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2 Marxist Literary Criticism, Ideology and Art
3 Althusser, Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses
4 Ideology Within. The World of Maggie
A story of the New York slums, it sounds in synopsis like a perfect bit of sordid determinism: a girl rai- sed in violence and squalor, charmed, seduced, and abandoned by her flashy lover, rejected by her family, descends rapidly through streetwalking to suicide. (Walcutt 67)
The briefly sketched plot of Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets conceals that the naturalistic author of the novel might have intended much more than depicting a determin- istic vision of the life in the New York slums. As Donald Pizer indeed argued, Stephen Crane, a distinguished journalist in his time, “was less concerned with dramatizing a de- terministic philosophy than in assailing those who apply a middle class morality to victims of amoral, uncontrollable forces in man and society” (192). Pizer detects a continuity of W.
D. Howells to Stephen Crane, which is characterized by “a belief in the social function of the novel in delineating the evils of social life” (193). Starting from this cursory and pre- liminary understanding of subject and author, one might ask which hermeneutic approach is appropriate to develop a deeper comprehension of Maggie, integrating the assumed so- cial intention of the author as well as the literary dimension of the work.
I claim that this approach might very well be Marxist literary criticism, because it ap- plies to the inherent criticism of “the evils of social life” in the depicted milieu and offers means of description and analysis of social relations and influences in the fictional world of Maggie. To create a fitting model or rather to elaborate on a existing model of Marxist literary criticism, which can be applied to Maggie, I will turn to Althusser's landmark essay ' 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.'' In this essay, Althusser develops his theory of the Ideological State Apparatuses as crucial forces in the life of the ordinary people (sec- tion 3). Prior to that, I want to discuss Marxist literary criticism in more general terms to lay the ground for a substantiated analysis, consulting mainly Terry Eagleton's treatise Marxism and Literary Criticism and enriching it with Peter Barry's Beginning Theory in due consideration of art and ideology (section 2). Eventually, I want to link the theoretical approaches to Stephen Crane's novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, primarily focusing on how Althusser's Ideological Apparatuses are present within the literary action of Maggie, how Maggie and the other characters of the novel can be seen as victims of the ideological machinery (section 4). Finally, I want to ask whether or not the chosen approach was help- ful in deepening preexisting interpretations or to open even new accesses to this quite ex- traordinary piece of art (section 5).
Marxism is a scientific theory of human societies and of the practice of transforming them; and what that means, rather more concretely, is that the narrative Marxism has to deliver is the story of the struggles of men and women to free themselves from certain forms of exploitation and oppression. (Eagleton vii)
Although it might be questionable whether Marxism is actually a ''scientific'' theory of hu- man societies and although we are not interested in political theory, it must be assumed that the literary theory and criticism which arose from Marx's ideas, represent powerful her- meneutic tools for the examination of literature in general and of Maggie in particular. The end justifies the means and if, through the employment of Marxist literary criticism, a deeper insight into Maggie's world can be gained, then the approach must have been justi- fied.
But Marxism as a philosophy is scientific in the sense that it only recognizes “the world of observable fact” rather than turning to a world or society beyond our own for explaining social phenomena (Barry 156). This shows that Marxism and Marxist literary criticism should perhaps not be applied to a fictional literary world, i.e., a world beyond one might say. But since Steven Crane himself was a journalist and profound connoisseur of the New York slums, and even put his life on the line to report as a war correspondent (cf. “Crane, Stephen.”), the problems, conflicts and oppressive institutions occurring in Maggie can be regarded as deriving from an authentic reality. And because Marxism does not only focus on understanding the world, but also on changing it eventually (Barry 157), which would correspond with Crane's social intention detected by Pizer, it appears to be an appropriate means for analyzing Maggie. But one should not confuse the real and the fictional and of course, I do not intend to draw any conclusions from the fictional world to explain or to ex- emplify real social conflicts and struggles of Crane's own time or vice versa. Instead I will try to move within the literary microcosm of Maggie in section 4, using Marxist criticism as a vehicle.
