She’s gonna blow

I am currently overwhelmed by the plentitude of compelling – yet slippery, impossible to hold onto – claims contained in Althusser’s two essays, and so I will pull on a tiny thread that has very little connection to any of these other compelling ideas: the idea of cultural expansion.

Althusser only lightly touches on this concept in one small passage of “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”: “But in the social formations of that mode of production characterized by ‘serfdom’…we observe that…the number of Ideological State Apparatuses is smaller and their individual types are different” (1493).  Here Althusser makes a distinction between the IDA’s of economic systems past (namely feudalism) and those of our current capitalist system: not only are our current IDAs different in type, but they are also more numerous.

This line stood out to me because of the way it echoed a similar claim in Williams’s essay “Culture is Ordinary.”  Williams makes the argument of ever-expanding culture more explicitly, stating, “we live in an expanding culture, and all the elements in this culture are themselves expanding” (14).  Upon reading this statement, I couldn’t help but think about our universe and its own progressive expansion – but, at least according to Williams, there is a difference between the spreading of our planets and the growth of our culture.  Culture isn’t simply spreading out (and this visual makes me think of ideas reaching more and more people, “taste” and products being shared globally instead of locally), but increasing in quantity, in density.  There is simply more cultural production.

If we are to go along with Marx and say that the root cause of this (as with everything else) must ultimately be mode of production, then it seems that the cause of this increase of culture is directly linked to changes in technology – and here we end up back at claims made during our discussion of the internet.  Expanding technology (the internet!) leads to expanding cultural production created by an expanding number of cultural authors (bloggers, website creators, etc).  The central question of this debate was whether or not this expansion allowed for resistance, led to any greater freedom of movement within ideology.  Althusser’s framing of this expansion as an increase of Ideological State Apparatuses – institutions that are means for continuing the relations of production and reasserting the dominance of the ruling class – leads me to think that more culture = more means of subjection.  But I can’t get past the visual.  Ever expanding, blowing up and blowing out – culture may become too numerous to be harnessed for a single goal, to be controllable.  Perhaps, as those Benjaminists were arguing on Wednesday, it is expansion that is key to revolution…

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