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J.A.A. Purves

Art, Philosophy & the meaning of "Ideology"

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Here's a question I've been thinking about recently. As I've been reading more about the arts, culture, education, politics and even theology, I keep hearing the word "ideological" and "ideology" thrown around fairly carelessly. These days we are often very casual with our use of words. I'll admit that I've never even thought about the word before and, as a result, I've simply obliviously used "ideology" as a synonym for "philosophy" and "worldview." But it is a different word, and unlike philosophy or worldview, ideology often seems to have negative connotations.

To call a work of art ideological is usually a criticism. It is a negative thing for art to be ideological, isn't it? Do you guys just use the term like I used to - really with no difference between the ideological and philosophical - or is it something more specific? What do you understand the word ideology to mean?

The Online Etymology Dictionary states:

ideology (n.) 1796, "science of ideas," originally "philosophy of the mind which derives knowledge from the senses" (as opposed to metaphysics), from Fr. idéologie "study or science of ideas," coined by French philosopher Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836) from idéo- "of ideas," from Gk. idea (see idea) + -logy. Later used in a sense "impractical theorizing" (1813). Meaning "systematic set of ideas, doctrines" first recorded 1909. Ideology ... is usually taken to mean, a prescriptive doctrine that is not supported by rational argument. [D.D. Raphael, "Problems of Political Philosophy," 1970]

Merriam-Webster defines ideology as:

1) : visionary theorizing

2) a : a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture

b : a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture

c : the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program

I also did a word search to see how it has been used here at A&F in the past -

But where Sophie Scholl was about ideology, this film seemed less about the ideas driving the prisoners' commitment and more about dramatizing the kinds of horrors and suffering I already know about and really don't need to see in graphic detail.

Rather, the goal is just to bend Scripture to fit their narrowly defined political ideology. Even worse, the implication is that the only proper way to understand and interpret the Bible is by subscribing to said ideology.

One wonders if THIS is part of the reason that ancient, and/or anachronistic cultures and ideologies have such a tough time with humor, art, and criticism of said culture and ideology.

Except for the names and a few sideways references, it seems to exist in a universe entirely separate from the preceding novel (well, except for the thematic concern with personal suffering and struggle vs. "quick fix" ideology).

Perhaps the idea of a Superman who stands for "truth, justice, and the American way" defends a kind of naive, wishful-thinking sort of idealism about American culture and ideology, along with a nationalism that isn't entirely healthy.

Don't most cults have some sort of belief system or ideology or SOMEthing that they revolve around?

Both such parents belong to the same ideological group, both want the same thing, for their children to be taught creationist curriculum. I'd wager that a lot of the public school parents from that ideology are already pushing creationism in their own home.

With Aristotle I believe that politics can indeed shape the soul. The problem is that our politics has become so diminished, so reduced to ideology, that it has lost credibility and thus the power to shape lives.

It'll be very interesting to see where this goes, since some saw THE DARK KNIGHT as arguing for a kind of right-wing ideology.

The romantic ideology the rest of the article accuses Malick of having is a decidedly non-Christian one.

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Wikipedia:

An ideology is a set of ideas that constitute one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology is a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things (compare worldview) as in several philosophical tendencies (see political ideologies), or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (a "received consciousness" or product of socialization).

Let's not ignore Althusser in our discussion of ideology:

For Althusser, as for Lacan, it is impossible to access the "Real conditions of existence" due to our reliance on language; however, through a rigorous"scientific" approach to society, economics, and history, we can come close to perceiving if not those "Real conditions" at least the ways that we are inscribed in ideology by complex processes of recognition. Althusser's understanding of ideology has in turn influenced a number of important Marxist thinkers, including Chantalle Mouffe, Ernesto Laclau, Slavoj Zizek, and Fredric Jameson.

For that matter, here's Žižek on "illusion" (which I interpret to mean "ideology" here, though I think for Žižek there is some difference):

___

I tend to use "ideology" in one of two senses: in the quote from the [Walker Percy?] thread, it's just a shorter way of saying "mode-of-thought," and combined with "self-help" probably contains a certain negative connotation. The broader sense, though, would be that ideology is that symbolic framework that underlies and is manifest in our ways of thinking and acting in the world. Thus far, it's similar to "worldview," I guess, except that "worldview" has come in some circles to denote a stagnate, monolithic thing--"the Christian worldview," "the humanist worldview," etc, where "ideology" is not stagnate precisely because its function is to remain hidden; once it's exposed, it sinks to a deeper level (cf. the ideology of Capitalism, which is able to incorporate into itself both the "conservative" defense of it and the "liberal" critique). Ideology is, thus, a dynamic movement, rather than a "thing" that can be pointed to and described.

Now, it should be apparent from this definition [a] that "ideology" is, in a strict sense a fiction--though neither more nor less "true" for all that. Or a narrative a group tells itself (in the same sense that "nationhood" is a fiction, though nations are remarkably substantial). As such, it doesn't arise from the "order of things. However, there is no escape from ideology, even in the critique of ideology, since the very mode of critique is in some sense a function of ideology (thus, a pure Marxist critique is actually not possible, since it's predicated on the very system it pretends to critique; so, too, with feminist or ecological critiques; see Stanley Fish). A further implication would be [c] that all ideology is potentially deceptive, and that ideology is most dangerous when it is most successful in concealing itself. Again--not to belabor the idea of Capitalism--but to quote Žižek, "it's easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of Capitalism"--which points to the successful way in which the ideology of Capitalism has managed to render itself invisible.This causes certain "norms" to be taken for granted when their inherent goodness is not, actually, self-evident at all (i.e. the idea that employers have the right to make demands on the workers' "free time"--an increasing problem, afaict, in the US).

[This is where the problem with the negative connotation of "ideology" becomes apparent, since it's plain that by, for instance, "the ideological bent of the Liberal Arts" (to refer to another thread) what is really meant is "that mode of questioning which does not accept my own ideological presuppositions as granted"--for instance, the idea that Plato and a whole raft of Dead White Males constitute the "norm," and any move to challenge that norm--though not to defend it!--must be "ideological" in its focus. This is the essence of an invisible ideology--an unquestioned/unquestionable assumption that something like the "Western Canon" as it stands is, of itself, good--and that any attempt to question it is motivated by some less-pure motive, generally politics]

But--if we can't escape ideology, what good does the critique do? I would propose this: that by Socratic questioning (see Cornel West) we are able to, at least, expose some of the workings of ideology and make some sort of effort at ameliorating their harmful effects. We become repentantly self-aware, conscious of the constructed-ness of what we call "reality" and open to the idea that there are ways-of-being which are, if not better, at least equally viable.

[There is also the chance that repentant attentiveness will allow us to glimpse fragments of a kind of Darkean apocalypse--that is, moments in which " the way things are" becomes questionable and "the way things should be"--for whatever value of "should be"--impress themselves upon us]

--

Now, as to art--it should be evident that all art is ideological--Malick no less than Griffith--because all art takes place within a symbolic field. So the issue becomes--what are the unquestioned assumptions on which the work rests? And what do these unquestioned assumptions tell us about the work? (and, relatedly, what unquestioned assumptions do I bring to the work?) Again, this goes toward Socratic questioning and repentant self-awareness; what Dark calls "the sacredness of questioning everything." Semper reformanda.

Anyway, that's how I use it. Looking back over my post, it seems excessively banal and obvious--and a only little more than half-baked. So consider it an off-the-cuff definition.

EDIT: here's a link to the set of posts that this discussion spun off from--in a manner of speaking.

Edited by NBooth

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... "ideology" is not stagnate precisely because its function is to remain hidden; once it's exposed, it sinks to a deeper level (cf. the ideology of Capitalism, which is able to incorporate into itself both the "conservative" defense of it and the "liberal" critique). Ideology is, thus, a dynamic movement, rather than a "thing" that can be pointed to and described ...

... "ideology" is, in a strict sense a fiction--though neither more nor less "true" for all that. Or a narrative a group tells itself ...

... there is no escape from ideology, even in the critique of ideology, since the very mode of critique is in some sense a function of ideology (thus, a pure Marxist critique is actually not possible, since it's predicated on the very system it pretends to critique; so, too, with feminist or ecological critiques

This causes certain "norms" to be taken for granted when their inherent goodness is not, actually, self-evident at all ...

... ideology--an unquestioned/unquestionable assumption that something like the "Western Canon" as it stands is, of itself, good--and that any attempt to question it is motivated by some less-pure motive, generally politics ...

