Outside Literature by Tony Bennett

By Tony Bennett

Charting a path among literary aesthetics and their linked politics, Bennett engages with the vital matters of Marxist critics similar to Lukacs, Jameson, Eagleton and Lentricchia.

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35 This is a helpful formulation in suggesting a need to estimate the varying kinds of effectivity and presence that can be claimed for Marxist discourses across the diverse social surfaces on which they 30 IN THE CRACKS OF HISTORICAL MATERIALISM have been politically operative. It is thus important to recognise that, with the exception of brief periods—the aftermath of the October revolution in Russia and the 1920s in Germany, for example—Marxist writings on literature and, more generally, aesthetics have impinged only marginally on the concerns of labour movements.

If this jumbling is undone—a jumbling which is the consequence of Eagleton’s trying to operate in both the space of discourse theory and that of classical Marxism at the same time—the incoherence of the position is manifest. Were the functions Eagleton accords history to be represented diagrammatically, the result would be something like that suggested below. To be capable of fulfilling the multiple tasks Eagleton assigns it, the history from which the process of signification is initiated (the bottom left of the diagram) and that at which it ends up need to be conceived as identical, whereas in fact they are antithetical.

It is, however, one that needs to be placed in historical perspective, for the accomplishment is not one that needs to be or can be never-endingly repeated—as some contemporary Marxists are wont to do—except at the price of boomeranging on itself, and quite badly. For the productivity of developing a Marxist alternative to bourgeois aesthetics on the terrain of philosophical aesthetics must now surely be questioned given that this terrain has largely been abandoned. It no longer furnishes the privileged or even a major site for the elaboration of bourgeois claims to cultural hegemony.

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