The main character Oothoon in The Visions of the Daughters of Albion is a liberation figure challenging not only male chauvinism and marriage but the institution of slavery and imperialism in general. The female protagonist Oothoon, a sex slave who is raped by the slave driver Bromion, is clearly made to represent both the fertile, virginal and innocent lands of the pre-colonialism New World and the oppression of the women of Blake’s time, who were, like slaves, treated as property of their husbands. In the course of his poem Oothoon becomes the ultimate symbol for liberation both as a woman and as a slave. Even though the author slyly created Oothoon as a European woman whose skin is described as “snow white” in order to elicit sympathy from European readers that a dark-skinned woman might not have received so heartily, she still becomes the voice of subjugated races.
Social conditioning is also examined as a force in society, since all three characters are chained (literally on the accompanying plates) by the conventions of the society they inhabit and the patriarchal, property-oriented and colonialist attitudes thereof. Bromion says explicitly to Oothoon, “Thy soft American plains are mine, and mine thy north & south: Stampt with my signet are the swarthy children of the sun: They are obedient, they resist not[.]” The double meaning here is transparent.
William Blake’s Songs of Innocence is often thought of as the lighter, happier of the two collections of poems known as the Songs, the other of course being its polar opposite—the Songs of Experience. Upon the first reading of the text this proves to be superficially true, in that the Innocence songs are more uplifting. Upon further inspection however, there is undeniably a dark cloud of foreshadowing hanging over the work. Almost no poem in the collection is completely free from darkness, even if the characters inside the text do not outwardly recognize it. The introduction seems happy enough, with a fanciful cherub figure instructing the narrator to write his song down on paper so that it might be preserved forever and “all may read.” The underlying acknowledgement of the ephemeral nature of man-made creations boasts of an unusual maturity for a so-called “Song of Innocence.”
Soon after this, the verses of “The Ecchoing Green” subtlety speak of the process of aging and the passage of time by portraying a group of “old folk” reminiscing about their younger days when they played sports on the Green, which is now “darkening,” literally and figuratively. This disturbing trend continues with “The Blossom,” which contrasts contention with existence, personified in the happy sparrow, with suffering, personified by the sobbing robin. At the same time this depicts the two opposing views of society—the classes who benefit from it and those that suffer from it. The most infamous examples of this are “The Chimney Sweeper,” in which child laborers are comforted by the bourgeois idea “if all do their duty, they need not fear harm,” and “Holy Thursday,” in which Blake uses negative imagery of angels and metaphor to ridicule the pious idea of pity as a virtue. Class consciousness is considered to be a facet of “experience,” but the reader should remember that children are also aware of injustice, which Blake is aware of and shows to be so.
According to those who claim to understand Marxism but do not, in other words those that claim to understand Marxism the loudest, Marx dealt with reality like “cold, dead matter.” Of course, the authors of these theories have to resort to resolutions so flimsy that they can be seen through like glass, such as this idea of Marx viewing the universe as plainly deterministic, which is an old and annoying anti-Marxist straw man. To believe it, you would have to have no knowledge of Marx and Engels’ dealings with conflict and contradiction in matter, no knowledge of dialectics and basically have not read any Marx for your entire life, not even in High School.
In fact, Marx offered a complete crisis theory inherent in capitalism. The formula c:v (constant capital : variable capital), works initially to accelerate, but then to crash the long-term development of mankind’s means of production proportional to labor power, M:L. This gives rise to the concept of “financial crisis,” which is built into the “boom and bust” style of capitalism. Because the advancement of the means of production to labor power is the source of all material progress and social progress, it’s therefore not hard to argue that capitalism is an unsustainable system – one that inhibits social, productive and political development.
Despite the simplicity of the notion that capitalism is prone to surpluses followed by crises, and is unsustainable in the long-term because it operates like a pyramid scheme, it has never been grasped by bourgeois economists, for how can a class admit its own eventual, inevitable death if it is to remain in power? The intellectuals like the Austrian School of Economics work for the bourgeoisie as loyal servants.
In summation, the alternative to overthrowing capitalism is fascism, which will bring humanity to barbarism and destroy whatever progressive elements capitalism has created. For more on this, check out the section in Marx’s Capital entitled, “The Law of the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall.” Adam Smith tried pitifully to rebuke it, as has everyone else. So far (do not faint!) no one has.
A modernist exercise in capitalist angst, T.S. Eliot’s famous masterpiece “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at once exposes the crumbling of bourgeois society and the utter disintegration of its culture as a meaningful epoch. Considered by many to be the first modernist poem, its verses certainly carve out a splendid picture of the isolation and contempt for the status quo that marks modernist and postmodernist literature. More than that, it illustrates the emptiness and superficiality of class society through the middle-class male persona of the narrator, who is kept nameless but is presumably Eliot himself speaking through a fictional character.
The sense of being lost begins with the quotation at the beginning of the poem. Translated, it reads: “If I thought my answer were to one who could ever return to the world, this flame would move no more; but since no one has ever returned alive from this depth, if what I hear be true, without fear of infamy I answer you.” The quote, which comes from Dante’s Divine Comedy, is originally spoken by a lost soul in hell. This gives quite a first impression of the emotions to come from the main body of the poem.
Posted in Art & Culture, Class Struggle, Imperialist War, Literary Criticism, Writings
Tagged Eliot, literature, Love Song of J. Alfred Pufrock, Marxist, Marxist criticism, Marxist literary theory, T.S. Eliot
John Webster’s’ “A Dirge” is a delightfully gloomy poem contrasting the power and the all-encompassing inevitability of death with the beauty and balance of life. It seems to ponder on this deep subject, using images of nature to communicate its message. Webster makes his purpose immediately clear by the title-a “dirge” itself is a dismal funeral song. The verses clearly speak of death and the eternal nothingness that may reside afterwards-never in the poem does Webster mention anything about the eternal soul or afterlife. Clearly he is not concerned with life or metaphysics, but with death and the natural world.
Indeed, animals and nature are a reoccurring theme throughout the concise poem. “Call for the robin-redbreast,” it begins, “since o’er shady groves they hover, and with leaves and flowers do cover, the friendless bodies of unburied men.” His description of trees, birds and animals is undeniably beautiful even as his account of the bodies of forgotten men being covered in leaves is emotionally draining to the reader. Webster addresses wrens and robins, two kinds of small birds which fed on insects-perhaps those same insects currently feeding on the corpse’s flesh? At once, he speaks to loneliness and beauty, death and life in one package.