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Jacques Rancière's first major work, Althusser's Lesson appeared in 1974, just as the energies of May 68 were losing ground to the calls for a return to order. Rancière's analysis of Althusserian Marxism unfolds against this background: what is the relationship between the return to order and the enthusiasm which greeted the publication of Althusser's Reply to John Lewis in 1973? How to explain the rehabilitation of a philosophy that had been declared 'dead and buried on the barricades of May 68'? What had changed? The answer to this question takes the form of a genealogy of Althusserianism that is, simultaneously, an account of the emergence of militant student movements in the '60s, of the arrival of Maoism in France, and of how May 68 rearranged all the pieces anew. Encompassing the book's distinctive combination of theoretical analysis and historical description is a question that has guided Rancière's thought ever since: how do theories of subversion become the rationale for order?
Althusserianism a very speciﬁc status: that of ruse. The logic of Althusserianism implied a certain suspension of political judgement. In order to resolve political problems, one had to learn to raise them by giving oneself the autonomous time of theory. But, as Descartes had already taught long ago, it was also important not to remain indecisive in our actions while we pondered our judgements. In other words, we needed a provisional moral code [une morale par provision].28 We didn’t know if the
and particularly against the number one exploiter – spiritualist religious ideology. Partisanship in philosophy places itself from the start at the heart of a perennial combat, for science, and against religion. The intervention demanded of philosophy in 1968 is still the same that had led Lenin to take on Bogdanov in 1908: to ﬁght against the philosophical exploitation of ‘crises’ in the sciences. Philosophy becomes politics by repeating the atemporal gesture that pits materialism against
are proletarian, and which bourgeois. It is a discourse in which specialists of the class struggle defend their power. Philosophy’s power is that it can designate mistaken tendencies and deviations. This power to refer the fact to the tendency speculatively 109 ALTHUSSER’S LESSON reproduces the discursive practices of ‘proletarian’ power: the discourse of Stalinist prosecutors, who took objective contradictions as indexes for the evil tendencies of those in charge, who saw in incorrect words
of a universal against which Marxist intellectuals could pit their experiences and their culture. In 1970, Emmanuel Terray pit Marxist and Leninist theories not against ‘economism’ and ‘humanism’, but against the theses of the Gauche prolétarienne.11 Today, the splintering in the movements of revolt marks the end of the great political syntheses of leftist discourse. In 1969, it was still possible for leftists to encompass the anti-authoritarian uprising of France’s youth and the proletarian
function of the ideology of the dominated class be to keep the exploited ‘in their place’ in the system of class exploitation? What is deﬁned here as the function of ideology is, in fact, the function of the dominant ideology. To be able to think the general function of ideology, Althusser must posit the domination of one ideology as the domination of ideology. Now the die are cast: the general function of ideology will be said to work for the beneﬁt of class domination, and the task of