Books Author Authors, But Reading Writes: A Social Theory of the Text
It is said that literary agency exists. After all, writers write furiously these days, composing all sorts of texts. Indeed, for those of us on the (call it) existential left, who stress agency as an essential transformational force, the notion that writers can write their way out of the existing social order is vital. Think of the _Communist Manifesto_ (Marx and Engels 1967), _Prison Notebooks_ (Gramsci 1971), _Second Sex_ (Beauvoir 1953). The premise that authors are agents is also essential to the mythology of authorial entrepreneurialism grounded in a version of the self-made literary man or woman. Literary heroism abounds as ideology precisely because it is such a false representation of writers' lives and work. I theorize those lives and work-our own-because I want to understand the circumstances under which writing, "texts," can make a difference. Not only can writers write their way into vast fortunes through a keen sense of the market, inventiveness and the right literary agent (philosophical 'agency' objectified in the middlemen and middlewomen-literary agents-of the cultural marketplace). They can also write their way out of oppression and beyond dogma.
For their part, various postmodern thinkers such as Derrida (1976,1978) and Foucault (1977,1978), who eschew left existentialism (see Sartre 1956, 1976; MerleauPonty 1964a, 1964b; Poster 1975) for its vanity and subject-centeredness, are postauthorial in the sense that they debunk narrativity as a dangerous metaphor for a history that is said, by Marx among others, to proceed from stage-setting quandary to revolutionary denouement. These thinkers portray the text as an undecidable quagmire of plural, polyvocal meanings that do not sort neatly into a big picture (see Lyotard 1984). Finally, the Frankfurt School theorists such as Adorno (1973a), Horkheimer (1973, 1974) and Marcuse (1964) portray textual activities as dominated by the culture industry (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972), which commodifies thought and robs critique of its sharp edge. This did not prevent them from engaging in critique, but it focused their critique not on society directly but on its fragmentary cultural expressions, such as the music of Stravinksy (Adorno 1973b) and the astrology column of _The Los Angeles Times_ (Adorno 1974b).
I draw on existential, postmodern and critical-theory versions of authorship, of literary, and thus political, agency because, in their apparent irreconcilability, they focus attention on contradictions of the literary life--and of social life. I want texts to change the world, including textuality's own relationship to the world. Although writers write furiously, books author writers, constraining authorial sensibility and subjectivity. Reading may be the only real author, as Derrida implies but without reference to an explicit social theory of the text. The author is constrained both by language (what Wittgenstein [1976, 1986] called language games, within which arguments are formulated in terms of their practical contingencies) and by social forces that domesticate writing. I take seriously the impact of German and French theories on the ways we conceptualize "the text" at a time when the boundary between text and world has blurred to the point of collapse-what Baudrillard (1983) called simulation. French and German critical theory, respectively, suggest a logic and sociologic of writing that help frame a social theory of the text, which is another way to formulate the theory and critique of ideology (see Jameson 1981). This is a contemporary project inasmuch as what Marcuse termed one-dimensionality is perhaps the most pressing social and intellectual problem of our time, choking off critical consciousness in an age of apathy (Jacoby 1999).
The purpose of my proposed book, _Do Books Write Authors?: A Social Theory of the Text_, is to examine the ways in which both language and society constrain the writer, who, according to various models of authorial creativity afoot, is portrayed inaccurately as a solitary genius or diligent entrepreneur but not as a social actor positioned, by language and society, to write "social texts" that reproduce the existing social order. I want to think differently about writing, and about culture generally, in order to help writers effect social change, both by their example as independent cultural producers-intellectuals-and in their message, which is that agency exists. This demonstration and advocacy of agency is precisely what Marx had in mind when he told workers that they had nothing to lose but their chains; his point was that people's chains are self-enforced through habits of thought and everyday activities that subvert their best interests. He said these things in stirring polemical writings that were read by many, even if they lacked his erudition. Today, in fast capitalism, as I term it, few read challenging, angry books of social analysis and so writers have to formulate their critiques and advocacy differently, accommodating themselves to a political mood that is decidedly post-marxist and to a culture in which few reflect on the meaning of words for their own lives.
I argue that the Frankfurt school, with prescience, anticipated the closure of the universe of discourse. The Frankfurt theorists well understood that domination in post-WWII capitalism intensifies ideology to such an extent that language loses the ability to reason, criticize, stand apart. At the same time, in reading the world that way, the Frankfurt critics neglected to ground their analyses in an activist concept of literary agency because they had become convinced that "total administration" was impenetrable by the straightforward language of critique, forcing critics to seek dissonant, non-discursive modes of protest, such as, for Adorno, Schoenberg's challenging twelve-tone music. The relatively plain language of Marx's critique of political economy needed to be abandoned, especially in light of Soviet Marxism (Marcuse 1958), leaving critical theory no programmatic agenda of any sort, no engagement with the social and especially with what Habermas (1981) called new social movements. The critical theorists helped us understand that books write authors, exuberant images of literary heroism and individualism notwithstanding.
