Rigor unto Mors: François George's Rejection of Althusser

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, James Santucci looks at François George’s “Reading Althusser,” from Telos 7 (Spring 1971).

François George believes that Louis Althusser does not deserve his reputation, and he wants to prove it to you. He writes:

Since the mainstay of [Althusser’s] thought is its “rigor,” we will demonstrate that it is the least rigorous of all, taking as the principal example his recent work, Lenine et la Philosophic. The occasion for the following discussion is a conference in an extremely academic context: the French Society of Philosophy. Naturally, Althusser feels uneasy in this situation. Marxists, for whom thought should be practical, must seek to transform society rather than to exert themselves in these closed contexts. Was he forced to attend? Althusser accepts his role only by dismissing it. . . . Why has he come, if he rejects this degraded form of philosophy and human relations? He is interested only in the justification of this rejection or, in his own words, this denial: “the only possible communications and discussions are scientific ones.” Under the pretext of attacking the meaninglessness of the philosophical gatherings in which he participates, Althusser rejects all non-scientific human communications as a scientist addressing a “scientific society.” Evidently, then, Althusser attends the French Society of Philosophy conference because he lacks the qualifications required by the international congress on astrophysics. All would go well, said Proudhon, when the government’s power was replaced by that of the Academy of Sciences—which should not be confused with the workers’ councils. (73–74)

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“Something in all men profoundly rejoices at seeing a car burn”: Pure Expenditure against Production

This is the second of two blog posts by Frederick H. Pitts that reassess the importance and impact of Jean Baudrillard’s The Mirror of Production. Read the first post here. Where the first post dealt with Baudrillard’s criticism of the productivism of political economy and its Marxist critique, the second deals with the implications of Baudrillard’s critical analysis for any radical alternative to production.

In the first post, we explored Baudrillard’s critique of productivism. The attributing of some kind of essential humanity to labor is identified by Baudrillard as one of the most pernicious effects of the productivism in political economy, Marx included. Indeed, humanism itself can be seen as the “product” of political economy (Baudrillard, 22). Taking over the “phantasm” of “labor as the human essence” from political economy, Baudrillard suggests Marx projected this understanding upon the working class as “their central means of self-comprehension.” Rather than maintaining a narrow fixation on the condition of one’s exploitation as labor as the means by which this exploitation can be transcended, Baudrillard argues that workers must liberate themselves from the status of “labor-power,” and “think themselves under another sign than that of production” (Poster, 3).

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Neither Marx nor Smith: Baudrillard’s Critique of Productivism

It seems an apt time to reassess the importance and impact of Jean Baudrillard’s The Mirror of Production. Several reasons spring to mind. We are approaching, in 2013, the 40th anniversary of the original French publication. Since the publication of the translated version in 1975 by Telos Press, the themes presented in the book have gained increasing contemporary currency, not least in popular critiques of production such as Kathi Weeks’s recent The Problem With Work (2012) and the growing literature on Italian autonomist theory. Finally, the passing in October 2012 of Mark Poster, responsible for the book’s translation into English, invites us to consider his excellent introduction and condensation of Baudrillard’s complex and challenging argument. In two blog posts, appearing today and next week, I will discuss some of the central themes of The Mirror of Production and attempt to relate them to broader intellectual currents and issues. Today’s post deals with the critical analysis that Baudrillard offers of the perceived “productivism” of both political economy and its Marxist critique.

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Agnes Heller and the Critique of Everyday Life

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, J. F. Dorahy looks at Agnes Heller’s “The Marxist Theory of Revolution and the Revolution of Everyday Life,” from Telos 6 (Fall 1970).

The category of “everyday life” is a relatively new addition to the critical framework of Marxism. Since it was formally introduced by the French theorist Henri Lefèbvre (Critique de la vie quotidienne I, 1947; The Critique of Everyday Life, 1991), the critique of everyday life emerged in the post-1945 period as a response to the continuing stability of late capitalism and the integration of formerly radical elements of society within its logic of containment. From within the orbit of “actually existing socialism,” Agnes Heller’s critical anthropology of everyday life illuminates the integrative tendencies of both “great systems” during the Cold War via the prism of the alienated personality. While “The Marxist Theory of Revolution and the Revolution of Everyday Life” touches on numerous practical issues confronting the radical political movements on the late-1960s—including analysis of the ideological relevance of Che Guevara and the role of the sexual liberation movement in the formation non-alienated communities—its greatest and most enduring aspect is Heller’s focused and concise delineation of the phenomenology of personhood in the world-historical epoch of alienation.

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From Freiburg to Frankfurt: Rovatti on Critical Theory and Phenomenology

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Damien Booth looks at Pier Aldo Rovatti’s “Critical Theory and Phenomenology,” from Telos 15 (Spring 1973).

The relationship between phenomenology and critical theory is a complex one that deserves a great deal of attention. On the one hand, Marcuse, as a student of Heidegger, maintained a certain level of affiliation with his thought, while, on the other, Lukács and Adorno were critical of phenomenology, with Heidegger in particular coming under criticism. In “Critical Theory and Phenomenology,” Pier Aldo Rovatti attempts to show how these two modes of thought may have a meaningful encounter.

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The End of the World Designed with Men in Mind

The following paper was presented at Telos in Europe: The L’Aquila Conference, held on September 7-9, 2012, in L’Aquila, Italy.

How should we conceive the distinctive character, the “particular rarity,” of the wearing and growing of the contemporary world? How should we come to terms with our time? What words can we find that are fitting for its specificity when so many of the words we have found fitting hitherto, especially promising words about the course of human history and its political hopes, its hopes in the political (modernity, Enlightenment, civilization, socialism, etc.) sound more and more like the road signs of another age?

Are we not floundering today? Isn’t this, at least in part, what we need to understand, to make intelligible? So we might look out for writings, wherever they come from, that speak to and speak from this world, a world which today, it seems, more than ever, “wears as it grows.”

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