Sunday, December 14, 2008

Castoriadis and Derrida

I have been invited to write a chapter on Castoriadis and the imaginary for an anthology on postmodern thinking in pedagogy. This is of course a challenge, but an interesting one. First of all, I do not want to miss an opportunity to present Castoriadis' thought in my own part of the world (Norway), but more substantially, it is interesting to investigate in what sense he worked on the same issues as his postmodern contemporaries, though his approach and "answers" were quite different.

Right now I would like some advice on the following: Castoriadis taught at École des Hauted Études en Sciences Sociales from 1981 (starting there in 1980). Was Derrida already teaching there at that time? Did they acknowledge each other at all? In my view, they were concerned with many of the same questions, such as the relationship between language and meaning, ontology and more. If anyone wants to share some reflections on the (non-)relationship between the two, it would be most interesting.

Thanks!

Ingerid S.

13 Comments:

At 5:15 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Hello Ingerid. I agree that Castoriadis deals with many of the issues that Derrida was concerned with, but in a very different way. My path to Castoriadis happens to have been via Derrida, and Castoriadis was the person I found who best answered the question Derrida raised but failed to adequately answer himself. I think Derrida's logocentrism and Castoriadis' ensidic logic-ontology are essentially the same thing.
I don't know about personal interaction between the two. I believe Castoraids mentions Derrida positively once in a footnote (I am not sure where it is), but talks disparagingly about postmodernism frequently. If you are interested in biographical details, you might wish to contact Vrasidas Karalis of the University of Sydney, who is writing a comprehensive intellectual biography of Castoriadis. You can contact him via his facebook account.
Good luck.

 
At 2:04 AM, Anonymous Boudzi said...

Bonjour, je me permets de répondre en français, mon anglais étant assez pitoyable. La note qui fait référence à Derrida se trouve dans l'Institution imaginaire de la société, partie II (« L'imaginaire social et l'institution »), dans le chapitre intitulé « L'institution philosophique du temps ». C'est la note numéro 25, dans l'édition de poche de 1999 que je possède.

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Merci Boudzi. I found the reference you mention at Note 31 in the 1987 English translation (I am not sure which text Ingerid has). It recommends Derrida's "rigorous text 'Ousia and gramme' in 'Margins of Philosophy'", but does not comment on it at all. That is very little to go on, almost nothing, but there it is.

 
At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

Dear Jeff and Boudzi,
Thank you so much for your comments, and sorry that I was so slow in acknowledging them. I must have been busy.

Also, Johann P. Arnason pointed out to me that there are parallels between Derrida's critique of the metaphysics of presence and Castoriadis critique of the ontology of determinism.

I was very surprised when I looked at the catalogue of studies offered at the EHESS in the years Castoriadis worked there, because their courses apperared just next to each other (ordered alphabetically by the professors' names). Very, very interesting courses, right next to each other, on more or less parallel subjects/topics but virtually no contact between them, it seems.

Thanks again!

 
At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S said...

I found the footnote in ISS. It's in the article now. Thank you both!

 
At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Olivier said...

The links between Castoriadis and Derrida thoughts is a difficult issue that can’t be solved in the frame of a blog. We just can make here some suggestions.
As a matter of interest, the seminar of Derrida followed during several years the Castoriadis one in the same amphitheater of the EHESS. There was much more people attending the first one that the latter… I remembered that in a special issue of the “Magazine littéraire” devoted to Derrida, there was a photography of Derrida sitting at the desk of the amphitheater and we could see on the blackboard the words of my friend Nicos which invited us to meet after the seminar to have discussion about it!

It is obvious that the sources of inspiration of the both philosophers are not the same. Derrida was under guidance of the phenomenology stream. He made critics of the husserlian phenomenology in Heidegger’s wake (general critic of occidental metaphysics as metaphysics of presence). In spite of the fact that Castoriadis held Merleau-Ponty in esteem and his long commentaries of Heidegger in some seminars, I think that the phenomenology was never decisive in the making of his own philosophy.

The work of Derrida is principally critical. His project, as he calls it, is “deconstruction” and Castoriadis made fun of it, saying that this word was an euphemism and that we have to call it like Heidegger doesn’t hesitate to do it: destruction (“Destruktion” in german). The major idea of Derrida is maybe that, as he writes it: “la chose meme se dérobe toujours” (La Voix et le phénomène). Thus, Derrida devoted itself to demonstrate that all the classical distinctions of philosophy aren’t valid because they largely overlap each other, to say it rapidly.

When Castoriadis addresses critics to the whole philosophical tradition (“la pensée héritée” as he calls it), his goal is completely different from Derrida’s. If the things and the thoughts aren’t reducible to the rational and determinist way of thinking, if imaginary is inextricably intertwined with rationality in social significations, Castoriadis thought has never took the skeptical appearance that the writings of Derrida deeply manifest. The limits of rationality as Castoriadis conceives them are the condition for creating new determinations. There is nothing of a sort in Derrida.

