Why I am not a Marxist-Antihumanist as well, and why I respect Althusser despite his failure, part 1

So structural Marxism, or Marxist-anti-humanism, has been far more influencial than Marixst humanism outside of the sectarian Marixst mileau being an influence on Badiou, Foucault, and most of the current Western Maoist groups which are not explicitly Maoist third-worldists. I deeply respect Althusser, but I have a fundamental problem with him that is different from the unified field theory reading of Marx I see in a lot of Marxist-Humanists. For Althusser posits a nearly more radical rupture in Marx than I think is there pulling Marx away from both Hegelian dialectics and from materialism. Indeed, his use of Freud and Lacan while illuminating move one away from a Dialectical process and unto something completely different. I would venture to say the circularity and lack of transition between epochs on finds in some of the vulgarized work of early Foucault are consistent with Althusser beginning in Ideological State Apparatus. When in Reading Capital Althusser asserts that the dialectical materialism is a vision between the theory of knowledge as vision with a theory of knowledge as production, Althusser was profoundly insightful, but his step to see this as a opposition in which one side is favored as real–as in the Ideological State Apparatus–was because Althusser forgot the the dialectical result is a synthesis of the dialectic, not merely an opposition.

Althusser’s critique of the base economic determinism of many classical Marxists which people at the Marxist Humanist Initiative are perhaps the most obvious example of stands, but he assertion that there is no economicism in later Marx because of a radical epistemological break. Now unsubtle readings of Althusser argue that Althusser inverted the base/superstructure argument, favoring the superstructure as the base, deviating from Engel’s assertion of reciprocation until the last instance, but I think that is not Althusser’s mistake. Indeed, I think I agree with Leszek Kolakowski, when he was still more or less a Marxist, critique of Althusser in Althusser’s Marx,

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his theory, expressed in Althusser’s works in extremely pretentious language, is nothing else but the repetition of Engels’ principle of the “relative autonomy” of the superstructure in respect to economic conditions and is just as unclear as that principle. “The great law of uneven development “, if it means anything, means that comparable units (e.g. individuals or industrial societies or tribal societies or trees or galaxies) do not change exactly in the same way since their environment is never exactly the same. It is of course a common sense platitude that may perhaps have a certain philosophical meaning, e.g. in Herbert Spencer. To present it as a dazzling achievement of Marxist thought and to call it”the great law” proves nothing. The same is true of”overdetermination”. That important historical events,such as revolutions, result from the coincidence of many circumstances is a commonplace and one could hardly find anybody foolish enough to maintain that any detail of the historical process may be deduced from the general principle of “contradiction” between productive forces and relations of production. Neither is this commonplace specifically Marxist in any sense. What is specifically Marxist is Engels’ famous phrase about the determinant forces of economic conditions “in the last instance”. This is vague and is not made less vague by Althusser’s repetition of it without any further explanation. It is certainly true that Marx never tried to replace historical inquiry by general statements about “contradictions” nor did he hope that the course of history might be described by deductions from this statement. But this is precisely what makes the whole meaning of historical materialism unclear unless it is reduced again to the commonplace idea that many factors are at work in any historical event and that economic conditions are one of them. This is why some Marxists of the Second International were reluctant to admit Engels’ well known explanations in his letters to Schmidt, Bloch or Mehring. They believed, perhaps not without reason, that the idea of “many factors” enjoying “relative autonomy”deprives Marxism of its specificity, and makes of historical materialism a banal common place, since the additional vague statement about the “determination in the last resort” has no meaning whatsoever in historical explanation as long as we are not able to define what are the limits of this “ultimate determination” and, similarly, the limits of the “relative autonomy” granted to other domains of social life, especially to various spheres of the so-called superstructure. Again, the whole theory of “over-determination” is nothing but a repetition of traditional banalities which remain exactly on the same level of vagueness as before. If we say, e.g. that the state of science, or of philosophy, or of legal institutions, does not depend only, in a given moment, on the actual economic conditions, but also on the past history of science, of philosophy or of legal institutions, we will certainly have difficulty in finding anybody to contradict us and Althusser’s expenditure of indignation in attacking his nonexistent enemies on this point seems rather exaggerated. Moreover, he contradicts himself directly, as far as ideology is concerned. After quoting with approval Marx’s statement from The German Ideology, that philosophy and religion, in a number of ideological forms, have no history of their own but that their apparent history is only the “real” history of the relations of production (FM, p. 83) he goes on to explain in the second book (RC, pp. ggff) that, on the contrary, every domain of the “superstructure”, including philosophy and art, har its own specific history, which does not mean, as Althusser explains, that they are independent of the social “totality”, but that their degree of independence is determined by their degree of dependence. This last remark is either a tautology or a vague statement that the state of philosophy, or of art, is partially dependent on the actual economic “totality”-a statement which belongs to common sense but is uselessso long as we are unable to define the limits of this partial dependence.

