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This review is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

MARXISM AND LIBERALISM Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford), £1.75.
David Lodge, The Modes of Modern Writing (Edward Arnold), £9.50.

Humaner forms of Marxism do not dismiss the values and pre-occupations of cultured men as illusions. But they see the particular forms of these preoccupations as historically conditioned. Our condition at present is bourgeois, so the praiseworthy impulses of the cultured man tend to be deformed and deflected. The forms they take are impoverished because they cannot be integrated into the sense of plenitude that will obtain when the future form of unalienated consciousness is established.

In this model, "works of art" of the present era cannot be seen as contributing towards the making of social reality; on the contrary, they are made by it. They are then material for historical or Marxist-structuralist analysis; even if they embody an approved tendency they still make nothing happen, since the material productive forces of history are working elsewhere.

So, strangely enough, the Marxist can finish up as a kind of inverted bourgeois liberal. For the liberal, the arts are a sacred repository of values constantly under attack from the philistines, while for the Marxist they are equally a separate area, except insofar as, "super-structural" phenomena, they can be related analytically to the "base". In both cases, again, "life" as it is now is seen as impoverished, except, that is, for a "few good moments, which represent what we know ought to be ours", as J. H. Prynne puts it.

Raymond Williams's book on Marxism and Literature is directed against both this liberalism and the Marxist ...


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