Reading althusser an essay on structural marxism

The result was Reading Capital , published the same year as For Marx. It achieved a widespread international readership in abridged form, with only the papers of Althusser and Balibar, and has recently become available in its entirety in English for the first time. It was most clearly on display in Capital , but only in the sense that it was actually put to use, rather than explained and described.

The task for philosophers in reading Capital was to produce a philosophy for Marxism — to elaborate the materialism that could only be read between the lines of Capital itself. What could be found there was a view of history that broke with the determinism of the Second International, but also left behind the equally teleological humanism of the early Marx. Those writings had simply placed human nature at the origin and center of history, where Kautsky and Plekhanov had placed technological development.

Introduction: Althusser's Theoretical Experiments - Viewpoint Magazine

The task for Marxists in the latter half of the 20th century was to elaborate this other theory of history, the Marxist practice of philosophy, a task to which Althusser devoted the rest of his career. These institutions — schools, churches, even the nuclear family — are the spaces where individuals enter into social life; in philosophical language, where they become subjects. Althusser called this process interpellation.

After undergoing surgery for a hiatal hernia, Althusser found himself unable to breathe while he ate and constantly vomiting, and entered into a suicidal delirium.

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He attempted to gain an audience with the Pope, to advise him on the measures which had to be taken to avert the apocalypse. He was regularly institutionalized, receiving drugs and electroconvulsive therapy.

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It was not. He had, in fact, strangled his wife, an act to which he repeatedly confessed while claiming to have been unaware of doing it. Shifting then to the Eau Vive clinic at Soisy-sur-Seine, he would be in and out of hospitals for the rest of the decade. After an esophageal operation in , he fell into another depressive episode and was institutionalized again.


He would remain so until he died from a heart attack in But it also came from Marxists, some of whom now reproduced the biographical reading to which they had subjected Marx himself. In short, Althusser's dismissal by the liberal mainstream had more to do with his political and intellectual work than any actual concern for Rytman.

A lifelong communist militant and careful editor of Althusser's writings, she shared his theoretical and political views and could just as easily have become a target for those who took advantage of her death.

Structural Marxism

They both profited, in this enterprise, not only from the pernicious stigma surrounding mental illness, but also from the concrete confinement of Althusser to the asylum. Cite this Email this Add to favourites Print this page. You must be logged in to Tag Records. In the Library Request this item to view in the Library's reading rooms using your library card.

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Need help? How do I find a book? Can I borrow this item? The entire political, legal and cultural superstructure was explained by means of the concept of expressive or emanationist causality. The economic base produced not only the economic, but also the extra-economic means of its own reproduction. While this concept excluded the idea that culture was produced freely and spontaneously, it did so at the cost of understanding its material existence and the form of determination proper to it.

This set of problems led him to formulate the concept of structural causality, retaining the notion of structure but only in the form of a structure that is strictly speaking absent because it exists nowhere but in its effects.

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Is it possible to conceptualize a cause that does not precede or transcend its effects? Can you explain the differences between them?

  • Reading Althusser: An Essay on Structural Marxism | Department of Political Science?
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  • In psychoanalysis the opposition between the latent and manifest content of a dream often suggested a hidden truth concealed by a veil of appearance and requiring a hermeneutic method that could penetrate beyond the surface, a notion that Lacan opposed from the beginning of his teaching. A latent structure in this sense might be seen as a version of the formal combinatory that Althusser often criticized, a system containing every combination of pre-given elements, but in a potential rather than actual state. To understand and formalize the rules that govern these combinations, however, amounts to a formalization of possibility instead of necessity. For Marxism, such a view might be expressed as a formal combinatory of modes of production, that is, a theory of possible modes of production and their combination, but also a theory that as such cannot explain the passage from the possible to the necessary and the potential to the actual.

    In part, the notion of structural or immanent causality was designed to expose such views to criticism and to open the way not to a concept of possibility, but to a concept of necessity.

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    It exists nowhere, an absent cause whose absence allows the possibility of thinking singularity and irregularity. Does this contradictory view of structure persist throughout Althusser's work? I would put it this way: this contradiction or set of contradictions appears and reappears through his work, although in different contexts and formulated in different ways. It is an explanation in which class struggle, or any kind of struggle, plays little or no role.

    Even if we assign a tactical and therefore conjunctural meaning to these changes, it remains clear that Althusser had not yet completely settled accounts with the very notion of structure that he criticized. What does Althusser contribute to our understanding of Machiavelli? When he first decided to devote a seminar to Machiavelli in , Althusser reported in his correspondence with Franca Madonia feeling a kind of reverence for his work, but without being able to able to explain to his students why.

    But Machiavelli was also the thinker of the occasion occasione , the kairos, brought unexpectedly by fortune, the moment at which the chance to overturn the existing order makes its fleeting appearance.

    Alongside historical regularities and patterns, a quasi-cyclical time governed by repetition, there lies another time, irreducible to the first marked by discontinuities and irreversible thresholds.