Marxist Studies Of Ideology English Literature Essay

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One of the most fundamental concepts in theory is ideology. It is a very important concept in all Marxist beliefs about culture and literature. Ideology, on its simplest level, refers to a 'political doctrine', a 'system of ideas' and even 'ways of thinking'. This is mostly used in three ways - the first perceives that ideology is a set of unconscious or conscious beliefs unstated by a specific group of people. The second belief leads us to Friedrich Engel's 'false consciousnesses' which is often contrasted with scientific knowledge. Althusser and Gramsci basically articulated the third belief, where they used ideology as the means in which people come to follow their own personal beliefs and articulate the production of meaning. It was Destut de Tracy, who first came up with the word ideology, to denote a 'philosophy of mind' or 'science of ideas'

Marxist tradition has developed the term, ideology, referring to how cultures and our social consciousness about this culture are made. This is mainly about how 'leading institutions in society work through principles, ethics, morals, attitudes, conceptions of the world, its organisations, cultures and people.' Marxists believed that ideology represents the ethics of a particular social class. They also refer to the fact that most of the ethics, values and principles are based on the class's economic state. Bourgeois ideology, as an example refers to the entire collection of ideological practices which were historically developed as the social perception of the bourgeois class.

Ideology has been redefined by the French Marxist; Louis Althusser, who, perceives ideology as the 'imaginary way in which people represent to themselves their real relationship to the world'. Althusser does not agree with meaning of ideology as a serious of false impressions, stated by The German Ideology; but he seems to lean on the idea of representations. Ideology is conceived to be the structure of assumptions which form the imaginative world of groups. Althusser writes that ideology is "a representation of the imaginary relation of individuals to the real condition of existence." Hence, ideology refers to both the real and imaginary reference to the world. It is real, as most people really live in accordance to their social relationships which dictate the person's world. From the imaginary point of view, ideology discourages an understanding of these social relations in a person's life. Further, he implies that, ideology makes us who we are: it "hails" us, makes us into being the persons that we become. Althusser takes a different stand than the earlier Marxists, in such a way that his theory somewhat differs from theirs. Earlier Marxists believed that ideology was a 'false consciousness', shaped by capitalism, which could be dismissed by science. Althusser also maintained that literature is an ideological form or state apparatus, rather than a perception of reality.

Ideology is managed through the common teaching of ideas about the way things really are how the world 'really' works and ought to work. These ideas tend to 'manipulate' people's thinking in such a way that they accept the present way of doing things, the sense of what is ordinary and normal and a grasp of their roles in society. Althusser refers to ideology as a 'material practice', as it exists in the way people act when determined by their values and beliefs. This making of our socialization development - the shaping of our interpretation of our social and cultural world is referred to, by Gramsci, as hegemony.

Through the 'Ideological State Apparatuses', Althusser shows how hegemony is carried out - by the churches, the schools, the family, and through cultural forms such as music, media and literature. Althusser also brings to our attention, the distinction between Ideological State Apparatus and Repressive State Apparatus. He maintains that all ideological practices are founded within the institutions of our society. Repressive State Apparatus works by force of such institutions as the police force, the army and the judicial system. These institutions allow the 'existing mode of production'. Ideological State Apparatus mainly refers to the educational system, which instils in children the ability to adapt and behave to the values and beliefs of their community. History, art, literature, social studies, family, law and media aid in reproducing and representing the ideas, beliefs and behaviour a person needs to live within a society. Imaginary consciousness is achieved through "ideological state apparatuses" that uphold the dominant ideology in society.

Interpellation or 'hailing' is when The State Apparatuses help to maintain the central ideology and to 'reproduce it by situating human subjects as 'subjects of ideology''. Literature was included among Louis Althusser's Ideological Apparatuses, which play a part in the process of 'production'. Althusser's work, in conjunction with that of Roland Barthes, on literature and Lacan's on psychoanalysis sheds light on the concept that literature represents the 'myths' and imaginary adaptation of the real . The literary text, interpellates the reader into the position of the 'subject in ideology'. It is the ideology's role to shape people as subjects: free, united and autonomous subjects. It is also commonly assumed that a meaning of a text originates only from the speaker, but it is only if the speaker adopts the position of 'subject' within the text, that meaning can be construed. Critic Catherine Belsey throws some light on how subjects in Althusser's mechanistic theory are entirely determined by an ideology. The subject, often being the reader, is faced with the problem of differentiating between more than one 'ideological' or 'imaginary' version of the 'real'. Within a specific ideology, people are regarded to be autonomous, conscious and subjective. Differentiation between the 'I' and 'you' results in the consciousness of the self, a procedure made feasible through language. In fact ideology stifles the role of language in the production of the subject. As a result of this, people distinguish themselves in the way ideology 'hails' them to. In this way people actually 'misrecognize' themselves; and detach themselves from Lacan's mirror recognition theory. Jacques Lacan's theory implies that the subject is formed through misrecognition of the 'I' in language. For example, classic realism in literature achieves the work of ideology. First of all it personifies subjects who are the origin of meaning, knowledge and action but it also 'offers the reader the position of subject as the origin of both understanding and of action in accordance with that of understanding'. An excellent example of this is found in the Romantic and post- Romantic poetry. Poets such as Wordsworth and Yeats, take subjectivity as one of their central themes, in that they portray the poet's own self, his consciousness of both himself and all that is around him. The 'I' taken up by the author is directed towards readers, who are encouraged to respond to this interpellation. It is in this way that the reader is invited to judge and decipher the meaning of the text, to take the place of the authoritarian originator, the author. The author is hence replaced by the ideologically produced subject. But one must consider that there isn't a specific way in which texts must be read, in the sense that meaning is subjective to the reader's perception of the text and of its history. Belsey refers to Willeman statement that "inscribed subject positions are never hermetically sealed into a text, but are always positions in ideologies". Meaning, undeniably, is directly linked with the dominant ideology produced in the literary work; and sometimes these meanings are only apparent from a subject's position. Subjectivity is the main theme in classical realism.

