4. LOUIS ALTHUSSER
(THE MURDER SCENE)
ALFRED HITCHCOCK SHOT MURDER SCENES LIKE LOVE . scenes and love scenes like murder scenes. In each of his films, with ferocious skill, the master of suspense places the viewer in a troubling situation, sometimes making him the author of a crime of which he is no more than the virtual witness, sometimes the central character in a carnal relationship in which, by definition, she can never participate. As for Hitchcock's heroes, whether killers or victims, Prince Charmings or Cinderellas, spies or assassins, they are always prey to a sort of logic of surrender to impulse that makes them strangers to themselves and strips them of any psychological consistency. A filmmaker of the unconscious, of repression and fetishism, Hitchcock filmed dreams as reality and desire as perversion: between the sublime and the abject.
No doubt it may be thought scandalous at first to compare the autobiography of Louis Althusser, The Future Lasts a Long Time* to a Hitchcock narrative. And yet in reading Althusser's work, you get an impression of disturbing strangeness as strong as the one you get from seeing North by Northwest, Psycho, or Mamie.
It was in 1985 that the philosopher decided to compose a written account of the scene of the murder of his wife, Hélène Rytmann,2 after reading the account by Claude Sarraute, a journalist with Le Monde^ of Issei Sagawa, a Japanese criminal who killed a young Dutch woman in Paris, then dismembered and ate her body. Diagnosed as not responsible for his actions at the time of the deed, and therefore mentally unfit to stand trial under article 64 of the French penal code,3 he was given psychiatric treatment and then returned to Japan, where, bizarrely, he was discharged and declared "normal," meaning responsible for his actions. But instead of being tried there, as the unhappy parents of the victim were demanding, he kept his freedom and even had a career as an actor in pornographic films and best-selling author. He said about his crime that the young woman did not suffer when he killed her and that anthropophagy was an act of love. Sagawa subsequendy came to be regarded as a real expert in criminal matters and was frequendy sought out by the press for authoritative commentary whenever a murder was committed.
In her article Claude Sarraute perfidiously made a connection between Sagawa's case and Althusser's. "We in the media," she said, "as soon as we spot a prestigious name mixed up in a juicy trial, like Althusser or Thibault d'Orléans, make a meal out of it. The victim? She doesn't earn three lines. The star is the perpetrator."4
The author of this malicious text made the point, quite correcdy and without even realizing it herself, that in major criminal trials the perpetrator is necessarily the hero, since he is called upon to account for his actions before the court and the victims. A perpetrator who escaped the justice system without having been recognized as mad could never be a hero. Thus in societies where a code of civil rights exists, a criminal has the choice between an impunity that condemns him to perpetual anonymity, to an abject life of flight and cowardice, and a confrontation with the law that makes him the author of his own deed, that is to say, a subject of rights. It is at this cost, and only at this cost, that even the worst of criminals can reconcile himself with his own destiny.
In this respect, Claude Sarraute was blind to the utter dissimilarity between the Sagawa case and that of Louis Althusser. Recognized as irresponsible, Sagawa nonetheless remained guilty of a murderous act for which he was constrained to undergo psychiatric confinement and treatment. He had thus become, in the eyes of French law, guilty of but not responsible for his actions, in other words a subject recognized as mentally ill. But upon returning to his own country, where he ought to have continued to be treated as such, he was recognized as responsible for his actions and then released without ever being tried—which is a real aberration. He thus became not the hero of a criminal act following which he ought logically to have met his fate through being found guilty and incarcerated, but a personality at once guilty, not responsible, responsible, and perverted. Guilty and not responsible for a crime that remained unpunished; responsible for the same crime according to the attitude of his Japanese judges, who by declaring him "normal" authorized him to become a media personality; and a pervert because elevated de facto by public opinion to the status of expert in criminology. Recognized as mad, Sagawa could escape trial, but once declared sane, he should have been tried.
In this affair the Japanese justice system therefore brought upon itself the guilt of a real crime by authorizing a murderer not only to escape any legal sanction but also to transform his deed into psychiatric credentials.