Had the Frankfurt theorists been acquainted with French postmodern theory, especially the work of Derrida and Foucault, I think they could have avoided premature closure and developed a concept of ideology-critique grounded in the notion that reading writes. That reading writes, that reading is already a strong version required by the undecidable, self- deconstructing tendencies of every text, especially including the texts and discourses of ideology, is a source of real hope. It is not an occasion for despair about the lack of certainties or moral and political absolutes; what certainties there are--about reason, truth, justice-- are those that flow from writers' pens. Writers can write their ways out of oppression and dispel false consciousness through protean readings that can energize an ideology critique appropriate to fast or postmodern capitalism. For their part, the French theorists, who cut their political teeth during the French student movement and in struggles with Stalinist orthodoxy, such as the work of Althusser, abandoned not only the programmatism of Marx but his grand narrative, as Lyotard called it, of historical materialism. In different terms, the French theorists, through Nietzsche and Heidegger, jettisoned reason, and thus Hegel and Marx, as a possible world-historical force. This is not to deny the obvious emancipatory affiliations of Derrida, Foucault and the early Baudrillard and leftish social movements but to acknowledge the greater distance between French theory and Marx than between German critical theory and Marx. Although the critical theorists argued that ideology had been deepened as domination since Auschwitz, they never strayed far from their deep-seated investment in Marx's notions of alienation and praxis, as Horkheimer first spelled out in his 1937  essay "Traditional and Critical Theory."
My aim here is to develop what I call a social theory of the text as a comprehensive perspective on contemporary ideology that refuses to exaggerate writers' possible political purchase and yet avoids a one-dimensional portrayal of the writer's and reader's powerlessness. To be sure, books author authors, positioning the author in literary political economies that thwart reason and critique. But because readers write, they can throw off ideology and write new versions not only of texts but of the social. Thus, a social theory of the text informs critical social theory at a time when the notion of literary resistance conducted in a viable public sphere of contemplation and debate seems far-fetched, especially in light of Jacoby's (1987) trenchant critique of leftist academic conformity and then the left's abandonment of utopian thought in his related books _Last Intellectuals_ and _End of Utopia_.
More astutely than most critical intellectuals, Jacoby has addressed the age of academe and apathy as a cause of the end of utopian thinking, as ever the Marxist-Hegelian project. He traces the academization of critical theory after the 1960s, when the critical left, such as it was in the United States, decamped to the university and embarked on academic careers, no longer situated in urban bohemia and a tradepublishing world in which intellectuals write "big" books for an educated but nonspecialist readership--authors such as Irving Howe and C. Wright Mills. Jacoby does not frame his critique as a social theory of the text, as I do here, probably, I suspect, because he does not have much patience for discourse theory or discourse analysis that, with Derrida and his ilk, proliferate neologisms and thereby cause the rate of intelligence (Jacoby 1976) or what I call public discourse (Agger 1990) to decline still further.
But we need to theorize textuality because what Marxists used to call ideology has not ended (see Bell 1960) with the so-called end of Communism. If anything, ideology is more virulent, more coercive, because it has disappeared from the pages of books proper, such as the Bible or _Wealth of Nations_, into the quotidian cultural universe, informing television, advertising, newspapers, magazines, school and college textbooks, even academic social science and social theory, which celebrate the present as a plenitude of social being. This celebration is achieved via representation, where today's lives are depicted as utopian, narrowing the distance between what is and what ought to be through images of plentiful consumerism, adventurous leisure, revivifying travel. Baudrillard's term simulacrum nicely captures this blending of reality and possibility through the image, which is said by him to have sign value. Where Baudrillard goes wrong is in supposing that sign value replaces what Marx (1967) called exchange value, the value bestowed on commodities by the marketplace, which allows the circulation of commodities--shopping--to issue in surplus value, the source of capitalist profit and of workers' immiseration.
It appears that immiseration has ended, with post-Fordist flexible accumulation, facilitated nowadays by the World Wide Web and FedEx, which render nearly frictionless the coordination of production and consumption (see Dyer-Witheford 1999; Lash and Urry 1987). As I argue in my forthcoming _Self and Cybersociety_, a frictionless capitalism still requires the exploitation and domination of the world's many who are colonized by capital and its culture industry. The seamless web spun by information technologies, from global CNN to the internet, is Bentham's panopticon, which Foucault identified as a metaphor for total surveillance through self-surveillance (see Kellner 1997; Luke 1998). In this context, ideology defends not the accumulation of private capital per se but the circuitries of information, production/consumption and entertainment that create a disciplinary grid enforcing "total administration."
I have worked toward a textual theory of the social in prior writing, blending Frankfurt School and postmodern themes in order to understand the contemporary nature of ideology at a time when the boundary between text and world has become permeable and at times quite invisible. We also need a social theory of the text in order to round out the analysis of ideology with an analysis of the possibilities and limits of the critique of ideology, as traditional Marxists used to call it. I strongly believe, as the Frankfurt theorists and before them Marx did, that ideology can be criticized, its mythologies demystified and illusions pierced, thus stimulating social change which seizes on the openness of history to reauthor it. But at a time when ideological texts are dispersed into the quotidian environment in which virtually everything "signifies"-popular culture, the built environment, school curricula, fashion--we require a critical theory of significance, as I (1989) subtitled _Fast Capitalism_ a decade ago. In different terms, we need a social theory of the text that comprehends that books write authors, authoring worlds through them that their representations and even counterrepresentations silently support, sticking too close to the object--fast or late capitalism--and thus losing critical distance required to comprehend that object without being sullied by it.
