English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory
Questions on Karl Marx Selections from Norton Anthology
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from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
1. What is basic philosophical error do the Political Economists commit when they enunciate the laws of economics?
2. What does Marx appear to mean by his term "alienation"? In what senses are workers alienated? Why, according to Marx, is this process of alienation inherent in capitalist production?
3. How does Hegel's Master/Slave dialectic apply to Marx's commentary about workers' alienation? How, for example, does the capitalist relate to the worker and to commodified objects? How do workers relate to the commodified objects they produce and to their employers?
4. Also in connection to Hegelianism, why, by implication in Marx, is labor central to human existence? What fundamental assumption/s about human beings underlie Marx's theory of alienation and his comments about labor?
from The German Ideology (1845-46)
1. What is a camera obscura? What does this term imply about the possibility of arriving at true statements about human relations. Does the figure imply that we can actually perceive ourselves and the world directly?
2. On page 768, what basic philosophical error does Marx accuse German Idealists like Hegel and Kant of committing?
3. Why do "Morality, religion, metaphysics, [and] all the rest of ideology" (768) "have no history"? What constitutes real history, as Marx sees it?
from The Communist Manifesto (1848)
1. In what sense might Marx's notion of history as "the history of class struggles" be indebted to Hegel? How does Marx's formulation of the concept of struggle differ from what Hegel discusses in the Master/Slave dialectic?
2. Trace the development of the bourgeoisie. That is, within and against what historical conditions did this class arise -- how did feudalism generate the bourgeoisie, and how did the bourgeoisie come into conflict with the basic property relations of the feudal order?
3. What distinguishes the "bourgeois epoch" from all previous ones? (770) How does this distinction spell trouble for the continued existence of capitalism, according to Marx?
4. How does Marx interpret the activities of the "modern representative State"? (771)
5. In what sense is the bourgeoisie a "revolutionary" class (771-72)? How does it strip away the illusions held by members of pre-capitalist societies? With what does it replace them?
6. On the whole, what attitude does Marx suggest that his readers should take towards the advent of the capitalist order? Is its coming a positive development in human affairs?
7. On 772, Marx describes capitalism as an international phenomenon that tends to give a "cosmopolitan character" to production and consumption all over the world. How would you relate his comments to what people today are calling "globalization"? Is capitalism fully compatible with the idea of separate, sovereign nation-states?
8. We know that market societies produce objects for sale as commodities, but in what sense might they be said to "manufacture" new desires? (772)
from Grundrisse (1857-58)
1. How does this selection demonstrate that Marx's status as an "economic determinist" (one who sees economic affairs as the direct basis for our ideas about the world and ourselves) is more complex than some of his "vulgar Marxist" followers?
2. What is the source of Greek myth?
3. What, according to Marx, accounts for the fact that we can still enjoy Greek art even though we no longer believe in the Greeks' mythology? To what extent is he describing a kind of "nostalgia" for an irrevocably lost stage in human development?
4. Our Norton editors call this selection from Grundrisse a rather hasty formulation, not a truly "thought-out" formulation of the relationship between art (an amazingly sophisticated element of the "superstructure") and the material basis of life. Nonetheless, what suggestions does the selection hold for us regarding the task of literary criticism and theory?
from "Preface" to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)
1. What assumptions does Marx the "scientific socialist" make in this selection concerning the process of history and our ability to comprehend that process, describe it, and even make predictions on the basis of our understanding?
Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 1., Section 4: "The Fetishism of Commidities and the Secret Thereof." (1867)
1. What is a fetish? Look up the word in a good dictionary or impress me with your knowledge of anthropology or comparative culture studies. What fundamental misconception about the relationship between humans and the world of nature does fetish worship indicate to a Western, "scientific" philosopher like Marx?
2. What is a "commodity"? How does it differ from an ordinary object? (777)
3. How does the fetishism of commodities have its origin "in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces them" (777)? What does the exchange of commodities obscure or mystify?
4. On 780 and following, how does Marx use Daniel Defoe's tale about Robinson Crusoe to explore the assumptions of political economy?
5. Explain Marx's use of human relations under feudalism and in a "peasant family" (780-81) as a counterweight to the capitalist economic system. But is Marx actually praising feudalism or advocating that we should return to something like it?
6. How might a system function so that "[t]he social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products . . . [would be] . . . perfectly simple and intelligible"? (781)
7. What basic criticism does Marx level against a commodities-based society on page 782? What is the point of his quip on 783, bottom, from Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing?
Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.