The Victorian Sage

"Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased"

Tag: ideology

Ideological Diversity, the University, and the Uses of Screen Adaptation

Interesting piece from Times Higher Education about the progressive political views held by almost all academics in the USA and embedded in the research they create: not just in the form, but in the actual content. The author, Musa al-Gharbi, avers that academics routinely “exaggerat[e] conclusions when convenient while finding ways to ignore, discredit, defund or suppress research that threatens their identity or perceived interests.” Generally this is to support a progressive bias, says al-Gharbi. A knock-on effect of this is that conservative-leaning persons don’t feel comfortable in academia, and find it harder to build a career, leading to the proliferation of extremely well-funded and influential “think-tanks” comprising conservative thinkers and researchers. Another knock-on effect is that academia has very little credibility among large sectors of the population.

On a narrowly political scale, one has to note that academia’s commitment to progressivist-leftist ideals has not strengthened the left in the USA. The president is very right-wing, and the two houses of parliament are now both controlled by the Republican Party. Academia’s influence on society, then, is a depressingly negative one, pushing people towards the opposite extreme.

Academia needs to come to terms with and to engage in dialogue with its right-wing other. An argument I am kind of making in an upcoming publication is that one way to do this is through the use of transtemporal adaptations – that is film/tv (or other media, in theory, though not in my practice as yet) adaptations of novels from another period. Say, the Victorian period. The fact is, almost all writers from that period have various opinions far to the right of the people who tend to watch adaptations of the novels, and of people who write these adaptations. Dickens in Oliver Twist, for example (the example I am using in said upcoming publication), subscribes to fairly hardcore anti-semitism in Oliver Twist, in the character of Fagin; makes his heroine, Rose, a pure and sexless angel-in-the-house type; signifies Oliver’s moral superiority with an otherwise inexplicable upper-class diction, and so on. All of this causes problems for adapters, because to reproduce such ideological functions could make Dickens appear to modern sensibilities shallow, old-fashioned and even obnoxious. So, consciously or unconsciously, Dickens’ less progressive opinions are toned done, left out or turned round.

Image result for oliver twist 2007

Oliver Twist 2007 BBC series. An adaptation that consciously problematized Dickens’ text. Image from

These operations of toning down, etc., become important at the moment of comparative narrative analysis. Being acquainted with what appears in the novel in a different form to the adaptation, we become aware of the ideological otherness of Dickens. This provides a mild shock, as we are regularly assured that Dickens was a progressive writer, a great champion of the poor, a “seeker after gentle justice” etc. – which is, indeed, approximately half true. By being forced to juxtapose this genial image with the problematic reality of Dickensian ideology, we gain insight into the complexities of the formation of ideological consciousness. We also problematize the more presentist stance presented by the adaptation, in its toning down, etc. What seemed natural in the context of the adaptation alone, “how things really are”, is seen now as a deliberate choice, one informed if not dictated by the ideological presumptions of our time and place. And this problematization is absolutely a worthy goal in our climate. This was Žižek’s aim in In Defense of Lost Causes (Verso, 2009),  ‘to render problematic the all-too-easy liberal-democratic alternative’ (6), and it is something that is still a long way from being done with sufficient rigour in academia.


Jaeggi’s Re-Thinking Ideology

Interesting chapter available on about the possibility of re-instating the critique of ideology in academic thinking. Rahel Jaeggi defines ideologies as “systems of beliefs [with] practical consequences. They have a practical effect and are themselves effects of a certain social practice.” She then writes, “To come at it from a different angle: ideologies constitute our relation to the world and thus determine the horizons of our interpretations of the world. Or the framework in which we understand both ourselves and the social conditions, and also the way we operate within these conditions” (64). But this second definition doesn’t seem to me to come at it from a different angle so much as to provide a far more rigid and totalizing conception of the term. We don’t necessarily have to insist that a “system of ideas”, as per definition one, serves to “determine the horizons of our interpretations of the world” – the difficulty with going this far, theoretically more impressive as it sounds, is that it won’t stand up to any empirical study whatsoever – any system of ideas we adopt or believe in won’t account for everything we think or do; it won’t determine our conceptions in any strict sense. Therefore I much prefer the more modest and straightforward first definition to the more intellectual and theoretically daring second definition, which, by virtue of its very theoretical ambitiousness, is bound to fail, its exponents expending their energies in defending what cannot be defended.

