Printer Friendly

History and the traumatic narrative of desire and enjoyment in Althusser.

According to the common image of Althusser that circulates today, my title names everything that is missing from his work. For decades, he has mainly been known--and dismissed--for his allegedly puritanical and sterile project, principally in For Marx and Reading "Capital," to elaborate a theoretically rigorous Marxist science. Where in such an undertaking to attain correctness is there room for anything as referentially particular as history, as literary as narrative, or as emotionally fraught as trauma, desire, and enjoyment? Yet I contend that while these things are certainly not at the center of his theory, they are nonetheless crucial to it.

Of all these topics, Althusser's relationship to history has received the most attention and generated the most controversy. His pronouncement in Reading Capital that "Marxism Is Not a Historicism" has often been taken to evince a hostility to historical studies as a whole. (1) Yet what Althusser attacks is not the study of history as such or its relevance to Marxism, but the concept of a homogeneous, linear time that underlies many diverse ways of doing history. (2) Indeed, Althusser's critique of historicism in this special sense is also a call for a new historiography that would rethink historical time "explicitly as a function of the structure of the whole" uneven social formation. (3) The importance of history to Althusser can be seen in the fact that he not only credits Marx with founding history as a science, he also insists in the liminal texts of For Marx that his "philosophical essays do not derive from a merely erudite or speculative investigation. They are, simultaneously, interventions in a definite conjuncture"; "Each the result of a special occasion, these pieces are none the less products of the same epoch and the same history." (4) But despite this emphasis on conjunctural pressures, Althusser never delineates them very fully in his theoretical corpus, which lacks the fully elaborated historical case studies that abound in Marx. Even in the autobiographical The Future Lasts Forever, he coyly withholds any "systematic" discussion of such matters, referring the reader instead to his published writings, which he then declares do not treat history inadequately:
 I know you are waiting for me to talk about philosophy, politics,
 my position within the Party, and my books, how they were received;
 to reveal those who liked them and those who were implacably
 opposed to them. But I do not intend to discuss these totally
 objective matters in a systematic manner because the information is
 available to anyone who does not have it already, just by reading
 what I have written (a vast number of books published in many
 different countries.) You can however rest assured that I only ever
 trot out the same old themes which can be counted on the fingers of
 one hand. (5)


To a large extent, Althusser in his own practice replaces history as commonly understood with the history of the production of knowledge, attributing to Marx the claim that it "takes place entirely in knowledge, in the 'head' or in 'thought.'" (6) This claim is at work in a surprising way in the theory of symptomatic reading, where even what is problematic in relation to knowledge is made to serve it, for symptomatic reading poses the inadequate concepts, borrowings from other theories or metaphorical formulations Althusser calls "symptoms," in the texts of Marx and the Marxist tradition as sites for further conceptual work: "a science only progresses, i.e., lives, by the extreme attention it pays to points where it is theoretically fragile." (7) Nor does ideology, which Althusser characterizes as unconscious, escape this extreme epistemological and cognitive fix. What Alex Callinicos wittily dubs the "epistemological blues" that pervade For Marx and Reading "Capital" consist precisely in making ideology a problem of knowledge. Even after Althusser redefines ideology in more material terms as "actions inserted into practices ... governed by ... rituals ... within the material existence of an ideological apparatus," (8) this earlier formulation never completely disappears from his corpus. (9)

More recently, Slavoj Zizek has directed a similar criticism at Althusser's Lacanian-inspired theory of interpellation, the process through which individuals become subjects by taking their place in ideological discourse. In the famous "Ideological State Apparatuses" essay, this process is presented as working through symbolic and imaginary identification and thus on the level of cognition and epistemology. Like Callinicos, Zizek finds this focus to be the limitation of Althusserianism, but on very different grounds. For Zizek, the problem is not the elision of the socio-practical function of ideology but an incomplete reading of Lacan, who emphasizes the partial, "failed" character of every interpellation and the remnant it inevitably leaves behind. The shortcomings of the Althusserian theory of ideology arise, in Zizek's view, from its sole emphasis on interpellation and the corresponding omission of the beyond of interpellation:
 The crucial weakness of hitherto '(post-)structuralist' essays in
 the theory of ideology descending from the Althusserian theory of
 interpellation was ... to aim at grasping the efficiency of an
 ideology exclusively through the mechanisms of imaginary and
 symbolic identification. The dimension "beyond interpellation"
 which was thus left out has nothing to do with some kind of
 irreducible dispersion and plurality of the signifying process....
 "Beyond interpellation" is the square of desire, fantasy, lack in
 the Other and drive pulsating around some unbearable
 surplus-enjoyment. (10)


From this perspective, ideology critique must proceed by "two complementary procedures." One is the "symptomnal reading" of the ideological text as a discourse; this one Althusser performs admirably. "The other aims at extracting the kernel of enjoyment, at articulating the way in which--beyond the field of meaning but at the same time internal to it--an ideology implies, manipulates, produces a pre-ideological enjoyment structured in fantasy;" (11) this Althusser never does explicitly.

But Althusserianism has nonetheless been caught up in the dynamics of enjoyment, first of all in its reception, which has taken the form of a non-reception, a premature disappearance from the theoretical scene. Zizek writes:
 There is something enigmatic in the sudden eclipse of the
 Althusserian School: it cannot be explained away in terms of a
 theoretical defeat.--It is more as if there were, in Althusser's
 theory, a traumatic kernel which had to be quickly forgotten,
 "repressed." (12)


For all the emphasis on epistemology in Althusser, this "traumatic kernel" points to something in him that is not knowledge, or, as Zizek would say, to something in Althusser more than Althusser. (13) This is precisely the symptom, but not one that occurs on the level of the concept. This new symptom belongs instead to the necessarily unarticulated because repressed textual dimension of desire and enjoyment, (14) and gaining access to the traumatic kernel wherein Zizek locates the ultimate effectivity of Althusser's school requires working on the level of this textual unconscious. (15) To this extent, the second-order symptom, or sinthome, is more Zizekian-Lacanian than Althusserian. (16) Yet it permeates even Althusser's most scientistic texts and informs his entire theoretical project. Exploring this second-order symptom requires that the writings be read not simply as enonces but also on the level of enonciation, both in terms of their language and the position from which they speak, for the historical conjuncture out of which Althusser claims always to write returns in figural form in the text.

