Brief essay on consciousness and ideology


While re-reading Sartre’s theory of consciousness, one which I subscribe to and am looking to apply to my own theoretical projects, I happen upon a third conclusion of ‘The Cogito as Reflective Consciousness.’

‘Third, the I never appears except on the occasion of a reflective act’ (Sartre 53, emphasis added).

Certainly the entire paragraph is worth inclusion, and would be dealt with in a longer work. But this statement alone produces an important question: off what does the ‘I’ reflect? Certainly this is word-play, but is it a mirror, a screen?

Thoughts of the mirror and screen then begin to turn my thoughts toward my old friends, film and ideology. For it is herein, and always, accepted that the mirror and the screen are ideological in nature: they reflect, in their own ways, a vision of condition and ego. Fair enough. And certainly the following analysis could and must be applied to theories of film apparatus and spectatorship.

However, that will have to be re-visited. For now, a simply and brief deliberation on the connection between reflection, consciousness, and ideology.

Reflection is the problem of consciousness and ego, and it is the problem of hyperreality and ideology. If reflection necessarily gives birth to the transcendent ego, then reflection necessarily gives birth to the always-already-reproduced conditions of societal life, that is ideology and hyperreality (which is in fact ideological). It becomes obvious why ideology must find its model in the existential structure of consciousness: ideology must obviously be an I, for two reasons–it must be the same transcendent unity (it could be transcendental, like that understanding of Baudry, meaning a pre-supposed false unity from which everything occurs, but it pops up, is reproduced ahistorically [Althusser, that brilliant jowled soul], only in moments of reflection, and gives itself as an object more than a condition) for all involved, for if it wasn’t it would not bind the social, i.e. mass consciousness, together; secondly, and most importantly, it must also be an I that can allow every participating I to involve its own imaginary in the ideological unity. Thus it is a double I that is completely malleable and impossible to rip from consciousness. There is simply no reason why Sartre’s proclamation that ‘the I is deceptive from the start’ cannot be applied to ideology, an application which in fact shatters the theories of illusion and offers us a stark condition, perhaps the only condition: if the I is deceptive from the start, then the reflected I of the social, the transcendent, not transcendental I of ideology, is as well (Sartre 52). And a double deception, perhaps, sadly leads to no deception at all. This is why ideology is imprisoning consciousness, and, ultimately, why hyperreality is reality.

And a final thought crawls into view: the code, hyperreality, may in fact be the completion of phenomenology. ‘The spatio-temporal object always manifests itself through an infinity of aspects and is, at bottom, only the ideal unity of this infinity” (Sartre 49). We have reached the point where the ideal unity *is* the infinity of aspects, no matter how many aspects continue to appear. True idealism achieved, a code which can ensnare anything and present absolute unity, absolute reality.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. The Transcendence of the Ego. New York: Noonday, 1960.


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