Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Re, Marxism and Political Correctness

I used what Wilson wrote about Marxism to infer that literary excellence cannot be made to order by a system (or an ism).  Wilson admired what Marx, Engels & Lenin said about literature.  But their followers in attempting to make a Party-Line System (as the American Communist Granville Hicks did) to guarantee great literature had  the opposite effect and not only that discouraged writers potentially capable of great literature from pursuing such a goal. 

Wilson was sympathetic to Marxism and the USSR until the Stalin Show Trials; which occurred in 1936 & 1937.  I previously said this essay was published in 1948 based on the copyright info in the front of my book (the Library of America), but Wikipedia says this essay was first appeared in 1938.  I’m inclined to think Wikipedia correct.  Wilson was contemptuous of the Literary “party line” mandated by Stalinism and Granville Hicks, but not of the views of Marx, Engels or Lenin.

No ism can mandate great literature.  The writer must be free to write whatever he wants, and if a writer has written something great (for “great” consider the classics or the lists appearing in Bloom’s The Western Canon), the greatness judges the critic, not the other way around.  Critics don’t make great literature.  If the critics are worthy of that title, they will recognize greatness when they see it. 

Wilson’s point back in 1938 can be seen as an apology for the direction Communism had taken Marxism on the subject of literature.  Marx, Engels and Lenin (Wilson tells us) knew better than to try and force Political Correctness down the throats of Russian artists, but Stalin hadn’t the sensitivity or cultural acumen to follow suit.  Stalin and the critics that answered to him, having the power, mandated political correctness and the result, Wilson tells us, was ludicrous.  Mandated Political Correctness didn’t produce great literature in Stalinist Russia nor the Third Reich.  It isn’t likely that it will do any better in 21st Century America. 

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