Conversation with Tom Pepper 1

Glenn Wallis: How would you characterize our current dominant ideology?

Tom Pepper: I would say that overall, the dominant ideology is the belief in exchange value. This is the one belief-in-practice on which all our other ideologies depend, including our ideology of the subject.   In our world, we cannot conceive of any action that does not involve money, or that has no potential to have an abstract “value” assigned to it. Just the other day, I read in the New York Times that medical associations like the society of oncologists and the American College of Cardiology are now encouraging doctors to use something called a “QALY,” a “quality-adjusted life year,” to assign a monetary value to a year of human life. So, everything has to have an “exchange value” inherent in it. Of course, since Marx we know that this is an illusion, that the belief in “exchange value” only “conceals a social relation,” as Marx put it. Still, we are so attached to the idea of the inevitability of the commodity form of money, that we can’t help but believe that every thing, act, even emotion must have, inherently, a monetary value inherent in it. The one thing nobody, not even the left, can imagine as a solution to our current crisis, is eliminating the social practice of the commodity form of money.

And, of course, there is, in a kind of homology with this, the belief in the Lockean empiricist ideology of the subject. We assume there is a brain and a body, which somehow interfere with the proper working of the free consciousness (Locke could just explicitly call it a “soul”), and what we need to do is to adjust the working of the brain and the body to maximize the pleasure of the “thought-free consciousness” that exists in this soul. Locke was very clear on this—he needed to believe in the existence of thought that occurred outside the brain and outside of all language, and had a more affect-like quality, in order for his empiricist system to work. But what is this illusory abstract “true self” except the equivalent of the non-existent universal “exchange value,” the magic number that the invisible hand will guide us to if we can just stop interfering with its “pure” working?

So I would say the most fundamental beliefs, imbedded in practices, that work to reproduce the existing social formation, are the belief in exchange value (and the practice of using money for every human interaction) and the belief in the empiricist model of the subject (and the practice of “adjusting” the interfering brain/body with medications and mindfulness and a host of addictive behaviors).

GW: Does art, and specifically literature, have any power to counter that ideology, and to show the way to radical change in our social formations? What would be some of the features of an art that does not merely reproduce the ideological status quo?

TP: I think it can, but it doesn’t today. In What Is Art, Tolstoy essentially proposes that the nature of art in all forms is to produce ideology—he focuses on the use of art to produce what Lacan would call the imaginary, to create our emotional and bodily experience of the world, and so to produce our values and motivations to act. Tolstoy’s point is, in part, that in forgetting this, we have begun to accept as art anything and everything that gives pleasure, and have forgotten that much of what gives pleasure is not producing beneficial ideologies (he doesn’t use this term, but this is essentially what he’s talking about). What he misses, I think, is that this is exactly the ideology of capitalism—to always only seek what is pleasurable. So, in calling whatever produces enjoyment “art,” Tolstoy thinks we have abandoned the goal of art, while in fact we have simply accepted the goal of capitalist art—the goal of producing the imaginary relations most beneficial to capital.

I would say that art always produces ideology, that Tolstoy was right about that. And that he was right to assume that we might need to produce art that is a bit more difficult to “enjoy,” that takes some mental effort (and even bodily effort), if we want to produce beneficial ideologies.

I would love Literature to be a radical force, but the reality is that we have massive institutions set up to make sure it doesn’t become one. The educational and publishing industry will function to ensure that anything that might produce any kind of transformative ideology is buried, not even condemned, just dismissed and ignored. This is their task, their social function, and to the degree that they stop doing it, they will be “unfunded” and eliminated—as the teaching of Literature at colleges and high schools is being eliminated gradually now.

Zola’s unfinished “Four Gospels” are a good example here—an attempt at truly racial fiction, advocating real social transformation, trying to motivate a communist movement, but even the left insists they are “unreadable” and dull. But what is it that makes Travail more tedious than La Curée? I don’t find it so, personally. We have mostly learned, however, to only “enjoy” what promises us pure effortless success and infinite bodily bliss, without thought an labor and collective efforts. So, we can’t enjoy reading a work that encourages social activism and daily bodily effort to provide our daily bodily needs. Our psyches are structured by the fantasy of imaginary plenitude, that illusory belief in a lost state of perfect, effortless bliss. We can’t imagine, anymore, the joys of unalienated labor, the only joy we can imagine is the joy of effortless bliss. And art must promise us that, to be enjoyable today.

