Capitalism interpellates individuals as consumers

Discussion in 'English Only' started by JBPARK, Mar 6, 2013.

  1. JBPARK Senior Member

    That is the difference between desire and drive: desire is grounded in its constitutive lack, while drive circulates around a hole, a gap in the order of being….At the immediate level of addressing individuals, capitalism, of course, interpellates them as consumers, as subjects of desire, soliciting in them ever new perverse and excessive desires (for which it offers products to satisfy them);...
    <The Parralax View, p. 61. Slavoj Zizek>

    Dear Veterans,

    I would be grateful to get your expert opinions on what the word "interpellates" exactly means in the underlined phrase above. The dictionary definition of the word, which I looked up: "to question someone on something" doesn't quite seem to cut it in the context of his contention. It rather seems to have been used to mean something along the lines of "designate" or "postulate" but I couldn't be sure. I have ran into this word several times while reading his book but I haven't been able to pin down its accurate meaning.

    I would appreciate your help.
     
  2. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    I think it's a misunderstanding for interpolates: 4. to estimate (a value of a function) between the values already known or determined

    That still doesn't make it my favorite sentence. :) And I could be wrong, of course. ;)
     
  3. JBPARK Senior Member

    Oh my... "interpolate" makes much more sense to me, too~!
    It must be a typo or something.

    Thank you very much!
     
  4. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Yes, it's a misspelling of interpolates, but that doesn't make much sense either. What was meant was a much simpler word: views.

    Zizek isn't a native speaker of English. He's Slovenian, and this was either a misuse by him or a mistaken translation.
     
  5. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    "Interpellate" does seem to be used this way in a philosophical/ideological context: here's a Wiki definition
    A google books search throws up several other examples, such as:

    Cracks in the Pedestal: Ideology and Gender in Hollywood - Page 24

    Philip Green - 1998 - Preview - More editions
    Into what social roles are we interpellated by these cultural commodities? Above all, we are interpellated as consumers of culture rather than as its potential creators. Commercial television makes the connection literally.

    So I don't think it's a misprint or a mistake. It's certainly not everyday usage, though:).
     
  6. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    Thanks, Loob ... makes me glad I put in a disclaimer. :)
     
  7. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I'm not going with the trend here. I don't see that this has anything to do with estimating the value of a function.

    For me the original spelling is correct: to interpellate means to question an important person. Consumers are important people and they are being asked if they want to buy goods and services. The parallel between the way the capitalist system creates wants in people (through advertising, or emulation), so that it can then satisfy those wants, and the interrogation of a government minister, isn't at all happy or easy to grasp, but I'm not clear why people should think that this writer is saying that the consumer is being interposed between values 'already known and determined'.

    I'm confident that Mr Zisek means something much stronger than views. I think he's saying that the system asks questions of consumers, that it doesn't leave them to express their wishes by buying in the marketplace, but actively questions their preferences, and thereby causes changes in those preferences.

    Cross posted with Loob.
     
  8. JBPARK Senior Member

    At first, I was content to settle with Copyright's suspicion that it could have been a spelling mistake since without much trouble, I was able to draw a seemingly logical connection, to some extent, between the definition of "interpolate" and the point I suspected Zizek was making, in the sense that Capitalism is inserting individuals into the ideological frame where their subjectivity is turned into that of customers, but having realized there is a distinctive definition of "interpellation" used in philosophical contexts (thanks to Loob), now I also think it wasn't a misspelling.
     
  9. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    I agree with Loob. Italian has the "same" verb with the same meaning she gives us in post #5.
    I'd add that the verb — and of the Latin root on which it's built — is rather abstract and rarified; besides I suspect it's not a matter of importance of the "interpellatee" :)(?): the basic meaning being "ask for advice, require, consult with", etc.

    GS
    PS On second thoughts, I think a possible competitor would be "(to) intercept".
     
  10. leo_naphta New Member

    English - UK
    A little late to the party, but I just came across this page while trying to find something else. Loob is correct to point to the philosophical usage. Zizek is using the term in the sense developed by Louis Althusser. (It's not allowing me to post links, as I'm a new member, but you could go to lucian dot uchicago dot edu slash blogs slash mediatheory slash keywords slash interpellation slash for a decent summary definition.)

    Althusser was a structuralist - roughly, that means that he thought society was best understood as a series of structures that ran according to logical rules, not as the product of the free actions of lots of individuals. Interpellation is the way he explains the individual within those structures: the subject (or individual) "exists" in the way that the social structures "address" him/her. Althusser gives the example of a police officer hailing someone in the street with a "Hey you!": you, the person shouted at, are expected to turn and heed the officer's call. You're picked out, made an individual - but you're an individual who turns to obey the police officer.

