Author Archives: meg

Che: An idol without a nation

It is amazing to me that some people think that “the famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe, her skirt rising as she stands over a subway grate, has been more reproduced” than the iconic image of Che (Casey 28). I fully believe Michael Casey’s assertion of the opposite. Che’s image is literally everywhere, and since it’s release in 1967 has been constantly reproduced and remade. It’s unclear how long it will last, but at this point it seems possible that Che’s image will continue to dominate visual culture for decades. One of the more interesting facts about Che’s life, giving up Cuban citizenship, in a way foreshadowed his popularity in death: “The renunciation of citizenship was effectively a declaration of statelessness: Che belonged nowhere, which also meant he belonged everywhere” (59). The image of Che literally belongs everywhere, because it is so globally recognized. Even more important with regard to Casey’s statement, Che represented Marx’s countryless proletarian. If you recall, for Marx, the proletarian had no nation because he owned no land and because he was oppressed in that nation; especially if one considers a nation to be an imagined community, the proletarian does not feel connected to that community. Thus, Marx said, the proletariat class of every nation should band together for a global revolution. In renouncing his citizenship, Che declares that universal proletariat status as he fights to create that Marxist utopia. Casey suggests Che’s renunciation was done so as not to implicate the Cuban government in any of his actions, but I think it is just as likely, and certainly more idealistic to think, that he did it to more fully embody the Marxist principles he set out to defend.

The question of idealizing Che is obviously another huge issue at stake both in Casey’s book and in society at large. Casey points out, “With the exception of eleven million information-starved Cubans, we all have easy access to this archive [of Guevara’s actions and personality traits]. So this is not a debate about the facts surrounding Che’s life; rather, it’s a question of whether society should idolize a man with such a record. And from there we enter into a quarrel as old as history” (64-5). My first reaction to this was actually to consider the implications that eleven million Cubans did not have access to the facts behind the life of one of their most (if not the most) influential figures. It would be like Americans not being able to read up on Martin Luther King, Jr., or something. It’s crazy! But back to the larger issue: we know Che’s record. He did a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. Some of these things can be seen either way depending on your point of view. If we take him to represent his principles rather than his actions, it might put his image in better light than the other way around. Should we idolize him? As Casey observes, any answer to that question won’t be universally accepted, but I can certainly provide my own, humble opinion: it’s perfectly reasonable to idolize him. Sometimes we need historical figures to be larger than life because they provide us with aspirations to be as focused, determined, and strong in fighting for what we believe in—even if we don’t believe in exactly the same things that original figure did. After all, the Che image is used to spark revolutionary spirit even in people with principles either opposing Guevara’s or completely unrelated. Casey suggests, “wherever young people rise up, Korda’s Che is there, crossing religious, ethnic, and even political divides with abandon” (31). It is certainly possible to take any idolatry too far, but this is where knowledge of the facts can always help. And if a simple image of a revolutionary from another time can make others feel more confident in their own power as individual people, I think that’s great.

Subversive fans (and the battle between sf and Harry Potter)

As I was reading Henry Jenkins’s Textual Poachers, all I kept thinking was, Hooray! Here’s the subversion/resistance we tried to find in the romance novels but just couldn’t quite come up with. The other thing I thought of, more in the back of my mind, was, Why do I find fandom of the things Jenkins talks about (mostly sf, some action-adventure stuff) more legitimate than fandom of, say, Harry Potter? To elaborate a bit…

Much of this book celebrates fan culture, and one way it does so is to point out the subversiveness of that subculture. “Lorrah’s description blurs the boundaries between producers and consumers, spectators and participants, the commercial and the homecrafted . . . Fandom here becomes a participatory culture which transforms the experience of media consumption into the production of new texts, indeed of a new culture and a new community” (46). While as Jenkins discusses later the fans don’t have the power of the producers of the shows to truly change what is made, the community they create gives them their own sort of power. They are no longer just consumers and spectators, they are directly engaging with the works and producing their own works that interact with the original. Not only that, but the engagement with the shows includes engagement with vast numbers of other people—creating a very real community that lauds, critiques, and reinterprets the media they consume. The discussions of the shows are not only intelligent and show true contemplation of the given representations (rather than the brainless consumption assumed of the “masses” watching TV), they are often put in terms of academic arguments.