It’s more that just content, right? It ‘s the practice itself. Performing Brechtian theater in community collectives might just be a radical art, but binge-watching Game of Thrones over Netflix on our laptops never will. A radical art would have to make us uncomfortable, to make us think, and to motivate us to actually go out and do something in the world. Instead, what we “enjoy” is art that produces a pleasant emotional state, and motivates us only to try to move on to the next work to recapture that pleasant affect with minimum effort. This emotional bliss is the “exchange value” in the realm of art—well, that and the money it makes. Instead, we need an art that privileges “use value,” and fails to be a mass-marketable commodity. The ideology of exchange value, as it operates in the realm of art, is what makes it impossible for any real radical art to exist today.

My maxim is always that if it is popular, it certainly reproduces capitalist ideology and reinforces the existing social formation. If you enjoy it, be suspicious of it, because it is probably constructing your imaginary register in ways that produce a kind of pleasant and addictive jouissance, but that forestalls any motivation to act to change the world. The result is that our artworks tend to leave us with a kind of emotional hangover, craving the next fix, never quite satisfied but unable to imagine what else we could do.

15 responses to “Conversation with Tom Pepper 1”

  1. David Watson Avatar

    Tom, why do you say of Locke (and perhaps of the empiricist model of the subject generally?) that thought is given a “more affect-like quality”? Is this connected with the demand for an “addictive jouissance” you suggest characterizes the production of art under capitalism?

  2. wtpepper Avatar

    Hi David,

    Well, It’s not that all thought has this affective quality—some thought is done in language, and is rational, etc. But Locke is explicit on these two points: 1) the soul does not always think, and continues to exist in a “thought free” state and 2) there are thoughts, perhaps even the majority of thoughts, that occur outside of language, that are not “verbal” thoughts. Both of these are necessary to support the ideology of the subject that Locke is producing. As has often been pointed out, Locke takes the capitalist subject, atomistic, selfish, appetitive and acquisitive, and sets out to demonstrate that this is the universal state of things. It is very important to him that the subject not be a product of its social formations, of which language is clearly a part, or else we might suggest changing the social formation instead of adapting to it at the cost of such great human suffering. These non-verbal thoughts, which might be close to what Lacan would call the imaginary register, are understood to be closer to “truth,” to be beyond social construction, and are more like the soul’s direct perception of reality. The soul, Locke tells us, has ideas only once it begins to perceive, and these ideas are only distorted and confused in language. This is the kind of thought that is closer to affect than reason, and it is very important to Locke that these “imaginary relations” not be seen as socially constructed in any way. There is a soul, trapped in a body which uses language, and the goal is to adapt the body and the language to maximize the comfort of the soul. That this “soul” is in fact a socially created entity—that it might be dependently arisen, to us the Buddhist terminology—is too dangerous an idea; that would suggest that we might change our social formations to produce a different kind of “soul” or self which would not, perhaps, be atomistic, appetitive and acquisitive, which might take pleasure in thought and labor. Locke was so instantly and internationally popular because his book produces the necessary ideology of the subject for early capitalism.

    The nature of capitalist art is directly related to this. Tolstoy laments the failure of art in the 19th century, because he sees the goal of art to be the production of an ideology in a very conscious way: art, he says, should produce a shared “emotional” experience of the world, one which is collectively motivating. The problem is that art has become the production of class-specific emotional enjoyment, which motivates nothing at all but the next emotional “fix.” I would say that art always works to produce our ideologies, and that this “decadent” art that Tolstoy laments is exactly the most successful form of capitalist art. We must enjoy emotion, we must give the “soul” its “fix,” because the possibility of changing our social practices to produce a different kind of subject it too threatening. Art, then, becomes the way of keeping the Lockean subject reified.

    Adorno, for instance, was insistent that there could be no political art. He demanded that art work only indirectly, never explicitly stating a political end; for most of us today, our way of consuming art makes this same demand, because we cannot conceive of any ideology which knows itself as ideology. We cannot accept the possibility that we might choose our ideology with conscious intention, and develop, through collective practice, a pleasure in it. We want, then, to be tricked into an ideology, to be persuaded that our affective experience of the world is universal and unavoidable, that it is not a construct of our social formation. Brecht thought the theater experience should motivate the audience to go out and “complete the play, but in real life,” it should inspire real changes in social practices. For our art today, we think it should give enjoyment, as a compensation for the miserable but unchangeable material reality in which our eternal souls are trapped.