... by Socratic questioning we are able to, at least, expose some of the workings of ideology and make some sort of effort at ameliorating their harmful effects. We become repentantly self-aware, conscious of the constructed-ness of what we call "reality" ...

Now, as to art--it should be evident that all art is ideological ... So the issue becomes--what are the unquestioned assumptions on which the work rests? ...

I have some more thinking to do on this. But I'm most struck by your claims that (1) an ideology is some theory that claims to explain everything in such a way that there is always something oppressive going on behind the scenes, (2) there is no escaping having ideology, and (3) all art is ideological.

I don't know, whenever I find that an idea was started up and advocated by the French philosophers of the 1790s, and then taken up again from Hegel to Marx all the way to someone like Slavoj Žižek, I'm suspicious of that idea being able to answer and explain the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. When the ideological answer also involves things like wizard's curtains, illusions or a false consciousness, I grow even more hesitant.

This would seem to render all the critiques of art being ideological, and thus turning into propaganda, meaningless critiques, since every artist (and every critic) is already an ideologue anyway. What use is it to look at the "unquestioned assumptions" of an ideology when you're only looking at them for ideological reasons to begin with?

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I always use it mean worldview, a set of beliefs. I guess I see your point that many use it to represent a worldview that one is more or less imprisoned by. It is interesting that we see the word that way when it's not really defined with that negativity.

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I don't know, whenever I find that an idea was started up and advocated by the French philosophers of the 1790s, and then taken up again from Hegel to Marx all the way to someone like Slavoj Žižek, I'm suspicious of that idea being able to answer and explain the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. When the ideological answer also involves things like wizard's curtains, illusions or a false consciousness, I grow even more hesitant.

Of course, (at least as I present it) the idea isn't trying to explain the ultimate question, since that question is itself a function of ideology. wink.png

This would seem to render all the critiques of art being ideological, and thus turning into propaganda, meaningless critiques, since every artist (and every critic) is already an ideologue anyway. What use is it to look at the "unquestioned assumptions" of an ideology when you're only looking at them for ideological reasons to begin with?

Why else would you look for unquestioned assumptions except that you're ideologically prepared to find them? For that matter, what single thing do humans do that isn't formed by some sort of ideology? Even our bodily functions take place in a framework of language--the most obscene words denote the most basic functions, and that obscenity effects/affects the way we look at those functions. I'm suspicious of any claims that we can attain a "view from nowhere" since even that view would rest on unquestioned assumptions. You simply can't get away from them.

Now, I've got a leg up on Zizek et al because I believe that there's some sort of redemptive movement in all this; that the act of looking closer and searching for unexamined assumptions can be part of a Divine in-breaking (a splinter, if you will permit me to crib, alter, and re-contextualize Benjamin, of messianic time). What's more, I think that Christians have an ideal challenge to any and all ideologies in the figure of Christ, which figure refuses to be categorized and tamed. But that doesn't mean that we can ever escape from ideology; the only way to do that would be to escape into a non-linguistic, non-signified (i.e. a truly meaning-less) world. [For that matter, it doesn't mean that we should want to escape from ideology, especially since it's our only way of experiencing the world around us]

Edited by NBooth

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I always use it mean worldview, a set of beliefs. I guess I see your point that many use it to represent a worldview that one is more or less imprisoned by. It is interesting that we see the word that way when it's not really defined with that negativity.

That's how I always used the term before I looked at where the word came from. Before, I never understood why "ideological" was a pejorative while "philosophical" was not. Apparently, the word came from philosophers (not just common usage) and they used the word for a reason.

Why else would you look for unquestioned assumptions except that you're ideologically prepared to find them? For that matter, what single thing do humans do that isn't formed by some sort of ideology?

Perhaps because you believe it is possible to rest a viewpoint on something other than assumptions in the first place. If philosophy and religion (or the arts & humanities) are to be distinguished from ideology, then there would be a whole long list of fundamental human things that would not be formed by upon any ideological basis at all. There are those who believe that it is possible to reject all forms of ideology. Now that I'm researching this, when the idea of idéologie first arose from French philosophers in the 1790s, both Edmund Burke and John Adams argued against it. They argued that an "ideology" had no transcendent or objective basis, but was instead purely theoretical and ungrounded in reality. There was a sense in which it was embracing theory that could be derived from the experience only while ignoring metaphysics. Thus, there are thinkers distinguish between a philosophy and an ideology, much less art from ideology. Art, after all, is often quite interested in metaphysics.

For a little introductory content, here's the April 11, 1985 episode from the TV Show, Firing Line, in which William F. Buckley, Jr. interviews Kenneth Minogue, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the London School of Economics, about his book, Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology. I've ordered Minogue's book, because it appears to have studied the history of where the idea of ideology comes from.

The Amazon synopsis for the book is as follows:

The term “ideology” can cover almost any set of ideas, but its power to bewitch political activists results from its strange logic. It is part philosophy, part science, and part spiritual revelation, all tied together in leading to a remarkable paradox—that the modern Western world, beneath its liberal appearance, is actually the most systematically oppressive system of despotism the world has ever seen. In Alien Powers, Kenneth Minogue takes this complex intellectual construction apart, analyzing its logical, rhetorical, and psychological devices, and thus opening it up to critical analysis.

Looks like the episode is cut up on youtube into 6 ten minute parts. Here's also Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.

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Warning: wall o' text. Eventually I'll get around to not editing myself into novel length in these discussions.

I'll get around to watching the Buckley stuff in a bit (laboring over a presentation right now) but I can't resist pointing out that this:

Perhaps because you believe it is possible to rest a viewpoint on something other than assumptions in the first place.

...is an ideological assumption. It's turtles all the way down.

EDIT: The Buckley stuff is interesting, even though I find B himself a little...wearing. And I'm pretty sure most of the non-Marxist socialists (Fourier, for instance) saw themselves as "scientific" (though Fourier was frankly not scientific). I'll see your Buckley, though, and raise you a Zizek:

(

parts
on
There are
in
)

Now, I don't buy everything Zizek says; I don't buy everything anyone says. But I do very much distrust any comfortable assurances; the way Buckley is able to take it for granted that of course Marxism's critique of Capitalism is silly just rubs me the wrong way. He needs some grit in his shoe, something to throw him off-balance. The kind of critique that Zizek et al engage in is, to my mind, exactly the right sort of grit. It's precisely when you're comfortable in your own righteousness that things go pear shaped (and now I'm reminded of our discussion of American Exceptionalism; my own contention continues to be that the more exceptional America sees itself as being, the more comfortable it feels propping up third-world dictators and embarking on wars of imperialism).

Less, um, controversial than the issue of Capitalism would be the issue of Race: we are today in a "post-racial" society--that's what we tell ourselves, but this "post-racialism" is often a cover for a maintenance of systemically racist institutions (non-institution example: the man who says "I'm not racist, but" can be relied upon to supply some racist slur with his next breath; his ideology helps him to mask the fact that he is, in fact, a racist--and the number of people who believe that those magic four words will absolve them of racism is really staggering). Or take C.S. Lewis on humility: the very moment when you know yourself to be humble, you cease to be humble. Ideologically, that puts humility in an awkward position; it is that thing we demand without allowing anyone to claim to have attained it. At the same time, the humility problem is a dilemma that underlines what I'm talking about: the woman or man who sees themself as humble will be blinded to the massive arrogance that is carried with that simple ideological assumption.

A perfect expression of invisible ideology, btw, is the comfortable abolitionism of the antebellum US; Thoreau took it to task, with good reason:

Three years ago, also, just a week after the authorities of Boston assembled to carry back a perfectly innocent man, and one whom they knew to be innocent, into slavery, the inhabitants of Concord caused the bells to be rung and the cannons to be fired, to celebrate their liberty- and the courage and love of liberty of their ancestors who fought at the bridge. As if those three millions had fought for the right to be free themselves, but to hold in slavery three million others. Nowadays, men wear a fool's-cap, and call it a liberty-cap. I do not know but there are some who, if they were tied to a whipping-post, and could but get one hand free, would use it to ring the bells and fire the cannons to celebrate their liberty. So some of my townsmen took the liberty to ring and fire. That was the extent of their freedom; and when the sound of the bells died away, their liberty died away also; when the powder was all expended, their liberty went off with the smoke.

