. . .
While critics concerned with ideology and literature argue that the latter
[the classic Marxist view of ideology as signifying ‘the values, ideas and images which tie (individuals) to their social functions and so prevent them from a true knowledge of society as a whole (Eagleton Marxism and Literary Criticism 17)]
is inevitably ideological, they nevertheless tend to assume a privileged epistemology for literature to the extent that they think of it as simultaneously marked by ideology and transcending it. However, with the exception of Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson, both heavily influenced by the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, few critics have indicated on what theoretical basis they make such an assumption. Developing Marx’s insights, Althusser sees ideology as a ‘social practice’ which helps conceal the true nature of social reality — economic and political. It is ‘a system of representation — composed of ideas, concepts, myths, or images — in which people live their imaginary relation to the real conditions of existence’ (Lenin and Philosophy 162). For Althusser, art’s roots are in ideology but it isn’t purely ideological because its aesthetic forms and devices offer a distance from and perspective on ideology. Where science offers ‘knowledge’ of reality, art ‘alludes’ to it (Lenin and Philosophy 204).
Thus, for Althusser and his followers, art presents ideology in a non-ideological form. The critic’s task is to offer a ‘symptomatic’ reading that, beginning with the surgace of the text, attempts to find its lacunae and contradictions in order to locate the text’s ‘problematic’ (the body of concepts restricting what can be said). Such a reading is important because it reveals how ideology helps construct (‘interpellate’) the individual as a social subject willing to accept a particular view of what is, what is good, and what is possible (Thompson 16).
. . .
In Jameson’s criticism, such an analysis is seen as a prelude to the creation of a more just society. Although indebted to Georg Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness (1923) and to the work of T. W. Adorno and the Frankfurt School, Jameson goes far beyond their pessimistic comments on ideology’s complicit function in capitalist society and art to suggest that ‘a Marxist practice of ideological analysis proper’ must deal with the utopian impulses within ideological cultural texts’ (The Political Unconscious 296).
From: Makaryk, Irena R. Gen. Ed. “Ideology.” Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1993. 558-60.