    So, yes, the two are absolutely connected. Being addicted to the emotional enjoyments of works of art, which must never be explicit about the social conditions of their existence, is a practice in which we produce and reproduce the subject of capitalism. Art is like Freud’s “fort-da” game, a substitute for actual action which give the infant some satisfaction in its helpless and powerless state. This is what the drive is, for Lacan, it is how jouissance works: it must produce a thoroughly unproductive kind of repetitive pleasure. It makes life bearable, sometimes, but leaves us right where we were before. I’ve written about The Hunger Games, because I think it is a perfect example of this. We claim that we give it to kids to read because it will make them more politically engaged, more feminist, will spur ethical considerations, etc., but the real effect is simply to produce an emotional enjoyment, through the use of fantasy, plot, narrative voice, and this emotional experience should be, like the drug fix, both satisfying and seductive, pulling the reader in to ever more emotional fixes, but never promoting any real-world activity. How many of the tens of millions of Americans who read this book and saw the movie have become more politically active, or more feminist, as a result?

    I know this is a bit of a long and rambling answer, but I do think this is an important point. We can change the function of art only by changing our practice of consuming it, and a small change like this could be the first step in trying to change the kind of subjects we are, and the kind of social formations we produce.

  3. wtpepper Avatar

    Discussion in the comment sections doesn’t seem to be the modus operandi here,at least not yet. I want to offer one further comment,though, to anyone who might be interested in the issue of the ideological nature of art.

    I am working with Patricia Comitini to start an online journal devoted to the discussion of the ideology being produced by works of art. The mainstream academic approach to literature has, for decades now, been dependent on the (incorrect) assumption that real art, whether Literature or painting or film or any in any other form, always “subverts” or “critiques” the dominant ideology-that great art is a kind of “philosophy light,” producing “truths” that are eternal, and non-ideological. Our goal is to restore ideological critique to the study of Literature and Film, with the assumption that ideology is a positive and necessary thing, and the goal of critique is to determine just what ideology is being produced, and to decide whether to continue to produce it.

    The journal is called Imaginary Relations, and can be found at We plan to publish our first “issue” this summer, with an essay on the ideology of Jane Austen. Academic study of Austen insists that she be understood to be a proto-feminist, subtly subverting oppressive gender ideologies. The problem is, she subverts them so very subtly, apparently, that she wind up producing them. The opening essay, then,is a discussion of how the study of Jane Austen today, along with the many films of her novels, works to produce an gender ideology, and ideology of Literature, that maintains the middle-class subject of capitalism. This kind of work would not be likely to get past a first reader at an academic journal today. Our hope is to eventually publish responses to the ideological critiques, to foster debate about the ideology our cultural objects produce–debates we think should be the content of the study of literature and culture at the university level.

    At this point, the plan is for one essay a month, with and invitation for critical response. The second essay is likely to be on the tv show “Breaking Bad.”

    If anyone is interested we are actively seeking submissions. The email address to contact us is on the website, along with a brief description of the goals of the journal.

  4. David Watson Avatar

    Thanks, Tom, for your response to my query. I am sorry not have acknowledged it in a more timely fashion.

    Your mention of your analysis of Hunger Games, (posted at The Faithful Buddhist 11/15/13) set me thinking in a different direction. There you acknowledged (citing passages from Boltanski and Chiapello’s New Spirit of Capitalism) the (perhaps surprising to some) ability of capitalist ideology to constantly transform itself to take account of the critiques its failings inevitably generate. B&C, you noted, mention four “sources of indignation” toward capitalism: disenchantment and inauthenticity; oppression; poverty and inequality; and opportunism and egoism. You argued that in Collins’ novels the ideology being promoted shifts from such traditional capitalist values as hard work at tedious tasks, financial success, and technical training (those you mention in your essay in Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, p37) – values that reflect the idealization of society as a productive machine – to the valorization of innate personal qualities generative of intuitive actions capable of capturing attention – values perhaps reflecting an idealization of society as specular, consisting of audience and performer. Thus a discourse that can seem to attack capitalism through exaggeration and satire is instead seen as having been co-opted by a (superficially?) transformed iteration of capitalist ideology.

