Friday, December 31, 2004

I honestly don't think I am going to pull off this PhD thing. It doesn't feel possible to me at this point. I read soooo slowly. I digest things soooo slowly. My mind is not the mind of a scholar/hard-core academic. To sit down right now and write about Stuart Hall seems an insurmountable task. To make sense of the various arguments over ideology; to understand the nuanced differences between negative and neutral versions of ideology. It's all too much for my meager little mind. And I dream of being creative--an energy I feel I've truly lost, and after playing "Beyond Balderdash" recently, I think it's true. I dream of being able to create and write whatever I want to write--essays, polemic, poetry, memoir, and blurred combinations of them all.

Anyway, I feel as though I don't have a lot of choice, but to head toward taking these exams, yet there is nothing in me that feels as though I am going to pass them. Or even be able to do a reasonably good job at them. I know this is the entirely wrong attitude, but it is where I am at.

In "The problem of ideology: marxism without guarantees," Hall outlines the various debates surrounding ideology. In addition, he is acknowldeging to what extent he sees Marxism as "scientific," and in doing so, defines "science" based on his own terms.

In addition to all the confusion surrounding the myriad definitions of ideology within Marxism is the fact that this essay by Hall is followed by an essay by Jorge Larrain, "Stuart Hall and the Marxist concept of ideology." So in the first essay, Hall insists (calls it a fact) that "Marx most often used 'ideology' to refer specifically to the manifestations of bourgeois thought" and that ruling ideas are those of the ruling class. In the next essay, Larrain insists that Marx did not mean this by ideology. He argues that Marx's ideology is a neutral one and therefore not attributable necessarily to dominant ideas. Who am I to believe? I would lean toward Larrain's arguments, but Hall does say "most often"--while a minor statement, this is not to be overlooked. In my mind it makes Hall's arguments and Larrain's arguments much more similar than they first appear. For Larrain himself admits the flux in Marx's use of the term ideology, and as he points out in addressing Capital, according to Marx, the operation of the market, which "creates a world of appearances which deceive people," was constituted by "Freedom, Equality, Property, and Bentham" (individuality). And "these four priniciples were for the Marx the basis of bourgeois political ideology."

Shit. I think I got lost in my own argument--this happens often. I was trying to prove the point that as Hall argues, Marx did use ideology to refer to manifestations of bourgeois thought, but maybe Larrain does agree with that fact, and only argues against the Hall's idea that Marx sees ruling ideas those of the ruling class. But aren't those two statements equivalent? Or not?

Back to the ideology debates: So Marx's concept(s) of ideology most commonly come up against Althusser's (and later against the likes of Gramsci and Hall among others). First (apparently) Marx was criticized for not conceptualizing "the social formation as a determinate complex formation, composed of different practices." He has also been criticized for arguing that the superstructure is devoid of its own specific effects. Althusser moved away from Marx's ideas of "distorted ideas" and "false consciousness" to a more linguistic conception of ideology. Althusser wanted to address the question of how ideology becomes internalized within us, and he ultimately argued that ideology thinks us, or rather "interpellates" us. This was also (importantly to classical Marxists) a move away from the class structuring of ideology ("and its role in the generation and maitenance of hegemony") as argued (or not--depending on who you ask) by Marx.

Marx has also been criticized for his concepts of "distortions" and "false consciousness." Hall and other critics put forth questions about how/why some people can't "see"/recognize the "distortions," while we, the enlightened, can. He argues that the terms themselves are relatively uneffective and unhelpful, particularly in addressing questions of how "an economic structure generate[s] a guaranteed set of ideological effects." They also, as Hall puts it, "entaila peculiar view of the formation of alternative forms of consciousness....
Presumably, they arise as scales fall from people's eyes or as they wake up, as if from a dream, and , all at once, see the light, glance directly through the transparency of things immediately to their essential truth, their concealed structural processes.
Larrain seems to address these arguments when he explains that for Marx, "it is not the ruling class that directly dupes the working class; the very reality of the market relations creates a world of appearances which deceive people." This leads me to believe then that both the ruling and working classes are both "duped" by the reality of the market relations--a world created for "Freedom, Equality, Property, and Bentham." But Hall asks a similar question, or rather, he makes a similar claim in regard to his criticism of "distortions" and "false consciousness": "They make both the masses and the capitalists look like...dopes." Maybe he's right....

