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Louis Althusser

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A brief discussion of Žižek’s reading of Hegel’s thought (to enlist another of Žižek’s intellectual touchstones) regarding habituation should be helpful in making sense of this. As Žižek argues, habituation is, for Hegel, the means whereby what is external (the Althusserian ISA, for instance) becomes internalized in such a way as to constitute the individual’s awareness (in interpellation), and then is redeployed by that individual as that through which the world is comprehended, structured and organized. The world appears to us in the way that it does as a result of such activity, which is itself a reduplication of that which first constructs this activity:<blockquote>The conclusion to be drawn is thus that the only way to account for the distinction between the “inside” and “outside” constitutive of a living organism is to posit a kind of self-reflexive reversal by means of which – to put it in Hegelese – the One of an organism as a Whole retroactively posits as its result, as that which dominates and regulates, the set of its own causes (i.e. the very multiple processes out of which it emerged). (MM: 106)</blockquote>In interpellation, I am, ''pace'' Althusser, subjected to the materially existing practices and structures of my socio-historical community, which are then reduplicated in me as the inner structure of my subjectivity (in habituation, I internalize these practices – what I am is the internalization of them), and at the same time the “inner” is then thrust back onto the world and is what acts as the “virtual” or “immaterial” limit of the world itself. In other words, I experience this limit – set by me in my subjective conceptual presuppositions, which posit the existence of the big Other – as an externally imposed limit. In this way, my own positing activity becomes that which limits me (and my conception of my world) without my knowing it. Žižek continues: “In this way – and only in this way – an organism is no longer limited by external conditions, but is fundamentally self-limited. Again, as Hegel would have articulated it, life emerges when the external limitation (of an entity by its environs) turns into self limitation” (ibid.). Put concisely, the Althusserian ISA is, as Žižek argues, not that which is external to me and limits my subjectivity (as Althusser understands it), but is rather that internalized externality that becomes a virtualized subjective positing or presupposition through which I limit myself and thereby also limit my world. In this reduplication, I limit myself but experience this limitation as coming from the world (the ISA is, for me, external to my existence). I do not comprehend it as emanating from me or, more precisely, being supported and propped up by my recognition of myself as its subject in interpellation. So ultimately, for Žižek, the ISAs themselves do in fact operate in the ways that Althusser has described – they are mechanisms of interpellation – but their material existence hinges on the very subjects they interpellate in so far as such subjects act as their support.
[[Category:Zizek Dictionary]]

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