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About Althusser and Third Text: Why Do Ideologies Motivate People To Become Subjects?

In conclusion, no other crazy person has done as much good for humanity as Louis Althusser has. There are two references to him as a professor in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Louis Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher who developed a theory of ideology and its role in reproducing the relations of production. He argued that ideology is not a system of ideas or representations but a material practice that interpellates individuals as subjects. Interpellation is the process by which ideology addresses individuals and constitutes them as subjects of a certain type, such as workers, citizens, students, etc. Ideology operates through various institutions and apparatuses, such as the state, the family, the school, the media, etc., that transmit and enforce the dominant ideology of the ruling class.

Third Text is a term coined by the Indian art critic and theorist Rasheed Araeen to refer to a critical perspective that challenges the Eurocentric and colonialist assumptions of mainstream art history and criticism. Third Text is not a fixed or homogeneous category but a diverse and dynamic field of artistic and intellectual production that emerges from the margins of the global system. Third Text aims to decolonise art and culture by exposing the ideological biases and power structures that shape them. Third Text also seeks to create alternative forms of expression and representation that reflect the experiences and aspirations of the oppressed and marginalised peoples of the world.

What is the link between Althusser and Third Text?

 Both share a common concern with the critique of ideology and the emancipation of subaltern subjects. However, writing about them poses challenges and difficulties, as they belong to different historical and cultural contexts and employ different methods and concepts. Therefore, one has to be careful not to impose one’s perspective or agenda on them but to respect their specificity and complexity. One must also be aware of the possible contradictions and tensions between them and the potential points of dialogue and convergence. Writing about Althusser and Third Text requires a critical and creative approach to engage with their strengths and limitations and contribute to further development and transformation.


 No other maniac, except for Nietzsche, has done as much for human sanity as Louis Althusser. There are two references to him as a professor in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. For two crucial decades (the 1960s and 1970s), Althusser was at the centre of all the big cultural storms. Thus, his absence would be devastating. Many of them can credit him as their father.

Due to his recent anonymity, I will have to briefly describe his work before offering some (small) improvements.

(1) Economics, politics, and ideology are all practices that make up society.

According to Althusser, a practice is:

The definition of production is “any process of transformation of a determinate product, effected by a determinate human effort, utilising determinate means (of production).”

Human labour and other means of production, all organised within established interrelationships, change raw materials to final goods within the economic practice (the historically specific mode of production). The political process transforms social connections into commodities. In the end, ideology is the process of altering a person’s perspective on his immediate environment.

This is a denial of the reductionist determinism of the mechanical worldview. It’s a critique of Marx’s explanation of ideology. It’s a critique of Hegel’s fascist “social totality.” It’s a fresh, modern model full of life and revelation.

The social superstructure is crucial to the survival and propagation of the social base (rather than just to its manifestation) under this model. See also entries on Marx, Engels, and Hegel for more on the ideology’s central role in the “largely autonomous” superstructure.

Although the economic structure is inherently decisive, another structure may emerge as dominant at different points in history. Over-determination (or determination) describes the dominant practice’s reliance on a certain mode of economic production. To rephrase, the economy is crucial not because political and ideological practises are the expressive epiphenomena of social formation but because it determines WHICH of them is dominant.

(2) Ideology is a way for people to make sense of their lives.

Inconsistencies are glossed over, and phoney answers to (very real) problems are provided. Thus, there is a representational (myths, concepts, ideas, pictures) and a realist (actual events) dimension to ideology. Both our internal and external representations of reality (which can be harsh and contradictory) exist.

(3) Ideology cannot afford to make mistakes or, even worse, be silent to accomplish the foregoing.

So it only challenges itself with questions it can find the answers to. This ensures that it stays within the bounds of a fantastic, legendary realm, and contradictions-free realm. It completely disregards any other concerns.

(4) Althusser presented the idea of “The Problematic.”

The system of questions designed to elicit specific responses is “the objective internal reference.”

It specifies which challenges, inquiries, and solutions are fair game and which are off-limits. A literature or practice produces a theory (ideology) structure, a framework, and a set of discourses. Everything else is off-limits.

