Diana Keller: Systematic Ideology and a Few Characteristics of Post Modernism: Some Free Associations

Coming from Argentina to Israel, Diana Keller studied History and French literature at Beer Sheba and Ben Gurion Universities and took her MA in Policy Making, Planning and Educational Administration at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ms. Keller has published (in Hebrew) on education, and after working as a teacher now co-ordinates the Social and Community Education Department at Beit Berl College. To the best of IC‘s knowledge the following article presents both the first post-modernist approach to s.i. and the first s.i. approach to post-modernism. It introduces a term Diane Keller has coined for the subtle and complex dynamics of ideology: “multilectics.” – GW

“Books have to fend for themselves, by themselves – like cats with their bellies turned up – and this book does just that, whenever it can,” writes Julio Cortazar in The Book of Manuel.

Walford’s Ideologies and their Functions and Beyond Politics are both books that defend themselves forcefully. I cannot remember reading a book that stimulated my argumentative spirit to any degree resembling my experience with the first whose approach, apparently, did not tally with the little I knew about ideologies. Nor do I recollect myself ever before mumbling, once beyond a certain stage, “You’ve convinced me… ”

The second book was read in a serener mood and in an effort to compare the relation between it and its predecessor.

I have often wondered what happened on that first occasion: What caused it to be such an antagonistic reading experience, and why did the book come up the winner?

This is the place to note what might already be known: texts are read in connection with other texts. Some of them fit together and others don’t. Since I translated the work’s concepts into my own and linked it to other texts which I was reading at the time (including some postmodernist fictions, like those of Julio Cortazar and Reinaldo Arenas, and theoretical texts by, for instance, Derrida and Julia Kristeval), I found I had a graphic representation of its essence. This representation included several elements which can also be found in postmodern fiction and theory. The first was connected to dynamics as a basic convention of systematic ideology. Systematic ideology offers a model which could be graphically represented as a pyramid, defined by archetypes of ideologies. These ideologies play a crucial role in the formative processes of social and cultural phenomena. Thus these kinds of phenomena can be seen as ideologically complex to the degree that ideological archetypes or parts of them have gone into their making. Moreover, this structure assumes continuous movement. This is partly because people move between different ideologies in order to act voluntarily according to their different needs, and partly because the supplementary addition of ideologies or parts of them to the structuring of any phenomenon assumes a dynamic between their mutual relations. This movement, moreover, was given a name: “multilectics,” because what we were looking at here were no longer conflictual relationships between two elements but relationships between a variety of components. And the more ideological archetypes there were in the object I observed, the larger grew the amount of relationships and multi-directional movements.

What was interesting was that the dynamics took place between archetypes of ideologies – or parts of them – and thus ideology as a phenomenon came to acquire independence and was no longer the mere reflection of something else. With this, words and concepts stopped representing a dictionary entry to me, and instead they acquired an encyclopedic sense which, usually, is the product of association or accretions (Eco, 1983).

I came to see words or concepts as part of a context – a context which determined the specific meaning attributed to them. Context, and not the signified, become the mobile variable. In this manner, the role of ideas, rather than other factors determining socio-cultural reality, became prominent, while simultaneously specific ideas were seen in a more relative light. This, of course, went against the tendency of certain ideological values to present themselves as unique. In itself, this procedure made it possible to approach those ideas which often appear in an authoritative form preventing such approach.

The second figure I distinguished was connected with the assumption that once an ideology is born it never perishes. This assumption recalled the structural description of ideologies – according to which the eschatology of an older ideology is rejected through the diagnostic element of the new ideology (Lamm, 1986) – and presented the graphic image of a crossed-out word, or a word under erasure. In this way it was possible to see both the erased word and the line with which it had been crossed out – something which confirmed once again the assumption that ideologies do not disappear even if they are rejected.

These characteristics of systematic ideology, more emphatically worked out in Walford’s latest book, Beyond Politics, are very manifestly contemporaneous and it is possible to draw some analogies between them and postmodernist theory and narrative.

In the first place, there is the shared recognition of the link between ideology and aesthetics, or as Linda Hutcheon formulates it, with reference to postmodernism: “the new ideology of postmodernism may be that everything is ideological. But this does not lead to any intellectual or practical impasse. What it does is underline the need for self-awareness, on the one hand and on the other, for an acknowledgement of the relationship – suppressed by humanism – of the aesthetic and the political… ”

Second, postmodernism and systematic ideology both tend to relativize genres and discursive forms through the use of a plurality of them while effecting a certain break with the ideological uniformity underlying each of them.

Moreover, in the third place there is the obliteration of literary conventions; here, these conventions are emphasized even as they are being liberally erased. Thus, postmodern literary texts may simultaneously present several possible versions of one plot, a number of different endings, various heroic characters who all constitute one hero, etc.

The fourth shared aspect is perhaps the most prominent: the return of older texts within new ones through the incessant interplay between them.

What these typical traits of both postmodern theory and literature amount to is the notion that every literary product – as any other sociocultural product – is always constituted by traces, and these traces, as Derrida defined them, stand for an absence; for traces constitute neither a situation nor, certainly, a metaphysical authority. They are not there to take the place of anything else but rather mark the moment of their passing and erasure; this is what makes them into a presence that points at absence.

In a similar way, ideologies too constitute traces and in every sociocultural product it is possible to locate the clear marks of ideological archetypes or mutually interacting parts of them, which indicate that there is no eternal significance. Thus significance seems to be a relative notion.
Is there a need, given these similarities between systematic ideology and postmodernist theories, to call the former a postmodern approach to the study of ideology? It would seem that the answer to this question is negative. For systematic ideology offers a system of thought in itself and enjoys the coherence of its structure of assumptions and of its self-definition. Thus, systematic ideology is released from the paradox which inheres in any ideological discussion, raising the question whether it is possible to deal with ideologies from a non-ideological vantage point. Nevertheless, one should not disconnect systematic ideology from its contemporary background. The reason for this is not that by recourse to this background systematic ideology defends itself, but rather because systematic ideology reflects one more and central aspect of this context which assumes, in Walford’s words, that: “New sciences appear, new religions and new mysticisms, new theories, new professions, new trades, new psychologies and new entertainments, each of them an ideological development. More than ever before our world is a boiling, bounding, bubbling ferment of ideological novelty, and the rate of change is accelerating. If the ideological system has reached completion it is only in the sense that a new-born child is complete.”

Derrida J. (1968) La Difference, In: Theorie de l’Ensemble. Paris: Seuil.
Eco U. (1983) The scandal of the metaphor: Metaphorology and semiotics. Poetics Today, Vol. 4, 2.
Hutcheon L. (1988) A poetics of post modernism. New York: Routledge.
Lamm, Z (1968) Ideologies and the philosophy of education. Havat Daat [Hebrew].
Morris C. (19880 Deconstruction, postmodernism and the visual arts. In C. Norris & A. Benjamin (eds.) What is deconstruction? London: St. Martin’s Press.
Walford G (1979) Ideologies and their Function London: The Bookshop.
— – (1990) Beyond Politics London: Calabria Press.

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Everything enjoyable is either illegal, immoral or fattening? Geoffrey Sampson finds an exception: “a main reason why people have been unwilling to give up their belief in generative phonology is that it is too much fun.”

The great man and his power: “Six months ago 541,000 people obeyed a single command I gave. Today it’s even difficult to get a plumber to do what I want.” (General Norman Schwartzkopf)

from Ideological Commentary 55, Spring 1992.