    Though I have not read the Collins novels, your analysis seemed plausible to me and indeed promising. The transformed ideology, no less than the traditional version, serves to insure (as you explained) that the properly interpellated capitalist subject “will never achieve true agency.”

    But a novel like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest shares many of the features you identified in the Hunger Games series. This too is an apparent critique of capitalism through exaggeration and satire full of characters who seem able to act only by acting out their exhibitionistic impulses, seeking to “express” their innate qualities and thus capture attention. Perhaps Wallace himself is doing much the same thing in writing such a novel. Yet it seems to me the analysis you applied to the Collins trilogy would be reductionistic if applied to Wallace’s novel.

    You addressed Wallace’s personal situation as an example of a “bad subject” of capitalist ideology in another blog post here. While this, I think, did not purport to be a critique of the novel, you did characterize his work as typically postmodern in the sense of “works that precisely prevent us from seeing the structure beneath the phenomena that we are, and keep us entranced by pure surface, convinced there is no alternative to the way things are, the only solution is a kind of ironic nihilism coupled with mindless hedonism.”

    I won’t offer here an argument that Infinite Jest is more than that. Instead I will merely suggest the possibility that if some novels continue to claim our attention long after their publication (as Austen’s certainly do, and as I suspect Infinite Jest will and the Collins trilogy will not) it is because they do more than produce ideology. This might be understandable in terms of a conception of artistic products as compromise formations which embody more than just what their creators sought to put into them. These embodied contents can result from the demands of genre, market forces, social pressures, subconscious material forcing its way into expression, and many other factors, but become most interesting when they include – often of course in disguised and distorted forms – exactly what the hegemonic ideology is most concerned to suppress.

    This conception of art may seem suspiciously close to what you call, in your May 8 comment above, the “mainstream academic approach to literature,” one you find to be “dependent on the (incorrect) assumption that real art…always ‘subverts’ or ‘critiques’ the dominant ideology.” But I am not sure it conflicts with the very promising approach outlined in the announcement of the journal Imaginary Relations. I would hope it is in some degree consistent with Badiou’s portrayal of art, in Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, as one of the four categories of human activity capable of producing a truth worthy of human allegiance.

  5. wtpepper Avatar

    Hi David–my remark about the absence of discussion in comment sections wasn’t meant to be directed toward you; you don’t need to respond, and certainly not on any schedule. I was just remarking that discussion doesn’t seem to be the focus here, or at least it hasn’t become very active yet–most of Glenn’s posts prompt just a few short comments and no discussion.

    I would say that I also once wished that works of Literature could do “more than produce ideology,” and it took me literally decades to get over that error. Now, I would say that there is nothing “more” that any kind of art could ever do, and we should stop pretending there is. There might be something “else” that some kinds of discourse do, something other than producing ideology, but it is not “more.” Producing ideology is the most essential act of human beings, and while some practice do other things, they are secondary to the production of ideology. I think part of the reason people cling to this error is that we want to think we can have a “final truth” free of all ideology, but we can’t. To use my favorite metaphor once again, we are like that bird who dreams that if he just didn’t have to deal with air resistance he could fly so much faster! This is absurd; ideology is a necessary thing. The only point is to avoid bad ideologies, that hamper our ability to act in the world and create suffering.

    So, yes, I would insist that Jane Austen does nothing but produce ideology, and the reason we still read her novels is that they can still be used to produce ideology today; the reason we don’t read her contemporaries, like Scott or Godwin, is that they just cannot usefully produce ideology for us. We may be able to use The Heart of MIdlothian to study the ideology of Romantic period, but it no longer works to produce an ideology that can inform our actions in the world today. What “stands the test of time” is just whatever is still useful to produce an ideology that works today. We may want to do non-ideological things with novels (like produce scientific accounts of the history of ideology), but the novel itself doesn’t do these things, we do them in different, non-aesthetic discourses.

