Preferred Citation: Resch, Robert Paul. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

Chapter 5 Literature and Ideology

Chapter 5
Literature and Ideology

In 1966, one year before the spectacular appearance of Derrida's first three books, Pierre Macherey published his Theory of Literary Production (English translation, 1978). This work was already, in Terry Eagleton's words, a "fully-fledged piece of deconstructionist theory . . . violently dismembering texts . . . to discern within them certain symptomatic absences and aporia, those points at which texts begin to unravel themselves in ambiguous encounter[s] with their deceptively homogeneous power systems" (Eagleton 1981, 141). Macherey, Eagleton points out, refused the illusion of unified texts, sought to explore and explain the contradictions and aporia of literary discourse, and, most significantly, attempted to relate the production of literary discourse to its social context. However, Macherey's book had only a fraction of the impact of Derrida's work, especially in England and the United States. It is possible that the discrepancy was less a matter of politics than merit, Eagleton wryly observes, but the fact that Macherey was a member of the French Communist Party and that his book drew its inspiration directly from the work of Althusser undoubtedly had a negative effect on the book's reception. The discourse that Macherey sets out to deconstruct was labeled "ideological" rather than "logocentric," a materialist emphasis considerably less acceptable in Anglo-American critical circles than was the postmodern iconoclasm of Derrida. Despite its comparative obscurity, however, Macherey's book has proven to be an influential text. It was the point of departure for a small


but significant body of work, produced in England and France, that has investigated cultural phenomena (primarily literature and film) using Althusser's ideology as a starting point. The result has been a new concept of the nature and function of art and an innovative approach to criticism and the history of literature. This new approach is based on the twofold character of ideological practice as formulated by Althusser: its representational mechanisms and cognitive effects, and its material inscription in determinate institutions and practices whose primary function is interpelling subjects and inculcating a practical relation of savoir faire between subjects and certain privileged objects.

Macherey's book focuses on the former aspect. A Theory of Literary Production is concerned with literature as an objectively distinct form of discourse and with the analysis of literature with respect to its formal mechanisms and its ideological nature. Macherey's view of literature underwent a significant change after Althusser's 1967 lectures, Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists , and the publication of "Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses" in 1968. Aligning himself with the more empirical approach to nineteenth-century French literature and linguistic practices developed by Renée Balibar and her associates in Les français fictifs (1974) and Le français national (1974), for which he coauthored the theoretical introductions, Macherey rejected his earlier objectivist concept of literature in favor of a relativist view that identified literature—the category of the literary—on and with class-based ideologies of reception and the interpellation process of the schools. In apparent contrast to the trajectory of Macherey's development, British critic Terry Eagleton published, in 1976, an important theoretical work entitled Criticism and Ideology , which drew on, criticized, and extended Macherey's initial problematic. In the same year, French philosopher and linguist Michel Pêcheux published Language, Semantics, and Ideology (English translation, 1982), a study of language as a discursive practice that lent further credibility to the project of building on, rather than abandoning, the conceptual framework of Macherey's first book. In short, two tendencies are at work within the Structural Marxist camp, corresponding, more or less, to the two responses to Althusser's critique of the theoreticism of For Marx and Reading Capital . In addition to surveying both of these tendencies, I will argue that the apparent conflict between them—that is, between a theory of literary production and a theory of literary reception—is pernicious and unwarranted.[1]


Pêcheux: The Concept of Discursive Practice

In his "Letter on Art in Reply to André Daspre" (in Althusser 1971), Althusser speaks of the peculiarity of art in terms of its ability to "make us see, make us perceive, make us feel something which alludes to reality. . . . What art makes us see, and therefore gives to us in the form of 'seeing,' 'perceiving,' and 'feeling' (which is not the form of knowing ) is the ideology from which it is born, in which it bathes, from which it detaches itself as art, and to which it alludes" (Althusser 1971, 222). For Althusser, art is thoroughly ideological; it is a form of ideological practice, grounded in the immediate, lived experience of subjects, yet somehow different from this ideological background. At the same time, the way art "alludes" to its ideological materials is clearly distinct from the way science perceives them. Unfortunately Althusser's terminology is vague, and terms such as seeing, perceiving, knowing , and alludes raise questions that must be answered before his argument can be assessed. Restricting myself to the specific example of literature, I will attempt to develop Althusser's insights in a more rigorous fashion.

Perhaps the proper place to begin is with the problem of discourse itself. Literature "alludes" but doesn't "know," Althusser contends, yet it nonetheless makes us "see, feel, and perceive." The possibility of such a paradox results, presumably, from two sets of differences, the difference between ideological discourse and scientific discourse on the one hand and the difference between literary discourse and other types of ideological discourses on the other. Michel Pêcheux, in Language, Semantics, and Ideology , undertakes what he calls a materialist theory of discourse, which is both a Structural Marxist critique of the dominant forms of contemporary linguistics and an attempt to specify the interrelationship between language and its social environment.[2] Pêcheux focuses on the semantic element of linguistic practice because, in his opinion, semantics is a source of contradiction for both Saussurean linguistics and Chomskyan "generative grammar": Saussurean linguistics is unable to explain historical changes to the linguistic system (langue ), the relation of this system to the social formation as a complex whole, the nature of individual utterance (parole ), or the existence of the subject who speaks; Chomsky's generative grammar attempts to derive all semantic possibilities from syntactic "deep structures," but this move eliminates social factors altogether. We cannot pursue the details of Pêcheux's critique here; however, his proposal for a new theory of discourses, discursive practices, and discursive formations and his discussion of the relation of these to the "subject-form" and the


interpellation of subjects are essential to our investigation of ideological, scientific, and literary discourses.

The major difficulty with existing approaches to these problems, Pêcheux observes, is their uncritical assumption of a pre-given subject who speaks. The self-evidentness of the subject, which Pêcheux identifies as the "spontaneous philosophy of linguists," must be rejected in favor of analyses of the "subject-form (and specifically the subject of discourse) as a determinate effect of a process without a subject" (Pêcheux 1982, 51). To accomplish this task, Pêcheux makes a distinction between discourse (semantic elements) and language (syntax, enunciation). Discourse presupposes language but is not determined by it; discourse is rather a function of historical determinations on semantic processes. As a discursive practice, language (like any ideological practice) does not have its source in the speaking subject; rather, it finds its product in individuals constituted as speaking subjects. Discourse, in other words, interpellates subjects, and it is this insight that informs Pêcheux's investigation of the subject-effect of language and the possibility and nature of meaning. "All my work," Pêcheux explains, "links the constitution of meaning to that of the constitution of the subject which is located in the figure of interpellation" (Pêcheux 1982, 101). For Pêcheux, ideology supplies the self-evidentness of meaning—while at the same time masking the relationship of meaning and interpellation by means of the "transparency" of language.

The "material character of meaning" is a function of what Pêcheux calls discursive formations and interdiscourse . He offers the following two theses by way of explanation:

1. The first consists of the proposition that the meaning of a word, expression, proposition, etc., does not exist "in itself" . . . but is determined by the ideological positions brought into play in the socio-historical process in which words, expressions and propositions are produced. . . . [W ]ords, expressions, propositions, etc. change their meaning according to the positions held by those who use them , which signifies that they find their meaning by reference to those positions, i.e., by reference to the ideological formations . . . in which those positions are inscribed. . . . I shall call a discursive formation that which in a given ideological formation, i.e., from a given position in a given conjuncture determined by the state of the class struggle, determines "what can and should be said. " . . . I shall say that individuals are "interpellated" as speaking-subjects (as subjects of their discourse) by the discursive formations which represent "in language" the ideological formations that correspond to them.

2. Every discursive formation, by the transparency of the meaning constituted in it, conceals its dependence on the "complex whole in dominance " of discursive formations, itself imbricated with the complex of ideological


formations . . . I propose to call this "complex whole in dominance" of discursive formation "interdiscourse," with the qualification that it too is subject to the law of unevenness-contradiction-subordination . . . characterizing the complex of ideological formations. (Pêcheux 1982, 111-13)

The interpellation of subjects is realized within interdiscourse by means of two mechanisms that Pêcheux identifies as preconstruction and articulation . The preconstructed corresponds to the "always already there" quality characteristic of all ideological interpellation. Ideology interpellates the individual as the subject of discourse, yet the interpellation is impenetrable to the subject, who appears to himself or herself as always already a subject. Pêcheux calls this the "Munchausen effect" after the immortal baron, who proposed to extricate himself from a swamp by pulling on his own hair. The preconstructed element of discursive practice is always already there, Pêcheux contends, because it is a function of interdiscourse itself and not of any particular discourse.

It is the preconstructed element in discourse that creates the subject's identification with himself. The second element, articulation, creates the relationship of the subject to other subjects and to the Subject. Articulation, for Pêcheux, refers to the linear system of discourse: the system of co-references that clarify the operation of discourse with respect to itself (what I am saying now in relation to what I said before) such that a "thread of discourse" is established as the discourse of a subject and, as such, is recognizable by other subjects. Because this is an operation of discourse in relation to itself, Pêcheux refers to it as intradiscourse . Intradiscourse, he explains, "crosses and connects together" the discursive elements constituted by preconstruction which are the raw material, the primary stuff of discourse. However, the mechanisms of this process are such that the primacy of the preconstituted is reversed; rather than appearing as determined by interdiscourse, intradiscourse "forgets" this determination and appears autonomous. "The subject-form (by which the subject of discourse identifies with the discursive formation that forms him) tends to absorb-forget interdiscourse in intradiscourse, i.e., it simulates interdiscourse in intradiscourse" (Pêcheux 1982, 117). As a result of this simulation, what should be at issue, namely, the stable identity of the subject (or other referents), comes to be guaranteed by the thread of the discourse that connects them.