In other words, in failing to deal with the dialectic, well, dialectically, Althusser moves us into a situation where ideologies compete to form the subject/object relations, and these ideologies look to cause the problem. This is the ultimate, but opposite, form of hypostatization I see Marxist-Humanism. The inversion of an error does not undo the error.

Althusser’s attempt to rid Marx of the “idealist” dialectics from Hegel actually ends up removing the dialectical process from Marx itself creating a reification in which the descriptor of the relation of the means of production actually end up determining the means of production.  Or, to be put it simply, in taking the idealism out of the dialectics, Althusser also took the dialectic itself out.  Furthermore,  his typologies are themselves idealistic because it places ideas and not relationships as the primary determinate of human relationship as I stated above.

Althusser’s ideological critiques for all their flaws did leave to critically engaging with the idea of historical problems of class. Indeed, class remnants and systems set up by a prior existing class can transfer and survive the relations. Therefore, for example, since most of the population in neo-liberal capitalism are wage-earners, one does not need capitalists classes as existing people to function.  Furthermore, there is a point to one of Althusser’s critiques of many Marxist prior substutation of materialism for idealism:

To simplify matters, let us say, for now, a materialism of the encounter, and therefore of the aleatory and of contingency. This materialism is opposed, as a wholly different mode of thought, to the various materialisms on record, including that widely ascribed to Marx, Engels and Lenin, which, like every other materialism in the rationalist tradition, is a materialism of necessity and teleology, that is to say, a transformed, disguised form of idealism. 

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on November 29, 2011, in ideology, Marxism. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. This is pretty muddy to me, so in an effort to get a grip on the question I’m going to trim away a lot of what I see as extraneous noise. For instance, the question of whether Althusser was an idiot or a genius, of whether his reading of Marx was correct or not, isn’t something I wish to engage with at the moment. I just want to see if I can even state the problem:

    It seems that the history of art, philosophy, and politics (the superstructure) can’t be understood by looking to the economic conditions present. While Alfred Jarry and JG Ballard were both born during financial panics, and while these two writers shared some literary obsessions (http://www.evergreenreview.com/102/fiction/duo.html) it would be gross economism to suggest that their creative output was determined by these financial panics. Without getting distracted by details, the question is how is it that a given economic system might be said to “determine” history if it can never be seen to cause anything? To put it another way, sure Ballard’s nihilism could arguably be said to have sprung from the Great Depression, but then again Richard Bach’s syrupy New Age writings could also be said to have sprung from the Great Depression. How could the Great Depression be determining the production of these authors given how different they are? Or, to work on the level of movements instead of individuals, was the post-war boom somehow responsible for the ascendancy of Abstract-Expressionism over other art movements? If so, what fluctuations in the business cycle pushed Pop-Art to the fore?

    Okay, actually these examples seem to be pretty good empirical evidence in favor of the economy as a determining force in the world of art and literature. But, I don’t think I’ve really gotten a grasp of the problem. Let me try again. You wrote:

    “[Althusser is an idealist because] he claims that ideas and not relationships are the primary determinates of human relationships.”