    As for Infiinite Jest, well, I can think of no greater example of extreme right-wing capitalist postmodern ideology. Wallace was not too smart, a poor writer, and too many people mistook his mental illness for genius–and so his terrible novel became a useful tool to promote a postmodern ideology of the subject. Fortunately, he is already being forgotten, and I would wager that in ten years nobody but a handful of college professors will have any idea who he was, while Collins’s novels will still be read by school kids. Wallace’s novel certainly do not contain anything that the “hegemonic ideology want to surpress.” IT is just the ideology a particular class fraction, instead of the more general shared ideology. Wallace produces the ideology of the affluent elitists who would like to consider themselves liberal and avant-garde, radical chic if you will, but it is, like Pynchon or DeLillo, just the ideology of the pseudo-intellectual right wing elite. That this ideology will never be embraced by the majority does not make it radical in any way, nor is it less an ideology for being the ideology of the oppressing class–it is not only the poor who are ideologically deluded, and I have never seen anyone more pathetically deluded than David Foster Wallace.

    As for Badiou’s concept of Truth, well, it doesn’t mean art doesn’t produce ideology. Ideology is not the opposite of truth–it is what Badiou means by a truth: concepts in practices which increase our ability to interact with and understand more of the world. He is just more optimistic than I am that art produces positive and beneficial ideologies; I think that this is rare, and that almost all art under capitalism produces oppressive and deluding ideologies.

  6. David Watson Avatar

    Tom, thank you for this exchange. I agree with you that the claims of the ideological method of literary analysis commit it to accounting for all (or at least all significant) content. Therefore if I wish to maintain that novels can “do more than produce ideology,” I must accept that I am committed to contesting the essential claims of that method. I decline make such a commitment. I continue to find the ideological method, as you have explained it, the most promising approach to literary analysis I have yet encountered, I am thus forced to concede (for the moment, at least) that Wallace’s novel cannot be defended on the basis I proposed.

    Of course, it remains possible that the novel can be defended (despite your objections) as somehow productive of “useful ideology.” I will have to give thought to this possibility. (I was interested to see that you argued both that Wallace “is already being forgotten” and that, “like Pynchon and DeLillo,” his ideology is that of the “pseudo-intellectual right wing elite.” I do not think Pynchon, at least, is being forgotten. Not that your argument commits you to claiming he is.)

    I look forward to reading Imaginary Relations. After a few issues, perhaps I will have a better grasp of how the ideological method of aesthetic analysis operates in practice.

  7. wtpepper Avatar

    I didn’t mean to suggest that Pynchon will be forgotten as well. He may be an awful right-winger, but he’s worlds smarter than Wallace and a much better writer, so I expect there will be college professors teaching him for decades yet. But the group of misogynistic right-wing postmodernists who are Wallace’s fans won’t be enough to keep him around, and their ideology is much more successfully reproduced by someone like Cormac McCarthy–plus, McCarthy has a broader appeal because he doesn’t spend so much energy on his anger at those who understand things he cannot, which seems to be one reason DFW is so appealing to a certain group of readers. McCarthy will surely produce the same basic ideology but without the very group-specific elements that Wallace is known for.

    The important thing is to examine what ideology a work of art is producing, and decide whether it is good, not just enjoyable. To come back to Tolstoy, he discusses how important this is in youth, for whom a work of art may have the most profound effect because it is their first encounter with what he calls a “new emotion,” and so will make the most indelible impression on them. In Lacanian terms, what he is explaining is how the novel or play or poem can structure the interaction of the imaginary and symbolic registers, and so those works we encounter at fairly early ages are fundamentally important, producing an interaction of and structuring of these registers that can become almost impossible to change–think of how well most people remember novels they read or movies they saw as a teenager, compared to how difficult it is to remember the novel you read last year, even if you thought is was great at the time. Tolstoy’s point is that if we choose art based on “enjoyment” we are recklessly producing harmful emotional structures (ideologies) that are hard to overcome later on. But nobody is willing to admit that art does this, that it produces ideologies, so we are unwilling to examine what kinds of subjects we are making our children into. I personally have never met a middle-school teacher who would be capable of understanding, much less producing, an ideological critique of Hunger Games or Harry Potter, and they teach them because it is easy to get kids to actually read them–so, it is the responsibility of those who can to try to argue for want should be taught, because it is far more important than most people will admit. There is a tendency to either dismiss the possibility that aesthetic objects have any effect at all, or to believe they have the most reductive and stupid kind of effect, like saying that Hunger Games will encourage school shootings; either way, they are missing the ideology actually being produced, and can’t see the danger of works that appear, superficially, to be innocuous, like The Giver.

