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'''Louis Pierre Althusser''' (October 16, 1918 - October 23, 1990) was a [[Marxist]] [[philosopher]].  He was born in [[Algeria]] and studied at the prestigious [[École Normale Supérieure]] in [[Paris]], where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy. He was a leading academic proponent of the [[French Communist Party]] and his arguments were a response to multiple threats to the ideological foundations of that socialist project. These included both the influence of [[empiricism]] which was beginning to influence [[Marxist]] sociology and economics, and growing interest in humanistic and democratic socialist orientations which were beginning to cause division in the European Communist Parties. Althusser is commonly referred to as a [[Structural Marxism|Structural Marxist]], although his relationship to other schools of French [[structuralism]] is not a simple affiliation.
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'''Louis Pierre Althusser''' (October 16, 1918 - October 23, 1990) was a [[Marxist]] [[philosopher]].  He was [[born]] in [[Algeria]] and studied at the prestigious [[École Normale Supérieure]] in [[Paris]], where he eventually became Professor of [[Philosophy]]. He was a leading academic proponent of the [[French Communist Party]] and his arguments were a response to multiple [[threats]] to the [[ideological]] foundations of that socialist [[project]]. These included both the influence of [[empiricism]] which was beginning to influence [[Marxist]] [[sociology]] and [[economics]], and growing interest in humanistic and democratic socialist orientations which were beginning to [[cause]] [[division]] in the European [[Communist]] Parties. Althusser is commonly referred to as a [[Structural Marxism|Structural Marxist]], although his [[relationship]] to [[other]] [[schools]] of [[French]] [[structuralism]] is not a simple affiliation.
  
== Biographical information ==
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=In the work of Slavoj Žižek=
===Early life===
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The [[work]] of French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser is important for Žižek in a variety of ways. This is most [[apparent]] in Žižek’s conception of [[ideology]], as it is at least partially against the backdrop of Althusser’s own conception of ideology that Žižek’s is constructed. In [[order]] to see this relationship, we should first say a bit [[about]] Althusser’s conception of ideology.
Althusser wrote two autobiographies, ''L'Avenir dure longtemps'', or "The Future Lasts a Long Time," which is published in America as "The Future Lasts Forever," in a single volume with Althusser's other, shorter, earlier autobiography, "The Facts." These documents provide most of the information we know about his life, although, as with all autobiographies, the information they provide is somewhat suspect.
 
  
Althusser was born in [[French Algeria]] in the town of [[Birmendreïs]], to a ''[[pied-noirs]]'' family. He was named after his paternal uncle who had been killed in the [[First World War]]. Althusser alleged that his mother had intended to marry his uncle and married his father only because of the brother's demise. Althusser also alleges that that his mother treated him as a substitute for his deceased uncle, to which he attributes deep psychological damage.
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Althusser rejects the traditional Marxist conception of ideology as a kind of simple [[false]] [[consciousness]] that can be completely overcome or set [[right]] by proper Marxist [[analysis]]. Rather, for Althusser, ideology is always in operation in our [[subjective]] [[awareness]]. Th at is, as Althusser puts it in For [[Marx]], all consciousness is ideological (Althusser 1969: 33). According to Althusser, even though [[particular]] historical ideological forms come into [[being]] and [[pass]] away, much like the [[Lacanian]] [[concept]] of the “symbolic”, the [[structure]] of ideology is an ever-[[present]] feature of [[conscious]] [[life]]. His [[theory]] of [[interpellation]], given in the famous piece entitled “Ideology and Ideological [[State]] Apparatuses: [[Notes]] Toward an Investigation” (Althuser 1971: 85 –126), is meant to further expand on and explain this point.
  
Following the death of his father, Althusser moved from [[Algiers]] with his mother and younger sister to [[Marseilles]], where he spent the rest of his childhood. He joined the [[Catholic]] youth movement Jeunesse Etudiante Chrétienne in 1937. Althusser performed brilliantly at school and was accepted to the elite [[École normale supérieure|Ecole Normale Supérieure]] (ENS) in [[Paris]]. However, he found himself enlisted in the run-up to [[World War II|World War Two]], and like most French soldiers following the [[Fall of France]] Althusser was interned in a [[Germany|German]] [[Prisoner of war|POW]] camp. Here, he came into contact with Jacques Martin, and his move towards [[Communism]] began. He was relatively content as a prisoner, and remained in the camp for the rest of the war, unlike many of his contemporaries who escaped to fight again—for this, Althusser later had reason to chastise himself.
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In this essay, Althusser distinguishes between what he calls “Repressive State Apparatuses”, or RSAs, which are those parts of the state (including the state itself) that function to enforce the domination of the ruling [[class]] through [[violence]] (here, Althusser cites institutions such as the prisons, law, the courts, the police and the military), and what he calls the “Ideological State Apparatuses”, or ISAs, which have the same function (to enforce the domination of the [[ruling class]]) but operate differently (''ibid.'': 143). ISAs work not through violence, but through the reproduction of a given set of historical [[ideologies]]. Some of the examples of ISAs that Althusser provides are schools, churches, trade unions, familial [[structures]] and other [[cultural]] institutions, practices and traditions. In the ISA, ideology itself takes a [[material]] [[form]]. We are, claims Althusser, immersed in ideology because it is materially represented in the [[multitude]] of institutions and practices that we engage in and are engaged by. How do the ISAs enforce ideological structures? Althusser’s answer is that they do this through what he calls “interpellation”.
  
