Lecture 13: “Endless quantities of the Real”*
English 165EW
Winter 2013
25 February 2013
“Of course it is happening inside...
Louis Althusser (1918-1990)
● Held prisoner by the Third
Reich for five years before
entering the prestigious
École Normal...
Althusser's first thesis
“Ideology represents the imaginary relationships of
individuals to their real conditions of exist...
Althusser’s second thesis
“Ideology has a material existence.” (1265)
– Ideology is not (only) a set of ideas that then ha...
Some implications
● “There is no practice except by and in an
ideology.”
● “There is no ideology except by the subject and...
“The elementary ideological effect”
As St. Paul admirably puts it, it is in the “Logos,” meaning in
ideology, that we “liv...
“Let us summarize …”
“… what we have discovered about ideology in
general.
The duplicate mirror-structure of ideology
ensu...
Blindness and ideology
“Pay attention, I’m going to switch off the light and
you can tell me, now, Nothing, What do you me...
Identity and blindness
“Were we not trying to reduce her [the girl with the dark
glasses] to some primary definition, we s...
“it seemed he was about to give his name, but
what he said was, I’m a policeman, and the
doctor’s wife thought to herself,...
“many ways of becoming an animal”*
“any day now, we shall no longer know who we are, or
even remember our names, and besid...
“Blindness = [X]” constructions ...
● … are never given in the novel. We are never
told, “interpret blindness allegoricall...
– The rapists in the third ward are “blinded by lust.”
(167; ch. 11)
– The doctor’s wife: “Perhaps I’m the blindest of all...
“we ought to start getting organised
without delay”*
The recorded announcement: “the internees
must organize themselves as...
“They [the occupants of the third ward]’re
organized, he [the doctor] thought to himself,
this has not suddenly been impro...
A preliminary and a final thought
“Faltering, as if his lack of sight had weakened
his memory, the [first] blind man gave ...
Media credits
The photo of Louis Althusser (slide 2) is from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Althusser.jpg.
Wikipedia’s...
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Lecture 13 - “Endless quantities of the Real”

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Thirteenth lecture for my students in English 165EW, "Life After the End of the World," winter 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.


Course website: http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/ta/w13/
Course website: http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/ta/w13/

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Lecture 13 - “Endless quantities of the Real”

