Author Archives: Rachel

¡Che libre!

Casey concludes that the immediate, evocative qualities of the Che image–his proud, defiant expression, perhaps vague connotations of ‘revolution’–will always transcend his life, his political affiliations, or his position in history. Che appeals to us, first and foremost, because it’s a beautiful image, and ultimately its meaning will depend on how the viewer chooses to make it fit into their personal system of values. This reminded me of Dick Hebdige’s notion of subcultural ‘bricolage’: groups and individuals construct coherent systems of objects (or images) that make them able to ‘think their world.’ These ideas are also significant to Casey’s book because, according to Hebdige, subcultural bricolage takes place within the realm of commodities. Hence, Hebdige argues, all commodities are subject to ‘polysemy’–a potentially infinite range of meanings between their intended value and actual use. Casey reaches more or less the same conclusion about the Che image.

There was one aspect of his conclusion that I found a bit troubling, though: With respect to the ‘branding’ of Che, Casey argues, “While the language of branding is a product of modern U.S. capitalism, it is really just a commercially practical way to describe how symbols and images are used in many forms of communication.” (340) While this is essentially true, Casey’s statement glosses over the fact that when an image is associated with a commercial brand, brand owners carefully control their brand image and the channels through which it can be reproduced. Branding is indeed a form of communication, but it is by no means free communication, if the ultimate arbiter of brand ‘meaning’ is the copyright holder. To that end, I thought the most interesting part of Che’s Afterlife was the final chapter, “Merchants in the Temple,” which describes the ongoing copyright battle over the Che image.

Casey optimistically concludes that “so long as it remains more or less copyright free, it is available for anyone to attach hopes and dreams to” (347). But here we’re back to that same chicken-and-egg problem: if someone can own the image and control the means of production, how free are the rest of us to express our hopes and dreams through Che?

Guerilla appropriators unite. ¡Che libre!

Soderbergh’s Che

In the spirit of this week’s reading, I watched part of Steven Soderbergh’s recent Che biopic over break (I say ‘part’ because the whole thing is about four hours long and, let’s face it, I’ve got papers to write):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQes9Iz8jBU[/youtube]

Tons of interesting information to be gleaned from the film’s Wikipedia entry re: critical debate around the film’s success or failure to demystify Che, the film’s reception in Cuba and Latin America, and the ongoing struggle against cultural imperialism.

As I said, I haven’t had time to watch the whole thing yet, so I’m not in a position to make my own assessment of its merits, but so far it’s really helped me get a sense of El Che‘s historical and political context, as well as the moral complexity of his actions as a revolutionary leader. It rejects almost all of the glossy conventions of a traditional biopic, which makes it fascinating to watch, albeit at times pretty hard to digest.

Plus, if you buy Casey’s assertion that Che’s image became an icon partly because he was so damn handsome, then boy, let me tell you, it doesn’t get much better than Benicio del Toro. (The supporting cast ain’t bad, either….)

Digital poachers and the future of fan production

Jenkins makes a compelling case for the serious study of fan culture as form of “textual poaching,” a site for the active production and manipulation of meaning. Fandom not only produces new meanings from its source material, but also encompasses a variety of material productions. He proposes, “Media fandom gives every sign of becoming a permanent culture, one which has survived and evolved for more than twenty-five years and has produced material artifacts of enduring interest to that community.” (49)

Jenkins’ assessment of the longevity of media fandom has proved correct—some cultures have fallen into obscurity (Doctor Who?) while others have risen to prominence (greetings, Twihards!) but on the whole fan production is just as vital an activity today as it was at the time of Jenkins’ writing, and arguably more so. However, the playing field of mass media has changed significantly since that time, creating new options as well as new problems for fandom. Key here is the central role that digital technologies and the Internet now play to media fandom.