===Health===
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According to Althusser, one is “interpellated” or “hailed” by an ISA when one recognizes oneself as the “subject” of the ISA’s call or as the one who is being hailed. His example is the policeman who hails a passerby on the street by saying “Hey you there!” It is in [[turning around]] and responding to the hail that one becomes a “subject” of the call and is thus interpellated by the hail. This is because, as Althusser points out, one “has recognised that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him, and that ‘it was really him who was hailed’ (and not someone else)” (''ibid.'': 174). We are, argues Althusser, always in a state of being interpellated in this way. When one goes to [[church]], one is interpellated by a particular set of [[religious]] practices to be the [[subject]] of such practices; when one goes shopping, one is interpellated by the practices that are a part of shopping to be a subject that shops; when one walks onto the [[university]] campus, one is interpellated by the university to be a particular kind of subject (a student, or a teacher, or an administrator, etc.); and so on. By engaging in any material [[social]] [[practice]] or with any material institution, we admit ([[unconsciously]]) that we are the “subject” of such a practice, and in doing this we ''become'' the kind of subject that engages in that practice and thus are constituted by it. Furthermore, the [[recognition]] of oneself as a subject of ideology is not just the recognition of oneself as such a subject at that [[moment]]. Rather, one recognizes – or misrecognizes – oneself as always having been such a subject. Th is is an important point. When I am interpellated and I recognize myself as the one being hailed, included in that recognition is the [[misrecognition]] that I have ''always already'' been the subject that is subjected to such practices and is beholden to [[them]]. Althusser points out here that: “Ideology has always-already interpellated individuals as [[subjects]], which amounts to making it clear that individuals are always-already interpellated by ideology as subjects, which necessarily leads us to one last proposition: ''individuals are always already subjects''” (''ibid.'': 176).
After the war, Althusser was able finally to attend ENS. However, he was in poor health, both mentally and physically. In [[1947]], he received [[electroconvulsive therapy]]. Althusser was from this time to suffer from periodic mental illness for the rest of his life. The ENS was sympathetic however, allowing him to reside in his own room in the school infirmary. Althusser found himself living at the ENS in the Rue d'Ulm for decades, except for periods of hospitalization.
 
  
===Post-War===
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Returning, then, to the point above about the ever-present [[nature]] of ideology, not only is it the [[case]] that since we are constantly in a [[process]] of being interpellated we are always already subjects, Althusser also argues that, although ideological practices may diff er at different historical [[times]] and places, t''he structure of interpellation is ever present''. This is what is meant by his [[claim]] that “Ideology has no history” (''ibid.'': 175). We always find ourselves interpellated as subjects by the material institutions, traditions and practices that [[exist]] for us at a given [[time]] and [[place]], and while these [[change]], the process of our [[constitution]] by them remains [[stable]].
In [[1946]], Althusser met Hélène Rytman, a [[revolutionary]] of [[Lithuanians|Lithuanian]]-[[Jewish]] ethnic origin, eight years older than him, who was to remain his companion until he killed her in [[1980]].  
 
  
Formerly a devout, if [[left-wing]], [[Roman Catholic]], in this period, Althusser joined the [[French Communist Party]] (PCF) in [[1948]], at a time when others, such as [[Merleau-Ponty]], were losing sympathy for it. That same year, Althusser passed the ''[[agrégation]]'' in [[philosophy]] with a dissertation on [[Hegel]], which allowed him to become a tutor at the ENS.
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Though Žižek takes much from Althusser, and he partially agrees with Althusser regarding the latter’s claims about subjective constitution out of the communal social material (the ISAs and their process of interpellation), Žižek wants to claim that the ISAs are not material in quite the way that Althusser envisions them to be. Further, Žižek thinks that, although [[subjectivity]] as interpellated can and does often act as a site for the reproduction of existing class divisions and [[power]] structures, it is not solely subordinated to his [[logic]], as Althusser argues. On Žižek’s revision of the Althusserian view, it only appears (to subjects themselves) that they are constrained in this way. In explaining this, Žižek invokes the Lacanian concept of the “big Other” (what, in this context, we might liken to the particular [[totality]] of ISAs that exist at a given time):<blockquote>With Lacan’s “big Other” the perspective is completely the opposite: the very “positing” of the [[big Other]] is a subjective gesture, that is, the “big Other” is a [[virtual]] entity that [[exists]] only through the subject’s presupposition (this moment is [[missing]] in Althusser’s [[notion]] of the “Ideological State Apparatuses”, with its emphasis on the “materiality” of [[the big Other]], its material [[existence]] in ideological institutions and ritualized practices – Lacan’s big Other is, on the contrary, ultimately virtual and as such, in its most basic [[dimension]], “immaterial”). (''LC'': 113–14) </blockquote>The view that there is such a totality of ISAs, which are both [[external]] to the subject and inescapable, is itself the result of the interpellative process, in so far as this is placed on the [[world]] by consciousness-as-interpellated. Althusser misses this, according to Žižek, because of his [[belief]] in the external-as-material nature of the ISA and its power of interpellation. He does not sufficiently recognize what Žižek sees as a [[dialectical]] reduplication inherent to the interpellative process and ultimately to the material existence of the ISA itself.
  