Intellectually, these citizens were friends of freedom; they believed it utterly and yet their actions showed them to be oppressors as surely as any Southern slave-owner. Their ideology was that of slave-holders, not slave-free-ers. Going back to Capitalism (since it strikes me as the most obvious form of ideology) see "Life without Principle":

There is a coarse and boisterous money-making fellow in the outskirts of our town, who is going to build a bank-wall under the hill along the edge of his meadow. The powers have put this into his head to keep him out of mischief, and he wishes me to spend three weeks digging there with him. The result will be that he will perhaps get some more money to hoard, and leave for his heirs to spend foolishly. If I do this, most will commend me as an industrious and hard-working man; but if I choose to devote myself to certain labors which yield more real profit, though but little money, they may be inclined to look on me as an idler. Nevertheless, as I do not need the police of meaningless labor to regulate me, and do not see anything absolutely praiseworthy in this fellow's undertaking, any more than in many an enterprise of our own or foreign governments, however amusing it may be to him or them, I prefer to finish my education at a different school.

Now, Thoreau couldn't be a Marxist (it was a temporal impossibility, just for starters), but his critique here does pinpoint a problem with the ideological association of worth with capital-production. It's treated as self-evident that the wall-builder is doing something worthwhile and Thoreau, with his long walks and meditations on burrs and cranberries, is wasting his time. Who says so? The invisible ideology of the marketplace, which holds that money is a real, tangible good, and personal fulfillment/spiritual uplift/transcendence/etc is an "extra" and the man who indulges in it at the expense of capital-generation is a waste of space.

The key here (pace Marx) isn't science but imagination. The question is--can we imagine alternate possibilities, can we dare to see the world from the point of view, not of first-world citizens, but of the victims of global expansion (even if, as per Dick Taverne, the net good of globalism outweighs the bad); do we dare ask ourselves if we are committing violence to maintain our own image of ourselves as righteous, good, exceptional, etc? Do we, in short, dare to question the very things we take for granted? If we take our own post-racialism or humility for granted, it's a warning sign that we might, in fact, be prideful racists. [This can be called "sin"].

The ideological critique helps us avoid this sort of murderous comfort. It doesn't have the answers; properly, it cannot and, moreover, it should not because once the critique becomes reified (in, for instance, Soviet-style Communism), it becomes an ideology in its own right and begins to erase its tracks.

EDIT EDIT: One more thing:

They argued that an "ideology" had no transcendent or objective basis, but was instead purely theoretical and ungrounded in reality.

You'll have to explicate this a bit, especially given this:

There was a sense in which it was embracing theory that could be derived from the experience only while ignoring metaphysics.

--since a "theory that could be derived from the experience" (whether or not you ignore metaphysics--and where does the "only" belong? i.e. do you mean "experience only" or "only by while ignoring"? It seems that the word to which you link "only" would change the meaning a bit) is by definition "grounded in reality" (i.e. the reality of lived experience). The issue of a metaphysical grounding shows ideology's hand a bit; what they're really saying is that the theory they critique embraces a metaphysics that is not their own metaphysics and so not true metaphysics. This is an ideological move par excellence. [Compare Plantinga: "a fundamentalist is that SOB to the right of me religiously" and its unspoken--and possibly unacknowledged--obverse, "a liberal is an SOB to the left of me religiously."]

Besides which, a point of view that is "purely theoretical" is, in the strict sense, the most purely "transcendent" because it transcends (or arises from) "objective" bases (i.e. the reality of lived experience). Of course, the very demand that a thing be "objective" depends on an ideological commitment to a certain idea of "objective" (is it objectively true, as per Winthrop, that God has determined class structure? Is it objectively true that humanity is divided into "producers" and "moochers" as per Rand?) The very idea of objectivity, especially w/r/t the humanities, deserves to be interrogated, even if we decide, for instance, that Transformers is objectively bad; to interrogate ideological commitments, at least to my mind, doesn't mean that you jettison them all; it means that you realize that they have no transcendent basis and have made peace with that (there is no transcendent basis for the way we do scholarship, for instance, but we do it a certain way because that's how we do it).

EDIT X3: Just occurred to me--we should be careful when discussing "ideology" not to make the mistake of thinking that it means the same thing to Marx as it does to, I dunno, Lacan; ideas develop over time, and the way "ideology" is currently understood is not necessarily the say it was formerly seen (which means, of course, that past critiques of the idea may have little to say against its contemporary form--indeed, may have shaped its contemporary form).

Edited by NBooth

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... but I can't resist pointing out that this:

Perhaps because you believe it is possible to rest a viewpoint on something other than assumptions in the first place.

... is an ideological assumption. It's turtles all the way down.

Not necessarily, unless you assume that everything is ideological, a questionable assumption in itself since the idea didn't begin until the 1790s at the earliest, and was rejected as an idea by most political thinkers of that day.

I'll have some thoughts on Zizek after I do some more reading. In fact, it looks like I need to obtain a couple of his books on this subject.

It's precisely when you're comfortable in your own righteousness that things go pear shaped (and now I'm reminded of our discussion of American Exceptionalism; my own contention continues to be that the more exceptional America sees itself as being, the more comfortable it feels propping up third-world dictators and embarking on wars of imperialism).

There is absolutely a type of "nationalism" that is strongly ideological. But I could also see believing in the opposite of one's own righteousness as being the very grounds for rejecting all ideological theories on how to rid the world of oppressive traditions and institutions.

A perfect expression of invisible ideology, btw, is the comfortable abolitionism of the antebellum US; Thoreau took it to task, with good reason ...

I'm pretty sure Thoreau's ideas of an invisible ideology were thoroughly critiqued by, of all writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Thoreau, as did Rousseau in his day, touched upon some truths about the dehumanization of the industrialized age. But whenever either of them started trying to explain how the industrialized age had been foisted upon us by some sort of oppressive cabal, they both start sounding a little out to lunch.

The invisible ideology of the marketplace, which holds that money is a real, tangible good, and personal fulfillment/spiritual uplift/transcendence/etc is an "extra" and the man who indulges in it at the expense of capital-generation is a waste of space.

I can't say I've heard of this ideology before, except for what Marxists say about Western civilization. I'm hard pressed to find any specific person, except for the likes of Ayn Rand, who actually argues that the spiritual is a waste of space for not creating any temporal wealth. Ideologically this is what Marxists hold is an invisible assumption behind capitalism. But that's just it, it's quite easy for an ideologue to talk about unquestioned assumptions, or an invisible ideology, when he can't actually find anyone advocating for what he says is the secret or hidden power construct that has everyone in its thrall.

The key here (pace Marx) isn't science but imagination. The question is--can we imagine alternate possibilities, can we dare to see the world from the point of view, not of first-world citizens, but of the victims of global expansion ...; do we dare ask ourselves if we are committing violence to maintain our own image of ourselves as righteous, good, exceptional, etc? Do we, in short, dare to question the very things we take for granted? ... The ideological critique helps us avoid this sort of murderous comfort. It doesn't have the answers; properly, it cannot and, moreover, it should not because once the critique becomes reified (in, for instance, Soviet-style Communism), it becomes an ideology in its own right and begins to erase its tracks.

I don't know if "imagination" (as used by most philosophers) is quite the right word for that. Roger Scruton, for example, makes a distinction between "fantasy" and "imagination" in art that can probably be applied to philosophy and ideology as well. Imagination, generally understood, is imagining a world that does not exist, while at the same time acknowledging truths in the imaginary world that are applicable to us in the real world. Fantasy, generally speaking, is coming up with something that does not exist in reality often in order to replace what does exist (either with a surrogate in art or with a theoretical discarding of traditional social order in politics). But sure, I can fantasize (or imagine, if you prefer) of a perfect world where man doesn't need traditions and institutions that restrain his nature. But it is in trying to impose my fake/imagined/invisible/hidden/alternate possibility on the real world where I am most likely to get into trouble (and be accused of being an ideologue).

... since a "theory that could be derived from the experience" (whether or not you ignore metaphysics--and where does the "only" belong? i.e. do you mean "experience only" or "only by while ignoring"? It seems that the word to which you link "only" would change the meaning a bit) is by definition "grounded in reality" (i.e. the reality of lived experience). The issue of a metaphysical grounding shows ideology's hand a bit; what they're really saying is that the theory they critique embraces a metaphysics that is not their own metaphysics and so not true metaphysics. This is an ideological move par excellence ... the way "ideology" is currently understood is not necessarily the say it was formerly seen (which means, of course, that past critiques of the idea may have little to say against its contemporary form--indeed, may have shaped its contemporary form).

