Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 15

Althusser, Louis
Lenin and Philosophy
And Other Essays

My markings would indicate that the only essay I read in this book was "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation." I've never been much of a Marxist, but this essay was very important to me at some point, helping me to form a view of the way organizations and organizational structures often function as extensions of the power of a ruling class. It's also pretty essential reading if you want to understand the arguments many of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets make about ideology and language. Charles Bernstein's various remarks on "Official Verse Culture" owe much of their philosophical grounding to Althusser's concept of the ISA.

I read this in grad school, but my memories of Althusser date back to my undergraduate and just-post-undergraduate years in New York. I think someone named their cat Althusser, and I think I once wrote a short story with a character named Althusser, even though I didn't really know who he was.

I also remember buying the last copy of this book at Talking Leaves Books and feeling very satisfied with myself that someone walked in just after me to buy it, only to discover none were left. It's the little victories in life that bring us pleasure.

Here's a section I underlined from the essay:

What do children learn at school? They go varying distances in their studies, but at any rate they learn to read, to write and to add -- i.e. a number of techniques, and a number of other things as well, including elements (which may be rudimentary or on the contrary thoroughgoing) of 'scientific' or 'literary culture', which are directly useful in the different jobs in production (one instruction for manual workers, another for technicians, a third for engineers, a final one for higher managment, etc.) Thus they learn 'know-how."

But besides these techniques and knowledges, and in learning them, children at school also learn the 'rules' of good behaviour, i.e. the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labour, accordng to the job he is 'destined' for: rules of morality, civic and professional conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination, they also learn to 'speak proper French', to 'handle' the workers correctly, i.e. actually (for the future capitalists and their servants) to 'order them about properly', i.e. (ideally) to 'speak to them' in the right way, etc.

To put this more scientifically, I shall say that the reproduction of the labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class 'in words."

In other words, the school (but also other State institutions like the church, or other apparatuses like the Army) teaches 'know-how', but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or mastery of its 'practice.'

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