With the [[Twentieth Party Congress]] in [[1956]], [[Nikita Khrushchev]] began the process of "[[de-Stalinisation]]". For many Marxists, including the PCF's leading theoretician [[Roger Garaudy]], this meant the recovery of the [[humanist]] roots of [[Karl Marx|Marx's]] thought, such as the [[Marx's theory of alienation|theory of alienation]]. Althusser, however, opposed this trend, sympathising instead with the criticisms made by the [[Chinese Communist Party]], albeit cautiously. His stance during this period earned him notoriety within the PCF and he was attacked by its [[secretary-general]] [[Waldeck Rochet]]. As a [[philosopher]], he was treading another path, which would later lead him to "random materialism" (''matérialisme aléatoire''); however, this didn't stop him from enforcing the marxist orthodox thought to supposed "heretics", such as during his [[1973]] answer to [[John Lewis (philosopher)|John Lewis]].
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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.
  
Despite the involvement of many of his students in the events of [[May 1968]], Althusser initially greeted these developments with silence. He was later to follow the official PCF line in describing the students as victim to "infantile" [[Left-wing politics|leftism]]. As a result, Althusser was attacked by many former supporters. In response to these criticisms, he revised some of his positions, claiming that his earlier writings contained mistakes, and a significant shift in emphasis was seen in his later works.
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[[Category:Zizek Dictionary]]
 
 
=== 1980s ===
 
On [[November 16]], [[1980]], Althusser strangled his wife to death. This had been preceded by a period of intense mental instability. The exact circumstances are debated, with some claiming it was deliberate, others accidental. Althusser himself claimed not to have a clear memory of the event. Since he was alone with his wife when she died, it is difficult to  come to firm conclusions. Althusser was diagnosed as suffering from [[diminished responsibility]], and he was not tried, but instead committed to the Sainte-Anne psychiatric hospital. Althusser remained in hospital until [[1983]]. Upon release, he moved to Northern Paris and lived reclusively, seeing few people and no longer working, except for producing his autobiography. He died of a [[cardiovascular disease|heart attack]] on October 22nd 1990 at the age of 72.
 
 
 
== Thought ==
 
Althusser's earlier works include the influential volume ''[[Reading Capital]]'', which collects the work of Althusser and his students on an intensive philosophical re-reading of [[Karl Marx|Marx's]] ''[[Das Kapital|Capital]]''. The book reflects on the philosophical status of Marxist theory as "critique of political economy," and on its object. The current English edition of this work includes only the essays of Althusser and [[Étienne Balibar]], while the original French edition contains additional contributions from [[Jacques Ranciere]] and [[Pierre Macherey]], among others.  The project was  approximately analogous, within Marxism, to the contemporary [[psychoanalysis|psychoanalytic]] return to [[Sigmund Freud|Freud]] undertaken by [[Jacques Lacan]], with whom Althusser was also involved. (Althusser's personal and professional relationship with Lacan was complex; the two were at times great friends and correspondents, at times enemies.)
 
 
 
Several of Althusser's theoretical positions have remained very influential in [[Marxist philosophy]], though he sometimes overstated his arguments deliberately in order to provoke controversy.  Althusser's essay ''On the Young Marx'' draws a term from the [[philosopher of science]] [[Gaston Bachelard]] in proposing a great "epistemological break" between Marx's early, "[[Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel|Hegelian]] and [[Ludwig Feuerbach|Feuerbachian]]" writings and his later, properly [[Marxist]] texts. His essay ''Marxism and Humanism'' is a strong statement of anti-[[Marxist humanism|humanism]] in Marxist theory, condemning ideas like "human potential" and "[[species-being]]," which are often put forth by Marxists, as outgrowths of a [[bourgeoisie|bourgeois]] ideology of "humanity."  His essay ''Contradiction and Overdetermination'' borrows the concept of [[overdetermination]] from [[psychoanalysis]], in order to replace the idea of "contradiction" with a more complex model of multiple [[causality]] in political situations (an idea closely related to [[Antonio Gramsci]]'s concept of [[hegemony]]).
 
