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Chapter 5 Literature and Ideology
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Macherey and Eagleton: Literary Discourse as Ideological Practice

Let us now return to the problem of literary discourse. If it is true that both the work of art, in our case a literary text, and ordinary ideological discourse rely on the representation-meaning effect of the subject-form and not on scientific knowledge, it does not follow that we are unable to distinguish between them. In the first work of Structural Marxist criticism, A Theory of Literary Production , Pierre Macherey introduces distinctions between discourses of illusion, fiction, and theory, which roughly correspond to those we have put forward as ideological, literary, and scientific. Fictional discourse, Macherey contends, is based on the discourse of illusion but is not simply the expression of the latter (its mise-en-mots ); it is rather an independent production of the language of illusion (its mise-en-scène ): "The text is not a tissue of illusions which has to be merely unravelled if we wish to understand its power. An illusion that has been set to work becomes more than just an illusion, more than a mere deception. It is an illusion interrupted, realized , completely transformed" (Macherey 1978, 62).

In Criticism and Ideology , Terry Eagleton expresses the relationship between literature and ideology in the following way:

The text . . . is a certain production of ideology, for which the analogy of a dramatic production is in some way appropriate. A dramatic production does not "express," "reflect" or "reproduce" the dramatic text upon which it is based; it "produces" the text, transforming it into a unique and irreducible entity. A dramatic production is not to be judged by its fidelity to the text, in the sense that a mirror-image can be judged faithfully to reflect the object; text and production are not commensurable formations to be laid alongside one another, their distance or relation measured as one measures the distance between two physical objects. Text and production are incommensurate because they inhabit distinct real and theoretical spaces. (Eagleton 1976, 64)

Art is, in relation to ideology, a production of a production, or as Eagleton puts it, "ideology to the second power." For our part, this notion of "ideology to the second power" captures precisely the difference between literary discourse and ordinary discourse that Pêcheux fails to specify. Pêcheux does speak of the poetic mise-en-scène as the purest form of "presence," that is, the purest example of the ideological form of discourse, but he fails to go on to distinguish between this "purest" form and ordinary discourse in a way that Eagleton's formu-


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lation permits, even though it is precisely the mise-en-scène quality that constitutes the difference. If in ordinary discourse intradiscourse "forgets" its determination by interdiscourse and instead, simulates-forgets interdiscourse in intradiscourse, literary discourse takes the process one step further. Literature (like art generally) takes over the mechanism of ordinary meaning as its own interdiscourse and "puts it to work" in a new process of articulation-intradiscourse that duplicates the "forgetting" mechanism of ordinary meaning but on a different and higher level. As a result, literary discourse is, as discourse, one degree removed from the original preconstructed "self-evidentness" of meaning and thereby purports to speak of the real, not immediately or "directly" as is the case with ordinary discourse, but indirectly, as a different type of discourse—that is, as fiction.

In much the same way that ordinary discourse assumes the "freedom" of the speaking subject, literary discourse assumes "freedom" from the factual world of subjects. This relative autonomy of aesthetic discourse accounts for the fact that aesthetic images are bound to the totality of the work of art for their effect and cannot be transferred from one discourse to another without breaking the second-level "thread of discourse" that gives them meaning. "The components fused in the literary text," Macherey explains, "can have no independent reality . . . they are bound to a specific context which defines the only horizon with respect to which they can be read. It is within the framework of the particular book that they gain their power of suggestion and become representative: they are impoverished by any kind of displacement" (Macherey 1978, 56). Of course, this second-level discourse continues to speak by means of images, that is, representation-meaning, but it is no longer the same representation-meaning, nor does it have the same effect. At the ordinary, everyday level of discursive practice, the representation-meaning effect of ideology aims at direct, relatively precise communication between subjects; at the aesthetic or literary level, however, the representation-meaning effect is more ambiguous, more symbolic in nature. Because the reality it evokes is always already ideological, literary discourse elicits a recognition from the reader, a "reality effect" that is experientially valid and communicable, but because this reality effect is a second-order ideological production, it is also one of distancing and disorientation. An ambiguity, in other words, is introduced into the intersubjectivity of discourse by literature (and art generally), an ambiguity called the "alienation effect" (Verfremdungseffekt ) by Brecht and "defamiliarization" (ostra-


