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Chapter 5 Literature and Ideology
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Representation and Figuration in Verne's Mysterious Island

Macherey puts his method to work in an extended essay on Jules Verne's Mysterious Island (Macherey 1978, 159-240). He demonstrates how a contradiction emerges from the ideological materials and processes that constitute Verne's text, a contradiction between represen-


tation (the "ideological project" or what the text "wants" to show: in this case, the human conquest of nature) and figuration (the "fable" of the text itself, what it effectively does show by means of images, objects, places, and attitudes). At the level of manifest content, Verne's work attempts to represent the ideology of the colonizing French bourgeoisie of the Third Republic as a linear narrative of progress: a scientific voyage, overcoming obstacles to penetrate and dominate nature's extremities. This vision of direct and certain progress through the heroic conquest of nature by humanity is, at any rate, how the project of a colonizing bourgeoisie "tells itself." However, Macherey argues, in Verne's works something happens to the narrative such that, on the level of figuration, this ideology is "told" in a way that limits it and reveals its internal contradictions. The two otherwise coherent levels of representation and figuration are rendered incompatible, and in the passage from the first to the second the ideological theme undergoes a "complete modification": the futuristic novel turns into a retrospective narrative; the initial forward-looking project of conquest dissolves into a repetition of the past (the explorers always find they are following the path of one who has gone before them); the myth of genesis, the island as origin, becomes a loss of origins and a return to the father; liberating, technological mastery of "virgin" territory by "humanity" obliquely draws attention to an excluded portion of humanity, the island's "natives"; and so on.

Linking Verne's work to the "myth of origins" of the Robinson Crusoe legend—which masks the real history of colonialism—Macherey emphasizes how the text undermines the myth by presupposing the real history that it suppresses. Verne does not, Macherey argues, oppose this myth of origin by recording the real history of colonization or by "reflecting" the latent contradictions inscribed within its ideology. Because ideology masks its contradictions, they can be revealed only from without, and thus Macherey insists it is only by "putting the ideology to work" that Verne is able to put it into contradiction: only through the mechanisms of production inherent in literary practice is the seamless web of ideology rent asunder. The literary text achieves its "truth" by putting ideology to work, which in turn creates a tension between project and realization—the incapacity of the text to maintain the discursive task it had assigned itself.

At the source of ideology we find an attempt at reconciliation. Also, by definition, ideology is in its way coherent, a coherence which is indefinite if not imprecise, which is not sustained by any real deduction. In this case, the


discord is not in ideology but in its relation with that which limits it. An ideology can be put into contradiction : it is futile to denounce the presence of a contradiction in ideology. Also, the ideological project given to Jules Verne constitutes a level of representation which is relatively homogeneous and consistent, linked internally by a kind of analogical rigour; the flaw is not to be sought in the project. Similarly, the inventory of images and their insertion into the chosen fable is in itself perfectly consistent. Verne begins with an ideology of science which he makes into a mythology of science: both the ideology and the mythology are irreproachable in their authority. It is the path which leads from the one to the other which must be questioned: it is in this in between , which . . . has its marked place in the work, that a decisive encounter occurs. In the passage from the level of representation to that of figuration, ideology undergoes a complete modification —as though, in a critical reversal of the gaze, it were no longer seen from within but from the outside: not from its illusory and absent center . . . but from the limits which hold it in check and impose upon it a certain shape by preventing it from being a different ideology or something other than ideology. (Macherey 1978, 194)

It is clear that the work does not "reproduce" ideology in a way that would make its own contradictions reflect historical conditions. On the contrary, for Macherey the contradictions within the text are the product of the ideologically determined absence of such a reflection of real contradictions. According to Macherey, the work's problematical relationship to ideology produces its internal dissonances. In the text, ideology begins to speak of its absences and manifest its limits, not in the Lukácsian sense that the work's aesthetic powers allow it to over-reach ideological mediations and achieve a direct encounter with historical truth, but because, in transforming rather than merely reproducing ideology, the text necessarily illuminates the "not-said" that is the significant structure of what is said: "the literary work is simultaneously (and it is this conjunction which concerns us) a reflection and the absence of a reflection: this is why it is itself contradictory. It would therefore be incorrect to say that the contradictions of the work are the reflection of historical contradictions: rather they are the consequences of the absence of this reflection" (Macherey 1978, 128). As a mirror, the text is blind in certain respects, but it is a mirror for all its blindness. "In this sense literature can be called a mirror: in displacing objects it retains their reflection. It projects its thin surface on to the work and history. It passes through them and breaks them. In its train arise the images" (Macherey 1978, 135).