Alright, I can see I wasn't quite as precise there as I should have been. I'll discard the idea that ideology needs to ignore metaphysics since there are definitely religious brands of ideology (and the religious right is often every bit as ideological as those on the left who indulge in liberation theology). I think the overall point from the eytomology of the word is that the original French ideologues were discarding the ideas of the transcendent as taught by other Enlightenment "natural law" philosophers. Their theory of ideology was to propose a theoretical system that could discard the traditional ideas of the divine and base society purely upon the liberation of the nature of man. This is why the very first proponents of ideology were opposed by men like Edmund Burke and John Adams.

These days, ideology has evolved and adapted into many forms. But as I'm slowly reading more about it, I'm beginning to be persuaded that ideology, in all of its forms - secular or religious - as something to be supported or as something to be identified as a "false consciousness - ought to be rejected.

I just got Kenneth Minogue's book, he writes:

The problem is that although ideology is a very specific endeavor to transform society; it is also a rhetorical plagiarist, forever pretending to belong to whatever forms of intellectuality are currently admired, such as philosophy, history, or science. At the same time, ideologies claim to be superior versions of whatever is admired. Their supposed superiority results from the fact that they have a kind of explanation for everything, including the history of the human race, the investigation of nature, and the character of reality. In particular, ideologies have an explanation for the fact that most people reject their message. (pg. xvii)

... Here then in these various forms of political enthusiasm was a set of (fiercely competing) keys opening up the modern world and revealing that our ordinary commonsense beliefs were merely the “false consciousness” sustaining an exploitative system ...The project of identifying this new species of doctrine was, however, to become seriously confused by the fact that Marx and Engels (in The German Ideology and in other writings) used that fatally ambiguous term “ideology” to refer to what would later be called “false consciousness.” The thing called “bourgeois ideology,” for example, consisted in the defective moral and economic beliefs sustaining the exploitative system of capitalism. The word thus referred (depending on the psuedo-academic context invoked) both to the superior wisdom of those who had cracked the relevant system, and also to the false consciousness of those who hadn’t. The acute Marx took this view because without it his own discovery of communist truth would seem to be an unhistorical miracle of pure reason, something his determinist philosophy would not allow. (pgs. xix-xx)

In his book, Enemies of the Permanent Things (1969), Russell Kirk writes -

It follows that the various ideologies which have arisen since the concluding years of the eighteenth century - Jacobinism, socialism, communism, anarchism, syndicalism, fascism, Naziism, and others - all are opposed by conservatism, which is founded upon the concept that politics is the art of the possible, and the concept that the old and tried is preferable to the new and untried. In the aphorism of H. Stuart Hughes, ‘Conservatism is the negation of ideology.’ (pg. 156)

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... but I can't resist pointing out that this:

Perhaps because you believe it is possible to rest a viewpoint on something other than assumptions in the first place.

... is an ideological assumption. It's turtles all the way down.

Not necessarily, unless you assume that everything is ideological, a questionable assumption in itself since the idea didn't begin until the 1790s at the earliest, and was rejected as an idea by most political thinkers of that day.

How could that assumption be anything other than ideological, given NBooth's use of the term ideology?

The invisible ideology of the marketplace, which holds that money is a real, tangible good, and personal fulfillment/spiritual uplift/transcendence/etc is an "extra" and the man who indulges in it at the expense of capital-generation is a waste of space.

I can't say I've heard of this ideology before, except for what Marxists say about Western civilization.

Hence it being invisible ideology.

But that's just it, it's quite easy for an ideologue to talk about unquestioned assumptions, or an invisible ideology, when he can't actually find anyone advocating for what he says is the secret or hidden power construct that has everyone in its thrall.

Perhaps. But unquestioned assumptions nevertheless exist, and they are furthermore worth examining. It can be tricky waters, but well-reasoned arguments regarding unquestioned assumptions of individuals and the cultures they inhabit can be made with careful inquiry and observation.

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How could that assumption be anything other than ideological, given NBooth's use of the term ideology?

Well, it could be a philosophical proposition instead (suggested by someone like Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas). I'm afraid of getting too esoteric here. But if there is no difference between philosophy (or worldview) and ideology, then I don't see how the word hasn't completely lost its use. I began this discussion in the first place because I keep hearing art (both films and books) criticized for being ideological. I don't think that criticism is the same as criticizing art for being philosophical. Thus, I suspect that ideology is a type of philosophy, but that not all philosophy or, for that matter, all theology, is ideological.

It's just being able to clearly explain the difference that I am finding slightly frustrating. That's why it's a question I'm trying to work through.

But that's just it, it's quite easy for an ideologue to talk about unquestioned assumptions, or an invisible ideology, when he can't actually find anyone advocating for what he says is the secret or hidden power construct that has everyone in its thrall.

Perhaps. But unquestioned assumptions nevertheless exist, and they are furthermore worth examining. It can be tricky waters, but well-reasoned arguments regarding unquestioned assumptions of individuals and the cultures they inhabit can be made with careful inquiry and observation.

Agreed. Question everything, by all means. But I'm not quite sure that Socrates questioned everything for the same reasons that an ideologue usually questions all ancient norms and traditions.

In fact, I'm not sure that Socrates or Plato could be justly called idealogues.

Edited by J.A.A. Purves

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... but I can't resist pointing out that this:

Perhaps because you believe it is possible to rest a viewpoint on something other than assumptions in the first place.

... is an ideological assumption. It's turtles all the way down.

Not necessarily, unless you assume that everything is ideological, a questionable assumption in itself since the idea didn't begin until the 1790s at the earliest, and was rejected as an idea by most political thinkers of that day.

How could that assumption be anything other than ideological, given NBooth's use of the term ideology?

Quite so. And keep in mind, ideology (at least, as I use it) isn't necessarily bad. Indeed, it's necessary because otherwise there's no way to make any sort of sense out of things. The danger is that we take our ideology as constituting or reflecting the "true nature" of things.

The invisible ideology of the marketplace, which holds that money is a real, tangible good, and personal fulfillment/spiritual uplift/transcendence/etc is an "extra" and the man who indulges in it at the expense of capital-generation is a waste of space.

I can't say I've heard of this ideology before, except for what Marxists say about Western civilization.

Hence it being invisible ideology.

Indeed. But let me use a personal example: I was a Philosophy and Religion major in undergrad; I'm a Literature person now. The number of incredulous "What're you gonna do with that" type responses I've encountered far far outnumber the "Oh, how wonderful that you're pursuing a non-monetarily-rewarding-but-spiritually-fulfilling life path." Or look at the general reasons given for kids to go to college: you go to college to get the education to get a job in order to make money. We're to encourage education so kids can get jobs. Etc. You can't put a dollar value on the innate worth of education, so it's implicitly disregarded in political and popular discussion of the subject. To my mind, that's a perfect example of invisible ideology.

But that's just it, it's quite easy for an ideologue to talk about unquestioned assumptions, or an invisible ideology, when he can't actually find anyone advocating for what he says is the secret or hidden power construct that has everyone in its thrall.

Perhaps. But unquestioned assumptions nevertheless exist, and they are furthermore worth examining. It can be tricky waters, but well-reasoned arguments regarding unquestioned assumptions of individuals and the cultures they inhabit can be made with careful inquiry and observation.

Right. It doesn't matter if no one advocates, say, systemic oppression if that oppression actually exists. There was a time when women who became pregnant out of wedlock would go "visit an aunt" to give birth to [or abort] the child. Everyone knew what was going on, but no one spoke about it. Now, ideology is different because often the "knowledge" is submerged, but it's this sort of unspoken and unacknowledged agreement that allows, say, silent segregation in certain Southern towns I could name.

...and Socrates/Plato had an ideology, one that involved the idea of a rulership by philosopher-kings.

EDIT: W/R/T the original purpose of this thread, here's my two bits (and it's kind of implicit above, but I'll spell it out):

Calling a work of art "ideological" is no better/worse than saying "I disagree with this work of art on a propositional level." "Ideological" is The Other Guy's "philosophical." That's why it's problematic to say that, for instance, "African American Studies" is ideological and studying the Western Canon isn't; the truth is--the dirty, dirty truth--that they're both ideological. And we're fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.

