Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Althusser links his ideas about ideology to Lacan

Louis Althusser's "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" Dr. Mary Klages, Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder, November 6, 2001
Althusser makes some final points about ideology working this way to "hail" us as subjects, so that we think these ideas are individually addressed to us, and hence are true. He says that ideology, as structure, requires not only subject but Subject. In using the capital S, he invokes an idea similar to that of Lacan (whom Althusser studied and wrote about), that there is a small-s subject, the individual person, and a capital S Subject, which is the structural possibility of subjecthood (which individuals fill). The idea of subject and Subject also suggests the duality of being a subject, where one is both the subject OF language/ideology (as in being the subject of a sentence) and subject TO ideology, having to obey its rules/laws, and behave as that ideology dictates.
The interpellated subject in the ideology of the home gym commercial would thus order the gym, behave as if bodybuilding or rigorous exercise was a necessity, something of central importance. The Subject here would be some notion of physical perfection, or body cult, the rules that the subject is subjected to. Althusser uses the example of Christian religious ideology, with God as the ultimate Subject--the center of the system/structure.
On p. 248 Althusser links his ideas about ideology to Lacan directly, noting that the structure of ideology is specular (like Lacan's Imaginary, like the mirror stage). There are a couple of things worth noting about Althusser as a "bricoleur" of other theorists. Althusser was enchanted by Freud, and even more enchanted by Lacan; the ideas of the imaginary, the mirror, the specular, and the subject/Subject are all gotten from or parallel to Lacanian notions. Also, as a Marxist, Althusser privileges SCIENCE as a form of knowing that is outside of any ideological structure, a type of knowledge that really IS simply true, because objective and material--hence his comment on 246 that the only way to know when ideology is ideological is through scientific knowledge.
Is this theory useful to literature? Yes, because it enables us to talk about how a literary text, as a subset or transformation or production of ideology (or of specific ideological formations) also constitutes us as subjects, and speaks to us directly. The most obvious form of how a literary text might interpellate us as subjects is one that uses direct address, when the text says "dear reader" (as Uncle Tom's Cabin does with annoying frequency). All texts interpellate readers by some mechanism, in some ways; all texts create subject positions for readers, whether that construction of subject positions is obvious or not. We will look at this idea of subject positions within literary texts further with Foucault.

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