MARXISMS: Part 3 – Althusser

Louis Althusser and ideology, as we’ve already read. Rejected the ‘mechanistic interpretation’ of the base/superstructure paradigm for the social formation, which consists of three practices:

  1. economic
  2. political
  3. ideological

The superstructure isn’t a reflection of the base, but is necessary to the base’s existence. Superstructure more autonomous than Marx would’ve argued. “Economic always determinant, this does not mean that in a particular historical conjecture it will necessarily be dominant.” For example, political dominant in feudal system, but of course, the dominant practice will depend on the form of economic production.

Three definitions of ideology from Althusser:

  1. Ideology dispels contradictions in lived experience, and the relationship between individuals and their conditions of existence is both real and imaginary. “The Problematic:” the assumptions, motivations, underlying ideas from which a text is made. Symptomatic readings are the only way to decode the problematics of a text. Example: A car ad that shows the car in the middle of nowhere. That is symptomatic of the problematic questions about whether the car pollutes. The answer, without the question being formally posed is ‘no.’

Macherey differs a bit by saying that symptomatic readings aren’t intended to decode the true meaning of a text, but instead reveals the multiple meanings of a text, a point of view with less negative connotations. “Conflict of several meanings that structures a text.”

“”The task of a fully competent critical practice is not to make a whisper audible, nor to complete what the text leaves unsaid, but to produce a new knowledge of the text: one that explains the ideological necessity of its silences, its absences, its structuring incompleteness — the staging of that which it cannot speak.”

Althusser’s second definition of ideology: it’s still a representation of imaginary relationships between individuals and their circumstances, but instead of being simply a body of ideas, ideology is “a lived, material practice — rituals, customs, patterns of behavior, ways of thinking taking practical form — reproduced through the practices and productions of the Ideological State Apparatuses: education, religion, family, politics, media, culture industry.”

But, of course, there’s a problem with Althusser’s second definition of ideology: it presupposed that interpellation works every time. However, like in the example of a racist joke that doesn’t interpellate a non-racist, even thought it intends to. As a result, many turned to Gransci.

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