One sees why Althusser was appalled at being mentioned in connection with this affair, and I can bear direct witness to the suffering it caused him. Sarraute had dared to compare him to a criminal who had succeeded in evading human justice while making a mockery of it and whose fate was radically different to his own. Of course, the Japanese cannibal and the French philosopher had both been set free. But the former, once acknowledged as "normal," was able to turn the gravity of his deed to derision by depicting it as a monstrous testimony of love, whereas the latter, designated mentally ill by experts, had never had the chance to revendicate full psychical and juridical responsibility for an act for which he had confessed he was, and indeed felt himself to be, guilty. What Louis Althusser was suffering from in 1985 was having been robbed of his own deed and deprived of a trial, by virtue of a law proclaiming that "there is neither crime nor delict when the person suspected was in a state of dementia at the time of the deed."
Introduced into the penal code in 1810 and confirmed repeatedly since 1838 despite numerous attempts at reform, article 64, which was finally
changed in 1992, made it possible for criminals assessed as insane to escape the death penalty. And that had marked an important step in the long history of the campaign to abolish the death penalty, just as the great alienists in the tradition of Esquirol had intended it should.
In November 1980, when Louis Althusser strangled his wife, the death penalty had not yet been abolished in France. Despite that, article 64 was already obsolete, and was denounced as such, because it deprived the accused of any right to be heard, regardless of what he had to say.
In other words, by this article every accused person assessed as being mad could still be designated not responsible for an act that he had nevertheless committed—but which was juridically rendered null—and then be judged unpunishable because in juridical terms his action did not exist. So he automatically got the benefit of a declaration that there were no grounds for proceeding against him, which not only effaced the story of his crime from the memory of man but also made him a non-subject of rights, one of the "disappeared":5 "For the average reader, for whom certain newspapers cater without ever distinguishing between folie [madness] as an acute but passing state, and maladie mentale [mental illness], which is a destiny, ûitfou [madperson] is straightaway held to be 'mentally ill/ with the emphasis falling on 'ill/ and consequendy fit to be locked up, and locked up for life: Lebenstod, as the German press puts it so well."6
For twelve years this murder scene, which took place at dawn on 17 November 1980 in an apartment in the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in the rue d'Ulm and which had long been laid at the feet of the philosopher, was neither known, nor explained, nor recounted, nor even interpreted. No one ever knew, before the posthumous publication of The Future Lasts a Long Time in 1992, how the surrender to impulse had taken place. Filed away in the archives of the hospital administration, the murder scene had thus been, so to speak, annihilated, effaced, forgotten, and repressed, while its author, once celebrated or hated throughout the world, lived out a spectral existence.
The only things made known to the press and the public were the conclusions of the autopsy and the psychiatric assessment. Thus it was on record that Hélène Rytmann died as a result of strangulation with
fracture of the larynx and rupture of the two thyroid cords but with no visible external signs. And subsequently it became known that three psychiatric experts (Serge Brion, Alain Diederichs, and Roger Ropert) had recommended application of article 64, on the grounds that "wife-murder by manual strangulation was committed without any additional violence, in the course of [an] iatrogenic hallucinatory episode complicated by melancholic depression."
Most journalists in the intellectual press avoided such technicalities, soberly pointing out that the philosopher suffered from manic-depressive psychosis and that he had strangled his wife in the course of an acute crisis of melancholy, without even realizing it.7 Some of them, though, were quick to exploit this tragedy by waging a campaign against what, in their eyes, symbolized not only a genuine ignominy but a real menace to civilization.
Certainly none descended to the level of the reporter for the newspaper Minute, who triumphantly wrote that "the "abnormal superior* represents all by himself a striking summary of communism ... which began in the mists of philosophy and ended up in a sordid Grand Gui-gnol.... He ought to have been barred from teaching, except that he was untouchable, precisely because he was a communist. "8
With apparendy greater subdety but in a much more perverse fashion, Dominique Jamet imagined a "conspiracy" woven by the French Communist Party and certain intellectuals in order to spare the "assassin" Louis Althusser the nuisance of being questioned by the police. His message was basically that the furious champions of equality had succeeded in reestablishing privileges worthy of the old aristocracy in France:
The assassin isn't just a nobody, isn't just the first person to happen along, isn't just anybody at all. A former student at the École Normale Supérieure, the site of the crime, of which he became the secretary general, a renowned theorist of Marxism, an eminent member of the Communist party, the author of a number of authoritative works, he is also an eminent member of the French intellectual establishment. He has the powerful on his side.... And so friends of his, physicians, officials in charge, all organize a conspiracy around the philosopher for the purpose of steering him clear of the bother, the torment, and the humiliation that await those of his ilk.... They put him in a car, they whisk him away from the very soft, very slow police; they would have kept him out of the papers if they could, and they nearly did.... You would think that nothing had changed since the epoch when the duc de Choiseul-Praslin murdered his wife, except for the fact that the intellectuals have now swollen the ranks of those aristocrats whose noble heads you never, except in periods of revolution, see hanging from any lamppost.9
Among the intellectuals implicitly pointed to by Dominique Jamet as conspirators and accomplices of a communist plot were Régis Debray, Etienne Balibar, and Jacques Derrida, who were the first to take steps, along with Dr. Pierre Etienne and Jean Bousquet,10 to have Althusser placed in the Saint-Anne hospital. It is certainly true that, with due regard for his past, the philosopher was interned directly in a psychiatric facility without first undergoing detention at a police station. He did not have to remain naked for twenty-four hours in a holding cell furnished only with a mattress on the floor. And he did not have to submit to formal interrogation, on account of the simple fact that he had confessed to the murder, and that he alone, in the circumstances, could have committed it.