Althusser defines his conjuncture in the liminal texts of For Marx ("To My English Readers" and the Introduction "Today"), where he writes of "the theoretical impasse in which history had put" "all the philosophers of my generation who tried to think with Marx." (17) Including "the Popular Front and the Spanish Civil War, and ... the War as such," this history consists especially of the political tensions in post-World War II France. Of these Althusser enumerates "huge strikes and demonstrations, ... the Stockholm Appeal and ... the Peace Movement," the faltering of "the great hopes aroused by the Resistance," (18) and the Cold War. For the purposes of the present argument, the most relevant conjunctural pressures concern first and foremost the international Communist movement, which Althusser considers to have been "dominated by two great events" in his immediate past: "the critique of the 'cult of personality' by the Twentieth Congress," i.e., the Stalinist revelations, and "the rupture ... between the Chinese Communist Party and the Soviet Communist Party." (19) Second, we must attend to the history lived by Althusser's philosophical cohort, whose younger student selves were transformed by it "into men advised of the existence of classes, of their struggles and aims." (20) From his recently published autobiographies and Journal de captivite and Yann Moulier Boutang's biography of Althusser, we know that Althusser refers here to his being drafted into the French army in the fall of 1939, at the outbreak of the war, when he was supposed to enter the Ecole normale superieur, and to his spending May 1940 to 1945 in a German POW camp. (21)

In the context of these allusions to a "terrible education of deeds," (22) Althusser's mentions of the Stalinist revelations at the Twentieth Party Congress and the subsequent Sino-Soviet split suggest that what moves him to write are ruptural moments: splits within Marxism and the complex splits in his own history, whereby he moved away from his conservative Christian youth in numerous stages finally to become a Marxist and Communist. This intuition finds ample corroboration in his accounts of his life and his later statement, quoted in Radical Philosophy: "I would never have written anything were it not for the Twentieth Congress and Krushchev's critique of Stalinism and the subsequent liberalization." Since Althusser first came into contact with proletarian politics and Communism as a POW, this series of conversions can be said to have begun in a traumatic context. (23)

Indeed, his entire life and career seem to have been marked by politically-inflected trauma, and he refers to his life-writing "as neither a journal, nor memoirs, nor autobiography," but "traumabiography." (24) Althusser's murder of his wife, Helene Rytmann/Legotien Althusser, which became a media scandal, is only the best known event in a tortured existence. The other events I would like to discuss here involve the World War II context and Althusser's relation during Stalinism and de-Stalinization to the French Communist Party, which he joined in 1948. One of the most Stalinist of the national parties--its motto was "Stalinist and proud of it," the PCF exercised a strong influence in the Ecole normale superieure, where Althusser became caiman of philosophy after completing his exams. From this vantage point, he had ample opportunity to observe the impact of Stalinism on those fellow normaliens who were also Party members. (25)

But Althusser directly experienced Party discipline himself, first because of his relationship with Helene, who had become persona non grata in its eyes by the end of the war; her troubles stemmed from accusations that she had handled some prisoners improperly when she was in the Resistance. (26) In 1950, she began a campaign to clear her name, in which Althusser lent very active support and which resulted in a trial she was doomed from the beginning to lose. Probably at the PCF's instigation, one of the Ecole cells then subjected Althusser to a trial of his own, (27) and he dramatically describes these two proceedings as "a proper Moscow-style trial in Paris. I often thought later that, had we been in the USSR at the time, we would have ended up with a bullet in the back of the head." (28) This striking figure of the show trials recurs in Althusser's account of the polemical exchanges between himself and PCF over the direction that de-Stalinization should take. While the French and Soviet Parties declared that Stalin's philosophical error had been to underestimate the Hegelian heritage and, by implication, the Hegelian works of the Young (pre-German Ideology) Marx, Althusser held that Marxism had to develop a properly materialist, anti-humanist and anti-Hegelian theory if it was not to surrender to the bourgeois enemy. Against Krushchev's right-wing critique of Stalinism, which went under the name of "'Socialist' Humanism," Althusser proposed a left-wing critique, thus taking an oppositional stance within the Party. (29) His persistence in this position in the 1963 "On the Materialist Dialectic" obliged him to attend a series of meetings with senior Party philosophers and critics at La Pensee, the party-linked review that published the article. One of these meetings, held on November 30, 1963, he experienced as a "political trial." (30) If in these instances Althusser draws on an image from the Cold War, he employs one from War II itself to describe the impact he rightly predicted his 1964 article on "Freud and Lacan" would have in Party circles. Given the distrust and ignorance that still surrounded psychoanalysis in the Communist milieu at the time, (31) he said the essay would have the effect of a "bomb." The journal editor linked this figure more strongly and specifically to World War II when he elaborated it into "a blessed atomic bomb," since that weapon was developed as part of the war effort.

My intention in recounting these events is not to reduce the texts to individual psychology or experience. Rather, in sketching the political and intellectual climate in which Althusser made his theoretical interventions, my object is to show he was not the disembodied theorist he is so often accused of being, building edifices in the sky, at a safe remove from the struggles of his day. However theoreticist and unlikely to change the functioning of the Party his writings may have been, they not only were closely linked to political controversies in which he played a direct role, but also passed through the Party's ideological and repressive apparatuses. Thus his theory deserves to be called a practice (in Reading "Capital," he dubs it "theoretical practice"), because it involves a material, institutional structure.

Yet much would be missed by seeing history in Althusser as nothing but the polemical and institutional context of his theory. For the barely mentionable events to which he alludes in the liminary texts of For Marx function in addition as traumas which form Althusserian theory from the inside. As splits, they provide the model for its main theoretical structure: the epistemological break or, more literally, cut ("coupure"), which is the mature Marx's alleged paradigm shift from his own youthful humanist idealism to scientific materialism. (32) The openly announced event of the break attracts to itself a cluster of violent or affectively heightened figures that, taken together, compose an unacknowledged narrative of trauma. Since Althusser takes the notion of the break from Bachelard, it is a borrowing, one of the forms the symptom as inadequate concept takes. Thus the Althusserian symptom is doubled here by the second-order Lacanian/Zizekian symptom. To those who have read Althusser in translation, these latter sorts of symptom and the narrative they compose may be unfamiliar because the figures are sometimes elided when the texts are Englished. In fact, his writings suffer the same fate in translation as do Marx's, a fate Althusser calls the "edulcoration" or sugar-coating of the text, aimed at minimizing if not eliminating its difficulties. Ironically, Marx himself approved this practice, recommending the Roy (French) translation of Capital, which Althusser singles out for particular blame, even to readers of German by virtue of its greater ease. (33) But the difficulties are exactly what must be read if we are to get at the traumatic kernel in Althusser's theory. For this reason, I will follow the French closely in order to get at the traumatic kernel.

