Naturally for the convenience and clarity of my little theoretical theatre I have had to present things in the form of a sequence, with a before and an after, and thus in the form of a temporal succession. There are individuals walking along. Somewhere (usually behind them) the hail rings out: ‘Hey, you there!’ One individual (nine times out of ten it is the right one) turns round, believing/suspecting/ knowing that it is for him, i.e. recognizing that ‘it really is he’ who is meant by the hailing. But in reality these things happen without any succession. The existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing.
I thought I’d start this story at the beginning. But now I’ve decided that’s too late.
More than two-thirds of the way through his essay on ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,’ Louis Althusser arrives at what has become, in the three decades subsequent to its publication, the most cited feature of his argument, his theory of interpellation. 2 He is trying to account for the relation of the individuated subject to the liberal state. It is not enough, Althusser suggests, to offer a theory of a wholly repressive state, which bends individuals and groups to its will. In order to account for the reproduction of the conditions of production, conditions that prominently include exploitation and inequality, Althusser needs also to explain how and why it is that subjects freely consent to their own ongoing subordination and exploitation, indeed, how and why they come to misrecognize this submission as freedom. For, if the story of state power is only a monotonous tale of overt domination, subordination, naysaying, how are we to make sense of the disquieting fact that the subordinated come to identify with - find themselves in - the very conditions that hold them in check? What secures the ongoing investment or ‘passionate attachment,’ to use Judith Butler’s term, 3 of the dominated to their conditions of subjection?