Therefore, it is abundantly evident that omissions are just as crucial to a document as inclusions. Inclusions and exclusions, presences and absences all contribute to a text’s issue about its historical environment (its “moment”). The text’s difficulties encourage the production of responses to problems it raises and inadequate explanations for those it does not.

(5) Deconstructing the problem.

Reading through ideology and providing evidence of the real conditions of existence is the job of “scientific” (e.g., Marxist) discourse and Althusserian critical practice. Two texts are being “read symptomatically” here:

“In the same movement in which it reveals the undivulged event in the text it reads, it ties to it another text, existing, as a necessary absence, in the first…” (Marx’s interpretation of Adam Smith) assumes the existence of two texts and the comparison of one to the other. What sets this interpretation apart from previous ones is that it connects the flaws in the second text to those in the first. “(Marx measures) the problematic contained in the paradox of an answer which does not match to any questions made.”

In contrast to the manifest text, which is free of errors, distortions, silences, or absences, the latent text is the outcome of these factors. Hidden inside the text is the unasked question’s “diary of the fight” for a solution.

(6) Ideology, as a way of life, has real-world consequences.

It has distinctive garb, rituals, habits of conduct, and mentalities. To perpetuate its ideology, the State uses a variety of ISAs (instruments), including (organised) religion, the educational system, the family, (organised) politics, the media, and the cultural industries.

“All ideologies serve the purpose (and definition) of “constructing” real people to act as subjects.”

Which subjects? The solution is in the ideological ideology’s material manifestations. The processes of “hailing” and “interpellation” accomplish this (the production of subjects). These are the behaviours that draw people in (hailing), compel them to take part in the ritual (interpretation), and draw meaning from their experience (generating meaning).

The advertising and cinema industries benefited greatly from these theoretical frameworks.

Using advertisements, the ideology of consumption (undeniably the most material of all practises) makes people its subjects (= consumers). It employs commercials to compel people to take action. Commercials capture viewers’ interest, prompt viewers to give the ads meaning, and encourage purchase. One common example is the phrase “People like you” in advertisements. The questioning voice addresses the reader/viewer both personally (“you”) and collectively (“people like…”). He fills the role of the hypothetical “you” in the advertisement. We call this “misrecognition” on the ideological front. First, many people mistakenly identify as “you,” which is impossible. Second, the misunderstood “you” is an invention of the advertisement and has no external analogue.

Ads immerse viewers or readers in the ideology’s material practice (consumption) and make them their subjects.

A Marxist, Althusser believed in a classless society. Capitalism was the preeminent economic system throughout his time and continues to be so today. His veiled criticism of the material aspects of ideological practises requires more salting than it deserves. Marxism’s ideology interrogated him. Thus he generalised from his own experience to say that ideologies are invincible. He saw ideologies as perfectly reliable machines that produce new subjects equipped with the behaviours and attitudes necessary for the dominating mode of production.

This is where Althusser falls short; he cannot escape the confines of his own dogmatism and paranoia. He sidesteps two crucial issues (his issues may not have permitted him to):

a) What do ideologies want? Why do they keep doing it? To what end are we working?

(b) How do competing ideologies fare in a pluralistic society?

Althusser insists on the coexistence of overt and covert texts. As a black figure defines its white background, the latter coexists with the former. The background is also a figure, and we give one more importance than the other because of our preexisting biases and cultural training. Extracting the hidden text from the manifest one requires attention to the former’s gaps, slips, and silences.

However, what determines the rules of extraction? But how can we know this newly revealed text is correct? Mustn’t there be some way to check the latent text through comparison and authentication?

The resulting latent text would be recursive, making a comparison to the original manifest text pointless. This is not even an iterative procedure. This is a tautological term. A THIRD “master-text,” a privileged text consistent throughout time and space, free from bias or interpretation, and easily available to everyone, is necessary. The third text incorporates both the overt and covert aspects of reality. It has to incorporate a LIBRARY function to incorporate all potential texts. According to the requirements of the mode of production and the numerous practices, the historical moment will determine which will be evident and which will remain dormant. This text would embody and govern the criteria of comparison between the manifest text and ITSELF (the Third Text), the COMPLETE text. However, not all texts will be conscious and available to the individual.

