Scanned, edited and tagged by: Courtney Danforth 9/27/96 Geertz, "Ideology as a Cultural System" I. It is one of the minor ironies of modern intellectual




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Ideological formulation, no matter how elegant, can substitute for none of these elements; and, in fact, in their absence, it degenerates, as it has in Indonesia, into a smokescreen for failure, a diversion to stave off despair, a mask to conceal reality rather than a portrait to reveal it. With a tremendous population problem; extraordinary ethnic, geographical, and regional diversity; a moribund economy; a severe lack of trained personnel, popular poverty of the bitterest sort; and pervasive, implacable social discontent, Indonesia's social problems seem virtually insoluble even without the ideological pandemonium. The abyss into which Ir. Sukarno claims to have looked is a real one. Yet, at the same time, that Indonesia (or, I should imagine, any new nation) can find her way through this forest of problems without any ideological guidance at all seems impossible.55 The motivation to seek (and, even more important, to use) technical skill and knowledge, the emotional resilience to support the necessary patience and resolution, and the moral strength to self-sacrifice and incorruptibility must come from somewhere, from some vision of public purpose anchored in a compelling image of social reality. That all these qualities may not be present, that the present drift to revivalistic irrationalism and unbridled fantasy may continue; that the next ideological phase may be even further from the ideals for which the revolution was ostensibly fought than is the present one; that Indonesia may continue to be, as Bagehot called France, the scene of political experiments from which others profit much but she herself very little; or that the ultimate outcome may be viciously totalitarian and wildly zealotic is all very true. But whichever way events move, the determining forces will not be wholly sociological or psychological but partly cultural�that is, conceptual. To forge a theoretical framework adequate to the analysis of such three-dimensional processes is the task of the scientific study of ideology�a task but barely begun. VII. Critical and imaginative works are answer to questions posed by the situation in which they arose. They are not merely answers, they are strategicanswers, styalized answers. For there is a difference in style or strategy, if one says "yes" in tonalities that imply "thank God!" or in toanlities that imply "alas!" So I should propose an initial working distinction between "strategies" and "situations" whereby we think of . . . any work of critical or imaginative cast . . . as the adopting of various strategies for the encompassing of situations. These startegies size up the situations, name their structure and outstanding ingredients, and name them in a way that contains an attitude toward them. This point of view dies not, by any means, vow us to personal or historical subjectivism. The situations are real; the strategies for handling them have public content; in so far as situations overlap from individual to individual, or from one historical period to another, the strategies possess universal relevance. Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form As both science and ideology are critical and imaginitive "works" (that is symbolic structures), an objective formulation both of the marked differences between them and of the nature of their relationship to one another seems more likely to be achieved by proceeding from such a concept of stylistic strategies than from a nervous concern with comparative epistomological or axiological status of the two forms of thought. No more than scientific studies of religion ought to begin with unneccessary questions about the legitimacy of the substantive claims of such questions. The best way to deal with Mannheim's, as with any true paradox, is to circumvent it by reformulating one's theoretical approach so as to avoid setting off yet once more down the well-worn path of argument that led to it in the first place. The differentiae of science and ideology as cultural systems are to be sought in the sorts of symbolic strategy for encompassing situations that they respectively represent. Science names the structure of situations in such a way that the attitude contained toward them is one of disinterestedness. Its style is restrained, spare, resolutely analytic: by shunning the semantic devices that most effectively formulate moral sentiment, it seeks to maximize intellectual clarity. But ideology names the structure of situations in such a way that the attitude contained toward them IS one of commitment. Its style is ornate, vivid, deliberately suggestive: by objectifying moral sentiment through the same devices that science shuns, it seeks to motivate action. Both are concerned with the definition of a problematic situation and are responses to a felt lack of needed information. But the information needed is quite different, even in cases where the situation is the same. An ideologist is no more a poor social scientist than a social scientist is a poor ideologist. The two are�or at least they ought to be�in quite different lines of work, lines so different that little is gained and much obscured by measuring the activities of the one against the aims of the other.56 Where science is the diagnostic, the critical, dimension of culture, ideology is the justificatory, the apologetic one�it refers "to that part of culture which is actively concerned with the establishment and defense of patterns of belief and value." 