    In the sense Zizek uses it, I think it refers to the way we're "hailed" by advertisements. We see an advert for beauty products - we're being hailed by the social system as people who want to look good, and as people who feel we should match certain social norms about beauty. We don't ask "do I really want to look like these models?" - instead we ask "what's the best way to look like these models? Should I use L'Oreal or Olay or Neutrogena?" By addressing us in certain ways ("This is the best product to help you look good!") the adverts interpellate us as people who want to look good, and are only torn between the best means to that goal. We don't even realize this: we're presented with an illusion of choice that distracts us from the real issue. We may feel we're free to do what we want, but in fact we're only free to choose between a limited selection of socially-defined choices. (I may be misinterpreting the precise way Zizek is using it, but it's definitely a reference to Althusser's use of the word.)
     
  11. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    Thank you for the informative response, leo_naphta, and welcome to the forum that is an ongoing party where latecomers are more than welcome! :)
     
  12. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Leo Naphta, thanks very much for that explanation. Now I wonder why philosophers' translators can't use (or create) words which make sense! Althusser was a native French speaker and used no doubt the French word interpeller, which means to hail, to call, to address. There was no need to invent a new word in English, and especially not one that's constructed like an adjective. It should at least have been "interpeal"!
     
  13. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Chanbers English Dictionary (1990) defines 'interpellation' as 'a question raised during the course of a debate' and 'interpellate' as 'to question by interpellation'.

    This seems to reflect well the British Parliamentary practice by which a member (if he or she gives way) can be asked a question during his or her speech by another member (who has requested the floor by the act of standing up). This definition also makes good sense for a word derived from the Latin for 'call to' or 'address'.

    The sociological definition of the term, given by The Chicago School of Media Theory, is, not surprisingly, different.
    We are told that, 'from a Marxist perspective', Althusser
    Instead of the active process whereby A questions B, Althusser makes it a passive process whereby B is dominated or determined by A. This seems to me to deny the autonomy of the individual.

    In the older sense of the term, the speaker (B), who already holds the floor, is in the dominant position and may decide to give way or not to the interpellator (A). Both parties are free to choose their own course of action within a set of rules.

    In the Marxist sense of the term, the interpellator (A) is a social structure or its representative, which is dominant and determines the outcome. The individual being interpellated (B) is passive and unable to act independently.
    In this sense, interpellation, far from being an individual's freely chosen action which may or may not achieve its intended result, is the process whereby an individual becomes ineluctably subject to a social structure. Neither party in the process is free to act otherwise.

    This definition clearly departs from the sense of the Latin term from which it is derived. In Althusser's sense, the person being addressed is said to be engaged in interpellation (the process whereby 'individuals acknowledge and respond to ideologies, thereby recognizing themselves as subjects').
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2013
  14. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    Focusing on the meaning of interpellates in this context and not on political ideology:

    >>I wonder why philosophers' translators can't use (or create) words which make sense!… There was no need to invent a new word in English

    Perhaps this can be seen as merely a connotation, a definition employed from the perspective of a professional group (sociologists, philosophers, etc).

    >>The parallel between … advertising/emulation … and the interrogation of a government minister … isn't at all happy or easy to grasp

    That may be a fair criticism, but what else be done? Create a new word? ;)

    >>why the consumer is being interposed between values 'already known and determined'

    I'm guessing the idea is that there's an existing culture people are born into, one very likely to have great influence on them.

    >>"interpellate" … in the sense that Capitalism is inserting individuals into the ideological frame where their subjectivity is turned into that of customers

    That sounds about right to me.

    >>the Latin root … rather abstract and rarified … it's not a matter of importance of the "interpellatee": the basic meaning being "ask for advice, require, consult with", etc.

    I'm wondering is the "require" part of that is in fact a good reason to use interpellate in this way.

    >>the system asks questions of consumers, it doesn't leave them to express their wishes by buying in the marketplace, but actively questions their preferences, and thereby causes changes in those preferences

    Yes, and that last part speaks to the dynamic nature of the process.

    I think wandle makes an interesting argument, but may be exaggerating a bit.

    • a passive process … deny[ing] the autonomy of the individual
    • [the structure as] dominant and determining the outcome
    • The individual … passive and unable to act independently
    My understanding is that, according to this theory, people can choose to rebel, to reject some or even much of the cultural influence, but may be censured for doing so. If you're unable to discuss this week's episode of American Idol at the office water cooler, that could weaken your position in office politics.

    >>In the older sense of the term, the speaker (B), who already holds the floor, is in the dominant position and may decide to give way or not to the interpellator (A). Both parties are free to choose their own course of action within a set of rules.

    To some extent, this relationship is also present in the new sense. The rules are there, as are your personal (and group) preferences, and you can choose your actions accordingly. Isn't our behaviour in WRF shaped, even strongly influenced, some would say controlled, by the restrictions outlined in the community guidelines? And don't we in fact choose to accept that influence or else invite sanction?

    I agree that the power of the system to define us as consumers is held to be very strong by the approach put forward in this theory, but I don't agree that interpellation is a:

    >>process whereby an individual becomes ineluctably subject to a social structure.