What is a work of art at its base? A set of symbols. What is the source of symbols? Do they rest in the metaphysical order of Being Itself? Most assuredly not; like the "ok" symbol which is innocuous in America but obscene in some other nations, so artistic symbols are based on mostly-unconscious cultural assumptions (example: the association of "white" with purity. Why should white mean purity and not red or blue? There's no metaphysical reason for it. There's ideology at work here). Thus, we only label a work of art as ideological because it contrasts with our own invisible ideology: Birth of a Nation is ideological (and it is--it reflects the conscious and unconscious assumptions of its makers) but Casablanca isn't. Etc.

But what if we label a work we agree with as flawed because it is ideological? Doesn't this collapse the whole argument? Not at all; for its sin isn't that it's ideological, but that it's so obviously ideological. It betrays its assumptions, it wears its heart on its sleeve, and we are trained to balk at anything that's blatantly ideological.* Perhaps because when the ideology is too apparent, the seams show. I'm not sure, though; it requires a little more reflection on my part.

______________

*This might be a new development, only as recent as WWII, and in that case owes much of its power to the shrinkage of distance between the liberal and conservative wings of American thought immediately following the great conflict.

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth, I'll interact more with some of the fascinating stuff you just wrote. Thanks for your comments. But quick question:

Why is it considered negative to call something ideological, but not negative to say that something is philosophical or has a worldview?

Why is it considered a put-down to call someone an ideologue?

I understand that you personally may not consider it negative. But it seems to generally be considered negative by most people who use the word.

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Well, keep in mind that the popular use of a word =/= its "proper" use. Like "fundamentalism," which has about three meanings: the popular, the academic, and the historical (we have a thread somewhere around here parsing the different meanings of "fundamentalist"). A similar situation exists w/r/t "rhetoric." Popularly, "rhetoric" has a negative connotation: "Ah, he's just given to rhetoric. There's no substance there." But rhetoric is at its base just the way you say things, and there's a whole academic community devoted to the study of rhetoric. When they use the term, it's not negative--no matter how the general public uses the term.

My impression is that it's the same with "ideology." I think that, for instance, Zizek wouldn't say that all ideology is bad, but that we should be aware of the ideological assumptions latent in even our most basic choices (

is a crude, only mildly convincing, but absolutely entertaining example). Similarly, I doubt this book, which I found while trolling around on Amazon (picked it almost at random) uses "ideology" as a negative thing (not with sentences like "the roots of American democracy were found in a unique political ideology." etc etc etc).

I suspect the popular distrust has to do with the post-WWII fear of "ideology" (see the link in my previous post; I believe The End of Ideology expressed much of that distrust, though I've not read it myself). The War was, after all, one of the Great Traumas of the 20th C. Every generation gets its own trauma, and every century gets one or two. The general destruction of WWII threw off-balance all ideas of human progress; the gradual revelation that Soviet Russia wasn't a worker's paradise embarrassed and confused Leftists who had seen in it a hope for a new style of society. And so, after the War (to my understanding) Leftists grew more worried about ideology in the face of Stalinism. Meanwhile, Conservative critics developed "New Criticism," whose basis was a (purported) lack of ideology. So the two extremes reached an accord--both distrusting ideology in favor of experience or "objectivity". And thus was born mid-20th C. literary theory, which insisted that art must not be mixed with politics--that a truly "great" work is above its historical-material circumstances of production. Which proposal, fifty years on, seems a little naive (and would have surprised Shakespeare, for one, and Dickens, for another. And "no-poets-in-the-Republic" Socrates, for a third).

I think the discourse has moved on, academically, while staying in the mid-20th C popularly (as with, well, most discourses, including those surrounding race and gender), and that accounts for the gap between [what I take to be] academic understandings of "ideology" and popular ones.

[An alternative would be a quasi-psychological approach--I say "quasi" b/c I am not a psychologist.That is, we distrust anything that seems blatantly ideological because that is--as I said above--where the seams show; the fact that the ideology is not natural, is not grounded in some sort of Order of Being, becomes too blatant when it is laid out in the open. We prefer to keep the illusion that the world is just the way the world is, and has no superstructure of ideology laid across its top.

--but that's all very tentative, and I wouldn't go to war for it. I do have great faith in humanity's boundless powers of self-delusion, but I'm not a psychologist--and that of which we cannot speak, of that we must be silent]

EDIT: I'm slowly coming to realize that what I'm articulating here is a form of ironic commitment, which is just as historically dependent on traumas like WWII as the wholesale rejection of "ideology." It's kind of a relic, too, since at least part of "post-post-modernism" seems to be a retreat from irony, as with Wallace (though I'm convinced, from my limited reading of him, that his sincerity is itself ironic--and that's part of what makes his sincerity so painful).

EDIT EDIT: Which brings up, I think, an important point: a key insight of ideological critique is located-ness. That is, it (rightly) points out that the place we stand is built-up from a foundation of commitments that are historical-material in nature. Rome wasn't built in a day; it came about by a series of accretions. So, too, our viewpoints are the result of sedimentation; language itself is nothing but a collection of dead metaphors, or rather un-dead metaphors, metaphors that still exert power long after their initial meaning has been lost. So we must be honest with ourselves: I am making x claim because I am here--early 21st C, with 9/11, hippies, Vietnam, two World Wars, an Industrial Revolution, an Enlightenment, a Reformation, a Middle Age--all behind me and working their influence (the dead past, says Faulkner, is not dead). Realizing that we do not leap to the Way Things Are through detached observation of the Nature of Things--that our very detachment is part of the symbolic field around us, a function within it--this is a key insight of ideological critique, at least as I understand it. Terry Eagleton would probably kick me in the face for saying so, but I think Stanley Fish in The Trouble with Principle makes an important point: that many of the things we take to be eternal verities are nothing of the sort, but arise from prior commitments (i.e. we decide how we'll act and then develop a principle to support it). After all, "there is nothing either good or ill but thinking makes it so."

Edited by NBooth

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Just throwing a quote out, trying to keep things "current" (one unfortunate side-effect of these discussions--unfortunate for my bank balance--is that I wind up amassing books I wouldn't otherwise have in my possession). Terry Eagleton (pp. 1-3):

To indicate [the] variety of meaning, let me list more or less at random some definitions of ideology currently in circulation:

[a] the process of production of meanings, signs and values in social life;

a body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class;

[c] ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power;

[etc...on through p]

[N]ot all of these formulations are compatible with one another [...] Others of these definitions may be mutually compatible, but with some interesting implications [...] ome of these formulations are perjorative, others ambigusouly so, and some not pejorative at all [...] ome of these formulations involve epistemological questions--questions concerned with our knowledge of the world--while others are silent on this score [...] Roughly speaking, one central lineage, from Hegel and Marx to Georg Lukacs and some later Marxist thinkers, has been much preoccupied with ideas of true and false cognition, with ideology as an illusion [...] whereas an alternative tradition of thought has been less epistemological than sociological, concerned more with the function of ideas within social life than with their reality or unreality. The Marxist heritage has itself straddled these two intellectual currents, and that both of them have something interesting to tell use will be one of the contentions of this book.

(And, of course, the argument that ideology is at the same time an illusion and the condition of social life is, by my reading, the core argument Zizek makes in The Sublime Object of Ideology).

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It's true. "Rhetoric" as popularly used now has negative connotations. But its original meaning was an entire academic discipline. In fact, rhetoric was considered an art (in which appropriate blends of logos, pathos and ethos were used) that every educated person was encouraged to master. The fact that modern society's use of the word has changed from something ennobling to something negative says something, I think, very important about our modern culture.

So, for the sake of discussion, I can assume that "ideology" has both "popular" and "proper" usages. But I'd suggest that popular usage of "ideology" or "ideological" both has negative connotations and equates ideology with philosophy and worldview. This is an unhealthy use of the word, because it looks down upon being dogmatic about any systematic system of belief. If you happen to believe something like Christianity is true, you are then faced with the idea of having a Christian ideology and being frowned upon for it. On the other hand, a proper use of the word sounds like it is up for debate, especially, since as Minogue seems to explain, ideology has become something of a chameleon. But generally speaking, it sounds like there is at least a minimal agreement here that ideology is a kind of political theorizing that posits (1) an illusion that is believed by almost everyone and (2) is used for the purposes of validating a power structure. Whatever other distinctions may be debated about it, I would strongly maintain that ideology (while it claims to be an all encompassing explanation for everything) is still a few steps removed from philosophy or religion. A philosophy or a religion generally holds to a certain collection of truths argued to be true for everyone. An ideology seems to me to generally hold to the claim that just about everyone is being misled about the truth.

