Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology: An Introduction to Some Current Issues in Literary Theory

By Christopher Butler | Go to book overview

6.3 Marxism and the Dominant Ideology

Certains veulent un texte (un art, une peinture) sans ombre, coupé de l'idéologie dominante'; mais c'est vouloir un texte sans fécondité, sans productivité, un texte stérile (voyez le mythe de la Femme la sans Ombre). Le texte a besoin de son ombre: cette ombre c'est un peu d'idéologie, un peu de représentation, un peu de sujet: fantÔmes, poches, traînées, nuages nécessaires: la subversion doit produire son propre clair-obscur. (On dit couramment: 'idélologie dominante'. Cette expression est incongrue. Car l'idéologie, c'est quoi? C'est précisément l'idée en tant qu'elle domine: l'idéologie ne peut être que dominante.)1

Our treatment of hidden ideology thus far makes it seem like a framework of belief whose shortcomings are to be revealed by an interpretative criticism which takes a superior mimetic attitude to the visual image, work, programme, or text. It shows in effect that the 'responsibility for the object laid bare' to which Sartre alluded is not, in a larger philosophical or political context, all that responsible. Whereas the interpreter is, or purports to be so.

In more overtly Marxist criticism however, something more specific is meant by dominant ideology. (I am aware that there are many different kinds of Marxists. All I can claim here is that many of them deploy logical forms of argument like those outlined below. The methods of interpretation I discuss seem typical within current Marxist criticism.) The basic assertion here is, I think, that in our present historical context this ideology will always have certain 'bourgeois' features. We have seen this in our discussion of Barthes and had a hint of it in the assertion that realistic documentary is a characteristically bourgeois mode of representation on television. For according to Marx, class societies develop beliefs that reflect the material interests of the dominant class; and his twentieth-century successors feel that their media will broadcast them.

The historical argument on which this judgement depends is roughly as follows.2 The dominant or at least rising ideology was once, in the period of the Enlightenment, progressive. It proclaimed equality, and opposed feudalism, the power of the Church, and the absolutism of rulers. Against these the power of reason itself could be seen to be revolutionary. Reason in power could claim the self- evident values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Emancipation

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