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nenie ) by Shklovskii. By means of its distancing mechanisms—mechanisms that are objectively there in the text and not simply an effect of its reception—literary discourse achieves the effect, noted by Althusser, that makes us "see," "feel," and "perceive" in ways different from those of ordinary discourse. At the same time, its effect differs from that of scientific discourse, for, unlike scientific discourse, literary discourse is addressed to us and relies on our ideological experience of the world as subjects. Because it participates, so to speak, in our subjective reality, that is, because it is of the same ideological nature as our experience, literature appears, despite its elusiveness and ambiguity, more real to us than science does. "Unlike science, literature appropriates the real as it is given in ideological forms, but it does so in a way which produces an illusion of the spontaneously, immediately real," Eagleton explains. "It is thus more removed from the real than science, yet it appears closer to it" (Eagleton 1976, 101).

The literary text also appears to take on a critical function with respect to ideology. Literary discourse, Macherey notes, "gives an implicit critique of its ideological content, if only because it resists being incorporated into the flow of ideology in order to give a determinate representation of it" (Macherey 1978, 64). This "determinate representation" is itself ideological, of course, but because of the peculiar nature of literary discourse, its blatantly advertised illusionary quality has been frequently mistaken for a higher truth. Even when correctly identified, as, for example, by the Russian Formalists, the nature of literary production has often been detached from the material world and assigned an independent existence determined exclusively by its own internal laws. The major advance of Macherey and Eagleton over the Russian Formalists has been their ability to link the mechanism of "estrangement" to the material world—not in the mode of a reflection, the traditional Marxist explanation, but in the mode of a production. For Structural Marxism, history "enters" the text not directly but indirectly; it enters the text as ideology, in Eagleton's words, "as a presence determined and distorted by its measurable absences." The text, Eagleton continues, takes as its object, "not the real, but certain significations by which the real lives itself," and within the text itself, "ideology becomes a dominant structure, determining the character and disposition of certain 'pseudo-real' constituents" (Eagleton 1976, 72).

For Macherey and Eagleton, the literary text, produced by a discursive articulation that takes ideological discourse as its preconstructed, has as its signified not reality but rather an ideological "pseudo-reality,"


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which is the imaginary situation that the text is "about." This pseudo-real is not directly correlated with the historical real; it is rather an effect or aspect of the text's whole discursive process. Certain literary genres, the realistic novel, for example, may appear to approach the real more closely than do others, say, lyric poetry; however, the difference between the two is not fundamental. Both the realistic novel and the lyric poem refer to certain modes of ideological signification rather than to a real object. Taking Bleak House as an example, Eagleton argues that while "Dickens deploys particular modes of signification (realism) which entail a greater foregrounding of the 'pseudo-real' . . . we should not be led by this to make direct comparisons between the imaginary London of his novel and the real London. The imaginary London of Bleak House exists as the product of a representational process which signifies, not 'Victorian England' as such, but certain of Victorian England's ways of signifying itself" (Eagleton 1976, 77). This relationship holds, I would add, not only for realism and lyric poetry but for all literary production, including the modern novel, which, while foregrounding its techniques in a way antithetical to the realist novel, continues nonetheless to rely on the same general mode of producing signification through its discourse.

While the text cannot be conceived as independent of ideology (and thus of history), this dependence does not imply that it has no relative autonomy with respect to ordinary, everyday ideological representation-meaning. Indeed, because it is a production of ideology and not its reflection, the literary text may actively extend and elaborate ideology as well as reproduce it. It is also capable of becoming a constituent element of ideological self-reproduction, even though the literary text "defines, operates and constitutes that ideology in ways unpremeditated, so to speak, by ideology itself" (Eagleton 1976, 80). In short, literary practice is both limited and relatively autonomous with respect to other ideological structures. It is limited, in the last instance, by ideology much as the dramatic production is limited, in the last instance, by the dramatic text. Being a production of ideology and not its reflection, the literary text has the capacity, in Althusser's words, to "make us see (but not know) in some sense from the inside , by an internal distance , the very ideology in which it is held" (Althusser 1971, 222). In contrast to Lukács, Goldmann, and all forms of reflectionism based on mirror images, homologies, or typicality, Structural Marxist criticism insists that literature never gives us access to real history but only to the ideology by which history presents itself as "lived experience."