    Okay, so this quote above is a paraphrase. I rewrote it so I could maybe grasp it more easily, but I see a tautology in it. How can relationships be the determinates of relationships? What you mean to say, I think, is that Althusser claims that ideas and not people determine relationships in society. Isn’t that the basis of Althusser’s anti-humanism? Or, to complicate it a bit, Althusser claims that our identities are determined by where we end up inside a system of ideology. That’s what interpellation is, right? Interpellation is the process whereby we are placed into the structure that is our means of creating our relationships.

    Now here is the dialectical move: This structure is somehow our product even though we do not exist except in as much as we are defined by it. (Check this out for more of my tail biting writings on Althusser http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/five-steps-for-understanding-althussers-concept-of-ideology-without-going-insane/)

    It’s worth taking into account what Zizek says about dialectics. Dialectics is not the taking of opposites and balancing them out, not some stupid yin-yang process toward harmony, but is rather a struggle with a winning side wherein the victory of the one over the other creates a new form. In a dialectical struggle between God and Man, for instance, man wins and we get Christ the son of man. In the struggle between economics and history we get the history of economies.

    One last chess metaphor: It’s worth pointing out that the rules of chess determine the history of chess even though they don’t cause the history of chess. Example: According to Wikipedia the Queen’s Gambit did not become common until the 1873 tournament in Vienna.

  2. I am accusing Althusser of being circular ultimately, yes. I am claiming that is how it works. I am claiming that is how Althusser is completely wrong. The interpellation is a concept from reading applying to ideas, but this is the ultimate form of reification, even in the Marxist sense, Doug. Our position in the “ideology” is an abstraction. The ideology is a web of ideas that are produced by and maintain the social relationships, but they are the first or primary cause of social relationships. It seems odd to me that you actually seem to pull from the two kinds of Marxist thinkers MOST opposed to each, but share in them a move away from the Hegelian parts of Marx. I realize that the Dialectic is not a simple balancing act, but it is also NOT a simple negation. Strangely for all his talk about how Marxists moved back towards idealism in the Dialectical method, functionally that’s what Althusser does: He placed an ideological state apparatus at the key of the system, but what is the ideological state apparatus. A structure, not even a person to person relationship because Althusser removes the need for a capitalist class, we can have merely a capitalist structure. Now, obviously, I actually think there is something brilliant in that, but we come to the point where no one can figure out if we can move past ideology. A word that Marxists now use to describe their own axiomatic assumptions, but ironically was used in Marx almost SOLELY negatively as something to be overcome and a flaw in the Left Hegelians focusing on ideas.

    When Debord accused the Structuralists of trying to make current relationships eternal, it seems pretty damned clear that he would have included Althusser’s ideas in that category.

  3. “Ideology is a ‘representation of the Imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.’” -Althusser, On Ideology

    This actually gets to the crux of it, the Ideological State Apparatus is a way to explain why there is a double remove, but then what is the Ideological State Apparatus: the ideology that produces the ideology as a maintenance of the means of production. If this sounds like Foucault’s concept of power and how ultimately circular that is, I think there is a reason for that.

    Ideology is produced by relationships and is reinforces those relationships, but it doesn’t generate them nor does it alone produce the means of production. I think Lefebvre is more instructive because he sees an ideological critique, but doesn’t try to move it past alienated human agents.

  4. Circular reasoning is an argument that uses its premise as its conclusion or an argument that tries to support its conclusion by referring to its conclusion. Example: ‘President Reagan was a great communicator because he had the knack of talking effectively to the people.’

    Hegelian Dialectics is reasoning that attempts to use the tension between opposites, the split or contradiction, as a solution. Rather than a circular argument what we have is a split or twisted circle. It’s not that the premise assumes its conclusions but rather that every premise is already an argument with itself.

    An example of Hegelian dialectical reasoning can be found in his solution for the split between perception and the world in itself. For Kant the world in itself was cut off from us as it lay outside of perception, but Hegel pointed out that in order for us to recognize the barrier, in order to see the split, we must have already passed beyond the barrier. The very fact that the world in itself appears to be split off from us, outside of perception, is how we know it is there and do in fact perceive the world. This is also a good example of dialectics as a negation of negation. If the thesis is the world and the anti-thesis is perception Hegel’s solution is the world in perception. Perception wins here, but is not left identical with itself.

