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Lecture 18: Who Speaks, and Who Answers?


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Slideshow for the eighteenth lecture in my summer course, English 10, "Introduction to Literary Studies: Deception, Dishonesty, Bullshit."

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Lecture 18: Who Speaks, and Who Answers?

  1. 1. Lecture 18: Who Speaks, and Who Answers? PATRICK MOONEY, M.A. ENGLISH 10, SUMMER SESSION A 21 JULY 2105
  2. 2. How identity is stabilized My family gloried in the event. I was one of them, shopping, at last. They gave me advice, badgered clerks on my behalf. I kept seeing myself unexpectedly in some reflecting surface. We moved from store to store, rejecting not only items in certain departments, not only entire departments but whole stores, mammoth corporations that did not strike our fancy for one reason or another. There was always another store, three floors, eight floors, basement full of cheese graters and paring knives. I shopped with reckless abandon. I shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies. I shopped for its own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it. I sent clerks into their fabric books and pattern books to search for elusive designs. […]
  3. 3. I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person I’d forgotten existed. Brightness settled around me. We crossed from furniture to men’s wear, walking through cosmetics. Our images appeared on mirrored columns, in glassware and chrome, on TV monitors in security rooms. I traded money for goods. The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger than these sums. These sums poured off my skin like so much rain. These sums in fact came back to me in the form of existential credit. I felt expansive, inclined to be sweepingly generous, and told the kids to pick out their Christmas gifts here and now. I gestured in what I felt was an expansive manner. I could tell they were impressed. They fanned out across the area, each of them suddenly inclined to be private, shadowy, even secretive. (83– 84, ch. 17)
  4. 4. The old people shopped in a panic. When TV didn’t fill them with rage, it scared them half to death. They whispered to each other in the checkout lines. Traveler’s advisory, zero visibility. When does it hit? How many inches? How many days? They became secretive, shifty, appeared to withhold the latest news from others, appeared to blend a cunning with their haste, tried to hurry out before someone questioned the extent of their purchases. Hoarders in a war. Greedy, guilty. (160; ch. 22)
  5. 5. “This is the point of Babette.” (184; ch. 26) “You cherish the wife who tells you everything. I am doing my best to be that person.” (185, ch. 26) “She is the woman in the ski mask.” (286; ch. 38) “Here are the two things I want most in the world. Jack not to die first. And Wilder to stay the way he is forever.” (225; ch. 31) “I could hardly bear to sit there. Murray’s remark fixed him forever to a plausible identity. What had been elusive about Howard Dunlop was now pinned down.” (227; ch. 32)
  6. 6. “Here’s what I think. I’m nothing without the snakes. That’s the only negative. The negative is if it doesn’t come off, if the humane society doesn’t let me in the cage. How can I be the best at what I do if they don’t let me do it?” (253; ch. 35) “How would you feel if you were a jerk?” “Glad to be alive,” I said. “Not Orest. He dropped out of sight. He went into complete seclusion. Nobody’s seen him since it happened. He doesn’t answer the door, he doesn’t answer the phone, he doesn’t show up at school. The total package.” (284; ch. 38)
  7. 7. What you believe is what you do THESIS I: Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence. (Althusser 1264) THESIS II: Ideology has a material existence. (1265)
  8. 8. Thesis I Of course, assuming that we do not live one of these ideologies as the truth (e.g., “believe” in God, Duty, Justice, etc. . . .), we admit that the ideology we are discussing from a critical point of view, examining it as the ethnologist examines the myths of a “primitive society,” that these “world outlooks” are largely imaginary, i.e. do not “correspond to truth.” (1264) this interpretation leaves one small problem unsettled: why do men “need” this imaginary transposition of their real conditions of existence in order to “represent to themselves” their real conditions of existence? (1264)
  9. 9. 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) Why is the representation given to individuals of their (individual) relation to the social relations which govern their conditions of existence and their collective and individual life necessarily an imaginary relations? And what is the nature of this imaginariness? (1265)
  10. 10. Thesis II An ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice, or practices. This existence is material. (1266) Throughout this schema we observe that the ideological representation of ideology is itself forced to recognize that every “subject” endowed with a “consciousness” and believing in the “ideas” that his consciousness” inspires in him and freely accepts, must “act according to his ideas,” must therefore inscribe his own ideas as a free subject in the actions of his material practice. If he does not do so, “that is wicked.” (1266)
