Although most of Louis Althusser’s works are impersonal and academic, this work is personal and autobiographical. Althusser describes how he strangled his wife and his life before the murder. To avoid his being tried as a murderer, his friends and doctor prevented Althusser from testifying at his trial. Althusser wrote the main part of this work to give his own account of what happened and to counter the various theories that were presented in the press and in philosophical literature, linking his Marxism, his structuralism, and even his philosophy as a whole with the killing of his spouse.
Althusser notes that the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a model for this type of self-examination and mentions the diary of a parent-murderer edited by Michel Foucault. Althusser mixes autobiographical reminiscences with psychoanalytical reflections and accounts of his own intellectual development and works. Structuralism is often claimed to be totally nonexperiential and abstract, lacking reference to concrete human experience. This work mixes poignant stories of various human experiences with accounts of intellectual work. Althusser was intellectually involved with Lacanian psychoanalysis in addition to being a psychiatric patient undergoing a variety of treatments from psychoanalysis to electric shock therapy. He used concepts from psychoanalysis in his account of social theory. In this work, he uses psychoanalytic theory to examine his own life and reflects on his relationship with the psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan.
Althusser’s memoir opens powerfully with his sudden realization that while giving his spouse a neck massage, he had unwittingly or unconsciously strangled her to death. He rushes out of his university apartment to get a nearby psychiatrist and other colleagues. Before the police arrive, he is spirited away to a mental institution.