Introduction
WhY REAd AlThuSSER TOdAY?
The essays submitted to you had to take the position of recognizing
openly that struggle is at the heart of every philosophy.
lOuIS AlThuSSER,
“Is It Simple to Be a Marxist in Philosophy?”
To pose the question, “Why read Althusser today?” is to admit at the out-
set that his status as a philosopher remains unclear in a way that is not true
of his contemporaries and friends, Foucault and Derrida. And, indeed, de-
spite the persistent hostility to the latter in the Anglophone world, Althus-
ser alone could boast that more had been written against him than about
him by the end of the twentieth century: an impressive number of books in
various languages have the phrase “against Althusser” in the title.1 Whether
to denounce him as a Stalinist, a structuralist, or both, most of his critics,
despite their often incompatible theoretical and political positions, unwit-
tingly collaborated to produce an overwhelmingly negative judgment of
his work. Others, willing at least to grant Althusser a place in the history of
thought, chronicled the rise and fall of an “Althusserianism” confined to a
moment that has come and gone and outside of which it can have no signifi-
cance or effect.2 Perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that an impres-
sive range of public intellectuals and specialists even now feel compelled to
demonstrate that Althusser’s work is without life or meaning.
The fact that his death in 1990, followed very quickly by the publication
of his widely read autobiography, The Future Lasts Forever, brought Althus-
ser to the attention of a new generation guided by theoretical passions and
imperatives different in certain respects from that of the 1960s and 1970s
made the task of denouncing him appear all the more urgent. His autobiog-
raphy greatly facilitated this task even for those who possessed little famil-
iarity either with his texts or the philosophical works to which everything
Althusser wrote referred directly or indirectly. Following the line of least
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