Portrait of a materialist philosopher

Louis Althusser, 1986

Translation by Arianna Bove

The man's age has no importance. He could be very old or very young. The important thing is that he doesn't know where he is and wants to go somewhere.

This is why he always catches a moving train, like in American Westerns. Without knowing where it comes from (origin) nor where it goes (end). He gets off mid way, in an isolated village around an insignificant station.

Saloon, beer, whiskey: where do you come from , mate? From far away. Where are you going? I don't know. Maybe there's work for you. Ok.

And our Nikos starts working. He is Greek by birth, emigrated to the USA like many others, but without a penny in his pocket.

He works hard and by the end of the first year he has married the most beautiful girl in the area. He accumulates some resources and gets himself some cattle.

With his intelligence and ability (Einsicht) to pick young animals (horses, bovines), after ten years' work he owns the best cattle available. The best cattle = the best complex of categories and concepts.

Competition with other owners - quiet. Everyone recognises he is the best and his categories and his concepts (his cattle) are the best ones.

His fame conquers the West and the whole country.

Every now and then he catches a moving train in order to see, chat, listen – like Gorbatchev on the streets of Moscow. Why not, if one can catch it on the spot!

More popular than anyone else, he could be elected to the White House, he, who started from nowhere. But no. He prefers travellling, walking the streets: this is how one understands real philosophy, what people have in their minds, what is always conflictual.

Naturally one can also solve problems, placate conflicts, but under the absolute condition that one dominates one's own passions.

That is why he reads the Hindu, Chinese (zen), and Machiavelli, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Cavailles, Canguillhem, Vuillemin, Heidegger, Deridda, Deleuze etc.

Without intending to, he almost becomes a professional materialist philosopher; not a dialectical materialist, what a horror!, but an aleatory materialist.

He then achieves classical knowledge, Spinoza's third kind of 'knowledge', Nietzsche's superman, and the understanding of the eternal return: to know that everything repeats and only exists in differential repetition. In this way he can then discuss with the great idealists. Not only does he understands them, but he also explains to them the reasons of their own theses! The others sometimes bitterly shrud their shoulders, what the hell: amicus Plato, magis amica Veritas!

little site banner