Jaeggi goes on to focus on the critique of ideology as a “critique of domination” (65). Here, again, I think she’s entering problematic territory. Conceptually, it is certainly feasible to see domination and ideology as closely linked, but contextually I think it’s the wrong move, as it will tend to place ideology in subservience to the Foucauldian language of power/domination. Foucauldian theory effectively has hegemony over this language at this point, so genuine ideological theory will collapse into Foucauldianism, rather than offer a alternative to this rather narrow (and politically questionable) paradigm. A Marxist critique can never aspire to any great position within a Foucauldian framework, because the emphasis on class relations is constantly being shifted towards questions of sexuality, discipline, etc. The task, then, is to overturn this paradigm, at least as a paradigm, retaining, undoubtedly, some of its insights.

There’s more and I will perhaps give more time to reading in detail this interesting and cogently written chapter, even if I don’t agree with some of its central premises.

The academia source (a scan of a photocopy) gives no publication details (that I could find), but I believe the original publication from which the chapter comes is:

Boudewijn Paul de Bruin & Christopher F. Zurn (eds.), New Waves in Political Philosophy. Palgrave Macmillan (2009)


Paper on Carlyle and Elizabeth (1998)

Maddalena Pennachia’s “Culturally British Bio(e)pics” in Adaptation, Intermediality and the British Celebrity Biopic brings in some Carlyle to explain the ideology behind Elizabeth (1998), arguing that Elizabeth’s femaleness makes her a less embarrassing subject for such heroic treatment than a male character would. If Carlyle had admitted the category of female heroes, he might have written the script for Elizabeth. An interesting paper regarding Carlyle as it posits his ideological positioning as still having some allure, while also being too embarrassing (Pennachia uses the term “embarrassment” to describe our reaction to Carlyle on page 40) to be directly appropriated.

Stuart Hall’s Defininition of Ideology

The most frequent working definition of the term ideology in contemporary cultural studies and related fields is the following from Stuart Hall:

By ideology I mean the mental frameworks – the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and the systems of representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, figure out and render intelligible the way society works.

  • Quoted in John Storey, “Introduction”, in Storey, ed., Cultural Theory, p. vvii

One interesting feature of this definition is that it avoids any approach to Marxism, notable because academically ideology is traditionally seen as a Marxist concept, and is often attacked on those grounds, such as here by Foucault. But historically the term predates Marx, and its popular usage is not usually inflected with Marxist ideas, so this academic approach towards the popular usage is to be welcomed, I think. There’s no need to subscribe to Marxist tenets like base and superstructure, etc., to use ideology.

It’s notable, as well, that Hall avoids a pejorative definition. Both most popular and academic usages, including Marx and Engels in The German Ideology, see ideology as a bad thing, an element of thought involving mystification and misperception. For Hall it’s just a feature of the way groups deal with the world. Rather than, say, “make meaning”, which would have implied a certain distance between things as they are and as they are seen by the relevant groups, he goes with “make sense of”, which has more benign connotations. Ideology thus becomes less critical and more neutral.

On the other hand, Hall’s reduction of mental operations to “frameworks” is problematic. Consciousness itself can’t be reduced to frameworks, so ideology, as a feature of consciousness, should not be either. It’s more nebulous than that, and the analysis of ideology has to be prepared for the multiform paths it could take, which cannot be pre-empted but only become clear in the course of analysis of a given text and may not correspond to any “framework”.

Ideology has a complex and interesting history, and engagement with this history is as important as any formal definition one could come up with. As for definitions, I tend to differ from many academics in that I think for key critical terms, the looser the better. Let the complexity lie in the analysis, not in the general theorizing or the definition of terms. To study ideology is to study consciousness; and consciousness, as we know, is the last mystery – it can’t yet be fully defined, but it can be studied with attention and an open mind.

Žižek’s Ideology

In the entry on “Ideology” in New Keywords (ed. Bennett, et al., Blackwell Publishing, 2005), it is noted in that “the academic centrality of the concept in theoretical debates and political analyses has declined in the e21C (178). The one great exception to this rule is, of course, Slavoj Žižek , probably the most famous of all academic cultural commentators at this time. It’s quite characteristic of him to take this theoretically outmoded concept and revamp it to use it against contemporary orthodoxy. But I have problems with his usage of the word as outlined in perhaps his most famous book, The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) – an intellectual tour-de-force and a frequently stimulating (if sometimes difficult) read.

