I have discussed this admirable acount
by John Mepham, once a student of Hall's at the Birmingham Centre, in my
own (1992) work. Here is an extract:
... Mepham offers a very
clear way of rejecting the earlier work on consciousness in Marx and Marx
and Engels, especially in the German Ideology (Marx and Engels 1974).
This work saw consciousness and material reality as separate entities,
and offered terms like 'inversion' to explain the ideological relation
between them, as in the famous 'camera obscura' metaphor. In brief, ideology
in this early work takes the form of 'false consciousness', inverted reality,
'illusions' or 'phantoms'.
Rather as in the Heck piece summarised
[here actually] , Mepham reads ideology as a matter
of discourses. He characterises the new model, discoverable in Capital,
as a 'serial' one, rather than a model of 'base/superstructure',
with categories like 'real relations', 'phenomenal relations', 'ideological
categories' and 'discourse practices' connected by structured practices
- 'transformation', 'representation', 'generation', and 'reproduction'.
Reality in this model is not simply
inverted or mystified but 'misrecognised' as an effect of discourses which,
to be brief, work on the 'phenomenal' level, deal with deceptively simple
surface forms, and maintain an account which leaves out the complexities
in the depth. Mepham's analysis is developed in terms of 'common sense'
or 'spontaneous' thought, and formal ideas - political economy and philosophy
- which incorporate the distortions of everyday life and make a science
or a system out of them. In both science and common sense, dubiously phenomenal
categories support each other to create a whole 'semantic field'. However,
this self-sustaining field is subject to disruption from the very dynamics
of capitalism itself which continually corrodes the boundary between the
real and the phenomenal as it forces social change.
And in my 1996 book, I discussed
him again, this time in terms of the debate in Sociology about 'embedding':
To borrow from a discussion
in Mepham and Ruben (1979), for example, embedding takes place:
back to fuller
Whether these processes are ranked in
some sort of order of importance is another large area of debate of course,
and one which is at the heart of the controversy about determinism in marxism.
Ultimately, we have implied so far, all the categories (at least) of belief
systems can be traced back to a mode of production that limits, constrains,
embeds or determines them in some final sense, despite their apparent or
even their real autonomy in some respects.
in 'real relations' (e.g. the actual
relations between bosses and workers in production),
via the 'phenomenal forms' we discussed
above, which can scarcely depart from the system that produces them and
thus appear as 'natural',
in 'ideological categories' (more developed
'scientific looking' but still rooted in the phenomenal forms at crucial
moments, and, Lecourt tells us, they are ultimately nested within practical
ideologies -- see Macdonell 1986).
To return to the issue of modern
culture, though, there are many examples around us these days that Marx
did not address directly, of course. Above all, there are problems with
those which seem to have emerged from distinct and separate cultural practices,
or to have been so worked upon and developed, so transformed by the activities
of autonomous specialists, that they have escaped any conclusively determining
traces of their ultimate origins.
One response is to add to lists like
Mepham’s what he calls 'discourse practice' in order to try to come to
grips with these modern examples, and, no doubt to respond specifically
to emerging work on the 'society as text' metaphor. It was thought possible
to further extend marxist analysis into a wide range of familiar modern
cultural practices, granting a certain amount of autonomy to them, but
preserving a link to overall systems of domination (as Thompson 1984 puts
it). We shall consider a number of alternative positions in marxist linguistics
and in ‘post-marxism’ in what follows, but in general the problem is obvious:
how much can continue to be added to marxism while insisting that it is