Turning, then, to the traumatic narrative, we find that it attaches to the entire enterprise of elaborating scientifically correct Marxist concepts. Thus the Young Marx's passage to Marxism occurs "only at the price of a prodigious break ['arrachement,' or tearing away] with his origins, a heroic struggle against the illusions he had inherited ..." (34) As another figure for the epistemological break, this violent tearing correlates with the conflictual nature of Marxist philosophy, which, like philosophy in general, is "in the last instance, class struggle in the field of theory." (35) Accordingly, the "theory of Marx and Lenin" exists in an embattled situation: it has "been in grave difficulties" "since it came to birth," (36) and this situation is often represented through figures of attack and defense, sometimes of a threatened territory, which connote danger. Thus, following the Stalinist revelations, the onslaught against Marxism in the name of the Young Marx "surprised Marxists on their own ground." (37) Similarly, theoretical and scientific Marxist practice takes place on uncertain ground, "the perilous but exciting ['passionants'] domains of the avant-garde," where Marxist researchers "prospect." (38) At times, this spatial figure takes the form of a "frontier" between unknown, new territory (39) and an old, equally risky ground, full of "tempting impasses" (such as confusing mere recognition of an object with theoretical knowledge of it. (40) Finally, in an allusion to Althusser's wartime experience in the POW camp, to be trapped in ideology is "to have remained a prisoner" or "to remain a prisoner" (41)

What is surprising about these figures is that they represent the most mental of all labors, the practice of philosophy (which, we recall, for Althusser takes place wholly within thought), as containing the threat of bodily harm. Amid frequent warnings of the risks and temptations to which unrigorous thinking exposes us, Althusser writes a pathosladen and violent tale of adventure and suspense, where two kinds of philosophy are pitted against each other: the villain is ideology, bourgeois and Marxist alike (e.g., Marxist Humanism), and the protagonist rigorous Marxist science. For example, in arguing for the urgent necessity to found Marxist practice on "correct theoretical bases," (42) he writes:

... for we know that there is no pure theoretical practice, no completely naked science, which throughout its history as a science will always be preserved, by I know not what Grace, from the threats and blows of idealism, that is, of the ideologies that besiege it; we know that no "pure" science exists except on condition of being ceaselessly purified, no free science in the necessity of its history except on condition of being ceaselessly liberated from the ideology that occupies it, haunts it, or lies in wait for it. (43)

Since this passage is the manifesto of theoretical purification, one might expect its diction and tone to be correspondingly puritanical. Yet in a curious coincidence of opposites to which I will return below, they exhibit an extreme emotional charge, which is heightened by anaphoric repetition ("for we know ... for we know"; "no pure theoretical practice ... no "pure" science ... no free science"). The language of "threats," "blows," "sieges," "occupation," "haunting," and "lying in wait" receives personal reference when Althusser insists on the dangers he courts in his own theoretical practice. "Il faut payer de sa personne," which translates as "one must pay with one's own person," or, more idiomatically, "one has to put one's body on the line," and proceed "at my risk and peril," he writes in the course of his reflections "on the Marxist concept of contradiction." (44) Althusser also signals that sometimes he himself has been taken for the threat. Thus he begins "On the Materialist Dialectic" by addressing charges that his studies are "theoretically and politically dangerous." (45)

Insofar as these instances are traces of the real danger we have seen that Althusser ran with his theoretical interventions, they are referential, but they are transformed by being placed within the narrative of violence that runs throughout For Marx, especially when it becomes saturated with desire. This happens most explicitly in "On the Young Marx," where the narrative centers on the modality of the gaze directed at the object of knowledge. Here, the gaze belongs to certain readers of the Young Marx and to the Young Marx alike, for in both cases its modality is pre-scientific. (46) As for the readers, Althusser castigates them for approaching the question of the relation between the Young Marx and the mature Marx by reading one into the other, in order to make the Marxian corpus consistent. The problem with this procedure is that, in finding either the end of Marx's trajectory reflected in the beginning or the beginning reflected in the end, it exemplifies the circular reasoning that characterizes ideology. Since such thinking produces foregone conclusions, Althusser figures it as "a silent tribunal over ideological history whose values and verdict are decided even before the investigation starts." (47) In light of the conjuncture Althusser sketches in the beginning of For Marx, this figure suggests, once again, Stalinism and the pre-scripted and pre-rehearsed aspect of the show trials. The suggestion intensifies concerning the gaze of the pre-scientific Young Marx himself:
 Naturally, no reader of Marx's Early Works could remain insensible
 to the gigantic effort of theoretical criticism which Marx made on
 all the ideas he came across. Rare are the authors who have
 possessed so many virtues (acuity, perseverance, rigour) in the
 treatment of ideas. For Marx, the latter were concrete objects
 which he interrogated as the physicist does the objects of his
 experiments, to draw from them a little of the truth, of their
 truth.... The reader cannot resist the transparency of this
 reflective rigour and logical strength in Marx's early writings.
 (48)


This gaze that aims to extract the truth from the object characterizes the humanism from which Althusser claims the mature Marx broke. Let us first observe that such a gaze coincides with Althusser's definition of the empiricist error: the assumption that the real object contains the object of knowledge, which can be removed from it as ore is removed from dross. (49) But let us also observe that the metaphor of extraction is precisely the Marxian metaphor that the essay "Contradiction and Overdetermination" worries so intensely: the imperative to "discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell" of the Hegelian dialectic. (50) Following Engels, most commentators interpret the "mystical shell" as speculative philosophy and "the rational kernel" as the dialectic, (51) but for Althusser "the mystical shell is nothing but the mystified form of the dialectic itself: that is, not a relatively external element of the dialectic (e.g. the 'system') but an internal element, consubstantial with the Hegelian dialectic." Consequently, the dialectic must be freed not only from its first wrapping which is the system, "it must also be freed from a second, almost inseparable skin, which is itself Hegelian in principle (Grundlage). We must admit that this extraction cannot be painless." (52)

A careful reading reveals that neither can the Young Marx's treatment of ideas be painless. Indeed, the figure of the Young Marx "interrogat[ing]" ideas as a physicist interrogates objects suggests yet again the Stalinist show trials, and the French is even stronger. For there "interrogate" is "met a la question," or "put to the question," where "question" idiomatically means "torture." (53) Surgically extracting the meaning it discovers immediately in the object, the Young Marx's humanist gaze becomes an instrument to inflict suffering. This figure asks to be read with Althusser's novel argument in "Note on 'The Critique of the Personality Cult,'" that both Stalinism and its right-wing critique can be traced to the "basically economistic" tendency of the Second International (54) Defined as a one-sided emphasis on productivity, economism depends on "the Person's right freely to dispose of himself [sic], his right to his property, his free will and his body;" (55) Althusser's emphasis). Now, this emphasis on the person that is economism's other side implies-scandalously--that Stalinism is humanist. In figuring the gaze of the humanistic Young Marx as a torture instrument, For Marx presents us with the equally shocking converse of this scandal, for it poses humanism as Stalinist. (56)