Hall goes on to explain that "Freedom, Equality, Property, and Bentham" are "the ruling ideological principles of the bourgeois lexicon...from this Marx extrapolated several of the theses which have come to form the contested territory of the theory of ideology." In order for me to follow all of this I must constantly keep in mind that for Marx "the hidden abode" of production is where the exploitation of waged labor and the expropriation of surplus value take place. (Marx through Hall): "The ideological categories 'hide' the underlying reality, and substitute for all that the 'truth' of market relations," which is what we "see" on the "surface." Hall claims that these theses of Marx contain "economic reductionism, a too simple correspondence between the economic and the political ideological; the true v. false, real v. distortion, 'true' consciousness v. false consciousness distinctions"--these Hall deems as the cardinal sins of classical marxism. Ultimately, though, Hall does want to retain much of Marx's profound insights, while "expanding it, using some of the theories of ideology developed in more recent times." And these are.... to be continued!

For me it is so important not to lose sight of that fact that because for Marx there is no "cloud of unknowing," (or at least this is what Larrain claims about Marx) then it is not critical ideas or science that will dispel ideological forms, it is political practices of transformation.
This is all I have time for right now. It is, after all, New Years Eve. Have a happy!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Shari and the Jewish Vote

Today I went to Shari's presentation. The title was something like--Is it a Jew or a Drag Queen, The Possibilities of Political Performance. I really enjoyed it. It was funny because she drew a total map of the entire presentation at the beginning of it, which is totally-Shari, and it made me giggle. But I have to say it helped. Overall though, I really found her juxtaposition of Butler and Marx, as read through the "I am the Jewish Vote" project, compelling. I appreciated her point that through Butler, the pin, could be read as "I am also the Jewish vote." But I especially found bold her assertion about the reductionist qualities of Marxism if read through this concept of the "Jewish vote." I refrained from clapping (and this is not to say that I am in complete agreement, but I like that she could tackle the argument in this way--from this unique perspective). Somehow, through Shari, the redeployment of power seemed more effectively subversive in some ways than Marx's material conditions.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

evil is an empty signifier

Over Thanksgiving I found out that my mother is reading (well, she hadn't started reading it at the time but had borrowed it from the library) David Horowitz's 2003 book, Left Illusions. I started skimming some of it while visiting the fam and eating food, and last night I took a trip to my local library and took it out--so as to be prepared for any upcoming holiday conversations at the New Hampshire household. This morning I read his article "Marx's Manifesto: 150 Years of Evil," and I can't believe the way I've allowed this guy to get under my skin. This guy's writing is absurdly empty at times. He simply deems Marx as "wrong." He lists everything he's wrong about: the oppressive nature of the bourgeoisie, the increasing misery of the working class (I must have forgotten about all the happy looking teenage girls working in Honduran textile factories), about the increasing polarization of class (can anyone say second term in office?), and he goes on from there. Of course, he fails to provide any evidence for why Marx was supposedly so wrong about all of these things.

Allow me to work backward for one moment. At the end of his article, Horowitz tells us that "private property, which marxists want to abolish, has been proven by history to be the indispensable bulwark of human liberty, and the only basis for producing general economic prosperity and social wealth." Excuse me? Go tell that to the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia whose water supply has been privatized. I'm sure they feel very prosperous without access to water. Sounds like human liberty to me....

