Totality

Philip Goldstein pgold at strauss.udel.edu
Mon Nov 21 05:54:38 MST 1994


	Norman Feltes -- how are you, Norman? -- asks us to discuss the
following question: " I want to ask why
the Althusserian/Poulantzian mode of analyzing totality -"a decentred
structure in dominance," etc. - doesn't work." I gather he means to ask
why this "mode of analyzing totality" does not work in theory, since he
concedes that it works in practice. First, one could ask whether or not
this mode is a mode of "analyzing totality." Totality" is a loaded term,
conveying various Hegelian and phenomenological commitments, especially a
normative critique in which the totality functions to expose the limits
of particular discourses and disciplines and to show us what they conceal
or can't see -- the true nature of, say, commodity production. If one
says that the Althusserian mode analyzes the whole society, one avoids
such commitments,but there are other problems with "whole." In any case,
the Althusserian mode claims that a structure is realized in its effects.
The importance of various regions -- the economy, the state, religion,
education, science -- all that shows the effects of a structure. The
structure itself does not show itself. As Althusser said, the last
instance never comes. The reason why one might say that this mode of
analysis does not work in theory is that it gives one no way to critique
the social structure, to show its true workings, its necessary history or
future, or even its utopian potential. A structure realized in its
effects establishes no norm or hidden universal by which to evaluate the
structure. Althusser favors critique of ideology, for this reason, I
think. I also think that Althusser is right on this point, but that, at
least, is one way to answer the question.
Philip Goldstein


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