This social theory of the text does not imitate positivism's goal of pure representation! Subject and object, writer and world, are linked inextricably, grounded in each other. Writers occupy worlds that they author, and worlds invade literary sensibility and the social and economic organizations of literary production, making it difficult to decide theoretically the issue of literary agency. I am, of course, as Marx was, in "favor" of such agency, believing that ringing fragments such as "...nothing to lose but their chains..." have the potential to change the world. But Marx's 1 9th century exhortation to revolt did not anticipate a world in which commodities, language games and lives are thoroughly saturated with ensnaring ideological directives to consume and conform that are not easily subject to the contemplative critique of ideology and the power of counterfactual claims. Ideology is now largely positivist, depending on representations that, in their immediacy, their non-mediating stance with respect to social objects, reproduce the given, and subjects' powerlessness, precisely because they do not seem to be partisan positions but simply adequate, accurate reflections of the inevitability of the given--alienated labor, commodified entertainment, Web surfing and the like. Today, ideology is secret writing, composed by the culture industry's spokespeople--advertising scribes, positivist social scientists, movie scriptwriters, journalists, even critical theorists.
To banish ideology today, which is especially immobilizing because it is secret writing, as I am calling it, we must first identify it--no mean feat when its texts have been dispersed into the sentient environment, coming to resemble nature or social nature. The books that command lives are found everywhere but in bookstores. The entreaties to conform and consume are encoded in the unmediated environments of the quotidian, which panoptically rely on self- surveillance as the late-capitalist vehicle of Kant's original duty. One "does one's job" in the various venues of daily life--the work organization, family, various voluntary associations, church. These duties are unmediated by canonical texts of discipline; as Foucault (1977: p. 215) commented, "discipline is a physics," meaning that discipline is written into our microenvironments which, under sway of ideology today, are sealed off from critical examination--precisely the Frankfurt School's point about the inescapability of domination. Instead of being purely doctrine, domination is discipline and discourse, the ordinary ways people are led to make sense of their situations in an overdetermined world in which reading and writing have been eclipsed by the culture industries that replace thought with slogan--the aim of the scientific discipline of marketing.
Baudrillard has offered the term sign value and the concept of simulacrum to capture the new reality of late capitalism, arguing that the production of commodities has given way to the production of signs, for example via advertising, that replaces the contest between capital and labor over surplus value with a struggle to accumulate sign value. By sign value he means the cultural value that commodities and practices possess, bending Marxian analysis in a Weberian direction (see Baudrillard 1981). Although I certainly agree with him that what Marx called use and exchange value have been supplemented with sign value, in no way does this replace or displace capitalism but enriches it with new supplies of false needs. Indeed the production of sign value--Nike shoes, Honda cars, Disney vacations that are desired for what they signify about desirable lifestyles--intensifies the production and consumption of commodities, keeping capitalism humming. Marcuse offered a more Freudian analysis of this phenomenon where in (1955) _Eros and Civilization_ he theorized that in late capitalism it is in the interest of both domination, discipline and profit for people to engage in "surplus repression," beyond the basic repression necessary for aim-inhibited civilized social life. This way, people, through system-serving shopping and entertainments, divert their critical attention from the fact that advanced industrial technology can liberate them from the harsh regime of scarcity, instead busying themselves with upwardly-mobile everyday lives that augment capitalist profit and intensify false consciousness.
I salvage Marx's original notion of false consciousness, the product of ideology that inverts real and ideal, convincing people that freedom lies beyond the realm of "necessity," governed by putative social laws vouchsafing the eternity of capitalism and patriarchy. Indeed, I retain Marx's basic structural understanding of capitalism's internal contradictions between capital and labor, and his vision of dis-alienated human activity. Since the 1920s, western Marxism has attempted to understand how post-WWII capitalism restored itself both through Keynesian-inspired state intervention in a crisis ridden economy and through the manipulations of the culture industry, which at once diverts and subdues critical consciousness (e.g., see Lukacs 1971). These non-Soviet Marxists retained Marx's basic understanding of the contradictoriness of capitalism, which, as ever, risks overproduction and underconsumption through monopoly-capitalist accumulation and attendant working-class immiseration. But they recognized that capitalism possesses internal coping mechanisms that make it more resilient than Marx imagined in the mid-1 9th century. Marx simply did not foresee the extent to which state intervention, cultural sedation and globalizing information and transformation technologies would protect capitalism against the final expropriation of the expropriators, as he termed it in _Capital_. Especially significant here is that Marx's theory of ideology needs to be revised in light of subsequent socio-cultural changes in capitalism that have not transcended the need for false consciousness but simply made ideology critique, with reference to a singular standard of true and false representation, devilishly difficult given what Baudrillard calls simulations and what the Frankfurt School terms domination.
Thus, a social theory of the text is a theory of ideology that retains Marx's promise of truth, and hence liberation, but that addresses the newfound dispersal of textuality into signs and simulations difficult to read as texts. This is not a transcendence of the ideologizing powers of writing--discourse--to reproduce the given order of social things but a deepening of those powers via a concealment of the authoriality of writing and thus the inherent possibility of different versions. The dispersed, concealed texts of ideology are all the more constraining because they conceal their authorship by the ideologizing scribes who scripted them in order to produce consumption, conformity, civic order. The contemporary critique of ideology must address the fact that ideologizing texts are no longer old-fashioned books that stand at one remove from reality and distort it, thus preventing revolutionary dissent as metaphysically impossible (Kant's necessity), but are dispersed into the world subtly, subliminally, as the cultural texts of diversion that litter our chain bookstores and the World Wide Web.
