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Discuss The Ways Which Awareness In Ideology Affects Literature English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2764 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Literature in Marxism is perceived as something which is deeply influenced by the culture and society in which the author is living in. Therefore literature is seen as a product from culture which means that the author is affected by the environment and the external elements surrounding him. In the same way one reader differs from the other because he or she is also affected by the social surroundings. Moreover, Marxists, and later on Structuralists, believe that because literature is experienced according to ones attitude and principles of society, literature is ‘ideologically impregnated by its social positioning’. [1] Lois Althusser has played an important role in the defining of ideology in literature with important essays such as his 1970 essay entitled Reading “Capital” and another more important essay in the field of ideology entitled Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1970). Others like Roland Barthes also helped defining the role of ideology when reading literature especially with the prominent essay entitled The Death of the Author, published in 1967.

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Ideology has become a key concept in Marxists’ theorists’ works and criticism about art and literature. Marxists see ideology more than just the study of ideas but they see it as an outlook of life. The Bourgeois ideology is regarded by Marxists as constructing and infusing institutions in society and in cultures which also include literature and different forms of art. Ideology, particularly to Structuralists, becomes an imperative issue, especially to the way in how one can talk about ideology in a non-ideological way. At first Marxists see the word ideology in a negative light due to the fact that they associate the word with ‘false consciousness’. [4] Marxists see ideology as a method employed by the dominant classes to prevent subordinates from realising the true nature of things and change them to their own benefits. Thus as a means of hiding the truth and keeping the ruling power over the inferior classes from obtaining their rightful civil liberties. But then in the 1960’s, Althusser changed the concept of ideology being a kind of false consciousness with his essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1970). In this essay Althusser argues that society must first be divided into different “ideological state apparatuses” rather than be viewed as a whole. He argues that rather than false consciousness, the ideologies vary according to each state apparatus. Althusser sees literature as being one of these state apparatuses since literature does not express just one kind of ideology but it varies according to the text. He states that interpellation takes place rather than social consciousness and this means that the human being is made up of the established structures in society such as the mass media and literature in which the representations seen in it consist of the expressions of everyday realities. Therefore, ideology, according to Althusser, is made up of both the real and the imaginary since it is real because it shows how people really live their everyday life in accordance with society and its domains but imaginary because it does not offer a full understanding of the ways of how people are constituted in these social realities. [5] At the same time when people read a realist text they can relate to it and when characters are portrayed as being free, the text will interpellate the readers to think that they are free as well. Thus, realist novels work in the same way as ideology does; by addressing the readers and as a result making them believe the ideological vision that they are portraying.

Althusser discusses the interpellation of the subject in relation to ideology. According to Althusser, both the writer and the reader are subjects and thus they both become ideological subjects because both of them live ‘spontaneously’. [6] The language then has its own role in the interpellation as to present the human being as unified, independent, subjectivity. [7] Althusser uses the example of the classic realism since it is a highly popular genre in different areas of arts, in particular, in literature. Althusser uses this genre because in itself it is a subject which shows not only the ideology of the true representation of reality in addition the understanding of the situation of subject. [8] In the 19th century, the notion of the author furthering away from the text he has written was becoming even more dominant, especially in realistic fiction. In the classic realist novels the truth is shown, but not told since the reader has the task of finding it out for him or her self. This can be seen in diverse novels in the genre such as those written by Defoe and Hardy. In these novels the reader is interpellated as the subject since he has the task of deciding and finding out the truth, which in itself, is an ideological practice. Thus meanings change accordingly to a person’s ideology. Belsey argues that classical realism follows the same cyclical pattern in most novels. This includes a kind of disorder which is encapsulated in a story of for example love or murder. But at the end the story always reaches an ending which the reader in some way or the other expects and therefore order is restored. This can be found in novels such as Jane Eyre, where order is restored as Jane and Mr Rochester’s expression of love makes its full circle. This, according to Belsey, is not found in history since it is narrated in an impersonal manner and there is no defined speaker, whilst in narration the speaker is defined as a subject and the reader relates to this voice. The story in fact unfolds through this interpellation between the reader and the author and through this communication; the subjects share the meanings of the work through ideology. Belsey also argues that in classical realism, the reader is in a way pleasing his own ego by identifying and positioning himself in the role of the protagonist. Belsey states that this interpellation between the reader and the author is not only done in the third omniscient narrative but also in the first narrator since the reader also gets the chance to relate to the protagonist in question. But the third narrative allows the reader to formulate the ending of the story before it is written. Therefore the reader as a subject himself is in a position of subjectivity and thus in an ideological position. But at the same time, to refuse this position, is in itself an ideological choice. [9] 

