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Rancire's Lost Object

Warren Montag

Cultural Critique, Volume 83, Winter 2013, pp. 139-155 (Article)

Published by University of Minnesota Press

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BY JACQUES RANCIRE Continuum, 2011
Warren Montag

Althusser was troubled by Lacans assertion that a letter always arrives at its destination, an assertion that seemed to him to be based on the most classical notions of destiny and Wnality (1996, 9192). Althusser Wnally responded not by merely inverting the assertion to say that a letter never arrives at its destination, but rather with the qualiWcation that it may arrive that a letter does not arrive at its destination (92), as if the letter (and not simply an epistle but the typographical mark) were diverted by an originary swerve at odds with, to use the language of Lucretius, the decree of destiny and the logic of destination. Such a swerve or clinamen could not absolutely prevent the letter from reaching its destination but, in disrupting the straight line of its movement, rendered that reaching of its destination nothing more than one possible encounter among others. A lesson, like a letter, is delivered to someone, to a recipient or recipients (in French, a destinataire) in a speciWc time and place and, in written form, may like a letter be delayed, so delayed in fact that it misses the addressee. I refer here not to the lesson that Jacques Rancire attributes to Althusser but to his own lesson on that lesson. There is something strange about this text, now nearly forty years old, clearly intended for an audience other than that which will receive it, an audience that in an important sense no longer exists in that it was inseparable from a context that has long since vanished. Rancires lesson therefore risks not only being misread (which, after all, could mean being read in a new way), but proving in a fundamental sense illegible,
Cultural Critique 83Winter 2013Copyright 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota



a letter/lesson from an exchange to which its present recipients were not privy, as if it were sent to the wrong address: a dead letter. But the diversion of the letter from its proper destination, as Althusser invoking Derrida against Lacan without mentioning his name reminds us, is essential to the letter itself: it was already a dead letter not only because the audience to which it was addressed and the context that conferred such urgency on the task of criticizing Althusser from Rancires perspective were in full decomposition even in 1974, but also in the sense that, as a text, it contained its own deviation (in both the Lucretian and Leninist senses), a deviation from itself. It represents Rancire not as he would become, that is, as he is now in 2013 and has been for at least three decades, but a Rancire suspended in time between a Cultural Revolution Maoism clearly no longer sure of itself, or of its theoretico-political framework and reference points, on the one side, and a virulent anticommunism focused on the tyrannical pedagogy of Master Thinkers, on the other. To be sure, these tendencies did not easily coexist, and their antagonism confers on the text of Althussers Lesson the disorder proper to it. Rancire would over the next few years disentangle himself from this contradiction, Wnally rejecting both of its terms, but perhaps not without incurring a certain theoretical and political cost and certainly not without a struggle, which I would argue continues to be constitutive of his work as a whole, against the inXuence as powerful as it is insidious of Althusser. This does not mean that Rancires corpus possesses an underlying unity that its development would gradually reveal. On the contrary, the struggle against Althussers inXuence, and even the struggle to contain the urge to continue this struggle, marks nearly everything he has written since, whether or not the name Althusser appears. Far more than a proper name in Rancires texts, Althusser designates that phantom presence (or presences: is there a uniWed entity corresponding to the name?), against which otherwise obscure polemics are directed, but which also appears in formulations that are distinctly Althusserian, as if Althusser were turned against himself, beginning with Rancires declaration that he will read Althussers work according to its political effects. Rancire warns us at the outset not to read Althussers Lesson as a personal settling of scores, responding in part to the tendency in France to read this as a family, if not an oedipal, drama of rivalry and



the struggle for individuation, but also anticipating the Anglophone readers assumption that because he was once Althussers student and, if not exactly in his inner circle, close enough to have participated in the seminar the produced Reading Capital and to have contributed his presentation to the published version of 1965, his polemic is to a greater extent than those of Althussers other critics motivated by personal rather than philosophical and political factors, as if Rancire were unable to free himself from the need to denigrate and diminish publicly and at great length a once idealized paternal Wgure. To heed his warning, and I believe we should, is not easy, however, and not simply because of the circumstantial evidence to the contrary. The text itself imposes such a reading upon us, above all through the use at certain precise points of the Wrst person plural, the referent or referents of which are never speciWed: The Marxism we had learned at Althussers school was a philosophy of order whose every principle served to distance us from the uprisings that were then shaking the bourgeois order (Rancire 2011, xix). Although Rancire appears here to associate the we with a great many intellectuals of my generation (xix), the pronouns referent is constitutively unstable in the text as a whole, little more than a chain of displacements: from the membership of the Union des tudiants Communistes to its Maoist faction, the normaliens of the Cercle dUlm, the subset of the latter who broke away to form the Union des Jeunesses Communistes (marxistesleninistes) (UJC m-l) and Wnally to the subset of the subset who participated in Althussers seminars, who more or less directly worked with him and were thus more than anyone misled by him. The confusion arises not from a subjective lack of precision on Rancires part, but from a blurring of the internal conXicts that haunted each of these groups, a blurring necessary to the demonstration that the primary contradiction set Althusser against all the others, as if he were the personiWcation of the struggle of counterrevolution against revolution in a theater of the abstract that resembles precisely what Rancire condemns in Althussers Reply to John Lewis. The autobiographical reference also inescapably implied by the pronoun is essential to his argument: it gives his testimony an air of authenticity, as well as authority. Unlike many of those who are taken with Althusser, he himself was an eyewitness to, if not the victim of, the philosophy of order that Althusser with great cunning attempted to pass off as Marxist theory (and it may



be, Rancire has here begun to suspect, that Marxist theory itself is a philosophy of order) with such disastrous effects on the political practice of his students. But this very fact also raises some serious questions: the we to which Rancire refers, we who were duped, misled, and mistaken, never includes Althusser himself. His errors (if indeed they can be described as such) are his and his alone, separate from and inXicted upon us, an us whose primary error was not our own sectarianism or total misreading of the conjuncture, but to have listened to Althusser, to have been seduced and enchanted by him and therefore without any responsibility for the counterrevolutionary Althusserianism that he actively imposed upon us, his passive and docile students. Indeed, for Rancire error is not the right word to explain Althussers reversals and detours: it suggests that Althusser honestly misread not only certain philosophical texts, but aspects of the theoretical and political conjuncture, admitted that he had misread them, and accordingly changed his strategic and tactical orientation. Instead, because Althussers every principle served the preservation of the bourgeois order, it is more accurate to speak of the ruses and deceptions he made use of to defeat the revolutionary movement by means of a philosophy that was profoundly reactive in every sense of the word. The fact that some of Althussers other students did not imagine themselves to have been his dupes even when in retrospect they judged themselves to have been wrong in both practice and theory, and experienced their time with Althusser as a genuine sharing of ideas, and a collective taking of positions for which they were as responsible as he, a fact amply demonstrated in his correspondence, simply makes them in Rancires eyes his accomplices. In contrast, Rancire cannot see himself as part of a collectivity that included Althusser and whose errors, inevitable in the initial moments of the uprising of May 1968 (when, it should be noted, Rancire was twentyeight years old and thus presumably no longer an impressionable adolescent), were collectively shared. The attribution of every error to Althusser except that of listening to him is important not because it is a moral failing or a neurotic symptom, but because of its effects on Rancires entire trajectory. I said earlier that Althussers Lesson risks becoming or perhaps already is a dead letter, at least in one important sense: it is of interest