57 That there is natural tendency for the two to clash, particularly when they are directed to the interpretation of the same range of situations, is thus clear; but that the clash is j inevitable and that the findings of (social) science necessarily will undermine the validity of the beliefs and values that ideology has chosen to defend and propagate seem most dubious assumptions. An attitude at once critical and apologetic toward the same situation is no intrinsic contradiction in terms (however often it may in fact turn out to be an empirical one) but a sign of a certain level of intellectual sophistication. One remembers the story, probably ben trovato, to the effect that when Churchill had finished his famous rally of isolated England, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills . . . ," he turned to an aide and whispered, "and we shall hit them over the head with soda-water bottles, because we haven't any guns." The quality of social rhetoric in ideology is thus not proof that the vision of sociopsychological reality upon which it is based is false and that it draws its persuasive power from any discrepancy between what is believed and what can, now or someday, be established as scientifically correct. That it may indeed lose touch with reality in an orgy of autistic fantasy�even that, in situations where it is left uncriticized by either a free science or competing ideologies well-rooted in the general social structure, it has a very strong tendency to do so�is all too apparent. But however interesting pathologies are for clarifying normal functioning (and however common they may be empirically), they are misleading as prototypes of it. Although fortunately it never had to be tested, it seems most likely that the British would have indeed fought on the beaches, landing grounds, streets, and hills�with soda-water bottles too, if it came to that�for Churchill formulated accurately the mood of his countrymen and, formulating it, mobilized it by making it a public possession, a social fact, rather than a set of disconnected, unrealized private emotions. Even morally loathsome ideological expressions may still catch most acutely the mood of a people or a group. Hitler was not distorting the German conscience when he rendered his countrymen's demonic self-hatred in the tropological figure of the magically corrupting Jew; he was merely objectifying it� transforming a prevalent personal neurosis into a powerful social force. But though science and ideology are different enterprises, they are not unrelated ones. Ideologies do make empirical claims about the condition and direction of society, which it is the business of science (and, where scientific knowledge is lacking, common sense) to assess. The social function of science vis-a-vis ideologies is first to understand them �what they are, how they work, what gives rise to them�and second to criticize them, to force them to come to terms with (but not necessarily to surrender to) reality. The existence of a vital tradition of scientific analysis of social issues is one of the most effective guarantees against ideological extremism, for it provides an incomparably reliable source of positive knowledge for the political imagination to work with and to honor. It is not the only such check. The existence, as mentioned, of competing ideologies carried by other powerful groups in the society is at least as important; as is a liberal political system in which dreams of total rower are obvious fantasies; as are stable social conditions in which conventional expectations are not continually frustrated and conventional Ideas notradically incompetent. But, committed with a quiet intransigence to a vision of its own, it is perhaps the most indomitable. NOTES 1. F. X. Sutton, S. E. Harris, C. Kaysen, and J. Tobin, The American Business Creed (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), pp. 3-6. 2. K. Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, Harvest ed. (New York n d.), p 59�83; see also R. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (New York; 3. W. White, Beyond Conformity (New York, 1961), p. 211. 4. W. Stark, The Sociology of Knowledge (London, 1958), p. 48. 5. Ibid., pp. 90-91. Italics in the original. For approximation of the same argument in Mannheim, formulated as a distinction between "total" and "particular" ideology, see Ideology and Utopia 6. E. Shils, "Ideology and Civility: On the Politics of te Intellectual," The Sewanee Review 66 (1958): 450-480. 7. T. Parsons, "An Approach to the Sociology of Knowledge," Transactions of e Fourth World Congress of Sociology (Milan and Stressa, 1959), pp. 25-49. Italics in original. 8 R. Aron, The Opium of the Inrellectuals (New York, 1962). 9 As the danger of being misinterpreted here is serious, may I hope that my criticism will be credited as technical and not political ff I note that my own general ideological (as I would frankly call it) position is largely the same as that of Aron, Shils, Parsons, and so forth; that I am in agreement with their plea for a civil, temperate, unheroic pohtics? Also it should he remarked that the demand for a nonevaluative concept of ideology is not a demand for the nonevaluation of ideologies, any more than a nonevaluative concept of religion imphes religious relativism 10 Sutton, et al., American Business Creed; White, Beyond Conformity H. Eckstem, Pressure Croup Politics: The Case of the British Medical Association (Stanford, 1960); c. Wright Mills, The New Men of Power (New York, 1948)- J. Schumpeter, "Science and Ideology", American Economic Review 39 (1949): ll There have been, in fact, a number of other terms used in the literature for the general range of phenomena that ideology" denotes, from Plato's noble lies" through Sorel's ;;myths98 to Paretoss Derivations"; hut none of them has managed to reach any greater level of technical neutrality than has Ideology." See H. D. Lasswell, 4;The Language of Power," in Lasswell, N. Leites, and Assoclates, Language of Politics (New York, 1949), pp. 3�19. 