In Intro to Digital Media Studies, which I took last semester with none other than our fearless leader Prof. Fitzpatrick, we discussed the case of Red vs. Blue, a video series based on the Halo video game series. Red vs. Blue is what’s known as machinima, “the use of real-time three-dimensional (3-D) graphics rendering engines to generate computer animation,” typically produced using video game graphics engines. In the case of Red vs. Blue, the producers manipulated Halo characters to create a sort of in-game sitcom, captured video of their “performance,” and added voice-over dialogue. The production team, Rooster Teeth, made the videos available online, and the series quickly became a hit. Clive Thompson writes:

They kept up a weekly production schedule, and after a few months, ”Red vs. Blue” had, like some dystopian version of ”Friends,” become a piece of appointment viewing. Nearly a million people were downloading each episode every Friday, writing mash notes to the creators and asking if they could buy a DVD of the collected episodes. Mainstream media picked up on the phenomenon. The Village Voice described it as ” ‘Clerks’ meets ‘Star Wars,’ ” and the BBC called it ”riotously funny” and said it was ”reminiscent of the anarchic energy of ‘South Park.’ ” Burns realized something strange was going on. He and his crew had created a hit comedy show — entirely inside a video game. (“The X-Box Auteurs”)

Microsoft (who own the rights to Halo) didn’t crack down on the series as an infringement of intellectual property. Rather, they harnessed the enthusiasm surrounding Red vs. Blue to their advantage, commissioning Rooster Teeth to produce in-store advertisements for the game, and even adding features to later versions of the game that would make it easier for fans to produce machinima. Rooster Teeth were later commissioned to produce a machinima series based on The Sims, and later (according to Wikipedia) concert videos for the rock band Barenaked Ladies.

The fan productions Jenkins documents tend to have been produced by and for a specific, small, and close-knit fan community. By contrast, Red vs. Blue reaches a much wider audience—not as wide as the audience for Halo itself, certainly, but wide enough to have spawned its own subset of fan-production fan-producers (for instance, the sub-fans who maintain the Red vs. Blue Wiki.) At the time of Jenkins’ writing, fan production required a great deal of time and effort to put together, and as a basically illegal activity, its distribution channels were limited. Now that the Internet has leveled the playing field in many respects, fan production has become a much more commonplace, visible, and socially acceptable (though admittedly still pretty geeky) activity.

Arguably, fan production has entered the mainstream, and channels of dialogue between fans and producers are more open now than they’ve ever been. But as form of “poaching” that’s still by definition dependent on another creative “landowner,” fan production still faces a unique set of issues that will continue to grow more complex as the activity is integrated into the sphere of mainstream media.

The games of culture

In reading Distinction, I was particularly struck by Bourdieu’s notion of the “aesthetic disposition” as a result of distance from necessity. As he says earlier, “When faced with legitimate works of art, people most lacking the specific competence apply to them the perceptual schemes of their own ethos, the very ones which structure their everyday perception of everyday existence.” (44) But the same is just as true of those who’ve acquired the “aesthetic disposition” as those who haven’t. So what is the aesthete’s ethos?

Bourdieu relates the aesthetic disposition to an ability to “play the games of culture.” Hence, making and appreciating art requires one to maintain “a child’s relation to the world.” The aesthete is privileged to enjoy the carefree relationship to the world we all experience as children (“All children start life as baby bourgeoisie.”) He concludes, “The aesthetic disposition, a generalized capacity to neutralize ordinary urgencies and to bracket off practical ends, a durable inclination and aptitude for practice without a practical function, can only be constituted within an experience of the world freed from urgency and through the practice of activities which are an end in themselves, such as scholastic exercises or the contemplation of works of art”—in other words, the aesthetic disposition is part of an essentially bourgeois experience of the world. (54)

Bourdieu raises important questions about the way we value freedom in our culture: is it enlightened liberation, or is it just bourgeois striving towards freedom from social obligations? In his assessment, the two appear to be more closely related than one might care to think. I wonder, though, if it’s possible to reassert the value of play in a more egalitarian way. Rather than being something one simply grows out of, I’d argue that play is a fundamental human impulse and a far from frivolous activity. Play shapes our culture in a deep way. The questions of how we play, and who gets to play, are what need to be addressed.

Annotated Bibliography: Punk Rock, Media Activism and the Situationist International

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books, 1994.

Probably the best-known work produced by the Situationist International, Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle was very influential on a number of the other writers I’m looking at, including Marcus, Klein, and Dery. The Society of the Spectacle is a very complex and sometimes internally contradictory text, so I’m still puzzling through a lot of his ideas, but what I understand so far seems to relate to ideas of Frankfurt School, as well as Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism.

Debord writes, “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” “The spectacle” is, at least on one level, Debord’s attempt to describe and critique the conditions of a society dominated by mass media and advertising. The alienation that results from capitalist production is compounded by the passivity of media consumption, creating a culture of isolated media “spectators” rather than engaged participants. The “screen” of the spectacle imposes false consciousness through “social hallucination,” resulting in a condition of “generalized autism.” One path of resistance to “spectacular separation” lies in reclaiming urban systems as a “mobile space of play.” (referencing the Situationist practice of derive, which Debord describes in more detail elsewhere.) Ultimately, transcendence of the spectacle is only possible through practices of “negation,” which Debord frames as a resumption of revolutionary class struggle. The “style of negation” is a way of enacting critical theories of art, language and society. Key here is the use of detournement, a practice of borrowing and recontextualizing existing works to undermine their ideological power. (“Plagiarism is necessary.”)

Dery, Mark. “Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs. Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, 1993. Online edition: Shovelware, 2004. < http://www.markdery.com/archives/books/culture_jamming/#000005#more>

Mark Dery, the journalist who popularized the term “culture jamming” in the 90s, echoes many of the ideas expressed in Debord’s Society of the Spectacle in response to the TV-saturated Regan Era in America. Like Debord, Dery argues that the proliferation of passive spectatorship through corporate-controlled media leads to profound alienation. Dery’s essay is an attempt to answer the question, “What shape does an engaged politics assume in an empire of signs?” In response, Dery cites Umberto Eco’s notion of “semiological guerilla warfare,” which he recasts as “culture jamming.” The term “cultural jamming” was first used by the collage band Negativland to describe billboard alteration and other forms of media sabotage. Dery applies it more broadly to many forms of media subversion, locating the practice of “culture jamming” in a continuum that includes Situationist detournement, artistic cut-up techiniques, media piracy and subcultural bricolage. He describes culture jammers as “Groucho Marxists” with a playful approach to political engagement.

While culture jamming doesn’t explicitly relate to the legacy of punk, it might be an interesting point of comparison as another post-Situationist form of aesthetic protest that takes place at the intersection of art, politics, commerce and media subversion.

Klein, Naomi. No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. New York: Picador USA, 2000.

Published shortly after the Seattle WTO conference protests in 1999, Naomi Klein’s No Logo quickly became one of the most influential books about the anti-globalization movement. Klein states that the title is “an attempt to capture an anticorporate attitude I see emerging among many young activists. This book is hinged on a simple hypothesis: that as more people discover the brand-name secrets of the global logo web, their outrage will fuel the next big political movement, a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting transnational corporations, particularly those with very high name-brand recognitions.”

Klein looks as the proliferation of branding and advertising in contemporary culture, and the ways in which it triggers dissent and resistance, particularly through symbolic attacks on the corporate image. Many of the ideas in Klein’s book, particularly her focus on practices of “culture jamming” or “subvertising” (as defined by Dery) draw on Situationist theory.

Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Alongside Dick Hebdige’s Subculture, Lipstick Traces is often referred to as a key critical text on punk. Marcus takes an apparently ephemeral pop culture item, the Sex Pistols’ hit single “Anarchy in the U.K.,” and positions it as a continuation of the rhetorical legacy of 20th century avant-garde art movements. According to Marcus, the song matters precisely because it emerges from the mundane sphere of pop music:

“The Sex Pistols made a breach in the pop milieu, in the screen of received cultural assumptions governing what one expected to hear and how one expected to respond. Because received cultural assumptions are hegemonic propositions about the way the world is supposed to work—ideological constructs perceived and experienced as natural facts—the breach in the pop milieu opened into the realm of everyday life.” (3)

The song served as a radical “negation” of the values of everyday life: “Damning God and the state, work and leisure, home and family, sex and play, the audience and itself, the music briefly made it possible to experience all those things as if they were not natural facts but ideological constructs: things that had been bade and therefore could be altered, or done away with altogether.” (6) Marcus links “Anarchy in the U.K.” with the social critique voiced by the Lettrist International and Situationist International in the 60s, whose own intellectual roots lay in turn with “surrealists of the 1920s, the Dadaists who made their names during and just after the First World War, the young Karl Marx, Saint-Just, various medieval heretics, and the Knights of the Round Table.” The sensational media attention the group received, as well as the fact that their career was ostensibly orchestrated as a “scam” by Malcom McLaren, both complicate and underscore their value in the “secret history” of the 20th century.

Nehring, Neil. “The Situationist International in American Hardcore Punk, 1982-2002.” Popular Music and Society. Vol. 29, No. 5, December 2006: pp. 519-530.

While critical discourse on the influence of the theories of the Situationist International on punk has largely focused on the Sex Pistols circa 1977, Nehring attempts to extend the discussion into the 1980s and beyond. The SI’s posthumous, unlikely popularization through Malcom McLaren’s involvement in the British punk scene continues to influence latterday punks. According to Nehring, “Some of the strongest living practices with at least some basis in the work of the SI can be found in American hardcore punk since the 1980s.” The influence of the SI and other progressive political movements were immediately felt by British bands of the 1980s, including Crass and Gang of Four (whose album Entertainment! Nehring calls “the only truly Situationist album in history”). Meanwhile, “Situationism” became a recurring point of reference for American hardcore bands of the 80s and 90s, including the Feederz, Unwound, the Panthers, and Dillinger Four. “Decidedly colloquial and vague by academic standards, the punk derivations from the SI are typically a matter of rejecting consumerism and the mass media,” Nehring writes. However, recognizing the continued influence of the SI helps to cement punk’s role as a vital if underappreciated form of activist music.

Savage, John. England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Savage historically situates the Sex Pistols phenomenon within the sociopolitical conditions of England in the 70s and the development of the punk scene in England and America. Of particular interest here are early chapters on Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s roles in developing the punk aesthetic, especially McLaren’s interest (and marginal involvement) in Situationist groups.

Thompson, Stacy. Punk Productions: Unfinished Business. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004.

In contrast to the primarily aesthetic analyses of punk done by critics like Marcus and Hebdige, Thompson proposes to examine punk not as a kind of semiotics of identity, but rather as a set of material practices: “I advance a materialist investigation of punk economics and punk aesthetics, in order to formulate some of the ways in which punk both resists and is resisted by capitalism, a term that is largely absent from the work of most critics of punk.” (2) Looking at seven major punk “scenes” since the mid-70s and the texts that comprise the “punk project” (music, style, zines, cinema, and events), Thompson explores the fundamental contradiction between the aesthetics and economics of punk. Citing Marx in the German Ideology, Thompson raises two “big questions” about punk as a site of resistance to capitalism: “Can the commodity form be taken up and used against capitalism? Can all aesthetics be commodified?” (3)

Thompson draws on a variety of Marxist cultural theorists (Williams, Jameson and Benjamin, among others), and I think his arguments here will be key to understanding the development of punk since the 70s. It will also be an interesting parallel to Marcus’ and Hebdige’s theories of punk. At one point Thompson specifically criticizes what he calls Marcus’ “transhistorical” reading of punk.

Said and appropriation art

To me, the most compelling part of Culture and Imperialism so far has been the point at which he finally begins to discuss in depth the nature and practices of “resistance culture.” Understanding what Said calls the second stage of decolonization, “ideological resistance,” (209) is very much the intellectual imperative of our time. While, as Said acknowledges, direct imperialism has largely ended, and with it the need for “primary resistance,” the second stage of decolonization is still very much underway.

