Trying to parce Althusser’s essay–again–is slow going. I am slogging through his preambles (which is to say his detailed and dutiful explanations of the theoretical thought process that responds to, organises, and uses Marxism as a scientific methodology, and leads to Althusser’s theory of interpellation) to the discussion of ideology and ideologies, which mostly concerns the relations of the parts of society to each other, under the rubric of production within the capitalist regime.
Simply put, Althusser is asking, what is society? Structurally, what is it? How do the parts relate to the parts? According to Marx’s notion of the base/superstructure to aid the understanding of class relations (struggles) and material conditions, how are we to perceive the structure of society (again, the capitalist regime)? Althusser refers to this notion as an “edifice” (a large, imposing building; a complex system of beliefs), arguing that it functions metaphorically to provide a spatial comprehension of society, but as such is limited to simply providing a convenient way of conceptualising–literally, imagining–society as a structural form:
The greatest disadvantage of this representation of the structure of every society by the spatial metaphor of an edifice is obviously the fact that is is metaphorical: i.e. it remains descriptive.
It now seems to me that it is possible and desirable to represent things dfferently. NB, I do not mean by this that I want to reject the classical metaphor, for that metaphor itself requires that we go beyond it.
(I think he means by this that as a metaphor it performs its own limitations, indicating that the implications of meaning cannot be contained by the metaphor, only alluded to. This would fall in accordance with Althusser’s recognition that science is a means to knowledge (observable facts; or, more appropriately, conditions), which might exist beyond ideology, whereas art (and by extension metaphor, in the Platonic sense) can only allude to knowledge (recall: does art perpetuate ideology? Or transcend it?).
And I am not going beyond it in order to reject it as outworn. I simply want to attempt to think what it gives us in the form of a description.
It gives us the opportunity to respond to what it describes, which is where Althusser gets interesting:
My basic thesis is that it is not possible to pose these questions (and therefore to answer them) except from the point of view of reproduction. (92)
(Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review, 2001. 85-126.)
This is where the discussion of ideology comes in. How does it function in society to keep things going the way they are? Why do we all continue to agree to what we are doing, and not only agree to carry on, but also believe that while others around us seem so clearly to be blind to their own ideological conditioning, we ourselves grow ever firmer in our convictions that we are striving to really understand and better ourselves in the world, and that we are doing the right way for the right reasons. Althusser insists that tackling this problematic must occur through an analysis of society’s continued–unconscious–reproduction of its structural conditions.
Of course, this analysis reveals, for Althusser, not only what he refers to as the “new reality: ideology,” but also the discussion of the observable ideologies comprising the RSA and the ISAs. The ISAs, insidiously, do most of the work (which is what Huxley satirises in Brave New World, taking the capitalist regime and all its emphases on consumerism and technological advances to ludicrous extremes), essentially by repeatedly affirming, repeating, confirming, and reflecting the way things are.
What drove me to discuss all of this is that I suddenly realised the relevance of a term that has been floating around in my head for about two weeks, since my meeting with the grad advisor. I have been honestly pleased and settled by my experience of meeting with him, and using the term (sometimes out loud, even) “recreated” to explain how I felt he dealt with me, as in: “he recreated me.”
Mom, if you are reading this, I hope you got a giggle out of it. (Please do not reply to this interpellation, which has been automatically generated.)
Talk about reproduction. The term is a remnant from the 80s days of est, in fact, which happens to be an excellent example of ideological conditioning, and one that I am increasingly proud to have had personal experience with, given how neatly it yields to my interests. Here, the act of recreating somebody–aka getting, hearing, or validating–becomes a conscientious ideological act. Which is not a surprising or inventive observation, but the word “recreate” just fits so nicely with “reproduction” that I had to jot these things down.
As I was telling K earlier today, when I remember to connect the dots from Althusser’s Marxism to the utopian impulse, it is no longer dry and frustrating.
The structure of society and its material conditions leads to the analysis of reproduction leads to the desire to find a better way of life.