  11. 11. Indeed, if he does not do what he ought to do as a function of what he believes, it is because he does something else, which, still as a function of the same idealist scheme, implies that he as other ideas in his head as well as those he proclaims, and that he acts according to these other ideas, as a man who is either “inconsistent” (“no one is willingly evil”) or cynical, or perverse. (1266-67) This ideology talks of actions; I shall talk of actions inserted into practices. And I shall point out that these practices are governed by the rituals in which these practices are inscribed, within the material existence of an ideological apparatus, be it only a small part of that apparatus: a small mass in a small church, a funeral, a minor match at a sports club, a school day, a political party meeting, etc. (1267)
  12. 12. Interpellation There is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects. Meaning, there is no ideology except for concrete subjects, and this destination for ideology is only made possible by the subject: meaning, by the category of the subject and its functioning. (1268) But at the same time and immediately I add that the category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology insofar as all ideology has the function (which defines it) of “constituting” concrete subjects. (1268)
  13. 13. As St. Paul admirably put 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 we 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)
  14. 14. you and I are always already subjects, and as such constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition, which guarantee for us that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and (naturally) irreplaceable subjects. (1269) As a first formulation I shall say: all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject. (1269)
  15. 15. Everyone knows how much and in what way an unborn child is expected. Which amounts to saying, very prosaically, if we agree to drop the “sentiments,” i.e. the forms of family ideology (paternal/maternal/conjugal/fraternal) in which the unborn child is expected: it is certain in advance that it will beat its Father’s Name, and will therefore have an identity and be irreplaceable. Before its birth, the child is therefore always-already a subject, appointed as a subject in and by the specific familial ideological configuration in which it is “expected” once it has been conceived. (1270)
  16. 16. The real re-emerges We watched the portico begin to go, a far column leaning. A woman in a fiery nightgown walked across the lawn. We gasped, almost in appreciation. She was white haired and slight, fringed in burning air, and we could see she was mad, so lost to dreams and furies that the fire around her head seemed almost incidental. No one said a word. In all the heat and noise of detonating wood, she brought a silence to her. How powerful and real. (DeLillo 228; ch. 32)
  17. 17. Soon there was a smell of acrid matter. It could have been insulation burning—polystyrene sheathing for pipes and wires—or one or more of a dozen other substances. A sharp and bitter stink filled the air, overpowering the odor of smoke and charred stone. It changed the mood of the people on the sidewalk. Some put hankies to their faces, others left abruptly in disgust. Whatever caused the odor, I sensed that it made people feel betrayed. An ancient, spacious and terrible drama was being compromised by something unnatural, some small and nasty intrusion. Our eyes began to burn. The crowd broke up. It was as though we’d been forced to recognize the existence of a second kind of death. One was real, the other synthetic. (229; ch. 32)
  18. 18. I continued to advance in consciousness. Things glowed, a secret life rising out of them. Water struck the roof in elongated orbs, splashing drams. I knew for the first time what rain really was. I knew what wet was. I understood the neurochemistry of my brain, the meaning of dreams (the waste material of premonitions). Great stuff everywhere, racing through the room, racing slowly. A richness, a density. I believed everything. I was a Buddhist, a Jain, a Duck River Baptist. (296; ch. 39) The intensity of the noise in the room was the same at all frequencies. Sound all around. I took out the Zumwalt. Great and nameless emotions thudded on my chest. I knew who I was in the network of meanings. Water fell to the earth in drops, causing surfaces to gleam. I saw things new. (297; ch. 39)
  19. 19. … but disappears again “It’s called a nebulous mass because it has no definite shape, form or limits.” “What can it do in terms of worst-case scenario contingencies?” “Cause a person to die.” “Speak English, for God’s sake. I despise this modern jargon.” (266-67; ch. 36) I recalled Babette’s remarks about the side effects of the medication. I said, as a test, “Falling plane.” (395; ch. 39)
  20. 20. “Plunging aircraft,” I said, pronouncing the words crisply, authoritatively. He kicked off his sandals, folded himself over into the commended crash position, head well forward, hands clasped behind his knees. He performed the maneuver automatically, with a double-jointed collapsible dexterity, throwing himself into it, like a child or a mime. Interesting. The drug not only caused the user to confuse words with the things they referred to; it made him act in a somewhat stylized way. I watched him slumped there, trembling. (295; ch. 39)
  21. 21. He raised his hand and pulled the trigger, shooting me in the wrist. The world collapsed inward, all those vivid textures and connections buried in mounds of ordinary stuff. I was disappointed. Hurt, stunned and disappointed. What had happened to the higher plane of energy in which I’d carried out my scheme? The pain was searing. Blood covered my forearm, wrist and hand. I staggered back, moaning, watching blood drip from the tips of my fingers. I was troubled and confused. Colored dots appeared at the edge of my field of vision. Familiar little dancing specks. The extra dimensions, the super perceptions, were reduced to visual clutter, a whirling miscellany, meaningless. (298; ch. 39)