Žižek ‘s big move in Sublime Object – well, one of them – is to reverse the standard Marxist position. Marx’s famous dictum is: They do not know it, but they are doing it. This describes ideology for Marx because the members of a society unthinkingly objectify their labour and reduce materiality to abstraction, without being conscious of it. Žižek ‘s inversion is: They know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it (25). This inversion is, I suppose, historically specific: they (we) now know what we are doing when we participate in capitalist economics because of Marx and his followers and popularizers. But, yet, nothing has really changed at the level of activity.

We might be tempted to give ourselves a pat on the back here because Žižek allows that we have surmounted the “false consciousness” of ideology that Marx described – unlike our 19th-century forebears, we know. But that’s even worse, because we are still doing it. We are allowing the disconnect between our thoughts and actions to grow and to continue inscribing itself in the mechanisms of our society. Ideology, then, Žižek argues, is  not, at least in contemporary societies, a matter of thought, but of action.

If we want to grasp this dimension of fantasy, we must return to the Marxian formula “they do not know it, but they are doing it”, and pose ourselves a very simple question: where is the place of ideological illusion, in the “knowing” or in the “doing” in the reality itself? (27)

For Žižek it’s in the doing, not in the knowing. We know, for example, that money is not really an embodiment of wealth, but we act as if it is. Of course, the societal and structural pressures to do so are immense, and well-nigh irresistible.

So how do we overcome this impasse, where our doing conflicts with our knowing?

For Žižek, the main technique that is used in contemporary societies is irony or cynicism. Nobody actually believes in the values are social and economic structures are supposed to represent, but while we give free rein to this unbelief, we simply act as if we did believe. The falseness that is incorporated into this cynical worldview is as follows:

The model of cynical wisdom is to conceive probity, integrity, as a supreme form of dishonesty, and morals as a supreme form of profligacy, the truth as the most effective form of a lie. (26)

According to this form of wisdom, there is no alternative to cynicism, so we carry on as we are, while keeping an “ironical distance” from our actions (30). Our actions, then, are ideological: “the illusion is not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what people are doing” (29-30).

So, in the face of ideology having become an outmoded concept, Žižek is basically inverting the entire concept. Now it doesn’t deal with the “phantoms of the human brain“, but with socio-economic “reality”. This may be an entirely un-Marxist concept: if this reality doesn’t actually create epistemological distortions in those who live within it, then Marx’s entire thesis about the relationship between relations of production and ideas falls down. And ideology becomes about material and institutional structures rather than about consciousness. That’s a large sacrifice, and if that is required to make the term acceptable to current intellectual paradigms, then it is proof that “ideology” really is no more. So Žižek ‘s is less, I would say, a theory of ideology than an anti-ideological theory. It has interesting elements, undoubtedly, and the focus on cynicism/ irony is useful and pertinent, but there is more to be said about ideological consciousness than that. Ultimately, cynicism is not the defining mood of any generation because there is an incessant pull away from it: most people still cannot handle too much cynicism, and need something to believe in. It may not be something narrowly political: it’s more likely to be an abstraction like Love. Or what about Tolerance, a term Žižek himself has spoken and written on quite a bit? This, too, is a quasi-official  ideology that people espouse without apparent cynicism. The interplay of such powerful idealist concepts with the economic base is what could still be examined by an ideological critique, so there’s no need to throw it all out the window for an emphasis on a (paradoxical) ideology of doing.

Phantoms of the Human Brain

[W]e do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.

Above is a famous passage from Marx and Engels’ The German Ideology (written: 1846; first published: 1932). In a sort of impressionistic way, it is my favourite formulation of the concept of ideology. I am not really a Marxist: at least, I do not accept – or, at least, am not interested in as a form of analysis – the base/superstructure distinction; and certainly, the Althusserian notion that Marxism is a science is not one I share. But, as Marxism is the most well-articulated alternative to the institutionalization of greed that is Capitalism, no reflective person can fail to be interested in it. And ideology, taken in itself – indebted as any usage must be to Marxist use of the term – doesn’t necessitate that we speak of an economic base, nor does it have a pretension to a science in the references in German Ideology. Rather, to define the term at an unacceptably general level, it is a tool for examining the processes by which people come to hold conclusions on political and social issues.