This was the "privilege" from which he benefited, to the great fury of Roger Peyrefitte, the minister of justice and a former student at the ENS, who would have preferred that they treat him, against psychiatric advice, as an ordinary criminal, indeed as a killer unprotected by article 64. No doubt the minister, just like the journalist, was ignorant of how much Louis Althusser himself would have preferred to answer for his deed before a jury in a criminal court, even at the risk of the death sentence, sooner than be dispossessed by psychiatric experts of his word, his history, and his gesture.
In reality this populist and revanchist discourse, antielitist and anti-intellectual—which was springing up everywhere at this time and has continued to grow in volume ever since1!—signified that in the eyes of
a section of public opinion dominated by hatred of defiant consciences, the murder committed by Althusser had to be merely the visible part of a much more dreadful crime: the one perpetrated for decades by all the communists in every country in the world, who were evidendy responsible for the crimes of Stalinism and totally guilty of concealing them in the name of a revolutionary ideal whose sole aim had been to snuff out democratic freedoms.
Labeled the last great thinker of Marxism, Althusser was portrayed as one who, from inside a party considered detestable, had imparted a taste for revolutionary commitment grounded in conceptual philosophy to the intellectual elite of the rue d'Ulm between i960 and 1975. Worse in the eyes of his. detractors, Althusser had inscribed both Marxism and communism in the history of philosophy.12 Thus he was considered a criminal three times over: because he had legitimated philosophically a current of thought judged responsible for the Gulag; because after having criticized Stalinism he had dared to see in the Chinese Cultural Revolution an event with the capacity to subvert both bourgeois society and Stalinist socialism;13 and finally because he had, it was said, perverted the elite of French youth by introducing the cult of a criminal ideology into the heart of one of the finest institutions of the French Republic. It was no wonder that such a disastrous adventure had been orchestrated by a mentally ill individual and had concluded with a murderous act.
The message being broadcast after November 1980 was that it was time to forget Althusser, forget his homicidal philosophy,14 forget the act that led him into the hell of unreason—the implicit corollary being that we ought also to forget or repress everything the philosopher's teaching had given to a generation marked by the anticolonialist commitment of Sartre, a generation that had gone on to seek, in a rigorously rethought Marxism, something other than pure and simple adhesion to Soviet socialism, which everyone knew and admitted had ended by producing the Gulag.
Like Sartre, Althusser had in effect been able to think against himself, that is, against the real socialism to which he had made his commitment, for better or worse, upon emerging from a Catholic upbringing. He did, admittedly, persist in inscribing texts by Lenin and Mao Zedong in the tradition of philosophical conceptuality to which belonged names like Canguilhem, Gaston Bachelard, Spinoza, Hegel, Montesquieu, and Freud; and there may indeed be errant, ridiculous, or scandalous aspects to that.
But that was the price to be paid, you might say, for attempting to demonstrate that there could be more to Marxism than the simple repetition of dogmas rehearsed ad infinitum by the communist parties. Something different to the Nazism to which its critics endlessly compared it, forgetting that the two totalitarian systems had different origins, different projects, and different organizational structures. Stalinism was the outcome of the twisting awry of an ideal of progress and equality (communism), while Nazism was no more than the putting into operation of a genocidal intention grounded in the cult of race and blood. I might point out, in this regard, that the twisting of an ideal into its contrary is always infinitely graver, and harder to combat, than the straightforward execution of a project that never had any goal but mass murder from the start. For such twisting awry not only destroys the bodies of human beings, it inflicts injury on the human dream and the human imaginary. From that point of view, you could even say that the Gulag was worse than the Shoah.