    Zizek gives another example that might clarify this further. The split between living and dead is resolved in the category of undead.

    You wrote something really interesting: What is the ideological state apparatus.? A structure, not even a person to person relationship. Althusser removes the need for a capitalist class, we can have merely a capitalist structure.

    Well, that’s right. Capitalism can operate without a Capitalist class I think. It is a structure. However, that doesn’t meant that it exists in some Platonic realm outside of the material world, but rather the opposite.

    You ask if there is a way to move past ideology. The answer that I’m giving is no, or rather that only by realizing ideology, only by understanding that there is no way to exist that isn’t ideological, can we possibly escape ideology. In fact, efforts to move past ideology into the real world are the most ideological moves around.

    Here’s the dialectic on it: Thesis: Really existing social practices AntiThesis: ideology Synthesis: a social practice of ideology

  5. I’ve read a bit of Lefebvre but it seems to me that there is always the danger of throwing names down in place of an understanding.

    Anyhow, you’re misunderstanding how I used that Althusser quote. You wrote: “The Ideological State Apparatus is a way to explain why there is a double remove, but then what is the Ideological State Apparatus: the ideology that produces the ideology as a maintenance of the means of production.”

    The ISA is not the cause of the split between individuals and their conditions of existence, but the story we tell in order to explain the split. My point is that the split itself is primary. The split is what is Real.

    Also, rereading this I find it funny how I can read this sentence two ways: “I think Lefebvre is more instructive because he sees an ideological critique, but doesn’t try to move it past alienated human agents.”

    If this is true then what you’re pointing to is precisely Lefebvre’s failure. That is, the whole point is to move past alienated human agents, right? What I think I’m arguing is that we need to seize our own alienation.

  6. Doug, seriously, I know what both circular and dialectic mean.

    “The answer that I’m giving is no, or rather that only by realizing ideology, only by understanding that there is no way to exist that isn’t ideological, can we possibly escape ideology. In fact, efforts to move past ideology into the real world are the most ideological moves around.”

    This is NOT the way Marx used the term, in fact, I would look at his critique of the Left Hegelians for why I feel like this is off the mark. Now you could argue that this why late Marx moved away from the term.

    “Here’s the dialectic on it: Thesis: Really existing social practices AntiThesis: ideology Synthesis: a social practice of ideology”

    Ideology isn’t really existing social practices AntiThesis. It is a way to reconcile cognitive dissonance between contradictions in social relations. Ideology was a bad answer to a dialectic: T;”I have value as human being,” AT: “I am in a class position with defines my social relations and thus my reality (read: alienation),” Synthesis: “Ideology’s double removal.” But this is already covered more clearly in the concept of alienation, but Althusser makes it a coherence system which reinforces itself beyond alienation. . So then what does this ideology talk do other than create an interchangible idea world? This seems fundamentally anti-Marxian ultimately.

    “the whole point is to move past alienated human agents, right?”

    No, I mean you don’t need anything outside of alienated human relations, and yes the point is see through the alienation. Ideology, in the few times Marx uses the time, is a function of alienation, not the other way around. So either Althusser isn’t cutting anything against the Marxist-Humanists, but then why anti-humanism? Or he’s moving towards something that seems in step with Marx but actually isn’t entirely. Now that may be fine if its true, but I don’t think it is because it whiffs of moving idealism back to the core of the dialectic.

  7. You wrote: “Doug, seriously, I know what both circular and dialectic mean.”

    I suppose that by this you mean that you see why you were mistaken to suggest that Althusser was
    making a circular argument? After all I clarified the difference in order to illustrate how Althusser’s argument was dialectical and not circular. If there is confusion on that point let me know and I’ll clarify?

    “This is NOT the way Marx used the term.”

    Well, as I’m not a dogmatic Marxist this is hardly persuasive. Also, it is my understanding that (as you suggest) Marx fluctuates in his usage. Yes, Marx did conceive of ideology as “false consciousness,” however he goes on later to point out that an ideological abstraction can be materialized in productive practices. And quite apart from how Marx used the term there is the question of what the most useful conception of the term might be.