One formulation in the above quote on ideology that appeals to me is that of phantoms formed in the human brain, which applies to all morality, religion, metaphysics. This has that element of naked scorn that I like in my thinkers. But, of course, academically, one has to question oneself before using such a phrase. Who are you (one asks oneself) to dismiss the ideas of others as phantoms? It were better, perhaps, to retreat from such blatant judgmentalism and simply perform a discourse analysis on certain expressions of these ideas, thus, it is argued, avoiding the epistemological assumptions of the ideologist. But the epistemological assumptions of Marx and Engels have a clear basis: observation of real, active men and their real-life processes. That is the key: not to derive a philosophy from arguments in the “discipline” of philosophy, but rather to strip all that away and return to observation of people in their everyday. For observation is relatively reliable, but idealist speculation is not. And here may be the key element missing in a discourse analysis – a commitment to beginning from real-life processes. For by beginning and ending with discourse only, such an analysis, while keeping itself safe from epistemological questionings, is, in precise proportion as it is doing this, sealing itself off from an ability to engage with anything beyond the purely textual. By thus limiting itself, it is keeping itself very much a “discipline”, but a discipline that will have to entirely collapse and remake itself if it is to make a bridge across the divide between textual analysis and a fuller engagement with all elements of being-in-this-our-world.

The Sage and the Man of Letters

In Victorian England, the class of person we would probably call a public intellectual went by other names. Two such names were Sage and Man of Letters. Both of these terms are, of course, heavily associated with Thomas Carlyle. John Holloway’s study The Victorian Sage (1953) takes Carlyle as its first case study, contending that Carlyle’s aim is the standard one of the sage, “to state, and to clinch, the basic tenets of a ‘Life-Philosophy'” (excerpted in H. Bloom, ed., Thomas Carlyle [Chelsea House, 1986], p. 17); with the term Man of Letters Carlyle is still more closely associated, for did he not write the classic 19th-century investigation into the concept, “The Hero as Man of Letters” in On Heroes? The titular personage of this  lecture-cum-essay was, said Carlyle, “altogether a product of these new ages.” He was, moreover, “sent hither specially that he may discern for himself, and make manifest to us, this same Divine Idea: in every new generation it will manifest itself in a new dialect; and he is there for the purpose of doing that.” Of course, there is some self-reference here, and Carlyle did himself become associated with the figure of the Man of Letters, see for example John Gross’ The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969). So we can see that there is some quite significant overlap between these two categories, Sage and Man of Letters. What, then, is the distinction?

I’ve been reading Terry Eagleton’s The Function of Criticism (1984), and he attempts a distinction. The Sage, he says,

[R]epresents […] an attempt to rescue criticism and literature from […] squalid political infighting […], constituting them instead as transcendental forms of knowledge […]. Literature will fulfill its ideological functions most effectively only if it sheds all political instrumentality to become the repository of a common human wisdom beyond the sordidly historical. (39-40)

I’m not sure if “ideological” and “common human wisdom” really belong in the same sentence, unless there’s a shift in viewpoint halfway through the sentence. If one accepts the notion of “common human wisdom” one can’t consider it to pertain to anything ideological – which is, by definition, partial and biased. But, certainly, the notion of common human wisdom is one that is central to the Sage and particularly to Carlyle, and it did not pertain to political parties. As early as the French Revolution, this element of Carlyle’s writing was noted and appreciated:

He is not a party historian like Scott, who could not, in his benevolent respect for rank and royalty, see duly the faults of either: he is as impartial as Thiers, but with a far loftier and nobler impartiality.


It is better to view it loftily from afar, like our mystic poet Mr Carlyle, than too nearly with sharp-sighted and prosaic Thiers. (Thackeray, qtd. in Seigel, ed., Thomas Carlyle The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), p. 71.

Carlyle undoubtedly is a sage in Eagleton’s sense then. But what, then, of the Man of Letters. Eagleton defines this personage thusly:

[T]he bearer and dispenser of a generalized ideological wisdom rather than the exponent of a specialist intellectual skill. one whose synoptic vision, undimmed by any narrowly technical interest, is able to survey the whole cultural and intellectual landscape of his age.