I think it’s wonderfully ironic that academia (at least up until recently) considered TV not worth its time for deep examinations and thought that people were ridiculous to read into TV shows what the academy interprets in great novels. Not only does this type of engagement with TV demonstrate the fans’ sophistication with such styles of text examination, but the academy’s assertion that it is still of low taste and low culture simply proves the existence of hegemony: the elite can’t handle their sophisticated and intellectual practices being used for new, alternative purposes. The fans reappropriate the materials, the shows themselves, and at the same time they reappropriate the tools used by the bourgeoisie. (Even more interesting, actually, is “the institutionalization of a ‘feminine’ approach to texts that differs radically from the more ‘masculine’ style preferred by the academy” [89], relating to the emotional closeness of the fan reader to the text.) Again, fans cannot usually make the producers do what they want for the shows; but they are very noisy about their demands (a kind of power in itself) and are also taking close looks at and discussing crucial aspects of culture and hegemony portrayed in these shows, raising their awareness of the issues that tend to fade into the background otherwise.

So why is it that I’ve always really really wanted to go to an sf convention (general, or specifically Star Trek), but I think Harry Potter fan fiction is ridiculous? The first reason is probably because I’ve been a fan (in the more general, passive sense) of sf a lot longer than I’ve been a fan of Harry Potter. I started reading my mom’s Anne McCaffrey books at something like age ten, and was watching TNG whenever my parents did since I don’t know when. Don’t get me wrong, I love Harry Potter as much as anyone else at Pomona. We grew up with those kids. They just weren’t my first love. Another possibility is that I think of Harry Potter fans as generally a younger crowd (even if people of all ages do actually enjoy the series)–which means they haven’t had as much education, and they can’t write as well as I, as an intellectual elite, have come to expect from writers across the board. And yet I’ve never read any sf fan fiction either . . . and I consider things like dressing up for movies just as legitimate for either crowd. I’d probably want to go to a Harry Potter convention at some point too, if they ever had one. So I don’t really know what my snobbery is when it comes to Harry Potter fan fiction. But still it remains. . .

Participation and communication in art

In Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, I found one section particularly interesting with relation to discussions among other critics in class about the possibility or lack thereof of social change/revolution. In the section about “The Popular ‘Aesthetic’” Bourdieu discusses a main distinction between “high” and popular art. The masses, he posits, have “a deep-rooted demand for participation” in their art (32). They enjoy art in which connection to characters, empathy, and understanding are possible. Is this “deep-rooted demand” to participate in some way with the art related to more than just their class? Perhaps the demand for participation is demonstrative of their demand to participate in other aspects of culture—like determining class or economic systems. This appreciation for art in which they can participate shows a kind of hope among the popular audience for mutual understanding and even having a hand in change—participating in creating society anew.

By contrast, the bourgeois class appears to appreciate more the art which involves “a refusal to communicate concealed at the heart of the communication itself” (34). A couple of issues arise here, the first being similar to arguments of Adorno and Horkheimer: communication (and change) is ultimately impossible. The “refusal” to communicate could be on the part of one party involved in the communication process, or it could be communication’s (as an idea) refusal to “work.” Without communication, nothing can change; thus it is hopeless to even think about trying. But this message isn’t coming from disillusioned proletarians, it’s portrayed in the art of the bourgeoisie. So what does this mean? Possibly, they want to convince themselves that change is impossible, so they can rest easy in their higher social status. Or they connect with it (paradoxically) because it portrays their own refusal to communicate with the lower classes. Or they truly are disillusioned in some sense and understand, more broadly, that communication is ultimately an impossible endeavor; it is basically impossible to manifest thoughts in any sort of medium and have the receiver understand them to their fullest extent—and the bourgeois art epitomizes this.

