Psychoanalysis and marxism

Scott Mobley mobs at
Sat Apr 29 19:09:08 MDT 1995

Chris Burford, London:

>Many thanks for the creative connection. Yes although I only met
>Althusser this year thanks to Richard Wolff's promotion on this list, I
>agree he clearly was working hard to make the link between the social and
>the personal.


>This is an exciting connection, but can we check the handshaking?
>Three concepts I do not immediately recognise. Could you please give a
>definition and context?
>* moments
>* interpellation
>* ISA

*moments: dialectical and specifically Hegelian terminology forstalling the
reification or fixing of whatever object you're analyzing. In this case,
we're speaking of positing the level of the personal as all the time over
and against the social. The two levels are separate and mutually exclusive
only at the moment of analysis, or even only at one moment in the analysis.

So by calling the moment a moment, you unfix the term, or in fixing it you
say "only for a moment". You mark the sense in which the two levels are not
seperate but internally related in the mode of production.

The emphasis is obviously temporal. And of course we should emphasize here
the historical. Analysis abstracts its object from what it was and what it
will become in order to name it. The dialectical terminology of "moments"
reflects that restlessness from out of which cognition snatched the object
for its analysis.

*interpellation: what ideology does, according to Althusser's elaboration
in his still quoted essay, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses".
Ideology interpellates, calls out or recruits concrete individuals as

Let us grasp the double valence of this notion of subject. It is the center
of consciousness, the source of action or willing. It underlies any
possible action or willing. But the subject is also subject to, as in,
subject to a rule or a law.

The subject will submit to the law: there is a double sense of "will" which
captures what the subject does and how ideology constitutes it. On the one
hand, the subject will submit, as if voluntarily, the way laborers under
capitalism are willing to, or "volunteer" to--are "free" to--sell their
labor to capital.

On the other hand, the subject will submit, having no choice. Laborers are
free to sell their labor because they "must". How do we derive this
illusion of freedom from out of coercion?

Because the subject recognizes itself as author of its acts; it takes
responsibility for them, makes out of necessity a virtue. Interpellation is
the mechanism of this recognition. Althusser's famous example is the police
hailing you on the street: hey, you there! If you turn around, why do you?
Because you recognize yourself in the call.

The concepts of introjection/projection might provide a way of prizing open
this stupid tautology so as to get at some of the more complicated or at
least amibvalent psychic/social/material relations embedded therein.
Althusser's schema makes it sound as if we're always "of one mind" in every
position we occupy, and as if there were a certain inevitability to the
functioning of these interlocking social systems. If any such inevitability
existis its only in the retrospective moment of analysis. Such is the
problem with a structuralist approach: as it sometimes forgets its
*moment*, it's not sufficeintly dialectical.

*ISA: Ideological State Apparatus, distinguished from the RSAs, or
Repressive State Apparatuses. Together, according to Althusser, they
constitute the apparatus of the state, through which the state exercises
its power. They are the means by which the *state* enters into production.
The state reproduces labor by endowing it with the competence necessary to
function productively in relations of production under capital. It equips
us to sell our labor and so reproduces the ruling class ideology through
which we recognize those social relations as natural and inevitable.

ISAs are the schools, the family, the church, the political parties, the
trade unions, the media. RSAs are the police, the army, the courts.

I continue to find the Althusserian definition of ideology useful, despite
its functionalism and arteriosclerosis--and despite the problematic but
productive ideology/science distinction--precisely because it opens ground
for a further articulation of marxism and psychoanalysis along the lines
Chris Burford pointed out: namely, that the personal is political, and that
no dialectical materialism deserving the name can fail to account for the
materiality of the psychic.

Ideology represents the real conditions of existence in the imaginary form
of a relation. Imaginary traffics in the image, which in turn presupposes
an identification which entails an investment which transforms the image
into an erotic object, a thing out there which I think I can grasp whole:
America, Freedom, a colorblind society, traditional values. These "part"
wholes or social fantasies articulate class interests while, for the
subject, they stand in for the complex, contradictory whole society turns
out to be at another moment of analysis.

Why we form such fierce and contradictory attatchments to these objects,
often against our material and/or class interests, is one question a much
more nuanced exploration of these issues could at least keep open.

--Scott Mobley

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