Once again, “ideological” appears out of place here, jarring, for similar reasons to those outlined above, with the notion of the “synoptic vision, undimmed by any narrowly technical interest” – how can such a vision, if it is accepted as such, produce an ideological wisdom? (How, indeed, can wisdom, if one accepts that it is wisdom, be ideological?). Eagleton has written on the concept of ideology as much as almost any living author,so his usage of it is perhaps worth investigating. In the Eagleton passage I happen to have close to hand, he writes thusly:

[Ideology] refers more precisely to the process whereby interests of a certain kind become masked, rationalized, naturalized, universalized, legitimated in the name of certain forms of political power. Ideology, Verso, 2007, p. 202)

If this is representative of his view, then it’s a fairly classic Marxist take on the concept . For my purposes, it’s a little narrow – the idea that political power is behind ideology rules out various other motivations for the masking, rationalizing, etc., of interests. Perhaps social power would be better? Social is almost synonymous with the most extended meaning of political, but it does not  bear the same narrow meanings which give some ambivalence to Eagleton’s formulation. Both seem to contain the key point that ideology is of the collective, rather than of the individual. This, I would suggest is a more useful way to view it: to allow that a worldview, say, may be individual, but an ideology is individual consciousness inflected by the social (to keep it unfeasibly broad for the moment) – then, as you work towards a definition, the notion of falsity has to come in: the masking, naturalizing, the false consciousness (as Engels would have it), something along these lines. But not, at any rate, to be considered compatible with “common human wisdom” (a concept most contemporary academic critics would not accept, would, perhaps, laugh at, or even be embarrassed by), but which I, being partial to the outlook of the Victorian Sage (as the name of the blog suggests), find at least an attractive concept, if not one that is practically attainable or definable in a pure sense – that doesn’t, I frankly admit, exist in a pure sense, but is not therefore to be unceremoniously flung out of window (as Carlyle might say).

Detour over: after defining the MoL, Eagleton goes on to helpfully distinguish him from the aforedefined Sage:

Such comprehensive authority links the man of letters on one side with the sage; but whereas the sage’s synopticism is a function of transcendental detachment, the man of letters sees as widely as he does because material necessity compels him to be a bricoleur, dilettante, jack-of-all-trades, deeply embroiled for survival in the very commercial literary world from which Carlyle beat such a hasty retreat. (45)

This is a neat distinction, and one that fits with the connotations of the terms. An early meaning of sage is, according to the OED:

A man of profound wisdom; esp. one of those persons of ancient history or legend who were traditionally famous as the wisest of mankind

Thus the notion of transcendentalism fits well with a personage with mythic associations, while the more matter-of-fact man of letters has in Eagleton’s analysis, more down-to-earth connotations. Yet it is only at an abstract level that the distinction holds up: in reality, the 19th-century writers to whom those terms were applied (and Eagleton is using it in describing 19th-century criticism) were almost generally both. In historical terms, the categorization is unhelpful, and really speaks to the love of taxonimizing that afflicts many critics. To analyze is, to a large extent, to taxonomize, but history tends to break such distinctions down. Thus, my point simply is that though Eagleton’s analysis is somewhat interesting, it’s not one I will be trying to apply.

Nevertheless, I’m interested in the undisciplinary nature of the learning that the man of letters accrues. From a 21st-century academic point of view, this seems to me the most interesting element. The academic sees narrowly, methodologically, where the man of letters saw synoptically. The academic structures in place do not now allow for such a mode of vision. No, for that we have to close our Foucaults and open our Sartors, the opening chapter of which is one of the great paeans to intellectual freedom. In my humble opinion.

[W]ould Criticism erect not only finger-posts and turnpikes, but spiked gates and impassable barriers, for the mind of man? It is written, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” Surely the plain rule is, Let each considerate person have his way, and see what it will lead to. For not this man and that man, but all men make up mankind, and their united tasks the task of mankind.  (Sartor, Ch. 1)

And Another Thing: Ideology and the Base/ Superstructure Divide

(Further to my last post on Michele Barrett’s book.)

Barrett states that: “Foucault believed that the concept of ideology was irretrievably contaminated by the unilinear economic determinism characteristic of Marxism” (130). This is an important point, because the most common objection to the term ideology is that it is implicated in the Marxist economic determinism, aka the base/ superstructure divide. This is more a measure of Marx’s ubiquitous influence in academia than a true reflection on the term itself. Histories of the term are found in potted form in Raymond Williams’ Keywords and the more recent edition of same by other authors. But even more interesting is consulting the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives four usages:

1: The original usage of the term was to designate the study of ideas, and this is still meaning number one in the OED.