But Althusser's language gives the passage an additional tonality. The reader's inability to remain "insensible" to or "resist" the Young Marx's critical prowess, which contains such a "rare" combination of "virtues," suggests a reader and specifically an Althusser in love with the Young Marx. This combined love scene-torture scene is a clear example of a pleasure inseparable from its beyond, or what Zizek, after Lacan, calls the surplus-enjoyment constitutive of enjoyment itself. (57) Arriving here, we find we have extracted the "traumatic kernel" in Althusser. The real of Althusserian desire constructs a Marx constantly in danger of being seduced by the leagued evils of humanism, economism, empiricism, and Stalinism, whose menace consists in their ability to exert an appeal despite Althusser's ceaseless condemnation of them. Indeed, if anything, the very prohibition that strikes these objects seems to imbue them with an affective and even seductive power, for, as already noted, Althusser frequently calls them "temptations." (58) In constructing this Marx, Althusserianism produces a figure who necessitates a new theoretical effort as a rescue mission. (59) This new effort is, of course, Althusserianism itself, and the connotations of guilty pleasure surrounding it suggest something in it that belongs to the square of desire and enjoyment beyond theoretical meaning.

But this is to say that the figures of trauma and desire are positioned ambiguously vis-a-vis Althusserian theory. As allusions to the contingent context, encompassing World War II, Stalinism, and the complex struggles of de-Stalinization in the USSR and France, in which and in response to which Althusser was impelled to produce theory, they are external borrowings, but as models for fundamental Althusserian concepts they are absolutely essential formations interior to his conceptual work. Saturated with desire and enjoyment, they exist, in Zizek's Lacanian idiom, in a relation of "external intimacy" or "extimite" with Althusserian science. They are the kernel of enjoyment at once alien to theory and at its very heart:
 The symbolic order is striving for homeostatic balance, but there
 is in its kernel, at its very center, some strange, traumatic
 element which cannot be symbolized, integrated into the symbolic
 order.... Lacan coined a neologism for it: L'extimite--external
 intimacy. (60)


Thus these figures initiate and drive the theorizing process to the precise extent that they are prescientific weaknesses in Althusser's theoretical edifice. To put it another way, by virtue of being the internal obstacle of Althusser's work, they are its condition of possibility as well.

Pulsating around this kernel of enjoyment is the sinthome with which we began. (61) In rendering theory an object of anxiety, desire, and enjoyment, the sinthome now becomes legible as that which makes the theoretical project urgent, compelling, and thus capable of binding the subject. This is how theory becomes capable of producing Althusserians, and, first among them, Althusser himself, who by now emerges as a very different figure from the theoretical puritan for whom he has often been taken. Or, more accurately, perhaps we can now see that theoretical puritan a little better. As the one who insists on the elaboration of rigorous, scientific concepts, he renounces his love for the unscientific Young Marx and finds his enjoyment in that very renunciation. (62) This love of sacrifice for its own sake is the classic definition of surplus-enjoyment, and in summarizing Althusser's dawning realization of the abuses of Stalinism, Boutang captures it pithily: "Plus le communisme de Louis Althusser apprend a souffrir, plus il grandit"; "the more Louis Althusser's Communism learns to suffer, the more it grows." (63) As the leftover of symbolic, ideological interpellation, and the beyond of pleasure, the urgency tied up with this historical and political suffering is the call to theory prior to theory itself. (64) Drawing Althusser to work on symptomatic concepts, the sinthome thus produces Althusserianism as a new development in the history of Marxist theory. If Althusser never quite theorizes the productive role of enjoyment in the sinthome, we can nonetheless, or therefore, see how fascinatingly it functions in his own case.

--Geraldine Friedman, Purdue University

(1) For the general impression of Althusser's anti-historicism, see Peter Schottler, "Althusser and Annales Historiography-An Impossible Dialogue?" in The Althusserian Legacy, ed. Ann Kaplan and Michael Sprinker (London: Verso, 1993), p. 81 and p. 97n1. For a specific example, see Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst, Precapitalist Modes of Production (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), who deduced from Althusser the epistemological impossibility of any historical science. Schottler and, before him, Pierre Vilar are among the very few historians who engage seriously with Althusser on the subject of historiography. See Pierre Vilar, "Histoire marxiste, histoire en construction: essai de dialogue avec Althusser," Annales: Economies Societies Civilisations 28.1 (January-February 1973): 165-98. Translated under the title "Marxist History, A History in the Making: Towards a Dialogue with Althusser," in Althusser: A Critical Reader. Ed. Gregory Elliott (Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1994), pp. 10-43.

(2) For Althusser's critique of historical time as linear and homogeneous, see Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, Lire "le Capital," Petite Collection Maspero 30 (Paris: Francois Maspero, 1975) vol. 1: pp. 116-18. For the English translation, see Althusser and Balibar, Reading "Capital," trans. Ben Brewster (London: Verso, 1979), pp. 94-95. French versions of quotations from these and other works by Althusser will be given when their detail is important for my argument.

(3) Althusser and Balibar, Reading "Capital," p. 96; Lire le "Capital," 1: p. 119. On the uneven social formation as a "'pre-given' complex structured whole," see Althusser, "On the Materialistic Dialectic" in Pour Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (1969. London: Verso, 1990), pp. 193-21. For the French original, see Althusser, "Sur la dialectique materialiste" in Pour Marx, (1965. Paris: Editions de la Decouverte, 1986), pp. 198-222.

(4) Althusser, Pour Marx, pp. 9 and 21; For Marx, p. 11. For Althusser's claim that Marx founded history as a science, see "Philosophy as a Revolutionary Weapon," in Althusser, "Lenin and Philosophy" and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press [New Left Books], 1971), p. 15, and Maria Turchetto, "History of Science and the Science of History," in Kaplan and Sprinker, pp. 73-80.

(5) Althusser, The Future Lasts Forever: A Memoir, trans. Richard Veasey, ed. Olivier Corpet and Yann Moulier Boutang (New York: The New Press, 1993), p. 160. See the French original, L'Avenir dure longtemps, ed. Olivier Corpet and Yann Moulier Boutang (Paris: Stock/IMEC, 1992), p. 152. There is reason to believe these words should not be taken literally. As Corpet and Boutang point out in their Editors' Foreword to this work, they were written on the verge of a hypomanic episode (Corpet and Boutang, eds., The Future Lasts Forever, p. 4; L'Avenir dure longtemps, p. iv), a circumstance suggesting that the text should be read as a symptom. Douglas Johnson, in his introduction to The Future Lasts Forever, puts the work in the tradition of the normalien canular, or practical joke, particularly the claim to be an intellectual fraud (pp. xvi-xvii). However, Althusser is accurate in stating that his treatment of history is not systematic in L'Avenir dure longtemps, for it remains on the level of anecdote.

(6) Althusser, Reading "Capital", p. 41; Lire le "Capital", vol. 1, p. 47.