    You wrote:

    “Ideology isn’t really existing social practices. It is a way to reconcile cognitive dissonance [caused by] contradictions in social relations.”

    Okay, well dialectically an ideology is both a story we tell in order to justify a social practice and the social practice that we ritually practice in order to perpetuate the story. Let me go to Zizek here with his typical banal example: Santa Claus. The ideology of Santa Claus is not just the story of this jolly fat guy with a beard that we tell in order to explain the appearance of presents under the Christmas tree, but rather the ideology of Santa Claus is both the story and the ritual of putting presents under the tree in his name. So, a real social practice emerges from the ideology of Santa Claus.

    Here’s another example: The exchange value produced through Capitalist production isn’t just a story we tell in order to justify the class system that Capitalist production relies on, but at the same time the class system is perpetuated in order to maintain this fiction called exchange value.

    Now, before we tackle these other questions of why humanism or anti-humanism, maybe we could spend a bit of time just wrestling with this definition of ideology that I put forward. That is, that an ideology is not just a story that justifies a social practice, but also the social practice that forms around the story.

  8. Actually, no, I still think ultimately Althusser is circular because the move is move away from alienated human agents producing ideologies to hide their alienation, to ideologies producing the alienation: in terms of Marx this does’t make sense and in terms of non-dialectical logic it doesn’t make sense. Now if we say that Althusser isn’t saying that, the Althusser isn’t innovating. He’s merely renamed alienation.

    The clarifying Zizekian example isn’t clarifying: putting presents under the tree is justified social ritual that has a “demonstrately false” social mythology (about an Easter Orthodox saint) around it about the Santa Claus tradition that causes someone to perpetuate the tradition. The American tradition was recent and coincided with industrialization. The ritual stands as a way to force human interaction, and thus still is well in the realm of alienation. The Zizek/Althusser moves that outside of beings being alienated. It either gets the order wrong or it is using words in a way that was clearer in the prior model.

    It is not wrong because it isn’t Marxist. It’s literally seems to be mystification itself.

  9. “I still think ultimately Althusser is circular because the move is move away from alienated human agents producing ideologies to hide their alienation, to ideologies producing the alienation.”

    You may, of course, think this. However, you do not have an argument to support the thought you are clinging to, nor does Althusser’s writing support your thought. Althusser is not circular in his reasoning. Rather, Althusser argues that alienation is a first condition and that ideology is the story we tell in order to explain this first condition. It’s not a circular move, but a dialectical one. There is a split between the world of really existing social practices and our fantasies, and Althusser points out that this split is necessary. That is, just as we can only come to understand that the world beyond perception exists by discovering that the barrier between perception and the world is a perception, we can only overcome ideology by discovering that the division between the real social world and ideology is itself ideologically defined. Remember:

    “Ideology is a ‘representation of the Imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.’”

    That imaginary relationship is the basic fact of human existence and in order to overcome ideology the reality of this imaginary relationship must be accepted. Again, an ideology is not the false picture of the world, but is our explanation for why we tell the lie.

    As to what you said about the ritual of Santa, I can’t decipher your meaning. I understand that you somehow don’t think my Santa Claus example as a good one, but the reasons you gave to reject the example don’t add up. You wrote that the Santa Claus story is “demonstrably false” and I agree with you. There is no such thing as Santa. Sure. And you wrote that this myth “forces human interaction” and is within the realm of alienation. And I agree with you there as well. How are these facts grounds for rejecting my using the Santa Clause myth as an example of how an ideology can drive a really existing social practice and relationship?

  10. Because, as I understand Althusser, the subject is created a-historically, which means that could be no history to that development, but instead that development would create history. Do you see my problem? I have trouble reconciling exactly how you get from point A to point B in ideological development in ALthusser.

  11. You have no justification for the statement that “the subject is created ahistorically.” That’s just a misreading or misunderstanding on your part. When you say point A what are you referring to? What do you consider to be point B?

  12. Really because Althusser says it explicitly in On Ideology, I am not misreading him or he can’t write clearly, merely asserting that “trans-historical, omnihistorical, and eternal” do not mean ahistorically. Ideology creates history to Althusser and predates alienation since ideology, and not material conditions, create subjectivity.

