The fabulous freaks are leaving town
The concept of ideology in Marx must be located on two axes. Diachronically, ideology substitutes the individual for the work of the system. This gesture is present not only in the Enlightenment Robinson myth, which gives us the origin of society in the story of some one individual, but also in the attribution of systematic effects to the ideas of some individual. In reality, those ideas are grounded in the possibilities opened up by some specific historical situation. Marx happily would say the same thing about his own work, which he consciously places in relation to his education, his experience in a Germany emerging from the old order and plunging, inconsistently, into the capitalist order, the social advances produced by the French Revolution, etc. This is, by the way, Marx’s supremely irreligious gesture – although as a romantic writer he adopts a prophetic tone, he characteristically disclaims the prophetic relationship to the world.
Synchronically, ideology names the process of naturalizing the social. This, it is easy to see, is not synonymous with the diachronic axis. Far from operating in terms of individuality, here ideology appeals to such natural instincts as that of appetite, or the instinct for barter, etc., which orients the market in such a way that it can’t be interfered with. Iron laws rule there. Where the Marxist would claim that our future is in the hands of men, the ideological claim is that men are always subject to the iron laws of the market. Derivatively, the class structure of society will then reflect some natural hierarchy – those on top are alpha males, or whatever. Whereas, going back to the diachronic axis, Marxists would discuss the workings of the cultural system, while ideology would see the ideas and inventions of great men.
This is, obviously, a delicate interpretative grid. From the Derridean perspective, it is one that grounds itself in an impossible present which simultaneously joins the synchronic and diachronic and pulls them apart. Or, as Hamlet might say, the time is out of joint.
I meant, when starting this, to quote a lively bit from the Grundrisse. But just to mess up the implications of this post, or at least play with them, a quote, instead, from Bataille’s Interior Experience:
Small comic recapitulation. Hegel, I imagine, touched the extreme. He was still young and he thought he was going mad. I even imagine that he elaborated his system in order to escape (every kind of conquest, without doubt, is performed by a man fleeing a menace). To finish with it, Hegel arrives at satisfaction, turns his back on the extreme. Supplication is dead inside him. If someone searches for salvation, so it goes, and continues to live, one can’t be sure, one has to continue to plead. Hegel gained, living, salvation, killed supplication, mutilated himself. He left behind only the handle of a shovel, a modern man. But before mutilating himself, without doubt he touched the extreme, knew supplication: his memory carried him to the abyss he had perceived so he could annul it. The system is annulation. [EI, 56]
ps - I just saw that Nicole has written two new posts at Rough Theory about Marx. As usual, they are revelatory. Go here.