selections from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 1480-1509

“A Letter on Art in Reply to Andre Daspre” (1966)

What distinction does Althusser make when he says, “I do not rank real art among the ideologies”? (1480)

What is his definition of "ideology"? (the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence)

What in his view is the relationship between art and knowledge? (1480, maintains a specific relationship with knowledge, alludes to reality, enables us to see, especially to see the ideology from which it is born)

Does this suggest the categories of “experience” appealed to by Anglo-American critics such as Henry James or Cleanth Brooks?

What is meant by the claim that works of art provide “an internal distantiation” from ideology, that they make us “perceive” from the inside, “by an internal distance, the very ideology in which they are held”? (1481)

Was there a place for such a concept of distantiation in Lukacs or the structuralist Russian formalists? If so, where might this have been found? (defamiliarization, in Boris Eichenbaum and Victor Shklovsky; estrangement, in Bertolt Brecht)

What does Althusser mean in his claim that the content of art is the “lived experience” of individuals? (1481, the “spontaneous ‘lived experience’ of ideology in its peculiar relationship to the real”)

What by contrast is the realm of science? (1481, a different domain of reality, the abstraction of structures, grasped through knowledge and concepts)

What does Althusser believe are the limitations of art? (1481, may draw attention to the lived effects [of a social arrangement], but cannot define the means to a remedy)

What role does Althusser believe the political convictions of Balzac and Tolstoy played in their art? (1482)

On what does he believe a knowledge of art must be based? (1482, knowlege of its ideology, of the falsity of belief in ideological spontaneity)

What do you think of the tone of this letter? Do you think Andre Daspre would have been pleased to receive it?

“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” from On the Reproduction of the Conditions of Production

How are the conditions of production maintained? (1483-84) What factors are needed for maintenance? (appropriately trained and willing labor force, 1485)

What do children/young people need to learn in order to fulfill their functions in the workplace? (1485, know-how, proper social attitudes, submission to social order)

What are the social "infrastructure" and "superstructure," as defined by Marx and Althusser? (1486) What is the relationship between these two? (the superstructure maintains relative autonomy; both act reciprocally on each other)

What according to Althusser is the function of the state? (1487) Is his capitalization significant?

What is the distinction between state power and state apparatuses? (1488, latter can survive changes in government)

What are the ideological state apparatuses? (these act in the private domain--media, arts, family, church, school, culture, religion, sports, 1489)

How do these operate and repress? (through ideology more than through violence, though these may overlap, 1490)

What instances does he give of repressive acts by the ISA's? (expulsion from church or school, censorship)

What is the state apparatus, and how do its components function? (army, police, prisons, administration of government; these repress massively, acting through ideology as well as violence, 1490)

Why are the classes in power less able to control the ISA's than the RSA? (1491; provide occasion and means for resistance)

How are ideological state apparatuses the sites of struggle? Who is resisting? (the oppressed and former ruling classes, 1492)

What does it mean to say that the ISA’s are “relatively autonomous”? For what forms of contradictions do they provide a field of expression? (1492, “clashes between the capitalist class struggle and the proletarian class struggle”)

What according to Althusser is the relationship between the State Apparatus and Ideological State Apparatuses? (former creates political conditions for the latter, 1492)

According to Althusser, what was the dominant ISA of past times? (the Church, 1493) What is now the dominant ISA? (as of 1960’s, education, 1494)

Do you believe this is arguably the dominant form of ISA formation in the early twenty-first century U. S.? If not, what might be some alternatives?

What aspects of the French school system of the time would seem to have prompted his analysis? (1494, highly centralized and exam-oriented)

What role does he claim is served by the communications apparatus? (1494, provides daily doses of nationalism, chauvinism, moralism, etc.)

By the cultural apparatus? (1498, chauvinism through sport)

What three categories of workers/graduates does the educational system provide? (1494, manual and lower-level workers, technicians and lower-level white collar workers, professionals, managers and agents of repression)

What work do teachers in the main perform within this system? (1495)

What events in the 1960s-70s expressed a similar sense of resistence against educational establishments? (free school movements and student strikes; Parisian student strikes of 1968 and following)

What do you think of his critique of the education system and the family? (1496) Were there other theories of the time who made similar critiques? (R. D. Laing, feminists of 1960s)

How could his views inspire literary as well as ideological analysis?

Is Althusser’s view a paranoid one? Are there aspects of twentieth-century European history which may have influenced his views of the nature of the state and its ideological supports?

“Ideology Has No History”

What had Marx meant by his formulation, “ideology has no history”? (1496, omnipresent in immutable form in the Zeitgeist; 1497, based on illusion, empty, vain)

Does Althusser agree? What is his definition of ideology? (a representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence, 1498)

Do ideologies have a history, in his view? (yes, 1497)

In what sense for him is ideology without a history? (is omni-historical, in a sense eternal, 1497)

What comparison does Althusser make with Freud's notion of a dream? (1497-98, the dream is unconscious, ideology is similarly omni-present)

What distinction does he make between mechanistic and hermeneutic interpretations? (1498)

What reasons have been given for the existence of an imaginary conception of reality? (1498, people deceived by lies; material conditions of existence are inherently alienating)

On what grounds does Althusser disagree with Marx’s early view that material alienation causes distortions of the imaginary? (It is not their real conditions of existence that men represent to themselves in ideology, but their relation to those conditions of exisence which is represented to them there, 1499; an imaginary relation)

Why is this relationship “imaginary”? (1499, projected relation to forces of production)

What does it mean to say that ideology has a material existence? (1500, ideology exists in an apparatus; 1501, ideology requires actions, actions are inserted into practices, governed by rituals)

What unorthodox views of Blaise Pascal does Althusser believe anticipated the true nature of belief? (1502, move your lips in prayer and you will believe)

Are these rituals material? (1502, yes, and defined by the material ideological apparatus)

What new terms should we use to describe belief? (1512, practices, rituals, ideological apparatus)

To what extent do you think the Russian formalists--also Communists--would have agreed with Althusser’s views?

What does it mean to say that “ideology interpellates individuals as subjects”? (1502) What is “interpellation” as defined by Althusser?

What is the concrete function of ideology? (1503-4, exists to interpellate concrete individuals as concrete subjects)

What is meant by the ideological function of recognition and misrecognition? (1503)

What makes the individual into a subject? (1504, hailing) What example does Althusser provide? (police hailing an individual on the street)

What is the position of individuals within this system?(always-already subjects, 1505)

How is the individual made a subject within the family? (1505, born into certain roles and relationships)

Does Althusser incorporate insights of Freud into his account? Are there parallels between his ideas and those of Lacan?

How does Althusser analyze the function of “Christian religious ideology” (i. e. French Catholicism) in interpellating the individual? (1505-1506)

What examples does he give of ways in which religious pronouncements seek to "recognize" a subject? (1506)

What is needed by contrast for the interpellation of a subject? (1507, Subject with capital S, Subject for himself)

What does it mean to say that ideology is specular? (1508) What are some consequences of this mirror-function?

Can you see ways in which his ideas influenced those of Foucault?

According to Vincent Leitch, Althusser was an "anti-humanist" Marxist; if so, with which Marxist humanist concerns would he have taken issue? (notions of alienation, free will)

What aspects of academic study and popular consciousness have been affected, at least to some degree, by his theories?

On what grounds have his views been criticized? To what extent do you find these criticisms valid?

Which aspects of his views do you believe remain valuable in understanding contemporary events?

Page numbers refer to the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001 edition.