By all of these mechanisms, discourse simultaneously produces an identification of the subject with himself or herself and an identification of the subject with the other subjects. Pêcheux refers to these identifi-


cations as the subject effect and the inter-subjectivity effect wherein, respectively, the subject is self-evident, and individual subjects recognize and ratify one another as a mirror image guarantees the existence of the reflected object. Thus discourse masks its own determinative action under the guise of the autonomy of the subject. Subjects cannot recognize their subordination to the Subject because this subordination-subjection is realized in subjects in the form of autonomy: the freedom of speaking subjects to say whatever they want. It is in this way that in language, as in other ideological practices, the process without a subject creates-constitutes-realizes the subject: the subject is created by "forgetting" the determinations by which he or she is produced.

We may now return to our original question concerning the distinctions between literary, scientific, and ideological discourses and reformulate the question more precisely in terms of the subject-form. If ordinary discourse, the basic everyday form of ideological discourse, operates in the manner we have just discussed, how does it differ from literary and scientific discourses? With regard to the first, it is certain that literary discourse is also deeply indebted to the coincidence between the subject and self and between the subject and other subjects. Indeed, Pêcheux goes so far as to argue that literary fiction represents "the pure idealist form" of the subject effect and that the "novelistic effect of presence finds its origin in the subject-form and, as a result of it, is able to mask the materiality of aesthetic production" (Pêcheux 1982, 119). However, despite its reliance on the subject-form, literary discourse remains distinguishable from ordinary discourse by virtue of the fact that it is a second level of discourse—one that assumes the basic preconstruction-articulation relation of ordinary ideological discourse and produces another new discourse from it. What Pêcheux's remarks fail to make clear is the process whereby ordinary discourse becomes, as it were, the preconstructed for this new discourse, the "always already there" of literature, which is "forgotten" in the very "creative" process which is its effect. As in the case of ordinary discourse, this invisibility leaves its mark, what Derrida calls its "trace," but the shadow of this absence falls somewhere outside literary discourse. This explains why even the most self-conscious and determined of literatures, Brecht, for example, cannot break the illusion of presence at its fundamental level, the level of the subject-form. At most it is able only to break with or undermine presence at the second level, the level of literary discourse itself, while relying even more strongly on the illusion of presence at the first level in order to achieve this effect.

We shall return to literary discourse shortly, but perhaps things will


be clearer if we turn for a moment to scientific discourse. If, as Althusser claims, ideology has no outside for itself, how can it be, as he further contends, nothing but outside for science? What can a scientific discourse be? Pêcheux's method excludes several unsatisfactory approaches: the use of the subject form to break out of subjective discourse either by an individual effort (Husserl) or by a collective one (Habermas); the use of symbolic logic to guarantee absolute knowledge either positively (Carnap, the Vienna Circle) or negatively (through falsifiability, as in Popper); treating scientific discourse pragmatically as the most convenient ideology at a given moment and in a given circumstance, convenience being posited in the form either of a "game" (Wittgenstein) or a "paradigm" sanctioned by the consensus of scientists (Kuhn). Pêcheux contends that the concept of the epistemological break, taken in conjunction with Althusser's thesis that all practice takes place through subjects and therefore in ideology, provides the point of departure for an alternative explanation.

At the level of the history of science(s), Pêcheux asks, how is it that science emerges from the historical process? He begins with the recognition that there is no pre-scientific "state of nature" where knowledge effects are completely absent from the field of discourse (Pêcheux 1982, 129-37). However, "what is peculiar to the knowledges (empirical, descriptive, etc.) prior to the break in a given epistemological field is the fact that they remain inscribed in the subject-form, i.e., they exist in the form of a meaning evident to the subjects who are its historical supports, through the historical transformations that affect that meaning. The result of this for discursivity . . . is that, this being so, the knowledge effect coincides with a meaning effect inscribed in the operations of a discursive formation . . . that constitutes it" (Pêcheux 1982, 136). The historical process that opens up the conjuncture of an epistemological break is characterized by Pêcheux as the gradual formation of a "block" such that, within the complex of a particular discursive formation, the identity of knowledge and meaning no longer "works." Contradictions within this identity accumulate and begin to repeat themselves in a circular manner until "the very structure of the subject-form (with its circular relation of subject/object) becomes the visible 'limit' of the process" (Pêcheux 1982, 136). In short, the historical moment of the break inaugurating a particular science is necessarily accompanied by a challenge to the subject-form and the "evidentness" of meaning that is part of it. "What is specific to every break is . . . that it inaugurates, in a particular epistemological field, a relationship be-


tween 'thought' and the real in which what is thought is not, as such, supported by a subject" (Pêcheux 1982, 137).

It is the absence of the subject-form that distinguishes scientific concepts from ideological representations (or "meaning" in the strict sense of an articulation between preconstituted subjects). Concepts of science do not have a meaning for Pêcheux; rather, they have a function in a process without a subject of meaning or knowledge. "In the conceptual process of knowledge, the determination of the real and its necessity, a necessity independent of thought, is materialized in the form of an articulated body of concepts which at once exhibits and suspends the 'blind' action of this same determination as subject effect (centering-origin-meaning)" (Pêcheux 1982, 137). This is what Althusser implies when he characterizes scientific practice as a process without a subject. This result is startling at first, for Pêcheux seems to be denying the existence of scientific discourse—at least in the sense of a discourse between the subjects of science. Of course, he does not deny that scientists as well as others discourse about science, that is, speak "scientifically," and communicate knowledge effects. They do so, however, only on the condition of returning to the discourse of the subject-form, the essential condition of all discourse. However, the appropriation of concepts by discourse introduces a contradiction into the latter, what Pêcheux calls disidentification . Disidentification is not the abolition of the subject-form, which is impossible, but a "transformation-displacement" of this form; in effect, disidentification is an interpellation of a new type. The ideological mechanism of interpellation does not disappear, of course—there is no "end of ideology" as a result of science—but it does begin to operate in reverse, on and against itself, through the "overthrow-rearrangement" of the complex of ideological formations and the discursive formations that are imbricated with them. In short, Pêcheux maintains that the appropriation of scientific concepts by the subject-form tends to undermine ideological identification in a way that other ideological discourses, for example, literature, cannot since they are trapped within a field of representation-meaning constituted by and for the subject-form.

We should not, Pêcheux cautions, conclude that the process of disidentification occurs automatically or necessarily: "The disidentification effect inherent in the subjective appropriation of knowledges is achieved in different ways (and may in the limit case not be achieved at all) according to the nature of the discursive formation which provides this effect with its raw material" (Pêcheux 1982, 163). Since no subject


can be established by science, where representation-meaning is suspended, the conflict between identification and its opposite always takes place in ideology and, in theoretical form, in philosophy. Precisely because of the natures of science and ideology, science can never break with ideology "in general" but only and always with a specific ideology. Furthermore, this break inaugurates a continuous struggle that is never over or won. At the level of discursive practices, the subjective appropriation of scientific concepts is continually threatened by the subject-form of discourse and by the ideological apparatuses that interpellate all social subjects.

The conceptual-experimental (scientific) operation, [which] in forms specific to each branch of the production of knowledges materializes necessity-real as necessity-thought (and to that extent locally forecloses meaning and the subject-form), never exists "in a pure state," in a form disjunct from its notional-ideological counterpart. Consequently the appropriation of the real by thought cannot consist of a de-subjectification of the subject, but presupposes a work of subjective appropriation in and on the subject-form, i.e., amongst other determinations in and on the subject-form of discourse. (Pêcheux 1982, 191)

The ideological effect of conceptual knowledge consists, then, of an interpellation, but of a distinct and different type since it works to undermine existing interpellations, at least locally, at the level of discursive practice itself. We must keep in mind that contradictions at the discursive level are neither the most important contradictions on which the possibility of social change hinges, nor are they the only contradictions at work within the social formation or even in the ideological instance. If they are arguably the most fundamental contradictions, in the sense that all social practice rests on the subject-form, they are nonetheless overdetermined by other relations, in the last instance by struggles between classes. The complex, overdetermined nature of interpellation explains why its "success" in subjugating the individual to the status quo can never be complete even at the level of discourse. The uneven development of ideological interpellation produces new contradictions at the same time that it reproduces the contradictions of the existing relations of domination. This is why ideology must be defined in terms of the transformation as well as the reproduction of social relations and why the conflict between identification and disidentification in discourse, like all ideological conflicts, is determined by relations of power outside its local terrain.


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-


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-


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,"


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."


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


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.

Macherey: Scientific Criticism and the Question of the Text

In A Theory of Literary Production , Macherey attempts to develop a scientific literary criticism in the form of a realist and materialist concept of literary practice. Such a criticism, he insists, must address two basic questions: the question of what the work says and "the question of the question," that is, what the text does not say and why. The first


question reveals the work as an expression, as a structure; the second reveals the condition of this effect—conditions of which the work has no awareness. If the first question may be compared to the question of the manifest content of the text, the second question is the question of its unconscious. "The critical problem," as Macherey sees it, lies "in the conjunction of the two questions; not in a choice between them, but in the point from which they appear to become differentiated." The complexity of the critical problem, in other words, is "the articulation between the two questions" (Macherey 1978, 90). A realist and materialist criticism must (a) define a general concept of literary practice (the literary effect as a particular form of ideological production with its own relative autonomy) that establishes the theoretical object of inquiry for criticism and (b) account for the production and reception of literary texts in terms of their determinate historical contexts (the place and function assigned to the literary effect by the social formation as a complex whole), thus establishing criticism as a regional theory of historical science and a subfield of the theory of ideology. Macherey takes as his point of departure Althusser's discussion in his "Letter on Art" of the possibility and the necessity of a scientific criticism of art: "in order to answer most of the questions posed for us by the existence and specific nature of art, we are forced to produce an adequate (scientific) knowledge of the processes which produce the 'aesthetic effect' of a work of art. . . . The recognition (even the political recognition) of the existence and importance of art does not constitute a knowledge of art . . . . Like all knowledge, the knowledge of art presupposes a preliminary rupture with the language of ideological spontaneity and the constitution of a body of scientific concepts to replace it." (Althusser 1971, 225-26).