Books used to be reasoned tracts that capitalized on their distance from reality in order to criticize it. Accordingly, _Wealth of Nations_ was matched and opposed by _Capital_, which exposed Smith's harmonizing economics as metaphysically misplaced, covering over the possibility of socialist economies of gratification and abundance. Marx could contest Smith because they both stood apart from, if not outside of, reality in order to read its possibilities. Marx used Smith's categories and discourse in order to show that they were not adequate appreciations of the nature of labor, value, profit under capitalism. Marx thought that Smith had the right categories, but failed to historicize them as the period pieces they were, thus preventing us from understanding the dialectical potential of labor to become non-alienated, no longer bound to the capitalist labor contract that legalized the theft of surplus value from workers. Through indefatigable critique, Marx intended to rectify the categories of bourgeois political economy and thus produce a better account of the world that would revolutionize world history.
Today, it is more difficult for writing to stand apart and make judgments about the morality and desirability of social arrangements. Writing is both in and of the world, constrained by the exigencies of authors' lives and by the inadequacies of language to express truth. As Derrida indicates, language was always inadequate, rejecting logocentrisms that convey the world's full presence in speech and writing. As Derrida suggests, speech and writing are undecidable, deferring final solutions of quandaries and instead contenting themselves to live with their opacity, vagueness, inadequate definitions, circularity. For Derrida and Lyotard, undecidability humbles political and social theorists who eradicate particulars--human beings--in the grand narratives of a totalized world history. These political and social theorists include Marx, of course. But language is also inadequate because the distance of writing from the world has been shortened so much that language has difficulty transcending ordinary meanings in helping us view the present--what social scientists call data--as frozen bits of history that, through invigorating imagination, can be thawed and thus changed. Writing, never a perfect medium for critique because of its undecidability, is even more inadequate to pierce ideology in that writing has lost its marginality from which it could rigorously appraise the world. Instead, writing--thought--has become worldly, even a career.
Jacoby understands that the decline of public discourse and the academization of critique were occasioned by structural and cultural shifts since WWII--the eclipse of urban bohemia, the growth of suburbs, chain bookstores, the rapid post-Sputnik expansion of American universities, the end of the new social movements of the 1 960s and now, one would add, the arrival of the internet. The problem with the tenure track--with academization, broadly understood--is obscurantism, which is a virtually unavoidable occupational hazard of academic who write obscurely for other academics. But there is more to his story than that. The decline of discourse is also linked to a failure of authorial nerve, especially among youngish post-1 960s academics, who prefer the comforts and security of life on the tenure track to the vagaries of freelance writing. Jacoby idealizes the lonely literary intellectuals of the 1950s and before, who lived on the fringe, between royalty checks, refusing to compromise their political purchase in exchange for academic careers.
I share much of this critique, which links academization, as he calls it, to larger structural and cultural changes in U.S. society, especially after the end of the 1 960s. The culture industry chews up solitary auteurs, reducing them to providers of "product"--manuscripts for a trade market, newspaper articles, dramatic scripts, advertising copy. Although literary will certainly affects what, and how, writers write, the Frankfurt School's arguments about the enveloping culture industry, which in late capitalism forestalls critical consciousness and revolt, suggests an alienation so complete that it is useless to retain images of literary heroism, even as authors such as Adorno write and resist. In registering the futility of subject-centered social theories and philosophies, intellectuals such as Adorno and Derrida exemplify rebellious, activist subjectivities that somewhat contradict their own strictures about the totalizing tendencies of identity theory and logocentrism (see Ryan 1982 for the Adorno/Derrida comparison).
But for every rare Adorno, at once brilliant and situated on the fringe of dominant cultural institutions such as universities, there are dozens of academic underworkers who view themselves as organization men and women, carefully building careers by publishing formulaic articles on timeworn topics using apparently apolitical methodologies and by cultivating the impression of their normalcy through what in universities is called "service"--committee work, various community activities, political quiescence. C. Wright Mills wrote about these "academized" faculty in his (1959) _Sociological Imagination_, in which he blamed increasingly corporate universities for robbing intellectual life of vitality. In an era of post-tenure review and compulsive faculty accountability, Mills' ringing critique is even more apposite. As well, since the 1950s, when Mills composed his critique, self-oriented academic specialist writing, even on the left as Jacoby points out, has further ravaged critical thought and public writing, reducing critical theory merely to another academic specialty pursued in order to earn tenure, promotion, raises.
Although one need not give up on an insurgent literary heroism--Marx composing the world-making _Capital_ after years of lonely study, Sartre drafting _Beinq and Nothingness_ while sitting in a cafe, Gramsci writing his notebooks while in prison--the odds against this solitary activism are long and getting longer. This compounds the problem of undecidability which already haunts every logocentric version. This haunting need not disable the emancipatory project, as Adorno's critical theory demonstrates: One can hope and work for Reason without covering over Reason's non-identity to a sloppy, chaotic world that ever resists attempts to decipher its ineluctable mystery. Horkheimer and Adorno in _Dialectic of Enlightenment_ compose the first Derridean work, just as they attempt to rescue Reason from the mythology and ideology of reasonableness--instrumental reason. This approach to reason, enlightenment and emancipation retains the concept of ideology and indeed updates Marx's analysis of ideology simply as counterfactual statements about the justice of the market economy and the prospect of salvation in the afterlife. Indeed, ideology becomes domination, an enveloping cloud of distortions and diversions that prevents people from even raising the question of truth and reason. And positivism is the new form of post-Holocaust ideology, miring philosophical questioning in the quotidian landscape of an emerging late capitalism characterized by the production and satisfaction of false needs. Positivism, which the Frankfurt theorists trace from Homer through the Enlightenment, banishes metaphysical speculation and thus the pursuit of a totalizing Reason, instead celebrating the frozen eternal present of Eisenhower's America which combines capitalist enterprise with the fascist obliteration of otherness, of what Adorno calls nonidentity.
