En marxistisk analys av Tolkien – del 5

Analysen är gjord av den brittiske marxisten John Molyneux som var (är?) medlem i brittiska och irländska SWP. Den är lång, så jag delar upp den på flera inlägg. Detta är det femte. Texten är tagen från Molyneux egen blogg.


John Molyneux

Tolkien’s world – a Marxist Analysis, part 5

On Evaluating Tolkien

I have not so far offered any aesthetic evaluation of Tolkien as this was not the purpose of the article, but I am aware that such evaluation is one of the main things many readers look for in any such review of literary work. I am also aware that the analysis I have outlined does have evaluative implications; moreover I think it is possible, likely even, that my analysis will be interpreted in unintended ways. On the one hand the diagnosis of Tolkien’s worldview as conservative, reactionary and feudalist with an admixture of racism and sexism will be seen in some quarters as implying a strongly negative judgment on its literary merits. On the other I suspect that my affection for the text, which is considerable, shows through and may be taken as signifying a very high estimation of Tolkien’s literary standing. Since my actual view lies between these poles it seems advisable to conclude with a brief statement of it.

Like Trotsky, who put the matter very clearly in ‘Class and Art’ (L.Trotsky, On Literature and Art, Pathfinder, New York, 1977, pp 63-88), and Marx, judging by his fondness for Aeschylus, Shakespeare and Balzac, I do not think artistic merit or demerit can be read off from the artist’s progressive or reactionary ideology, even where that ideology is strongly embedded in the work. For example the evident fact that Kipling, Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, Yeats, Faulkner and Celine were right wingers of one sort or another does not make them poor writers or necessarily inferior to say, William Morris, Robert Tressell, George Orwell, W.H.Auden, Upton Sinclair and Edward Upward of the left. I do not even accept that the revolutionary implications of Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ make it a greater poem than Keats’ ‘escapist’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. However I am in favour, as in this piece on Tolkien, of bringing out the political implications of work (whether progressive or reactionary), not pretending they don’t exist and I think that sometimes it can be shown that an artist’s political stance substantially affects the quality of their work either positively or negatively. For example, in general terms, a sexist novelist might be likely to have difficulty with creating powerful women characters, and, specifically, T S Eliot’s poetry was damaged by his anti-semitic tendencies. On the other hand Michelangelo’s sympathy with progressive republican forces in Renaissance Italy was a significant factor in the awesome tragic vision of his later years.[See John Molyneux, ‘Michelangelo and human emancipation’, ISJ 128].

In relation to Tolkien I have shown how his conservative ‘feudalism’ lays the basis for his aesthetic appeal, when combined, of course, with his powerful imagination and strong narrative skills.[ Carl Freedman’s condemnation of ‘the tedious flatness of much, though not all, of the prose’, (Carl Freedman, ‘A note on Marxism and Fantasy’, Historical Materialism, Vol 10 Issue 4 p263) does not correspond to my experience of it ]. But at the same time it seriously limits Tolkien’s aesthetic achievement in two ways which are of fundamental importance in modern literature. First it precludes the possibility of linguistic innovation. Much of the greatest modern literature, whether Eliot or Joyce, Kafka or Beckett, Brecht or Ginsburg, Lorca or Pinter has been engaged in forging new ways of using the language, in ‘keeping it up’ in dynamic tension with the evolution of spoken language, the so-called ‘vernacular’ [In the same way that Cezanne, Picasso, Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Ernst, Miro, Pollock, Warhol and others, participated in the development of our collective means of visual expression]. Tolkien was not, and did not wish to be, part of this.

Second, it is the task of modern literature/art to explore and confront the difficulty – the extreme difficulty – emotionally, morally, psychologically, economically, politically, etc of living in the modern world , a world of intense and complex alienation. Tolkien’s location of his narrative in the idealised feudal past means that he evades this task. He simply does not have to deal with modern social relations in the way that all the writers cited in the previous paragraph, and many others, do. As Freedman rightly says, ‘Middle-earth leaves out most of what makes us real human beings living in a real historical society…the great majority of the actual material interests- economic, political, ideological, sexual – that drive individuals and societies are silently erased’. [Freedman op.cit p.263]. This problem is compounded by the extreme moral bi-polarity of Tolkien’s world, which is clearly derived from his conservative Christianity. From first to last the history of Middle Earth and the wider history of all creation is dominated by a simple struggle between extra-human ‘good’ and ‘evil’. It is true that this struggle goes on WITHIN a number of individuals – Denethor, Boromir, Smeagol/Gollum, Saruman, and Frodo himself are all examples – but it remains enormously oversimplified compared with the ambiguities, nuances, knots, complexities, tangles and so on that characterize real life.

These weaknesses do not render Tolkien’s work unenjoyable or worthless. He is clearly the master of a particular genre of fantasy, which largely shares those weaknesses (though not wholly, as China Mieville’s trilogy set in the alternative present of New Crobuzon shows) but not a master of modern literature as a whole.

John Molyneux
31 October , 2010

Del 1 (Part 1)Del 2 (Part 2)Del 3 (Part3), Del 4 (Part4)

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