Althusser talks about how a person cannot have a complete unbiased read since it is very difficult to avoid making presumptions and thoughts which may prejudice the reading in many ways. For that reason the interpretation is different from one person to another and it is never neutral because it is affected by the social surroundings. Althusser also argues that behind the text that one can see in a book or in any literary form which he calls ‘explicit discourse’ there is always the underlying, unseen, ‘silent discourse’, which the author is not aware of and so it is the task of the reader to find it out. [10] This ‘silent discourse’ is therefore the elements which affected the author unconsciously in time of writing the text. Hence Althusser proposes that when reading, one must abandon what the author had intended for him or her to read and understand and instead recognize the underlying ‘silence’ which it conceals in itself. This system is called the ‘symptomatic reading’, in which by ruling out the structure of the argument, one uncovers the ideological structures of the text. Althusser argues that the author’s opinion is not the only one which can be given to the text because each reader has a different background with different forms of ideologies and each one of these may affect the way the novel is read. For example people may come from different cultures with different traditions from those of the author and as a consequence the interpretations of the novel change. Accordingly, Althusser is against the idea of empiricism, which is to understand the novel or text by direct examination. Empiricists also believe that meaning comes from experience rather than inborn traditions and ideas which affect the way the novel is read. Althusser argues that the ideology within every human being affects his way of perceiving a novel or a work of art. Catherine Belsey, agrees with Althusser and states that ideology is something indispensable which cannot be discarded with a single thought since it is firmly positioned inside every single person. She also argues that ideology is what makes ‘concrete individuals as subjects’ [11] and therefore it affects us continuously.

Althusser argues that meaning is created by the reader rather than discovered and this is done through the understanding of the unconscious of the author at the time of writing the novel and by the practice which takes place when reading the text [12] which ‘sets to work, in a specific structure’ [13] . Althusser mentions four types of practice which are the economic, political, ideological and theoretical. The ideological practice takes up a novel or a text and gives it a whole new meaning and this is done through the social means which give it a new standpoint and perspective. In Althusser, the ideological practice refers to the diverse and composite ways in which a piece of art and literature’s meaning is modified according to the daily actions of a particular person. Therefore when one states that something is ‘ideological’, it involves in the passive imitation of the mistaken beliefs about the nature of social reality. Sometimes someone takes a position which may seem as incoherent and conflicting, but one must understand that it might have not been seen in this way when the position was taken because ideology is rich in contradictions but which at the same time, they underpin it and give it meaning. [14] 

In the same way Roland Barthes argues that Bourgeoisie writing cannot be innocent since one cannot write without zero bias in mind. Barthes argues that all the written texts are in some way or another ideologically charged. He states that in writing, the author is in some way or another, ideologically tinged since when one is writing, he or she already has an ideology which is silent and which naturalises the attitudes of the dominant class. Barthes agrees with Althusser by saying that the silent ideology is a silent manner of communicating to the reader. He developed the idea that literature is not innocent since it contains ideology and hegemony because in the author there is always an ideological slant which affects what he writes or what he shouldn’t write. Barthes also argues that the ideology is linked with politics and religion and the writer makes use of literature as a means of producing another idea. Literature after the Second World War had to be committed and one could not write literature in a vacuum anymore. This is seen in George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) which is not just a fable but a way of bringing to the public an awareness of the class war between the middle classes and the dominant classes. In responding to a text by reading it, the reader is naturalising something which may not be natural and the power of the ruling class is exerted in a way such as it naturalises itself. Literature is therefore a series of codes which have to be understood since literature is part if a code and the reader encodes literature in order to make it a social event. This theory goes hand in hand and has been developed from Saussure’s theory of the signified and the signifier which Barthes also takes on to explain how literature is made up.

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Roland Barthes’s most influential essay in the field of literature is entitled Death of the Author (1968) whom he explained as the figure shaped by critical discourse in order to limit the interpretations in the way of reading a literary text. [15] This essay is perceived as revolutionary in the spirit of revolution of the time and it becomes a central text which marks the change from Structuralism to Post-Structuralism. Barthes talks about and disagrees with the idea of the author as a god since he creates the work out of nothing, just like god. He says that one cannot allow the author to assume the role of god in literature but also in art in general. Barthes is therefore removing the role of the author who imposes ideas and beliefs on the reader and hence a limit to how the text is read. He believes in destabilising the notion of the author as the origin of the text since the text exists independently off the author and therefore Barthes allows space for the reader. He argues that once the author is removed from the text the reader becomes the critic and therefore the death of the author resuscitates the reader and his ideas. By doing this Barthes is breaking down the hegemony of the bourgeoisie writer and therefore the constant ideology which is going on must be realised. In the same way as Althusser, he argues that ideology is always present and one must not get away from it but let it help him or her create his own interpretations. By deleting the author the reader or the interpreter now, just like the author, has all the traditional attributes of initiative removed and is transformed in the impersonal practice of reading. What he or she is reading cannot no longer be called ‘work’ but it becomes a ‘text’ since the word ‘work’ may indicate the participation of another person in creating it whilst the word ‘text’ does not give a sense of individuality. [16] Althusser agrees with the idea of the death of the author by believing that the meaning of a text is to be produced through a symptomatic analysis. The author becomes a function of ideology by interpellating the individuals as subjects. [17] Therefore one has to totally dehumanise the text and turn it into something which involves no human effort in creating it, thus ‘unseen problematics’. [18] 

Therefore theorists like Althusser and Barthes show how ideology affects the way of how a text is read by the reader. Both theorists agree that ideology cannot be eliminated when reading a text since it is inevitably found in each individual and for that reason it affects the way literature is read differently by diverse persons with different ideologies.


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