    “This sense is a positive one if it is true that the peculiarity of ideology is that it is endowed with a structure a functioning such as to make it a non-historical reality, i.el. an omni-historical reality, in the sense in which the structure and functioning are immutable” (P 35)

    “If eternal means, not transcendent to all (temproal) history, but omnipresent, trans-historical and therefore immutable in form through the extent of history, I shall adopt Frued’s expression word for word, and write idealogy is eternal” (p 35)

    “the category of the subject is the constitutive category of all ideology whatever its determination and whatever its historical date – since ideology has no history” (p44-45)

    I can go on: He says it multiple times. He doesn’t just mean that ideologies exist throughout history, he means that ideologies are a-historical because they generate subject consciousness. Now if he means that interactions with others generate subject consciousness, he’s no being innovative, but he’s using occulted language.

    If ideologies generate history and ideologies are how it generation. Let’s go further: “History is the immense natural-human system in movement, and the moter of history is class struggle. History is a process, and process without a subject. The question about how men make history disappear altogether” (On Ideology, 83-84)

    Compare that with this: History is not like some individual person, which uses men to achieve its ends. History is nothing but the actions of men in pursuit of their ends. – Karl Marx, Die Heilige Familie, Ch. VI, (1845)

    So Althusser wants to remove the people from history by staying class struggle is structural and not relational, and thus precedes history, that’s a-historical. There is no real way that any new subjectivity can arise to question the current subjectivity in this. It’s a mystification.

  13. Point A is the current Ideology which creates the subject according to Althusser. Point B would be the next ideology. You have to await it coming since you having your entire subjectivity created by the prior can not see it, but how it unveils itself through class struggle contradictions.

  14. Nowhere in On Ideology does Althusser say that “subjectivity” is created ahistorically eternal. You are so committed to placing subjectivity at the center of your own philosophy that you place it at the center of his as well, but he never says what you claim he says in On Ideology.

    Let’s look at that quote again:

    “The category of the subject is the constitutive category of all ideology whatever its determination and whatever its historical date – since ideology has no history.”

    That’s not at all the same as saying that any given subjectivity is created ahistorically because look at the very next line he writes: “but at the same time and immediately I add that the category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology insofar as all ideology has the function (which defines it) of ‘constituting ‘ concrete individuals as subjects.”

    He goes on to say that “man is by nature ideological.”

    Look, think of it this way: Let’s accept this: “History is nothing but the actions of men in pursuit of their ends.”

    How are those ends arrived at?

    You write: “So Althusser wants to remove the people from history by staying class struggle is structural and not relational.”

    The opposition between structure and real relations is a false opposition. There can be no class struggle without a struggle. In fact, no social relationships can exist in any unmediated way. There can be no relationships that aren’t structured.

    “There is no real way that any new subjectivity can arise to question the current subjectivity in this. It’s a mystification.”

    Let me turn this around on you. If subjectivity isn’t ideological but natural, if it doesn’t arise out of the ideas that we created and now use to understand why we are cut off from each other and the world, then how is a new subjectivity possible? What Althusser has done is say: “There is nothing outside of our own mediating structures. There is no neutral ground to walk on, and certainly nothing like a subjectivity that isn’t polluted by the mystifications required for humans to interact.”

    You don’t like this because you want somewhere solid from which to launch an attack against the current society, and you think your own subjectivity is the most solid thing around. But why do you think that subjectivity or identity is solid? Because you somehow see it as existing outside of mystifications. But if it is natural and real and solid how can one ever change it? I submit that changing it is more impossible from your position than it is from Althusser’s position.

    “Point A is the current Ideology which creates the subject according to Althusser. Point B would be the next ideology. ”

    The way to point B would be the to realize that there is no point A. That is, the very understanding that our identities are ideologically produced, that our interior lives and our outward social roles are both constructed by a mediating system (a system currently constructed to support a class divide) is the arrive at point B. However, this can’t be done by merely thinking or arguing or reading Althusser. Instead, the trick is to create a society that knows itself to be ideological. And I believe this would require institutions founded a new economy.