Following Althusser, Macherey insists that criticism and its object—in his case, the literary text—be firmly distinguished: science is not the duplication of its object but rather the constitution of its object, as a theoretical object, from a perspective outside of the object and capable of knowing it as it cannot know itself. Macherey contrasts this view with two other critical strategies, "normative" and "empirical" criticism, which must serve as negative reference points for scientific criticism. According to Macherey, empiricist criticism tends to accept the text as a "given" that offers itself spontaneously to the inspecting glance; normative criticism, by contrast, tends to measure the text against a model of what it might be—to refuse the text as it is in order to "correct" it against an ideal object that precedes it. In both cases,


Macherey insists, the text is treated as an object of consumption, and the apparent opposition between the two methodologies is, in actuality, a simple "displacement" of this commodity form: empiricist criticism receives the work as an immediately given object of consumption while normative criticism treats and modifies this object so that it can be better or more "profitably" consumed.

Criticism claims to treat the work as an object of consumption, thus falling into the empiricist fallacy . . . because it asks only how to receive a given object. But this first fallacy is closely followed by a second, the normative fallacy, in which criticism proposes to modify the work in order to assimilate it more thoroughly, denying its factual reality as being merely the provisional version of an unfulfilled intention. The second fallacy is no more than a variety of the first, a displacement of it. In fact only the empirical characteristics of the work are transposed, by being attributed to a model—that fixed and independent entity which exists alongside the work, guaranteeing both its consistency and its readability and making it accessible as an object of judgement. The normative fallacy proposes a transformation of its object only within previously defended limits. It is the sublimation of empiricism, its ideal image, but based ultimately on the same principles. (Macherey 1978, 19)

Macherey criticizes the passivity of empiricist criticism with respect to the literary text. In the case of empiricism, he argues, the distance between the object of criticism and the knowledge of this object is reduced, and criticism collapses into the submissive reception and consumption of "literature"—a mysterious essence imposed on criticism from without and whose meanings define the horizon of critical knowledge. In contrast to such a passive and self-limiting reception of the text, Macherey insists on criticism as an active and autonomous enterprise. If criticism has as its domain the study of literature, this domain does not necessarily constitute the object of criticism, nor does it delimit, in advance, the entire field of critical knowledge: "knowledge is not the rediscovery of hidden meanings, it is newly raised up—an addition to the reality from which it begins" (Macherey 1978, 6). Thought about the object is never identical to the actual object, Macherey reminds us, and empiricist criticism merely destroys the autonomy of its own practice when it "unites" with the literary work through the "discovery" of the latter's "truth." Such criticism, because it takes the text as a given, immediate object, can neither explain it nor formulate the concepts or laws of its production. Normative criticism, which adds a previously given model that is taken to be the truth of the text's phenomenal essence, merely adds a superficial complexity to this same pro-


cess. In both cases, Macherey concludes, criticism has been reduced to axiology, a matter of judgment and description, a set of practical rules of taste and value.

Macherey's criticism of empirical and normative approaches may be extended to include many of the critical practices that have dominated the twentieth century. For example, it speaks directly to the hermeneutics of Gadamer as well as the aesthetic historicism of Jauss and Iser, the so-called Rezeptionästhetik.[3] In varying degrees these methodologies valorize the "authority of tradition" and the "horizon of expectations" of successive ages as principles of textual interpretation capable of consciously, albeit indirectly and incompletely, bringing forth the "reality" of art, that is, the "phenomenal essence" of art that persists through time precisely because it is an essence. Such a view marries a mythology of literary production (the creative genius) to an equally mythologized notion of literary reception (the value jugments of critics), a shotgun marriage designed to propagate cultural elitism (the canon) and present, as virtue itself, the illicit relation uniting literary production and reception (the class bias embedded in the text-reality relationship). The hermeneutic notion of an "ongoing totalization" of the past through the "aesthetic experience" denies the objectivity of both the past and the text, while the idea of a general theory of "literariness" elaborated within the constraints of hermeneutics is an idealist evasion of the task of producing a scientific concept of the literary effect. In contrast to the irrationalist and ultimately conservative appeal to "tradition" endemic to hermeneutics, the Structural Marxist concept of literature as an ideological practice grounds the production and the reception of literary texts in real history and at the same time produces real knowledges of literary production and reception—knowledges that are neither the slaves of the past nor the tools of the status quo.

Macherey's scientific criticism also raises powerful objections to the methods of structuralist and poststructuralist methodologies. For Macherey, the structuralist critical enterprise revolves around the decipherment of the "enigma of text" in order to disengage from it a cryptic but nonetheless coherent sense (Macherey 1978, 136-56). The text is posited as a message, and the function of the structuralist critic is to isolate the transmitted information in order to extract the truth of the text from its inner space and to reveal this truth as the timeless "combinatory" of immutable semiological forms. The language system is not only the sole condition of literary production, it is also an ahistorical condition. The text's production, therefore, can only be the appearance


of a production for structuralist criticism, since its true object always lies behind it. In Macherey's view, structuralist criticism is simply another form of empiricism—an adequation and conformation of knowledge to its privileged object, in this case the art of transmitting and interpreting messages.

Poststructuralism, which develops out of that aspect of structuralism that sees meaning as a diacritical, elusive, absent center of discourse—the perpetual and relational discrepancy between signifiers that both supports and eludes centering—presents a somewhat different problem for Macherey since he himself is as critical of the idea of a single "meaning" of a literary text as is any deconstructionist. Indeed, the attempt to reduce the diversity of the work to a single signification, what Macherey calls "interpretive criticism," constitutes a third negative reference point to be explicitly rejected by scientific criticism. Interpretive criticism, Macherey explains, rests on a number of related fallacies: "it locates the work in a space which it endows with its own depth; it denounces the spontaneously deceptive character of the work; finally, it presupposes the active presence of a single meaning around which the work is diversely articulated. Above all, it confirms the relationship of interiority between the work and its criticism: commentary establishes itself at the heart of the work and delivers its secret. Between knowledge (critical discourse) and its object (the literary work) the only distance is that between power and action, meaning and its expression" (Macherey 1978, 76-77).

However, poststructuralist criticism, by basing itself on the infinite openness of meaning, the indefinite multiplicity of the text, collapses writing into reading and abolishes even the memory of production. By making production a secret, a mystery whose processes cannot even be mentioned, the text becomes the accomplishment of the reader—a valuable insight, no doubt, when directed against crude axiologies of immanent value, but one that Macherey insists has nothing to do with the real complexities of the text, which stem from its character as a determinate ideological production of a determinate historical matrix: "Under the pretence of identifying the theoretical incompleteness of the work, we must not fall into an ideology of the 'open text': by the artifice of its composition, the work constitutes the principle of its indefinite variation. It has not one meaning but many: although this possible indefinite multiplicity, a quality or effect accomplished by the reader, has nothing to do with that real complexity, necessarily finite, which is the structure of the book. If the work does not produce or contain the prin-


ciple of its own closure, it is nevertheless definitively enclosed within its own limits (though they may not be self-appointed limits)" (Macherey 1978, 80).

For Macherey, the work is finite because it is incomplete, a paradox that stems from the ideological origins of the text and its character as an ideological production. The incompleteness of the work must be understood, Macherey explains, not in terms of its consumption but in terms of its production. Macherey introduces two concepts to clarify his meaning: dissonance (the decentered, contradictory nature of the text) and determinate absence (the inherent incompleteness of the text). Literary texts are internally dissonant, he argues, not as a function of their reception (that is, the reader) but because of their peculiar relationship to their ideological origins. Since the dominant ideology functions to call social subjects into existence, place them in positions within existing social relations, and reproduce those positions and relations, it manifests an inherent tendency to mask social contradictions by a process of distortion, exclusion, and omission. In a sense, the dominant ideology exists because there are certain things that must not be spoken of, things that are visible only as limits of ideological discourse.

Such silences in ordinary ideological discourse also obtrude into second-order ideological productions such as fiction, in which, Macherey contends, their presence-absence takes a determinate form that is the true object of criticism. "By interrogating an ideology, one can establish the existence of its limits because they are encountered as an impossible obstacle; they are there, but they cannot be made to speak. . . . Even though ideology itself always sounds solid, copious, it begins to speak of its own absences because of its presence in the novel, its visible and determinate form" (Macherey 1978, 132). The text, by putting ideology into determinate form, bears within it the marks of certain determinate absences that twist its various significations into conflict and contradiction. "The necessity of the work is founded on the multiplicity of its meanings; to explain the work is to recognize and differentiate the principle of this diversity. . . . [W]hat begs to be explained in the work is not that false simplicity which derives from the apparent unity of its meanings but the presence of a relation, or an opposition, between the elements of the exposition or levels of the composition" (Macherey 1978, 78-79). This determinate absence, which is the principle of the work's identity, cannot be explained in terms of a unified meaning; it is not some extension of meaning but is instead "generated from the incompatibility of several meanings" that consti-


tute "the bond by which it is attached to reality, in a tense and ever-renewed confrontation" (Macherey 1978, 80).