The second stage, as Said describes it, is a process of reclamation, “the rediscovery and repatriation of what had been suppressed in the natives’ past by the processes of imperialism.” (210) In many cases, this involves borrowing tropes or works from imperialist cultures in order to reframe their narratives. Post-imperial writers reinscribe their past “as urgently reinterpretable and redeployable experiences, in which the formerly silent native speaks and acts on territory reclaimed as part of a general movement of resistance, from the colonist.” (212) For example, versions of Shakespeare’s The Tempest from former colonies, such as Amie Cesaire’s Une Tempete, highlight the colonial politics of Shakespeare’s narrative. In these versions, the fates of Ariel and Caliban become the focal point of the story, as fellow “natives” who must work with or against invading forces to determine their history and identity.

The products and ideas of culture and nationalism arise from a complex web of interdependence. Said writes: “Culture is never just a matter of ownership, of borrowing and lending with absolute debtors and creditors, but rather of appropriations, common experiences, and interdependencies of all kinds among different cultures.” (217)

This statement, along with Said’s Shakespeare example, got me thinking about artistic practices such as collage in the visual arts or sampling in music. Under current copyright laws, these practices are often framed as forms of theft when exercised freely. What if instead we were to think of them in terms of Said’s notions of cultural resistance? By legislating the ownership of certain cultural products, we may be forcing invaluable forms of cultural resistance out of the picture.

Revised term paper proposal

Rather than focusing exclusively on the Situationist International, I propose shift my focus to the relationship between Marxism and the evolution of punk culture.

The paper will be structured more or less chronologically, beginning in the 1970s with the first wave of punk in the UK. In this period, there are two major threads I’d like to follow: first, the role of Situationist theory and practice in the formative years of punk, including (but not limited to) Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren’s cynical appropriation of Situationist rhetoric in engineering punk as “spectacle.” Second, the emergence in this period of self-proclaimed leftist artists such as the Clash, Billy Bragg, and Gang of Four, and the consequences of, to borrow a line from Bragg, “mixing pop and politics.”

Next, I’d like to look at the development of punk-derived “DIY culture” in the late 80s and early 90s, presenting a more aesthetically diverse, fragmentary, yet distinctly “underground” mode of cultural production, much of which was either indebted to or explicitly aligned with Marxist ideas. Potential artists/figures of interest in this period include the Minutemen, Ian Mackaye and the founding of Dischord Records, Ian Svenonius and the Nation of Ulysses, and Calvin Johnson’s vision of the “International Pop Underground.”

Finally, I’d like to conclude with a broader view of the rise, decline, and reemergence of punk as a means to understand how “alternative” and mainstream cultures engage one another, and how these processes of cultural exchange, appropriation and resistance shape our understanding of culture and cultural studies.

Some questions present throughout: What happens to Marxist rhetoric as it enters the vernacular of pop culture? What issues arose from the contradiction between punk music’s radical politics and its commercial mode of distribution? and, drawing on Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: what is the importance of style in subculture, and how did punk and its derivatives disrupt the symbolic order?

Alternative Culture

In “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory,” Williams posits the existence of “alternative” cultures outside of or in contrast to the dominant culture of the age. This idea lends itself to a new conception of culture and hegemony which is both excitingly flexible and (as Williams defines it, anyway) somewhat difficult to grasp.

His notion of “alternative” cultures stems from the Marxist concept of hegemony. Following Gramsci’s lead, Williams lays out the notion of hegemony which permeates all layers of society, including individual consciousness, and is rooted concretely in the reality of social experience. Williams particularly stresses the complexity of hegemony: “We have to emphasize that hegemony is not singular; indeed that its own internal structures are highly complex, and have continually to be renewed, recreated and defended; and by the same token, that they can be continually challenged and in certain respects modified.” (38)

Hence, Williams argues that “in any society, in any particular period, there is a central system of practices, meanings and values, which we can properly call dominant and effective.” (38) The dominance of this culture is not rigidly imposed, but is rather under constant negotiation. “Thus we have to recognize alternative meanings and values, the alternative opinions and attitudes, even some alternative senses of the world, which can be accommodated and tolerated within a particular effective and dominant culture.” (39) Some of these cultural practices are simply “alternative” ways of life, while others are actively “oppositional,” seeking to transform society to suit their needs. Williams points out that the two are closely related—cultures once perceived as benignly “alternative” can come to be seen as “oppositional” if they intrude too much on the dominant culture’s sphere of influence.