Althusser advocated the autonomy of Marxist theory, which he wanted to make into a science of politics articulated around the principle of dialectical materialism. Hence he made a distinction between this theory and a philosophy of consciousness grounded in the subject. A philosopher of Marxism rather than a Marxist philosopher, he emphasized that revolutionary praxis, and thus subjective commitment, were irreducible to consciousness of self. Hence his critique of classic humanism. And hence his valorization of "theoretical antihumanism" and a conception of history as "a process without subject or end." Like Canguilhem and Foucault, and despite subscribing to a theory of the Freudian unconscious revisited by Lacan, he attacked all forms of behavioral psychology, insisting that political praxis only made sense if it was the expression of a conceptual philosophy capable of detaching itself from speculative metaphysics and becoming, through combat, an instrument of the class struggle in the realm of theory.
So without ever having been a Heideggerian in the strict sense, having in fact rejected the approach of Jean Beaufret, Althusser drew upon concepts from the Letter on Humanism to oppose Sartrean existentialism. Through theoretical antihumanism and a refusal to let subjectivity intrude into history, he wished to exclude any form of lived psychological experience from political commitment and to demonstrate once more the superiority in this domain of conceptual philosophy over the philosophy of consciousness. At the risk, as we shall see, of suppressing the very notion of the subject, of smothering it in a logical structure of a totalitarian kind.
Through his friend Jacques Martin, a philosopher and ENS graduate, Althusser had discovered the oeuvres of Cavaillès and Canguilhem, which impelled him to propose his own reading of the oeuvre of Marx and so combine conceptual philosophy and a philosophy of commitment. It was also through Martin that he had become acquainted with Foucault, whose studies at the ENS he influenced, and with whom he forged a bond based on a common interest in the history of madness. And finally it was to Jacques Martin, whom he was unable to prevent from>dying by his own hand, that he dedicated his Pour Marx: "He, a suffering but warm-hearted homosexual, became an incomparable friend in the distance of his latent schizophrenia.... Michel Foucault loved him as much as I did."15
When he came to know History of Madness, and later Birth of the Clinic, Althusser perceived that a true seam of thought lay embedded in the texture of these two dazzling books and knew that he wanted to mine it for concepts that he could put to use to make Marxism into a theory of history. As well, he found a style of cogitation in the crepuscular language of the philosopher that obliged him to confront philosophically the reality of his own melancholy, the reality that constantly escaped him, making him one of the shipwrecked ones of reason. For the future philosopher of Marxism was first and foremost a melancholic philosopher, a philosopher whose melancholy had been debaptized, concealed beneath other maladies,16 and even stripped of its name by the discourse of psychiatry. In September 1962 he wrote to Franca Madonia: "Finished reading this book... stunning, astonishing, a work of genius, an excavation and simultaneously a radiance full of views and flashes of lightning, patches of night and shafts of dawn, this book crepuscular like Nietzsche but luminous as an equation."17 During the academic year 1962-63 Althusser organized a seminar for the students of the ENS dedicated to structuralism, in which he himself spoke on History of Madness}%
Confinement was something Althusser had experienced long before entering the infernal cycle of psychiatric internment. Having been a student in Jean Guitton's khâgne in Lyon, Althusser should have entered the ENS in 1939, at the age of twenty-one. Instead he was called up to serve as a student officer on the banks of the Loire, then evacuated toward Vannes, and finally captured by the German army. Althusser spent the next five years in captivity, in Stalag XA, near Schleswig, without ever having chosen the slightest commitment. At the conclusion of a war of which he had known only the most absurd and frozen aspect but that had been so decisive for the philosophical generation to which he belonged, Althusser was thus already the prisoner of an inner turmoil, untouched by glory and heroism but equally untouched by any suspicion of collaboration with the enemy.19 It was in the depth of this captivity, experienced as humiliation and punctuated by melancholic episodes, that he renounced the integrist and royalist Catholicism he had grown up with, and joined the French Communist Party, the party of those who had faced firing squads: "It was in prison camp that I first heard Marxism discussed by a Parisian lawyer in transit—and that I actually met a communist, a single one."20
In the 1960s Althusser really set about strengthening the theory of the communist movement, and that is why, soon after publication, his two major works—For Marx and To Read "Capital"11—were translated into many languages. Flanked by his ENS students, the philosopher of Marxism became, for the militants of the international communist movement, a new Marx, with a messianic destiny, not just another political leader mechanically reciting dogmas and slogans. The man of the rue d'Ulm had assigned himself the task, through a teaching both rigorous and collective, of awakening the soul of the world.