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This is not an unimportant attribute, however. Because art and literature are grounded, through ideology, in real history, they may perform, as Ernst Bloch forcefully insists, an anticipatory and creatively utopian function—representing the as yet unrealized potential of the past and pre-figuring real possibilities from the present to the future. Conversely, works of art and literary texts are rich historical documents; because they are grounded in a determinate ideological instance, they are invaluable indices of the social formations from which they emerged.

According to Althusser, the basic distinction between art and science is not a function of their respective subject matter: "art does not deal with a reality peculiar to itself, with a peculiar domain of reality in which it has a monopoly whereas science deals with a different domain of reality" (Althusser 1971, 223). If this were the case, not only would it be impossible to examine literary texts as documents produced under determinate conditions in concrete social formations, but it would also be impossible even to conceive the possibility of their existence—except perhaps as transcendent gifts of genius. It is much more plausible to argue, as Althusser does, that "the real difference between art and science" lies not in the different objects of their discourse but rather in "the specific form in which they give us the same object in different ways" (Althusser 1971, 223). Ultimately, for Althusser, this object is history, and the difference in form is that between images and concepts. Art and literature appropriate history as it is offered up as "lived experience" by other ideological practices. It produces and reproduces the world of lived experience in an independent discourse of images, but the history it represents remains imaginary because it negotiates only a particular ideological experience of real history. A historical novel, for example, may speak of real history, but it remains fictive—subject to the laws of textual production—even if it maintains a scrupulous accuracy with regard to the historical facts.

"Literature," Eagleton says, "is the most revealing mode of experiential access to ideology that we possess" (Eagleton 1976, 101). This is not to say, pace Lukács, that literature forces ideology against the wall of history and thereby reveals the truth lurking behind the facade—a view that reduces ideology to "falseness" and therefore not only mistakes the imaginary nature of the subject-form for an epistemological category but, even worse, implies that art is something like science, the product of science plus style. If art is linked to its social formation, it is not so by virtue of a correspondence to history or "typicality." For Structural Marxism, the insights that literature may provide are not a


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function of its truth value but of its mode of signification: "the truth of the text is not an essence but a practice—the practice of its relation to ideology, and in terms of that to history. On the basis of this practice, the text constitutes itself as a structure; it destructures ideology in order to reconstitute it on its own relatively autonomous terms, in order to process and recast it in aesthetic production, at the same time as it is itself destructured to variable degrees by the effect of ideology upon it" (Eagleton 1976, 98-99).

It is not a question of "authenticity," nor is it a question of a more "knowledgeable" text necessarily achieving more valuable perceptions. On the contrary, as Eagleton observes a propos the novels of Jane Austen, "their value thrives quite as much on their ignorance as on their insight: it is because there is so much the novels cannot possibly know that they know what they do in the form they do" (Eagleton 1976, 70-71). If literature is an index to history, it is because the illusion it produces is a determinate illusion. Even though literary discourse deforms and distances reality, it is not thereby the mere play of an illusion, an objectless message—"writing degree zero" in Barthes's famous phrase—whose substance is reducible to the internal codes that formulate and communicate it. It is the determinate nature of its signification process that permits the text to be a document for the science of history. "If the literary work can be seen as an ideological production to the second power, it is possible to see how that double production may, as it were, partly cancel itself out, invert itself back into an analogue of knowledge. For in producing ideological representations, the text reveals in peculiarly intense compacted and coherent form the categories from which these representations are produced" (Eagleton 1976, 85). The final step toward conceptualizing art as a discourse is to ground the work of art in its specific historical location, rendering its "illusion" into a particular determinate illusion and its "ideology" into a historically specific articulation of ideologies.


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Chapter 5 Literature and Ideology
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