Tuesday, May 16, 2006

getting nowhere...slowly

Though the end is in sight--grades are due by Friday, and I'm down to two stacks of final papers--I don't see how I am possibly going to have a revised version of my exam prospectus into my committee. I'm stuck on "ideology." I thought that maybe starting to write through my problem here might help, though I'm not entirely hopeful (many long walks have not solved it).

If I'm using Bill Readings and his concept of the "bureaucratic University of Excellence" as my framework and lens through which to read and critique cultural studies and critical pedagogy within composition/writing classroom, and Readings argues that "excellence" is non-ideological, as it has no content: "It has not external referent or internal content" (23). So, according to Readings, the University of Excellence is a non-ideological space, but I disagree. This is where I'm stuck. While I believe Readings can provide a powerful framework for my particular critique of CS and CP, how do I address a University of Excellence that is in my mind ideological??? Readings idea is based on the notion that corporations are non-ideological. I'm not sure I understand this entirely.

Excellence has no content. It is the thing we all agree upon without knowing what it is. It is not a criterion. It is empty. So it is actually the discourse of "excellence" that is empty? The use of the word is meaningless, but the representation is the University of Excellence, which seems to have content. Corporatized content.

I'm getting nowhere.... Try back later.


mark d said...

Everyone's stuck on "ideology."

I think part of the problem you're facing is a use of "ideological" as if it meant the same thing as "ideational" -- the way, for example, Daniel Bell and Francis Fukuyama use it. My reading of their argument is that contemporary "democratic" global capitalism, its social, political, and economic organizations and practices, are not based on single, clear ideational motivations, and are therefore less "ideological" than other / previous systems and practices. They seek to empty the term "individuality" (and the systems and practices of competitive, acquisitive private property exchange it makes possible) in the same way Readings does "excellence." "Individuality," too, has no apparent external referent, no clear definition except through a subjective negation of what is not (excellent / individual).

The fact that these terms are "empty," however, is exactly why they're ideological. They're empty because their explanatory power necessitates a denial of the root social relations which make them possible: "individuals" are only individuals to the extent they can actively exploit and deny the equivalently individual character of others; similarly, universities are only "excellent" to the degree they can deny and exploit the "excellence" of other schools. These status claims are necessary, however, because they are based on a hypothetical idealization of bourgeois "equality" -- which suggests that any and all (people / schools) could potentially be (individual / excellent). The only way to make this true for anyone is to make it false for many more.

So universities' claims to excellence are always claims to, in effect, more excellence, but in a way that has to deny its comparative nature to become a characteristic of each university's individuality, which alone entitles them to the benefits of capitalist property and acquisition.

I think.

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Dave said...

Uhhh...can I have an example of a word that is not ideological? Like text there is no outside of ideology.

mark d said...

Dave said...
Uhhh...can I have an example of a word that is not ideological? Like text there is no outside of ideology.

This is/can be a dangerous evacuation of "ideological" as well. No word "is" or "is not" ideological, but rather would be employed in an ideological or non-ideological fashion. And again, this suggests such uses are "ideological" for failing to meet the criterion of a kind of Kantian disinterestedness. Yes, all use of language has some subjective bias, if you will, and especially in a system of institutionalized inequalities. But the subjects of that system are constructed as such by the system itself, a construction which further constructs the social totality as the thing which their individuality excludes. That is, my "individual" rights (for example) are those things against which all others are forbidden to impinge--the "all others" constructs a (necessarily incomplete and imprecise) social totality.

The "illusion," however, is that such individuals are, in thought, feeling, or action, divorced from that totality (the others with whom they relate). The importance of ideology, then, lies in how it constructs that very particular "illusion." To say that "all language" is ideological because in all its supposedly "individual" applications it is an interested and subjective force can too often be a reinforcement of what I have to take to be the primary ideological function (the illusion of socially isolated and free-willed, independent "individuals"). Yes, all applications of language are interested, but some are interested in furthering these particular inequalities, and some are interested in undoing them. That interest is created, not independently, but in response to the larger structure of inequalities. The former are created to reinforce the illusion of social independence, thereby reinforcing the dominant inequalities; the latter attempt to remove those inequalities by removing the illusion that the interests of one subject are independent of the others.

And I know I'm on unpopular ground with the use of the term "illusion," but I'll stick to it. First, it must be distinguished from a simplistic true/false binary. An "illusion" is an appearance, a seeming, which in its nature convinces by degrees. It is never either/or, but always to some amount. Even magic tricks and special effects, though I know how they work, have the ability to amaze and impress me with their seeming. How then can I hold something in this realm to "be" and not "seem"? "I" can't. "I" is the focal point of that illusion. But here is where we have to remember what it means that language is "ideological" only in application. Such application, a "practice" if you will, is necessarily situated within social relations. The "truth" of its application is not in my (independent, individual) "intent" or "knowledge" or anything of that sort, but in those relations. An "illusion" only structures future relations to the degree that it's believed; those relations structure future relations whether we believe in them, understand them, accept them as non-ideological, or not.

Certainly practices/uses of language which claim or attempt to reveal social relations kept hidden in other language/practices can always be themselves revealed as obscurers of further relations, and should be. But this can only be accomplished by and "in" a social collectivity (never independently, individually). The "truth" of this blog-alogue, for example, is not in the content of any one of our "ideas" or even in some amalgamated "3rd option" this discussion may "produce." Its "truth" instead is in how it impacts the future relations our language and practices develop. Will we, in some or whole, "because" of this dialogue and others like it, do more to further the violent and active oppression of others under the illusion that it's independent, individual action? Or will we do more to stop such oppression or at the very least to describe its operation as a tool others may use to stop it?

To say there's no "outside" ideology is to remove the latter option.

VTmtngrrl said...

Whoa. I was away while this semi-"blog-alogue" took place.

The fact that these terms are "empty," however, is exactly why they're ideological.

Yes, Mark. That is exactly what I was thinking, wanting to argue, but not sure how I could make that argument within the context of Readings' argument. You make it seem like I can and like it is so simple.

When Dave replied with his comment. I had to laugh. That is exactly what I tend to argue, but I knew Mark would not like idea of being "outside" ideology (though I see no prolem with that terminology).

Well, now I'm back from my trip. Ideology still nagging, haunting, following me around, making me crazy. I know I need to sit down and revise the section of my prospectus on ideology, but it is paralyzing me. But Mark's second "comment" (certainly not the right word choice for the thinking he does there) has given me "food for thought." Certainly.

VTmtngrrl said...

“Marx clearly proposes a distinction between knowledge or science on the one hand and ideology on the other…” (Barrett Politics of Truth 19). **Here is where I have a problem with Marxism/ideology that I constantly struggle with: 1) I don’t think we can make an appeal to absolute truth/knowledge/science; To me it is ALL ideology. I tend to agree with Dave—there is no “outside” of ideology; YET…isn’t that what I’m ALWAYS attempting in my work and especially in my teaching? Unmasking ideology through knowledge? Thereby achieving knowledge/science/truth? And then I’m back, to there is no truth. I know this is NOT solely my circle of thought, but it makes me crazy.