I'd be more willing to consider the theory that ideology's popular negative connotations were started up after WWII due to an increasing distrust of ideologies like Nazism or Communism if I hadn't been finding considerable criticism of ideology that far predates WWII. Ideology often advocates a deconstruction of the "illusion" and a way to undermine or overthrow the legitimization of the dominant political power (that Eagleton describes). But, from a Christian perspective, any illusions we suffer from ultimately rest in our fallen human nature. Thus, any political theorizing that claims a temporal solution to this problem is never going to work, and often will cause much more damage (along with the ditching of norms and traditions) to humanity and society. Until the problem of original sin is remedied, we are stuck with all of our political solutions being imperfect. I'm slowly coming round to thinking that this requires a prudential and cautious approach that would probably best be served by avoiding ideological claims and solutions.

It's not that art should not interact with politics. Neither is it that art being unable to help interacting with politics is a bad thing. But, for example, it could be that films that are expressly made for ideological purposes are necessarily going to be worse than films that are not. (And yes, I do realize that the ideologue claims that all films are ideological, period. But I'd say that some films are not intelligent enough to be and many other films are more interested in art and humanity for their own sake rather than in political theory. Films like Babette's Feast, Mirror or Wild Strawberries are too interested in reveling in joy and beauty to bother with ideological or political theory.) From the left, I'd argue that films like The Day After Tomorrow, Tower Heist, and Avatar are worse for being ideological; and, from the right, I'd argue the same for the currently promoted Atlas Shrugged franchise. Racist ideology was prominent in Birth of A Nation, and it is a lesser film because of that. I would distinguish these films from films like Kubrick's Paths of Glory or Spielberg's Amistad. They intelligently interact with politics yes, but both films seem to claim to certain universals about humanity instead of just constructing a narrative to demonstrate the tenants of a specific ideology.

FYI, I just finally obtained a copy of Zizek's The Sublime Object of Ideology.

Edited by J.A.A. Purves

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It's true. "Rhetoric" as popularly used now has negative connotations. But its original meaning was an entire academic discipline. In fact, rhetoric was considered an art (in which appropriate blends of logos, pathos and ethos were used) that every educated person was encouraged to master. The fact that modern society's use of the word has changed from something ennobling to something negative says something, I think, very important about our modern culture.

Exactly my point (well--I hate to generalize about "modern culture." But otherwise, yeah).

So, for the sake of discussion, I can assume that "ideology" has both "popular" and "proper" usages. But I'd suggest that popular usage of "ideology" or "ideological" both has negative connotations and equates ideology with philosophy and worldview. This is an unhealthy use of the word, because it looks down upon being dogmatic about any systematic system of belief.

If that's what the popular view says, then yeah. It's not unhealthy, but it's lazy; ideology is that thing which underlies "philosophy" or "worldview."

On the other hand, a proper use of the word sounds like it is up for debate, especially, since as Minogue seems to explain, ideology has become something of a chameleon. But generally speaking, it sounds like there is at least a minimal agreement here that ideology is a kind of political theorizing that posits (1) an illusion that is believed by almost everyone and (2) is used for the purposes of validating a power structure. Whatever other distinctions may be debated about it, I would strongly maintain that ideology (while it claims to be an all encompassing explanation for everything) is still a few steps removed from philosophy or religion. A philosophy or a religion generally holds to a certain collection of truths argued to be true for everyone. An ideology seems to me to generally hold to the claim that just about everyone is being misled about the truth.

Well, ideology-as-illusion, yeah. "Used for the purposes" strikes me as too mechanical, though; the mechanisms of ideology aren't consciously used at all. They're enacted. In other words, ideology doesn't support a power structure in an active sense (is not "used"); it is the unquestioned basis on which the structure rests. To say they're "used" is to make exactly the conflation you criticize above--to confuse ideology with worldview/philosophy. [bTW, my comments below about the double-use of "ideology" in your post refer to this section]

I'd be more willing to consider the theory that ideology's popular negative connotations were started up after WWII due to an increasing distrust of ideologies like Nazism or Communism if I hadn't been finding considerable criticism of ideology that far predates WWII. Ideology often advocates a deconstruction of the "illusion" and a way to undermine or overthrow the legitimization of the dominant political power (that Eagleton describes).

Often, but that's not all Eagleton describes. He's very careful to say that that's one of the ways in which "ideology" is used.

But, from a Christian perspective, any illusions we suffer from ultimately rest in our fallen human nature. Thus, any political theorizing that claims a temporal solution to this problem is never going to work, and often will cause much more damage (along with the ditching of norms and traditions) to humanity and society. Until the problem of original sin is remedied, we are stuck with all of our political solutions being imperfect. I'm slowly coming round to thinking that this requires a prudential and cautious approach that would probably best be served by avoiding ideological claims and solutions.

--which is as much Niebuhrian, at least as I understand Niebuhr, as anything else. It's not the "Christian" perspective, particularly since "Christian" is a non-signifying term that encompasses both the Liberalism of the Nineteenth Century and the fundamentalism of the Twentieth, among other groupings. But leaving that to the side--the human dependence on ideology is itself a kind of fallenness (and, yes, even the belief that there can be no political solution is an ideological position)--so there's no real contradiction between the critique of ideology and Christianity, even interpreted as narrowly as you do here.

It's not that art should not interact with politics. Neither is it that art being unable to help interacting with politics is a bad thing. But, for example, it could be that films that are expressly made for ideological purposes are necessarily going to be worse than films that are not. (And yes, I do realize that the ideologue claims that all films are ideological, period. But I'd say that some films are not intelligent enough to be and many other films are more interested in art and humanity for their own sake rather than in political theory.

--I won't quote the whole thing, but I will point out that the ensuing discussion is very much in line with post-WWII literary criticism and the convergence of (conservative) New Critics and New York Liberalism. That book I linked a couple posts back discusses this very moment in detail. It's not an historically justified view, unless you want to cherry-pick some people like Wilde et al; I keep mentioning Dickens because his novels were expressly written for ideological purposes--Oliver Twist is only the most obvious example (his counterpoint, btw, would be Henry James, who was revered by both the New Critics and the New Liberals as the Greatest Novelist Ever back in the day). [Note that I slip into using ideology in the "popular" sense here; the question of whether a work can be "good" if it has--to our eyes--fairly obvious ideological commitments is a different question from whether or not all art is intrinsically ideological. I hold that "yes" is the answer to both, but we should probably underline the fact that they are, actually, two separate questions.]

But here's the thing--all films/works of art/etc take place in a symbolic system. That is, they do not contain their own meaning but they receive it from an established set of symbols. This should be self-evident; a totally non-signifying work is impossible (I would suggest that this is true even of abstract art....). And if they occur in a symbolic system--i.e. a system shaped by an ideology--they must of necessity be ideological. No matter how intelligent/unintelligent they are--if they cohere at all, it's because they cohere around an ideology. So the key part of a properly ideological critique of a film, etc, is to ask what the point around which it coheres is--that point will be the point at which its ideology is made plain, however hard it seeks to submerge itself.

Ideology isn't theory--that is, it isn't some abstract set of ideas that films can choose either to engage in or not; it's action. It's what you do. A film like The New World is just as ideological--because it enacts an ideology--as Avatar. And it can't help doing this because ideology is the ground of meaning. That is, ideology is the symbolic field from which meaning arises.

FYI, I just finally obtained a copy of Zizek's The Sublime Object of Ideology.

That's great. This conversation prompted me to finally get a copy for myself, and I'm loving it.

EDIT: A couple more points....

[A] You seem to be using "ideology" in two ways: first, as a name for what is properly termed "the critique of ideology" (that is, a point of view that seeks to determine the unacknowledged ideological core of even such purportedly non-ideological things as Malick films, etc), and second, as "philosophical commitments." I think this is a problematic conflation, because in the second case you list movies that are "non-ideological" with the assumption that "ideological"="preachy" (thus, Avatar is ideological, but not Wild Strawberries, etc). The second is an improper understanding of what makes a film ideological, as I sketched out above.

You say films can "engage politics" without being ideological--which is (given the definition of ideological I've laid out) not the case.... But I want to pick at something else: the idea that a film can not engage politics. For what is politics? It's the business of the polis, of the city, it is at base a questioning of what the Good City is. As such, it is impossible for a work of art not to be political; even something like Walden or The New World is political because it is about people--and so about how people structure themselves w/r/t each other. This is the core truth of the old cliche "everything's political": everything is political because everything is ultimately concerned with what sort of society we have/should have/wish we could have.