(7) Ibid., p. 30; ibid., p. 31.

(8) Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, p. 168.

(9) "Epistemological Blues" is the title of chapter 3 of Alex Callinicos's Althusser's Marxism (London: Pluto Press, 1976). In a very general way, Althusser to some extent anticipates this criticism and that of Zizek, which follows immediately in my discussion, when he accuses himself of "theoreticism" in the Foreword to the Italian edition of Reading "Capital" (p. 8), not included in the French original. For the more specific self-criticism, see Althusser, "Response to John Lewis" in Essays in Self-Criticism, trans. Graham Locke (London: New Left Books, 1976), pp. 35-77, and "Philosophy as a Revolutionary Weapon" (Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays). Althusser implies a non-oppositional relationship between ideology and science in, among other places, "Marxism and Humanism," where he states the necessity of ideology in all societies, even a Communist one (For Marx, p. 232; Pour Marx, p. 239). Through a reading of the symptom in Reading "Capital," I argue elsewhere against taking the relation between ideology and science in Althusser as a simple binary opposition (Geraldine Friedman, "The Spectral Legacy of Althusser: The Symptom and Its Return," in Depositions: Althusser, Balibar, Macherey, and the Labor of Reading, ed. Jacques Lezra, Yale French Studies 88 [1995]: 176). Callinicos notes, and takes issue with, such binaristic statements in Althusser (pp. 96-101).

(10) Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, (London: Verso, 1989), p.124.

(11) Ibid., p.125.

(12) Ibid., p. 1.

(13) Ibid., pp. 76-79.

(14) This nonthematic aspect of Althusser's writings has recently been engaged by Judith Butler and Tom Pepper. To account for the subject's initial turning toward the law in the Althusserian theory of interpellation, Butler argues that "the law itself becomes the object of passionate attachment, a strange scene of love" ("Conscience Doth Make Subjects of Us All," Yale French Studies 88 [1995]: 24). Pepper discerns a manic-depressive textual economy in Althusser, composed of an initial rush of polemical, provisional writing and a subsequent, melancholic rereading in a postscript (Yale French Studies 88 [1995]: 29). For an excellent articulation of Althusserian Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis, see Warren Montag, "Marxism and Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Encounter," The Minnesota Review n.s. 23 (Fall 1984): 70-83. For critical assessments of the incompatibilities between Althusser's and Lacan's problematics and between Lacan's concepts and Althusser's use of them, see David Macey, "Thinking with Borrowed Concepts: Althusser and Lacan," in Elliott, Althusser: A Critical Reader, pp. 142-58, and Michele Barrett, "Althusser's Marx, Althusser's Lacan," in Kaplan and Sprinker, eds., The Althusserian Legacy (pp. 169-82). Althusser comes close to formulating something like a Marxian sinthome within the symptomatic concept in a passing reference: "This example can, by analogy, be compared with that of the symptom, the slip of the tongue and the dream--which is, for Freud, a 'wish-fulfillment' (plein du desir)" (Althusser, Reading "Capital", p. 143n31; Lire le "Capital", vol. 1, p. 184n29; translator's interpellation). For a passage that describes the psychoanalytic sinthome without naming it, see note 16 below.

(15) Here, I am suggesting the incompleteness of approaches that treat Althusser's theory of ideology in conceptual and political terms alone.

(16) In "Freud and Lacan," Althusser thematizes something like the sinthome in psychoanalysis when he describes subjectivation as a trauma: "the only war without memoirs or memorials, the war humanity pretends it has never declared, the war it always thinks it has won in advance, simply because humanity is nothing but surviving this war ..." In this passage that alludes to his own long struggle with psychosis, he touches on the partially failed character of every interpellation, which Lacan and Zizek emphasize: "Some will die from their fight, though at some remove, the old wounds suddenly opening up again in psychotic explosion, in madness, the ultimate compulsion of a 'negative therapeutic reaction'; others, more numerous, as 'normally' as you like, in the guise of an 'organic' decay" (Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, p. 205; Louis Althusser, Ecrits sur la psychanalyse [Stock/IMEC, 1993], p. 35). I discuss this struggle, especially in the context of Althusser's wartime experience, in the text below. On one level, this biographical element is the story of Althusser's being "lived by much more than he lived the impossibility of that self-mastery which the thinker believes authorizes him" (Yann Moulier Boutang, Louis Althusser: Une biographie. Tome 1-La formation du mythe [1918-1956] [Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1992], p. 22; all translations from this work are my own). On another level, the language of war and madness figures psychoanalysis itself as a trauma for other disciplines when it emerges as a science, because that emergence necessarily occurs as a disciplinary boundary transgression. Althusser writes of "the uneasiness of corporations ... whose balance and comfort is threatened by the appearance of a unique discipline that forces them all to re-investigate not only their own disciplines but the reasons why they believe in them, i.e. to doubt them, by the appearance of a science which, however little it is believed, threatens to violate the existing frontiers and hence to alter the status quo of several disciplines" (Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, p. 203; Ecrits, p. 33). The biographical and theoretical levels merge in Althusser's identification with what he calls Lacan's theoretical loneliness (Macey, pp. 147-48; see also Althusser's "Freud and Lacan," where that loneliness is ascribed to Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud as well [Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, pp. 196-97; Ecrits, pp. 26-27]). The double connection comes out most clearly in Althusser's commentary on the pathos of Lacan's language: "Hence the contained passion and passionate contention of Lacan's language, unable to live or survive except in a state of alert and accusation: the language of a man of the besieged vanguard, condemned by the crushing strength of the threatened structures and corporations to forestall their blows, or at least to feint a response to them before they are delivered, thus discouraging the opponents from crushing him beneath their assault" (p. 203). The language of siege, threats, blows, and opponents recurs in a key passage of "On the Materialist Dialectic" in For Marx in which Althusser treats his own efforts to elaborate a rigorous Marxist science. This passage is analyzed below. The point I would like to make here is that what Althusser says about Lacan's language applies to his own.

(17) Althusser, Pour Marx, p. 21; For Marx, p. 11.

(18) Ibid., pp. 21-22; 18 Ibid., pp. 11-12.

(19) Althusser, For Marx, pp. 10-11. This quotation comes from "To My English Readers," which for obvious reasons is not included in Pour Marx. Elliott provides a fuller analysis of these and other aspects of the intellectual post-war conjuncture in chapter 1 of Detour (pp. 15-69). In Althusser: Une Biographie, Boutang offers an extremely rich biographical analysis of the same moment. See also my treatment below of the ways in which some of Althusser's personal crises are inserted into this conjuncture.

(20) Althusser, Pour Marx, pp. 21-22; For Marx, pp. 11-12.

