Monday, April 06, 2009

Castoriadis, Foucault, Deleuze and Others?

I have been invited to be a respondent to a paper that is to be presented at Congress in Ottawa, Canada. The session titled Foucault and the Sciences of the Soul. One of the papers is a comparison of Foucault and Castoriadis [2]. Although I'm hardly an expert on either Castoriadis or Foucault I have a much better grasp on the former and no clear idea how the two might relate.

However, I have been thinking about Castoriadis as a figure of 'contemporary French philosophy.' Generally, that term is meant to include Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Lyotard.... As more people become aware of Castoriadis's work his name seems to be appearing in the lists of such figures, often improperly identified as a postmodernist or a poststructuralist. Do the readers of this blog believe that there is much, if any, common ground between Castoriadis and these theorists or others of the era? If so, who, which concepts or ideas, and why? Further, why were Castoriadis's few mentions of his contemporaries largely dismissive?[1]

My limited familiarity with Deleuze makes me believe that there are many conceptual crossovers with Castoriadis. Given that both Deleuze and Castoriadis moved at the fringes of the Lacanian movement and ultimately rejected Lacan would seem to be one important commonality. I recently asked David Curtis why Castoriadis never made reference to Deleuze, when it seemed he must be familiar with him. Curtis directed me to a footnote in the book On Plato's 'Statesman'. The footnote accompanies a remark in the translator's afterword (written by Curtis) about what was to become of Castoriadis's unpublished writings. Castoriadis said they were not to be published as he didn't want his unfinished works to become someone else's fashionable book. The footnote reads:

The name he cited, seemingly out of the blue, was Gilles Deleuze's. Only later did I form the hypothesis that Castoriadis may have felt that Deleuze/Guattari's book on capitalism and schizophrenia may have taken over, without attribution or the same depth of revolutionary purpose, his own ideas on the contradictory nature of capitalism, which simultaneously excludes worker's participation and solicits it.

I asked Curtis if he is familiar with Deleuze's work and if he thought this to be a fair belief on Castoriadis's part, if indeed it was his belief, given that this is a supposition by Curtis, and he notes he never followed up on Castoriadis's remark. Curtis provided another couple anecdotes that seemed to demonstrate that Castoriadis had little regard for Deleuze or Guattari.

Reading 'Movement of the Sixties,' I cannot help but notice the absence of Deleuze and Guattari from Castoriadis's assessment of how off-base more post-68 theorising about the month long uprising is. If there were any two thinkers who may have carried the mantle Pensée '68, it would seem to be them with their best-selling Anti-Oedipus, although they certainly weren't claiming that '68 somehow represented an individualist turn, which is the position that Castoriadis challenges in the article. I cannot help but think that one of the few thinkers acknowledged as having influenced the actions of '68 - although not under his own name, as he wasn't a citizen at the time - wouldn't be bitter that others would, after the fact, see their theories rise the charts, in part on an attempt to understand the event. I wouldn't blame Castoriadis if he were, but at the same time, I'm not prepared to psychoanalyse him.

If a suspicious attitude toward his contemporaries was one of Castoriadis's 'oedipuses,' then it's up to us to surpass them and determine if there are those among this group that may usefully inform Castoriadis and the project of autonomy, or who would be especially dismantled by having his concepts and analysis brought to bear on their theories. I'd like to hear the thoughts of others on this issue. I'm including the abstract for the paper I'm to respond to below (see [2]).


[1] Many of my friends make great use of Foucault, so I took much notice of the few times Castoriadis makes mention of him. He clearly did not think highly of the man. In 'State of the Subject Today' he lots him in with the structuralists, whom he takes apart (WIF, p. 144). In 'Movement of the Sixties,' he takes an unsubstantiated swipe at him: "Foucault did not hide his reactionary positions until 1968, although he spoke less, it is true, of the way in which he put them into practice during a students' strike in 1965 at Clermont-Ferrand" (WIP, p. 51). In 'The Retreat from Autonomy' Foucault feels the full weight of Castoriadis's derision for his claim that from Kant onward, philosophers makes no longitudinal value judgment, but merely thinks in "sagittal relation to their own actuality" (quoted in WIP, p. 34). As it is this exact notion of philosophy that Castoriadis is refuting in this essay, he clearly regards Foucault as an intellectual 'enemy.'

