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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Althusser - Ranciere Controversy Part 1



‘Lessons of May’
Studying the Althusserian theory of ideology demands a return to’68, when the question of the University provided the best teaching lesson that ever filled those lecture halls. Althusser’s work surged like Santorum in the wake of the ‘failures’ of ’68. The lack of a structured transition from spontaneous revolt to proper class organization was diagnosed as symptomatic of a lack in theoretical adequacy in the understanding of the Marxist paradigm; and Althusser’s scientific theoreticism seemed to satisfy the desire.
            Many however have taken up arms against the revisionist and metaphysical tendentiousness of Althusser, but more so of his immediate followers. Jacques Ranciere very notably attacked the theory, by describing the ways in which Althusser’s general theory of Ideology depoliticizes and conceals the fundamental origin of ideology; and in its worst forms supplies the fodder for “the ideological counter-revolution” (10). 
        In the 1973 afterword to Ranciere’s 1969 essay “On the theory of ideology (the politics of Althusser)” he even goes as far as saying that the re-approprations of Althusser’s metaphysics led to “A creation of neither working class consciousness, nor Marxist theory, but of the Stalinist State machine” (12). 
        The ‘lessons of May’ deduced a binary between ideology and science, and subsequently bourgeois and proletarian ideology , that represented the terrain of ideological struggle as posed between two homogenous entities, which were in reality quite heterogeneous.
        It is a system of power relations that is always fragmentary because it defines a certain number of conquests always provisional because it is not produced by the apparatuses but by the development of struggle (12).    

              The Althusserian operation of applying class analysis ‘in the last instance’ discloses the cunning of capitalist reason as a desubjectified operation of a structure in general, an explicitly inhuman analysis which reduces Marxist criticism to an empty formalistic exercise defined according to scientific standards of ‘bourgeois rigor;’ an academic exercise which ultimately voids the class struggle of its lifeblood.

Proletarian ideology is neither the summary of the representations or positive values of the workers, nor the body of ‘proletarian’ doctrines. It is a stopped assembly-line, an authority mocked, a system of division between particular jobs of work abolished, a mass fight-back against ‘scientific’ innovations in exploitation, and it is the ‘bare-foot doctor’ or the entry of the working class into the Chinese university. Mass practices produced by the anti-capitalist struggle whose uniqueness is missed as soon as one tries to set a proletarian philosophy, justice or morality against the philosophy, justice or morality of the bourgeoisie (12).
 
While Ranciere admits his analysis was deliberately one-sided, there are many beneficial attributes of Althusser’s insights into the nature of ideology, but more on that later. 





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