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December 18, 2007



define 'ideological system'


oh jb, you make me work so hard for my blog. i'm taking this off-site and will discuss with you further elsewhere. in the meanwhile, i think that near the bottom of the first page of this random anthropology article gets at what i mean. (And unless you have a Jstor account you can't access the rest, alas).


That page says a) that ideology is a complex term with at least 3 different meanings, b) that the first of them is basically about social cohesion, discursive and intellectual uniformity.

What wld the other two be? One would have to be that ideology is a matter of mystification: a kind of system of untruths and misrecognitions. Another sense (highlighted at the start of Terry Eagleton's Ideology: an Introduction [1991] but probably not intended by the article) is that ideology is the study of ideas in society, as sociology is the study of society.

Anyway, here is someone that I know the kids are just crazy to read on the subject:

"Ideological systems are fictions ... novels - but classical novels, packed with plots, crises, good and evil characters (the *novelistic* is another thing entirely: a simple unstructured contour, a dissemination of forms, *maya*). Every fiction is supported by a social jargon, a sociolect, with which it identifies: fiction is that degree of consistency a language attains when it has *jelled* exceptionally and finds a sacerdotal class (priests, intellectuals, artists) to speak it generally and to circulate it.
For each jargon (each fiction) fights for hegemony; if power is on its side, it spreads everywhere in the general and daily occurrences of social life, it becomes *doxa*, nature [...]
To keep these spoken systems from disturbing or embarrassing us, there is no other solution than to inhabit one of them."
-- Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text (1973), pp.27-8 in the English translation.

I think Barthes did see ideology and nuance as at odds - because he saw ideology as rather pernicious. But the definition in yr Levi-Straussian article doesn't really allow for the idea that ideology cld be pernicious, as it is a kind of functional universal of human cultures. If you see ideology as that universal (as I think Althusser did, in his way), then I don't know if you can counterpose it to nuance, anymore than you can discuss, say, the (im)possibility of hamburgers in a world of oxygen.


i don't think we (co-workers and i) were thinking of ideological system as being either pernicious or something as vague as "belief system" or "organization of ideas." (i'm also away from my entire theory library, so i can't allude or quote properly for a couple of weeks.) i think that in the context of our lunch conversation, we were speaking more about ideology in terms of how one might self-identify: i'm a progressive, i'm a libertarian, i'm a humanist -- and those identifications need not be capitalised (Humanist, Libertarian, etc) in the sense that they are objective categories -- it's more how you see yourself and how you define those isms for/within/as yourself.

the 'system' in this sense then is not institutional(ised), nor overarching, but self-imposed (if one subscribes to Althusser this is impossible, but work with me here). and so within that system the nuance is always-already (heh) part of that system, so it doesn't register as nuance. there doesn't need to be nuance if you're living it -- it's just your own lived experience of beliefs. from the outside, however, anyone else's ideological system registers as ideological constraints, and so from the outside any other ideology appears sans nuance, sans the sorts of things that would allow you to get inside it.

i'm making no sense, and am going to shut up now. but i don't believe that ideology is universal (a la Althusser). i'm also curious about this hamburger sans oxygen analogy.

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  • If Ayn Rand and Walter Benjamin got in a cage fight and then made up over foie gras, single malt scotch and indie pop, you'd have the delightful adventures of "That Was Probably Awkward." Plus or minus the single malt and foie gras, depending on the week's finances. But always the indie pop. Sad, stirring indie pop. And a decent happy hour.

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