I will, however, concede to Horowitz on one point--that Marx's economics is outdated because of its severely polar class distinctions: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. I will agree with him that class has become more complex than this, more fluid, but it is what he does with this point that makes me crazy. He claims that this fluidity of class structure has "made a mockery of the core principles of marxist belief." I disagree. Fluidity does not remove conflict--conflict based on class differences--differences manifested by the existence of private property and corporate control. So while my concession is indeed that Marx's economic categories are too narrow in scope, I concede this because there is an existence of a "middle class" and there are changes in what might comprise the "bourgeois," not because as Horowitz claims (is the response of progressives everywhere) "it is necessary to confront race and gender oppression as well"--(side note: I do in fact believe this and this is one of my difficulties with orthodox Marxism and its entirely obsessive focus on class struggle....but that is for another entry...someday). And Horowitz is correct, Marx couldn't account for the rise of Trans-National Corporations in a way that has broken down and over-powered the nation state. Marx couldn't account for the political power we have handed over to these corporations that ignore any kind of borders and boundaries--allowing for an unchecked control. But these added complexities to Marx's economics do not erase the conflict and class issues that are still very much prevelant, very much harmful. (This rise of the TNC makes a mockery of Horowitz's statement that "when the power of the state is unchecked by private property and the power of private associations...public power becomes absolute, totalitarian." Who, may I ask is checking the private associations???)

Horowitz despairs over the fact that the core marxist model is still a potent force, that this model sees a just solution to social problems in "confrontation and political war," and that "this model is alive and well among radical feminists (this is actually wrong--you're wrong, David Horowitz--some radical feminists have been the most successful at deconstructing the traditional Marxist model)..., queer nationalists, and the rag-tag intellectual army of post-modernists, critical theorists...," and so on.... His use of militaristic language irritates me: political war, intellectual army.... Yeah, we tend to be a really violent lot. Look at us in our campus offices, look at us at peace protests--lots of bloodshed there. But Horowitz insists on focusing on Marxism as the bloodiest, most war-driven revolution in history, at the same time he can't seem to get his head out of the United States long enough to see the Honduran textile workers and the people of Bolivia I mentioned earlier.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

the expressivists versus the poststructuralists--again

This morning I read David Bartholomae's response to Stephen North (published in PRE/TEXT in 1990). This essay/article was written in response to an earlier piece in PRE/TEXT that North had published--a piece I have not yet read but hope to get to today. While on many fronts I can sympathize with what Bartholomae has to say about North, this is probably because I am less than sympathetic to the expressivist movement, which Bartholomae deems North a part of. On my own knowledge of North (who is a faculty member in the department where I am working on my PhD) I wouldn't necessarily call him an expressivist, but this is all beside the point.

I guess the point is that this "war" between the expressivists and the social constructionists/poststructuralists has been going on within the field of composition for a long time, and the field is in need of a third party candidate--in my opinion. I mean the two end up negating each other in this weird way: The danger inherent within the expressivist paradigm is a writer who is too wedded, too close to the writing. It is a matter of the personal taking over in a way that erases difference (as Bartholomae points out) because it is all about "me." Bartholomae argues that teaching "late-adolescents that writing is an expression of individual thoughts and feelings...makes them suckers and...makes them powerless, at least to the degree that makes them blind to tradition, power and authority as they are present in language and culture." On the other hand, I have to ask if the social constructionists/poststructuralists--of whom Bartholomae could be representative--have really saved us from these dangers. Because as I see it, we are left with the dangers of a too detached and therefore too depoliticized writer. We are left with a neutralized form of the subject--divorced from agency that could potentially lend itself to political praxis and democratic society. Now this, of course, begs the question of what the purpose of academic discourse is. Is it about critical citizenship in a democracy, as I have put down here (there is that critical word again...problematic now, after the Michael Warner lecture, in its own way)? Or is it about something else (the possibilities are numerous)?

