Contradiction: Between My Brain and This Reading

I want to understand Althusser’s “Contradiction.” I really do. I read over the italicized text and cannot figure out why some of those words are so damn important. So I’m going to use a blog as a tool for mental excavation.

Possibly the most important statements Althusser seems to make concern historical “points of rupture” (100). He uses Lenin’s concept of the weakest link to examine why oppositional forces/ideologies/individuals come together to generate a historical tidal wave of change. Because of contradictions inherent in Russian and world society, Russia itself was the weakest link from whence capitalism was attacked and overthrown. He points out that the Russian Revolution occured because Russia was simultaneously the “most and least advanced” (99) industrialized country – a giant contradiction waiting to explode from the weight of smaller contradictions occuring within the nation. How this was the case with Russia remains beyond me, but Althusser says it both results from and is dependent on means of production. In other words, historical contradictions all occur as a result of some kind of disharmony in the realm of production; eventually, this may lead to the fall of an entire ideology.

Althusser also references a kind of internal truth and logic which is present in all facets of human existence – “customs, habits, financial, commercial, and economic regimes” (102). From perhaps one institution arises a contradiction, and that contradiction is caught in the matrix of all institutions which arise from a society. He “reduces [them] to a single internal principle” – what we might call an ideology. If I am reading this right, Althusser is confirming Marx’s theory that a dominant ideology both determines the mechanisms of production and arises from it.

Basically the last part I understood about this reading (before it seemed to collapse into an unintelligble discussion of abstraction, truth, phenomena, and survival) was Althusser’s explication of the inversion of Hegel by Marx. While Hegel insisted that the mental and spiritual realm – the consciousness – determines history and our perception of our contemporary existence, Marx says that ideas arise from activities in the material realm. In other words, Althusser says that we have an idea about a table and we manufacture it in order to see it and discuss it; Marx thinks that all thoughts about the table only occur after the physical thing is put in front of our eyes.

I am turning myself around in circles. So many questions. I am most fervently wondering: what is overdetermination? Althusser talks about it constantly and I have no idea what it means, still. My vote for lecture = a whimpering yes.

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