Before I begin I would like to clarify that this is a brief commentary not engaged with notable critiques of Althusser by the likes of Butler, Dean, Zizek, Balibar, etc. nor taking into consideration similar works that deal in connecting ideology with culture, such as Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment.
This brief commentary on Althusser’s essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses comes from a notable lack or downplay “culture” plays in it and its role in the reproduction of the condition of production. So this is simply to interpret his ideas of ideology and, more specifically, interpellation, into the field of culture and, specifically, within the context of the Museum.
Artobjects (museum works, films, literature, media platforms, etc.) interpellates its audience. It hails out to its subjects by demanding the recognition it so deserves in its complexity by condemning its subject-as-audience to think, interpret, and engage it. The artobject understands that its existence requires the thinking subject, and so the correlationist circle becomes, in this instance, the correlationist trap. Whats more, this subject-as-audenice can only exist through the condemnation of engagement, from this relationship.
A subject-as-audience (hereon, Audience) can indeed ignore, dismiss, or even avoid the artobject, the trap of relating. But it in no way destroys the artobject in question nor even damages its status and in fact strengthens the artobject. How? Because the subject has merely consigned themself as a subject that does not know and can not know. A subject barred from ever knowing the elusive latent content it holds, thereby saving the autonomy of the object by conforming to the appeal of its Authority — the struggle to know.
This inability of escaping this relation with artobjects is part of the reason why subjects who, instead of feeling shamed for their ignorance, are more than willing to accept the outcome, cease resisting, and actively embrace this Stockholm relationship — Love thy Master. Confronted with the sheer complexity or difficulty of the artobject, the subject must profess their fidelity and serve til a time immemorial until finally its secrets can be revealed. While in the process becoming priests (critics) of the holy object who, upon their journey, can meet likewise innocent subjects in their quest for understanding and greet them with chosen texts they’ve supplied–written–as keys to understanding its abstraction.
Artobjects present themselves as objects to be understood and not merely to be engaged with, and as such, the subject-as-audience forever exists as a passive mediator to the dominating medium of its time.
The ideological function of this process is to ensure the survival of the relations of production and its reproduction. By creating an audience, it proffers the choice between being ignored or further contribute to its reproduction. In other words, to become ascetics or hedonists.
For any cultural platform of capitalist orientation to survive and reproduce, it must both alienate the subject by forcing them to choose this relationship and make guilty the subjects-as-audience for thus accepting the development and existence of this relationship. The redeeming feature of this relationship, so the subject is told, is that this relationship can also be a ‘cure’, if not a provisional palliative, to these feelings of alienation and guilt.
Could this be what having a ‘guilty pleasure’ really amounts to? The guilt of feeling content with one’s alienation as produced by the exploitation of a relationship.
Unlike Althusserian Interpellation, the audience does not recognize itself as such merely by being confronted with the presence of objects but objects as they are situated under a given ideological apparatus such as the Museum.
Here it will be useful to use Foucault’s idea of enunciative modalities as a method for analyzing discursive practices, “such as who has the right to make statements, from what site these statements emanate, and what position the subject of discourse occupies”. For our purposes, who has the right to make statements are critics, the site of statements (broadly) comes from the authority of the Museum, and the subject of discourse is taken up by the audience.
The naivete of the subject is believing they can enter a museum without being ensnared by this vicious relationship.
Ideology/Interpellation as Guilt
Althusser says, despite any existence of guilty conscience a subject may feel upon being hailed or interpellated, “guilty feelings” alone cannot be the reason why the subject responds and recognizes themselves as Subjects in the first place. This we can agree with, except, what if the subject is a subject of guilt precisely in the sense that guilt is the medium of transaction between individuals and their objects used by an ideological apparatus to ensnare and make normal this relationship. To make someone feel guilty of an act they did not cause is to put them in your possession. The authority is the owner of the relationship which makes guilty its subjects who have no choice but to accept this contract and who has to pay back this debt in obedience to its authortity-master. The subject is thus placed in the equally unfair and absurd position of trying to free themselves from an ‘original’ guilt which is not their own but which only exists as subjects subjected to the relationship.
We can conclude that the subject exists as guilty as such. Guilt is exactly the ideological relation that does not belong to anybody but nevertheless has to be assigned and made responsible by someone, and that someone is always someone subjected to domination, i.e. those who do not have the power to say no. In other words, it is the ruling class of any relation which contributes both to the creation of guilt (ideology) and holding people accountable of this fact — for this very existence which they have to pay back either by upholding this relationship (ensuring the survival of the reproduction of the relations of production) including additional exploitation.
Althusser carefully notes that interpellation does not work by temporal succession. Not: Hail then Subject. Not: Ideology then Subject. And not subject-as-audience then guilt. “The existence of ideology and the hailing of the interpellated subject are one and the same thing”. Ideology exists before its Subjects and Guilt exists before Subjects are held responsible.
Of course, to be guilty is also to hide this very fact. Perhaps to the point of tricking oneself free of the original feeling and consign themselves innocent. The paradox here is that the subject-as-guilty can trick themselves into believing they are an innocent subject, or even, a pre-ideological individual when, in fact, they really are! The caveat is this: they believe themselves to be subjects pre-transformation and not post-transformation, thereby caught in an abstracted delusion regarding their own subjectivity all maintained by the ideological apparatus. The consequence is that this is how the guilty subject is thus able to be re-interpellated as guilty because of their refusal to acknowledge the very mechanism of this guilt-innocent procedure of which they are perpetually caught. Ideology is then able to reproduce itself in the repressive states of its subjects.
Althusser: “What seems to take place outside ideology, in reality takes place in ideology. What really takes place in ideology seems therefore to take place outside it.” Further noting, “That is why those who are in ideology believe themselves by definition outside ideology”.
This is the aspect of the Repressive Apparatus that allows a defunct moralism to be born — to accuse the repressed innocent as guilty!