Monday, August 08, 2016

Ideology Interpellates Subjects as Individuals: on Dean's Crowds and Party

Image from The Crowd, King Vidor 

Jodi Dean's Crowds and Party can be understood to have two objects, each identified by the words in its title. First, it is an argument against the individual, the individual form, arguing that the individual is the kernel of contemporary of contemporary ideology, resurfacing even in those practices that would escape it. Second, it is an argument for the party, for a revival of the party form. The party is Dean's answer to the question that runs through several of Verso's books this fall, how to reproduce,  sustain, and maximize the occupations and protests that have become part of social space. Dean's party then takes its place alongside Clover's commune and Jameson's universal army of dual power. 

It is with respect to the first objective, the critique of the individual, that Dean inverts Althusser's formulation, writing that "ideology interpellates subjects as individuals." As Dean clarifies this claim,

Althusser's claim that "ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their conditions of existence" should be reread with the emphasis on individuals. What is imaginary is that the conditions ideology organizes relate primarily to an individual. The individual is itself an imaginary figure, as we learn from Lacan. Bourgeois ideology treats conditions that are collective and social--embedded in histories of violence and systems of exploitation--as if they were relationships specific to an individual, as if states rose through individual consent, as if politics were a matter of individual choice, and as if desires and capacities, affects and will naturally originate from and reside in an individual form. But just as collective experience of antagonism--the "social substance"--underlies what Marx calls the "phantom-like objectivity" of the commodity, so too does it underlie the phantom like subjectivity of the individual."

Dean's rewriting makes a compelling case for the individual as the degree zero of bourgeois ideology, and raises once again some questions about Althusser's original perplexing formulation. Who were these "individuals" interpellated by ideology? What is the distinction between subject and individual?  What does it mean to say the individual precedes the subject? Is this simply the biological individual, as the passages on infancy seem to suggest? More to the point, it raises the question of the individual in Althusser's thought. The full text of  Sur la Reproduction  (or The Reproduction of Capital as it has been translated into English) gives central place to what he refers to as the "legal-moral ideology" in the superstructure. The legal-moral ideology is situated at the intersection of the practical demands of reproduction, it maintains the fiction of the free individual selling his or her labor power, while at the same time giving rise to speculations about the free individual. It is the ground floor of the superstructure, connected to both the practical demands of the base and the higher realms of speculation. As Althusser writes in Être Marxiste en Philosophie,  "the juridical ideology is this intermediary ideology between pure law and moral-religious ideology."We could say that the individual was already central for Althusser, but a specific form of individuation, that of legal responsibility, of individuation through the the law. It is also worth noting that the full text of Sur la Reproduction offers a different theory of ideology than that of the famous essay pulled from its pages. The essay isolates the school as the dominant ISA (ideological state apparatus), while the focus in the text on the legal ideology suggests a more overdetermined ideology, the legal/moral ideology is central precisely because it intersects with everything from the practical details of life under capitalism to its most lofty reflections. 

Althusser never fully developed this idea of the legal ideology, of the subject of rights, but it runs through his philosophical work of the early seventies. As much as the legal ideology functioned as a kind of lynchpin in his theory of the mode of production, holding together base and superstructure, the practical matters of the state with legal and moral speculation, it also works as a lynchpin in his own thought, connecting the critical work on the history of philosophy with the political work on ideology. Despite its fragmentary nature, it is clear that Althusser sees the legal individual as central to both bourgeois thought and capitalist ideology, it is the point where both intersect. 

Dean, however, is concerned with a different individual, and a different form of individuation, that of "communicative capitalism." As Dean writes, "The era of communicative capitalism is an era of commanded individuality." She is less concerned with the individual as the lynchpin connecting the law to morality and religion than the individual that connects consumerism, social media, and self help. (Silva's Coming up Short is a point of reference). I think that the term lynchpin is useful here, in both cases it is a matter of a particular form of individuation functioning across different practices and theories. It is a matter of unity in difference. The legal/moral individual was defined by responsibility, a responsibility that shifted from the legal to the theological, while the communicative individual is defined by expression, by expression that moves from consumption to social life and work. Expression, like responsibility, is said in many senses. These can be considered different moments in what Balibar called the differential mode of historical individuality. Between Althusser and Dean there is an entire shift of the mode of individuation, or subjection, following the shift in production. 

There is perhaps one point of continuity, however, an important one for thinking through the larger questions of the reproduction of the conditions for revolution. In the end of Althusser's manuscript he gives a "concrete example" of a revolutionary worker who returns home after the union meeting to be subject to petit-bourgeois family squabbles, the television and its nationalist chorus, the discussion of elections and so on. Under these conditions, under the chorus of modes of individuation, it is difficult to sustain the subjectivity, the collective subjectivity, produced in and through the conflict on the factory floor. As Dean suggest these conditions, conditions of individuation and dissipation have only increased since the 1970s. They have become imminent to all of social existence. Without addressing these changing technological, economic, social, and cultural conditions any appeal to a transformative structure, commune or party, will be stillborn. 

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