Thursday, 17 September 2009

Conference: Encountering Althusser

Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, 9-11 October 2009

International Conference organised by Katja Diefenbach, Sara Farris, Gal Kirn and Peter Thomas

The work of Louis Althusser and his associates constituted an important attempt to rethink the political and philosophical potential of Marx’s thought, in tension with its ‘orthodox’ reading in Stalinism. In his work in the 1960s and 1970s, Althusser proposed to negate the metaphysical categories of subject, substance, telos, and end. He further explored these themes in the late 1970s and 1980s in terms of the event, the encounter and contingency. The late Althusser’s “materialism of the encounter” both provides many points of contact for a productive dialogue with thinkers associated with post-structuralism, while at the same time seeming to maintain a stronger connection to the Marxist tradition, particularly in terms of his continuing affirmation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. One of the purposes of this conference will be to attempt to gain an overview of the development of Althusser’s thought and to pose the question of its legacy for contemporary debates in radical political thought.

It is not only the legacy of Louis Althusser that will be of our interest here, however, but rather how to encounter and deal with the more unrecognised or suppressed points in his thought that remain enigmatic, and at the same time productive for further research in politics, economy, philosophy (and ideology). Many contemporary discussions ranging from Badiou and Zizek to Balibar, Laclau and Butler revolve around some topics that were traced or started by Louis Althusser, mainly on ideology, linking Althusser to Lacan or politics. In this conference, we would like to focus on some points that have not yet been discussed or have not yet been given the attention they deserve.

In the Althusserian spirit of philosophy working by attacking established positions on an occupied Kampfplatz, we outline four different fields of investigation to which panels will be dedicated: ruptures in philosophy, politics, political economy and politics and philosophy in the late Althusser. In each field, we intend to subject established interpretations of Althusser’s thought to critique and to attempt to determine productive areas for future research. Beyond such scholarly and philological debates, however, our guiding concern will be to pose the question of the extent to which an encounter with Althusser today has the potential to promote critical energies and perspectives that are capable of intervening effectively in the contemporary conjuncture.

Friday 9|10 Ruptures in philosophy: dis/continuities in Althusser's thought – Chair: Peter Thomas

16:00 – 16:15 Introduction
16:15 – 17:15 G. Michael Goshgarian | The early "late Althusser"


17:30 – 18:30 Caroline Williams | Althusser and Spinoza
18:30 – 19.30 Giorgos Fourtounis | The "absolute beginning" and its duration: the continuity of rupture in Althusser
19:30 Discussion

Saturday 10|10 The primacy of politics: singularity, dictatorship of proletariat, class struggle – Chair: Gal Kirn

10:00 – 10:15 Introduction
10:15 – 11:15 Rastko Močnik


11:30 – 12:30 Ozren Pupovac | At this side of interpellation: Althusser’s critique of the subject
12:30 – 13:30 Slobodan Karamanić | Three uses of topography: theory, politics, state


14:30 – 15:30 Mikko Lahtinen | Althusser, Machiavelli and us: from Marxist philosophy to materialist politics
15:30 – 16:00 Discussion


The critique of political economy and the legacy of Louis Althusser – Chair: Sara Farris

16:30 - 16:45 Introduction
16:45 – 17:45 Maria Turchetto
17:45 – 18:45 Marko Kržan | Should there be a Marxian perspective on contemporary capitalism


19:00 – 20:00 Frieder Otto Wolf | Dialectic and contingency in thinking reproduction: looking back at a line of Althusser’s theoretical initiatives
20:00 Discussion

Sunday 11|10 Politics and philosophy in the late Althusser: the philosophy of the encounter and aleatory materialism – Chair: Katja Diefenbach

10:00 – 10:15 Introduction
10:15 – 11.15 Vittorio Morfino | History as the "permanent revocation of the accomplished fact": on Machiavelli in the late Althusser.
11:15 – 12.15 Katja Kolšek | Some reflections on the conception of reading of Althusser's aleatory materialism


12:45 – 13:45 Panagiotis Sotiris | Rethinking aleatory materialism
13:45 - 14:45 Jason Read | Primitive accumulation: between contingency and constitution
14.45 - 15:15 Discussion