Culture and Ideology: Making the Imaginary Real and the Real Imaginary
By Abdelaziz Elhammouchi
Morocco World News
Meknes, August 14, 2012
Looking at the Enlightenment era’s definition of ideology, in which reason is exuded and religious, traditional and primitive thinking, which figure in superstitious beliefs, are suppressed, we can say that it is a scientific orientation of ideas. Moyra Haslett (2000) views ideology from a dialectical standpoint. That is, she contends that ideology is an interdisciplinary area, which orbits around three axes. These three facets are concerned with complexity of ideas, materiality and social realities.
The first axe is about an epistemological definition that interprets ideas as illusion or distortion, which is either confirmed of rejected by scientific arguments. While the second definition is affected by the Marxist Theory of base and superstructure, the last definition is neutrally oriented. That is, humans’ deeds are conceived as an amalgam of culturally practiced values and beliefs. Though Moyra splits the notion of ideology into its constituent’s part- for the sake of analysis, ideology should not be seen from a simplistic window. Rather, it should be conceived as “opium of the masses” that goes dialectically hand in hand to construct an umbrella term, which embraces multiple sub-notions.
Slavoj Zizek (1994) was inspired by Hegel’s subdivision of religion into three categories. Similarly, he treated ideology as a doctrine, ritual and belief. Firstly, ideology as a doctrine is looked at from the perspective of classical Marxism as a pejorative illusory of false consciousness. Reaching or constructing an ideology is through possessing certain means and materials. The contradictory characteristic of ideology puts it at stake. That is, Marx rejected ideologies because they represent false consciousness or unsolved problems mostly disseminated by the dominated class. These problems turned out to be, in due time, errors or false arguments which contributed to sustaining the status quo of both classes; that is, promoting the dominating class and stabilizing the social transformation of the powerful.
Raymond Williams (1977), in this respect, rejects the dominant ideology since that it includes a reductive approach, which aims at producing one modeled structure. Literary, the dominant class uses various means to spread its ideologies. Writers are not allowed to write something the publishers do not agree with. ‘Employers’- I deliberately use the word to express that writers in the age of mechanical reproduction started to write for the sake of sustaining their jobs and not to illuminate the public mind- are threatened to lose their posts if they write something out of concerned people’s settled ‘norms’. The Marxist Theory insinuates that publishers of the capitalist system patronize some people’s works over others in a biased manner.
Raymond Williams claims that the dominant ideology keeps in a state of fluidity and constant opposition with any new emergent or alternative structure. Antonio Gramsci (1971), in this concern, treats the notion of hegemony, in which he tried to arrange between the Marxist Theory and liberated philosophies to approach adequately for what an ideology signifies. A group of people do not dominate others only through physical means but also via intellectual and moral leadership. Gramsci categorizes democracy of the ruling class into spontaneous consent, which is stimulated by intellectual and coercive power exerted by physical forces. For Gramsci, then, ideology and hegemony intersect. Though higher classes are dominating and lower classes are dominated, they are said to be grouped in a community together under the same legal system. Like Williams, Gramsci claims that hegemony is never static and absolute; it is a complex entity, which does not only embrace class struggle, but worse than that, it includes an ideological struggle.
Secondly, ideology as a ritual does not mean that ritual is a sort of performed practices. Rather, it is about the manner and the context in which these practices are held. The state exerts power on citizens either through repression in the form of the army and administration, or ideological apparatuses through schools, religious buildings, families and other forms of organizations- for more information about this, consult Gramsci’s The Organization of Education and of Culture. Both the Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) and the Ideological State Apparatus (IDA) include repression and coercion. They are two faces of the same dictatorial system that the state takes into account in dealing with citizens. When coercion is not needed, then ideological speeches are steered towards persuading people to abide by the ‘legal system’
Historically, in the Romantic era, people started to demonstrate against the mechanization creep. As a reaction against this movement, the capitalist system instituted a law that says mechanization is a “property” which should be protected just like protecting an owned property. In fact, religious and political speeches are about ideologies, which are wrapped up in the form of beautiful speeches to calm people down. This means that capitalism and exploitation are faces of the same coin.
Ideology is ubiquitous and has a material existence as well. This means that whenever a person talks, write or thinks about something, s/he is ideologically involved. Not only imaginary, ideology has a material existence. People’s behaviors, for instance, are considered as material practices, in the form of preparing food, building houses and traveling, and also as imaginary conditions or practices according to certain beliefs. When a person is totally immersed in a culture, s/he cannot be aware of his/her cultural ideologies. Though some humanists contend that people control their thinking, Louis Althusser (1984) says that we are unconsciously dumped with our ideologies. Capitalism, to put it differently, is our nature. Althusser’s theory, The Interpellation of the Subject, in fact, is very significant. In autobiography, for instance, it shows how an individual could emancipate him/herself from the bound of the political and economic restrictions to express the self freely. The theory also uncovers media tricks and shows how lots of people are deceived to follow already prescribed rules mainly diffused on air.
Literature, therefore, is only a way to be in an ideology and at the same time it helps a reader to have knowledge about it. Art and science are media that make practitioners able to experience ideological practices and to know about how they are scientifically or theoretically produced. In other words, ideology is seen as the missed gaps that a writer leaves unfilled. This means that an ideology is about illusory, unsubstantial and contradictory form of discourses, which are deciphered according to each reader’s acquired experiences. Pierre Macherey (1966) contends that being able to locate the hidden formulas in the text would allow a reader to see the author’s contradictions and, as a result, it would allow him/her to depict what ideologies are laid behind that text. Herein, unlike the humanist interpretations, a reader reproduces another text and not only produces the same discussed point by the original writer.
Questioning literature is said to be a false question itself because it already embraces an answer in its subjects. Social practices are said to be indispensable for understanding literary works. In other words, comprehending a text entails from a reader to contextualize it in the environment where it is produced. Language is ideologically perceived in a predetermined manner.
Lastly, ideology as beliefs tackles illusory aspects of social and economic practices. Buying and selling goods might be looked at as a daily life exchange of commodities, but, in fact, it transcends this to analyze the inequalities that bound the realms of property and freedom. Media owners exert and saturate society with undesirable programs that aim at gaining profit in the form of presenting unethical and immoral contents, mainly sexual obscenity. Subsequently, the human being started to be, as Karl Marx (1995) claimed, an objectified and reified commodity. Media creates, as Theodor Adorno (1991) states, a manufactured society in which ‘realities’ are invented and confirmed through mediated campaigns, especially ads, in a way to render the imaginary real and the real imaginary to sell as many products as possible.
All in all, ideology is not a false consciousness, but it is a combination between illusion, facts and realities. The fact that ideology is ubiquitous, it could not be radically eradicated. Ideology is inseparable from its three axes- doctrine, ritual and belief, and this is what renders humans to be ideologically defined.
Abdelaziz Elhammouchi obtained his BA in linguistic from Moulay Ismail University, Meknes. He is a master student of “Communication in Contexts,” at the same University.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved