Louis Althusser Criticism - Essay

Susan James (essay date 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Althusserian Materialism in England," in Studies in Anglo-French Relations: Imagining France, edited by Ceri Crossley and Ian Small, London: MacMillan Press, 1988, pp. 187-209.

[In the following essay, James discusses the influence Althusser's conception of materialism has had on other thinkers and points out some of the problems with his arguments.]

Hearing that I was about to write this essay, a friend recently remarked to me that he no longer felt ashamed at not knowing about the work of Louis Althusser—a reaction which has become, I think, quite common among English and American philosophers and social scientists. During the 1970s, when Althusser was a...

(The entire section is 8285 words.)

Mark Lilla (review date 25 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Marx and murder: Althusser's demon and the flight from subjectivity," in TLS, No. 4669, September 25, 1992, pp. 3-4.

[In the following review, Lilla discusses the implications that details from Althusser's life have on his work.]

On a grey November morning in 1980, the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser strangled his wife Hélène in their apartment at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Within hours he was whisked away by ambulance to a psychiatric hospital, where he was subsequently confined by court order after having been judged mentally unfit to stand trial for an act he said he could not remember. At the time, many in Paris suspected a plot...

(The entire section is 3051 words.)

Morton G. Wenger (review date Summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists and Other Essays, in Science and Society, Vol. 57, No. 2, Summer, 1993, pp. 240-43.

[In the following review, Wenger asserts that "If the reader follows the unfolding of Althusser's logic with care, it is evident that while he is not correct about everything he analyzes, most of what he says is powerful and compelling."]

An important set of questions might now be asked about Louis Althusser by current theorists of "what is left of the Left," with the least interesting being the empirical matter of the extent and character of his contemporary readership, and the more significant...

(The entire section is 1379 words.)

Martin Bright (review date 10 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Invisible man," in New Statesman and Society, December 10, 1993, pp. 38-9.

[In the following review, Bright discusses Althusser's The Future Lasts a Long Time and asserts that "it is when he writes about his dreadful upbringing that he is at his most passionate."]

When the French Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser, wrote his autobiography in 1985, he knew that it would not be published in his lifetime. Five years earlier, he had strangled his wife Hélène during a severe bout of depression. His state of mind at the time meant that he was never tried for the murder. Instead he was granted a non-lieu, a special dispensation for someone who is...

(The entire section is 814 words.)

Philip Goldstein (essay date Winter 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Althusserian Theory: From Scientific Truth to Institutional History," in Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature, Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 15-26.

[In the following essay, Goldstein asserts that "[Tony] Bennett's account of literary studies gives Althusserian theory the Foucaldian history that its postmodern opponents deny it."]

The spectacular collapse of the USSR and other Communist states has only exacerbated the hostile relationship of Marxism and postmodern theory. On the one hand, Marxists complain that postmodern theorists refuse to see society as a whole or to preserve culture's autonomous ideals. On the other hand, postmodern theorists fear...

(The entire section is 3279 words.)

Chip Rhodes (essay date Winter 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ideology Takes a Day Off: Althusser and Mass Culture," in Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature, Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 39-54.

[In the following essay, Rhodes discusses Althusser's work on ideology and the aesthetic as it applies specifically to mass culture. In addition he analyzes the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off in relation to an Althusserian approach to mass culture.]

In the move within cultural studies toward the effacement of the distinction between high and low culture, the Althusserian theory of ideology has become something that one moves beyond. In this theory's implications many critics have detected the creeping specter of the...

(The entire section is 6176 words.)

George Steiner (review date 21 February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Stranglehold," in The New Yorker, Vol. LXX, No. 1, February 21, 1994, pp. 115-19.

[In the following review, Steiner asserts that the scandal surrounding Althusser's life has overshadowed his work.]

There are moments when bad taste is the last refuge of common sense. Let me be in bad taste. Perhaps philosophers should strangle their wives. The name of Socrates' wife has passed into the language as that of an ignorant shrew. Philosophy is an unworldly, abstruse, often egomaniacal obsession. The body is an enemy to absolute logic or metaphysical speculation. The thinker inhabits fictions of purity, of reasoned propositions as sharp as white light. Marriage...

