Umberto Taccheri on Louis Althusser's " Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"

In "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" Althusser expresses the basis of his critical production. The key question he poses is: what is ideology and how does it permeate society and conscience? Explicitly taking the baton from Marx, Althusser sets up to amplify his definition of the State. He replaces the generic "State apparatus" -- defined primarily by its repressive power operated in the interests of the ruling classes -- with a distinction between an explicitly Repressive State Apparatus (still the Government, Administration of pgg.142-43) and the different formative functions of religion, family, school, arts etc., which he calls the Ideological State Apparatuses. These latter are for the most private institutions which, though, assolve also the purely political function to "impress" on the blank page of the still undetermined individual his/her social and private identity. This is still, in the marxian model, a procedure that aims at the reproduction of labour power and of its skills, but also, stresses Althusser, at the reproduction of the existing *relations* of production. In other words, the set of values in which we are immersed is such as to reproduce the existing relations of power through the maintaining of the existing relations of exploitation between social classes, expressed in the repartition of labor. Society "forges" its individuals accordingto predetermined cells, spaces or functions created in it by the existing relations of production, and does this in the process itself of attributing an identity to individuals.

This investment of identity takes place according to a preestablished series of acts of identification in the values imposed by the laws of religion, family, ethics, politics etc. The only way an individual can become a subject is by "subjecting" himself (Althusser naturally takes advantage of the double meaning of the word: subject being the one that performs the action, but also the one who is acted upon) to the existing set of values given by these institutions. The individual is "recognized" exactly in the same way the child enters in the Lacaniana semiotic order, by means of recognizing his/her subjection to the law of the father/society.

What Althusser puts into light in this way, using the tools given to him by Freud and Lacan, is the pervasively inconscious charater of ideology, inherent in all the social practices in which we are born, in the process of attribution of meaning. While though, as we have seen, Irigaray and Cixous propose an at least theoretical-utopistic alternative to the condition of being born into a symbolic order, that is, the formation of a new, exclusively female order, Athusser's essay approaches the problem with an uniquely systematizing intent, and offers no practical tools for the intervention on the status quo. This problem arises for the composite nature of the Ideological Status Apparatuses. These are "in fact unified, despite its diversity and its contradictions, beneath the ruling ideology, which is the ideology of the ruling class"(146), but at the same time understood as the site of class struggle (147). Althusser's incisive insight about the "social unconscious" when it comes to examin the concrete political realities and struggles, which ultimately take place at the level of the infrastructure, then looses its momentum, and is lacking of practical implications /solutions. His extremely attractive theory doesn't help find the solution to the problem of the exploitation of the oppressed, doesn't teach how to intervene on it.

Another critique I move to this essay is that it doesn't in any convincing way support its asserted thesis of the priority of school as the primary Ideological State apparatus. Its mandatory character, the fact that children spend eight hours a day in it doesn't turn the schools automatically in preferential channels for the reproduction of the relations of production, no more in my eyes than family or communications or laws, unless we want to expand in the field of the impermeability of class division and how this is mirrored in the social availability of information and education de facto only to the rich, which to my best understanding Althusser doesn't take into consideration in his analysis. Furthermore, it seems to me that the indication of a preferential Ideological apparatus is in contradiction with the spirit of Lacan's theory, that conceives the individual as submerged and completely internal to the continuum of the law of the Phallus, and not partially in and partially out of it. In this way it seems to me Althusser falls back in the contrapposition he attributed to eighteen century's understanding of society, constituted by the two opposite factions of rulers/ruled, without taking into consideration the composite continuum of society's fabric, and the contribution of all classes and social groups to the maintenance of the existing ideology and once again, without offering any useful tools for political action, neither at the level of the infrastructure, nor at that of the Ideological Status Apparatuses.

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