According to Macherey, the distance that separates the work from its ideological origins embodies itself in an "internal distance," which, so to speak, separates the work from itself and forces it into a ceaseless difference and division of meanings. In "putting ideology to work," the text necessarily illuminates the absences and begins to "make speak" the silences of that ideology. The absences, the "not said" of the work, are precisely what bind it to the ideology from which it emerged. This being the case, Macherey argues, the task of criticism cannot be, as normative or empirical criticism would have it, to situate itself within the same space as the text, allowing the text to speak or completing what it leaves unsaid. On the contrary, criticism must install itself in the incompleteness of the work in order to theorize what is unsaid: in order to become a theoretical object, the work must be transformed. However, the number of possible transformations is not unlimited; Macherey insists that the ideology from which it emerges renders the text determinate and thus finite. "If the work does not produce or contain the principle of its own closure," Macherey says, "it is nevertheless definitively enclosed within its own limits" (Macherey 1978, 80). Because the relationship between the work and what it cannot say is a determinate one, Macherey characterizes textual absences as structural contradictions and holds them to be constitutive of the text. Structural contradictions are internal to the text, not external, part of a process of internal concealment to which Althusser refers as the "inner darkness of exclusion" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 26). Only by breaking with all spontaneous, lived relation to the text—that is, by refusing the discourse of the text as the ground of ratification and by establishing it instead as an object of knowledge within a theoretical practice entirely foreign to the text itself—only then, Macherey insists, can we come back to the text and "see" those visible absences that mark its peculiar relationship to ideology.

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).

Eagleton: Aesthetics as Class Struggle in Culture

By producing a realist and materialist concept of literary practice, Structural Marxists are able to draw a firm distinction between criticism (the production of knowledge) and aesthetics (the judgment or axiology of value). That "taste" should have insinuated itself at the very heart of non-Marxist theories of literature is not really surprising—we shall return to this phenomenon later—but this tendency is also at work, astonishingly, in many Marxist attempts to reconcile history and aesthetic value. Even when the text is taken to be an expression of the history that produced it—it matters not whether this expression is conceived as a mirror image, mediated by the "class position" occupied by the author, or as a homology between the form and/or content of the text and the social formation—often an implicit normative judgment also takes place, one that equates "great" art with its "authenticity" or historical "truth." This normative judgment has brought with it a false problem, the reconciliation of "great" art and history, a problem that has dominated much of twentieth-century Marxist aesthetics. The pervasiveness of the problem is nowhere more evident than in the well-


known debates among Lukács, Bloch, Brecht, Adorno, and Benjamin (collected in R. Taylor 1977), which can be seen, retrospectively, as being less about the relationship of art and social reality than about the definition/production of "authentic" art and the possibility/impossibility of disseminating it to the masses.

Debates over the value of expressionism and such questions as "modernism or realism" or "Kafka or Thomas Mann" yield less explanation than they might by virtue of being cast in terms of historical authenticity and political correctness. Other "problems," such as reconciling Balzac the reactionary ideologue with Balzac the great novelist, lose much of their urgency with the realization that "greatness" is an ideologically determined class-based category. Solutions proposed to these "problems"—for example, Lukács's argument that Balzac is a great novelist because his oppositional ideology makes him a "realist" in spite of himself; Goldmann's attempt to defend the "greatness" of the young Malraux simply because he is a Marxist—may be said to conflate art, politics, and science, and to do so in an unsatisfactory and unproductive manner. The commonly held assumption that art should be "authentic" unites the participants in these debates in affirming the "greatness" of this or that work of literature, however violently they disagree about what exactly this "authenticity-greatness" may consist of. For all of them, the idea that art is somehow "true" leads to the valorization of certain works as "great." Reflection theory, no matter how subtle, leads directly to its own form of axiology. All novels are true—to their ideological origins—and for Marxist critics to defend novels on the basis of their conformity to the truth of history is simply to say that they afford Marxists a certain ideological satisfaction. The problem, of course, is that such satisfaction is impossible to distinguish from the personal pleasure obtained by cultivated aesthetes from the "sublime" and the "beautiful" or from the self-righteous bliss that conservatives derive from the "canon" of white, male, self-absorbed, and elitist European literature. The recognition of this fact moves Macherey to insist that it is "a contemporary necessity to show that a concept of art which sees it is an image of reality is by no means specific to Marxism; it is, indeed totally foreign to Marxism, and can only be appropriated by Marxists as the result of a misapprehension" (Macherey 1976, 54-55).

Eagleton, whose Criticism and Ideology mounts the most sustained argument against axiology from within the Althusserian camp, observes that whenever the greatness of literature becomes an issue,


Marxism finds itself trapped within bourgeois categories that are foreign to it. The problem of greatness cannot be resolved scientifically because it is always already ideological. Literary value, Eagleton insists, has nothing to do with "great works" as humanist criticism has attempted to define them since "great texts," those which are considered "great" at any time or for any length of time, are so considered simply because their "ideology of the text" exerts powerful ideological significations for the social formation that deems them great. The key to understanding value or greatness (which is always a question of class-based reception/consumption) lies outside the realm of criticism and in the realm of a history of literary effects. If the text is limited by the ideological instance in its production, this is even more the case with its reception: "The literary text is a text because it is read," Eagleton tells us, and "reading is an ideological decipherment of an ideological product" (Eagleton 1976, 62). There is no immanent value—no value that is not transitive. "Literary value is a phenomenon which is produced in that ideological appropriation of the text, that 'consumptional production' of the work which is the art of reading . . . for the literary text is always the text-for-ideology [whose] ideological effect, i.e., 'ideology of the text' is selected, deemed readable and deciphered by certain ideologically governed conventions of critical receptivity to which the text itself contributes [but which it does not determine]" (Eagleton 1976, 166-67).

Eagleton does not deny the objective existence of the literary effect, nor is he denying that literary representation-meaning is grounded, via ideology, in objective reality, nor, finally, is he denying that authors communicate determinate meanings to historically specific readers. The point he is trying to make is simply this: even though there are finite limits to the number of possible readings a text may offer, as well as a finite number of readings a social formation will allow, knowledge of either or both gives us no objective criterion of value. "The finite number of possible readings defined by the conjuncture of the text's proffered modes of producibility and the possible reception of the reader's ideological matrix constitute a closed hermeneutical circle with regard to the problem of value. By moving outside the mutual ideological complicity of text and reading we can have the basis for scientific analysis—on the level of the text's own historical self-production in relation to its ideological environs" (Eagleton 1976, 166-67). For these reasons Eagleton contends that we must reconsider the question of value, not from the site of its expression of reality or the site of its beauty, but from the


site of its production. Literary production, not literary diffusion, is the site of an adequate theory of criticism, and such a theory depends on a theory of ideology. "The guarantee of a scientific criticism is the science of ideological formations. It is only on the basis of such a science that such a criticism could possibly be established—only by the assurance of a knowledge of ideology that we can claim any knowledge of literary texts" (Eagleton 1976, 96). This is not to say that literary criticism is merely an application of the theory of ideology; it is rather "a particular element of the theory of superstructures" whose task is "not the study of the laws of ideological formation, but the laws of the production of ideological discourse as literature" (Eagleton 1976, 96).

For Eagleton, what can be scientifically said of the text pertains to its ideological origins and its specific effectivity as an ideological production; traditional aesthetics, with its debates over authenticity, value, truth, and so on, is simply the site of a class struggle in art. It is necessary, Eagleton maintains, to take a materialist position in aesthetics, to refuse all "moralism" of literary value, and instead "unite the question of the work's quality with the question of its conditions of possibility" (Eagleton 1976, 187). Certainly some works are debased even from this perspective, Eagleton acknowledges, at least in the sense that they simply appropriate existing ideologies, transforming them little if at all in the course of their textual production. By contrast, other texts produce complex, compact, variegated ideological significations that may renew, construct, modify, occlude, or extend ideology by virtue of the second-order signifying power of their textual operations. In this limited sense, Eagleton continues to subscribe to the aesthetic dictum "all texts signify, but not all texts are significant" (Eagleton 1976, 185). This formulation, however, smacks of axiology itself. As Francis Mulhern has pointed out, Eagleton's own analysis of specific works amounts to a "de facto ratification" of the already constituted "tradition" of English literature as defined by established literary criticism (Mulhern 1978, 86). Eagleton rejects this view, but with an interesting qualification.

It is certainly possible to produce a Marxist analysis of George Eliot, it is even necessary. But any "Marxist criticism" that defines itself in terms of such analysis has once again failed to effect a decisive break with the bourgeois ideology. Such a criticism, far from staking out a new theoretical space that may make a practical difference, merely addresses new answers to the same question. The production of Marxist analysis of traditional artifacts is an indispensable project: such artifacts, after all, are the grounds on which


the ruling class has elected to impose its hegemony, and thus one of the grounds on which it must be contested. But such contestation cannot be the primary object of a Marxist criticism. If that primary object is difficult to define, it is largely because it does not as yet properly exist. (Eagleton 1981, 97)

Two points need to be addressed here. First, with regard to the specific charge of elitism, Mulhern is correct to defend a Marxist position in aesthetics that refuses the class-based concept of a "great tradition." However, as Eagleton notes in his reply, Marxist criticism , by specifying mechanisms of complexity at work within the "great tradition," is not thereby obliged to subscribe to the notion that complexity constitutes aesthetic value. In fact, the reverse seems more accurate: Marxist criticism provides the theoretical ammunition by which Marxist aesthetics may attack the "great tradition" for what it is, in addition to being simply literature, namely, an ideological category produced by class-based educational and cultural apparatuses. In contrast to traditional aesthetics, Marxist criticism permits, even encourages, the recovery of "secondary" or "alternative" texts from the dustbin of history and accords them the serious study usually reserved for "classics." Because Marxist criticism is applicable to every literary text, its very existence subverts the canonical status of the "great tradition" as being the only texts worth examining. However, Marxist aesthetics is in rather the same position as Marxist philosophy: it has no choice but to engage in axiological debates over the "value" of specific works of art because, like philosophical debates over the "truth" of idealism and materialism, they are part of a class struggle that must be engaged or conceded. In aesthetics, as in all philosophy, there is always a political stake invested in every theoretical position. Second, with regard to Eagleton's ambiguous reference to the "primary object" of an "as yet improperly existing" Marxist criticism, it needs to be explicitly pointed out that, whatever Eagleton happens to think about it now, this object does already exist; it is precisely a scientific explanation of the text. As Eagleton suggests in his reply, even when analyzing "great works" scientific criticism intends neither to idealize the text nor to cultivate the reader; rather, its purpose is to know the text and to inform the reader. Why Eagleton chooses to refer to Marxist criticism as not yet "properly existing" is unclear. Whatever his reasons, the idea that Marxist criticism is somehow improperly constituted is, to say the least, contestable, and on this particular issue Eagleton finds his own work effectively mobilized against him.


