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!

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