(21) Althusser, Journal de captivite, ed. Olivier Corpet and Yann Moulier Boutang (Paris: Stock/IMEC, 1992), Althusser, The Future Lasts Forever, pp. 97, 98-111; L'Avenir dure longtemps, pp. 89, 90-103; and Douglas Johnson's introduction to the English translation (The Future Lasts Forever, p. viii).

(22) "Deeds" in French is "faits," which also carries the meaning of facts (Pour Marx, p. 21; For Marx, p. 11).

(23) For this long series of developments, see Boutang, Louis Althusser, chapters 7 and 8. Some have suggested that Althusser's break from the Church was neither complete nor permanent. According to Johnson: "The revelations of one of his [Althusser's] former teachers at Lyons, Jean Guitton, suggest that he never broke off relations with Catholics. It is said that in the neighbourhood of the Ecole normale there was a community of nuns that he visited regularly, though secretly.... In 1979 he sought an audience with the Pope, John Paul II. Perhaps this was a sign of megalomaniac madness.... But he did believe in the necessity of reconciling Communism and Catholicism" (Johnson, p. xv).

(24) Althusser, L'Avenir dure longtemps, p. 25; The Future Lasts Forever, p. 29; and Elliott, "Analysis," p. 181.

(25) These include particularly geneticists, who were under pressure to do science according to a dogmatic version of the laws of dialectical materialism, called Lysenkoism, instead of experimental evidence. In his autobiographies, Althusser credits the suicide of one such biologist, Claude Engelmann, with opening his eyes to the Stalinist practices of the French Communist Party (L'Avenir dure longtemps, p. 333; The Future Lasts Forever, p. 340). See also Boutang, Louis Althusser, pp. 415-17. For a discussion of Lysenkoism as a crisis in the Party's relation to its intellectuals, see Andre Barjonet's lucid account in Le Parti communiste (Paris: John Dider, 1969), pp. 140-45, and Jacques Fauvet in collaboration with Alain Duhamel, in Histoire du parti communiste francais (Paris: Fayard, 1965), vol. 2, Vingt-cinq ans de drames 1939-1965, pp. 349-50. Althusser testifies to being deeply shaken by the PCF's support of Zhdanovism, the broader Soviet doctrine of an absolute split between a supposedly true "proletarian science" and an ideologically tainted "bourgeois science," upheld by Laurent Casanova, the Party's "Grand Ideological Inquisitor." Althusser recounts an incident in which he overheard Casanova insisting to the prestigious biologist Marcel Prenant that "2 + 2 = 4 was true only in terms of bourgeois ideology" (The Future Lasts Forever, pp. 340-41, 204; L'Avenir dure longtemps, pp. 333, 196).

(26) Even the basic facts of the story, which are too involved to relate here, are far from clear. For multiple versions, see Althusser, L'Avenir dure longtemps, pp. 193-95,334-36; The Future Lasts Forever, pp. 200-03, 341-44, and Boutang, Louis Althusser, pp. 366-68, 383-407, 423-31. The story of Helene's relationship to the Party in the context of her life rather than Althusser's (or anyone else's) says a great deal about the functioning of the Party and the wartime and postwar conjunctures in France. I refrain from treating this story here because I feel it is high time it became a focus of critical attention itself rather than a passing episode in other people's life stories, which is generally how it has been treated. Helene's campaign of 1950 and her life deserve attention in their own right, because as scholars of Althusser and Marxism seem all too easily to forget, she had a life before her sensationalized death (Althusser, The Future Lasts Forever, p. 203; L'Avenir dure longtemps, p. 195; Boutang, Louis Althusser, pp. 424-31).

(27) Althusser, The Future Lasts Forever, p. 203; L'Avenir dure longtemps, p. 195; Boutang, pp. 431-32.

(28) Althusser, L'Avenir dure longtemps, p. 195; The Future Lasts Forever, p. 203. Boutang also compares Helene's trial to "the big Stalinian trials" (Louis Althusser, p. 429).

(29) This long-term oppositional effort "to make a start on the first [sic] left-wing critique of Stalinism," as he put it, is legible throughout his corpus ("Doctor Althusser," Radical Philosophy 12 (winter 1975): 44), but as Elliott points out in Detour, Althusser's claim to be first is illegitimate. Trotsky and others had made left-wing critiques of Stalinism much earlier (p. 33). Nonetheless, this engagement with Stalinism and its aftermath provides the larger context for Althusser's writings. Many of his best known innovations-theoretical anti-humanism (Pour Marx, pp. 236-38; For Marx, pp. 229-31), the epistemological break between the texts of the humanistic Young Marx and the authentically materialist Mature Marx, overdetermination, the structure in dominance, the "pre-given" complex structured whole--emerge as part and parcel of his dissident account of Stalinism and thus also of his call for an authentic de-Stalinization. Elliott argues that the Sino-Soviet split was of equal importance (Detour, pp. 16-21), but in his own account, it emerges that this split itself occurred partly over de-Stalinization. Elliott further contends that the notorious theoreticism of Althusser, i.e., the Spinozist claim that "theoretical practice is indeed its own criterion" and has no need of practical verification (Reading "Capital", pp. 59-60; Lire le "Capital", p. 71), should be seen as part of his resistance to Stalinism-as-Zhdanovism: "Sparing the intrusion of the extra-theoretical in the shape of a Cardinal Bellarmine or Comrade Zhdanov, scientific theoretical practice serves neither God nor Mammon" (Detour, p. 99).

(30) See the introductory note to "Freud et Lacan," by Francois Matheron, in Althusser, Ecrits, p. 16. One could continue this polemical narrative by pointing out that Roger Garaudy, the official philosopher of the PCF, vetoed the publication of Pour Marx and Lire le "Capital" by the Party's imprint, Editions sociales (Althusser, L'Avenir dure longtemps, p. 190; The Future Lasts Forever, p. 196; and Elliott, "Althusser's Solitude" in Kaplan and Sprinker, eds., p. 37n10. In addition, many of Althusser's other publications were direct polemical gestures. Some examples include " Marxism and Humanism"; the open letter Althusser wrote with Balibar and others demanding "a real political discussion in the PCF" after the Union de la gauche broke away from it; his series of articles "Ce qui ne peut plus durer dans le parti communiste" ("What Cannot Go on in the Communist Party"), which led, in Etienne Balibar's words, to Althusser's being "cloue au pilori" ("pilloried," Balibar, Ecrits pour Althusser (Paris: Editions de la Decouverte, 1991, p. 133); and "Response to John Lewis," in which Althusser both rebuts Lewis's charge that Althusser's return to Marx (and Lenin) constitutes "medieval dogmatism" (Lewis, "The Althusser Case," in Marxism Today (January and February 1972) and performs a self-criticism. This last essay appears in its most complete form in Althusser's Essays in Self-Criticism (pp. 35-77), where it is followed by the "Note on 'The Critique of the Personality Cult'" and "Remark on the Category: "Process without a Subject or Goal(s).'" I am indebted to Jeffrey Schneider for the suggestion that Althusser, by virtue of his sense of always being on trial, could be thought of as a Kristevan "sujet en process." The French carries the sense of a subject in process as well as on trial. See Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language (New York: Columbia UP, 1984; originally published in French as Revolution du langage poetique: L'Avant-garde a la fin du dix-neuvieme siecle, Lautreamont et Mallarme [Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1974]).