Finally, this brings to mind again the question of language that was touched upon a bit with Wittgenstein in de Certeau. Bourdieu later mentions the total interconnectedness of art, with each work’s references and relationships to so many others, making it so that a critic can talk about two different pieces “with the same words . . . which is a good way of talking about neither” (53). If a person calls a chateau elegant, and says the same thing about the wine which it produces, what does the word “elegant” really mean? Can it really describe both things? Does it equate the two? Language has too few words to make distinctions among these related works, and yet what else is there? Perhaps that’s why all the art is interconnected in the first place: it comments on each other. But once again, ultimately, communication is practically impossible.

Just for fun

I was on the Pastafarianism website (venganza.org) and stumbled upon this image that I would like to share with everyone.

Real possibilities for change in Everyday Life

What I have enjoyed most in reading Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life is the discovery of the ways in which the ordinary man, the “nobody” man, the person stuck within the confines of dominant hegemony and ideology, can fight against societal norms and actually effect change. In many ways, certainly, the subcultures Hebdige examined performed these things; but de Certeau has made these acts (“tactics”) apparent and generalized (in that he is not applying them to specific subcultures).

The first sign of hope is when de Certeau reminds us that “just because it was a constantly repeated fact, this relationship of forces did not become any more acceptable. The fact was not accepted as a law, even if it remained inescapably a fact” (16). In other words, we must keep in mind that just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean that’s how they have to be or are supposed to be. Hegemony certainly makes us think so: but there are other ways of life, and the first step toward changing society is remembering this. De Certeau also reassures us that creativity, generally the source of change, is still possible: “invention is not unlimited and . . . it presupposes the knowledge and application of codes” (21). Thus to create something new, a person will of course draw on the current state of things, but that doesn’t mean it is not creative. The reappropriation of safety pins to keep ripped clothing together was an inventive use of something that already existed, and helped to define a style and a subculture that contested the dominant ideology.

De Certeau also asks a question which, as he points out, is rarely if ever asked: “What do they [consumers] make of what they ‘absorb,’ receive, and pay for? What do they do with it?” (31). Just because consumers are by the nature of our society required to consume what is produced for them, doesn’t mean that they will consume it in the way production intended (think again of the safety pins). This is also encouraging with relation to something like advertising: we are bombarded with advertising everywhere we turn, yet it doesn’t always make us go out and buy things. The very fact that advertisers have to constantly come up with new ways to present products proposes that no one will ever really figure out how consumers will act in relation to something they consume (i.e. images or sounds of advertising). After all, advertisers are the group most concerned with that end result, and even they haven’t been able to answer the question de Certeau has posited. We are forced to consume, but the ways we consume determine our response to the dominant culture and how we contest it.

These small acts subverting dominant culture are deemed “tactics” by de Certeau, who reminds us also that “a tactic is an art of the weak” (37). Consumers are not strong in society; they (we) have little power to create great changes simply because of the way society (capitalism) is set up. But tactics are aggressive actions toward the dominant culture, and can have effects. “It [the tactic] operates in isolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of ‘opportunities’ and depends on them, being without any base where it could stockpile its winnings, build up its own position, and plan raids” (37). To once again refer to safety pins, tactics are generally small instances that attack culture guerrilla-style, popping up sporadically and in different ways depending on the different subcultures (or even individual people). Like with traditional guerrilla warfare, these tactics cannot create large changes quickly; but over time, they can erode the opposing army’s forces, eventually imposing a new way of life by the little changes over time.

In de Certeau, like in Said, there is much hope for change. But unlike in Said, de Certeau has effectively (for me at least) pointed out the actual ways that ordinary people can effect change despite all the forces at work against them, against the proletariat.