 
 
Althusser is also widely known as a theorist of [[ideology]], and his best-known essay is ''Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation'' (available in several English volumes including ''Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays''). The essay establishes the concept of ideology, also based on [[Antonio Gramsci|Gramsci's]] theory of [[hegemony]]. Whereas hegemony is ultimately determined entirely by political forces, ideology draws on [[Sigmund Freud|Freud's]] and [[Jacques Lacan|Lacan's]] concepts of the unconscious and mirror-phase respectively, and describes the structures and systems that allow us to meaningfully have a concept of the self. These structures, for Althusser, are both agents of repression and inevitable - it is impossible to escape ideology; to not be subjected to it. The distinction between ideology and science or philosophy is not assured once and for all by the ''epistemological break'': this "break" is not a chronologically-determined event, but a process. Instead of an assured victory, there is a continuous struggle against ideology: "Ideology has no history".
 
 
 
===The 'Epistemological Break'===
 
It was Althusser's view that [[Karl Marx|Marx's]] thought had been fundamentally misunderstood and underestimated. He fiercely condemned various interpretations of his works - [[historicism]], [[idealism]], [[economic determinism|economism]] - on the grounds that they had failed to realise that with the 'science of history', [[historical materialism]], Marx had constructed a revolutionary view of social change. These errors, he believed, resulted from the notion that Marx's entire body of work could be understood as a coherent whole. Rather, Althusser held, it contains a radical 'epistemological break'. Though the early works are bound by the categories of German [[philosophy]] and classical [[political economy]], with ''The German Ideology'' (written in 1845) there is a sudden and unprecedented departure which paves the way for Marx's later works. The problem is compounded by the fact that even [[Karl Marx|Marx]] himself did not fully comprehend the significance of his own work, being only able to communicate it obliquely and tentatively. The shift can only be revealed by way of a careful and sensitive "symptomal reading". Thus, it is Althusser's project to help us fully grasp the originality and power of Marx's extraordinary theory, giving as much attention to what is not said as to the explicit. He held that [[Karl Marx|Marx]] had discovered a 'continent of knowledge', History, analogous to the contributions of [[Thales]] to [[mathematics]], [[Galileo Galilei|Galileo]] to [[physics]] or, better, [[Freud]]'s [[psychoanalysis]], in that the structure of his theory is unlike anything posited by his predecessors.
 
 
 
Althusser believed that underlying Marx's discovery was a ground-breaking [[epistemology]] centred on the rejection of the dichotomy between [[subject (philosophy)|subject]] and [[object (philosophy)|object]], which makes Marx's work incompatible with its antecedents. At the root of the break is a rejection of the idea, held by the classical [[economists]], that the needs of individuals can be treated as a fact or 'given' independent of any economic organisation, and could therefore serve as a premise for a theory explaining the character of a [[mode of production]]. In Althusser's view, [[Karl Marx|Marx]] did not simply argue that people's needs are largely created by their social environment and thus vary with time and place; rather, he abandoned the very idea that there could be a theory about what people are like which was prior to any theory about how they came to be that way, and which could therefore serve as an independent starting-point for a theory about society. As well as this, Marx's theory is built on concepts - such as [[Means of production|forces]] and [[relations of production]] - that have no counterpart in classical [[political economy]]. Even when existing terms are adopted - such as the combination of [[David Ricardo|David Ricardo's]] notions of rent, profit and interests through the theory of [[surplus value]] - their meaning and relation to other concepts in the theory is significantly different. Furthermore, apart from its unique structure, [[historical materialism]]'s explanatory power is unlike that of classical [[political economy]]; whereas [[political economy]] explained economic systems as a response to individual needs, Marx's analysis accounted for a wider range of social phenomena in terms of the parts they play in a structured whole. Resultantly, ''[[Das Kapital|Capital]]'' provides both a model of the economy and a description of the structure and development of a whole society.
 
 
 
Though Althusser steadfastly held onto the claim of its existence, he later asserted that the turning point's occurrence around 1845 was not so clearly defined, as traces of [[humanism]], [[historicism]] and [[Hegel|Hegelianism]] were to be found in ''[[Das Kapital|Capital]]''. He even went so far as to state that only Marx's ''[[Critique of the Gotha Programme]]'' [http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/] and some notes on a book by [[Adolph Wagner]] [http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/01/wagner.htm] were fully free from humanist [[ideology]]. In fact, Althusser considered the epistemological break to be a ''process'' instead of a clearly defined ''event''. He described Marxism and psychoanalysis as "scissional" sciences, which always had to struggle against ideology, thus explaining the succeeding ruptures and splittings. They are scissional sciences because their object ("class struggle" or the topic of the unconscious) is itself split and divided.
 