Derrida says many of the same things, although he does not offer an historicizing and ideology-critical account, springing from Heidegger and Nietzsche instead of Marx. But Adorno's Nietzschean reading of Marx parallels Derrida's critique of western logocentrism in its appreciation of the contributions of non-identity, otherness and marginality to a contemporary critique of ideology. What Derrida and French theory add to the Frankfurt School is an approach to what we Marxists might still call ideology that is based on discourse and discourse analysis-- cultural studies by another name (Agger 1992). Ideology is a version, a positivist version as Horkheimer and Adorno recognized; it has been authored by the scriptwriters of the quotidian-- social scientists, marketing specialists, producers of Hollywood blockbusters, textbook authors. Ideology is not simply imposed, as the Frankfurt theorists sometimes imply. It is a "lived practice," as Althusser (1970) called it, borrowing from the same Freud who energized the Frankfurt School's Freudian Marxism.
The notion that ideology is a version necessarily informed by the author's subject position and haunted by the undecidability of all writing returns to Marx instead of departing from him. It also goes beyond his understanding of texts as clear-cut representations that could be challenged by scientific readings. I contend that ideology can be challenged, but only by rhetorical versions that acknowledge their grounding in non- logocentric language and do not argue from the impregnability of social facts or data. For Marx, ideology was contained in the bound volumes (e.g., Parsons 1951 ) of a mystifying social science, notably bourgeois economic theory, which falsely posited iron laws of the market, the bourgeois state, global imperialism, the patriarchal family, Judea-Christianity. Marx countered these ideologizing claims as ahistorical, precluding the possibility of an alternative world history in which capitalism isn't the final stage but the penultimate one. Accordingly, Marx read ideological tests critically, exposing their falsehoods with reference to a new empirical theory of capitalist contradictions.
Horkheimer and Adorno understood that these civilizational texts were authorial artifacts. They spent time deconstructing books such as Homer's _Odysseus_ in order to understand ideology deeply. They similarly "read" Hollywood films and emerging electronic culture, auguring latter-day cultural studies. But they did not consider these cultural works as authored oeuvres as much as pregiven features of a dominating cultural infrastructure that admitted of critical readings but could not be matched by new versions, achieved through emancipated authorship. The Frankfurt theorists viewed the cultural universe as virtually closed to resistance and new versions, having become "one-dimensional" (Marcuse) and "totally administered" (Adorno). Thus, although their critical readings were extremely astute, exposing cultural works and artifacts as deeply ideological statements, they viewed the "subject" as so whittled down that they did not theorize a standpoint of rebellious authorial subjectivity from which emancipatory projects, including critical texts, could be launched.
On the empirical evidence, they were certainly close to the truth: Authors, especially dissident ones, are thwarted by the political economy of cultural production, distribution and consumption. So, too, are readers disciplined, denied the critical tools to make sense of their lives and blocked from becoming writers. Where Marx viewed ideology as a false representation of a dialectically molten world, the Frankfurt theorists conceptualized ideology as domination, a cultural ether so impenetrable that only mandarin intellectuals who have mastered civilizational texts as well as the works of Marx can glimpse non-identity amidst postured identity, harmony, consensus. But, borrowing from Derrida and his fellow French postmodern theorists, I view ideology as a version that can be rewritten by being read deconstructively, its inner chaos and contradictions brought to light. To be sure, Derrida does not intend deconstruction, his literary method, to be ideology-critique. But his critique of logocentrism and its stress on writing's undecidability opens the way for an ideology-critical social theory of the text that blends Marx's notion of ideology as a falsifying text with the Frankfurt School's recognition that, in late capitalism, ideology suffuses everyday life through cultural industries that ceaselessly distort and divert as a way of producing what Marcuse in _Eros and Civilization_ considered repression beyond the minimum required for social life, which is more than ever necessary in a technological era of potential abundance.
To view ideologies as versions suggests that they have been authored, what I call secret writing. It also suggests that their authorship can be revealed and contested. This is the way I adapt the deconstructive program to critical theory: Deconstruction becomes a critique of ideology where it exhumes hidden authorship as a way of demonstrating that ideology is a text, a committed literary position, and not simply a representation of the frozen world. The Frankfurt School contends that ideology, which in Marx's era could be corrected with a dialectical science, has become domination in post-WWII capitalism because ideology's claims no longer exist between covers, inviting contest, but have leaked out into the cultural landscape that we tend to inhabit uncritically, what Husserl called the lifeworld. Ideology becomes "second nature" where domination replaces old-fashioned ideological texts with subtle, inexorable claims of the culture industry. One-dimensionality collapses reality and rationality as a way of concealing reality from probing eyes and critical consciousness. Where ideology transmogrifies into domination, ideology-critique is closed off, ever the aim of culture under capitalism.