    Ineluctable connotes something that cannot be escaped or avoided. I have a mute button on my television remote control, as well as a channel changer and an on/off button. I can use the Internet to quickly find out who won American Idol last night and read a quick summary of the contest to prepare for tomorrow's friendly banter that might help me advance my career. I determine, or at least influence, my relationship with the media culture.

    >>Neither party in the process is free to act otherwise.

    Indeed, no man is an island.

    >>This definition clearly departs from the sense of the Latin term from which it is derived.

    I agree. I see this as a new connotation.

    Here's that link leo_naphta wasn't able to post. (I'm using my free will to dynamically alter his relationship to the power structure. ;) : interpellation
    Thank god for non-commercial television!
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2013
  15. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    It does indeed. That is why 'ineluctable' is just the term suited to describe the theory of Althusser, which is what my post refers to. It is a Marxist theory, which means he is saying that the individual cannot escape performing his or her role within the structures of society: the policeman cannot escape exercising his authority by saying 'Hey, you!' and the citizen cannot escape acknowledging that authority. The consumer cannot escape acknowledging and being dominated by the corporation which imposes its advertising upon him. That is what Althusser meant.
    That link (already posted in post 13), confirms this understanding of Althusser and his use of 'interpellation':
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2013
  16. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    >> It is a Marxist theory, which means …

    … which means it's part of a varied collection of sociopolitical theories which accept and reject various elements of Marxist ideology, itself a fairly broadly defined category. Is there a narrowly defined set of capitalist theories?

    >>the citizen cannot escape acknowledging that [police] authority.

    There's a criminal suspect that visited the Boston area recently who is earnestly doing just that. Someone who has rebelled against the rules of society (murdering and maiming innocents, terrorizing the community) and may well be punished according the rules accepted by society at large and enforced by the State through its justice system. This is a structure that advices/requests/requires that individuals abstain from certain behaviours.

    >>The consumer cannot escape acknowledging and being dominated by the corporation which imposes its advertising upon him.

    I rebel/escape habitually. If I'm unrealistic in my belief that I'm avoiding large swaths of cultural influence, perhaps I'm falling victim to the controlling influence of the corporate power structure. :eek: Wouldn't that reasoning suggest an endorsement of this theory as a valid cultural analysis?

    >>That is what Althusser meant.

    I'd respectfully call that one interpretation.
     
  17. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Of course individuals escape and rebel and exercise free choice. That is what proves Marx and Althusser wrong.
    In the end, we have to choose between a view which accepts individual freedom and a view which accepts Marxism.

    'Interpellation', which purports to be an objective and factual term, is in fact an ideological term which imports Marxist determinism into the discussion, smuggling it in under the noses of the unwary.
     
  18. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    = sees; envisages.
     
  19. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    If 'sees' or 'envisages' were substituted for 'interpellates' in the original sentence, the result would still be a possible, grammatical sentence: but the main point of the term 'interpellates' would be lost.

    The source of the original is an article by Slavoj Žižek in The New Left Review.
    A mouse rollover of his other contributions listed on this page appears to show that he is a Marxist and is analysing current affairs in Marxist terms.

    This does rather suggest that when he refers to 'interpellation' he means it in Althusser's Marxist sense.
     
  20. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    There's one under every bed on campus. :)

    >>= sees; envisages

    I think there's more at work here. There's an element of "creates" and reinforces."

    I have a strong suspicion, wandle, that a moderator will soon detect the odour of an off-topic exchange, so I'll seek to avoid the retributive rod by giving you the last word if you wish to respond to this.

    >>Of course individuals escape and rebel and exercise free choice. That is what proves Marx and Althusser wrong.

    This particular brand of (revisionist?) Marxist analysis explicitly allows for individual free will. It does, of course, question the extent to which this is actually practiced. But that's clearly not the same as denying its existence. How could a theory that advances concepts like rebellion and punishment be blindly accepting of strict determinism?

    >>In the end, we have to choose between a view which accepts individual freedom and a view which accepts Marxism.

    A false choice, in my view. A rather simplistic view of Marxism.

    >>Interpellation' … imports Marxist determinism into the discussion, smuggling it in under the noses of the unwary.

    My coonhounds have very good noses (nothing gets by them) and they have made it abundantly clear over the years that, while they will in most cases at least listen to and consider requests and admonitions, no one is the boss of them! :rolleyes: I'll grab some Althusser from the library and report back with their reaction. :thumbsup:
     
  21. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    The question is what Žižek means by 'interpellates'. leo_naphta in post 10 put us on the right track:
    The Chicago page he quoted shows what Althusser meant by it. I have expressed my understanding of it.
    If JBPARK needs to know more, my advice is to read more of those authors' writings.
    (If Žižek is a Marxist, that is not a crime: it just helps to show what he means by 'interpellates'.)

    By the way, it seems The Parallax View is not an article but a full book, reviewed here:
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2013

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