A Re-Consideration of Althusser and Ideology

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Louis Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” argues, straightforwardly, that “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individual to their real conditions of existence.” By beginning here, we arrive at Althusser’s “central thesis” grounded on “the structure and functioning of ideology”—it contains two theses delineated along what Althusser describes as the “negative” and the “positive”: while the former is invested in how the object is “represented in the imaginary form of ideology,” the latter is devoted to “the materiality of ideology.” What might this mean, then, in reference to how Althusser conceives of “the negative” and “the positive” aspects of his conceptualization of ideology? I would argue that this question is central to Althusser’s “central thesis,” particularly when considering what kind of Marxist approach Althusser is employing (structural Marxism) and, by extension, what form of Marxism his approach is in opposition to (humanistic Marxism)—what Althusser advocates is a kind of empirical examination of structure objectively based on the capitalist production, aligning more with “later Marx” in Das Kapital and opposes alienation of individual freedom of “early Marx” in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. On one hand, “early Marx” is represented by Humanistic Marxism, while, on the other, “later Marx” is expressed by Structural Marxism—not only is it fair to suggest that, for Althusser, “ideology” is based on a specific re-articulation of structuralism and more deeply concerned with Structural Marxism, by opposing Humanistic Marxism, Althusser’s theoretical approach to the “ideological state apparatus” provides specific functional re-articulations of deconstruction and psychoanalysis.

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