None of this is to suggest that solitary, heroic deconstructions of domination's discourse will lead to radical social change. Literary lives are overdetermined by the disciplining imperatives of the culture industry, including academic life as Jacoby reminds us. When I say that domination is a discourse, ideology a text--a version--l am not dissolving social change into pixels on a computer screen or filmic images that can be transformed virtually without resistance. Jacoby and Adorno are correct that there are no real books in the disciplinary society, considered reflections that stand at one remove from the world they describe and condemn. Books are found everywhere but in intellectual bookstores--ads, television, journalism, movies, the Web. Textuality has been dispersed, as I described it in _Fast Capitalism_. Our dilemma, then, is that in a bookless world, a world nearly depleted of accessible social criticism that distances itself from the fray in order to appraise it, ideology needs to be considered and countered as an authored text--a position piece for late capitalism and the totally administered society.
The dilemma is that secret writing can only be overcome by readings that write, that go public with alternative versions of the economy, polity, culture, family, sexuality, nationality. Ideology must be met by counter-ideological versions that historicize a frozen present, depicting capitalism, racism, patriarchy, the domination of nature, nationalism, religion as moments of world history that can be overcome, indeed that contain the seeds of contradiction leading to their own undoing. Lacking a theory of the text, or better a textual theory of ideology or domination, in their own terms, the Frankfurt theorists do not theorize oppositional writing, oppositional versions, as a possibility. Indeed, they portray the subject, and by implication the authorial agent, as a residue of idealist philosophy that has not survived the Holocaust and subsequent culture industry. However much I agree with them empirically that domination has become totalized under late/global/fast capitalism, with writing and language having nearly lost the ability to stand outside the world and oppose, these are tendencies and not absolutes. Writers still write, and readers read. The text is not a seamless web, a panopticon, a force field out of which there is no escape.
The Frankfurt theorists well understood the totalizing tendencies of domination, which results in the eclipse of critique. But in criticizing, the Frankfurt theorists showed that an ideology-critical discourse was possible. Because they did not deploy discourse theory, or even discourse as a theoretical category, they failed to theorize their own literary imagination and resistance as the harbinger of new discourses and thus new social movements. The linguistic turn in critical theory awaited Habermas, a secondgeneration affiliate to the Frankfurt School, who developed what he called a communication theory of society. Habermas' perspective on critical theory developed ideology critique and a communicative ethics out of the interaction between two speakers, a protean intersubjectivity on which a new community could be built, he hoped. But for the most part Habermas restricted his focus to speech and not writing, ignoring the demands of a social theory of the text. This is largely because he did not drink deeply of the original Frankfurt theorists' critique of cultural domination and their writings on the totalizing tendencies of the culture industry, dismissing much of this work as exaggerated, permeated by untoward Nietzschean gloom. Similarly, Habermas (1987a) has rejected postmodernism, which is also indebted to Nietzsche and, through him, Heidegger, because it abandons the project of modernity, which, for Habermas, remains the necessary framework of enlightenment and emancipation. In other ways, particularly in his (1971) _Knowledge and Human Interests_, Habermas regresses behind Marx where Habermas, through a Kantian reconstruction of historical materialism, distinguishes between the possible emancipation of self-reflection and communication and the impossible project of emancipating nature and creating a new technology, desiderata of early Marx that were appropriated by Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse as the concept of the redemption of nature.
I (Agger 1979) have written elsewhere about the social-democratic, Kantian Marxism of Habermas. But lest Marx become yet another slogan doing little analytical work, suffice it to say here that Habermas has come close to a critical theory of discourse, and thus a perspective on the "text" that both explains the depths of contemporary domination and explores the possibilities of ideology-critique. Ultimately, in (1984, 1 987b) _The Theory of Communicative Action_, Habermas did not succeed in developing a new theory and critique of ideology because he restricted his discourse analysis to speech, ignoring writing and culture for the most part. It is difficult to make empirical or political headway using Habermas' concept of the ideal speech situation, characterized by untrammeled, unconstrained dialogue between egalitarian interlocutors, at a time--fast capitalism--when the boundary between text and reality fades, calling into question the theory and critique of ideology, even in its original revision by the Frankfurt theorists.
A social theory of the text, then, must combine critical theory's and postmodernism's perspectives on culture, discourse and literary agency. This links Derrida's critique of logocentrism with Adorno's critique of identity theory in a way that makes possible new emancipatory discourses that are not marred by hubris or subject philosophy. For this to happen, critical theory must theorize criticism, comprehending its own reading and writing as the possibility of new versions and thus new worlds. Discourse theory must theorize discourse, using its own example of publicity as evidence of the possibility of democratic publics. For Adorno to have denied the possibility of poetry, of theory, after the Holocaust ignored the fact, or better failed to learn from the fact, that he poetized and theorized after the death camps were discovered. Adorno was correct that the camps attested to modernity's dialectic--the dialectic of enlightenment--revealing the secret desires of identitarian philosophy that wants subjects to exhaust objects, thus exterminating subjects who are treated as other, as object. His _Negative Dialectics_ offers a convincing critique of identity theory and usefully preserves the non- identical as the possibility of liberation. But the book itself is non-identical--undecidable, in Derrida's terms. Non-identical texts, texts that cannot be reduced to slogans and thus defused, augur non-identical existence and thus an escape from damaged life.