2: The second usage, both historically and in the present OED, is:

“Abstract speculation; impractical or visionary theorizing. Now rare.”

3: Third is as a synonym for idealism, also now rare.

4: This is the everyday, man-in-the-street version:

A systematic scheme of ideas, usually relating to politics, economics, or society and forming the basis of action or policy; a set of beliefs governing conduct. Also: the forming or holding of such a scheme of ideas.

Again, in four, the economic is only a secondary and optional element of ideology; as a term it is given no more weight than politics or society.

In short the OED would give no support whatever to the general academic notion that Foucault expressed and that Barrett supports. And even within academia, the economic basis for ideology is far from the only one. An avowed Marxist, Stuart Hall, defined ideology thusly:

By ideology I mean the mental frameworks – the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and the systems of representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, figure out and render intelligible the way society works. (Qtd in John Storey, “Introduction”, in Storey, ed., Cultural Theory, p. vvii)

Again, no mention of an economic basis. The economic argument against ideology, in other words, is lazy and straw-mannish. It’s not even clear that Marx himself held an economic determinist view of ideology – that is to say, his pronouncements, as is clear from Barrett’s discussion of them in her opening chapter, are somewhat contradictory and don’t add up to a clear position. But it suits opponents of ideology to treat it as implicated in economic determinism. It suits them, because if that is ideology, then ideology is clearly a concept of limited usefulness, and space is open for a new term such as discourse, etc. But if ideology has a far wider and richer usage-history than Foucault realizes, then the debate is far from settled.

Ideology v. discourse

In Michele Barrett’s book The Politics of Truth (Polity 1991), she gives a cogently written history of the term ideology, devoting about two-thirds of the book to this topic, before moving on to Foucault and his emphasis on discourse. Foucault considered the term ideology as not useful for cultural analysis, for several reasons. Barrett agrees, and suggests that Foucault’s “discourse” provides the way forward, fundamentally because while discussion of ideology supposedly implies the possibility of non-ideological, objective truth, the use of the concept of discourse to analyze society and culture does not presuppose a non-discursive knowledge.

But surely we all consider our own reflections on a given topic to be, if not absolutely truthful, at least more valid than those of our opponents. Or does one think as one expounds a critical analysis: “I know that my own opinions are wrong, but I hold them nevertheless”? It is impossible not to have an epistemological stance of some sort, so “discourse” really just avoids the issue by pretending that it takes no position. Ideology has to actually take responsibility for its own position, as it says, “Yes, I am correct, and you, who believe otherwise, are misguided.” This, I submit, is rather a pro than a con. Responsibilty and answerability for one’s own position are key. The critic disappears entirely behind discourse analysis; there is nobody who speaks, there is just “analysis” that is performed, and that thus takes on an objective character. Ideology, because of its usage by Marx in a spirit of epistemological certainty, and because of the critical energies which have been devoted to debunking the concept, demands of the analyst a far greater degree of self-awareness and self-criticism.

The easy thing to do is to take the much vaunted Foucauldian approach, which is the official methodology of contemporary social studies and humanities. This is precisely the reason why it should not be taken. For he or she who aspires to the condition of having something worthwhile to say, it is imperative to struggle against the methodological strictures of the academy. Ideology provides a way in to the thought of earlier epochs, epochs which may yet have something to say to the contemporary individual. It is possible to close off intellectual life from all such influences by creating a new conceptual language which undercuts all previous approaches while not making the grounds of its own clear. Indeed, Barrett comes close to admitting this in discussing The Archaeology of Knowledge:

[T]here is a sense in which Foucault’s own achievements when “skimming along” and selecting some statements rather than others remain unexplained by the formal method he outlines. (127)

But she simply forgets about this critique, which is an important one that basically negates any advantage Foucauldian discourse might appear to have over ideology as a methodological tool (note 1). So, in summation, new is not necessarily better, and if we want to get a wide-angle view of humanity’s intellectual development we need to use concepts which work not just by being formally acceptable (which is basically only the newer ones, because they haven’t been debunked yet), but concepts that allow a wide-ranging exploration of the thought of the past, which we can then be in a position to criticize, but not necessarily wholly dismiss.

