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What is materialist cultural criticism?

Film shot by Kuhle Wampe, by Bertolt Brecht (1932): art as a representation of historical contradictions.

“What contribution does the materialist tradition make to cultural criticism? In the broadest sense, it can be said that the mark that distinguishes this varied tradition is that, for it, culture concretizes socio-historical relationships and the job of the critic is to examine how art describes and interprets these relationships.”

The text above was written by Professor Maria Elisa Cevasco, from USP, is a short article published in 2013 in Revista Ideias. In the text, she points out the theorists who contributed to the emergence of this field of scientific knowledge and uses Marxist dialectics to structure its categories.

Materialist cultural criticism emerges as a response to a type of analysis emptied of its social function and which has dominated academic circles specialized in the primacy of the text as the sole focus of critical work.

Materialist cultural criticism changed this approach. "Instead of evaluating works of art and arbitrating which one goes into the canon or which one is relegated to oblivion, the practice of this type of analysis does not stop at description, but seeks to decipher the links between art forms and the history they concretize", explains Professor Cevasco.

Quoting the North American critic and professor Fredric Jameson, Cevasco points out that “one of the tasks of the dialectical critic today is to make history appear and be recognized by everyone”.

In this context, form (art) and content (society) in a work of art must be objects of the critic's gaze, who needs to find the contradictions they express about the historical context of its realization.

As a scientific field, materialist cultural criticism has an avant-garde vocation and should be linked to broader revolutionary movements.

This form of criticism shows that the work of art manifests the social and historical contradictions within the society that produces it and helps to unveil what is often hidden in the shackles of ruling class ideology and disguised in discursive fragmentation.

To read the text by Professor Maria Elisa Cevasco, visit Revista Ideias.


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