Neo-Marxism. Louis Althusser’s ( 1918-90) contributions loo ee all-too- sair. Althusser’s objective:.
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“ . . . to recover and redefine the rational and scientific content of Marxism and to draw strict lines of demarcation between materialism and idealism. The importance of theory is paramount; the understanding of theory must precede the understanding of reality, and revolutionary practice cannot exist without revolutionary theory” (Macey 10)
For Marx, ideology is made up of the dominant ideas that adapt human beings to the roles required of them, roles not necessarily or even usually in their own best interests. This is the notion of “false consciousness” identified by Marx—the mental shackles that must be challenged concurrently with the economic/social class nexus.
Althusseragrees that ideology is the force that keeps the individual firmly in place in the machinery of society.
Ideology, then, Althusser famously says, “is a subject’s imaginary relationship with the real conditions of his/her existence.” However, Althusser sees ideology as not so much true or false as simply the necessary condition of a social existence—”the representations at the heart of a given culture” (See Barry 157).
These implicit attitudes and assumptions are both diffuse and pervasive, not tied in a cause/effect way to economics.
Thus, Althusser seems to represent the flip side of Marx’s view that material conditions can explain both the natural and the social worlds. Where Marx saw a cause/effect relationship between economics and culture, Althusser posits “decentered” social structure that has not overall unity.
This results in thinking that “ideological power is shown to be of ultimately greater significance than material power” (Barry 159).
“In A.’s theory of ideology, interpellation is the mechanism that produces subjects in such a way that they recognize their own existence in terms of the dominant ideology of the society in which they live. In France, interpellation is commonly used to mean “being taken in by the police for questioning” . . . (Macey 203)
When an individual turns around in response to a hail by a police officer, he/she is being constituted as a subject. In other words, an individual cannot recognize himself or herself except in terms of a pre-existing ideology that puts him/her in his/her place. (1269 right).
“. . . The idea of interpellation demonstrates that subjects are always and already the products of ideology, and thus subverts the idealist thesis that subjectivity is primary or self-founding” (Macey 203).
Recall: As Barry point’s out, the general view of Marxist criticism is that writers envision the world through the lens of their own ideologies, which are conditioned by social class.
Leninist view: Therefore, literature should consciously be used as the instrument of the Communist party (153)
Engelsian view (allied with that of the Russian formalists): Literature, because of its unique use of language and form, has particular effects that help give it some degree of autonomy from materialistic and social reality (155). In fact, literature can “defamiliarize” stock ways of thinking and thus aid in the defeat of false consciousness.
As an ISA, literature has the power to promote certain views of imaginary realities and of a subject’s relationship to it. “Thus literature is show to be of crucial importance in its own right, not just a passive reflector of the economic base . . “ (Barry 159).
“There is no such thing as an innocent reading,” says Althusser.
Every approach to a text brings with it certain theoretical presuppositions. Therefore “a new theory of reading” is required, one that is concerned with the theoretical framework in the text itself, or what Althusser calls its “problematic.”