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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: January ::
Re: Ideology Once Again
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0066.  Thursday, 16 January 1997.

(1)     From:   Jesus Cora <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 17:05:35 UTC+0100
        Subj:   SHK 8.0057  Re: Ideology Once Again

(2)     From:   Thomas Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 14:11:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0049  Re: Ideology Once Again

(3)     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 17:32:10 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Ideology Cnce Again


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jesus Cora <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 17:05:35 UTC+0100
Subject: Re: Ideology Once Again
Comment:        SHK 8.0057  Re: Ideology Once Again

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

Excuse my ignorance, but shouldn't we think that the economical structure
depends on the culture rather than the other way round, seeing culture as
exclusively based on economics? Or, that a culture is the interlacing and
interrelationship, confluence, etc. of different factors such as religion,
economics, climate, history, etc.? Are we not being quite narrow-minded on
considering the economic base as the Primum Mobile?

Yours in bewilderment,

J. Cora

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 14:11:22 -0500
Subject: 8.0049  Re: Ideology Once Again
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0049  Re: Ideology Once Again

Gabriel Egan writes:

> Culture
>practices are ALL the superstructural manifestations of an economic base.
>Ideology is only those superstructural manifestations of an economic base which
>are ESSENTIAL to the continuance of that economic base.

I want to explore some of my understanding of the contours of this minefield.
If this leads only to me conducting my education in public, I ask you to
forgive me.

My understanding of Gabriel Egan's position is that he regards ideology now not
as, in its older sense, a set of conscious political commitments, but as
something much deeper, something largely unconscious, something more like a
structure of unexamined beliefs and, lower down, of feelings, and, lowest of
all, as something like the grounding of the kind of beings we "perceive"
ourselves to be (in particular, the perception of ourselves as having
"individuality"). This has the consequence of making all deliberately embraced
political positions something other than ideology except insofar as they serve
to maintain a means of production.  Marxist beliefs are non-ideological in
Britain, but presumably WERE ideological in the former Soviet Union. This is
rather odd.

Consider the following example: Last week I went to the store to buy a shirt to
teach in, as my old ones were looking rather frayed. In order to do this, I had
to go to my bank machine and get out some money from my bank account. When I
got to the store (a discount store) I found myself with a choice between two
shirts I liked. One bore the label "Made in Indonesia", the other "Made in the
U.S.A." with a tag from the Garment Workers' Union. Since I disapprove of the
labor practices of the textile industry in Indonesia and applaud the Garment
Workers Unoin in the US, I bought the latter shirt, though it was very slightly
more expensive.

Which parts of my actions are covered by Egan's description of ideology? Oddly
enough, it would seem that everything EXCEPT my decision to buy the Union-made
shirt are so. My perception of myself as an individual with a specific need
(for a shirt to perform my function as a teacher), my "ownership" of an
individual bank account from which I can withdraw money through my PIN number,
my choice of a discount shirt store. Perhaps my taste in shirts is not, or
perhaps it is in some way I dont recognize, that has to do with my commitments
to presenting a certain image of myself -as- an individual. But my decision as
to WHICH shirt was not ideological at all, on the Egan model, no doubt because
it really was superfluous to my "essential" relation to contemporary
capitalism. Am I alone in finding this peculiar?  It is the only moment of my
day that if felt anything like a political pressure to make a deliberate
choice. Is ideology now entirely a matter of what one does not think? (Until
some truth teller tells one about it)

I still have a problem distinguishing Culture from Ideology. Is it only as an
individual labourer and consumer that I am an ideological subject? Not as an
individual worshipper or husband? Is it only when my perception of myself as
distinct from the next person is mobilized as -economic- that ideology takes
place? Or is it in the BASIC perception of my separateness as a functioning
organism? Or somewhere between? (Where?) Mr. Egan's recent definitions of
ideology have left me with the impression that its workings reach so deep down
into my consciousness that they could not possibly be separated out as distinct
elements from the rest of my commitments to the culture(s) I inhabit.  Now I am
told that they can be so separated into the ESSENTIALLY economic and the
somehow merely superstructural.  That seems to me an entirely different claim.
When an economic base manifests itself in a superstructure in some way
"essential" to its maintenance, we have ideology. OK.  But where and how is the
"essentially" economic separated out in this winnowing way? Is it always the
same for all of us? Or does the ideology of a priest differ from that of a
prostitute? Are there "levels" of ideology? Are some ideologies more
ideological, more essential than others?

Important issues that bear on and spring from a philosophy of mind are being
ignored here. At these deeper levels the question of how minds are formed, how
they perceive themselves and their needs, what the relation of biological,
psychological and sociological conditions might be needs to be confronted.
Perhaps (as Darwin might have argued) the perception of oneself as an
individual is deeply basic to human functioning in a way precedent to politics.
I think Mr. Egan would deny this, but there are powerful arguments in its
favour. That is to say that we need a more careful account of how such
perceptions of self and need are formed, taken up and organized in political
communities in different ways. The current accounts of ideology dont seem to me
sufficiently supple to do that yet.

Tom Bishop

P.S. Almost any historical moment can be described as "pre-revolutionary" if
you look hard and long enough. We still read Plato and Homer -- were they
pre-revolutionary? Of course, and also, of course not.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 17:32:10 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Ideology Cnce Again

I would be interested in knowing which educational system Gabriel Egan is
thinking of that now teaches Shakespeare on the assumption that he "helps the
formation of strong character, moral rectitude, and good taste" (SHK 8.0037, 11
Jan 97).

This idea about the moral value of literature of course exists throughout
history, and in one form or another it has probably motivated one part or
another of the pre-university teaching of literature in many countries, but
it's not the only idea behind the teaching of Shakespeare to children and
adolescents, or even the dominant one. It's certainly one that is seldom
mentioned, because it is, as Egan recognizes, easily refuted, though for other
reasons in addition to those that Egan perhaps envisages.

But ironically, the idea that the reading of literature should be morally
improving--made so either by the approaches we take to the literature or by the
choice of texts--is perhaps more characteristic of current, fashionable
critical dispensations than it ever was of the more "traditional" set of ideas
about literature that have shaped and continued to shape pre-university
teaching.

One large idea that certainly guided my own pre-university education in
Ontario, and that shapes the curriculum within which I teach in Quebec's  CEGEP
system, is that the study of great literature offers not moral improvement but
pleasure, a difficult pleasure as intellectual as it is visceral.  Another
guiding idea is that literature, because of its complexity, ambiguity, and
inscrutability--its openness to certain ranges of interpretation --and the
varied stylistic and rhythmic excellences to be found in the writings of
diverse literary artists--is an essential part of the development of a
student's reading and writing skills.  Both ideas loom larger in my program
than any idea of moral improvement (which figures not at all), and are even, as
they should be, antagonistic to it.

Paul Hawkins
 

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