Macherey: Scientific Criticism Versus a History of Aesthetics

Literary criticism focuses necessarily on the relationship between the form and content of the text and its historical and ideological context. However, the existence of a literary text as a social production by no means exhausts either its historical significance or the interest of Marxism in literature as a historical phenomenon. If production is the key to a realist and materialist concept of literature, its mechanisms do not directly determine or sufficiently explain the reception of the text, that is, its ideological impact (although they remain a necessary condition of such an explanation). In A Theory of Literary Production , Macherey largely ignores the concrete historical existence of literature, in the sense of literature as a practice that "lives" only by a process of interaction with particular readers. This tactic was necessary, of course, if Macherey was to demonstrate effectively the fact that the relationship between the text and reality has nothing to do with what contemporary readers felt about the text. Marxism is not obliged to accept outside judgments regarding a text's value in order to use it as a historical document; nevertheless, a general theory of history must be able to account for the text's reception and its ideological effectivity as well as its production and ideological origins. It is my position that a synthesis between criticism, the science of literary texts as social products, and what I will call a history of literary effects is necessary, but such a synthesis is possible only on the condition that the concept of literary discourse developed in the preceding pages is retained.

My position strongly contrasts with the trajectory of Macherey's own development, which since A Theory of Literary Production has taken a dramatic turn away from the concept of literature as a particular type of discursive practice. In making this move, Macherey seems to have been decisively influenced by Althusser's rejection of "theoreticism" in For Marx and Reading Capital and by his essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." In response to Althusser's shift of emphasis from ideology as a system of imaginary relations and the distinction between ideology and science toward a greater concern with ideology as a material force inscribed in material institutions and constituting social subjects, Macherey has come to reject any possible continuity or compatibility between the two projects. In a 1976 essay, "Problems of Reflection," Macherey insists that "for historical materialism, ideology must cease to be considered as a system of representa-


tions, of facts of consciousness, of ideas, as a discourse. . . . From a materialist point of view, ideology is constituted by a certain number of ideological state apparatuses" (Macherey 1976, 50). However, as I have argued, an underlying coherence unites Althusser's early and later works—a coherence organized around his unfaltering commitment to scientific realism. With Macherey, unfortunately, this is not the case. In his more recent work Macherey has not only turned to the problem of the material effect of literature, that is, the history of literary effects, but has also gone so far as to redefine literature exclusively in terms of its historical reception, a project that denies, if not the legitimacy of a scientific concept of literary practice, at least its utility: "A study of the literary process is no longer an investigation into what literature is produced from, into the basis of its existence, but an attempt to identify the effects which it produces" (Macherey 1976, 51).

By reducing literature to the historical effect of its reception, Macherey has not simply rejected theoreticism; he has also rejected the very project of a science of history, a position that brings him closer to Hindess and Hirst than to Althusser. Macherey has rejected a realist and materialist concept—by which literary practice could be explained functionally by virtue of its distinct discursive nature (not by its authenticity or value, about which scientific criticism can have nothing to say)—for an irrationalist, gauchiste position that renounces the project of objective, scientific criticism and embraces the historicist, relativist denial of a general concept of literary production. This volte-face does not answer the "materialist" question of reception, as Macherey seems to think; it only casts doubt on the very possibility of such a materialist understanding. Unable to synthesize the "text-reality" relationship and the "text effect" relationship, Macherey posits a false antithesis between them: either literature is an objectively distinct discourse (and thus exists in a theoretically distinct relationship to the real by way of its ideological origins and its mode of production), or it is a historically relative discourse that functions to interpellate subjects (and thus exists exclusively as a function of the ideological apparatuses that determine its reception). Macherey eliminates the antithesis by rejecting the reality of the text's production in order to affirm the reality of its reception, but he can produce no "materialist" understanding of reception because he can have no concept of what it is that is being received: the objective existence of the literary text simply dissolves into a postmodern, hermeneutic fog of subjective interpretation.

The question of the concept of literature no longer has any meaning


for Macherey: "Literature is a practical material process of transformation which means that in particular historical periods, literature exists in different forms. Literature with a capital 'L' does not exist; there is the 'literary,' literature or literary phenomena within social reality and this is what must be studied and understood" (Macherey 1977, 3). The question of the relationship between literature and ideology, he maintains, must be posed in terms that escape the "confrontation of universal essences in which many Marxist discussions have found themselves enclosed" (Macherey and Balibar 1974, 30). Disingenuously ignoring the fact that there are distinct levels of theoretical discourse ranging from the abstract-general to the concrete-specific, Macherey imperiously dismisses the "illusion that literature in general exists . . . that literature is something, that is to say a whole united around a coherent system of principles which ensure its conformity to a fixed and immutable essence" (Macherey 1976, 51).

There is no reason to accept the terms of Macherey's false antithesis between the production and reception of literary discourse. What is actually going on beneath the surface of Macherey's argument is a misguided attempt to combat the class-biased aesthetic judgments about literature by taking an idealist and irrationalist position with respect to art ("criticism is an ideological effect of class struggle") as opposed to a materialist and realist position ("aesthetics is class struggle in culture"). In an attempt to defend Macherey's position, Tony Bennett puts the problem this way:

What is in dispute is not the material existence of texts but the contention that, in any part of their objective and material presence they declare themselves to be "literature." Written texts do not organize themselves into the "literary" and "non-literary." They are so organized only by the operations of criticism upon them. This contention is fully substantiated by the history of the term "literature" which finally achieved the range of meaning [we now give the term] only during the nineteenth century, side by side with the consolidation of literary criticism and aesthetics as autonomous and academically entrenched areas of inquiry. (Bennett 1979, 7)

This line of argument graphically reveals the incoherence of Macherey's reduction of literature to its reception. Most certainly texts do not "organize themselves" into the "categories of their reception." But this does not mean that all "criticisms" that "organize the reception" of literary texts are the same; that there is no vital difference between axiological aesthetics and scientific criticism. By denying the possibility of a general concept of literature, Macherey and Bennett have put his-


torical materialism in the awkward position of uncritically accepting concepts of literary practice that it is supposed to be explaining. If there is no distinction between a scientific analysis of a literary text and any other interpretation, by extension there can be no distinction between a scientific analysis of any historical phenomena and any other interpretation of those phenomena. Of course, such a critique completely cuts the ground out from under any knowledge of history, making nonsense of any attempt at "studying and understanding" literary phenomena even as unique, concrete objects. When Bennett attempts to persuade us that "what is needed is not a theory of literature as such but a historically concrete analysis of the different forms of fictional writing and the ideologies to which they allude," he is, strictly speaking, talking nonsense. What is fictional writing? What are ideologies? Without a conceptual problematic—that is, without concepts—one cannot say. To speak of a "historically concrete analysis" without concepts of the historical practices being analyzed is to assert blithely the existence of historical science while denying its theoretical conditions of existence.[4]

In opposition to the idea of knowledge without concepts, we must insist that without concepts the knowledge effect of criticism becomes theoretically indistinguishable from the ideological effect of reception. I do not wish to deny the class-biased nature of reception, but I do protest the reduction of criticism (a scientific practice) into a class-biased form of aesthetics (ideological reception), which is the ultimate effect of the historicism espoused by Macherey and Bennett. Rather than seeing criticism as a scientific practice with political effects, criticism itself becomes merely a political act: "The task which faces Marxist criticism is not that of reflecting or bringing to light the politics which is already there, as a latent presence within the text. . . . It is that of actively politicizing the text, of making politics for it" (Bennett 1979, 167-68). Such statements hopelessly muddle the distinction between criticism and aesthetics; the task of Marxist criticism is precisely to explain the presence of "politics" within the text as well as the "politics" of its reception, while the task of Marxist aesthetics, presumably what Bennett means by the term criticism, is to combat the already politicized system of valorizations and exclusions that surround the text and constitute the field of its reception. A Marxist position in aesthetics is not advanced at all by denying the possibility of a scientific knowledge of literary discourse (on which any Marxist aesthetic position must necessarily be based). Macherey and Bennett seem to have succumbed to voluntarist political pressures to emphasize class struggle to


such an extent that they reduce literary criticism and the concept of literature to functions of a rigid, simplistically conceived class polarity and to the equally reductionist effects of direct class domination.