  15. The fact that there is no unmediated consciousness is solved by Althusser, it’s mystified by him in the term of a word. You keep insisting on categories I am not arguing: subjectivity does not have to be natural or ideological, this is false binary. Subjectivity is created in the collective reflection. It exists only as a relation to an object. It is not solid, but exists regardless of a particular ideological superstructure.

    “You don’t like this because you want somewhere solid from which to launch an attack against the current society, and you think your own subjectivity is the most solid thing around.”

    False. Doug, don’t argue a strawman. Argue with what I said, not the position that is easier to defend. Subjectivity itself is not a mystification, but it cannot help be informed by the mystifications in social relationships. Since all means of production are mystified, the consciousness of the subject necessary reflects this, but it is solely determined by it as changes in the gaps of subjectivity could produce this. This means the structure is incomplete, but Althusser doesn’t argue that the structure is incomplete,he argues that it is over-determined.

    “The opposition between structure and real relations is a false opposition. There can be no class struggle without a struggle. In fact, no social relationships can exist in any unmediated way. There can be no relationships that aren’t structured.”

    This does not imply a universal structure in an ideology. You (and Althusser before you) are going from step a to step c without understanding that ideology ITSELF is reification of social relations, NOT a determinant of it. The fact there is no unmediated social space because a consciousness is always collectively defined in its subjectivity does not predicate that all there could be is new social relationships. Furthermore, this has already been blown apart MORE THAN ONCE. You ignore this. Everyone from Ranciere to Badiou (on the Lacanian side) to E.P Thompson to Gregory Eliot on the Marxist Humanism side has pointed out that this literally doesn’t go anywhere: if the subject position is created by ideology and ideology is struggle (although this actually is false statement: There is nothing in classes that necessitates struggle, it necessitated differentiation between collected individuals. This is not “neutral ground” as differentiated is imposed by struggle, but if subjugated class accepts this then it is irrelevant).

    “The way to point B would be the to realize that there is no point A.” This is an intellectual pipedream, and it’s a strange one since you have effectively taken two completely contradictionary positions and reconciled them into the “ideology that is aware of its ideology.” Althusser states “I am talking about the ideological pair economism/humanism. It is a pair in which the two terms are complementary. It is not an accidental link, but an organic and consubstantial one. . . provides a sanction for the capitalist relations of production and exploitation” so even a new economy is not enough. How do you get there? Just imagine it as a revolutionary act itself? How can you do that since your entire prior ideology is determined by your subject position within the structure? You haven’t changed your subject position and so the consciousness which generates this new ideology aware of itself is dominated by an unconscious ideology. You cannot explain it, just just posit that the problem isn’t actually a problem. Now, I’ll give you an out: You have inserted Lacanian notions of the subconscious as developed by Zizek (and not entirely clear in Althusser’s writings even on Lacan.) But then you sneak in Zizek without acknowledging that Zizek is actually quite at odds with parts of Althusser: especially methodologically, since Zizek wants to return back to Hegel as a means for embracing the Dialectic. You’re polemical style sounds more like you are pulling from Zizek’s “Sublime Object of Ideology” than Althusser’s “Lenin and Philosophy” and “On Ideology.” Again, I would have problems with this because the two methods are incompatible (structural linguistic analysis and dialectical materialism), but it makes more sense than what you attributing to Althusser.

  16. You wrote:

    “Subjectivity does not have to be natural or ideological, this is false binary. Subjectivity is created in the collective reflection. It exists only as a relation to an object. It is not solid, but exists regardless of a particular ideological superstructure.”

    Your first sentence is contradicted by the second sentence. If subjectivity is created through a process of collective reflection then it is ideological. As to your third and fourth sentences I read them as containing quite a lot of ambiguity. If the subject only exists as a relation to an object that means both a) subjectivity (or ideology) is somehow an epiphenomena of objective social practices and b) the objective world of social practices is entirely cut off from ideology or the subject. This is a Kantian perspective as far as I can tell.

