Je suis le grande ALthusser!
August 20, 2003 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Louis Althusser was a French philosopher in the 1960's and 70's who taught at the Ecole Normale Superieure. An interesting read can be found [here], documenting how he scamed the French academic community into thinking that he was a "revolutionary thinker," but in fact was a hack who admitted that "he had faked much of his career including his knowledge of Marx, philosophy and history." Plus, he killed his wife - er, "while massaging his wife's neck [he] discovered he had strangled her." Brrrrr. [More inside]
posted by Quartermass (5 comments total)
"Althusser was examined by doctors, found to be mentally unfit to stand trial and locked away in a psychiatric hospital. Three years later he was released and spent his last years in a dreary flat in north Paris, emerging occasionally to startle passers-by with "Je suis le grand Althusser!" It was in these years that he drafted two versions of an autobiography. They were found after his death in 1990, and first published in French, as a single book, in 1992." I find this tale extremely fascinating.
posted by Quartermass at 1:53 PM on August 20, 2003

> For Althusser's account of Marxism, to the extent that I
> could make any sense of it, bore no relation to anything I
> had ever heard. It chopped Marx into little bits, selected
> those texts or parts of texts that suited the master's
> interpretation and then proceeded to construct the most
> astonishingly abstruse, self-regarding and ahistorical
> version of Marxist philosophy imaginable.

This Althusser, he was French?
posted by jfuller at 2:43 PM on August 20, 2003

It's like the 5th word in the FPP, jfuller. Pay attention!
posted by mr_roboto at 3:09 PM on August 20, 2003

Interesting story, thank you. The philosophy game is an interesting one, full of many weird and colorful personalities. It is, however, a shame that someone can throw together are series of sensless theories and become a 'notable thinker.' This quality of creating a field of mumbo-jumbo is not the sole property of the French, as some would imply, but a side effect of the complexities of modern philosophy. Philosophy today seems so full of jargon and obscure refrence that it becomes dangerously self-referential and easily dismissed, despite still having many things to say. As time passes I'm sure a newer generation of writers will streamline many of the concepts that are currently in a bulky and unwieldly form.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:45 PM on August 20, 2003

I'm a little suspicious of calling Althusser a hack. His definition of ideology as "the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence" (if I remember that right) is fairly pithy (remember, it's theoryspeak, so pith is relative). It's easy to stumble over Ideological State Apparatuses, but the notion of interpellation or appellation as the way in which others' mode of address defines a role for you is pretty much seminal in a number of areas of cultural critique. I don't think hacks come up with that many good ideas.

He did strangle his wife and wound up in a mental institution for the last 10 years of his life (see the wiki entry on Althusser, for what it's worth). That doesn't speak well for him on many counts, but it doesn't retrospectively trash his contributions.
posted by palancik at 3:50 PM on August 20, 2003

« Older What is sampling?   |   Pencils down everyone! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments