culture. The processes and methods of this literary interaction again are
consequential for the development of an aesthetic of multicultural exchange.