Criticism, Marxism, and Practice


Criticism today does seem to be a dry or perhaps even  useless activity. There is confusion as to what criticism should actually do? There is the notion that by merely selecting something to criticize (or review), one has an obligation to select something ‘good.’ Why in flood of work, should we focus on our attention on something that is not worthy of criticism – so in a sense criticism is already denuded of its original use (or what I had interpreted as its original use), to judge.

But perhaps I was wrong, and criticism is not about judgement but about revealing? “Criticism for Marx is an Action.” This is from Rosenberg’s Marxism and Criticism or action.  And one of the concepts from Marx that speaks deeply to me is the notion that there are ways of understanding beyond interpretation. This opens the space for understand through art and through praxis.

So what is the purpose of criticism, in Rosenberg’s paper? One, to supplant instinct with reflection or consciousness, and two as an antidote to bourgeoisie mind control (myths and mysticism – Religion is the the opiate of the masses type thinking). So this transfers the import of criticism from the work to the critic, and criticism becomes a practice much like we talk today of an art practice.  I wonder is anyone supposed to read the criticism? Is the criticism supposed to act on readers (and perhaps the culture producer/work being criticized)? Or is the criticism just for the critic?

Our era is an era of transduction, as I have mentioned before – where one kind of signal is transformed into another (mechanical energy into electrical energy). This is different from say the age of metamorphosis where one form transforms into another (Zeus into a Swan.  Or the age of alchemy, the transformation of one type of matter into another.  Perhaps alchemy and metamorphosis are the same and there is no distinction between form and matter.

Then what type of  transformation is the conversion of labor into capital is a transformation? I would say transduction since the transformation is about power, labor power converted into economic power. Criticism is a conversation or dialogue between individuals or individuals and creations of individuals rather than between abstract man and mass products or abstract man and kitch.  But by and large criticism just seems to be another commodity in a magazine designed to promote a lifestyle brand of perhaps a certain luggage brand or car.

Returning to criticism, both the artist and the critic look at the work as a personal process of personal myth creation and social myth ‘busting’.  Art is the process of individuation and revolution against abstract man. In reading for example Jackson Pollack’s thoughts on his own process “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing.”, or Rosenberg and Kootz in “The Intersubjective”, that  “dramatically personal, each painting contains part of the artist’s self; this revelation of himself in paint being a conscious revolt from our puritan heritage.”

That art needs a criticism, that the mind must be protected against misinterpreting art,  is something I am uneasy with, although it is definitely the trajectory that art has taken. it.  From Barnett Newman, “It is now time for the artist himself, by showing
the dictionary, to make clear the community of intention that motivates him
and his colleagues.” Is it? Why?  Is the criticism an extension of art or the co-option of art by the marketing and advertising forces of capitalism.


Leave a Reply