As always, ideology =/= politics; politics =/= philosophy, etc. They do bleed into each other a bit, though; the ideological/symbolic field informs political action (indeed, we cannot access the field directly but only through the actions). But if we want to keep our intellectual food from touching (and I do!) it's a helpful reminder that these things are not at all the same.

Edited by NBooth

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I posted this in the They Live thread, but it works as well here:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4WAXQJyxCo

 

(And, of course, I can't help but notice how much the idea that "freedom hurts" depends, ultimately, on Plato's myth of the cave)

Edited by NBooth

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I haven't taken time to read through this thread in full but I still have an inkling that some of you might find this interesting.

 

 

"What art does is to coax us away from the mechanical and towards the miraculous. The so-called uselessness of art is a clue to its transforming power. Art is not part of the machine. Art asks us to think differently, see differently, hear differently, and ultimately to act differently, which is why art has moral force. Ruskin was right, though for the wrong reasons, when he talked about art as a moral force. Art is not about good behaviour, when did you last see a miracle behave well? Art makes us better people because it asks for our full humanity, and humanity is, or should be, the polar opposite of the merely mechanical. We are not part of the machine either, but we have forgotten that. Art is memory — which is quite different [from] history. Art asks that we remember who we are, and usually that asking has to come as provocation — which is why art breaks the rules and the taboos, and at the same time is a moral force."

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I like it, except for that very last sentence. Art as provocation/breaking the rules/breaking the taboos is both a boring and an endlessly repeated definition.

Breaking rules or taboos does not make something artistic. Beauty can be inside or outside "the rules." Now there are ideas that can be provocative and break the rules. But just because an idea does so does not make the idea into art. The moral force of beauty does not consist in its ability towards provocation or the challenging of the establishment.

I could take this in one direction, framing this against some liberal ideas, but let's do the opposite in order to demonstrate the point. Provocation is entirely subjective and personal. What is provocative for some is not provocative for many others. For example, nudity is often provocative in evangelical circles. But, in the normal art world, nudity is not meant to be provocative - it's meant to be beautiful. It would be ridiculous to call Greek sculpture provocative because it consisted in nudes. The same goes for many a "Christian" work of art. It does not become art by provoking the viewer with a gospel message. Neither does "Christian" music does acquire any moral force merely by breaking a standard civil taboo against proselytizing.

Art may genuinely break some dumb rules or some senseless taboos. But that isn't what makes it art. Indeed, it is very often the rules or taboos that allow an art even to exist in the first place.
 
A few other thoughts on this thread:
 

But here's the thing--all films/works of art/etc take place in a symbolic system. That is, they do not contain their own meaning but they receive it from an established set of symbols. This should be self-evident; a totally non-signifying work is impossible (I would suggest that this is true even of abstract art....). And if they occur in a symbolic system--i.e. a system shaped by an ideology--they must of necessity be ideological. No matter how intelligent/unintelligent they are--if they cohere at all, it's because they cohere around an ideology. So the key part of a properly ideological critique of a film, etc, is to ask what the point around which it coheres is--that point will be the point at which its ideology is made plain, however hard it seeks to submerge itself.

See, what the traditional point of view denies is precisely the claim that everything "must of necessity be ideological."  It is pursuit of ideological proselytizing that wrecks the opportunity for art.  Every "symbolic system" is not shaped by ideology.  A "symbolic system" is a language.  This seems fairly common sense when we remember how new ideology is.  Historically, both philosophy and religion have been around far longer.  And while philosophy and religion can both be perverted into ideologies, no ideology is their equal.
 

Ideology isn't theory--that is, it isn't some abstract set of ideas that films can choose either to engage in or not; it's action. It's what you do. A film like The New World is just as ideological--because it enacts an ideology--as Avatar. And it can't help doing this because ideology is the ground of meaning. That is, ideology is the symbolic field from which meaning arises.

This definition is so incredibly broad that I don't see how it makes ideology mean anything at all.  If ideology is "the ground of meaning," if it is merely "what you do," then ideology is simply everything and everything is ideology.  If you mentioned something like "the symbolic field from which meaning arises" to an older philosopher, he would think you were talking about something much more specific - like language or "the Logos."
 

[A] You seem to be using "ideology" in two ways: first, as a name for what is properly termed "the critique of ideology" (that is, a point of view that seeks to determine the unacknowledged ideological core of even such purportedly non-ideological things as Malick films, etc), and second, as "philosophical commitments." I think this is a problematic conflation, because in the second case you list movies that are "non-ideological" with the assumption that "ideological"="preachy" (thus, Avatar is ideological, but not Wild Strawberries, etc). The second is an improper understanding of what makes a film ideological, as I sketched out above.

Nope, I do not mean "ideology" in your first sense because that is not how the word is meaningfully used (Marx may have used it that way, but that would explain why he spent so much time running in circles and why Marxist ideas about art are so depressingly sad).  As far as "philosophical commitments" goes, an "ideology" is a purely theoretical or programmatic kind of philosophical commitment that seems to separate itself from reality.  In which case, wouldn't ideology always be a rather unhealthy philosophical commitment?  It would be the gutting of any real philosophy.
 
I also don't know why it took me this long to realize how incredibly vague and useless that Wikipedia definition is.  A "set of ideas that constitute one's goals, expectations, and actions"?  Could we even make up a definition any more loose and broad than that?  If that's all ideology is, then ideology is just whatever ideas one happens to be thinking at any given particular moment of time.  The words "thoughts" or "ideas" will do just fine.  No, ideology is more systematic.  A "comprehensive vision" is little better.  But that could still cover just about any point of view or opinion.  A "set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society" is at least what Marx meant by ideology.  But even that is still pretty reductionist and it assumes, petitio principii, quite a few unusual things about "society."
 

You say films can "engage politics" without being ideological--which is (given the definition of ideological I've laid out) not the case.... But I want to pick at something else: the idea that a film can not engage politics. For what is politics? It's the business of the polis, of the city, it is at base a questioning of what the Good City is. As such, it is impossible for a work of art not to be political; even something like Walden or The New World is political because it is about people--and so about how people structure themselves w/r/t each other. This is the core truth of the old cliche "everything's political": everything is political because everything is ultimately concerned with what sort of society we have/should have/wish we could have.

Yet "ideological" does not equal "political", otherwise there would be no use for the existence of each word. If we deny the overly broad definition of ideology (along with the English dictionary), then it would be possible for us to avoid being ideological. And that would be possible if one denied that there was ever going to be any overarching or all-encompassing theoretical system of thought that could fully explain life, the universe and everything.  No human system of thought is ever going to immanentize the eschaton.  It is simply not going to happen.  So any human system of thought designed to do so is equally useless and harmful.

There is a reason why some critics have argued that political propaganda, in most cases, wrecks or prevents a work from being good art. If you want to say that all art is political because it affects how we think about our civil society, then in that sense, sure. But that's just true about everything, including art. Thinking aesthetically, only some political points of view advocate intruding into or censoring the world of art.  In general, the more that politics stays out of aesthetics the better.

 

Here's Bradley J. Birzer on the subject.  What he says here generally makes sense.  (I do find his mild case of Tourette's, where he keeps unnecessarily and nonsensically saying "and libertarianism ... and libertarianism" rather annoying.  But it's unfair and uncharitable of me to make fun of someone's medical condition.)

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 But here's the thing--all films/works of art/etc take place in a symbolic system. That is, they do not contain their own meaning but they receive it from an established set of symbols. This should be self-evident; a totally non-signifying work is impossible (I would suggest that this is true even of abstract art....). And if they occur in a symbolic system--i.e. a system shaped by an ideology--they must of necessity be ideological. No matter how intelligent/unintelligent they are--if they cohere at all, it's because they cohere around an ideology. So the key part of a properly ideological critique of a film, etc, is to ask what the point around which it coheres is--that point will be the point at which its ideology is made plain, however hard it seeks to submerge itself.

See, what the traditional point of view denies is precisely the claim that everything "must of necessity be ideological."  It is pursuit of ideological proselytizing that wrecks the opportunity for art.  Every "symbolic system" is not shaped by ideology.  A "symbolic system" is a language.  This seems fairly common sense when we remember how new ideology is.  Historically, both philosophy and religion have been around far longer.  And while philosophy and religion can both be perverted into ideologies, no ideology is their equal.