 
 
===Practices===
 
Because of [[Karl Marx|Marx's]] belief in the close relation between the individual and society, it is, in Althusser’s view, pointless to try to build a social theory on a prior conception of the individual. The subject of observation is not individual human elements, but rather 'structure'. As he has it, Marx did not explain society by appealing to one factor (individuals), but broke it up into related units called ‘practices’. He uses this analysis to defend Marx’s [[historical materialism]] against the charge that it crudely posits a base and [[superstructure]] and then attempts to explain all aspects of the [[superstructure]] by appealing to features of the base. For Althusser, it was a mistake to attribute this view, based on [[economic determinism]], to Marx: much as he criticises the idea that a social theory can be founded on an historical conception of human needs, so does he dismiss the idea that an independently defined notion of [[economic]] practice can be used to explain other aspects of society. Like [[Lukács]], Althusser believed that both the base and the superstructure were dependent on the whole. The advantage of practices over individuals as a starting point is that although each practice is only a part of a complex whole of society, a practice is a whole in itself in that it consists of various different kinds of parts; [[economic]] practice, for example, contains raw materials, tools, individual persons, etc. all united in a process of production. Althusser conceives of society as an interconnected collection of these wholes – [[economic]] practice, [[ideology|ideological]] practice and [[politics|politico]]-[[legal]] practice – which together make up one complex whole. In his view all practices are dependent on each other. For example, amongst the [[relations of production]] are the buying and selling of [[labour power]] by [[capitalists]] and [[workers]]. These relations are part of economic practice, but can only exist within the context of a legal system which establishes individual agents as buyers and sellers; furthermore, the arrangement must be maintained by [[political]] and [[ideological]] means. From this it can be seen that aspects of [[economic]] practice depend on the [[superstructure]] and vice versa.
 
 
 
===Contradiction and Overdetermination===
 
An analysis understood in terms of interdependent practices helps us to conceive of how society is organised, but also allows us to comprehend social change and thus provides a theory of [[history]]. Althusser explains the reproduction of the [[relations of production]] by reference to aspects of [[ideological]] and [[political]] practice; conversely, the emergence of new production relations can be explained by the failure of these mechanisms.  [[Karl Marx|Marx’s]] theory seems to posit a system in which an imbalance in two parts could lead to compensatory adjustments at other levels, or sometimes to a major reorganisation of the whole. To develop this idea Althusser relies on the concepts of contradiction and non-contradiction, which he claims are illuminated by their relation to a complex structured whole. Practices are contradictory when they grate on one another and non-contradictory when they support one another. Althusser elaborates on these concepts by reference to [[Lenin|Lenin’s]] analysis of the [[Russian Revolution of 1917]].
 
 
 
[[Lenin]] posited that in spite of widespread discontent throughout [[Europe]] in the early [[20th century]], [[Russia]] was the country in which revolution occurred because it contained all the contradictions possible within a single state at the time. It was, in his words, the ‘weak link’ in a ‘collection of imperialist states’. The revolution is explained in relation to two groups of circumstances: firstly, the existence within [[Russia]] of large-scale exploitation in cities, mining districts, etc., disparity between urban industrialisation and medieval conditions in the countryside, and lack of unity amongst the ruling class; secondly, a foreign policy which played into the hands of revolutionaries, such as the elites who had been exiled by the [[Tsar]] and had become sophisticated [[socialists]].
 
 
 
This example is used by Althusser to reinforce his claim that [[Karl Marx|Marx]] did not see social change as the result of a single contradiction between the [[means of production|forces]] and the [[relations of production]], but rather held a more complex view of it. The differences between events in [[Russia]] and [[Western Europe]] highlight that a contradiction between [[productive forces|forces]] and [[relations of production]] may be necessary, but not sufficient, to bring about revolution. The circumstances that produced revolution in [[Russia]], mentioned above, were heterogeneous, and cannot be seen to be aspects of one large contradiction. Each was a contradiction within a particular social totality. From this, Althusser draws the conclusion that Marx’s concept of contradiction is inseparable from the concept of a social whole. In order to emphasise that changes in social structure relate to numerous contradictions, Althusser describes these changes as '[[overdetermination|overdetermined]]', using a term taken from [[Sigmund Freud]]. This interpretation allows us to account for how many different circumstances may play a part in the course of events, and furthermore permits us to grasp how these states of affairs may combine to produce unexpected social changes, or ‘ruptures’.
 
 
 
However, Althusser does not mean to say that the events which determine social changes all have the same causal status. While a part of a complex whole, [[economic]] practice is, in his view, a structure in dominance: it plays a major part in determining the relations between other spheres, and has more effect on them than they have on it. The most prominent aspect of society (the [[religious]] aspect in [[feudal]] formations and the [[economic]] aspect in [[capitalist]] ones) is called the 'dominant instance', and is in turn determined 'in the last instance' by the economy. For Althusser, the [[economic]] practice of a society determines which other aspect of it dominates the society as a whole.
 
 
 
===Ideological State Apparatuses ===
 
Althusser held that it was necessary to conceive of how society makes the individual in its own image. Within [[capitalist]] society, the human individual is generally regarded as a [[subject (philosophy)|subject]] endowed with the property of being a self-conscious agent. For Althusser, however, a person’s capacity for perceiving herself in this way is not innate. Rather, it is acquired within the structure of established social practices, which impose on individuals the role (''forme'') of a subject. Social practices both determine the characteristics of the individual and give her an idea of the range of properties they can have, and of the limits of each social practice. Althusser argues that many of our roles and activities are given to us by social practice: for example, the production of steelworkers is a part of [[economic]] practice, while the production of lawyers is part of [[politics|politico]]-[[legal]] practice. However, other characteristics of individuals, such as their beliefs about the good life or their [[metaphysical]] reflections on the nature of the self, do not easily fit into these categories. In Althusser’s view, our values, desires and preferences are inculcated in us by ideological practice, the sphere which has the defining property of constituting individuals as subjects through the process of ''[[interpellation]]''. [[Ideological]] practice consists of an assortment of institutions called ''Ideological State Apparatuses'' (ISAs), which include the family, the media, religious organisations and the education system, as well as the received ideas they propagate {{ref|ISA}}. There is, however, no one ISA which produces in us the belief that we are self-conscious agents. Instead, we learn this belief in the course of learning what it is to be a daughter, a schoolchild, black, a steelworker, a councillor, and so forth.
 
