brief warning - I do get around to discussing Foucault in the end!
Daniel wrote: "Any of these sources would productively frame the
Foucault/Althusser-ideology debates... showing us that the
"false-consciousness" model which F rightly dismisses is, nonetheless, a
straw-man in so far as it is made to stand for *all* concepts and
methods of ideology-critique. Althusser and Zizek, for two, would argue
against Foucault in his claim that all notions of ideology are framed in
relation to a True/False proposition.... becuase from an even lossely
Lacanian point of view, ideology is "eternal," if not the "human
I totally agree that the "false consciousness" model of ideology, if not
exactly a straw man (in that I think that there were thinkers who held
this view) is not Althusser?s BUT this does not mean that Althusser is
not committed to the idea that ideology at a certain level is false.
Althusser?s epistemology is a complete nightmare, if only because he?s
managed to amalgamate Lacan, Saussure and Spinoza - in order to get at
what he thinks the "post-Hegel" Marx was really on about. Althusser
distinguishes between ideological thought and critical, scientific, or
Marxist thought. There is a sense in which ideology in as much as it is
pre-critical is "the human condition" but it is not the limit of human
understanding. For Althusser, falsity (following Spinoza) is not
something positive but always marks an insufficiency (whether of facts,
The best example is the one of the sun - it really does appear to us as
a small yellow circle - but the ideological claim is that that is what
the sun actually is. So ideology is always with us - from the earth, the
sun always will appear as a small yellow circle but it is possible to
move away from claiming that as an actual truth of existence.
Althusser believes that there really are truths "out there" waiting to
be discovered by the critically engaged Marxist thinker but he also has
a theory (from Spinoza and Lacan) of why they are not immediately to
hand. So to that extent he is still committed to a true/false view of
This view of concepts, of truth, being a notion of being adequate to the
world (truth as adequation) is totally removed from Foucault (I told you
I?d get to him in the end).
As a translation of Les Mots et les Chose the title, "The Order of
Things" totally flattens Foucault?s analysis as it is concerned with the
relationships between Words and Things. Whatever the inadequacies of the
Order of Things, the one thing it totally demolishes is the idea that
there is ever *an* "adequation" between words and things. There is not
*a* relationship of truth between words and things - every episteme
constructs its own relationship and there is no "critical" point outside
of an episteme from which to make truth claims.
You might want to say that an episteme is just another way of describing
an ideology but this would be to miss the point that epistemes are
*truth* producing. Without *a* true, or critical set of beliefs with
which to contrast ideological beliefs then the concept ideology itself
is totally redundant.
Both Althusser and Foucault are concerned with why people believe what
they believe but Althusser is after something that Foucault simply does
not believe in.
A discursive formation is a set of statements.
A statement is, very roughly, a regulative principle of both what can be
said and what can be seen. So a statement is NOT a linguistic phenomenon
as it is precisely that between of Words and Things. Foucault suggests
that there is no pre-discursive reality which our discourses somehow
chop up AND that there is an outside of discourse (the unthought, the
unseeable). Madness is the paradigm of the unthought, unthinkable (and
after the spat with Jacques "textual fetishist" Derrida, Foucault also
retracts the idea that there might be a pre-discursive experience of
What can be seen and what can be said mark out the domain of knowledge
but why that domain is as it is, is a question of will-to-power.
One further thing in reply to a different post - voluntary / involuntary
is a total blind, completely misleading for several related reasons.
First because Foucualt follows Nietzsche?s attack on the freedom of the
will as a complete fiction - there is no doer, to do the deed. Also
Foucault?s conception of power and reistance does not neatly binarize
into oppressor, oppressed - particularly because any one individual is
constantly shifting from positions of power to positions of resistance
relative to multiple practices - no stability.
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