For some reason this post was prompted by Stan Abram’s short piece Stanley Lubman on China’s Governance Crisis posted on his ChinaHearSay Blog a few days ago. While I am no longer a daily reader of his site, this piece is highly recommended.
Now it is an inescapable fact that psychoanalysis and Marxist structuralism as propounded by Louis Althusser is virtually an historical curio in the academic world today. I myself had a near death experience in regard to the latter, since when turning out a thesis on Althusser’s Theory of Ideology, this stalwart of the French Communist Party had the temerity to strangle his wife and then was consigned to a mental institution for the rest of his natural days. (1)
I recall the chatterati were not exactly exercised by his personal turn of fortune: “so the old bastard is as dead as a maggot’ sort of thing. Althusserian Marxism reads like a complex piece of Cartesian machinery sure to appeal to hardcore Leninists, which you can get a feel for via this excellent Althusser Glossary. While I reject his whole epistemological mission in life – Marxism as an all totalising form of historical explanation organised around the concept of Modes of Production – Althusser’s importation of structuralist conceptual organisation and some Freudian concepts he utilised still retain their value today.
This brings me the concept of condensation described thus:
Contradictions, Condensation, Displacement and Fusion
Condensation and displacement were used by Freud to indicate the two ways dream-thoughts are represented in the dream-work – by the compression of a number of dream-thoughts into one image, or by transferring psychical intensity from one image to another. Althusser uses the analogy of these processes of psychical overdetermination to denote the different forms of the overdetermination of contradictions in the Marxist theory of history. In periods of stability the essential contradictions of the social formation are neutralized by displacement; in a revolutionary situation, however, they may condense or fuse into a revolutionary rupture.
For Althusser, the economy, the reproduction of the economic relations of production (and its internal contradictions) is always determinate in the last instance whatever the social formation. Anyway, you get the picture. This is a very conventional Marxism, and if you look at Althusser’s concept of ideology in the Glossary, you will see that it is a load of old cobblers.
I want to return to the Freud’s dream-thoughts- work – how dream-thoughts are compressed into one image, by the transference of psychic intensity from one image to another – and think about China today.
Are Chinese rural peasants and migrant workers rioting or engaging in more uncivil behaviour than usual. Well, it is hard to say, since the official stats are no longer published, and we only read of incidents when there was a media presence to report. At best we know, the urban middle classes have entered in a concordat with CCP State Power. We deliver prosperity, you keep your nose out of politics.
Maybe the social fabric is a lot more brittle and frayed today in contrast to Pre-Games 08, but I would counter that by noting that (unlike many in the West), the Chinese people are on the whole aspirational, and they have every reason to be so after the Maoist horror show.
I recommend a quick flick thru the links appearing in RED.
(1) Fellow Structuralist Marxist Andre Poulantzas committed suicide in 1979 by stepping out a 14 storey window, due to depression over the state of Euro Communisn. Seems like eons ago.
A far more interesting suicide was that of Guy Debord, Situationist and author of Society of the Spectacle, the catalyst of the ’68 uprising in France. One thinks of Greek and Spanish unrest today after decades of neo-liberalism.