I was astonished when my friend Mats associated Castoriadis with postmodernist thought. The book of François Cusset, French theory, which is the reference in France about the main stream of the philosophical French thought (Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, etc.) and its influence on American intellectuals, doesn’t even once quote Castoriadis. We have to remember that Castoriadis upheld the much disparaged essay of Ferry and Renaut, La Pensée 68, which presented a harsh critic of all these authors.
All these remarks have to be deepened…

Olivier
Paris, Sainte-Geneviève Mountain

 
At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Olivier said...

The links between Castoriadis and Derrida thoughts is a difficult issue that can’t be solved in the frame of a blog. We just can make here some suggestions.
As a matter of interest, the seminar of Derrida followed during several years the Castoriadis one in the same amphitheater of the EHESS. There was much more people attending the first one that the latter… I remembered that in a special issue of the “Magazine littéraire” devoted to Derrida, there was a photography of Derrida sitting at the desk of the amphitheater and we could see on the blackboard the words of my friend Nicos which invited us to meet after the seminar for discussion about it!

It is obvious that the sources of inspiration of the two philosophers are not the same. Derrida was under guidance of the phenomenology stream. He made critique of the husserlian phenomenology in Heidegger’s wake (general critique of occidental metaphysics as metaphysics of presence). In spite of the fact that Castoriadis held Merleau-Ponty in esteem and his long commentaries of Heidegger in some seminars, I think that the phenomenology was never decisive in the making of his own philosophy.

The work of Derrida is principally critical. His project, as he calls it, is “deconstruction” and Castoriadis made fun of it, saying that this word was an euphemism and that we have to call it like Heidegger doesn’t hesitate to do it: destruction (“Destruktion” in german). The major idea of Derrida is maybe that, as he writes it: “la chose meme se dérobe toujours” (La Voix et le phénomène). Thus, Derrida devoted himself to demonstrate that all the classical distinctions of philosophy aren’t valid because they largely overlap each other, to say it rapidly.

When Castoriadis adresses critique to the whole philosophical tradition (“la pensée héritée” as he calls it), his goal is completely different from Derrida’s. If the things and the thoughts aren’t reducible to the rational and determinist way of thinking, if imaginary is inextricably intertwined with rationality in social significations, Castoriadis thought has never took the skeptical appearance that the writings of Derrida deeply manifest. The limits of rationality as Castoriadis conceives them are the condition for creating new determinations. There is nothing of the sort in Derrida.

I was astonished when my friend Mats associated Castoriadis with the postmodernism thought. The book of François Cusset, French theory, which is the reference in France about the main stream of the philosophical French thought (Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, etc.) and its influence on American intellectuals, doesn’t even once quote Castoriadis. We have to remember that Castoriadis upheld the much disparaged essay of Ferry and Renaut, La Pensée 68, which presented a harsh critic of all these authors.
All these remarks have to be deepened…

Olivier
Paris, Sainte-Geneviève Mountain

 
At 12:12 PM, Blogger NSU Network Group 8 said...

Thank you, Olivier, for very good comments. I especially like the way you contrast Derrida's critique or destruction with Castoriadis's opening towards creating new significations. Is it right to assume that you would not call Castoriadis' project "critical", in a strictly philosophical sense?

Johann Pàll Arnason sometimes calls Castoriadis a post-phenomenological thinker. He has also, in a comment to this discussion, called both Derrida and Castoriadis post-heideggerian thinkers. As I understand it, you would probably not agree to this categorization? I have found the term post-phenomenology useful and enlightening (although I am not sure what the "post" signifies excactly)in the sense that Castoriadis elucidates what it means to be a human being; he is concerned with (the conditions of) our being in the world, as active - creative - subjects. The concept of "imaginary significations" contributes to this understanding, in my view. I wonder if there is any specific reason that you would not concede to this term, Olivier. Do you think it is wrong/misleading, or is your point mainly that Castoriadis was not very preoccupied with phenomenological sources?

I know this is a lot to answer in such a small frame ... but a few words would be great.

Ingerid

 
At 12:16 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Thank you Oliver. What you have to say is very interesting. It seems you have some personal experience of being a student of Castoriadis?

I largely agree with your assessment. It is true, I think, that there are points of similarity between Derrida's critique of the metaphysics of presence and logocentrism and Castoriadis' critique of ensemblist-identitarian logic-ontology. But as you rightly say, where Derrida is a criticial thinker and content to remain within the bounds of critique, Castoriadis goes much further in responding to the shortcomings of the inherited logic-ontology. For me, this is what makes Castoriadis a more interesting, fruitful and ultimately profound thinker than Derrida.