  1. 1. Lecture 13: “Endless quantities of the Real”* English 165EW Winter 2013 25 February 2013 “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” — Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, ch. 35. * Rem Koolhaas, “Junkspace,” p. 189
  2. 2. Louis Althusser (1918-1990) ● Held prisoner by the Third Reich for five years before entering the prestigious École Normale Supérieure. ● Commonly referred to as a “structuralist Marxist,” though he was critical of both the PCF and the structuralist movement. ● Best known for Reading Capital and For Marx (both 1965).
  3. 3. Althusser's first thesis “Ideology represents the imaginary relationships of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” (1264) – For those who are external to an ideological practice, it seems that an ideology is a false “world outlook,” and therefore needs to be “interpreted” to “get at” reality. – Althusser notes: “ideology=illusion/allusion.” “What is represented in ideology is therefore not the system of the real relations which govern the existence of individuals, but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live.” (1265)
  4. 4. Althusser’s second thesis “Ideology has a material existence.” (1265) – Ideology is not (only) a set of ideas that then have real-world implications, but is, rather, inscribed in a set of practices. ● Althusser’s primary example: the Christian ( Catholic, for this≅ particular Frenchman) ideology is not merely a set of beliefs, but the practice of attending Mass, receiving the sacraments, kneeling to pray, etc. (1266) ● Other examples are provided on 1269. ● Everyone is obliged to act according to his/her beliefs. “If he does not do so, ‘that is wicked’” and implies ideas contrary to those that the individual professes. (1266-67) – “actions inserted into practices […] governed by the rituals in which these practices are inscribed, within the material existence of an ideological apparatus.” (1267)
  5. 5. Some implications ● “There is no practice except by and in an ideology.” ● “There is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects.” (1268) – One of the primary functions of ideology is to constitute subjects as subjects. (Althusser sketches out a quick history of the idea of “the subject,” noting that it goes by different names in different ideological systems.) ● More specifically, ideology has the function of producing subjects who live “spontaneously” within the bounds sketched out by the ideology.
  6. 6. “The elementary ideological effect” As St. Paul admirably puts it, it is in the “Logos,” meaning in ideology, that we “live, move, and have our being.” It follows that, for you and for me, the category of the subject is a primary “obviousness” (obviousnesses are always primary); it is clear that you and I are subjects (free, ethical, etc. …). Like all obviousnesses, including those that make a word “name a thing” or “have a meaning” (therefore including the obviousness of the “transparency” of language), the “obviousness” that you and I are subjects – and that that does not cause any problems – is an ideological effect, the elementary ideological effect. It is indeed a peculiarity of ideology that it imposes (without appearing to do so, since these are “obviousnesses”) obviousnesses as obviousnesses, which we cannot fail to recognize and before which we have the inevitable and natural reaction of crying out (aloud or in the “still, small voice of conscience”): “That’s obvious! That’s right! That’s true!” (1268)
  7. 7. “Let us summarize …” “… what we have discovered about ideology in general. The duplicate mirror-structure of ideology ensures simultaneously: 1. the interpellation of ‘individuals’ as subjects. 2. their subjection to the Subject; 3. the mutual recognition of subjects and Subject, the subjects’ recognition of each other, and finally the subject’s recognition of himself; 4. the absolute guarantee that everything really is so, and that on condition that the subjects recognize what they are and behave accordingly, everything will be all right: Amen – ‘So be it.’” (1271)
  8. 8. Blindness and ideology “Pay attention, I’m going to switch off the light and you can tell me, now, Nothing, What do you mean nothing, Nothing, I always see the same white, it’s as if there were no night.” (9; ch. 1) “Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are, said the doctor.” (126; ch. 8) “He [the guard at the third ward] had been waiting for ages for one of his comrades to come and relieve him, but for this to happen it was necessary that the other, on hearing the inner voice of duty, should wake up by himself.” (157; ch. 10)
  9. 9. Identity and blindness “Were we not trying to reduce her [the girl with the dark glasses] to some primary definition, we should finally say of her, in the broad sense, that she lives as she pleases and moreover gets all the pleasure she can from life.” (23; ch. 2) “he [the doctor] simply stretched out his hands to touch the glass, he knew that his image was there watching him, his image could see him, he could not see his image.” (29; ch. 3) “dear God, how we miss having our sight, to be able to see, to see, even if they were only faint shadows, to stand before the mirror, see a dark diffused patch and be able to say, That’s my face.” (69; ch. 5)
  10. 10. “it seemed he was about to give his name, but what he said was, I’m a policeman, and the doctor’s wife thought to herself, He didn’t give his name, he too knows that names are of no importance here.” (59; ch. 5) “No one seemed interested in knowing who had died.” (87; ch. 6) “Who is speaking, asked the doctor, A blind man, replied a voice, just a blind man, for that is all we have here.” (129; ch. 8) “our names, what do names matter”* * 58; ch. 5
  11. 11. “many ways of becoming an animal”* “any day now, we shall no longer know who we are, or even remember our names, and besides, what use would names be to us, no dog recognizes another dog or knows the others by the names they have been given, a dog is identified by its scent and that is how it identifies others, her we are like another breed of dogs.” (57; ch. 5) “Someone protested at the far end of the ward. Pigs, they’re like pigs.” (93; ch. 6) “Thieving dogs, that’s what they are, commented a rough voice.” (105; ch. 7) The doctor’s wife: “If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals.” (116; ch. 8) * 93, ch. 6
  12. 12. “Blindness = [X]” constructions ... ● … are never given in the novel. We are never told, “interpret blindness allegorically in this way.” ● However, there are a number of partial constructions that move in the other direction, of the form “[X] is [also] blindness”: – “who can say that this white blindness is not some spiritual malaise” (85; ch. 6) – “to be dead is to be blind” (108; ch. 7) – “we were already blind the moment we turned blind, fear struck us blind, fear will keep us blind.” (129; ch. 8)
  13. 13. – The rapists in the third ward are “blinded by lust.” (167; ch. 11) – The doctor’s wife: “Perhaps I’m the blindest of all, I’ve already killed and I’ll kill again if I have to.” (191; ch. 12) – “The blind are always at war, always have been at war, Will you kill again, If I have to, I shall never be free from this blindness.” (193; ch. 12) – “in death, blindness is the same for all.” (210; ch. 12) ● The doctor’s wife comes to realize that continuing to counterfeit blindness is pointless: “blindness is also this, to live in a world where all hope is gone.” (209; ch. 12)
  14. 14. “we ought to start getting organised without delay”* The recorded announcement: “the internees must organize themselves as the see fit” (43; ch. 4) “The blind moved as one would expect of the blind, groping their way, stumbling, dragging their feet, yet as if organised, they knew how to distribute tasks efficiently.” (86; ch. 6) “Unless we organise ourselves in earnest, hunger and fear will take over here.” (91; ch. 6) * the doctor, 45; ch. 4
  15. 15. “They [the occupants of the third ward]’re organized, he [the doctor] thought to himself, this has not suddenly been improvised.” (145; ch. 9) “are we agreed that the hand that stabbed him was the hand of all of us, or to be more precise, the hand of each one of us. No one replied.” (197; ch. 12) “In this place, age is of no account, nor sex, therefore don’t forget the women.” (203; ch. 12) “And how can a society of blind people organise itself in order to survive, By organising itself, to organise oneself is, in a way, to begin to have eyes” (296; ch. 16)
  16. 16. A preliminary and a final thought “Faltering, as if his lack of sight had weakened his memory, the [first] blind man gave his address, then he said, I have no words to thank you, and the other replied, Now then, don’t give it another thought, today it’s your turn, tomorrow it will be mine, we never know what might lie in store for us.” (3; ch. 1) The girl with the dark glasses: “Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.” (276; ch. 15)
  17. 17. Media credits The photo of Louis Althusser (slide 2) is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Althusser.jpg. Wikipedia’s rationale for the use of that photo, which I believe also applies to my use here, is: Fair use is claimed because there is no free-license equivalent, the image is widely available and has no commercial value, and is being used for educational purposes to illustrate an article about the subject.

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