    Maybe rather than arguing whether Althusser has already been discredited or to what degree Zizek and Althusser share a perspective or oppose one another we could wrestle with these paragraphs and ideas?

  17. No, Doug, it is not. You are eqiovocating: collective construction does not predicate on ideological reification. There is no contradiction: Your binary in this is false: ” If the subject only exists as a relation to an object that means both a) subjectivity (or ideology) is somehow an epiphenomena of objective social practices and b) the objective world of social practices is entirely cut off from ideology or the subject. This is a Kantian perspective as far as I can tell.”

    Subjectivity is an epihenomena of the mind, which can only be conscious of itself as an object, in that intentionality we can only know ourselves in relational terms because our consciousness as its own object can only be reflected BACK to us, and thus our self is defined (or produced) in social practices. It is not only ideological is the only determinant within one structure, but several structures collectively defined and interacting within human agents. There is neither Kantian nor Althusserian. It is still a humanistic vision in which structures do emerge and operate on subjectivity (Note: I have never said that Althusser’s concept of ideology is totally invalid, I said his concept of subjectivity is at odds with it.)

    “Maybe rather than arguing whether Althusser has already been discredited or to what degree Zizek and Althusser share a perspective or oppose one another we could wrestle with these paragraphs and ideas?”

    I am, but I am often wondering what I am arguing here, Doug, because your reading of Althusser seems to be taking a different view of ideology that he seems to have taken even though it is from stems from the text. The awareness of ideology seems not possible in Althusser’s framework given how over-determined we are with ideological terms. We could not become conscious of our ideological position as our position determines our entire subjectivity. Zizek’s conception actually moves us BACK into a Hegel-Marx framework with the good bits of Althusser kept. I don’t know that I entirely agree or disagree with it, but it’s a different beast.

  18. In your second paragraph you wrote:

    “Subjectivity is an epihenomena of the mind, which can only be conscious of itself as an object, in that intentionality we can only know ourselves in relational terms because our consciousness as its own object can only be reflected BACK to us, and thus our self is defined (or produced) in social practices.”

    On this we agree. My question before was what you meant by “object.” If by object you meant an abstraction that was taken as an object, or a reification then I would agree with you about subjectivity only arising out of relationship with an object. However, if you meant some objective thing outside of subjectivity, something that is not mediated, then I believe that you are being Kantian.

    You wrote: “Your reading of Althusser seems to be taking a different view of ideology that he seems to have taken even though it is from stems from the text.”

    Neither one of us are in a position to say what Althusser meant. What you mean to argue is that my Zizek influenced reading of Althusser is different from your reading. However, this is so far only an assertion and to me it seems a distracting assertion.

    You wrote: “The awareness of ideology seems not possible in Althusser’s framework given how over-determined we are with ideological terms. We could not become conscious of our ideological position as our position determines our entire subjectivity.”

    I do not understand why you insist that a subject that is determined by ideology or by its position in a field of social relations cannot know where she stands in that field of ideology or social relations. In fact, to know herself would be to know precisely where she stands in the field of social relations. Why is it necessary to stand outside of ideology in order to become aware of ourselves? Unless, of course, you mean to say that the real identity of the subject is determined by an occluded object.

    As to your repetition of Zizek and Althusser’s difference I think it would be worthwhile if you pointed to where you think their precise difference might lie. What key concept separates Zizek from Althusser?

  19. Zizek seems to still believe that human subjectivity however mediated by ideology can be liberated by gaps in the self object-at minimum Althusser is unclear about it and this led to historical error, also Zizek’s method is dialectical not linguistic

    Sent from my iPod

  20. Okay. I think this exchange has gone to the end in this space. Tell you what, I have an essay I need to write that will tie a bunch of stuff together. Maybe we can pick up this debate on my blog later?

  21. Sure. Just drop the link here so I see it.

  1. Pingback: Why I am not an Marxist-Anti-humanist Part 3: On the redeeming features of Althusser with cavaets « The Loyal Opposition to Modernity:

  2. Pingback: Why I am not an Althusserian part 4: Wine skins and Layer Cakes « The Loyal Opposition to Modernity:

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