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New Left Review I/92, July-August 1975

Lucien Goldmann

Dialectical Materialism and Literary History

All sociologies of thought agree that social life influences literary creation. This is also a fundamental assumption of dialectical materialism; which in addition, however, gives particular emphasis to the importance of economic factors and the relations between social classes. Many writers and philosophers dispute such an influence: they claim that to relate spiritual values to social and economic circumstances is to debase them. Such prejudices are strengthened among some of them by a desire to combat Marxism, an ideology which appears to them essentially political and primarily concerned with fulfilling the material needs of masses who have no culture and are indifferent to spiritual values. We have shown elsewhere that true spiritual values are not, in fact, separable from social and economic reality, but bear on this reality precisely by their attempt to introduce into it a maximum of human solidarity and community. We are concerned here, however, with a more limited problem: to identify certain principles for a dialectical history of literature and thereby, implicitly, to pose the problem of the relationships between literary creation and social life.

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Lucien Goldmann, ‘Dialectical Materialism and Literary History’, NLR I/92: £3

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