Note 1: “The description of the events of discourse poses a quite different question: how is it that one particular statement appeared rather than another?” (Foucault, Arch. of Knowledge, quoted in Barrett, 126)

Ideology, Psychoanalysis, Narrative

Perhaps the most fascinating of intellectual movements of the last 100-odd years is psychoanalysis. Fascinating not just in its substantive content, but also in its place in modern culture. It has by now managed to inflect so many corners of our lives that we really figure ourselves out partially through certain concepts from psychoanalysis – so if psychoanalysis is, as a hermeneutic of humanity, possibly essentially flawed, it has managed to go about making itself true. It is much truer now than it was over a century ago when Dr Freud began to publish his theories.

This has become relevant to me as I read on the theory of ideology. Ideology is – or most commentators take it for granted that it is – a Marxist concept. Thus, the central thread of Freudian psychoanalysis which sees the individual psyche as composed of instinctual drives at the bottom of all human behaviour doesn’t mesh that well with a concept believed to be implicated in the Marxist base-superstructure model of society. If economics is the base, then Freud’s pleasure principle* can’t be, and vice versa. In other words, one could see it that Freud makes a pure Marxism impossible. And Michele Barrett deals with this in a very cogent and readable book called The Politics of Truth (Polity, 1991). The book is basically a conceptual history of ideology, balancing it against post-modern ideas and assessing how ts relevance can be defended against the critiques of Foucault, et al., but concluding that it can’t be, and resting on the need for “new and more precise concepts”. Yet the analysis of her book had seemed to me to suggest that the term had great advantages over competing concepts like Foucault’s power, Gramsci’s hegemony, etc. I also suspect “new and more precise concepts” are only new for a while, and only precise until somebody goes to the trouble of critiquing them. No critical term will ever be immune from criticism, so part of the value of a storied term like ideology is that it provides a way in to so many thinkers of the past 200 years. One finds oneself working through Marx, Lenin, Gramsci, Althusser, Williams, Hall, Eagleton, etc. – now that’s a motley bunch, some evidently more significant than others, and some who I really have no time for (Althusser, notably), but they form a wide historical spectrum, and that only scratches the surface.

On psychoanalysis, Barrett has this to say:

[T]he insights of psychoanalysis with regard to the unconscious, repression, fantasy, sexuality and so on are not merely ‘within the true’ of psychoanalytic discourse but play an important part in the way in which people in contemporary western societies now understand themselves. Giddens has referred to the “double hermeneutic” in which members of a society use sociological knowledge in their decisions and activities, and this idea can be illustrated in terms of the use that people make of psychoanalysis in their lives. To say that we live in the west in a therapeutic culture, where people interpret, reflect upon and to some extent change their behaviour in the light of psychoanalytic ideas (and, for some, therapy) is not to say that these ideas are not true; it is to understand the contextuality of their truth. (115)

Psychoanalysis has escaped being simply a discourse, and has been elevated to a part of the human condition. This condition is of course spatially and temporally specific, and the point is that here and now we think psychoanalysis is true. Not as a science but as an essential ingredient of the stories we tell about ourselves. This is where narrative comes in, or could come in. And not just narrative, but, even more so, adaptation. Why adaptation? Because it is narrative moving through time and space. Examine a narrative as it appears in different spaces/ epochs, and one can find points of interests in the way we story ourselves.

It’s not about our actual material reality, but how we, in a more generalized sense, see ourselves. Narrative is for general consumption, it depends on The Reality Effect; it is thus a manner of examining how we see ourselves. And adaptation, in which the palimpsest of narrative is overwritten in two distinct styles, is a great, and rather untapped, source for speculation and analysis on this point. And the psychoanalytic story of the human self is one that has fascinated me of late. I won’t give any examples now as I’m currently working through my main example for my thesis. But think about it. Think of an adapted narrative, and how the presentation of character changes, how a 19th-century character is depicted in a 21st-century text, for example. A change is especially apparent in those adaptations which are updated in setting: the setting doesn’t change alone, but the character, too, cannot be themselves in the new setting. What changes? Things like a repressed always returning, a childhood key to present trauma, an underlying neurosis in the most capable and ostensibly together, a centrality of the sexual. in adaptation, we find all of these things demonstrating that, yes indeed, we are psychoanalytic beings, and, no, it was not always so.

*In later Freud, there’s also a mysterious and speculative Death Drive

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