    I’m hoping that Imaginary Relations can be a venue for more serious and sophisticated ideological critique than usually appears in either academic journals or popular press. It has been difficult to find submissions, because most so far have tried to argue that some aesthetic object, from Walking Dead to Gullivers Travels, in some way subverts ideology to reveal a transcendent truth, or, especially in the case of popular culture to argue that it “represents” contemporary ideology, in some kind of distorting mirror, in order to defamiliarize or estrange it. We are having trouble trying to find submissions that explain the ideology a work is producing. We had wanted to wait until we had six or more essays lined up to begin, but at this point we are hoping that putting out a couple might give a clearer idea of what we are looking for.

  8. Paul Avatar

    I find this post fascinating. I only have an undergraduate degree, so I stumble over some of the concepts and words, but I get the thrust of the argument and it fills in some of the holes in my developing anti-capitalist inquiry. I would like to ask, though, doesn’t art (as opposed to capitalist Art) reproduce ideology in every human society? Isn’t it a bit of a heavy burden to ask that Art expose capitalist ideology in some way so that that that ideology can be changed? I would answer Glenn Wallis’ question about the power of art to counter ideology in the negative. Your answer to Glenn is that you think that it doesn’t but it can. You write that “Locke takes the capitalist subject, atomistic, selfish, appetitive and acquisitive, and sets out to demonstrate that this is the universal state of things” and then that he “was so instantly and internationally popular because his book produces the necessary ideology of the subject for early capitalism.” How did that happen? It seems to me that something is being overlooked here and I wonder if the answer might lie in the explorations of Walter Ong and David Abram. Locke was by no means the only writer who reproduced a capitalist ideology. How did the hole in the dike holding back the destructive ideology of capitalism develop? If we could identify the fertile ground that results in the cancer called capitalism, perhaps we could answer that question, because, whatever else capitalism is, it certainly has strong similarities to cancer in that it is doing a very effective job of destroying its host.

    I look forward to reading and pondering the articles to be published in Imaginary Relations. I hope they are accessible to the educated layman.

  9. wtpepper Avatar

    I didn’t want to give the impression that all was going along fine until the evil genius Locke unleashed capitalist ideology on the world. The point is that capitalism was already an existing practice, although not yet universal–so there’s nothing being “overlooked,” the point is to never think in terms of individual geniuses, but in terms of social practices. Locke’s book emerges out of a number of social practices, or there would be nobody to understand it and it could have no effect at all–this work was popular because it stated what everyone was already thinking and doing in their lives (well, not everyone, but those engaged in capitalist practices). So, instead of a dam holding back capitalist ideology, we need to think of ideology as a number of social practices, changing over time, emerging in the already existing feudal and merchantile economies and gradually becoming dominant.

    And yes, I would say that “art” some form always functions to produce ideology; it may not be “art” in any form we would call art today, but there is always some aesthetic practice (ritual, religion, etc.) that produces the ideology of a social group. Personally, I don’t think are EVER “exposes ideology so that it can be changed.” This is just not what aesthetic practices can ever do. We can do this, in other social practices, but aesthetic practices just always produce ideology. It is the case that the form of ideological production in capitalism has some peculiarities, in that capitalism requires things like a concept of a universal subject combined with tremendous inequality (while, say, feudalism could assume that nobles and peasants were different kinds of subjects) and capitalism requires endless change, so its ideology must be constantly evolving (this is one reason for the illusion of “subversion”: the need to subvert yesterday’s capitalist ideology and replace it with today’s, which is, of course, always assumed to be at long last the ultimate truth). The peculiar nature of capitalist ideology perhaps give it both its immense protean power and open up a possibility for art that might produce anti-capitalist ideologies (they will, still, produce ideologies–beliefs in practices that motivate human actions in the world–because that is all art can ever, or should ever, do, and it is probably the most important thing to do in the human world).

    As for accessibility, well, we’re working on that. The problem always is that what is “clear” is what just repeats ordinary common-sense and says nothing new. The accessible is usually just telling you what you already think, or just what you wan to hear. So, there will have to be some willingness on the part of readers to make a bit of effort, if they want to see what their ideology is and how it is constructed. Enlightenment just takes some work. That said, the hope is to avoid the “expert language” that might move this kind of work from challenging to incomprehensible.

  10. Paul Avatar

    I didn’t take your comment to mean that the “evil genius Locke” unleashed capitalist ideology. Wallerstein and Amin have both written extensively about the development of capitalism and yes, the triumph of capitalist hegemony is still an incomplete project. Largely complete, yes, but there are still pockets of resistance.

