Thursday, November 30, 2006

New publication, Castoriadis in German

The recently released German collection of Castoriadis-texts, Autonomie oder Barbarei, edited by Harald Wolf, is relaunched by a radio station at this nice webpage.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The unresolved being of 'doing'

In the 1975 section of the IIS, Castoriadis set out to elaborate the being of 'doing' but it was gradually eclipsed by the being of 'signification'. Although 'doing' remained central to him throughout his trajectory, its elucidation remained fragmentary. Some interesting points of tension arise with this twofold aspect of social-historical modes of being and is evident in his writings on 'doing' and his later post 1990 thematic on the 'autonomy of art'. This tension was not, in my view, resolved in his thought. It is especially evident between the temporality of the doing of 'folk' art/cultural forms as non-commodified - or even 'authentic' - cultural creativity and Castoriadis' increasig insistence on the Kantian interpretation of art as the 'positing of new forms'.

I'd be very interested to hear your views on this.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On Political Depression

I am presently writing an article on the conditions for critical, creative thinking in the light of globalized economy. The concepts of Castoriadis on social imaginary significations, and of Arendt on thinking and creating a common world, are my guidelines. There are several ways in which economic globalization can be said to influence the conditions for thinking in general and political creativity in particular. Consumerism, economism, insecurity are obvious factors, but more important is probably the factors concerning meaning, perhaps a general loss of significance that the late Castoriadis spoke about, and the entailing apathy and depoliticization.

(A detour: Loss of significance must also be meaningful in some sense or another, following Castoriadis (1975) in that we only maintain practices insofar as they provide meaning for us. So can there be "insignificant meaning"? And what is significance; and for whom?)

I read the other day a great book by professor Anders Johansen from the University of Bergen, on how he'd been depressed without knowing it - politically depressed - as long as he was writing only for himself and for his career, without publishing. Yet he wasn't aware of his state of depression before he'd started to engage in political activities and publishing for a general audience. That's when he realized that he'd been "lonely as a citizen". From then on, Johansen never stopped writing for a general audience. He had become a public intellectual.
In writing this, I thought maybe "political depression" is a state characteristic of economic globalization? We, as consumers and workers, miss the political community - which of course, many of us never experienced, but still wish for; perhaps we read about it - but do not know it?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thesis Eleven on Claude Lefort

Thesis Eleven - journal for Critical Theory and Historical Sociology issue no. 87, november 2006, is titled "Thinking with Lefort - the political and the symbolic".
Claude Lefort was the other, central firgure of the tendence Chaulieu-Montal (Castoriadis + Lefort) in the French, trotskyite communist party PCI of the 4th International, and often presented as cofounder of Socialisme ou Barbarie. Actually, Lefort/Montal left the PCI before Castoriadis and the others, and did not take part in publishing the first issue of the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie (SouB) in 1949 (According to A. Ramsay in Res Publica no. 58, Stockholm 2003).

Through his position at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), he has excercised a strong influence on contemporary political thought in France and elsewhere. He is still connected to EHESS, at the Raymond Aron centre for political research

Why Autonomy?

Why autonomy? Answers given by Castoriadis are: Once you have discovered/created autonomy you want to have it; autonomy is the only defensible position (for people who know it) and so on. But is it perfectly clear that a little heteronomy cannot be good - for some people, who do not want it otherwise? Doesn't heteronomy make it easier to live "life as usual", and a peaceful one? Is it not a cross to bear, to be the one who puts everything into question all the time? Yes it is.

If the philosopher makes this into a moral norm, he is straining and overburdening the individual. Autonomy must be collectively instituted: but even so ...

One of Henrik Ibsen's characters once said that if you take the grand illusions from a person, you take away his whole joy for life. This is a paradox. But the question remains: why autonomy, or rather, what is really so bad about heteronomy?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Bureaucratic Society and Autonomy

Winter Symposium at Södertörn Högskola, Stockholm Sweden
March 23.-25. 2007

"I pulled the string of bureaucratization and I kept on pulling", Cornelius Castoriadis once summarized his intellectual development. From the beginning of his career as a radical political thinker in post-war France, the phenomenon of a new bureaucratic society arising in Eastern and Western Europe stood at the centre of his investigations. A large part of his writings was dedicated to the analysis of the one-party states of the Eastern bloc. The rise of a new class, with a particular interest in the bureaucratic rule of states, parties and enterprises appeared as a main obstacle for the project of individual and collective autonomy. Castoriadis never stopped theorising over the problems of bureaucracy and autonomy, throughout his political, philosophical and psychoanalytical writings. To him, autonomy meant to consciously create one's own institutions, something which could never be combined with bureaucracy, as this meant institutionalized inequality, i.e. heteronomy. The only political influence vis-à-vis the workers that could be justified for Castoriadis, was one that served to increase their consciousness and their ability to govern themselves.

Today, after the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the rise of what is known as global capitalism and global bureaucracies, we may ask whether Castoriadis analysis is still valid, or whether the project of autonomy faces new problems of a different kind. The problem of autonomy, its obstacles and possibilities needs to be scrutinised over and over again, from many different angles – political, sociological, philosophical, historical etc. Is the project of autonomy dead or doomed; or still viable in some form? What are its epistemological and metaphysical prerequisites?

We invite researchers, students, activists and others with an interest in these and connected problems to participate with papers, preferably in English, alternatively in a Scandinavian language, with summary and presentation in English. Registration: click here or mail to ingerids2 [a] . Participants with papers will be provided with lodging and travel costs according to the guidelines of the Nordic Summer University.