to Rancires readers, especially those who seek to understand how he lived his own theoretical itinerary, but those who work on Althusser and who thus are the current recipients of his lesson will have a great deal of trouble reconciling Rancires Althusser with the body of work (including his correspondence with students and friends) with which they are familiar. This doesnt mean of course that Althussers Lesson is uninteresting or even irrelevant, as if it were a period piece containing little beyond the remains of sectarian quarrels from long ago. Indeed, Rancire exhibits some awareness of this potential difWculty and warns the reader of today not to be surprised that the very theory for which Althusser is best known, indeed a theory expressed in his most widely read and cited text, Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses, plays no role (Rancire 2011, xiii) in Althussers Lesson despite the fact (which Rancire nowhere acknowledges) that his book appeared four years after the publication of the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) essay and Wve years after Althusser wrote the manuscript from which it was extracted and, as was his custom, circulated it among friends and colleagues. Assuming that it is in fact the case that the ISAs essay plays no role in his critique of Althusser (it does), a fairly serious problem arises: why would or should Rancires readers be interested in a theory of ideology that Althusser himself had already rejected and criticized in the mid-sixties (and isnt this fact signiWcant?) (Althusser 2003), rather than his most comprehensive and Wnal word on the subject? Similarly, Rancire reminds us that we should not expect to Wnd anything about the aleatory materialism of Althussers late texts in a book written in 1974 (2011, xiii). But does the concept, as opposed to the word (aleatory), belong exclusively to the late Althusser? We now know that he used the phrase theory of the encounter as early as 1966, as evidenced by a document widely circulated among his former students, including presumably Rancire himself (Althusser 2012). Even more importantly, doesnt the late Althusser cast a new light on the early and middle phases, identifying the aleatory element in an essay like Contradiction and Overdetermination (1962) and ultimately calling into question any strict periodization of Althussers work by making visible the underground current that runs through his entire oeuvre (Goshgarian; Ipola)? If Rancires Althusser seems so unfamiliar, even unrecognizable, it is not simply because he did not want to write a monograph



explaining a thinkers ideas (Rancire 2011, xiii) and could therefore excuse himself from the rigors of a comprehensive and precise reading of what Althusser actually said. Nor, to take issue with Rancires own explanation of his work, is it strictly speaking an examination of the political effects of Althussers texts from 1963 to 1968, skipping over the immensely inXuential ISAs essay and resuming with the now nearly forgotten Reply to John Lewis (1972). In fact, Rancires object is not Althusser at all, but Althusserianism, a collage of fragments of Althussers works, fragments presumably selected by the conjuncture, as Althusser had said of Marx in the overture to Reading Capital, on the basis of their political effects, together with the interpretations plausible, implausible, or frankly abusive that the conjuncture had attached to these fragments. In Althusserianism as assembled by Rancire, systematically overlooked and forgotten texts such as Student Problems (1964) are rescued from oblivion and given prominence as if the more familiar works, from For Marx to Reading Capital and the ISAs essay, concealed or obscured the meaning, perhaps the true meaning, of Althussers entire project these neglected texts offered.1 What then was the conjuncture in which Rancires version (which was far from the only one) of Althusserianism took shape and could assume the form of the absolute enemy, a philosophy of order and counterrevolution operating undercover, as if Althusser were a philosophical double agent? It was certainly not the time of a great Althusserian revival, although it was the time of a renewed and generalized assault on Althusser, more extensive and intensive than in the sixties, in which Rancire was but one participant. Althussers Lesson was not the only or even most widely cited book against Althusser published in French in 1974. Contre Althusser, a collection also arising from the far Left, although Trotskyist rather than Maoist, appeared the same year, containing essays by Daniel Bensaid, Michael Lwy, and Alain Brossat. A few years later and undoubtedly guided by somewhat, although not totally, different imperatives, E. P. Thompson published The Poverty of Theory, which in its own idiom, cultural as well as linguistic, converged on many essential points with Rancires critique of Althusser (Thompson acknowledges Althussers Lesson, which he offers no evidence of having read, only long enough to dismiss it as a Maoist freak-out).



What explains the attack on Althusser from all quarters at a time when his productivity appeared to be in decline, the time of his selfcriticism when he behind the scenes struggled to reorient himself, turning to the study of Machiavelli, Spinoza, Epicurus, and Lucretius? By 197374 the revolution for which 1968 was said to be the dress rehearsal no longer appeared imminent and the level and forms of agitation appropriate to a prerevolutionary situation could not be sustained. The new situation was particularly difWcult for groups like Rancires own organization, La Gauche Proltarienne (GP), whose entire identity and structure were predicated on the immediate proximity of revolutionary transformation, as expressed in a succession of tracts in its four short years of existence, from 1969s call to arms, Vers la guerre civile, to 1973s apocalyptic La nouvelle Jacquerie. As the balance of forces shifted toward capitalist order, so, absolutely predictably, shifted the balance of forces in theory and politics. The GP dissolved at the end of 1973, some of its members turning to the strategy of armed resistance (we are the new partisans), others seeking refuge in the larger organizations of the left, especially the Parti communiste franais, the PCF (these are the particular targets of Rancires wrath). In this precise context, Althusser, from Rancires perspective, using the prestige he still enjoyed, succeeded in attracting former revolutionaries to the PCF by paying lip service to the role of masses in history and with militant sounding slogans like philosophy is class struggle in theory, slogans that in fact served to divert attention from the workers struggle in the factories and to buttress the capitalist division of labor. At the same time, a signiWcant part of the former leadership of the GP had moved from a denunciation of the social fascism of the USSR to the view that it, rather than the imperialist powers, was the main adversary of global mass movements, one giant Gulag seeking to impose itself on the world. Increasingly, for this current, the communist parties such as the PCF, once accused of defending the order they claimed to oppose, became agents of Soviet totalitarianism and as such could be considered as, if not more, dangerous than the traditional parties of the Center and the Right. Althussers Lesson captures and embodies all the contradictory impulses of this moment: Rancire contends that the level of mass combativity had not declined at all but was intensifying. It was the Left, even the Maoist Left, that was in decline as history revealed its



inability to keep pace with the masses, insisting on seeing in new forms of struggle (Rancire cites the Lip factory occupation of 1973 and the farmers movement at Larzac) nothing but a repetition of the old. Cut off from the creativity of the masses, the Left was withering, or worse, petrifying, and in its petriWed state a functioning part of the established order, attracting and containing potentially oppositional forces. The antiauthoritarian and anticapitalist movements once thought to be indissolubly united were now in open conXict. The conjunctural shift that requires from any organization seeking to change things a reevaluation of strategy in order to pursue the struggle requires what Rancire calls with great disdain a science of the conjuncture, that is, in the simplest terms, an estimation of what is possible and impossible at a given moment, as well as what precise actions and points of application are necessary to shift the balance of forces in favor of the working class and its allies. Rancires disdain arises from the fact that such an analysis will inevitably be carried out by experts, designated as such by the division of labor and then delivered to the masses thereby reduced to passive consumers of specialists knowledge. The very notions of strategy and tactics (highly suspect terms for Rancire) allow intellectuals to condemn certain forms of struggle given the conjuncture as adventurist or even simply provocations likely to move the state to violent repression and thereby to demobilize the very masses they feel competent to lead. Rancire must remind his readers of Maos dictum that it is not the oppressors but the oppressed who are intelligent and the weapons of their liberation will emerge from their intelligence (2011, 14). If there is crisis, then, it is that of the intellectuals and their organizations, understood to be, and this is critical to Rancires subsequent development, external to the working class, their histories, differences, and debates largely irrelevant to the masses (the exception, but not for long, is Maoism). Such a position could only be defended with great difWculty and with ever-intensifying contradictions. In France above all, it was extremely difWcult to Wnd mass struggle without deep and longstanding connections to the Left (including above all the PCF) and to the trade unions. The Lip factory was a perfect example of this: the Parti Socialiste UniW (PSU) and the Confdration franaise dmocratique du travail (CFDT) played a leadership role (and its emphasis on selfmanagement decisively inXuenced the direction of the struggle), while



perhaps a dozen other Left organizations had members or sympathizers among the workers, including the Trotskyist Ligue communiste rvolutionaire (LCR) as well as the GP. For Rancire to acknowledge this would be not only to displace the Maoiststhat is, the GP from their place at the imaginary center of revolutionary struggle and to admit that there cannot be nor has there ever been such a struggle without a united front of tendencies that, irrespective of their differences, are objective and indispensable allies. It would also be to see in the masses not the pure subject of politics endowed with an intelligence and a will (as in the slogan the masses are always right), a pure subject fundamentally separate from those Rancire very imprecisely designates as intellectuals, but an irreducibly complex and conXicting unbounded and thus indeWnable whole, whose complexity never resolves into unity but is consubstantial with the diversity of the revolutionary movement itself. The unacknowledged loss of the former, the masses as pure subject without (need of) intellectuals, constitutes the veritable splitting of Rancires political theory: it is the lost object that was never found, the object always already lost, of Rancires discourse. At the time of Althussers Lesson the rejection of the constitutive heterogeneity and conXictuality of the masses (whose internal conXict could never be reduced to the simplicity of a twoline struggle, between genuine proletarians and capitalist roaders) not only led to a sectarian rejection of all other tendencies on the Left as counterrevolutionary, that is, extrinsic and opposed to the working class, but even more to a Xight forward in theory toward an everreceding and ever-evasive pure referent: from the masses to the poor to those who have no part. Thus, we can see even today the effects of the pursuit of this disavowed ideal object in Rancires denial that racism only comes from above and never from below, that is, a denial that the people can be the site of a struggle between absolutely immanent racist and antiracist tendencies at the same time not separable from the cold racism of the state, which may well seek support in popular racisms and even be preceded by them. This is today the meaning of his critique of Left critiques of populism. With this in mind, we can understand Rancires rather surprising defense of the category of the uniWed subject in Althussers Lesson and his insistence (which brings him very close to Thompsons critique of Althusser) that academic philosophy has for centuries been



occupied not with the invention and fortiWcation of the idea of the individual subject as center of initiatives that was thought to be from Descartes on one of its preoccupations, but instead concerned with attempting to do away with this very subject. And of all the philosophical assaults on the subject, Althussers is undoubtedly the most dangerous: to denounce the subject not simply as a bourgeois illusion but as a material reality interpellated or constituted through the processes of subjection from which the concept of subject can never be separated is quite simply to call into question the agency of the masses. Of course, Rancire would move quickly from some of these positions, but only after confronting their political effects, notably in his 1975 review of Glucksmanns La cuisinre et le mangeur dhomme (Rancire 1975), which might well be regarded as a critical reXection on the conjunctural effects of the orientation that produced Althussers Lesson. Today, there is perhaps no more devastating response to Rancires critique of Althussers arguments concerning humanism and the category of the subject than his own Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man? which very clearly lays out the political stakes of Althussers analysis, although, it goes without saying, without any mention of Althusser. The conjuncture thus exposed the fundamental aporia in Rancires thought, the point of heresy in Foucaults sense that will lead him in the name of the masses and their struggle to renounce Marxism, communism, and Wnally the very notion of revolution. Only when revolution is imminent, when objectively anything is possible (and thus only cowardice or dishonesty prevents its realization), when no strategy other than the will to revolution is necessary is a genuine antiauthoritarian politics in Rancires sense possible. When it is no longer possible to imagine that such a time has arrived or persists, revolution itself can only become the calculated objective of experts and philosophers who contemptuously point to the limitations of spontaneous revolt. To defend this absolutely idealized object that by deWnition remains unexamined and unknowable to social scientists, as well as philosophers, to keep the intellectuals always ready with their theories from claiming the right to represent or speak of and for the masses whose discourse they claim not to hear, it is no longer enough to insist that intellectuals have no other function than that of inhibiting the creative intelligence of the people whose production of knowledge



