Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here

I was thinking about Louis Althusser…as one does. I have a long-time, complicated relationship with the neo-Marxists. More specifically, I’m fascinated by the Frankfurt School (and would like to write a romance set in a fictional version of it), but I’ve read many of the later, post-WWII generation of Marxian theorists too.

Althusser is not, to be clear, my philosophical boyfriend: he had a troubled personal life, with the whole killing his wife thing, so that honor belongs to Jurgen Habermas.

(Hey, Jurgen. It’s been a while. You’re looking good. Remember that time I saw you speak about democracy and communication and it was like we were the only people in the room?)

Anyway, I was thinking about the essay Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus. In the most famous section, Althusser discusses how ideologically-driven societies (like our own capitalist one) require subjects to function. For him, subjectivity is a self-conscious identity–indicated by things like interiority and agency–that’s produced by an ideological society; the entire thing is pretty circular. We’re products of our education, interpretive communities, social practices, etc. and the ideological state produces people in its image who think they have their own desires, choices, thoughts, and so on but who are merely doing exactly what the state wants them to do–like we think we have a choice about what we drink, but it all comes down to Coke vs. Pepsi. And this goes on replicating itself forever. (Except when it doesn’t.)

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