Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ominous Hands & Ideology

It is clear that Althusser values ideas on some level, because he is concerned with the right definitions, questions, and answers. This gives him the methods to both help us understand "Marx's philosophy" and they ways in which other Marxist's (and even -oids) fit together. As he points out toward the beginning of "From Capital to Marx's Philosophy,"Marx and his followers "carry with them not only the Marxist theory of history...but also Marx's philosophical theory, in which they are thoroughly steeped...even in the inevitable approximations of its practical expression." (I think this very much pertains to Robert's distinctions on the how vs. the whether or not types of arguments--Marx did the former--theoretical practice in the manner of Capital, most people want do the latter--real practice in the manner of burning cars or enjoying pension funds depending on your background).

So, what's Althusser's big insight? Mostly, I guess it's the way ideology functions within Marx. "Marx's Philosophy" gets at this when he talks about Marx's own methods of reading, and they way in which he was able to answer questions that weren't yet clear, in addition to requiring readers to work on his terms. Futhermore, Althusser consistently (I think) uses the assemblage of "economic, political, and ideological"when discussing modes of production. This expansion of the field of determining factors for society to explicitly include ideology comes out clearly when he writes,
we have paid great attention to the concepts in which Marx thinks the general conditions of economic production and the concepts in which Marxist thought much think its theory of history, not only to grasp the Marxist theory of the economic region of the capitalist mode of production, but also to ascertain as far as possible the basic concepts (production, structure as a mode of production, history) whose formal elaboration is equally indispensable to the Marxist theory of the production of knowledge, and its history. (44)
From that foundation, we can begin to derive an idea of how we might perform ideology critique (he cites Foucault), and knowledge work that might take the form of beneficial class struggle, or progress, or subversion to the system that pays it. Then we can work in the modes of elucidation, elaboration, and investigation and not feel entirely complicit. So that seems to have potential as an affirmation for a knowledge worker who doesn't want to just be producing little exploitation machines. But maybe I'm doing this wrong if I'm that worried about self justification.

(The invisible hand this week was the one in the margins of the photocopy--physical traces of the labor that goes into ideas.)

1 comment:

  1. I'm responding to Dan and Jonathan both here, who touched on the importance of ideology in Marx's broader analysis. As Althusser summarizes, the chief goal of bourgeois states is to reproduce their socioeconomic system and society, which is effectuated by State Apparatus (police, armies, government agencies), but also by ideology (church, family, media and education) . And I agree with Althusser's thesis that because modern capitalist democratic states have been so effective at curbing the power of religion and totalitarian regimes, the ruling elite have used education and the media to reproduce their power. Jonathan makes the point that both secondary and post-secondary education in America have become much more tied to preparing students for the real world. But again, this rationale allows for the illusory nature of ideology. It allows the political leadership to change their message thru education, as they see fit. And I think Marx right now would be telling us that we need to recapture our colleges and universities, and make them places, once again, for the free exchange of ideas. I think the influence of corporations and government on public universities has inhibited our ability as teachers to challenge our students' thinking to the fullest extent.


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