A comparison between the whole and the broken text is the only way to see where the broken text falls short. Comparing two texts that are only partially similar is useless, and Althusser’s proposed comparison of the text to itself is meaningless.

The human mind is the Third Text. We all have a copy of this Third Text and use it to evaluate everything we read. Most of the texts included in our master text are completely unknown to us. We “download” the “rules of comparison (engagement)” before we can begin to “engage” with a fresh manifest text. We examine the manifest one word at a time. To determine what is missing, we check the document against our FULL master text. The hidden words are these. The manifest text acts as a catalyst, bringing the most pertinent and applicable passages from the Third Text to mind. It also creates the unspoken text within us.

If this seems familiar, it’s because nature employs the same strategy: bringing the latent text to consciousness by comparing it with the manifest text and then storing the results. DNA is a Master Text, the Third Text of its kind. There are both overt and covert genetics and biology texts included. The only way to get it to produce its own (previously dormant) “text” is to provide it with stimuli in its environment (= a manifest text). The same holds true for software programmes used on computers.

Therefore, the Third Text is fixed in its essence (containing all potential texts) and malleable through its interactions with apparent texts. This apparent conflict is just that. Interaction with the manifest text only brings new aspects of the Third Text, which remain unchanged. Finally, we can confidently state that deconstructing the problem does not require an Althusserian critic or “scientific” discourse. Every single reader automatically and constantly dissects the text they’re reading. Reading itself generates a latent text through comparison with the Third Text.

This is the main reason why some interpellations don’t work. The subject, even though untrained in critical practice, deconstructs every message. Depending on the underlying message derived from the comparison with the Third Text, he is either interpellated. Due to the inclusive nature of the Third Text, many different ideologies provide many different interpellations on the subject, and these interpellations often contradict one another. There are multiple possible interpretations of the situation the subject finds themselves in, which is especially true in the current day of abundant information. If one interpellation fails, it usually signifies that another will succeed (either because it is based on a manifest text or because it compares to a latent text and succeeds there).

Even in the most repressive of authoritarian regimes, rival ideas persist. Sometimes, different IASs (such as a political party, a church, a family, the military, the media, a civilian regime, or a bureaucracy) within the same social formation provide contradictory ideas. It goes against experience (though it does simplify the thought system) to suppose that potential subjects are presented with interpellations in a sequential (as opposed to simultaneous) fashion.

Explaining the HOW does not help explain the WHY.

Advertisements manipulate the subject to change their consumption habits. To put it another way: there is money at stake. Prayer is also a result of other ideas, such as those promoted by established faiths. Could this be the tangible example they need? No way. The ability to interpellate, like money or prayer, symbolises power over other people. Everyone wants more clout, whether it’s a corporation, a church, a political party, a family, the news media, or the entertainment industry. To question this is, absurdly, to secure the most important thing in the world. Like the Third Text, the psyche lurks beneath all texts, material and otherwise, and so too does a corresponding psychological practice lie behind all material practises.

Money, spiritual superiority, physical roughness, and subliminal messages are ways the media can vary. In reality, however, everyone (including private persons) constantly looks for opportunities to hail and interpellate others into giving in to their material practises. A narrow perspective may imply that the businessman only tries to make a buck with his interpellation. But the real question is, “for what purpose?” Why do ideologies motivate people to become subjects by establishing material practices and compelling them to participate? The desire for authority, the urge to command attention. The dogmatic approach (ideologies never fail) and the cyclical nature of Althusser’s teachings (ideologies interpellate to be able to interpellate) doomed his otherwise excellent findings to obscurity.


The Marxist determination persists as Over-determination in Althusser’s ideas. This provides a well-organized expression of several conflicts and conclusions (amongst the practises). Both Freud’s Dream Theory and the idea of Superposition in Quantum Mechanics have a lot in common with this.

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