    Are you familiar with the work of Walter Ong (orality vs. literacy) and David Abram?

    I don’t think that there is a possibility that art (and certainly not capitalist Art) “might produce anti-capitalist ideologies. Art, as you write, “just always produce[s] ideology”. I’d clarify that to say that art and Art reproduce and reflect ideologies.

    By accessible, I meant that a lot of anti-capitalist discussion takes place at a rather high level. I think I read, on the Imaginative Relations site, that the discussion there would be aimed at the well-prepared undergraduate or beginning graduate student. To even begin to understand capitalism, it is necessary to read (several times?) Marx’s Capital. How many “well-prepared undergraduates” have done that? Understanding Marcuse, Polanyi, Althusser, Lacan and a vast number of other authors is just not possible without having digested Capital. Accessibility is not about being told what I already think; it is about having a map, of sorts, that link various strands of thought together to form a reasonably coherent whole. I whole-heartedly endorse the avoidance of “expert language” (a.k.a. jargon) so that your project is merely challenging, not incomprehensible.

  11. wtpepper Avatar

    I’m really not getting your point, Paul. You seem to be suggesting that to be able to understand any critique of capitalism, one must be very philosophically sophisticated, and so nobody could possibly understand such a critique except a few people at a “high level”(whatever that means). Yet you suggest that it is important to be “accessible,” so, what…it is important NOT to do any critique of capitalism?

    And you state that there is no possibility of any kind of art ever producing anti-capitalist ideology. Well, of course, by definition, capitalist art would not produce anti-capitalist ideology, but to conclude from that the impossibility of producing any kinds of beliefs and practices that could ever oppose capitalism is just absurd.

    I think perhaps you don’t understand what I mean by ideology? I use the term in Althusser’s sense, and you seem to be still troubled by a lingering assumption that ideology is an illusion or error or deception. Ideology is just the beliefs in practices which motivate and structure our actions in the world, and so art cannot ever “reflect” ideology, it produces ideology, and can produce ideologies (social practices) that oppose capitalism. Such “art” will, of course, not look like capitalist art, and will not be on tv or the bestseller list, but art is not coterminous with capitalist art, fortunately.

    So, your “clarification” is just a complete misunderstanding of my point, and of the entire marxist theory of ideology and art—a very typical error, trying to universalize the capitalist ideology of art and fit marxist theory into it, but perhaps it would help if you reread Althusser? This is a hard point to grasp, it is the biggest problem we have with getting submissions to the journal: everyone still has the subtle assumption, even if they deny it, that ideology is an “error” or “illusion,” and REAL art will somehow expose ideology, while only bad, capitalist art produces it. Understanding that ideology is real, positive, and necessary thing is just too difficult for most people.

    And yes, being “clear” or “accessible” is always in every case a matter of telling you what you already think. Until you can grasp that, you probably won’t understand the Althusserian theory of ideology (or Capital, for that matter).

    I am familiar with Ong (never heard of David Abram), and the transition from orality to literacy, which occurs simultaneously with the invention of money in just about every culture, is clearly an important ideological transformation, creating a new social practice and so a new form of subjectivity, etc. That a social practice produces changes in subjectivity is fairly obvious, from a marxist perspective, though, and I don’t see what exactly Ong has to do with Locke and the empiricist subject.

  12. Paul Avatar

    I’m not interested in continuing this “dialog”. Your arrogance and condescension is stunning. I’ll go back to lurking.

  13. wtpepper Avatar

    Funny, I was thinking the same thing. It always amazes me when someone like yourself is so confident in “correcting” those who actually know what they’re talking about–and then, when your ignorance becomes obvious, of course, you start calling others arrogant. You see, Paul, your comments are the very definition of arrogance–perhaps you should look up the term. Maybe it would help if you stopped lurking and went and read a book.

  14. wtpepper Avatar

    Here’s a brief definition: correcting someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about is called argument; correcting someone when you don’t know what you’re talking about is arrogance. The former is essential to human progress; the latter is the dominant mode of discourse today.