(31) The Party's post-war attitude had found official expression in a denunciatory article called "Psychoanalysis, a Reactionary Ideology," which appeared in La nouvelle critique in 1949. See Althusser, "Note liminaire" to "Freud et Lacan" and Matheron's introduction to the essay (Althusser, Ecrits, pp. 23, 16-19).

(32) In "On the Materialist Dialectic," Althusser suggests that blockage and trauma are precisely the situations that inspire the origination of Theory (as the theory of theoretical practice). Theory is provoked, he holds, by the impasse of blind practice running up against problems it cannot solve and by the resistance offered to theoretical practice by its object (Pour Marx, p. 174, 176; For Marx, pp. 176 and 178). For a treatment of the epistemological break, see Pour Marx, pp. 32-38; For Marx, pp. 24-30. In a passage that strikingly echoes the Althusserian production of Theory through blockage, Michel Foucault provides an account of sex as "what one ... confessed": "Confession is a ritual of discourse ... in which the truth is corroborated by the obstacles and resistances it has had to surmount in order to be formulated" (The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley [New York: Pantheon, 1978], pp. 61-62). Since according to Foucault these confessions are "wrested" from the confessional subject (p. 62), they approximate torture, which becomes linked to blockage and sex. I develop the line of interpretation suggested by these associations below in my reading of the erotic-torture scene in "On the Young Marx" (Pour Marx, pp. 73-74; For Marx, p. 70), where the empiricist gaze of the Young Marx extracts truth from objects.

(33) Althusser, "Contradiction et surdetermination," Pour Marx, p.89n2; "Contradiction and Overdetermination," For Marx, p. 87n2.

(34) Althusser, Pour Marx, p. 84; For Marx, p. 81, translation modified.

(35) Althusser, "Reply to John Lewis," in Self-Criticism, p. 36; Althusser's emphasis.

(36) Ibid., p. 38.

(37) Ibid., p. 53; For Marx, p. 49.

(38) The English version elides some of the danger in rendering the French "prospectent" as "working" and the French "perilleux mais passionants domaines d'avant-garde" (Althusser, Pour Marx, p. 172) as "risky but existing avant-garde domaines" (For Marx, p. 173). "Existing" seems a misprint, perhaps a symptomatic one, for "exciting" ("passionants") (For Marx, 173; my translation).

(39) Althusser, Pour Marx, pp. 244-47; For Marx, pp. 255-58.

(40) Ibid., p. 181; Ibid., p. 183.

(41) The French reads "etre demeure prisonniere" and "reste prisonniere'"(Pour Marx, p. 76n38; For Marx, p. 73n38; Pour Marx, p. 171n7; For Marx, p. 172n9).

(42) Althusser, For Marx, p. 170; Pour Marx, p. 169.

(43) The French original reads:

... car nous savons qu'il n'existe pas de pratique theorique pure, de science toute nue, qui serait a jamais dans son histoire de science, preservee par je ne sais quelle grace des menaces et atteintes de l'idealisme, c'est-a-dire des ideologies qui l'assiegent: nous savons qu'il n'existe de science 'pure' qu'a la condition de la purifier sans cesse, de science libre dans la necessite de son histoire, qu'a la condition de la liberer sans cesse de l'ideologie qui l'occupe, la hante ou la guette.

For comparison, I provide the corresponding passage from For Marx, which is significantly shorter:

... for we know that there is no pure theoretical practice, no perfectly transparent science which throughout its history as a science will always be preserved, by I know not what Grace, from the threats and taints of idealism, that is, of the ideologies which besiege it; we know that a "pure" science only exists on condition that it continually frees itself from the ideology that occupies it, haunts it, or lies in wait for it. Mainly, the English translator eliminates some of the original's anaphoric repetition. While these changes constitute stylistic "improvements," they also reduce the pathos and, therefore, the symptomaticness of the passage. (For Marx, p. 171; my translation)

(44) Here is the full English rendition of the passage in question: "As this is also a personal responsibility, whatever risks I shall run, I should like to attempt a moment's reflection on the Marxistconcept of contradiction, in respect to a particular example: the Leninist theme of the 'weakest link'" (Pour Marx, p. 94). By Englishing "Et puisqu'il faut payer de sa personne" as taking personal responsibility (and "mes risques et perils" as simply "risks"), the translator eliminates the threat of bodily danger and injury contained in the original, once again, eliding some textual symptoms. (For Marx, p. 92; my translation).

(45) Althusser, Pour Marx, p. 163; For Marx, p. 163.

(46) Ibid., p. 68; Ibid., pp. 64-65.

(47) Ibid., p. 70; Ibid., p. 67; see also Lire le "Capital", vol. 1, p. 67; Reading "Capital", p. 56.

(48) Ibid., pp. 73-74; Ibid., p. 70.

(49) Reading "Capital", pp. 35-36; Lire le "Capital", vol. 1, pp. 39-40.

(50) When Zizek speaks of "extracting the traumatic kernel" as an operation beyond ideology critique (Sublime Object, p. 125), he utilizes a version of the same metaphor.

(51) Pour Marx, p. 90; For Marx, p. 88.

(52) Ibid., p. 93; Ibid., p. 91.

(53) Thus Henri Alleg's book on torture is called La Question. See also a surprisingly apposite passage in Baudelaire's Journaux intimes, where he scorns "la question" because it attempts to extract something spiritual by physical means (Oeuvres completes, vol. 1, p. 683). The figure of torture as a test to extract truth has a long history in philosophy, as well as in judicial procedures. Page DuBois writes: "The ancient Greek word for torture is basanos. It means first of all the touchstone used to test gold for purity; the Greeks extended its meaning to denote a test or trial to determine whether something or someone is real or genuine. It then comes to mean also inquiry by torture, 'the question,' torture" (Torture and Truth (New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 7). Torture thus becomes associated with proof and the search for philosophical truth. See also Peters, especially chapter 1. Althusser connects his figures from the semantic field of torture with empiricism (as well as humanism), specifically with the empiricist operation of abstraction, which extracts essences from concrete objects (Pour Marx, pp. 190-91; For Marx, pp. 194-95). However, perhaps we should also hear the link between torture and proof in those locutions where Althusser speaks of "put[ting] an interpretation to the test ['l'epreuve,' proof]" (Pour Marx, p. 195; For Marx, p. 200) and the need to "test" ['eprouver,' prove] "the theoretical claims of ... concepts" (Pour Marx, p. 223; For Marx, p. 229). If this link can legitimately be made in these instances, Althusser's relentless obsession with submitting interpretations and concepts to proof suggests a Stalinist moment in his own practice.