12 Sutton, et al., American Business Creed pp. I l-12, 303�310. 13 The quotations are from the most eminent recent interest theorist, A. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War Three (New York, 1958), pp. 54, 65. 14. For the general schema, see Parsons, The Social System (New York, 1951), especially Chaps. I and 7. The fullest development of the strain theory is in Sutton et al.. American Business Creed, especially Chap. 15. 15 Sutton, et al., American Business Creed, pp. 307�308 16 Parsons, "An Approach." 17 White Beyond Conformity, p. 204. 18 Perhaps the most impressive tour de force in this paratactic genre is Nathan Leites's A Study of Bolshevism (New York, 1953). 19 K. Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, Studies in Symbolic Action (Baton Rouge, 1941). In the following discussion, I use 'symbol" broadly in the sense of any physical, social, or cultural act or object that serves as the vehicle for a conception. For an explication of this view, under which "five" and "the Cross" are equally symbols, see S. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, 4th ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1960), pp. 60-66. 20 Useful general summaries of the tradition of literary criticism can be found in S. E. Hyman, The Armed Vision (New York, 1948) and in R. Welleck and A. Warren, Theory of Literature, 2nd ed. (New York, 1958). A similar summary of the somewhat more diverse philosophical development is apparently not available, but the seminal works are C. S. Peirce, Collected Papers, ed. C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss, 8 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1931� 1958); E. Cassirer, Die Philosophie der symholischen Foremen, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1923� 1929); C. W. Morris, Signs, Language and Behavior (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1944); and L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford, 1953). 21 W. Percy, "The Symbolic Structure of Interpersonal Process," Psychiatry 24 (1961):39-52. Italics in original. The reference is to Sapir's "The Status of Linguistics as a Science," originally published in 1929 and reprinted in D. Mandlezaum, ed., Selected Writings of Edward Sapir (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1949), pp. 160-166. 22 A partial exception to this stricture, although marred by his obsession with power as the sum and substance of politics, is Lasswell's "Style in the Language of Politics," in Lasswell et al., Language of Politics, pD. 20-39. It also should be remarked that the emphasis on verbal symbolism in the following discussion is merely for the sake of simplicity and is not intended to deny the importance of plastic, theatrical, or other nonlinguistic devices� the rhetoric of uniforms, floodlit stages, and marching bands�in ideological thought. 23 Sutton, et al., American Business Creed, pp. 4�5. 24 An excellent recent review is to be found in P. Henle, ed., Language Thought and Culture (Ann Arbor, 1958), pp. 173-195. The quotation is frorn Langer, Philosophy, P. 117. 25 W. Percy. "Metaphor as Mistake " The Sewanee Review 66 (1958): 79�99. 26 Quoted in J Crowiey, "Japanese Army Factionalism in the Early 1930's The Journal of Asian Studies 21 (1958): 309-326. 27 Henle, Language, Thought and Culture, pp 4-5. 28 K. Burke Counterstatement (Chicago, 1957), p. 149. 29 Sapir, "Status of Linguistics," p. 568. 30 Metaphor is, of course, not the only stylistic resource upon which ideology draws. Metonymy ("All I have to offer is blood, sweat and tears ), hyperbole ("The thousand-year Reich"), meiosis ("1 shall return" ), synechdoche ("Wall Street" ), oxymoron (Iron curtain" ), personification ("The hand that held the dagger has plunged it into the back of its neighbor"), and all the other figures the classical rhetoricians so painstakingly collected and so carefully classified are utilized over and over again, as are such syntactical devices as antithesis, inversion, and repetition, such prosodic ones as rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration; such literary ones as irony, eulogy, and sarcasm. Nor is all ideological expression figurative. The bulk of it consists of quite literal, not to say flat- footed, assertions, which, a certain tendency toward prima facie implausibility aside, are difficult to distinguish from properly scientific statements: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles"; "The whole of the morality of Europe is based upon the values which are useful to the herd"; and so forth. As a cultural system, an ideology that has developed beyond the stage of mere sloganeering consists of an intricate structure of interrelated meanings� interrelated in terms of the semantic mechanisms that formulate them�of which the two-level organization of an isolated metaphor is but a feeble representation. 31 Percy, "Symbolic Structure." 32 G. Ryle, The Concept of Mind (New York, 1949). 33 E. Galanter and M. Gerstenhaber, "On Thought: The Extrinsic Theory," Psychol.
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