On phenomenology, I am sure you are right that Derrida was more influenced by it than Castoriadis, but recently some of us have been suggesting that Castoriadis' thought has more in common with Heidegger and others in that tradition than Castoriadis was happy to acknowledge. The suggestion is met by stern opposition from those who are content to rest on Castoriadis' own assessment of his ideas.

 
At 11:18 PM, Anonymous olivier said...

Hi Ingerid and Jeff!

You will find some answers below.

I know only two technical senses of the word “critical” in philosophy. The first one refers to the Kantian philosophy which offers the first criticism of metaphysics. The second takes us back to the young leftist Hegelians. Thus, Feuerbach made a critic of religion, and, later, Marx made a critic of Law and above all a critic of political economy. The “critical theory” of the Frankfurt School falls within the Marxist framework with a few changes.
In consequence, when I spoke of the critical character of the Derrida’s philosophy, I have used the term as a commonsense notion, as Michael Walzer did it in his book "The company of critics". I didn’t intend to characterize here the kind of critic that Derrida is practicing. It also is obvious that, in a very general sense, Castoriadis thought is critical, critical of our societies and critical of our modes of thought and theorizing.

Maybe, as says Jeff, Castoriadis is much indebted to some currents of thought than he is ready to acknowledge. I don’t want to defend something like “castoriadist” orthodoxy! In the contrary, I think that comparisons and even confrontations with very different authors, by example authors coming from other horizons and to which he didn’t recognize any value, are fruitful.


Castoriadis sets out the traditional question of relation between our mind and reality in terms of significations. Nevertheless, it isn’t enough to put together his philosophy with phenomenology. There is a general linguistic turn in the twentieth century philosophy not only in United Kingdom and United States with the flourishing of analytical philosophy but also in the phenomenology. Both currents have in common the concept of intentionality and after the hermeneutical turn that Heidegger gave to the phenomenology, the intricacy of language and thought on one hand, of language and reality or praxis on the other hand had become the main issue of contemporary philosophy.

To my opinion – these are hypotheses -, the source of Castoriadis theory of signification and meaning have to be searched in other directions,in particular in the neo-Kantian thought, through the agency of Max Weber to whom he devoted his first published book (in Greece and in Greek language). As you know, Weber developed a conception of sociology as a science of understanding and explaining action through its other-orientated meaning.

Psychoanalysis also has likely played an important role for him as a science of interpretation of the sense of dreams(Traumdeutung).

This concerns the genealogy of his ideas. However, it would be very interesting to compare his theory of social imaginary significations with the way that the phenomenologist thinkers conceived sense. It seems to me that in the husserlian conception, signs and significations are subordinated to the intuition of pure phenomena. It is right that the issue of sense becomes central when Heidegger introduced the idea of an hermeneutical circle in his approach of the question of sense of Being. That would be worth to analyze with scrutiny.

Nevertheless, something is striking me: there is no trace of social and political affairs in the main works of Husserl, Heidegger and even Merleau-Ponty who treats politics in separate books. Doesn’t this make a big difference?

PS for Jeff: Yes, I attended Castoriadis seminaries during a lot of time, more than ten years and I wrote a dissertation under his supervision.

 
At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S., said...

Dear Olivier,

Thank you so much. I am not a philosopher, but still tempted to make some philosophically orientated, but brief, comments. Fistly, I do not understand your points related to the two kinds of philosopphical critique, but of course I agree that Castoriadis is critical in a general, commonsense way. The points about phenomenology are more interesting. If I understand you right, Olivier, you are saying that phenonomenology has, like analaytical philosophy, put language as the prime "phenomenenon" to be studied. If so, I agree that Castoriadis' thought does not fit well in the picture. But then you reintroduce the concept of imaginary signicfications which to me is phenomenology in the deepest sense. That is, meaning. For how can we understand the experience, subjectivity and life world of human beings, except through significations and meaning, following Castoriadis?
Very simply put.

 
At 11:14 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Hello Ingerid and Oliver.
My understanding of what could be called the phenomenological side of Castoriadis' work is that it revolves around his exploration of the for-itself, hence of subjectivity in general (that is, not only in its human form). So Castoriadis explores the self-creation of the for-itself, its creation of its own representational world, hence of meaning in the broadest possible sense, from the most rudimentary form of meaning up to the most complex and sophisticated in the form of the human psyche, the social-historical and the autonomous human subject. The difference between Castoriadis' approach to this topic and the phenomenological approach is that, although Castoriadis acknowledges that the interior perspective is essential to an understanding of the self or subject, he does not perform the epoche or bracketing that is traditional for phenomenologists; so, he does not bracket out a consideration of the external world in order to concentrate only on the experience of subjectivity itself.

I hope this helps,
Jeff

 
At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

Very well put, Jeff. I agree with this interpretation.

 

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