In order to valorize the function of literature as an ideological apparatus, Macherey goes so far as to deny its autonomy as an ideological production. Not only is he no longer interested in the signifying power of the text, but he also seeks to empty the text of any and all cognitive relation to the real: "to analyze the nature and the form of the realization of class positions in literary production and its outcome ('texts,' those 'works' recognized as literary), is at the same time to define and explain the ideological modality of literature. . . . [T]his problem should be posed as a function of a theory of the history of literary effects" (Macherey and Balibar 1974, 19). The project of a history of literary effects, an important and necessary project in its own right, has become the beginning and the end of all knowledge of literature. Certain essential facts—that the aesthetic effect signifies something, that the signifying effect of this "something" stands in a determinate relation of production to its ideological origins, and that this "something" is knowable (and worth knowing)—have disappeared completely from Macherey's later work. In fact, it is the text itself that has disappeared. Urging that the concept of the "text" or the "work" that has for so long been the mainstay of criticism should be abandoned, Macherey advances the argument that there are no such things as works or texts: "the materialist analysis of literature rejects on principle the notion of the 'work'—i.e., the illusory representation of the unity of a literary text, its totality, self-sufficiency and perfection. . . . More precisely it recognizes the notion of the 'work' (and its correlative 'the author') only to identify both as the necessary illusions inscribed in the ideology of literature that accompanies all literary production" (Macherey and Balibar 1981, 49). The literary effect is reduced by Macherey to three dimensions of a monolithic process of ideological domination: "(1) as produced under determinate social relations; (2) as a moment in the reproduction of the dominant ideology; and (3) consequently as an ideological domination effect in itself" (Macherey and Balibar 1981, 54).

Such a simple-minded reduction of literature to its modes of reception not only betrays the very project of producing knowledge about literature but also subverts the materialist position in philosophy, the class struggle in theory, and in aesthetics, the class struggle in culture. By contrast, defending the complementary nature of scientific criticism and the history of aesthetic reception—and defending as well the con-


cept of ideological practice by which scientific and literary discourse and literary production and reception become comprehensible—affirms a materialist and realist position in both philosophy and aesthetics. Inserting literature into the social formation, studying its role as an ideological apparatus and its relationship to the reproduction of the dominant ideology and the existing relations of production, is not only a legitimate activity but an essential one as well. What is at issue here is not the legitimacy of this enterprise but rather the proposition that such an activity has as its corollary the rejection of a concept of literature and the relative autonomy of the text as a signifying discourse. This is demonstrably not the case. It is possible to analyze literary effects as ideological apparatuses only on the condition that we have a concept of literature as an ideological production—that is, a concept of literature as signifying something —as well as a theory of the "text-reality" relationship that specifies what that something is. It is, after all, only by virtue of the text's peculiar relation to ideology that the relatively autonomous field of reception is opened up. Without a concept of literature, the "minimum generality" necessary to constitute a text as a theoretical object, the very basis of reception itself becomes incomprehensible.

Renée Balibar: Class Domination and the Literary Effect

It is impossible to say more about Macherey's rejection of criticism and the concept of literature without introducing the work of Renée Balibar and her associates, whose historical investigations of literature, language, and education in France are used by Macherey to illustrate and justify his new position.[5] Like Macherey's theoretical shift, the work of Balibar emerges from Althusser's concept of the "ideological state apparatus." In Les français fictifs , which studies the functioning of literary texts within the French educational system in the nineteenth century, and in Le français national , which studies the development of a uniform national language in conjunction with that of the unified schooling system during and since the French Revolution, literature, language, and the schools are treated as ideological apparatuses and, as such, are shown to be in a close and necessary interrelationship. Balibar's thesis is that in the context of the development of a uniform national language the production of certain texts as "literary" together with their re-


stricted use within the education system was a manifestation of class struggle in the sphere of language, a tactic by which the bourgeoisie created its "cultural revolution" and created for itself a position of hegemony. The objective existence of literature is held by Balibar to be inseparable from given linguistic practices (if there is a "French" literature, it exists only because there is a linguistic practice of "French" as a national language). This formulation means, as well, that literature is inseparable from an academic or schooling practice that defines the conditions for both the consumption and production of literature; by connecting the objective existence of literature to this ensemble of practices one can define the "material anchor-points" that make literature a historical and social reality.

In Le français national (1974), Renée Balibar and Dominique Laporte demonstrate the double relation to language that the bourgeoisie has maintained in France since the Renaissance. In the period before the French Revolution, the noblesse de robe discovered a source of power in the emerging political structure of the nation-state and the emerging ideological field of nationalism, whose embryonic form sprang into existence as the "democratic" idea of a national language. The decision of Francis I in 1538 that all juridical-political acts were to be written in the language of "the people" and no longer in Latin was particularly significant, Balibar and Laporte maintain, because it greatly increased the power of the recently ennobled bourgeoisie, the "nobility of the robe," over the older noblesse d'épée , the "nobility of the sword." As a result of the king's decree, the nobility of the robe became the intermediary between the fragmented dialects of the countryside and the central state apparatus, a state of affairs that greatly facilitated the decline of the traditional nobility of the sword. At the same time, Balibar and Laporte point out, this ostensibly "democratic" reform set the bourgeoisie over the population as a whole by virtue of the fact that they became the sole mediators between a mass of speakers and an elite of writers.

According to Balibar and Laporte, at the time of the French Revolution there appeared a double exigency that seemed to threaten the privileged position of the bourgeoisie. Under pressure from the popular masses, there was a call for the elimination of the class languages of the ancien régime—the French of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie on the one hand and the popular dialects or patois of the masses on the other—and, at the same time, a call for a single system to replace the plurality of establishments of the monarchical era—bourgeois and aris-


tocratic colleges and the so-called petites écoles conducted by the church for the benefit of the lower classes. These notions, conceived under the revolutionary nationalism of the Jacobins, were a double-edged weapon to the bourgeoisie. On one side they constituted a necessary precondition for the full development of capitalism—for a national economy, the development of a unified legal system based on contracts between equal subjects, a unified political system of citizens able to participate directly in public affairs, and a unified ideological system based on the identification of individuals with "the nation." On the other side, the egalitarian tendency of these reforms was an undeniable threat not only to the aristocratic privileges acquired by the bourgeoisie through submission to feudal forms of power and status but also the nascent hegemony of private property and educated competence being created by the nationalist bourgeoisie. According to Balibar and Laporte, this contradiction between elitist and egalitarian nationalism accounts for the fact that the single school system was not achieved in France until nearly a century after the French Revolution (with the establishment by Jules Ferry of free education in 1881 and secular, obligatory education in 1882), and then only after considerable vicissitudes and after the bourgeois cultural revolution was achieved (thus making the new school system a necessary apparatus of bourgeois hegemony).

Following a line of investigation opened up by Structural Marxist sociologists Christian Baudelot and Roger Establet (Baudelot and Establet 1971; see also Baudelot, Establet, and Malemort 1981), Balibar and Laporte insist that the homogeneity of the bourgeois school was (is) a facade concealing the existence of antagonistic academic practices previously manifested in the form of distinct institutions (schools for the rich and schools for the poor) but that have now taken the form of two integrated schooling networks; primary education (le réseau primaire-professionel ) and secondary education (le réseau secondaire-supérieur ), which, respectively, produce/reproduce the relations of domination and exploitation within the social formation. The existence of these two networks, Balibar and Laporte argue, is reflected at the level of language itself by two types of linguistic practice. As the division in schooling, which reproduces the division of society into social classes, is veiled by the assertion of a pseudo-egalitarian national community, so a linguistic division emerges between different practices of the same national languages, between "basic" exercises of rédactionnarration (a simple exercise in "correct" usage and the reporting of "reality") and "advanced" exercises of comprehension, the disserta-


tion-explication de textes (so-called creative work, which presupposes the use and imitation of literary materials). Within the primary schools, Balibar and Laporte point out, the sons and daughters of the lower classes receive their education in the national language in the form of an administered grammar, a set of formal rules learned mechanically from texts inherited from the old regime, while the generative schema of this grammar, derived from an understanding of the rules of Latin, is withheld. It is retained, however, as an invisible background in the secondary schools, which are populated primarily by the children of the bourgeoisie. Because education for the dominated does not result in mastery of the linguistic code, it imposes an effect of submission on all individuals educated at the primary level (the only level of instruction of the future exploited classes). As a corollary, education for the privileged minority, founded on the active mastery of language, produces a class-based effect of dominance . Apprenticeship in the "advanced" language not only opposes that in the "basic" language but also encompasses and surpasses it, bestowing on its enrollees a qualitatively superior mastery of the language and power over those excluded from such mastery.

In Les français fictifs , Balibar extends this line of argument to include literature. She analyzes several literary texts—Flaubert's "Un coeur simple," two narratives by Péguy, a Surrealist comptine , and Camus's The Stranger —under the assumption that the literary effect they produce can be grasped only in relation to the process of education in the schools and the contradictory linguistic practices developed there. The basic mechanism at work in these texts, she argues, is the unconscious reconciliation, or more properly the imaginary or fictional reconciliation, of the contradiction between "elementary" French, the language of the primary schools, and the literary or "fictive" French of the secondary schools. For Balibar, literary texts are "essentially sublimations of the conflicts lived out in the practice of language" (R. Balibar 1978, 42). It is the particular function of literature to resolve, through sublimation and by the production of a unique linguistic form, the insoluble contradictions existing in other ideological formations and related social practices—specifically, contradictions stemming from the existence, in the schools, of antagonistic linguistic practices—so as to render them soluble in non-literary ideological discourses (philosophy, politics, religion, and so forth). The literary text constitutes a "language of compromise" proclaiming otherwise irreconcilable class positions to be their own imaginary solution.