  15. wtpepper Avatar

    This last exchange reminds me of an initial thought I had in response to Glenn’s first question to me. Badiou suggest that the dominant ideology in our world is: there are only bodies and languages. This leads to what he calls the “tyranny of opinion,” in which we must accede to the majority opinion on anything, and never offer evidence or argument for an action or belief. “Languages” are just subjective ideological positions, and there is no possibility of a truth about the world—we must not imagine, for instance, that we can be correct about the effects of a particular practice, because all we have are opinions.

    This is, of course, the main argumentative strategy in global capitalist cultures: everything is a matter of interpretation, there is no objective truth, so we must just go with the majority, that’s the “democratic” and reasonable way. Arguing for a truth, using evidence and logic, is seen as being dictatorial and arrogant—arrogant is the key insult, the major term of dismissal for anyone who tries to provide real evidence for a position, or to present a rational argument. We can call them “arrogant,” and then they are silenced. They are seen as “bullying” with their evidence and arguments, instead of offering seductive and entertaining presentations of fashionable opinion; they are dictatorially “forcing” us to believe the truth, instead of democratically allowing us to believe whatever makes us happy.

    Consider the example of the tv show House. “Arrogant” is probably the most commonly used term on the show, and House is called “arrogant at least once an episode. But this is the new definition of arrogant, and has reversed the meaning of the term. At one point, “arrogant” referred to someone who refused to consider evidence for his position, who insisted others accept what he said without debate or proof, just certain he was right. In this sense, it is Dr. Cuddy who is arrogant, insisting, despite repeated evidence to the contrary, that she knows better than House, and demanding that the “standard protocol” or majority opinion must always take precedence over House’s concern with facts, logic, and proof. So, when House proves he is correct by saving someone’s life, this would not be “arrogant” in the old sense—he demands proof that he has found the “right answer,” and the need for proof is the very opposite of arrogance. Today, we have inverted the meaning of the term “arrogance” so that someone who argues for a belief, trying to prove its “truth,” is considered arrogant, while someone who simply asserts the “majority opinion” and insists that because it is an opinion it is beyond debate is considered reasonable and democratic.

    Of course, the truth will always seem dictatorial in this culture, because it demands our assent—it will not yield to mere opinion. This obsession that opinion is all there is dominates, particularly, the pseudo-sciences like psychology and education; they will insist on their “empirical data” as proof that their practices work, until someone points out that there is a mistaken assumption hidden in the construction of their “operational definitions,” then they immediately fall back on the argument that “well, postmodernism teaches us that everything is an interpretation.” So, in mindfulness research, to “operationally define” happiness as the ability to ignore what is going on around you is, well, an opinion, and should not, no, MUST not be debated. The “empirical evidence” then proves unquestionably that making ourselves oblivious to the world around us is the ultimate goal.

    I didn’t address this issue, though, because I really do think it is a corollary of the concept of the Lockean empirical subject. Our “opinions” are in our souls, and we must not consider changing them with mere logic and evidence, which exists in the realm of the bodily and material. All we must do is adjust our thoughts to fit our opinions, and anything else is “arrogance” and oppression. This is a sad state of affairs, but it is an important problem, because it is the common form of academic discourse today. When we try to argue for the ideological effect of an aesthetic practice, or of a particular educational practice, the response is always, “well, that’s just your opinion, and just because you have actual physical evidence and logical arguments to support it doesn’t make it a better opinion—the majority opinion, although it is demonstrably counter-factual and illogical, is still clearly the correct one to hold.” So we can give medications to children, say, and then if they prove to be ineffective or even harmful and someone points this out, she is called “arrogant” because she is using mere physical proof to demonstrate the harm, while the majority opinion insists that, all evidence to the contrary, they “believe” it is helpful—and majority is democratic, and so reasonable, and just because we may cause death and suffering for millions, well, that’s no reason to abandon a strong belief—giving in to facts and reason would be giving in to totalitarianism! With Literature or other aesthetic practices, we can argue that a particular ideological practice is harmful to the individuals participating in it, that it helps to diminish their real agency in the world, and the response only need to be “Well, the majority enjoys this book/movie/music, and anyway, you just have arguments and logic, we have emotion and opinion—so you’re arrogant, we’re reasonable and democratic.”

    So, if we’re going to invert the meaning of arrogance, so it now means “somebody who makes cogent arguments, gives reasons for beliefs and actions, and seeks proof for her theories,” well, then, I hope everyone will embrace arrogance, because the opposite stance is the most deadly corollary of our dominant ideology.

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