takes place only in the factories, Welds, villages, and neighborhoods. To break with the despotic Wgure of the intellectual/scientist (savant) whose oppression of the popular masses emerges in Rancires text as equivalent to that of the capitalist class, he must have done with Marxism and its philosophical legacy. In search of laboring masses without need of or perhaps more pertinently not (yet) contaminated by scientiWc doctrines dreamed up and imposed upon them by intellectuals such as Marx, Engels, and Lenin, Rancire will soon attempt to capture the working class in its purity before the philosophical deformation of 1848 and after, the forgotten truth that communism claims to represent but in fact conceals. But this process is not without its contradictions, particularly regarding the main enemy of this book. If the name Althusser serves Rancire as the personiWcation not simply of counterrevolution but of the division of labor and its defense, a rhetorical strategy that would appear to require a general denunciation of everything Althusser has done leads him to talk about the very text that he claims not to talk about, the ISAs essay. While Rancire uses select phrases from some of Althussers early texts to argue that for Althusser (who serves here as a stand-in for the entire Marxist tradition) that ideology is false consciousness, deception, or an illusion, a contemptuous dismissal of mass beliefs (Christianity is Rancires primary example, quite in contrast to the Cultural Revolutions campaign against the Four Olds) that can only be dispelled by a Marxist science wielded by experts alone capable of seeing the reality outside of the lived experience of the proletariat, his very hostility leads him with a symptomatic determination to hold up as a critique of this hegemonic view, precisely the notion of the ideological apparatus. Althusser is very clear about the theoretical and political signiWcance of this phrase: An ideology always exists in an apparatus and its practice or practices. This existence is material (2001, 112). If this is not clear enough, he will add: An individuals ideas are his material acts inserted in practices. And we will note that these practices are governed by the rituals in which these practices are inscribed (114). Althusser himself calls attention to the frequent repetition of the adjective material in this section of this essay, a repetition that is in a certain sense intrusive and disruptive, a rhetorical (and perhaps theoretical) infelicity that serves, like the blows of a hammer, to interrupt our thought and to prevent us from



assuming that the theory of ideology he presents here has anything to do with that with which we are familiar. If ideology only exists in the material form of the apparatus, then it cannot be dispelled, disproven, or refuted in the name of science or truth. Ideas would change only to the extent that the practices and rituals that constitute the ideological apparatus are disrupted and displaced by an equally material counterforce. Here mind, consciousness, and ideas disappear into a world of bodies and forces, a world of collectivities in which separated, interpellated individuals are nothing more than the effects of a strategy to break up and cellularize mass phenomena: power without the Prince, struggle without a strategist, strategy immanent in relations of force. But does not something common to nearly all previous theory of ideology survive this theoretical assault? Does not Althusser, as Rancire points out, use the term imaginary? Leaving aside the question of whether in the history of the concept of the imaginary (for example, in philosophers as opposed as Spinoza and Sartre) the term is synonymous with illusion or falsity, Althussers argument, again, is explicit: if ideology represents the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence . . . we will say that this imaginary relation is itself endowed with a material existence (2001, 111), that is, precisely an existence that prevents it from being dispelled by a truth produced and communicated by experts. In fact, if we take only what I have just cited, it is clear that intellectuals, philosophers, and so forth can think differently, even in a revolutionary way, only if and to the extent that struggle, mass struggle, changes the very consistency and order of these apparatuses. SigniWcantly, Rancire neither ignores nor denies the above; indeed, it is perhaps the one grudging acknowledgement of Althussers power and originality as anything other than a cunning deceiver. The concept of ideological apparatus has a strange status in Althussers otherwise consistent theory of ideology: it is one in which the bourgeoisies ideological domination was not the result of a social imaginary wherein individuals spontaneously reXected their conditions of existence, but instead the result of a system of material power relations reproduced by different apparatuses (Rancire 2011, 74). In the case of the school, Rancire argues, it is not a matter of ideological indoctrination, but of the concatenation of the forms of selection,