Literary texts, in effect, unconsciously reproduce the original opera-


tion by which elementary French is dominated by advanced French, that is, the process by which the latter incorporates the former (which remains nevertheless plainly visible) while simultaneously transcending it by unusual usages and creative constructions. The fact that this process of incorporation and transcendence is accomplished in one and the same national language further disguises the existence of domination, an ideological effect Balibar calls a compromise formation . Far from seeing literary practice as an activity that makes visible the operations of the dominant ideology by putting it to work, she contends that literary practice constitutes an operation of masking and unification, attempting thereby to heal or placate class and ideological contradictions inscribed within linguistic practice itself. Compromise formations may include both practices of French, but Balibar insists that the presence (more or less dissimulated) of advanced French produces the literary effect, the "aesthetic pleasure of reading," via the domination of the elementary language by the advanced. Constituted by a contradiction within language, the literary text is structured by an interplay between the level of ordinary grammar and that of its own distinctively literary language. The "effect of the text"—although never completely successful—is to overlay or soothe this contradiction, to preserve the fiction of "one language." This disguised/repressed evocation of elementary French by advanced French (the compromise formation), a process that is at the same time a reproduction and a deformation, constitutes the literary effect.

For Balibar, the invocation and domination of elementary by advanced French explains, in material terms, the phenomenon of style . For example, she describes the initial sentence of Flaubert's "Un coeur simple" as a juxtaposition of verbal material drawn from elementary grammatical exercises (then in use at the primary level) and a construction périodique peculiar to Greco-Latin rhetoric (as it was practiced in the upper levels of secondary school)—a juxtaposition of a simple, stripped-down vocabulary and certain lexical improprieties (e.g., the word bourgeoises ) or certain subtleties of agreement impossible to grasp other than in terms of Latin grammar. Conversely, Balibar finds Péguy's unfinished manuscript Pierre, Commencement d'une vie bourgeoise unsuccessful because it attempts to combine two styles (rédaction primaire and composition secondaire ) without producing a unified style capable of encompassing both primary and secondary styles or, more important, establishing the primacy of the latter over the former. This impasse, Balibar argues, is not dissimilar to the plight of the major


protagonist, a disoriented candidate for the Ecole Normale who is brought to a personal crisis when he tries to comprehend his own life and thoughts by reminiscing about his childhood and his primary school experience. Péguy's Note conjointe , by contrast, is a successful attempt to combine notions derived from primary school lessons of things and "philosophical-literary" discourses of secondary school. The success of this combination, Balibar explains, hinges on the dominant position of the secondary discourse, whose particular devices (which she calls scholarismes , that is, figures of discourse such as Latinisms, neologisms, and vulgarisms whose superficially striking effects invest the basic elementary language with an ideal aura) mask both the contradictions of the combination and the domination effect.

The style of The Stranger , according to Balibar, hinges on a juxtaposition of simple sentences and intentionally trite, affected sentences in "cultivated" French. In the case of Camus's novel the mechanism of the literary effect is particularly interesting because what seems to be happening is the valorization of the elementary sentences, which appear to dominate the literary ones rather than being dominated by them. Balibar argues this apparent effect is consistent with Camus's conscious intention to expose the inadequacy of the illusion of objectivity inherent in the chronological-logical discourse of the past perfect tense, a task Camus accomplishes by revealing the deformations that result from employing this tense in complex sentences. However, Camus's reversal of the primary relationship of domination is only superficially successful. Because both linguistic practices incorporate the past perfect tense, this particular tense serves unconsciously as a compromise formation, erasing the conflict between elementary and fictive French under the sign of a unified French grammar. Moreover, Balibar points out that Camus's style continues to reproduce the domination of elementary French by literary French because the effect he desires is achieved only on the condition that the intended deformations are perceived as such. Such subtleties are, of course, apparent only to those who participate in Camus's mastery of the French language.

In all of these cases the source of the literary effect resides in an unvarying linguistic contradiction that Balibar posits between elementary and literary French. The literary effect, which is the author's style, cannot exist without this contrast, yet by its very existence as a discourse written in the national language, it promptly "forgets" the contradiction from which it originates, masking it under the illusion of a unified language. In this sense, the literary text does not have an effect


opposed to that of the dominant ideology. It acts rather as a privileged region of ideology within which, by concealing its contradictions as they manifest themselves at the level of language, the entire system of the dominant ideology is reproduced, preserved intact as an ongoing system in spite of the tensions with which it is racked. Furthermore, the motifs, themes, and situations that the literary text introduces into the fiction are, in Balibar's view, of little value in understanding the mechanisms of the literary effect of the texts she is analyzing. These elements are merely a facade, the facade of the text whose role it is to distract attention from the linguistic conflict, the real source of the literary effect and the sole precondition of the text. Such narrative elements (social mores in Flaubert, philosophical content in Péguy and Camus) are somehow "mobilized" by the fiction to "downplay" the presence of contradictory linguistic practices in the literary text; thus, what the reader assesses as significant in the fictional text—materials taken from scientific observation, philosophical reflection, history, or, more simply, information or topical events—is in fact a screen intended to hide the underlying class-biased production of the work of fiction.

The final implication of Balibar's work is that literature is inherently and irrevocably inscribed in the mechanisms of linguistic domination. Because of this, literary works cannot be subversive, for their very existence as literature is contingent on their exploitation/participation in the linguistic contradiction that is the source of all literary style. The texts of Flaubert, Péguy, and Camus are not usually considered buttresses of capitalistic relations of production, but as Balibar convincingly shows, this is exactly what they have become: Flaubert's "Un coeur simple" appears in manuals and vanguard journals of pedagogy as a lesson on how to write in a limpid style and how to perceive "narrative technique" or "point of view"; Péguy's undoing of the bourgeoisie in Pierre erases the ideology of middle-class education in order to valorize its predecessor—education controlled by the Catholic church. In The Stranger , Camus reproduces the writing lessons of North African children who had to learn "proper" verbal usage in order to achieve l'effet du français (entire passages of the novel replicate exercises of description found in secondary school manuals), hoping thereby to undermine the illusion of certainty they produce; yet, in effect, the novel merely readapts and promotes their continued use today. At the level of discursive practice, it would be wrong to categorize this process as simply co-optation or alienation, for it is more insidious and more powerful than these: it is the inexorable and cumulative logic of ideological


domination and the expanded reproduction of the hegemony of the ruling class.

Macherey and Etienne Balibar: Marxism Against Literature?

Renée Balibar and her associates have made an important contribution to our understanding of the relationships between culture and class domination. They have revealed the historical connection between literature and the public school system and between both of these and ideological hegemony. By focusing on the determinate institutional origins of literature, they have extended the materialist theory and analysis of literary production and corrected the excessively "intrinsic" methodology characteristic of Macherey's Theory of Literary Production . Nevertheless, their work is not without certain serious problems, problems that emerge most clearly in the theoretical introduction to Les français fictifs provided by Macherey and Etienne Balibar.

Macherey and Etienne Balibar wholeheartedly endorse the reduction of literature to a single linguistic mechanism, the compromise formation, itself exclusively determined by a single contradiction, the contradiction between literary and common language. For them, literature is a one-dimensional process, masking social contradictions by providing "imaginary solutions" to them: "a literary formation is a solution to ideological conflicts, insofar as they are formulated in a special language which is born different from the common language and within it (the common language itself being the product of an internal conflict), a formation which realizes and masks, in a series of compromises, the conflict which constitutes it by displacing the entire ensemble of ideological contradictions into a single one, or a single aspect—that of linguistic conflicts" (Macherey and Balibar 1981, 51). All other elements of textual production are of only secondary importance; it is the compromise formation that "invests the manifest ideological themes and organizes their effectivity according to constraints which, borrowing a concept of Freud's, one might call a 'secondary elaboration,' and thereby confers on them the order of a narrative facade—romanesque, allegorical, or abstract" (Macherey and Balibar 1974, 35). The contradiction between common and literary language originates in the ideological apparatuses of the schools; therefore, "literature is inseparable from an academic or schooling practice that defines the conditions for both the consumption and production of literature" (Macherey and


Balibar 1981, 46). Literature is completely determined by the educational apparatus both in its origins and effects, Macherey and Balibar maintain, since it is the reception/consumption of literature that gives discourse whatever "literary" quality it possesses: "The text is literature and is recognized as such precisely when and to the extent that it provokes interpretations, criticisms, 'readings.' This is why it is quite possible for a text to actually cease to be literature or become such under new conditions" (Macherey and Balibar 1974, 44).

Macherey and Balibar have replaced Macherey's earlier view of literature as putting ideology to work for a more ominous vision of ideology putting literature to work. In making this move, Macherey and Balibar abandon a realist and materialist concept of literary production for a concept of literature indistinguishable from the historically variable aesthetic ideologies and apparatuses that define and control the reception of literature. In effect, the concept of literature is being defined by its reception and no longer by its production. Scientific criticism, the analysis of the production of literary representation-meaning, loses its raison d'être from the perspective of a "materialism" that passively accepts the judgments of aesthetic ideology in order to condemn them (and with them literature itself) as inherently oppressive. Macherey and Balibar deny literary production any relative autonomy whatsoever and completely reject any general concept of literature that would define "fiction" in terms of a "text-reality" relationship:

All general definitions of literature as fiction involve, as a first element, reference to a story which is an image or analogue of life. . . . To define literature as fiction means taking an old philosophical position . . . linked with establishing a theory of knowledges, and confronting the fictional discourse with a reality—even and especially when it gives reality an image different from the immediate perception of daily life and common experience. . . . The category of reflection, which is central to the Marxist problematic . . . is not concerned with [such] realism but with materialism, which is profoundly different. Marxism cannot define literature in general as realism, nor can it define literature in general as fiction. (Macherey and Balibar 1981, 51-52)

A strange text indeed that speaks of materialism while at the same time denying the possibility of realism! As stated, the argument leaves us with a conception of literature that has not only severed any direct link between the significations of the text and reality (reflectionism) but has also denied the possibility of any indirect link (ideology to a second power) as well. What remains? Apparently nothing at all, merely a


philosophical feint that posits the existence of the literary but only as the shadow of its reception, the latter being, somehow, the substance of this very effect.

