False Consciousness & Discourse

Jukka Laari jlaari at tukki.jyu.fi
Sun Jun 18 12:05:42 MDT 1995


On Sat, 17 Jun 1995, Guy Yasko wrote:

> The Eagleton book is good, if expensive. I remember the examples he provided
> as being helpful while at the same time preserving the complexity and
> openness of the issues. This is part of what makes the book better than
> Zizek's _Sublime Object of Ideology_ (another expensive Verso book), As with
> Lacan himself, Z is an authoritarian which comes out in his pose of complete
> mastery of Lacan.

Makes it better in what sense?

Eagleton's book is basic stuff, therefore clear and concise.

Zizek's book was an attempt to produce contribution to left theorization
in the heyday of thatcherite kind of 'hegemony' (at least in western
Europe). Zizek among others had realized that Althusser had provided us
with some 'deep' insight concerning ideology, although his answer
('interpellation') wasn't exactly very good. But the basic 'contour' or
'gestalt' of his theorization was something to work with: in a
quasi-spinozistic fashion, he stated that our whole sosio-symbolic
objective universe is marked by ideology or is ideological proper.

Here althusserian and zizekian roads go to different directions.

According to Zizek this ideological nature of socio-symbolic reality is
something we can't change (?), that the point is, rather, to understand
how and why it is like it is. Here comes the relevance of hegelian (&
kantian) and lacanian theorization: Lacan had theorized in his own way
the concept of subject and it's 'inner, psychic workings' as plainly
intersubjective (social) being. Lacan already had used Hegel. Now Zizek
is (a) making lacanian theory sensible to us via Hegel and Kant (who are
two well-known figures of modern philosophy), and (b) concentrating on
some fine nuances of Hegel and Kant from a lacanian point of view.

What comes to the style of Zizek - that's another problem.

Guy thinks he is authoritarian. Might be so. I've never met him, so I
don't know. My concern is with the 'essayistic style': chapters of the
books seem to be essays, not chapters of the books, not parts of the
bigger whole. The style isn't that of systematic theory-building I love
so much (Marx-hegel).

I realized just recently that this might be because of his psychoanalytic
point of view (libido etc); he simply follows different logic than I as
sociologist. I've read "Sublime Object of Ideology" three times, and it was
third time that I've finally realized the great architecture of that
book (how he puts into 200 pages huge span from Kant and Hegel to Marx
and Freud and to Lacan). Yet I can't write a simple, compressed story of
what all themes and points there are in "Sublime Object". There is
something cryptic in zizekian discourse... But how many understood Marx
in his own times?

That leads me to another point, that of the concept of discourse which
Lisa was wondering.

'Discourse' might be understood as plainly an object of linguistics. That
means something like that (those of you who know linguistics, correct me):
discourse is the process by which we 'utter' our thoughts, it is all the
speech (and writing?) we make.

Discourse could be understood more sociologically (or in a foucauldian
manner, if you like), too: here it means the total process of all talk,
speech, and writing (there is allways concentration on some topic or
problem in discourse, how minor theme that might be) that we make in
order to, say, grasp some new phenomenon or to produce a new political
movement... In that sense, discourse is creative and productive. We
create a 'new object' by making it in a discursive way, by communication
(as Juergen Habermas would say) common to all of us. Through this
discursive production we share the same meaning of 'society' or of
'revolution' or whatever. If we are logical enough, then we'll ACT
according to that new and common meaning when we have to handle with the
object in question.

This productive dimension of discourse has been pretty important to
marxists, too, or especially. That's the reason you've found 'discourse'
here and 'discourse' there: Marx made critique of political economy, and
whatever the old man said/wrote about 'ideology' or 'human nature', it all
was quite 'rhetorical' in a sense that it wasn't systematically and
theoretically produced. Of course Marx had thought about several crucial
issues concerning human/social sciences, but he never didn't wrote about
that in a systematic way.

There are intellectual fashions like other fashions. In 1970's
'alienation' was hot word. Soon it was dropped out of common vocabulary.
'Discourse' might be a fashion word, too, but it materializes some basic
questions of our contemporary political and theoretical issues.

Yours, Jukka Laari


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