transmission, control and use of knowledges (74), a formulation that perhaps does not completely capture the practices and above all the rituals that characterize the material existence of the apparatuses. Above all, what is striking here is that Rancire nearly alone, or with few other companions besides Foucault, who similarly developed critical elements from the ISAs essay while denying that the essay contained these elements, has genuinely understood exactly what is at stake in Althussers introduction into Marxist theory of the notion of ideological apparatus. To avoid attributing any useful theoretico-political innovation to Althusser, however, a maneuver that the nature of the book demands, Rancire employs his own sleight of hand, but one whose consequences for the theoretical orientation of Althussers Lesson are serious indeed. The question of authorship arises, as it must for a work that ties a lesson, albeit a very long, complicated, and subtle lesson, to the individual, Louis Althusser. Who exactly is the author of Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses, if not of the text in its entirety, at least those parts that break with previously existing concepts of ideology? Rancire is very clear: it is not, nor could it have been, Althusser. It was instead, the mass movement of May 1968 expressing in a practical state that which the leftist critique of Althusser had started to systematize. Of course, one might be tempted at this point to remind Rancire that this is an absolutely Leninist formulation, not the Kautskyist Lenin of 1902s What Is to Be Done but the Lenin of the period between the February and October Revolutions of 1917 who had come to prize the power and knowledge immanent in proletarian self-organization. Far more relevant to the claims of Althussers Lesson, however, is the recognition, however denied and split off from the body of Rancires lesson, that there exists no abyss that separates texts as difWcult as those of Althusser from reality of mass action, which increases the power to think to the very same degree it increases the power to act, and which in its practice displaces the limit of the possible and with it the relation between the visible and the invisible, the thinkable and the unthinkable. In fact, the most creative moments of mass struggle are marked by a necessary convergence of philosophy and (mass) politics, not in the sense that philosophers capture or represent the class struggle in their texts, but that often against their will and in ways they dont ever completely understand,



the struggle outside explodes within philosophy in complex ways irreducible to any tidy notion of the bourgeois division of labor or even of a clear distinction between bourgeois and proletarian, dominant and dominated, or mass and elites. Deleuze like Althusser (and the former fares as poorly in Rancires text as the latter) recognized this in the work of that most difWcult of philosophers, Spinoza. Far from Althussers notion of ideological apparatuses marking a rupture with the notion of class struggle in theory (Rancire 2011, 74), it instead confronts us with the mutual immanence of theory and practice in the materiality of the apparatuses, the site and stake of class struggle. Rancire, however, can only contemplate this displacement of limits in struggle, this calling into question of that form of property called authorship (whose penal and punitive character Foucault had already indicated in his 1969 essay, What Is an Author) negatively. The theoretical lesson of the ISAs essay is not Althussers, but belongs to the mass movement of May 68 (Rancire 2011, 78) (note Rancires use of the singular, otherwise rare in this text, as if to confer upon the mass movement the character of an individual, one capable of being the proprietor of what it possesses). Rancire charges Althusser with nothing less than theoretical theft and fraud as if, by speaking in the Wrst person (I believe that I am justiWed) (74), he has appropriated (or expropriated) what was in fact created by the mass movement (a theory or even a problematic), which as a collective individual remains its rightful owner: a capitalist in philosophy. Althussers well-known fascination with what he called the theoretical solitude of Marx and Freud, as well as Machiavelli and Spinoza, becomes nothing more than a projection of his own status as the absolute subject of his discourse, a status only based on the denial of the claims of others. Is this the theoretical consequence of Rancires reassertion of the subject (often understood as proprietorif only of itself)? Perhaps, but more important at least from a political point of view is his insistence on separating the masses from the intellectuals not only to distinguish what is proper to and the property of each, but to retain the very scheme of a division of labor at precisely the moment it, in the roles and functions it assigns, has been called into question. Rancire concludes his discussion of this strange text, which in its presence/absence haunts Althussers Lesson from beginning to end,



with the striking charge that for Althusser, May 68 did not exist. Instead of recognizing in the May events the opening of an irreversible crisis, a shattering of the modes of coercion and constraint that impelled the masses into action, leaving the Left scrambling to adapt to unforeseen forms of struggle and revolt, Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses, written less than a year later, seemed rather to project for itself the task of explaining the failure of May. For Althusser, the rather rapid reconsolidation of order could not be explained only by the betrayal or cowardice of the PCF, the sectarian errors of the far Left, or the chaotic eclecticism of the broader movement. Indeed, the importance of May for political practice was not that it had ushered in the end times of capitalism, but that with every offensive it had revealed, that is, made visible and knowable, the defenses or fortiWcations of the capitalist order that only an assault of such magnitude could draw out into the open to become objects of theoretical and practical intervention. It was precisely the May revolt and its aftermath the compelled both Althusser and Foucault to develop new concepts of ideology and power absolutely irreducible to their prior meaning and function in order to account for the durability of subjection even in the face of a revolutionary offense waged by millions. Theirs was the sobering discovery of the necessary rarity of a great transformation that could only arise from the immense accumulation of contradictions that Althusser called overdetermination in his early but prescient critique of history as the anticipation of a communist destiny that would require only the Wdelity to the event to hasten its arrival. For Rancire in 1974, the power of the ISAs essay could only be read as the inversion of Maos slogan: it is wrong to rebel, not because to do so would be unjust, but because rebellion could never succeed in overturning the world of subjection whose outline Althusser had sketched. But, for Rancire, the conviction of revolutions inevitability (the basis of the simultaneous attraction and repulsion that the ISAs essay produced in him) would soon become the conviction of its impossibility in a double sense: it is not possible to overturn the existing order of subjection, and to appear to do so is merely another of its ruses. Althusser, for whose prudence Rancire had so little patience, never really accepted the Wrst and accordingly was never constrained to embrace the second. The notion of the encounter was drawing him far away from such certitudes.



There remains one Wnal, perhaps unavoidable, question: why would Rancire republish this book, which appeared this year not only in English translation but also in French? Its understandable that he would want to call attention to his critique of Althusser given the latters continuing importance, but is the critique contained in Althussers Lesson the same critique that Rancire would offer today, that is, on the same grounds and invoking the same assumptions? It would seem that a new critique would be in order, a new critique of Althusser on different grounds that would of necessity contain a critique of Rancires own earlier critique or at least of those elements he has since rejected. Instead, we are confronted with a strange gesture by which Rancire in republishing his Wrst book distances himself not only from Althusser but from his own history, into which he introduces a break. I propose another, perhaps perverse or deviant, hypothesis, a hypothesis concerning Rancires deviation: is it not possible to see in the republication of Althussers Lesson precisely Rancires homage to Althusser, an attempt by means of criticism and even devaluation to hold on to something that was slipping away even as he wrote, precisely that time of struggle with its victories and its defeats, that brief time when perhaps it was possible after all, as it sometimes is, to transform the world, a time when Althusser gestured toward a threshold through which he himself could not pass and which too soon disappeared into the solid wall that stands before us now, a time whose very conXicts, as violent as they may have been, can only now be recalled with exhilaration, as if they were explosions that illuminated all that now so often appears buried in impenetrable darkness. Sometimes a letter does reach its destination. Warren Montag is professor of English and comparative literature at Occidental College in Los Angeles. His most recent book, Althusser and His Contemporaries: Philosophys Perpetual War, will be published in 2013. He is also editor of Dcalages: A Journal of Althusser Studies.

1. I have discussed the context of Student Problems and Rancires insistence on its importance in understanding Althussers work as a whole in Montag.



Works Cited
Althusser, Louis. 1996. The Discovery of Dr. Freud. Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: Columbia University Press. . 2001. Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, 12786. Trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review Press. . 2003 Three Notes towards a Theory of Discourse. The Humanist Controversy and Other Essays, 3384. Trans. G. M. Goshgarian. Verso: London. (Orig. pub. 1966.) . 2012. On Genesis. Trans. Jason E. Smith. Dcalages 1, no. 2: article 11. http:/ /scholar.oxy.edu/decalages/vol1/iss2/11/. Goshgarian, G. M. 2006. Translators Introduction. Louis Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 197887, xiiixlix. Verso: London. Ipola, Emilio de. 2002. Althusser: El inWnito adios. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI. Montag, Warren. 2011. Introduction to Student Problems. Radical Philosophy 176 (NovemberDecember): 810. Rancire, Jacques. 1975. La bergre au goulag. Les Revoltes Logiques 1 (Winter): 96111. . 2011. Althussers Lesson. Trans. Emiliano Battista. London: Continuum. Thompson, E. P. 1979. The Poverty of Theory: An Orrery of Errors. New York: Monthly Review Press.