All of which, for me, raises an important issue which Williams doesn’t appear to address: the distinction between intentionally “alternative” or “oppositional” cultures, and those which come to be defined as such simply because they fall outside the range of acceptability as determined by the dominant culture. In some ways it’s a chicken-or-egg question, and you could argue that in the bigger picture the distinction doesn’t really matter (if everything not dominant is alternative), but it seems as if it should. Williams definition leaves it unclear whether a culture’s alternative/oppositional status is determined from within or from without.

Bibliography: the Situationist International

Andreotti, Libero and Xavier Costa, eds. Theory of the derive and other situationist writings on the city. Barcelona: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 1996.

Ball, Edward. “The Great Sideshow of the Situationist International.” Yale French Studies, vol. 73, pp. 21-37, 1987.

Banash, David. “Activist Desire, Cultural Criticism, and the Situationist International.” Reconstruction: A Culture Studies eJournal, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 33 paragraphs, Winter 2002.

Bonnett, Alastair. “The Nostalgias of Situationist Subversion.” Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 23, no. 5, pp. 23-48, Sept 2006.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994.

Erickson, Jon. “The Spectacle of the Anti-Spectacle: Happenings and the Situationist International.” Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 36-58, Spring 1992.

Harold, Christine. OurSpace: Resisting the corporate control of culture. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Hilder, Jamie. “Praxis Makes Perfect: The Spatial Revolution of the Situationist International.” Agora: An Online Graduate Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 17 paragraphs, Summer 2003.

Lowy, Michael. Morning Star: Surrealism, Marxist, Anarchism, Situationism, Utopia. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2009.

Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

McDonough, Tom, ed. Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents. Boston: MIT Press, 2004.

Mension, Jean-Michel. The tribe: Conversations with Gerard Berreby and Francesco Milo. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2001.

Nehring, Neil. “Revolt into Style: Graham Greene Meets the Sex Pistols.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 106, no. 2, pp. 222-37, Mar 1991.

Nehring, Neil. “The Situationist International in American Hardcore Punk, 1982-2002.” Popular Music and Society, vol. 29, no. 5, pp. 519-30, Dec 2006.

Plant, Sadie. The most radical gesture : the Situationist International in a postmodern age. New York: Routlege, 1992.

Sadler, Simon. The Situationist City. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.

Sussman, Elizabeth, ed. On the passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time: The Situationist International, 1957-1972. Boston: MIT Press, 1989.

Taylor, Paul, ed. Post-Pop Art. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989.

The capital-S Subject

In “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” the nature of the subject is central to Althusser’s explanation of ideology. He states that “there is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects.” (1502) According to Althusser, each individual is “always already” the subject of ideology. At the moment of birth, every human being is already subject to certain ideological configurations–sex, role in the family, etc.

To illustrate the ideological interpellation of the subject, Althusser uses the example of Christian theology. He observes that in Christianity, it “emerges that the interpellation of individuals as subjects presupposes the ‘existence’ of a Unique and central Other Subject, in whose Name the religious ideology interpellates all individuals as subjects.” (1506) He goes on to conclude from this example that “all ideology is centered, that the Absolute Subject occupies the unique place of the Centre.” In effect, ideology “subjects the subjects to the Subject.” (1507)

In general, the term “subject” functions in two ways: “(1) a free subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions; (2) a subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all freedom except that of freely accepting his submission.” (1507) This seemingly contradictory state–to be both free and freely submissive–constitutes the basic human condition.

I wonder, though, outside of Christian ideology, who or what is the capital-S central Subject? Althusser is speaking of the Subject in terms of ideology in general, but I’m having trouble connecting his idea of the Subject to other, non-religious ideological configurations. Clearly, God is the all-powerful central figure of Christianity, but what is the atheist Subject? How does the Subject function in relation to, say, capitalism or communism?