Annotated bibliography: marriage

  • Boxer, Diana and Gritsenko, Elena. “Women and surnames across cultures: reconstituting identity in marriage.” Women and Language. 28.2 (Fall 2005): p1. From Literature Resource Center. Accessed 23 Oct 2009. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE|A141493509&v=2.1&u=clar46892&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w&authCount=1>.

To quote the abstract, “Through questionnaire and ethnographic data we study how women in the U.S. and Russia address the surname issue when faced with marriage or partnership.” Boxer and Gritsenko explore how surname choice affects and reflects personal and professional identity, as well as perpetuates “gendered power hierarchy of a society.” The latter part is what I think will be most useful for me, in my exploration of marriage’s affect on hegemony.

  • Boyd, Alamilla. “Sex and Tourism: The Economic Implications of the Gay Marriage Movement.” Radical History Review (Winter2008 2008): 222-235. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).

Boyd suggests that gay marriage becomes a commodity, a tourist attraction, something that cities “sell” to get more gay tourists to come spend their money in those cities. Ultimately, this functions to absorb gay culture into the dominant ideology, reducing homosexuality to another identity group to which certain things can be sold, rather than “sinful” or another such deviation from the norm. Whether this commodifying whose result is a kind of acceptance is good or bad is finally unclear.

  • Christensen, Jen. “Love! Valour! Commerce!.” Advocate (July 2008): 27-27. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).

Christensen reports on money statistics that suggest legalizing gay marriage increases net gain in a state’s budget by the influx of marriages and all the related spending—a shorter article to conclude much of what Boyd discussed regarding economics.

  • Church, C. C. “Communism in Marriage: Human Relationships at the Oneida Community.” Nation 123, no. 3188 (August 11, 1926): 124-126. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).

Astonishingly, Church describes a community formed in the early or mid-nineteenth century in New York that utilized a variety of Marxist principles; he argues that the main reason the community worked so well is because of the use of communism in marriage. Thus literally everything was shared in this small society (although the shared relationships appear to have been only heterosexual). Once their form of marriage was outlawed by the state, the community deteriorated, but it remains a testament to the possibilities of Marxist ideas.

  • Gray, Betty MacMorran. “Money and Marriage: The Usable Truth.” Nation 214, no. 26 (June 26, 1972): 820-821. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).

Gray argues, in 1972, that the main reason that marriages and families are deteriorating is because of the capitalist system and its exploitation of labor. It is an interesting argument to read considering the even higher statistics of divorce today and considering more recent attacks on gay marriage as being the reason behind so much divorce.

  • Handley, William R. “Belonging(s): Plural Marriage, Gay Marriage and the Subversion of ‘Good Order.’” Discourse (26:3) Fall 2004, 85-109,197. Literature Online (accessed September 27, 2009).

Except for Church’s discussion of the Oneida Community, this was by far the most fascinating read, because Handley describes much of the polygamists’ history and demonstrates how a good portion of the crap that was thrown their way is now being repeated for the proponents of gay marriage. He also crucially points out that while gay marriage and polygamy are often compared because they both threaten the idea of “traditional” marriage, at the base they are fundamentally extremely different ideas of human relationships; and while gay marriage can subvert one of the biggest ideological ideas in our society (patriarchy), polygamy actually took patriarchy to its extreme conclusion. It is interesting that neither end of the spectrum is generally welcomed in American hegemony.


  • Langbein, Laura, and Yost, Mark A. “Same-Sex Marriage and Negative Externalities.” Social Science Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing Limited) 90, no. 2 (June 2009): 292-308. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).

Using statistics already gathered that are used by the Family Research Council to denounce gay marriage as having adverse affects on society, Langbein and Yost analyze the data in an almost dully scientific way that effectively proves that gay marriage does not have adverse affects on society, and in some instances has actually improved it. They focus on those aspects of society that the FRC considers most important (marriage, divorce, abortion rates, proportion of children born to single women, and percent of children in female-headed households) so as to most clearly prove the FRC wrong in its statements. After reading so much literature that discusses gay marriage in ideological (or at most, economic) terms, it is odd to see it present in a scientific study, and I wonder if such a study is actually useful in arguments when so many of them are not based in scientific research.

