Sunday, March 9, 2014

"A Pure Dream?" ... Thoughts on Althusser

"A Pure Dream?"
Thoughts on Althusser

"Ideology, then, is for Marx an imaginary assemblage, a pure dream, empty and vain, constituted by the 'day's residues' from the only full and positive reality, that of the concrete history of concrete material individuals materially producing their existence" (160). I found it interesting that Althusser took this negative sense of Marx's conception of ideology and gave it a positive one by suggesting that this dream of ideology-- the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence-- is non-historical because it is omni-historical. For Althusser, then, ideology is more like a Freudian dream, emerging from an unconscious that has no history in that it is eternal.

On the sharing of such a dream, Althusser's elaboration on the reproduction of the systems of production (which seems initially to emerge in Marx's reading of his classical economist contemporaries) also interested me. Although the educational system constitutes the dominant ideological state apparatus, Althusser injects this state of affairs with some hope insofar as it seems that resistance is, at least, not entirely futile.

Building on Althusser's concept of "interpellation"-- by which the state "hails" individuals as (always already) subjects-- I wonder how any (resistant?) form of self-interpellation could come into play. "The category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology insofar as all ideology has the function (which defines it) of 'constituting' concrete individuals as subjects," writes Althusser, "In the interaction of this double constitution exists the functioning of all ideology, ideology being nothing but its functioning in the material forms of existence of that functioning" (171).

But would "resistant interpellation" (of a resistant ideology) just be subsumed by the hegemonic subject-formation? Attempting to resist such interpellation would be an identification of oneself in resistance to-- and therefore, in relation to-- its opposition. Think: the punk movement. And capitalism has fed off of this individualistic tendency by commodifying self-expression. Is the "ironic hipster" figure an attempt at inviting a resistant form of misrecognition?

Would this idea also bear resemblance to Althusser's concept of epistemology as the separation of the (in)/essential real and the concept of ideology as the separation of the (in)/visible -vs.- the concept of the envisioned truth dictated through Logos? People seem to enter into language games where the entire objective is self-identification "with" or "against" something-- perhaps proclaiming that they are part of the "invisible" element of society, deserving of but not obtaining recognition. In a documentary-jumping Netflix tangent at one point, I landed on a documentary about people obsessed with finding Big Foot, and I began to question whether it would really be in these people's best interest to find Big Foot. Wouldn't their sense of self be shattered if they actually proved Big Foot's existence and convinced everyone that they had been right all along? They would no longer be one of the initiates of their esoteric insight. It seems that this could be "read" either way... Is the "with or against" narrative itself a requisite part of hegemony, or does it really show any resistance to it? Would a language game whose only objective is the identification of an individual in one's own ideological terms be pro-hegemony because it would be pro-interpellation, or is there a way for ideology not to become hegemonic?

I'm not completely sure I'm making sense here. In any case, Althusser was like a breath of fresh air for me this week, perhaps partly because he vocalizes the visionary, prophetic sense with which Marx seems sometimes to be read. I know this goes further than Althusser's condemnation of the religious sort of visionary-grounded reading, but I've been a bit bothered lately by a sense that some of the readings seem to invoke a conversion narrative of sorts. It seems to be heralded by Marx as its prophetic visionary, some of the works seem to be addressed to "individuals" in the hope of making them socialist/communist "subjects," the narrative ends with a transformation that brings forth an ideal existence within a communal paradise, and it has its own book of "Revelation," which could similarly "mean" "Apocalypse." Not that I could envision Lenin knocking on my door to ask if I'd heard "the Good News about Marx." On Lenin, though, I find myself wondering what similarities could be found between "liberating by force" and England's rationalized "colonizing by force." Maybe I'm being too cynical...?  

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