Although Adorno took his writing seriously as craft, he did not theorize writing and reading in the way that postmodern theorists do. Foucault portrays domination as a technology that transpires not only over the heads of people but within their quotidian lives and even on the pages on which they imprint themselves. He even analyzes childhood handwriting--penmanship- -as an early scene of discipline. Discipline is necessarily self-discipline, suggesting self- emancipation as a route beyond the disciplinary society. Adorno did not theorize the text because his reconstruction of ideology as enveloping domination emerged from his empirical perspective on the implications of totality for modernity--post-WWII global capitalism. No more than ideology, the text was not a problem for a theory of domination that characterized the present as "totally administered," ending modernity not with left-wing eschatology but with an inversion of Hegel (see Adorno 1 974a): "The whole is the false." Texts were inscribed by the identitarian impulses of the surrounding society, driving to exhaust things with concepts that explain them completely, draining them of mystery and nonidentity--precisely their liberating power. _Negative Dialectics_ (p. 406) sought to bore within "the objective context of delusion." But this notion of critique was purely negative, having no prefigurative meaning for new social movements. At the end of the day, Adorno and Horkheimer gave up on new social movements, such as the New Left student movement, because they had given up on texts, on ideology-critique, to dispel delusion.
Domination, the loss of a standpoint for social criticism, deepens ideology past the point of no return. But inasmuch as critical theory itself resists the gravitational pull of domination that absorbs consciousness into the black hole of self-reproducing discipline, critical theory needs to attend to its own discursive abilities to resist. Adorno, entertaining the metaphor of post-WWII society as concentration camp, "total administration," did not reflect sufficiently on his own discursive powers of resistance and thus failed to reground critical theory on a discursive, cultural and textual foundation that would entertain the question "Do books write authors?" Absent a social theory of the text, which should have been abundantly available to the Frankfurt School given their own deep insights into the culture industry, critique does not extend itself as an example of ideology-critical practice--different, subversive writing. Had Adorno and his colleagues thought of culture as text, as literary practice, they could have both revitalized the critique of ideology and achieved their purpose of limiting the otherwise Promethean aims of an Enlightenment-inspired Marxism, that, with hubris, positions itself unashamedly as a world-historical truth teller.
I am closer to German critical theory than French postmodernism because the critical theorists remain closer to Marx; they accept Marx's claim that capitalism is a contradictory social order. Derrida's (1994) _Specters of Marx_ is a typically elliptical treatment of Marx, steering clear of his social theory and politics. For his part, in books such as _Discipline and Punish_ and _Archaeology of Knowledge_ Foucault distances himself from Marx's theories of power and agency. Both Derrida and Foucault add a great deal to our understanding of the ways texts inhere in societies, portraying texts as nucleic societies of writers and readers. As such, the French theorists empower reading as a strong version that authors books, as much as is authored by books. Reading is empowered because readers give sense, interpolate, resolve contradictions and glosses, deal with authorial deferral. The undecidability of texts makes reading a version in its own right, offering an analogy of the ways in which historical "subjects" can begin to master social objects through reflection and communication, ultimately joining new social movements that act opportunistically to prize open the cracks in an indeterminate, non-overdetermined world history.
Although it is often difficult to detect the political in books such as _Of Grammatology_, it is there, in the way that Derrida and his French theoretical colleagues position reading vis-a- vis writings, texts. It is a non-phallogocentric politics, a politics of the margins, which are positioned by a dominant center as Otherness. But as Other, they are, in fact, central because "Others" are in the vast majority; as Hegel said, history is the slaughter-bench of individuals. Unlike Hegel, the French theorists who value marginality as a necessary alternative to the Archimedeanism of logocentrism refuse to sacrifice marginality to a subject-centered version of philosophy and world history that reduces reason to the "presence" achieved between speakers. In a sense, although it is difficult to read this similarity at the level of their quite different versions, Derrida and Adorno both rescue non-identity from the maw of identity theory and identitarian politics (see Ryan and Jay 1984) in the name of marginality that could be called the proletariat. Derrideans and western Marxists would hasten to oppose the notion of the proletariat as the "subject-object identical" of world history, in whose name all sorts of atrocities have been committed.
By now, we recognize that this marginal collective subject includes many subjects-- women, people of color, residents of the colonial and post-colonial worlds, gays and lesbians. The risk of an overly pluralistic conception of collective subjects is individualism--identity politics. Yet the opposite risk is a narrowly-drawn white male proletkult that bears virtually no relationship to anything that is happening in the world today, even in the ranks of organized and disorganized labor in late capitalist countries. In between a pluralist, polyvocal identity politics and a 19th century concept of the while male proletariat as agents of change is a conception of subjectivity and intersubjectivity-writing, by another name--that has room for structural analysis and subjective agency. Structure and agency stand in the same relationship as ideology and ideology critique: Although books author authors, reading writes, producing new versions that replace existing versions found to be inadequate. Of course, all versions are inadequate, occasioning a politics and discourse of humility, of democracy, the French corrective to German authoritarianism. Reading necessarily writes because texts do not achieve closure, perfect representation, transparent meaning. These versions, of course, are not public until they see the light of day as articles, books, pamphlets, editorials, internet postings. But while the public sphere is increasingly controlled by the custodians of the culture industry, who channel dissent into affirmation via the commodity form, it is easier than ever for authorial subjects to convert their readings into writings, given the various media and forums available for them.
Literary agency, then, is a form of political agency that is ever at risk in a disciplinary society that blends economic reproduction, entertainment, education and information. Yet texts require readings that, without too much friction, can convert into writings, hence public discourse. Books change lives because they are lives-connections between writers and readers, who enjoy a dialectical interdependence. Derrida shows that total administration, achieved via logocentrism or what Adorno calls identity theory, is never total, requiring its own reproduction through subjectivity, intersubjectivity, authoriality, interpretation. This is very much the same argument Marx made when he linked production and consumption, showing that alienated labor provides capital with much-needed surplus value that can only be realized through consumption by alienated laborers who, over time, lose the economic means to buy. False needs, especially after WWII, have temporarily filled the gap threatened by a structural disproportion between production and consumption--by overproduction in other terms. These needs trigger endless consumption and transmogrify shopping from the acquisition of basic necessities, an activity that scarcely needs to be theorized, into the appropriation of sign values--sources of meaning in fast capitalism. Thus, we now need to theorize shopping at Nieman-Marcus as well as over the internet as activities, and through media such as malls and the Web, that Marx could not have foreseen. And the fact that we must buy books "at" Amazon.Com or the Barnes and Noble Web site needs to be understood simultaneously as a literary and political problem, signaling both the eclipse of good bookstores sited in public space and the globalization and commodification of literary activities.
Just as Hegel (1967) in _Phenomenology of Mind_ recognized that masters depend on their slaves for recognition, Marx saw that capital rests on labor, even though labor is the structurally weaker party, having nothing but itself to sell. Derrida extends this argument from inextricability where he subverts the hierarchy of writing over reading, explaining that writing unravels deconstructively when its aporias of meaning, deferrals, displacements are exposed. Deconstruction is less an act performed upon texts than texts' own unraveling, their failure to achieve pure representation. This is the opening, however opaque from the perspective of traditional political theory including orthodox Marxism, for readings that, as strong versions in their own right, augur new worlds, much as Marx and Engels augured a world beyond capitalism in the _Manifesto_. The _Manifesto_ represented a world in which all that is solid melts into air under the contradictory regime of commodity fetishism, dehistoricizing exploitative social relations through the misrepresentations of bourgeois economic theory that portray society as sedimented and nature- like. On that basis, its reading of political economy was a call to arms, to other versions. It was a text that destined itself to ooze out of its covers and into the world, recognizing all the while, although before Derrida's deconstruction, that texts are already and always in the world.
This duality of texts' inherence in history and the ability to remake history gives the lie to science's postured representational relationship to nature and society. Although a positivist version of science invaded Marxism itself, through Engels, Lenin and later scientific Marxists in France and Italy, this version, in pretending a purely representational relationship to social nature, robbed the workers' movement of agency. As Merleau-Ponty (1964a: p. 81) wrote, "the date of the revolution [is] written on no wall nor in any metaphysical heaven." Instead, "the revolutionary event [is] contingent..." Dialectical laws are laws nonetheless, pretending to drain history of historicity-dialectical fluidity that, in effects, renders history an open book, although not a book totally unconstrained by the momentum and inertia of the past. History is made and remade through books, not in spite of them. Anthropologists call this "culture," relativizing the role of social texts in producing or liberating people from ideology. Marx brilliantly understood that false consciousness is the outcome of certain readings that treat texts as pieces of nature, merely reflections of intractable social arrangements. But, he argued, this consciousness could be rectified, uplifted, by readings that treat texts as corrigible, perspectival, undecidable versions that, as rhetoric, drive to reproduce the given through the dehistoricizing representations of positivism. As I (Agger 2000) demonstrated in _Public Sociology_, science can be read against itself as a reflection of the present and past, from which one cannot legitimately infer a determinate future, whether capitalist or post-capitalist.
A social theory of the text, then, stresses that texts, in their indeterminacy and undecidability, call forth other texts--readings--that both model and embody agency. This agency can change the world if it is timely, concerted, well-theorized. But writing these enlivening texts is not a simple matter of literary heroism situated somehow outside of the force field of the culture industries. Nor is it a matter of finding a felicitous, transparent literary style that in its ineluctable genius bests past versions that were but pale copies. Writers write furiously, producing pixels at nearly the speed of thought, but they often find themselves thwarted by development editors, editorial boards, hiring and tenuring committees, movie studios, copyeditors. In any case, they are thwarted by language itself, which doubles back upon itself and casts doubt upon progress in meaning supposedly achieved. Reading steps in to fill the gaps, offering rebellious versions that necessarily challenge the texts under review. Literary heroism succumbs to the panoptical political economies of cultural production that reduce manuscripts to a commodity.
The people for whom Marx intended _The Communist Manifesto_ were readers as well as workers. They were readers who performed alienated labor and had nothing but their chains to lose. Marx wanted readers to grapple with the texts of bourgeois political economy, challenging their misrepresentations and living beyond the exchange relationship whereby workers forfeit labor power in return for a barely living wage that, over time, shrinks, given the logic of capital. Marx's writing as a reading debunked ideology, which dominated thought. Marx converted his own voluminous readings of capitalist economic theory and bourgeois philosophy into writings that would become readinas in their own right, the engagements of working people with the texts that theorize their own experience as a plenitude of historical being. Marx wanted workers to read critically, disbelieving the labor contract where it postured itself as an agreement between equal partners. As such, workers would author their own lives, including theory, philosophy and culture. This remains an enduring image, especially after Derrida has brought to light the strength of versions produced by readings that attend to the deconstructive fault lines found in every text, including, a Marxist would add, the texts of ideology.
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