[2] This is the abstract for the paper. If you have any comments or things you think I should consider in my response, please email me at dtc[at]
“Foucault with Castoriadis: transformative processes from ‘psyche’ to‘subjectivity’”

The paper will focus on Foucault’s analyses of processes of subjectivization and self-subjectivization, and will link these to Castoriadis’s analyses of the “social imaginary” and its relation to “psyche” (as the representative, affective, and intentional fluxes), “individuality,” and “subjectivity.”

Relying particularly on L’Herméneutique du Sujet and Le Courage de la Vérité: le Gouvernment de Soi et des Autres II, the paper will study Michel Foucault’s late focus on bios as a process of living constitutive of an indeterminate and constantly changing “self” subjectivized through discursive and non-discursive social practices—where the transcription of power relations reflects various forms of governmentality and different relations and effects—as well as through processes of self-subjectivization, such as those associated with parrhesia.

The possibility of an indeterminate “self” has been elaborated in similar ways by Cornelius Castoriadis, particularly in L’Institution Imaginaire de La Société and Sujet et Vérité Dans le Monde Social-Hisotrique. Castoriadis relies not on the “social imaginary,” but on (the ensidic representations of) legein (social saying or representing) and teukhein (social doing or practicing) to socialize, acculturate, and subjectivize “psyche”—from “radical imaginary” to “individual” then “subject.”

Both philosophers highlight a social and political ontology relying on multiplicity, becoming, and indeterminacy, and while they have different analyses, they both highlight something inherently irreducible in their ontology of (self-)transformation—where fluxes or processes constantly interact with contingencies becoming necessity. Their contribution to the “Sciences of the Soul” is first and foremost methodological: the methods, as well as the objects of study, of these sciences need to be able to account for processes in their singularity and multifarious forces and to study indeterminate sites of transformation.


At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

read, if you read french: Philippe Caumières, „La pensée de l’autonomie selon Castoriadis au risque de Foucault“, in: Sophie Klimis, Laurent Van Eynde (Hg.), L’imaginaire selon Castoriadis. Cahiers Castoriadis n°1, Bruxelles: Facultés Universitaires St. Louis 2006, S. 165-199.


At 3:22 PM, Blogger Johnathon Greenwood said...

Hi Troy,
Sounds like a great topic - couple of thoughts in response:
1. In the proposed abstract it says "The possibility of an indeterminate “self” has been elaborated in similar ways by Cornelius Castoriadis". Perhaps this could be nuanced somewhat. For Castoriadis, there is no "possibility" of an indeterminate self - "Self" is always already indeterminate. The disclosure of a possibility of an indeterminate self could signify the abyss of being emerging into the 'known' world of the Ego. Whereas the existence of an autonomous individual pre-supposes an understanding of the self as always already indeterminate (cf, for instance, The Ontological Import of the History of Science & Power, Politics, Auotonomy).
2. (Following from the above) I wonder if Foucault might shed some light on the process that is the transformation of subjectivity from "self as determinate" to "self as indeterminate". While Castoriadis points out the potential for paideia (pedagogy) and psychoanalysis to facilitate the individual transforming autonomy out of heteronomy, his analysis does not clearly elucidate 'how' this is to occur. I find this to be an important aspect of research and inquiry, particularly given that the project of autonomy stands and falls with the individual inaugurating their own autonomy. I am not that familiar with Foucault's work - would he have something to of worth to mention on this?

At 4:09 AM, Blogger whatbettertime said...

Thanks for your responses.

Unfortunately I can barely read French.

I think that Foucault's concept of 'care of the self' would fit together very well with Castoriadis's claims regarding the role of paideia and psychoanalysis for facilitating autonomy. The teacher/analyst has an important role, largely meant to get the student/analysand to not just think about themselves, but act upon themselves. I think Castoriadis's insistence upon the always social nature of such thought-action is an important rejoinder to Foucault and the 'care for the self' concept.


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