The End of Ideology
The Poetry of Cathy Park Hong
The poetry in Cathy Park Hong's Empire Engine (2012) is separated into three timelines: the period of Westward Expansion in the United States, a contemporary story of fine art reproduction in China, and a futurist story of data workers in California. These three sections are united in their interrogation of the role of ideology in creating and sustaining an empire. I argue that the first timeline stages a representation of ideology in the traditional Althusserian sense, that the second timeline shows this representation as inadequate, and most importantly, that the final section suggests a new model for oppression. The key for the new model presented in the third timeline lies in the job the workers have: they work with data. The main argument is that the ruling class no longer maintains its power through the ownership of capital. Instead, as McKenzie Wark maintains in Capital is Dead (2019), this ruling class »owns and controls information« (Wark 5). The owning and controlling of information is no longer capitalism, »but something worse« (29). Following on Wark, I argue that this use and abuse of data changes ideology in a fundamental manner. Rather than having a world from which an individual can feel more or less estranged in an Althusserian sense, the new reign of data suggests that estrangement is the fundamental experience of the world. In other words, there is no world to feel estranged from, thus leading to ideology; rather, the feeling of estrangement is already the fundamental experience of our data-driven reality. While in Hong's book this new model is located in the future, the end of the essay argues that a similar state is brought about not only by our data-driven world, but also pandemics such as that caused by COVID-19, which are part of our time now.
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