But also, in terms of the expressivist movement leaving students "blind to tradition, power and authority," I have argued elsewhere that Bartholomae does the same thing when he encourages students to "be Freire,""write like Foucault," "respond like a teacher," etc--thereby perpetuating tradition, power, and authority, without leaving students room to intervene in it in any way; without leaving students the opportunity to address the social constructedness of such writing assignments as Bartholomae gives in Ways of Reading.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

resisting resistance

Henry Giroux has been critiqued by Marxists (as well, I am sure, by many other theorists/scholars). He has been accused of being complicit in the capitalist system because of his focus on race, gender, sexuality, ageism, etc. But in "Reading Texts, Literacy, and Textual Authority" he readily admits that meanings and experiences deemed legitimate "and what forms of reading and writing matter are largely determined by those groups who control the economic and cultural apparatuses of a given society." Is it because he uses the word "largely" controlled by..., rather than exclusively controlled by...that there is a problem? Later, Giroux makes the argument that "textual authority is about the struggle over culture fought out at the level of ideological representations and the exercise of institutional power." Is it a problem that he sees the struggle for culture fought out somewhere other than between the classes? Is it because Giroux's approach is not to change the "groups who control," but rather to "empower students" that there is a problem here?

He has been held accountable for using loaded words like "student empowerment." And yet again and again I am seduced by Giroux. I am called to action and passion through his words. And here I am almost ashamed to admit to this. What kind of trouble(s) can we get ourselves into when we start talking about empowering students, which in a rhetorical way always sounds so positive? I know the problems exist, but whenever I read Giroux I find myself forgetting what they are.

So I want to think about resistance. I want to resist and challenge resistance. Giroux is big on resistance--encouraging teachers to challenge ideology, commonsense, epitsteme, whatever you want to call it, through "adding new categories of analysis." I'm not sure what those categories would be per se, as analysis can be argued as the one of the most hegemonic concepts in the English department. Can we construct analysis specifically to be counterhegemonic?

Last week I went to an interesting lecture given by Michael Warner on the idea of "uncritical reading/thinking," and I would assume this could lead to "uncritical" writing. In his lecture, Warner addressed our obssession with critical thinking (i.e. thinking like us, thinking in a certain way as deemed appropriate/acceptable within the walls of higher education)--in this way critical reading/thinking has become the "norm"--it has, in fact, become ideological, invisible, commonsense. Uncritical reading/thinking is seen as unsystematic and naive (amateur). And Warner comes to question why we need to rule out and shut down these other kinds of reading/thinking. I know that there is a connection here somewhere....

Many students resist our need, desire, prompts to have them resist their culture--the one they know, the one that has comprised their experiences. And yet, we think we know better--we want to give them a consciousness so that they can rise up and revolt. This is an exaggeration, of course, and goals vary from classroom to classroom, but the first thing I need to do is question analysis. Ironically, Writing Analytically, is the title of the text I use in the class I'm currently teaching. Because writing analytically is somehow valuable, but what if it is not the only "best" way?

Giroux describes his approach as a "project of possibility," and that possibility is for constructing a student experience leading to critical (there is that word again) citizenship and democracy. These are admirable goals. The problem I'm having with all of this is getting bogged down in theorizing and defining. What is a citizen? Who is a citizen? How do we define citizenship?

Although the essay to which I'm referring ("Reading Texts, Literacy, and Textual Authority) was written in 1990, I get the feeling that Giroux still believes that the dominant view of English departments is that of a site for the dissemination of Western culture. Is this still a dominant view? And is it the view inside or outside of the department? Inside of outside of the institution?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

a little bit of history

I just finished reading the first three and half pages of Richard Johnson's "What is Cultural Studies Anyway?" published in 1986/87 in Social Text. I was half there while reading, half of my mind was on playing tennis, as I have a USTA mixed doubles match this afternoon, and it scares me. A lot. Anyhow, the other part of not paying close attention is that this article is a little bit of history. 1986 was a long time ago now...especially for a field like cultural studies. I need to know the history. I know that. I need to get a grasp on how the field has changed--if it has at all. In fact, the idea of cultural studies, as a "field" is part of the focus of Johnson's article--"the pressures to define" cultural studies as something relevant, as a field. Higher ed. likes fields. Higher ed. likes codified knowledge. Still, it is hard for me to focus on where the field was, when I am still trying so hard to get a grasp on where cultural studies is. Now.