Dr. Kate Liu
Journal: "On Literature as an Ideology Form"
Etienne Balibar and Pierre Macherey's "On Literature as an Ideological Form"
Marxism is a materialist philosophy. Marxists look for concrete, scientific, and logical explanations of a world of observable facts in order to explain things in their way. For Marxists, there is no other force beyond the material society. Arts and literature, under this assumption, are products produced to meet the need of consumption. Therefore, if arts and literature are mere economic productions, whether there is a Marxist standard of aesthetic or not would become a problem.
For Marxists, the progress of society and history is the progress of struggling for power. The history is a constant class struggle, and this class struggle is a war between different ideologies in contradiction to each other. If our history is an endless class struggle of different ideologies, any study of the art is related to the dominant ideology.
Balibar and Macherey believe that literature should be interpreted in the historical point of view. To understand the class position presented in literature is to understand the ideological modes appeared in literary works. The classic Marxists' theses on literature and art come from the notion of "reflection". Literature is the reflection of historical social phenomena. That is to say, the production of literature is generated from the social practice. Literature, under this notion, is the product of the reflection of the life in q given society. Literature is an ideological social practice of superstructure. The notion of this "reflection" is not a complete reflection of the reality. The reality of the reflection of our mind is not objective since everyone is subjective in mind. Therefore, the Marxists' notion of reflection is a reflection without a complete projection. The notion of Marxists' reflection opposes to the sensualist concept of image, which considers the reflection as "mirroring." Viewing the complexity of reflection presented in literature, we may make a rigorous definition like what Lenin had made. We may reach a conclusion that "literature is an ideological form . . . and the specific process of literary production."
The relation between literature and history is in an intricate and relational connection. Balibar and Macherey consider that this internal relationship is what makes literature an ideological form. The ideological forms, according to Althusser, "are manifested through the workings and history of determinate practices in determinate social relations." This operation of ideological forms is what Althusser calls, the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). Therefore, the objectivity of literary production becomes inseparable from the social practice within the given ISA.
Literature is regarded as the historical and social reality because the dominated bourgeois regard literature as an ensemble of language. Literature provides bourgeois fictional effects. The fictional effects reproduce the bourgeois ideology as the dominated ideology. Therefore, literature submits to a threefold determination: linguistic, pedagogic, and fictive. In the linguistic aspect, literature must be written in a common language accepted by society, or it could not be understood by the common-language-speaking society. This common language is related to the bourgeois political practice because the agreement of using a common language is the outcome of class struggle. Under this class struggle, literature has to struggle to transform the production of infrastructure and the ideological formation of superstructure. The self-contradictory characteristic of literature thus incurs the bourgeois culture revolution.
Under the institution of class struggle, the schooling apparatus becomes an institution to submit individual to the dominated ideology. The language used in schooling system is divided into basic and advance. The basic education and the advance education of the school apparatus reproduce the social structure of production and consumption; therefore, the schooling apparatus copies the contradictory characteristic of social practice.
It is not correct to say that text can refer to a subjective theme of the society or of history. Since literature is positioned in the historical materialism, to think that there is a unity of literature is a false assumption. In the second part of the essay, Macherey asserts that the text is composed of one or more ideological contradictions. The materialist analysis is in contrast to the notion that the text has the unity, totality, and self-sufficiency. Therefore, the only way that the text can provide a reasonable explanation for itself is through an imaginary solution. This solution completes the obvious break of the ideological contradictions. This imaginary solution is the discourse of the text. Discourse is not only the imaginary solution of ideological contradiction, but also the ceaseless reproduction of the ideological contradiction. In providing the imaginary solution of ideological contradiction, the discourse would provide a function as a displacement. The displacement is what Balibar said, "literary style," because the style creates a fictive reconciliation of irreconcilable terms.
In order to reach the goal of reconciliation, there must be a fictional process within literature. The literary effects can only be effective through the process to make literature true to life. This is the identification effect of literature. If literature is fiction, it is a fiction, which expresses the idea of realism since literature must be true to life. Nevertheless, if we treat literature with realism, the literature must be the representation of reality. Therefore, the idea of realism is not in opposite to fiction. The classics of Marxism never treat literature as realism, and so do the Marxists treatment toward reflection. Literature is not fiction for Marxism; it is a material reality, or the production of fiction effects. Literature does not reflect the reality; rather, it produces a reality effect and a fiction effect. Hence, fiction and realism are notions that construct literature.
The aesthetic effect of literature is an ideological domination effect. In the material point of view, the effects of literature are socially produced in a determined material process. Consequently, the effects of literature are the material outcome and particular ideological effects. This effect is the text per se. Through different modes of reading, the reading of the text becomes the pure "pleasure" of letters. The function of interpretation and commentaries is to discover the hidden aesthetic effect of literature. Freud regards the text of dream as both the text and the interpretation of the text. Hence, the criticism, the discourse of ideology, is a chain of free associations to develop and understand the text.
The primary materials of literary text are different kinds of ideological contradictions. Through the ideological discourse caused by the contradiction of different ideology, the individual obtains the appropriate ideology for him. Therefore, aesthetic effect becomes the strategy of domination because it submits individual to the dominant ideology.
Etienne Balibar and Pierre Macherey. "On Literature as an Ideological Form." Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader. Boston: Routledge, 1981. 79-99.