  • McPheeters, Martha. “Gays to Marry? Let’s Not!.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 3, no. 1/2 (March 1999): 197-203. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).

As Mcpheeters writes in her initial summary, “Marriage has lost any connection it may have had to spiritual or emotional bonding.” She argues that gays shouldn’t bother trying to gain the right to marry as it currently stands, because marriage is a State-sanctioned economic contract that simply furthers capitalist and patriarchal society—things that should be contested instead. The idea of pair bonding for life (i.e. marriage) as being a natural thing is, to sum up, bullshit. Thus the gay rights movement should be fighting to change the ideas of marriage and how society functions, rather than trying to incorporate themselves into the current ideology.

  • Seidman, Steven. “The social construction of sexuality.Contemporary Societies. New York : Norton, 2003.

Seidman explores the history behind the views of sexuality in contemporary American society, relating the changes to similar changes in views on race (pertinent especially since many people relate antagonism toward gay marriage to earlier antagonisms toward mixed-race relationships). He also discusses the histories of the various gay rights movements, including those of specifically lesbian and bisexual organizations. Taking this text in relation to the Langbein and Yost text provides some variety (both scientific and ideological) in looking at the development of social attitudes toward the idea of gay relationships and, specifically, gay marriage.

Various views of imperialism

As with Fanon, Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism discusses (among many other things) the views of both the “natives” and the colonizers about colonization. Early in this week’s reading, he posits that “most cultural formations [in imperialist nations] presumed the permanent primacy of the imperial power. Still, an alternative view to imperialism arose, persisted, and eventually prevailed” (199). This presents a basic and concise view of the oppositions. The latter statement gives brief hope that despite the majority of this book talking about the ways that the colonized were repressed, in the end they have overturned their rulers. The former statement is, I think, much more interesting. That the imperialist nations assumed they would forever be able to subjugate other nations to tyranny is more surprising than, I suppose, it should be. Such a mode of thinking must have been present or they would have been much more terrified to rule in the first place (“They’ll take back power someday; we’d better treat them nicer . . .”). But the assumption that power dynamics would never change is just hubristic and naive.

Said points out later that of course the colonized peoples weren’t going to allow the status quo to remain. He discusses Thompson’s odd way of looking at it, that the British needed to “recognize that Indian men and women ‘want their self-respect given back to them’ ” (206). This sentence immediately calls Fanon to mind, whose arguments always rested on the colonized people taking back what they want, forming their own identity. Nothing is ever given back to them; and Said knows this as well: “as Fanon argued—the empire never gives anything away out of goodwill. It cannot give Indians their freedom, but must be forced to yield it as the result of a protracted political, cultural, and sometimes military struggle . . .” (207). Of course, this is not something the colonizer nation wants, so even the sympathizers cannot imagine (or at least describe) the violent struggle that will actually be necessary for the colonized to gain sovereignty. Instead, writers like Thompson wanted the imperialist nations to take the first step of realizing the humanness of the subjugated people and return to them what the imperialist nation had first taken away and, honestly, could not return.