 

I didn't say anything about proselytizing. At all. In fact--not looking back over the thread, but I'm pretty sure--I've stressed repeatedly that ideology is unconscious. And it does symbolic systems; we assume that certain clusters of meaning "naturally" go together, but they don't, because there's nothing natural about language. They are ad hoc, and they subtly shape the way we think about things. We don't have to go the full Worf-Sapir for this to make some levels of sense. (In the sense I mean, then, ideology is not new because it's not a system of study in the same way that philosophy is. Besides which, being new is no proof against being correct--whatever "correct" even means when we're talking about a category rather than a discipline. Polytheism is older than monotheism, alchemy is older than science, and the epic is older than the novel. I will not kowtow to any category just because it's been around longer).

 

 

This definition is so incredibly broad that I don't see how it makes ideology mean anything at all.  If ideology is "the ground of meaning," if it is merely "what you do," then ideology is simply everything and everything is ideology.  If you mentioned something like "the symbolic field from which meaning arises" to an older philosopher, he would think you were talking about something much more specific - like language or "the Logos."

 

 

Sure. And he'd be wrong because ideology isn't transcendent. That's the key distinction.

 

Nope, I do not mean "ideology" in your first sense because that is not how the word is meaningfully used (Marx may have used it that way, but that would explain why he spent so much time running in circles and why Marxist ideas about art are so depressingly sad).  As far as "philosophical commitments" goes, an "ideology" is a purely theoretical or programmatic kind of philosophical commitment that seems to separate itself from reality.  In which case, wouldn't ideology always be a rather unhealthy philosophical commitment?  It would be the gutting of any real philosophy.

 

 

Sorry if I misunderstood. Earlier, you said:

 

 I'd suggest that popular usage of "ideology" or "ideological" both has negative connotations and equates ideology with philosophy and worldview. This is an unhealthy use of the word, because it looks down upon being dogmatic about any systematic system of belief.

 

 

 

Which, if you don't mean the critique of ideology, is something awfully close:  "Looks down on" etc etc etc--that's precisely the kind of critique of ideology standpoint I outline in [A]. In fact, everything you say isn't an attack on the concept of ideology, it's enacting a critique of ideology. You're accepting it as a valid category and critiquing it. You're pulling a Zizek while protesting that that's precisely what you're not doing. What I'm saying is, fine, but it's a mistake to presume that any of us is not in the grip of some sort of ideological commitment. We deal with language, for one thing, and we deal with symbols, for another--and we're the products of certain cultural forces and we carry our own intellectual commitments that make us assume some methods of thought are "natural" while others are not. That is ideology. 

 

I also don't know why it took me this long to realize how incredibly vague and useless that Wikipedia definition is.  A "set of ideas that constitute one's goals, expectations, and actions"?  Could we even make up a definition any more loose and broad than that?  If that's all ideology is, then ideology is just whatever ideas one happens to be thinking at any given particular moment of time.  The words "thoughts" or "ideas" will do just fine.  No, ideology is more systematic.  A "comprehensive vision" is little better.  But that could still cover just about any point of view or opinion.  A "set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society" is at least what Marx meant by ideology.  But even that is still pretty reductionist and it assumes, petitio principii, quite a few unusual things about "society."

 

 

Marx is outdated, even in Marxist terms. The thirties, WWII, and the Cold War took care of that. I've tried to offer a definition a couple of times, but let me try again:

 

Ideology is that system of symbols that enacts unconscious control on members of a discourse community. 

 

Yet "ideological" does not equal "political", otherwise there would be no use for the existence of each word. If we deny the overly broad definition of ideology (along with the English dictionary), then it would be possible for us to avoid being ideological. And that would be possible if one denied that there was ever going to be any overarching or all-encompassing theoretical system of thought that could fully explain life, the universe and everything.  No human system of thought is ever going to immanentize the eschaton.  It is simply not going to happen.  So any human system of thought designed to do so is equally useless and harmful.

 

 

[A] I didn't equate the two.

 

Ideology isn't conscious. A lot of folks thought it was in the Thirties. The Forties knocked that out of them. Ideology isn't about immanentizing the eschaton. Thirties--yes. Forties--no. [Compare Steinbeck to Mailer for an example of this]. Ideology isn't designed at all--it's a symbolic field that arises unconsciously and exerts unconscious influence. That's been my point from the first, and it's why I maintain that all art is ideological. Because all art instantiates unconscious assumptions which will be more or less visible depending on how hard one is willing to critique one's own ideological assumptions.

 

EDIT: W/r/t the video:

 

Let's say it together: "The denial of libertarianism as an ideology is itself an ideological move."

 

Now, I appreciate a lot of what he says up to the last bit (although anyone who wants to reduce Darwin, Freud, and Marx to the Source of All Evils isn't really seriously dealing with the intellectual history of the 20th C) but his core assumption--that people who talk about "ideology" are denying the "full complexity" of the human soul--is fundamentally and inescapably wrong. (So is the argument that Freud, for instance, reduced everything to sex--a statement so baldly incorrect that I wonder if he's read even as little Freud as I have). As I've outlined it--and I think Zizek, who still believes that you can, in some sense, get outside the system (see the clip on They Live) wouldn't go this far--the recognition of ideology is simply the recognition that the symbolic field determines a good deal of how we think about things. Not all of it (I'm not going Worf-Sapir, here), but enough that we should be very suspicious of anyone who claims to be deriving their understanding of reality from outside the symbolic/ideological framework that permeates all of society. The moment I deny my ideology is the precise moment when I am most in the grip of ideology. This isn't a denial of the mystery of the human heart--it's an admission that it's more of a mystery than we like to admit.

 

EDIT EDIT: Ok, here's my concession: ideological critique, taken by itself, is essentially useless. This is where I part ways with lots of folks, I suppose. I know, a lot of critiques of Imperialism, Capitalism, Racism, etc etc etc--seem to take it for granted that you can just point and say "Look! [bLANK]ism!" and the work's done. I'm not so convinced, myself, that the pointing-and-saying actually does anything, though it's a good idea to keep in mind that, yes, the discourse of Orientalism has bearing on even "objective" accounts of Asia in the West--that, yes, ethnographies of India from the 19th C have an ideological purpose that extends even to popular texts like The Sign of Four--that it's thoroughly possible to be anti-racist and still carry certain ideological assumptions that are shaped by racism. But saying these things are ideologically formed is as banally obvious as saying that the sky isn't actually blue--that it just seems blue because of the way light reflects. The question is what one does in the step beyond the recognition of ideology-at-work.

 

EXIT X3: At the risk of saying the obvious--ideology isn't a thing. It's just a word used to describe certain social functions. There's nothing transcendent about it--which is actually kind of the point. So arguing about whether or not ideology "exists" strikes me, increasingly, as a circular and essentially useless endeavor. The real point of contention isn't whether ideology is real, but whether it's useful as a category. I say yes, because it describes certain social phenomena, describes them in a way that makes sense to me. And it's been put to interesting use by philosophers (Zizek) and critics (Eagleton). And I find it laughable that any artist would claim not to be motivated by unconscious assumptions about "how the world is"--which is, after all, what I mean by ideology. So I, personally, don't have much invested in the idea of ideology. But I'll sure as heck be willing to expose the ideological assumptions of any writer or film-maker who's self-important enough to claim to have transcended his or her cultural context. Because that's just silly. [And, yeah, this does mean that "critique of ideology," as far as I'm concerned, is a tool. One of many. And I'm only interested in applying it to a work of art if I think it'll produce interesting results. Nabokov? Sure, Lolita is an ideological product--one of the ideological assumptions underlying it is that you can objectively present the voice of a child molester without some spill-over, and an ideological critique might show how Nabokov fails at that--but, frankly, I think that kind of reading is boring, and I think N is doing much more interesting things than the ideological critique reveals. So I leave it alone. But--demonstrating how Freud's ideological assumptions--about, say, gender--changes the way he talks about repression or society? That is interesting. Some art-works are more productive under an ideological critique; others yield up more to a feminist reading; still others work better under something like a New Critical reading.

 

Which is to say--if we're talking about applying the idea of ideology to art, then what we're actually talking about is not ideology as a "real" thing or even as a category, but simply as a lens--as one way among many to look at works of art. In which case, asking whether there's a "reality" behind ideology is asking precisely the wrong question. The real issue is this: what kinds of readings are produced by an ideological lens, and are these readings interesting/productive?

Edited by NBooth

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