(54) "Note," Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, p. 86.

(55) Ibid., p 89.

(56) For a reading of "Marxism and Humanism" along these lines, see my earlier essay (Friedman, p. 179).

(57) Zizek writes of surplus-enjoyment: "It is this paradox which defines surplus-enjoyment: it is not a surplus which simply attaches itself to some "normal," fundamental enjoyment, because enjoyment as such emerges only in this surplus, because it is constitutively an 'excess.' If we subtract the surplus we lose enjoyment itself ..." (Sublime Object, p. 52).

(58) For example, in Lire le "Capital", 1:146; Reading "Capital", p. 116.

(59) This necessity emerges perhaps most clearly in the metaphors of failed liberation that describe the fate suffered by Feuerbach, a Young Hegelian who, according to Marx and Althusser, remained trapped in the German ideology (Pour Marx, p. 76n38; For Marx, p. 73n38). Althusser claims to continue the work of deliverance that Marx accomplished for himself but that Feuerbach did not.

However, the figure of imprisonment also applies to Althusser. Not only does it allude to one of his traumas--the experience of being a POW in World War II, it also implicates him in the circular thinking characteristic of ideology, which on one occasion he condemns under the name of "Technocratic Thought":

Left to itself, a spontaneous (technical) practice produces only the "theory" it needs as a means to produce the ends assigned to it: this "theory" is never more than the reflection of this end, uncriticized, unknown, in its means of realization, that is, it is a by-product of the reflection of the technical practice's end on its means. A "theory" which does not question the end whose by-product it is remains a prisoner ["reste prisonniere"] of this end and of the "realities" which have imposed it as an end. (Pour Marx, p. 171n7; For Marx, p. 172n9; final emphasis added)

According to the logic of this passage, Althusser's technocratism lies in his producing just the Young Marx that Althusserianism needs in order to justify its full-scale project of elaborating an anti-humanist, anti-Hegelian Marxist philosophy. To this extent, Althusser resembles what he calls a one-man "silent tribunal over ideological history whose values and verdict are decided even before the investigation starts" (Pour Marx, p. 70; For Marx, p. 67). For he is caught in the closed circle of his own ideology, which imports something other than knowledge into theory (Lire le "Capital", vol. 1, p. 181; Reading "Capital", p. 141), something the pathos of his language marks as belonging to the square of desire and enjoyment beyond theoretical meaning.

(60) Zizek, Sublime Object, p. 132.

(61) Zizek reads the formula for drive, which pulsates around a parcel of enjoyment, as the sinthome (Sublime Object, pp. 123-24).

(62) Zizek describes this perverse enjoyment-in-renunciation as the point where duty becomes another name for love, and the superego, or agency of inner law and prohibition, becomes the agency of enjoyment (Sublime Object, pp. 81-82; For They Know Not What They Do, pp. 237-41; Looking Awry, pp. 159-62). It is interesting to read this account with the one Lyotard gives in Economie libidinale of the relation between the Young Marx, or "la petite Marx" ("little girl Marx"), and the Mature Marx, whom he casts as a prosecutor-theorist (in Althusser's terms, this relationship between the two Marxes is the epistemological break). According to Lyotard, "little girl Marx, offended by the perversity of the polymorphous body of capital, requires a great love; the great prosecutor Karl Marx, assigned the task of the accusation of the perverts and the 'invention' of a suitable lover (the proletariat), sets himself to study the dossier of the accused capitalist" (Libidinal Economy, Theories of Contemporary Culture [Bloomington: Indiana UP, 19p3], p. 97; Economie libidinale, Collection critique [Paris: Les Editions de minuit, 1974], pp. 119-20). But in the course of the investigation, Marx becomes fascinated with the guilty party and prolongs the study, which, through this very deferral, grows out of control. Marx can no longer unify his own textual body or dialectically produce the finite, unified body of the proletariat or of socialism from the polymorphous perversity of capitalism. Instead of producing a "normal," genital, object-oriented love for little girl Marx, the prosecutor discovers in his research his own "strangejouissance: the samejouissance that results from the instantiation of the pulsions and their discharge in postponement" (Libidinal Economy, 98; Economie libidinale, 121). Unlike the discharge of libido in the genital couple desired by little girl Marx, the intensity of this "'perversity' of knowledge" is, according to Lyotard, that of "an inhibition, a putting in reserve, a continuation of and investment in the means" (pp. 120-21, my translation). As in Zizek, an object-oriented enjoyment is renounced for one constituted by prohibition, so that, paradoxically, enjoyment attaches to deferral itself. For Althusser, this perverse enjoyment can be seen, in addition to the instances given above and in the text, in his asymptotic approach to scientific concepts, which can never be fully rigorous. All Althusser's efforts to elaborate such concepts are provisional and thus, at best, mere approximations and, at worst, sources of new errors and occasions for new self-criticisms. Perhaps the title of Althusser's full-length autobiography, The Future Lasts Forever, can be applied to the future of Althusserian science in the sense that it always provides new work for itself.

(63) Boutang, Althusser, p. 417, my translation.

(64) One can perhaps discern an account of this suffering that serves as the call to theory in Althusser's comment that "Freud and Lacan," composed shortly after the suicide of his friend and fellow normalien Jacques Martin, was written with "a little life, a little blood, and a lot of death." In the article Althusser compares his own labor to that of Spinoza, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, which, he asserts, was to "lift this enormous layer, this tombstone that covers over the real in order to have with it this direct contact that burns in them for eternity." With this mixed metaphor, Althusser describes a permanent rending of the subject (the eternal burning), which coincides with a revelation (the direct contact achieved once the cover is lifted off "the real"), but the revelation is not so much a privileged insight into material reality as a traumatic encounter with the Lacanian Real. For the letter subsequently says that the "direct, extraordinary experience of contact" is "with certain realities that are normally intolerable ... these stories of life and death, of which something went into this text on Lacan" (Letter to Franca, February 15, 1964, and Letter to Franca, February 21, 1964, quoted by Francois Matheron, in his introductory note to "Freud et Lacan," in Althusser, Ecrits, p. 17; my translations). Here, theoretical work is described as deeply traumatic.
COPYRIGHT 2012 The Society for Philosophy and Literary Studies
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Friedman, Geraldine
Publication:Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Sep 22, 2012
Words:9706
Previous Article:Dialogue between Fukuyama's account of the end of history and Derrida's hauntology.
Next Article:Living together in an ecological community.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters