The French Review 70.5 (1997): 764-765.
Depositions: Althusser, Balibar, Macherey, and the Labor of Reading. Yale French Studies 88. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995. ISSN 0044-0078. Pp. 230. $17.00.
[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]
The essays assembled in -Depositions- contribute to and reflect
upon what the editor Jacques Lerza calls a "double labor
of defamiliarization and reinscription" that constitutes
a dual faceted
"labor of reading" (3). Such "labor," says Lerza, signals "practical filiations between the provisional analysis of contemporary conjunctures and the blindnesses of the Althusserian project with respect to its own" (3). Lezra states (perhaps warns) that these essays draw from a broad array of critical idioms and thus are "as technically and as rigorously -difficult- or -complex- as it was and remains, in Althusser's words, to be 'a Marxist in philosophy'" (3). As forms of "witnessing," these essays also treat the "overdetermination -- the permanent deposings -- of the position and languages" possible for contemporary reflection on and action toward changing hegemonies (4).
Judith Butler opens the volume with a careful consideration
of current critical evaluation of Althusser's celebrated concept,
"interpellation," a process of subject formation that
implies respect for the law as it does a subject's movement of conscience and appropriation of guilt. Thomas Pepper approaches the same topic in a more incantatory mode, considering the relation of this key term with others that occur in Althusser's work, e.g. "liturgy" and "materiality." Then, a contemporary of Althusser, Pierre Macherey, reflects on a "subjectivity without a subject" by examining the "case" of Raymond Roussel and the subsequent reworking of his enunciation by Michel Foucault in Raymond Roussel (Paris: Gallimard, 1963). The link between Althusser and Foucault is further developed by Warren Montag who establishes a revised juxtaposition of the former's "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus" (in Lenin and Philosophy [New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971]) and the latter's Discipline and Punish (Surveiller et Punir. Naissance de la prison [Paris: Gallimard, 1975]).
At the center of the collection, Jacques Lerza's substantial
"Spontaneous Labor" returns to the themes posed in his
introduction by reconsidering Althusser, Balibar, and Macherey's
Lire le Capital (Paris: François Maspero, 1968),
particularly the nature of their "double task of unfinishing
and of posing reflection" upon "Marxism as a system
of concepts" (78). Andrzej Warminski furthers the volume's
philosophical and political undertaking by studying the
Hegel/Marx relationship, judiciously drawing upon Althusser and other theorists to elaborate the complexity of the concept of "life." Etienne Balibar's contribution is a presentation (originally
to the doctoral jury that evaluated the body of his work) in which he succinctly reviews three themes: philosophical practice, the construction of the subject, and structural causality and historical materialism. Geraldine Freedman considers Althusser's practice of reading Marx, the lecture symptomnale, that seeks the latter's weak points in order better to take seriously Marx's language and concepts. Developing an explicitly polemical argument -- that "the reception of Louis Althusser's work has fetishized his theory of ideology and virtually overlooked, left unread, his theory and practice of reading" (83) --, Ellen Rooney seeks to rectify the elision of Althusser's rhetoric and politics of reading. Finally, Michael Sprinker follows the itinerary over thirty years of some prominent Althusserians (notably, Balibar and Macherey) as a way to suggest some of Althusser's legacies.
Clearly, this summary is barely adequate for assessing the
scope of the volume's project, of examining the diverse facets
of the "labor of reading," and the richness that each
author brings to it. Clearly, also, this volume is not for the
theoretically faint of heart, nor for those uninitiated or unengaged
in the specifically Marxist problematics with which each author
essay grapples. However, at a time both when Marxism is supposedly
"dead" and when "cultural studies" still holds
sway in many academic program, it is vital that research be undertaken
to allow us better to assess the important critiques and extensions
of Marxism and to understand more fully some of the often hidden
principles from which "cultural studies" are derived.
Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University