A final viewpoint to mention here is one mentioned in one of the various novels Said discusses that rework Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to relate better to the colonized’s experiences. The passage Said quotes includes the following: “Sooner or later they will leave our country, just as many people throughout history left many countries. The railways, ships, hospitals, factories, and schools will be ours and we’ll speak their language without either a sense of guilt or a sense of gratitude” (212). The first sentence recalls the first idea mentioned in this response, that the colonizers thought they’d never leave. In the passage here, the speaker is not proposing violent removal of the colonizers, but rather asserting that, eventually, they will simply leave of their own accord. This way of looking at the colonizer nation is unique to most of what we’ve read: either it appears they will stay forever (whether because it’s a good thing or because it’s impossible to get rid of them) or that the only way to remove them is through violence. The second sentence contains another novel idea: once the colonizers leave, the nation left behind will get on just fine, continuing to create history from the spot where the colonizers left off. According to the speaker, the former colonized people will “speak their language” rather than attempt to return to life before the colonizers came; but in doing so they will hold neither “a sense of guilt or a sense of gratitude,” the former proposed by many others in the colonized nations (they shouldn’t perpetuate the culture of the colonizers), the latter assumed by the colonizers (“They ought to be grateful that we brought them such a variety of knowledge and culture”). The speaker thus rejects the oppositional binary that could trap the colonized nation in the same system it wanted to break free of.

Revised proposal: The economics of marriage

After looking into the movement for gay rights, I realized what I should really be examining is the entire institution of marriage itself (gay marriage being the most recent challenge confronting the issue). It has a long, complicated history that most people (including my former self) don’t really know about. The general format of my paper will be to move chronologically, thus ending in current debates about marriage. I will explore not only the history behind “traditional” marriage (white, Christian, man and woman) but the idea of marriage in societies much older and non-Western. This will provide a clearer view of what the “natural” relationships among humans really are, since that is often used in arguments against non-“traditional” marriages.

I am also looking into any deviations that specifically crop up in U.S. history (since obviously that geographic area is of relevance to us) and so will discuss the implications of, for instance, the Mormon polygamists and the amazingly communist Oneida Community of the nineteenth century. I will show how the purposes for marriage have always been economic in some way, and only recently did marriage become the romanticized relationship it currently is in Hollywood. Furthermore, I will argue that the type of marriage practiced in a society not only reflects its economic ideals (because it is a practice based in economics) but perpetuates them—thus “traditional” marriage perpetuates capitalism as well as patriarchy (it is a social practice, so it also perpetuates social ideals). Ultimately, I will argue with the help of Martha McPheeters that the most radical thing the gay rights movement can do for society is to completely destroy our concept of (and state-sanctioned) marriage.

Fanon through Bhabha and Sartre

I confess that I read very little of Wretched of the Earth itself because of my greater-than-usual workload and the fact that I read both the forward and the preface because I thought they might be useful. I still think so; in fact, I’m glad I read them because I got more out of them than the purely Fanon pages that I did read. So this is, I suppose, my understanding of Fanon through Homi K. Bhabha and Paul Sartre.

The biggest thing I got from Bhabha was the “psycho-affective” relation. I’m still not exactly sure what that is, so please correct me if I’m getting the wrong ideas. The first time it comes up, he (she?) says that Fanon “places the problem of development in the context of those forceful and fragile ‘psycho-affective’ motivations and mutilations that drive our collective instinct for survival, nurture our ethical affiliations and ambivalences, and nourish our political desire for freedom” (xviii). So, “psycho” refers to a psychological desire, or perhaps inhibition (since it apparently causes a “problem of development”). “Affective” apparently refers to emotional things like ethical affiliations and desire for freedom. Survival, ethics, and freedom are somehow all tied together in psycho-affective motivations, and these motivations somehow stunt the development of an “international civil society” (xviii).

Bhabha later clarifies, “A psycho-affective relation or response has the semblance of universality and timelessness because it involves the emotions, the imagination or psychic life, but it is only ever mobilized into social meaning and historical effect through an embodied and embedded action, an engagement with (or resistance to) a given reality, or a performance of agency in the present tense” (xix). In other words, psycho-affective responses to the world are emotional engagements with or against the surrounding reality. So . . . any sort of political action that involves emotion. Like protesting, perhaps. Really, the big question here is, if that’s all “psycho-affective” means, why give it such annoying terminology?

