[OPE-L] Althusser

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Feb 09 2007 - 13:32:19 EST

Hi Jerry,

You wrote:

One certainly can't deduce anything about his theory or praxis from that
action.   It's by no means unheard of for someone's mental health to
deteriorate.  Nor does the cause of that deterioration have to be a tendency
already latent in an earlier stage: e.g. changes in brain chemistry can
dramatically alter individual perceptions and behavior.

Of course you are right about that. For example, Max Weber had a nervous
breakdown etc. What I said was not intended as an ad hominem argument,
though obviously there must be some connection at least between his
theorising and his personal life, as he reveals in his biography and so
forth. There's many kinds of Marxisms, and, as Jim Devine noted once,
Marxists are no better or worse people than anybody else. But personally I
don't care much for Althusser's Marxism, I don't think it has very much to
do with Marx, nor that it is very original or profound. The only creditable
"Althusserian" works in English I can think of just now are Perry Anderson's
Passages and Lineages. Althusser himself did very little empirical research,
if any, as far as I know. He was more a student of the "history of ideas". I
think E.P. Thompson's reply to Althusser ("The Poverty of Theory") was quite
good. Perry Anderson promoted Althusser in England as a sort of antidote to
narrowminded empiricism. But instead, what you got was mostly a rarified

Sebastian Timpenaro pointed out in his book "On Materialism" how, in Western
intellectual culture, academics often tried to incorporate the latest fads
of the elite into Marxian theory, with the effect however that before you
know it Marxian theory was incorporated into the theories of the elites. Do
you know what the annual budget of Harvard is? According to a Dutch writer,
it is around 2.5 billion dollars, more than all the budgets of English
universities put together. It had assets worth 25.5 billion dollars at
fiscal 2005. Yale at that time had more than 15 billion dollars, Princeton
11.2 billion, Columbia 5.2 billion. The poorest Ivy League university
(Brown) has 1.8 billion dollars in assets. Princeton has about 1.7 million
dollars for every student (source: "Harvard in Holland", in FEM Business, 18
November 2006, p. 30 - the author argues that if we pumped more money into
Dutch universities, we'd get better universities servicing the "knowledge

Anyway, with such a comfortable material base, one can "philosophise" at
leisure about works by Althusser, Braudillard, Lacan, Heidegger, Zizek,
Fouceault and what not. But that says nothing necessarily yet about the
quality of Marxian scholarship that comes out of it. It could be just
postmodernist frivolity. On a lecture tour, Isaac Deutscher once expressed
amazement at the paradox that American universities were so richly endowed
with resources, yet in an overall sense did not produce the high standard of
social science that you might expect from them, given those bountiful
resources. But - this is maybe a crass "structuralist" point of view of
mine - you could argue that people have to put their mouth where the money
is. Well, actually, most of the genuine American Marxian scholars I know
don't even make a lot of money. But you could argue that's because they
don't want to put their mouth where the money happens to be. I guess the
great change wrought by the Internet is, that there's less control possible
over the spreading of ideas... not yet anyway. Over time, the dollar value
of expressing, communicating or accessing an idea is becoming more and more

I have some personal stuff to do, and will probably not write for OPE-L for
a while - I wish you all the best meantime though.



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