Characters in classic realism are perceived to be the source of action in a novel. In literature, insight into unified and coherent characters, personalities and psychological states are considered to be one of the most important processes. Characters in classic realism tend to be paired so that the reader can understand the difference between as an approach to different ideologies of life, to different destinies. Who they are, limit what they are able to do, thus the differences between the character traits themselves allow the reader to share and understand the character's hopes and dreams. The fact that readers can identify with particular characters is ironical in ideology. In Middlemarch, the reader can share a sense of humanity with all the characters, while in Heart of Darkness, Marlow even recognises his own savage self. Classic realism also offers the reader a taste of danger and excitement through revealing the ego. The reader, in this genre, is located in the events taking place in the novel, for example, the reader can only see Mr. Brocklehurst through the eyes of the narrator, Jane Eyre. In Jane Eyre, the interpellation of the reader as subject, as the 'you' who is addressed by the 'I', allows the reader to be included in the narrative. This may somewhat limit the possibility of achieving various meanings, as the event is only seen from one point of view. Once the reader sees, what the character sees, the reader tends to associate himself with the character

In 'A Letter on Art', Althusser shows that he does not treat art as just a form of ideology. In his opinion, literature stands somewhere in between ideology and science. Literature does not give us a direct replica or full understanding of the real, but neither does it convey the ideology of a particular society or class. Althusser refers to Engel's discussion on Balzac, in which he shows that although Balzac was an intense royalist; his novel still revolves around the rise of the bourgeoisie class. Engels declares that 'art makes us see the ideology from which it was born, in which it bathes, from which it detaches itself as art, and to which it alludes'. Ideology in literature is sometimes represented at a 'subconscious level'. This perception illustrates that literature normally shows the reader the feeling of living in a particular ideology. Althusser treats literature as a 'production' rather than a 'creation'. The 'imaginary' representations of reality in ideology have an unfounded logic, which is only made possible by the 'repression of the unconscious' opposition and by the 'silent omission'. Althusser, shows that by 'producing' an ideology, the writer intends to make the reader feel the openings, silences , lapses which really and truly in ideology are not so apparent. The presence of a particular ideology in itself is felt through these gaps and incoherence produced in the text. An example of this is Defoe's writing, such as Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe, in which there are direct references to bourgeois ideology in both. It was this bourgeois ideology which brought together moral and economic aspects. The novel is very much from a Marxist viewpoint, thus being deeply ideological. Moll Flanders is also testament to the portrayal of capital ideology. The ideological discourse is represented in a way so that its oppositions are exposed. The reader of the novel, can't but realise that puritanical and capitalist ideologies are evident throughout it, despite the fact that Defoe himself, was known not to conform to any religion. Moll, the narrator, tells her story in double perspective: prospectively and retrospectively. The paradoxes and contradictions which are presented in the text are a direct result of the ideology which Defoe constructs in the text itself. In the case of this novel, the literary form solidifies ideology. Thus the text, through ideology shows the flaws and contradictions that the reader must read. This isn't the author's intention, but it is 'produced' unconsciously by the text written. It is this 'not-written' text through which the reader must decipher the real meaning of the text. This might nowadays be known as what we refer to as ' reading between the lines' ; in which readers establish a meaning of the text, not through what is written but through that which is not, but implied throughout the text. Althusser calls this 'symptomatic reading', in which the reader reveals the ideology in the text and basically reads between the lines.