Sartre had a lot more that I could mess with. One of the lines that stood out was, “The true culture is the revolution” (xlvii). Of course he’s talking about a specific revolution in a specific (other) country, but I feel like this applies nicely to general situations. With all our discussion of culture, only one hope has arisen in that people somehow change hegemony by new negotiations with the current hegemony. In a way, these negotiations, these changes, could be considered small revolutions against the current system, and thus the true culture here is what those little revolutions do.

For more on hegemony, Sartre points out, “The status of ‘native’ is a neurosis introduced and maintained by the colonist in the colonized with their consent” (liv). Thus “native” is a term within the colonized’s hegemony, because they have consented to its placement. The first step in fighting a revolution is for the “native” to change the way she sees herself: not as a “native,” but as a human being. This change is in itself a little revolution against hegemony. “In order to wage the struggle against us, the former colony must wage a struggle against itself” (xlvi). It must fight itself to realize its potential, to realize its humanity and ability for violence. In this way, “Violence, like Achilles’ spear, can heal the wounds it has inflicted” (lxii). The inflicted violence was that of the colonists against the colonized, and the colonized must use violence to reestablish themselves as human beings and heal the wounds of colonization. It makes a lot of sense, but the message is also a little frightening—which, according to Sartre, is how it should be.

Hall articulates points of contention

After reading the Stuart Hall essay about ideology (among other things), I found that I actually agreed with much of what he says. I read his other essay first, “Two paradigms,” and didn’t find it all that interesting because it was more or less a summary of, well, two paradigms in cultural studies (structuralism and culturalism). His other essay, however, with the long title that begins “Signification, Representation, Ideology,” was much more interpretive and thus interesting. What he really did, in fact, was form many of my heretofore inarticulated problems with some of the ideas of what we’ve already read.

Let us begin on page 93:

“The State is a contradictory formation which means it has different modes of action, is active in many different sites: it is pluricentered and multi-dimensional. It has very distinct and dominant tendencies but it does not have a singly inscribed class character. On the other hand, the State remains one of the most crucial sites in a modern capitalist social formation where political practices of different kinds are condensed.”

In other words, there isn’t really a dominant class that makes up this nebulous thing called the State that tells us all what to do; after all, the State is full of different and even contradictory ideas and practices. But the reason it is necessary to refer to the State when discussing ideology is that the State is the site at which the varying aspects of society (like family, church, education, etc.) come together to create “a systematic practice of regulation, . . . of normalization, within society” (93). It is a unity out of difference, two words he uses frequently when describing the opposing views usually brought to light on this issue. His new concept to reconcile the two is articulation.

“If Derrida (1977) is correct in arguing that there is always a perpetual slippage of the signifier, a continuous ‘deference,’ it is also correct to argue that without some arbitrary ‘fixing’ or what I am calling ‘articulation,’ there would be no signification or meaning at all. What is ideology but, precisely, this work of fixing meaning through establishing, by selection and combination, a chain of equivalences?” (93)

Once again, Hall has articulated (so to speak . . .) something I already grappled with (though not in this class): the identification of symbols (in their various forms) as having totally arbitrary meanings. Because yes, their meanings are completely arbitrary and are different depending on, among other things, what country you’re in (see Hall’s analysis of the word “black” toward the end of the essay). But at the same time, meaning has to be assigned somehow or it won’t exist at all. No one person goes around fixing meanings to things, but (as Hall argues) ideology does just that. Somehow, our ideology gives meaning to everything from words to images to status. He says this happens through a “chain of equivalences,” which isn’t very clearly defined but makes some sense. The idea is that meaning is assigned based on comparing something to what it is like and what it is unlike (a relativity of meaning)–and those comparable things are the “equivalences.” The more of them there are in the “chain,” the more defined something is. In our very complex process of creating ideology, we create meaning. Which makes perfect sense. Ideology is a way of defining and describing the world (even if it really defines an imaginary relationship to the reality of our conditions).

Note: Apparently page 93 is all that fits into a one-pager. I promise there were more such arguments, i.e. necessary correspondence and false consciousness, that were fun to read because of their fresh takes on things.