Louis Althusser

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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 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 (1918–1990) 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.