Through the Althusserian concept of 'symptomatic reading', the history which establish a specific ideological practice is analysed. History is perceived to be an 'absent cause'; present only in its result as the symptomatic absences of ideology. This is shown intrinsically in Defoe's Robinson Crusoe in which the representation of the future is tied to the past and also in James Conrad's Heart of Darkness. A number of subject positions have been reached in this novel, to show how the subject is always present in relation to ideology (imaginary representation of the real) and to the 'absent' history. Humanistic ideology is produced in the literary work, through Marlow's discourse, which seeks to disclose its contradictions. It is through Marlow's character that the ideology of his subject positioning is symptomatically observed. Marlow's subjectified character is apparent throughout the book, as Marlow constantly refers to his sense of loss. Marlow says: "I Charlie Marlow", which evidently produces the "I" as the subject of the novel. In Heart of Darkness, two worlds are constructed side by side - in which Marlow is inserted into one of them: the colonialist trade. So, in this novel, there is a struggle of how one mode of production and its ideology is overstepped and superimposed by another. Reality is not imitated in the text, so the text is only relevant to history in a negative manner. It is here, that symptomatic reading is established, as the effects of reality can be seen through what is not reflected, in what the text does not say. A literary work is not a unified text, as it seeks to distance itself from its 'raw materials' thus making it autonomous. The reader, of any text, not just Conrad's novel, must seek to uncover the specific factors which have conditioned the text; rather than the meaning of the text.

Through his work, 'Reading Capital', Althusser has dealt with the problems created by Marxist theory which can only be approached by learning to 'read' literature properly. Althusser upholds that no text is 'innocent', thus meaning that every reader tends to make certain guesses or assumptions that perhaps create a certain amount of prejudice about the reading. Thus one can conclude, that one cannot approach a reading neutrally or without applying one's own values and beliefs. Althusser believes that behind the 'explicit discourse of a reading, there is a second 'silent discourse'. It is then important to focus on the mysterious suggestive 'symptomatic' discourse. Nevertheless the reading of a text must be directed towards understanding the text as the author actually intended it to be understood. It is assumed that the author is the only one who can determine the meaning of a text. This is the empiricist way of recovering meaning and is not upheld by Althusser. This meaning must of course, be mainly accessible to the reader, who undoubtly will be reading it from a different background and tradition, or even time. For the reader, to really grasp what the author intends to communicate through his text; the reader must eliminate any prejudices or assumptions incorporated by his own experience and history. Reading does not simply involve a "highly sensitised perception of what a text contains". Althusser proposes another way of reading a text, quite contrastive to the empiricist way of recovering meaning. Althusser's theory delves into trying to go further than the author's self understanding to the unconscious assumptions by which his understanding has been determined. One example of this indicative reading is the interrogation of Adam Smith and David Riccardo for what they failed to mention, rather than what they did.

The ideology that the gist of a text is produced rather than discovered is another facet of Althusser's symptomatic reading, specifically linked to, the death of the author. The author "interpellates" individuals and hails them as subjects. This is the author's main function in ideology. The class of the subject, like consciousness, is said to be "constitutive of all ideology," or it can be said that "all ideology has the function ... of 'constituting' concrete individuals as subjects". The notion of an author or a "subject endowed with a consciousness" must be rejected as an "absolutely ideological 'conceptual' device". This mirrors what the French literary critic, Roland Barthes meant by 'The Death of the Author'. His essay argues against the tendency of incorporating the authorial intention and biographical background, when reading and interpreting a text; instead of creating a meaning. Barthes, like Althusser strives to show, that the real meaning of a text is only derived, if in reading, the reader does not rely on the author's identity to unravel the meaning itself. Even though the author's identity and experiences serve to 'explain' the text, it only does this by limiting the meaning of the text.

Althusser and other Marxists attempt to make the author part of his own text. 'By focusing on the problematic as the unconscious infrastructure governing the "production" of the text', Althusser wants to demonstrate that it is practically impossible for the author to be the single determiner of the text's meaning. Once a reader attempts to read the text, what the author strives to communicate through the text itself is not the only meaning which the reader will actually acquire from the text. Althusser sees literature as determined by the silent problematic. It is obvious that the vocabulary and lexicon an author uses to write his work, tends to place limits on what he can communicate through the work, and what the reader can discern out of the meaning. Althusser considers meaning as the production of an ongoing dialogue between reader and text. Hence there can be no one correct reading of a text, since different people, with different ideologies, decipher different meaning in a particular text.

Namely the task of the reader is to recognize the 'problematic' of the text. Althusser refers to the 'problematic' in that; he insists that it plays a crucial role in the determination of the text. Althusser claims that it is not the subject who thinks and writes anymore, but it is the problematic that perceives in and by means of the subject. He believes that reading is a form of 'production'; since meaning of the text is created rather than discovered. Althusser (1969) proposes the following: 'By practice in general I shall mean any process of transformation of a determinate given raw material into a determinate product, transformation effected by a determinate human labour, using determinate means (of "production").

Althusser mainly speaks of four practices: economic, political, ideological, and theoretical. Ideological practice converts existing manner of representation and observation, 'by which social agent conceptually organize their experience, into new perspectives and outlooks' In the case of theoretical practice, the raw materials may render themselves as pre-existing literary genres, discursive practices. The reader of this raw material must transform them into knowledge or science

Ultimately, one can say, that Marxist studies of ideology with direct reference to literature creates critical liberation. The reader of a particular text is able to escape the oppressive and rigid approaches in formalism or romanticism, and to have the opportunity of understanding texts and literature ..... it is no longer necessary to read a text under the direct influence and supervision of the author, but through the various ideological representations , the reader can engage in the transformation.