 
 
First thesis of Althusser on ideology is that "''Ideology has no history''"; the second one is that "''Ideology has a material existence''". "Ideas are material", as he had already said, which explain why he decides to complexify the notion of ideology by the concept of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) .
 
 
 
Despite its many institutional forms, the function and structure of ideology is unchanging and present throughout history. The first of Althusser's thesis on ideology states that "ideology has no history". All ideologies constitute a subject, even though he or she may differ according to each particular ideology. Memorably, Althusser illustrates this with the concept of ''[[interpellation]]''. He uses the example of an individual walking in a street: upon hearing a police whistle, or any other form of hailing, the individual turns round and in this simple movement of her body she is transformed into a ([[guilt]]y) [[subject (philosophy)|subject]]. Althusser discusses the process by which the person being hailed recognizes herself as the subject of the hail, and knows to respond. Even though there was nothing suspicious about her walking in the street, she recognizes it is indeed she herself that is being hailed. This recognition is a mis-recognition (''méconnaissance'') in that it is working retroactively: a material individual is always-already an ideological subject. The "transformation" of an individual into a subject has always-already happened; Althusser acknowledges here a debt toward [[Spinoza]]'s theory of [[immanence]]. That is to say, our idea of who we are is delivered by ideology. The second of Althusser's theses is that "ideology has a material existence":
 
 
 
:''Ideas have disappeared as such (insofar as they are endowed with an ideal or spiritual existence), to the precise extent that it has emerged that their existence is inscribed in the actions of practices governed by rituals defined in the last instance by an ideological apparatus. It therefore appears that the subject acts insofar as he is acted by the following system (set out in the order of its real determination): ideology existing in a material ideological apparatus, describing material practices governed by a material ritual, which practices exist in the material actions of a subject acting in all consciousness according to his belief.'' {{ref|ISA169}}
 
 
 
These material [[rituals]] may be compared with [[Bourdieu]]'s concept of ''[[habitus]]'', as the ISA may in a sense be approached with [[Foucault]]'s [[disciplinary institutions]]. Althusser offers the example of the Voice of [[God]] - an embodiment of [[Christian]] [[religious]] ideology - instructing a person on what her place in the world is and what she must do to be reconciled with [[Christ]]. From this, Althusser draws the point that in order for that person to identify herself as a [[Christian]], she must first already be a subject. We acquire our identities by seeing ourselves and our social roles mirrored in material ideologies.
 
 
 
===Influence===
 
Although Althusser's theories were born of an attempt to defend [[Communist]] orthodoxy, his endeavour to present [[Marxism]] as a form of [[structuralism]] reflected a move away from the intellectual isolation of the [[Stalinist]] era, and furthermore was symptomatic of a push towards emphasising [[Karl Marx|Marx]]'s place as a [[philosopher]] rather than as an [[economist]].
 
 
 
Althusser has had broad influence in the areas of [[Marxist philosophy]] and [[post-structuralism]]. [[Interpellation]] has been popularised and adapted by the [[feminist]] philosopher and critic [[Judith Butler]]. The attempt to view history as a process without a [[subject (philosophy)|subject]] garnered sympathy from [[Jacques Derrida]]. [[Historical materialism]] was defended as a coherent doctrine from the standpoint of [[analytic philosophy]] by [[G. A. Cohen]]. The interest in [[structure and agency]] sparked by Althusser was to play a role in [[Anthony Giddens]]'s [[theory of structuration]]. Althusser was vehemently attacked by British [[historian]] [[E. P. Thompson]] in his book ''The Poverty of Theory''. As well as this, several of Althusser's students became eminent intellectuals in the [[1970s]], [[1980s]] and [[1990s]]: [[Alain Badiou]] and [[Étienne Balibar]] in [[philosophy]], [[Jacques Ranciere]] in [[history]] and the [[philosophy of history]], [[Pierre Macherey]] in [[literary criticism]] and [[Nicos Poulantzas]] in [[sociology]]. The prominent [[Guevarist]] [[Régis Debray]] also studied under Althusser.
 
 
 
==THE TICKLISH SUBJECT==
 
Althusser, Louis 3, 158-9
 
ideological interpellation 141, 145, 258, 260
 
influence on others 127-8, 232
 
overdetermination 102
 
 
 
 
 
== See also ==
 
*[[Karl Marx]]
 
*[[Ferdinand de Saussure]]
 
*[[Roman Jakobson]]
 
*[[Claude Lévi-Strauss]]
 
*[[Roland Barthes]]
 
*[[Michel Foucault]]
 
*[[Jacques Derrida]]
 
*[[Slavoj Žižek]]
 
*[[Baruch de Spinoza]]
 
*[[Niccolò Machiavelli]]
 
*[[Antonio Gramsci]]
 
*[[Georg Lukács]]
 
*[[Walter Benjamin]]
 
*[[Theodor Adorno]] and [[Max Horkheimer]]
 
*[[Michael Hardt]] and [[Antonio Negri]]
 
*[[Ernesto Laclau]] and [[Chantal Mouffe]]
 
*[[Jon Elster]]
 
*[[Alain Badiou]]
 
 
 
== References ==
 
* Althusser, Louis. ''Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays''. ([http://ptb.sunhost.be/marx2mao/Other/Index.html#LA Online version])
 
** ''Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists''.
 
** ''For Marx''. ([http://www.marx2mao.com/Other/FM65NB.html Online version])
 
** ''[[Reading Capital]]'' (with [[Étienne Balibar]], [[Pierre Macherey]], etc.). ([http://www.marx2mao.com/Other/RC68NB.html Online version])
 
** ''The Spectre of Hegel: Early Writings''.
 
** ''Essays in Self-Criticism''. ([http://www.marx2mao.com/Other/ESC76NB.html Online version])
 
** ''Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists''. ([http://www.marx2mao.com/Other/PSPS90NB.html Onlive version])
 
** ''Machiavelli and Us''.
 
** ''Politics and History''. ([http://www.marx2mao.com/Other/PH72.html Online version])
 
** ''The Humanist Controversy and Other Texts''.
 
** ''Writings on Psychoanalysis''.
 
** ''The Future Lasts Forever: A Memoir''.
 
** ''Althusser: A Critical Reader'' (ed. Gregory Elliott).
 
* [[Perry Anderson|Anderson, Perry]], ''Considerations on Western Marxism''
 
* [[Alex Callinicos|Callinicos, Alex]] (ed.), ''Althusser's Marxism'' (London: Pluto Press, 1976).
 
* James, Susan, 'Louis Althusser' in Skinner, Q. (ed.) ''The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences''.
 
* Waters, Malcolm, ''Modern Sociological Theory'', [[1994]], page 116.
 
*Lewis, William, "Louis Althusser and the Traditions of French Marxism." Lexington books, 2005. ([http://www.lexingtonbooks.com/Catalog/SingleBook.shtml?command=Search&db=^DB/CATALOG.db&eqSKUdata=0739109839 link])
 
 
 
== External links == 
 
* [http://samvak.tripod.com/althusser.html Althusser's concept of interpellation]
 
* [http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/index.htm The Louis Althusser Internet Archive at Marxists.org]
 
* [http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/marxism/marxism09.html Marxist Media Theory - Althusser]
 
* [http://ptb.sunhost.be/marx2mao/Other/Index.html#LA Althusser texts at mirror site Marx2Mao]
 
* [http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=9646 A critical review of Louis Althusser's For Marx]
 
* [http://www.mugu.com/cgi-bin/Upstream/Issues/marx/judt-alth.html A critical review of Althusser's memoir]
 
* [http://multitudes.samizdat.net/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=383 Texts from Althusser & texts about him - in French] on ''[[Multitudes]]'' website.
 
* [http://multitudes.samizdat.net/auteur.php3?id_auteur=311 Althusser's texts on ''Multitudes'']
 
* [http://multitudes.samizdat.net/article.php3?id_article=1144 Texts from the October 1995 symposium "''Lire Althusser aujourd'hui''"]
 
*[http://www.psikeba.com.ar/recursos/autores/althusser.htm Louis Althusser  en Psikeba]
 
 
 
 
 
[[Category:Marxist theory|Althusser, Louis]]
 
[[Category:Philosophy|Althusser, Louis]]
 
[[Category:Politics]]
 

Latest revision as of 20:18, 25 May 2019

Louis Pierre Althusser (October 16, 1918 - October 23, 1990) was a Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy. He was a leading academic proponent of the French Communist Party and his arguments were a response to multiple threats to the ideological foundations of that socialist project. These included both the influence of empiricism which was beginning to influence Marxist sociology and economics, and growing interest in humanistic and democratic socialist orientations which were beginning to cause division in the European Communist Parties. Althusser is commonly referred to as a Structural Marxist, although his relationship to other schools of French structuralism is not a simple affiliation.

In the work of Slavoj Žižek

The work of French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser is important for Žižek in a variety of ways. This is most apparent in Žižek’s conception of ideology, as it is at least partially against the backdrop of Althusser’s own conception of ideology that Žižek’s is constructed. In order to see this relationship, we should first say a bit about Althusser’s conception of ideology.

