Today is the 100th birthday of Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, whose thought has been greatly influential to many Duke University Press scholars. We’re pleased to share a selection of scholarship connected to his work.
In Althusser, The Infinite Farewell, Emilio de Ípola contends that Althusser’s oeuvre is divided between two fundamentally different and at times contradictory projects. Reading For Marx and Reading Capital alongside Althusser’s lesser-known writings, de Ípola reveals a subterranean current of thought that flows throughout Althusser’s classic formulations, which leads Althusser to move toward an aleatory materialism, or a materialism of the encounter. De Ípola revitalizes classic debates concerning major theoretico-political topics, including the relationship between Marxism, structuralism, and psychoanalysis; the difference between ideology, philosophy, and science; and the role of contingency and subjectivity in political encounters and social transformation.
The publication of Reading Capital—by Louis Althusser, Étienne Balibar, Roger Establet, Pierre Macherey, and Jacques Rancière—in 1965 marked a key intervention in Marxist philosophy and critical theory, bringing forth a stunning array of concepts that continue to inspire philosophical reflection of the highest magnitude. The contributors to The Concept in Crisis—who include Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, and Fernanda Navarro—reconsider the volumes reading of Marx, interrogating Althussers’s contributions in particular, and renew its call for a critique of capitalism and culture for the twenty-first century. Retrieving the inspiration that drove Althusser’s reinterpretation of Marx, The Concept in Crisis explains why Reading Capital’s revolutionary inflection retains its critical appeal, prompting readers to reconsider Marx’s relevance in an era of neoliberal capitalism.
Although Haitian revolutionaries were not the intended audience for the Declaration of the Rights of Man, they heeded its call, demanding rights that were not meant for them. This failure of the French state to address only its desired subjects is an example of the phenomenon James R. Martel labels “misinterpellation.” Complicating Althusser’s famous theory, Martel explores the ways that such failures hold the potential for radical and anarchist action. The Misinterpellated Subject reveals how calls by authority are inherently vulnerable to radical possibilities, thereby suggesting that all people at all times are filled with revolutionary potential.
Based on meticulous study of Althusser’s posthumous publications, as well as his unpublished manuscripts, lecture notes, letters, and marginalia, in Althusser and His Contemporaries Warren Montag provides a thoroughgoing reevaluation of Althusser’s philosophical project. Montag shows that the theorist was intensely engaged with the work of his contemporaries, particularly Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Lacan. Examining Althusser’s philosophy as a series of encounters with his peers’ thought, Montag sheds new light on structuralism, poststructuralism, and the extraordinary moment of French thought in the 1960s and 1970s.
Most readers of Althusser first enter his work through his writings on ideology. In an essay published in a special issue of differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Étienne Balibar offers an original reading of Althusser’s idea of ideology, drawing on both recently published posthumous writing and Althusser’s work on the Piccolo Teatro di Milano. Balibar’s essay uncovers the intricate workings of interpellation through Althusser’s essays on the theater. The issue includes commentaries on Balibar’s essay from five influential scholars who engage critically with Althusser’s philosophy: Judith Butler, Banu Bargu, Adi Ophir, Warren Montag, and Bruce Robbins. Read Balibar’s essay, made freely available.