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The bookish Marx: Lesley Chamberlain on Karl Marx and World Literature

Leo Goretti28 September 2011

"A vivid biography, bringing the man back to life by decoding his prose expertly"—this is how writer and critic Lesley Chamberlain describes S. S. Prawer's Karl Marx and World Literature in a review for the New Statesman.

By delving into Marx's literary taste, Prawer's classic sheds light on how being an eager reader contributed to turn a young German doctoral student into a great political thinker, with a gift for vibrant metaphors, Chamberlain writes:

Alienation, fetishism and a topsy-turvy world that needs setting aright all began as moments Marx encountered in world literature. He conceived of literature, in a Goethean fashion, as Welt­literatur, the repository of universal human imagination. ... Literature taught Marx about life. There was scope for him to become carried away by his facility for coining metaphors and then to see them enacted in the industrial towns of his age.

Building on Prawer's book, Chamberlain argues that Marx's reflections on the relation between form and content in literary texts might also have influenced his views on society:

I say this faintly, as a criticism Siegbert Prawer doesn't make, but he was also a piercing literary critic who transferred notions of form and content, and a sense that they should harmonise, to an analysis of society. Where the form of an opponent's posturings differed from the content of the man, Marx skewered him.

Visit the New Statesman to read the review in full.  


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