Based on Marx and Engels's ideas, Eagleton (5) distinguishes between “infrastructure”, the economic structure of society, and the “superstructure”, which is constituted by “defin- ite forms of social consciousness (political, religious, ethical, aesthetic and so on), which is what Marxism designates as ideology”. He sets out (Eagleton 5): “The function of ideo- logy, also, is to legitimate the power of the ruling class in society; in the last analysis, the dominant ideas of society are the ideas of its ruling class.” The coherence with Pizer's su-
perimposing middle-class morality is obvious: The values of the middle-class model dom- inate the minds of the ordinary people in Maggie and prevent them from forming their own system of value, which could be more appropriate for their conditions of living. (cf. Pizer)
“Art, then, is for Marxism part of the ʻsuperstructureʼ of society. ” It “ensures that the situation in which one social class has power over the others is either seen by most mem- bers of the society as ʻnaturalʼ, or not seen at all” (Eagleton 5). In the classical Marxist be- lief, the artist and therefore the piece of art are products of ideology, “they are constantly formed by their social contexts in ways which they themselves would usually not admit” (Barry 158). But is this also true for Stephen Crane and his Maggie ? Does he depict the tra- gic decline of “The girl … blossomed in a mud puddle” (Crane 16), which exemplifies the ideological supremacy of middle-class values, such as the ideal of “Purity” (cf. Lavender), as natural; or does he conceal this ideological rule over the inhabitants of the Bowery. I do not see that. As Donald Pizer argued (see above), Crane criticized not so much the social conditions in the slums as the application of middle-class morality to this world of the poor. One might therefore discard the classical Marxist view on art and employ another one instead, which concedes at least limited artistic independence to the author.
Althusser attacked this simple relation of cause and effect and adopted “the notion of re- lative autonomy, which is the view that in spite of the connections between culture and economics, art has a degree of independence from economic forces” (Barry 163). That Crane was quite independent from the prevalent ideology and ideal of the art of his time, is illustrated by the fact that at first he did not find a publisher for Maggie and had to publish it privately (cf. “Crane, Stephen.”). This points out that his work conflicted with the con- temporary ideal of literature, if not with the middle-class ideology itself. He therewith pur- sued his liberation from being subjected to predetermined ways of how to portray society and how to construct literature as a member of the middle-class.
Althusser starts in his landmark essay ''Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses'' out from a classical Marxist analysis of society. Althusser states that for a social formation to exist, a “reproduction of the productive forces” and of the “existing relations of produc- tion” is crucial (Althusser 86). The effective reproduction of the labor power can be re- garded as both. The wage-earner has to be granted at least the indispensable for the recon- stitution of his labor power (87), “to enable the wage-earner to present himself again at the factory gate the next day” and also the indispensable “for raising and educating the childen in whom the proletarian reproduces himself […] as labour power” (Althusser 88). But ac- cording to Althusser (89), this reproduction of the labor power also requires “a reproduc- tion of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers.”
He (92) then defines the State according to common Marxist belief as a “repressive ap- paratus […] which enables the ruling classes […] to ensure their domination over the working class, thus enabling the former to subject the latter to the process of surplus-value extortion (i.e. to capitalist exploitation).” He distinguishes two parts of this State apparatus (96): the “Repressive State Apparatus” as such, which is constituted by repressive institu- tions, e.g. “the Government, …, the Army, the Police, the Courts … etc.”; and the “Ideolo- gical State Apparatuses,” which is constituted by specialized institutions, e.g. “the religious ISA [=Ideological State Apparatus] (the system of the different Churches”, “the education- al ISA”, “the family ISA” and “the cultural ISA (Literature, the Arts, sports, etc.”. These Ideological State Apparatuses, which operate predominantly in the private sphere, do not primarily operate with violence and repression, as the Repressive State Apparatus does. Althusser clarifies that the ISAs “function massively and predominantly by ideology” and “secondarily by repression”, e.g. “Schools and Churches use suitable methods of punish- ment, expulsion, selection, etc., ʻto disciplineʼ … The same is true of the Family” (98).
This description of the ISAs as institutions with two ways of influencing the people will be important, because obviously the Johnson family adopted a certain kind of ideology, which eventually leads to Maggie's expulsion from this institution of the family.
One has to state that these two functions – the ideological and the repressive – of the ISAs are not clearly separated, but are in fact intertwined and influence each other, as also the particular ISAs can influence each other, e.g. the religious ISA influences the family ISA. Althusser later on specifies what he understands as ideology and formulates a thesis:
Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence. […] Of course, assuming that we do not live one of these ideologies as the truth […], we admit that the ideologies we are discussing from a critical point of view […] do not ʻcorrespond to realityʼ.” (109-110)
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