Cultural Materialism and Style: Exploring Literary Theory

In cultural materialism “the emphasis on historical context ‘undermines the transcendent significance traditionally accorded to the literary text- here the word ‘transcendent’ roughly means ‘timeless’ “ In short, you put a literary piece in the context of the time period and culture form which it is written, but that takes away from the universality of the piece, it makes it harder for everyone to relate to it. Both Stuart Hall and Dick Hebdige have to do with this idea in that Hebdige reflects on what creates this culture that we then associate, somewhat arbitrarily, to readings, and that Stuart offers up an analysis of what it is to claim identity in the “black diaspora”. But with Stuart, cultural materialism and understanding the context of his subject matter makes it much more difficult for many non- Caribbeans to relate. Although context and history can be considered important, I can see why some literary theorists would prefer to look it from a more universal and objective point of view. However, I also feel that doing so destroys the ability of readers to come in contact with society diversity on a global scale.

In Hebdige’s readings, he describes subculture as “styles made up of mundane objects which have a double meaning”. Subculture is something that, like theory, does not have a singular concrete definition. We can’t understand subculture without first recognizing what culture is. Hebdige’s theory on culture offers a variety of definitions, but one that fits will into the concept of subculture is “ a particular way of life which expresses certain meanings and values not only in art and learning, but also in institutions and ordinary behavior”. This meaning of culture is one that I feel, we have commonly accepted as our own and is what we now mean when we discuss culture not just within a literary context, but in general. What is interesting about the definition of sub– culture is that the things that characterize it are apparently “mundane”. Meanwhile, when discussing subculture, we put great emphasis on what creates it, in trying to search for that double meaning that links different cultural ideas together. We spend a lot of our everyday life trying to connect language, aesthetic and behavior to specific cultures and subcultures, to pigeon- hole people into this or that, when in reality, culture and its subdivisions seem to be more of a continuum rather than isolated groups. In popular culture “cultural” representations- from books to movies”, we see this analysis at work.


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