By a complex process, literature is the production of a certain reality, not indeed (one cannot overemphasize this) an autonomous but a material reality. . . . Literature is not, therefore, fiction but a production of fictions . . . fiction and realism are not concepts for the production of literature, but, on the contrary, notions produced by literature. This leads to remarkable consequences, for it means the model—the real referent "outside" the discourse which both fiction and realism presuppose—has no function here as a non-literary, nondiscursive anchor point previous to the text. . . . But its [reality] does function as an effect of discourse. It is literary discourse which induces and projects in its midst the presence of the "real" in the manner of an hallucination. (Macherey and Balibar 1981, 52-53)

A material effect, the reception of the text as real, emerges from nowhere—an immaculate reception, if you will—since there is no "fiction," only an "effect of fiction," which is really the process of reception; from an effect of reception we get the reception of an effect. Such a formulation is more absurd than "complex," and its absurdity stems directly from Macherey and Balibar's determined rejection of a concept of literature as a distinct form of representation-meaning whose ideological nature constitutes the principle of intelligibility of both its production and reception.

At least part of the problem originates in an obsessive desire to reduce literature to domination. Macherey and Balibar subordinate literature to the educational apparatuses of the schools in order to define literary practice in terms of a single, direct relation of class domination: the domination of elementary language by literary language.

The literary effect is always an effect of domination: the subjection of individuals to the dominant ideology and the domination of the ideology of the dominant class. . . . If literature is able to serve, indeed must serve in the primary school as the means to fabricate and, at the same time, dominate, partition, and repress the "elementary" French of the dominated classes, it is on the condition that elementary French is itself present, in literature, as one of the terms of its constitutive contradiction, more or less deformed and masked, but also necessarily betrayed and exhibited in fictional reconstructions. And this is the case because the literary French realized in literary texts is both distinct from the "common language" (and opposed to it) and internal to it. In its constitution and its historical evolution within the educational system, literary French has been determined by the material requirements of a developing bourgeois society. This is why we are able to affirm that the place of literature in the education process is only the inverse of the


place of the education process in literature . It is the structure and historical function of the school, the truly dominant ideological state apparatus, which constitutes the base of the literary effect. (Macherey and Balibar 1974, 46-48)

There is a powerful element of truth here. I do not dispute the fact that literature functions as an integral part of class-based domination in the schools, nor do I take exception to the fact that, given the class contradiction within schools between two linguistic practices, there is an overdetermined tendency for literary practice to reproduce this contradiction while masking it. I do object, however, to the reduction of literature to just this class bias and just this reproductive function; I object, in short, to the manner in which Macherey and Balibar posit this particular aspect of literary practice as if it exhausted the concept of literature. Such a view of literature simply anticipates the gloomy essentialism of Foucault's concept of knowledge/power. Let us remember from our critique of Foucault that ideological interpellation is never evenly developed; it creates contradiction as well as integration, and it constitutes social subjects whose practices at least potentially disrupt as well as reproduce existing social relations. Because they see ideology otherwise, as a one-dimensional relation of class domination (thereby accepting, as objectively real, the monolithic coherence that the dominant ideology seeks to project), Macherey and Etienne Balibar emphasize only those aspects of Renée Balibar's concept of the compromise formation that pertain to the reproduction of the existing relations of domination.

For Macherey and Balibar, the literary text is a unified, non-contradictory whole, which by means of the compromise formation always achieves its intended effect of subjugation. It achieves it, they maintain, through a mechanism of identification that persists despite any literary attempts to subvert or eliminate it. The key element of this oppressive process of identification is that necessary property of the compromise formation, its ability to provide, by the mere fact of its existence, imaginary solutions to real ideological problems: "literature 'begins' with an imaginary solution to implacable ideological contradictions, or rather with a representation of just such a solution. However, the solution that literature presents, by means of figuration (through images, allegories, symbols or arguments) is not an actually existing solution pre-existing its literary representation (to repeat, literature is produced precisely because such a real solution is impossible). The literary solution exists only in the sense of a 'mise en scène'—the


representation as the solution " (Macherey and Balibar 1974, 53). The incongruous terms of a contradiction may be presented on the same stage, but only at the cost of a greater or lesser number of more or less complex displacements and substitutions. For there to be literature, the terms of the contradiction (and hence the contradictory ideological elements of the figuration) must be rendered commensurable at the level of discourse. "From the very outset, they must be enunciated in a special language, a language of 'compromise,' realizing in advance the fiction of their forthcoming reconciliation. Better: a language of 'compromise' makes the reconciliation appear 'natural' and ultimately necessary and inevitable" (Macherey and Balibar 1974, 33).

This imaginary solution provokes from the reader an effect of identification , which is at the same time a process of ideological interpellation acting on the reader:

[Literary French] is a case of expressions which always diverge in one or more salient details from those used in practice outside literary discourse, even when both are grammatically "correct." These are linguistic compromise formations, reconciling usages that are socially contradictory in practice, and hence mutually exclusive in tendency. In these formations there is an essential place, more or less disguised but recognizable , for the reproduction of "simple" language—ordinary language . . . which "speaks to everyone," reawakening or reviving memories . . . which produces the effect of 'naturalness' and 'reality.' . . . [L]iterature unceasingly produces subjects on display for everyone. . . . In its own way [it] endlessly transforms (concrete) individuals into subjects and endows them with quasi-real hallucinatory individuality. The realistic effect is the basis of this interpellation which makes characters or merely discourses "live" and which provokes readers to take a stand in literary conflicts as they would in real ones, albeit with much less risk. (Macherey and Balibar 1981, 53-54)

Such a view of the literary effect is perfectly correct, as far as it goes. What is objectionable in Macherey and Balibar's account is neither the process of identification they describe nor their assertion that this process is overdetermined by class struggle; what is objectionable is their assumption that the identification process has no internal contradictions and as a result is inherently and necessarily oppressive. For Macherey and Balibar, literary practice is not so much riven with class struggle as it is itself a consequence of class struggle and therefore a manifestation of class dominance. Literature is not dominated by the ruling class; it is an attribute of ruling-class domination. Under such circumstances it is pointless to criticize class-biased aesthetic judgments


regarding literature; rather, it is a matter of abolishing literary practice altogether.

This draconian solution follows from the series of reductions by which Macherey and Etienne Balibar, following Renée Balibar, reduce literature to style, the compromise formation, and style to a grammatical-syntactical process (inherently deformed by the class-based distinction between everyday and literary language in the schools) devoid of representational-semantic significance (content and meaning, which might contest class-biased criteria and mechanisms within literature itself). This approach places an impossible burden on literary style, which all by itself is supposedly capable of producing the identification effect. It is forced to shoulder this burden because Macherey and Balibar have summarily dismissed all semantic elements as epiphenomena: literary and common linguistic practices are distinguished by different usages of the same unified semantic base, and thus the contradiction between them is never a matter of content or meaning but of grammar and syntax. Semantic considerations (themes, ideas, characters) are reduced to a "facade" whose monolithic unity within the common language precludes, by definition, a variegated or complex (much less a contradictory or disruptive) reception.

This excessive privileging of syntax over semantics has pernicious consequences. If literary style is solely a function of grammar, then differences in content, for example, between the representation of women in Virginia Woolf and August Strindberg are either illusory or, at best, insignificant. Correlatively, if themes, ideas, and other literary elements are merely a facade, writers with similar styles, for example, Dos Passos and Céline, must be saying the same thing or at least producing identical interpellative effects. To eliminate the absurdity of such claims, we must eliminate the theoretical reductions on which they rest and admit that the contradictions within literary practice involve more than just formal characteristics: semantic narrative elements are more than just a facade through which literary style disguises its workings; they refer to ideology and through ideology to reality, and as such, literary production is a complex, contradictory social practice with emancipatory as well as subjugating dimensions.

Literature does interpellate subjects, and literary practice is determined, at least in part, by class-based ideological practices and apparatuses. However, literary practice does not achieve its identifications simply or solely by masking social contradictions, nor is class domination always or necessarily realized in literary texts. We can escape such


simplistic generalizations only by recognizing literary practice for what it is, a second-order production of representation-meaning that is open-ended and contradictory precisely because it is based on the subject-form of ideology and the subjective-ideological experience of the world. Literary practice does indeed "dominate" ordinary ideology, but the result is not necessarily oppressive or obfuscatory since ordinary ideology is itself riven with class-based contradictions rooted in objective reality. Literary production is overdetermined by the class struggle, which assigns it a place and a function within the social formation, but literary representation-meaning nevertheless possesses a relative autonomy that cannot be reduced to the disciplinary delusions of knowledge/power. Despite the fact that it is articulated from within a class-based system of power, literary practice may, under certain circumstances, expose as well as legitimize class domination. Literature cannot transcend the subject-form, of course, but precisely because the subject-form is unevenly developed and contradictory, the mechanisms of identification peculiar to the literary text may promote opposition as well as conformity. Finally, literary style, like all discursive practice, is caught up in a network of semantic as well as syntactical relations. By virtue of its semantic elements, literary style has interpellative possibilities that overflow the class-biased grammatical practices that seek to contain them.[6] It is Renée Balibar's contribution to have shown how, in the conjuncture of nineteenth-century France, the interpellative character of literary discourse was caught up in a class-based structure of ideological domination in a fashion that her concepts of style and compromise formation illuminate. Her error, which is magnified in the essays of Macherey and Etienne Balibar, is to have demonized and homogenized these phenomena and to have made them the very "essence" of literary practice.


Chapter 5 Literature and Ideology

Preferred Citation: Resch, Robert Paul. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.