Chapter 10, The Global Flow of Visual Culture
Many ways to respond to globalization, as well but I will focus on one of my favorite authors: about the same time as cultural and other theorists were writing about postmodernism (see response to Ch. 8), Terry Eagleton returns to a key theme of modernist political theory, ideology
Terry Eagleton, Ideology, An Introduction (Verso, 1991)
Reject the concept of ideology, as if we are free of collective interests that determine and direct us?
Postmodern rejects representation, skeptical of any real knowledge, sees power arising everywhere
Idea of “ideology” is said to be closed, old school, too deterministic (it looks at how we are structured)
But to lose concept of ideology while remaining driven by ideas is to fight ourselves,
as one does in psychoanalysis: the self at war with itself, a very postmodern condition
Ideology, range of meanings: any guiding ideas, or just the false ones? Necessary to all, or specific to just some misguided souls? Is ideology enabling or dominating?
Often seen as false, source of blindness, distortion, and error; but all thought requires pre-conceptions
Technocratic society wants to deny any bias, as though its power is scientific, inevitable, objective
Foucault’s concept of ideology too broad: power and ideology found in every gesture, practice, habit
Language, technology, institutions all tools, specific to some forms of power,
not the source of oppression
Source of religion, for example, not just power or domination: it may be false but not absurd,
responds to real needs, pain, fear, alienation, lack of identity in fluid, changing world
Ideologies often obviously false: one people are inferior, e.g., or capitalism always brings democracy
But sometimes ideology can be based on factual things, but interpreted and used deceptively
Like advertising: no lies in a cigarette ad that shows cowboys smoking, but clear implication is false:
cigarettes don't make you manly, they make you sick or dead
Problem: facts can be confirmed, but values cannot
Is there a basis for deciding between fundamentally conflicting values, or is it all relative?
Louis Althusser’s concept of ideology: not true or false, merely our lived relationship to situation
Ideas may be warped, but are necessary, natural, and unconscious, come from our real circumstances
Ideologies pragmatic (they get things done) and constitutive (they shape and determine our actions)
But are they really natural, neutral? Surely in a society of real freedom, there would be no ideology
There would be “nothing to explain away,” (28), no reason for complex narratives and illusions
Ideology is more than everyday practices, and not all are equal: the colour of a country’s mailboxes
not as powerful, profound, or important as the size of its army
Six broad definitions of ideology (in order of rising specificity, power, and domination):
All general ideas or beliefs held in common
Ideas of any group or class
Ideas used to promote and legitimate a group’s collective interests
Ideas of the dominant group
Distorted ideas used to defend the dominant group’s interests
The distortion and deception inherent and systemic in any unequal, material social structure
The last suggests that ideologies arise from historical and material circumstances; so can they be
changed simply through changing ideas?
Or does society have to change? Or do they change each other?
Is it crude and simplistic to see ideology as a product of economic compulsions, a systematic distortion that keeps wages low, or prevents workers from running their own workplaces collectively
Jürgen Habermas: rational, technocratic, pragmatic, instrumental ideas replacing rational “public values”
Places capitalism beyond ideology? Society run on basis of pure utility, technical solutions, not values
We become “exchange-value” only, no subjectivity to work on: “capitalism flattens the human subject to a viewing eye and devouring stomach.” (38)
But complex, modern production requires independent, creative thought: can’t all be ironic machines
Summarizes other theories of ideology: it is all around, in the air we breathe, but is it immutable?
• Frankfurt School (Adorno, Marcuse), single, monolithic, deceptive, identical, reified culture
Reified = abstract ideas made concrete, embodied, frozen in material relationships
(usually not for the best)
• Raymond Williams: varieties of social experience, local cultures, allows resistance:
no hegemony is absolute, there are many “structures of feeling,” paths to action
• Michel Foucault, power is absolute, rises from a micro-physics, like sap in our veins
(but then how to explain critical thinking? How to explain Foucault himself?)
Important link: all ideologies must appear (be made to seem) natural, inevitable, universal, eternal
Althusser again: “ideology has no outside,” each one seems infinite (58)
But surely some interests really are universal? Equality, women’s liberation, e.g.
Only truth can survive being truly self-aware; ideology cannot understand itself to be ideological,
or it ceases to work as, or to be, ideology
Our ideologies must be based on who we really are, or we must reject them
Eagleton then traces a broad swath of intellectual and political history, from the Enlightenment to Marx and the Second International (1914); through Lukács and Gramsci; to Adorno and Bourdieu
Chapter 7 is key for design: “Discourse and Ideology,” how words and other signs give us concepts
Tracing power through how we use language, prefer to imagine ‘deep meaning, closed systems;
we want to imagine that the visual is a reliable language, when it is open and contingent
Our social position does imbue us with interests and specific ideas, like a galley slave vs. its master
Situation doesn't determine everything about the slave’s thoughts, but surely constrains it
And a slave’s thoughts surely represent that situation, the class position of slavery, if imperfectly
Do people become conservative from simply voting Tory? Or do they have real property to defend?
For a detailed and challenging book on this same theme, but read through the philosophy of art and culture, see Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthtetic (Blackwell, 1990).