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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Politics of Reading; Essays on Interpretations

the following is a write up on 'The Politics of Reading: Essays on Interpretations' by Dhanya Joy

In the essay, The Politics of Reading; Essays on Interpretations Ferretter points out that Althusser finds a reading practice, he describes it as ‘symptomatic reading’ in Marx’s analysis of previous economists in capital. In this kind of reading, Marx pays attention to the gaps, contradictions and other logical flaws in the texts he analyses, and shows that these are signs of another set of ideas at work in the texts, of which their authors are unconscious. This kind of reading, Althusser argues, is based on a theory of knowledge as a process of production. Economist before Marx had produced knowledge of certain economic facts, where not able to understand or to name them in the terms of ideological problamatics with in which they thought. Althusser’s student Pierre Macherey works out the consequences of this theory for literary criticism. It follows from the science of history, as Althusser understands it, that literary works are produced from the raw materials of ideology. Although ideologies seem, when we live in them, to constitute a more or less complete account of the world, in fact, as misrepresentations of historical reality, they are necessarily incomplete. When they are worked up in to literary texts, this incompleteness is shown up, in the gaps, contradictions and other flaws in those texts. A literary test, for Macherey, has no ‘unity’, as bourgeois criticism supposes, but rather consists of conflicting and contradictory elements, irreducible to the intention of its author. As his reading of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island makes clear, scientific literary criticism focus on these conflicting elements, explaining their relationships to be a result of historically misrepresentative character of the ideologies out of which they are made. From 1967, Althusser develops his ‘second definition’ of philosophy, as the ‘class struggle in theory’. From this definition, it follows that literary criticism is political intervention in the field of cultural practice, which serves the interests either of the exploiting or the exploited classes of the society in which it is practiced.


Ferretter, Luke. Louis Althusser; Canada: Routledge Publications, 2007. Print

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