For Macherey, the problem of criticism is to meet a double exigency, to conceptualize the relative autonomy of the literary text (its irreducibility to other signifying practices) without losing sight of its determi-


nate production (its dependence on other ideological practices and real historical conditions). The concept of literature as ideological production serves this purpose admirably. It allows a critical inquiry that avoids the twin pitfalls of accepting the text as "spontaneously available" (the empiricist fallacy) or replacing the text by a model or a meaning (the normative and interpretive fallacies). By placing the theory of literary production outside the text in the domain of the science of history—specifically, within the region of ideological practice—literature as a theoretical object becomes possible. However, A Theory of Literary Production is not without certain serious problems. One deficiency, noted by Claude Bouché (1981), is that, despite its title, the book specifies the general conditions of literary practice, or rather its principle, instead of the material aspect of its production, the totality of its objective determinations. This is a serious omission, but one that is readily correctable. A more serious flaw, in my opinion, stems from the monolithic and unified view of ideology on which so much of the book's conceptual development rests. Ideology, Macherey insists, "cannot sustain a contradictory debate, for ideology exists precisely in order to efface all trace of contradiction" (Macherey 1978, 131). Such a view may be justly accused of failing to properly differentiate the dominant ideology from other, rival ideologies; moreover, it fails to recognize the contradictory nature of interpellation itself—the internal tension against which even the dominant ideology is always struggling and which makes of all ideology a force not only for the reproduction of the existing relations of production but for their transformation as well.

From such a monolithic view of ideology, and the corresponding notion that only a second-level discourse such as literature may be said to be contradictory, it is a relatively short step to reducing ordinary ideology to a "false" discourse and raising literary discourse to a negative analogue of "truth." In this way Macherey slips subtly from the idea of literature as a production of ideology to the idea that this distancing, this mise-en-scène, is necessarily and automatically subversive, and from this view into a negative reflectionism: what the text doesn't say is true, and what it does say is false. The question of truth or falsity, authenticity or inauthenticity, is not the issue. Ideology may agree or disagree with what science says about a certain fact or event, but as we have shown, this is not its point, nor is it the point of literary discourse. Just as surely as it can subvert an existing ideology, a text can underwrite it, reproduce it, impoverish it, or revitalize it, yet these capacities find no place in Macherey's framework.

While retaining the concept of the text as an ideological production,


we must also acknowledge the fact that not all texts are thrown, invariably, into internal disarray by their relation to ideology; we must acknowledge as well the fact that a literary text, like any ideology, may contain "true" as well as "false" elements. It is one of the advances of Eagleton's Criticism and Ideology to have pointed out that literary texts work sometimes with and sometimes against the historically mutable valences of the ideological formation: "finding itself able to admit one ideological element in relatively unprocessed form but finding therefore the need to displace or recast another . . . the text disorders ideology to produce an internal order which may then occasion fresh disorder both in itself (as an ideological production) and in the ideology" (Eagleton 1976, 99). Such a complex movement cannot be adequately captured by a formulation that insists that the literary text reproduces the structure of ideology, either positively or negatively. The literary text can be grasped, Eagleton insists, only as a "ceaseless reciprocal operation of text on ideology and ideology on text, a mutual structuring and de-structuring in which the text constantly overdetermines its own determinations. The structure of the text is then the product of this process, not the reflection of its ideological environs" (Eagleton 1976, 99).

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Chapter 5 Literature and Ideology
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