(The entire section is 2596 words.)

Scott McLemee (review date March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Breathless: Louis Althusser Loses His Grip," in Voice Literary Supplement, No. 123, March, 1994, p. 15.

[In the following review, McLemee discusses the implications of Althusser's memoir, The Future Lasts Forever, on the reading of his work.]

Marxism is dead, as everybody knows; so is Louis Althusser. And not for the first time, in either case. In 1978, after nearly two decades as the most provocative thinker in the French Communist Party, Althusser told a friend: "My universe of thought has been abolished. I can't think anymore." (No fate closer to death than that, for a philosopher.) The mind exhausted, his body lived on until 1990—collapsing...

(The entire section is 1681 words.)

Tony Judt (review date 7 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Paris Strangler," in The New Republic, Vol. 210, No. 10, March 7, 1994, pp. 33-7.

[In the following review, Judt states that in Althusser's The Future Lasts Forever "We are presented not only with a man who is on the edge of insanity, obsessed with sexual imagery … dreams of grandeur and his own psychoanalytical history, but also with a man who is quite remarkably ignorant."]

I was brought up a Marxist. Nowadays that is not much of a boast, but it had its advantages. Parents and grandparents were imbued with all of the assumptions and some of the faith that shaped the European Socialist movement in its heyday. Coming from that branch of East...

(The entire section is 3584 words.)

Alice Kaplan (review date 13 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Living Death," in The Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 13, 1994, pp. 4, 8.

[In the following review, Kaplan asserts that "The lucidity of a man condemned by his madness to a living death is perhaps what gives [The Future Lasts Forever] its chilling edge."]

On Nov. 16, 1980, Louis Althusser, the leading philosophical and political theorist of French Marxism, strangled his wife, Hélène Rytman, in their suite at the Ecole Normale Superieure, an elite institute for the training of the French professoriate where he had lived, first as a student, then as a professor, for 34 years.

Many received the news of his crime as a symbol of...

(The entire section is 1422 words.)

Paul Mattick Jr. (review date 25 May 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Murder, He Wrote," in The Nation, Vol. 258, No. 16, May 25, 1994, pp. 566-68.

[In the following review, Mattick analyzes Althusser's attempt to understand his murder of his wife, but asserts that "Unfortunately, the book must be judged a failure as an effort at self-understanding."]

The publication of the English translation of Louis Althusser's memoir has provoked a lively response among the local intelligentsia. People are talking about it, and it has been widely reviewed. This interest is no doubt traceable in part at least to the sensational aspect of the French philosopher's story: his 1980 strangling of his wife, Hélène, in their apartment in the...

(The entire section is 1893 words.)

Edith Kurzweil (review date Summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Althusser's Madness: Theory or Practice?" in Partisan Review, Vol. LXI, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 514-17.

[In the following review, Kurzweil discusses Althusser's focus on his personal past as opposed to his philosophy in his The Future Lasts Forever.]

From this lucid and gripping memoir the average American reader would not realize that Louis Althusser, "the world-renowned French philosopher" who murdered his wife on November 16, 1980, was the preeminent theoretician of the Communist Party in the 1960s and 1970s, or that he incited the French student revolts of 1968. Nor would anyone familiar with his distinctive and heavy theoretical prose have thought him...

(The entire section is 1734 words.)

Richard Block (essay date Spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Second Reads: Althusser Reading Marx Reading Hegel (After 1989)," in Boundary 2, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring, 1995, pp. 211-33.

[In the following essay, Block analyzes the relationships between the works of Althusser, Marx, and Hegel.]

The English translation of Louis Althusser's Le future dure longtemps presents a curiosity. Longtemps, for the most part, has been rendered as forever, as if, after 1989, the promise of Althusserian Marxism had been displaced into an irretrievable or unrealizable future. One need only refer to the many recent dismissive reviews of the book to note how such judgments extend to Althusser's thought in general. Martin...

(The entire section is 8520 words.)