Theorizing Ideology Essay

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Theorizing Ideology

Literature as a Successful Universal Ideology

"Literature, in the meaning of the word we have inherited, is an ideology. It has the most intimate relation to questions of social power;" many understand literature as a universal ideology (Eagleton "The Rise of The English" 2243). This rests based on its intimate relationship with language, the common feature shared throughout all humanity, despite differences in class, nationality, and so forth. Evolved from the fundamental structure which is language, literature has then moved to become a process by which we assimilate the human experience into a universal ideology. As both a cause and product of ideology, literature was produced by the bourgeoisie in accordance with most ideologies seen from a Marxist perspective. However, it was able to transcend class differences unlike any other form of ideology based on its connection with language -- the most universal trait we as humans share. This then makes literature a potential ideology which would serve to help ease class tensions and exhibit the human experience as varied and fractures as it truly is, without contradicting itself in the process. Literature proves to be both force that unites us, but also one which glorifies our differences without disrupting the more universal harmony.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Yet many would believe that ideologies cannot work to both separate, and unite the classes in synergy. Some would believe that ideology cannot be a true cause and product of a culture at the same time. Rather than allowing for a duel role within society, this mode of thought sees ideology as "constantly adjusting to changing situations, whether to maintain the position of the privileged, to confront opposing ideologies, or to mediate challenge by those whom it seek to subordinate," (Bawden 109). Therefore it cannot be accommodating to more than group or class at once, as many believe literature to be able to do. Thus, in this view literature cannot be applied as a successful ideology, because its basic fundamental principles are flawed. In this case, literature as implemented as an ideology would serve as a degrading force on society, for "When it can no longer resolve the contradiction presented by such situational challenges there is a breakdown in the social process," (Bawden 109). These views limit the potentials of literature to go beyond a genre in study, but prove relatively unsuccessful in their quest to do so.

In fact, may see literature as a successful ideology based on its ties to the universality of language -- it's main component. Despite varying differences within languages all over the world, it is "the founding element in humanity," (Williams 29). It shows uniformity in its vast differences. Yes, not all cultures speak the same language -- but the all speak some language. It is this common thread which all of humanity shares, and therefore helps unite us in our differences. It also represents a method of expressing the human experience to the world which is available to all cultures and people, "Language is then, positively, a distinctly human opening of and opening to the world; not a distinguishable or instrumental but a constitutive faculty," (Williams 24). Language allows us to share individual experiences with a much larger world. It also allows us to see other individual experiences which prove vastly different from our own. This is what encompasses literature in a global sense. It presents individual and shared experiences through a shared medium of language. It allows for us to unite with people much different than ourselves, transcending all kinds of borders. Segments of class, nationality, and race are all allowed to interact and comment upon one another's experiences within the modern world.

Yet the concept of literature was not always such a universal idea. In fact, for much of its early history, the idea of literature signified an elite group of intellectuals and highly educated individuals who stood beyond the literacy, or lack thereof, of the common man, "literature was primarily a generalized social concept, expressing a certain (minority) level of educational achievement," (Williams 47). With this came acknowledgement and separation from other groups and classes, art of Marx's idea of eternal struggle as the bourgeoisie continue to separate themselves and their cultural products of the proletariat. Being literate and learned in literature was a mark of the elite, "It was a particular specialization of what had hitherto been seen as an activity, or practice, and a specialization, in the circumstances, which was inevitably made in terms of social class," (Williams 47). However, this would not last forever. As time progressed, literature moved away from the "alien written word" to encompass more of the themes found within the larger universal qualities of language itself (Williams 26). It then developed to cover a wide variety of styles and genres. It then became embedded into the social sphere of all classes as more and more people became literate. This was achieved through the specialization of language, and the diversification of the common people's language to encompass more ideas and methods of expression. Michel Foucault in his work examining the history of sexual discourse posits the idea that the practice of confession in the medieval world helped diversify language for all classes. Every sin had to be carefully, and strategically confessed, creating the need for more words and more specific methods of discourse for specific topics, "Not only will you confess to acts contravening the law, but you seek to transform your desire, your every desire, into discourse," (Foucault 21). This lead to common people being able to express themselves more thoroughly and also the specification of new language for genres and topics. This was exemplified through the production of printed books and other works, which helped increase the spread and breadth of literate individuals throughout the world.

As literature spread through increasing literacy, cultures were allowed to share the dialogue in their own tongues and representations of their unique human experience. As printed works gained more and more spread, differing cultures were publishing their own classics and true representations of themselves, thus separating themselves from other groups. However, this distancing was a common trait, and therefore was uniting people in ways never before seen or expressed. This allowed for open communication for a wide variety of cultures and groups, showing the process of literature unraveling, "literature is the process and the result of formal composition within the social and formal policies of language," (Williams 46). Along with the spread of literacy came new forms of progressing literature. Various genres of study began adopting their own unique versions of expressing their ideas through literature. In more modern times, literature can also be applied to media which goes beyond "the alien written word" and into other multi-media forms which still express the same duel exchange between a larger concept of literature and individual groups and cultures around the globe (Williams 26).

The idea of literature as both a product and cause of ideology also coincides with the internal class struggle which is associated with social problems through a Marxist perspective. Literature itself is a product of the class system. It was originally associated purely with the bourgeoisie, and therefore a symbol of high culture and elitism. It was a process which helped distinguish the upper-class, "Literature, that is to say, was a category of use and condition rather than production," (Williams 47). It was used as a symbol, but later became a symbol for a much larger demographic which transcended class divisions. It is this production process which establishes the modern concept of literature as a truly unique and universal ideology, for "Civil society embraces the whole material intercourse of individuals within a definite stage of the development of productive forces," (Marx & Engels 57). Also according to Marxist thought, as an ideology, literature must be produced by the bourgeoisie. The proletariat, although in majority, is always forced to adopt the ideologies of the bourgeoisie. That is the source for internal class struggle within any particular society. And so literature too was produced through the upper class, "Civil society as such only develops with the bourgeoisie; the social organization evolving directly out of production and commerce, which in all ages forms the basis of the State and the rest of the idealistic superstructure," (Marx & Engels 57). So, the concept of literature as a successful ideology works with theoretical representations of the nature of a divided society.

Yet once again, its basis in language has allowed for literature to transcend class lines. This is what represents literature as an ideology in its most successful formation. It works as a functioning ideology in a variety of different contexts and cultures. Today, even the upper class understand and support this functioning of literature as an ideology; Terry Eagleton discusses the elitist writer T.S. Eliot in his very common understanding of culture in his The Idea of Culture, "Eliot may be a connoisseur of high culture, but he is also a champion of culture as a popular way of life; like all… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Theorizing Ideology" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Theorizing Ideology.  (2009, April 19).  Retrieved July 11, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Theorizing Ideology."  19 April 2009.  Web.  11 July 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Theorizing Ideology."  April 19, 2009.  Accessed July 11, 2020.