Freedom and Necessity: The Example of the Clerk’s Tale

  • Lee Patterson
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the Introduction to this book I quoted Marx’s famous dictum: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”1 And Friedrich Engels added, when man “become[s] master of his own social organization” he will, “with full consciousness, make his own history. It is humanity’s leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”2 Marx defined “the true realm of freedom” as the “development of human powers as an end in itself.”3 Trained as most of us are in the Kantian aesthetic tradition, for us the clearest instance of human power used as its own end is art, including literature. So here is the familiar, insoluble paradox: literature is simultaneously created within the kingdom of necessity and yet seeks always to leap into the kingdom of freedom. The task of the critic is to negotiate between historical necessity and aesthetic aspiration.


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© Lee Patterson 2006

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