Althusser rejects the traditional Marxist conception of ideology as a kind of simple false consciousness that can be completely overcome or set right by proper Marxist analysis. Rather, for Althusser, ideology is always in operation in our subjective awareness. Th at is, as Althusser puts it in For Marx, all consciousness is ideological (Althusser 1969: 33). According to Althusser, even though particular historical ideological forms come into being and pass away, much like the Lacanian concept of the “symbolic”, the structure of ideology is an ever-present feature of conscious life. His theory of interpellation, given in the famous piece entitled “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation” (Althuser 1971: 85 –126), is meant to further expand on and explain this point.

In this essay, Althusser distinguishes between what he calls “Repressive State Apparatuses”, or RSAs, which are those parts of the state (including the state itself) that function to enforce the domination of the ruling class through violence (here, Althusser cites institutions such as the prisons, law, the courts, the police and the military), and what he calls the “Ideological State Apparatuses”, or ISAs, which have the same function (to enforce the domination of the ruling class) but operate differently (ibid.: 143). ISAs work not through violence, but through the reproduction of a given set of historical ideologies. Some of the examples of ISAs that Althusser provides are schools, churches, trade unions, familial structures and other cultural institutions, practices and traditions. In the ISA, ideology itself takes a material form. We are, claims Althusser, immersed in ideology because it is materially represented in the multitude of institutions and practices that we engage in and are engaged by. How do the ISAs enforce ideological structures? Althusser’s answer is that they do this through what he calls “interpellation”.

According to Althusser, one is “interpellated” or “hailed” by an ISA when one recognizes oneself as the “subject” of the ISA’s call or as the one who is being hailed. His example is the policeman who hails a passerby on the street by saying “Hey you there!” It is in turning around and responding to the hail that one becomes a “subject” of the call and is thus interpellated by the hail. This is because, as Althusser points out, one “has recognised that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him, and that ‘it was really him who was hailed’ (and not someone else)” (ibid.: 174). We are, argues Althusser, always in a state of being interpellated in this way. When one goes to church, one is interpellated by a particular set of religious practices to be the subject of such practices; when one goes shopping, one is interpellated by the practices that are a part of shopping to be a subject that shops; when one walks onto the university campus, one is interpellated by the university to be a particular kind of subject (a student, or a teacher, or an administrator, etc.); and so on. By engaging in any material social practice or with any material institution, we admit (unconsciously) that we are the “subject” of such a practice, and in doing this we become the kind of subject that engages in that practice and thus are constituted by it. Furthermore, the recognition of oneself as a subject of ideology is not just the recognition of oneself as such a subject at that moment. Rather, one recognizes – or misrecognizes – oneself as always having been such a subject. Th is is an important point. When I am interpellated and I recognize myself as the one being hailed, included in that recognition is the misrecognition that I have always already been the subject that is subjected to such practices and is beholden to them. Althusser points out here that: “Ideology has always-already interpellated individuals as subjects, which amounts to making it clear that individuals are always-already interpellated by ideology as subjects, which necessarily leads us to one last proposition: individuals are always already subjects” (ibid.: 176).

Returning, then, to the point above about the ever-present nature of ideology, not only is it the case that since we are constantly in a process of being interpellated we are always already subjects, Althusser also argues that, although ideological practices may diff er at different historical times and places, the structure of interpellation is ever present. This is what is meant by his claim that “Ideology has no history” (ibid.: 175). We always find ourselves interpellated as subjects by the material institutions, traditions and practices that exist for us at a given time and place, and while these change, the process of our constitution by them remains stable.

Though Žižek takes much from Althusser, and he partially agrees with Althusser regarding the latter’s claims about subjective constitution out of the communal social material (the ISAs and their process of interpellation), Žižek wants to claim that the ISAs are not material in quite the way that Althusser envisions them to be. Further, Žižek thinks that, although subjectivity as interpellated can and does often act as a site for the reproduction of existing class divisions and power structures, it is not solely subordinated to his logic, as Althusser argues. On Žižek’s revision of the Althusserian view, it only appears (to subjects themselves) that they are constrained in this way. In explaining this, Žižek invokes the Lacanian concept of the “big Other” (what, in this context, we might liken to the particular totality of ISAs that exist at a given time):

With Lacan’s “big Other” the perspective is completely the opposite: the very “positing” of the big Other is a subjective gesture, that is, the “big Other” is a virtual entity that exists only through the subject’s presupposition (this moment is missing in Althusser’s notion of the “Ideological State Apparatuses”, with its emphasis on the “materiality” of the big Other, its material existence in ideological institutions and ritualized practices – Lacan’s big Other is, on the contrary, ultimately virtual and as such, in its most basic dimension, “immaterial”). (LC: 113–14) 

The view that there is such a totality of ISAs, which are both external to the subject and inescapable, is itself the result of the interpellative process, in so far as this is placed on the world by consciousness-as-interpellated. Althusser misses this, according to Žižek, because of his belief in the external-as-material nature of the ISA and its power of interpellation. He does not sufficiently recognize what Žižek sees as a dialectical reduplication inherent to the interpellative process and ultimately to the material existence of the ISA itself. 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:

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)

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.