But because this great appeal to the revolt of consciences was launched at a moment when communism was already falling prey to an internal
process of decomposition, Althusser's message appeared to be self-condemned either to regress into flamboyant theorizing or to amount to no more than the finale of a prolonged melancholy lamentation. So there was something both incandescent and transitory about it, as if, before even having had the chance to be incarnated in the course of history or the time to create a legacy for the future, it had already been gripped by the silence of memory and the vacuity of death.
It is a commonplace that all the great philosophical systems of the nineteenth century were constructed like Greek tragedies, because they all issued from the great theater of the Revolution of 1789. Napoleon said to Goethe in 1808 that politics would be the destiny of European man in the future; that meant that the essence of tragedy would no longer be the confrontation between men and gods but the action by which mankind itself, the successor of gods and kings, would take its own history, and that of the peoples, into its own hands.
Heir to these systems, whose dogmas he wished to overcome, Althus-ser had tried to think the communism of the second half of the twentieth century as the possible reactualization of revolutionary heroism, with philosophy as its new great theater, a theater of the body, of the unconscious, and of excess, a theater of the real and of movement. To become that, it would have to be capable of "renouncing its ideological reveries and moving on to the study of reality itself."22 Jacques Derrida wrote: "What I love most in him, doubdess because it was him, that which fascinated me in him and which others no doubt knew better and at much closer range than me, were his feeling and taste for grandeur, for a certain grandeur, for the great theater of political tragedy in which excess engages, misdirects, or breaks without pity the private bodies of its actors."23
This sense of theatricality was, for Althusser, a way of renewing the gesture of Karl Marx, the gesture with which, in drafting the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and in reading the works of Lud-wig Feuerbach, the future theorist of capitalism had broken away from Hegelian philosophy, moving from an abstract conception of the movement of history to revolutionary commitment. Philosophers, Marx said, "have hitherto merely interpreted the world; it is a question of transforming it."24
After the completion of the judicial investigation of Althusser's case, Judge Guy Joly decided that there were no grounds to proceed. A warrant of confinement was subsequendy issued by the Paris police prefecture, and with that Louis Althusser lost all the rights of a citizen. The ENS then mandated his retirement and requested his family and friends to clear out the apartment he had occupied ever since his return from prison camp, on the ground floor at the southwest corner of the main building, facing the infirmary in which his friend Dr. Pierre Etienne lived. In June 1980 Althusser left the Saint-Anne hospital for the Eau Vive clinic at Soisy-sur-Seine, which he knew well, and in July 1983 he took up residence in an apartment in rue Lucien Leuwen in Paris.
For ten years, between the date of the murder and that of his death on 22 October 1990, Louis Althusser lived a strange life as a specter, a dead man walking, a man who had become his own other—the sinister hero of a crime assessed, autopsied, reduced to the prose of a jargon-filled report—without even having access to the psychiatric meaning of his deed, but who had not yet passed through the portals of the kingdom of shadows: the negative and tragic image of the concept of "trial-without-a-subject" that he himself had forged to define the place of subjectivity in history.
For that matter the very history of communism mimicked the disaster that had shattered his life. A mute spectator, he took in the implosion of the Soviet Union, the dismantling of its empire, and the slow erosion of institutions that had, for sixty years and despite the crimes of Stalinism, succeeded in offering an ideal of dignity, a Utopia, a dream, a faith, and also a culture, to the working classes of the democratic countries. In these circumstances neither Marxism nor the parties that had tried to realize these ideals appeared to have any future.
After the publication of Claude Sarraute's article, the one that paired Althusser with the Japanese cannibal, he began to dream of "reappearing on the public stage."25 But he knew that, to accomplish such a return, he would have to confront the deed that had made him into a murderer without name or voice. He would have to proceed, in narrative, with the trial that had never taken place. He would have to set down in writing the terrible murder scene that he continually described to members of his inner circle, always in the same terms, always evoking the same memories, the same enigma: "I killed a woman who was everything to me during a crisis of mental confusion, she who loved me to the point of wanting only to die because she could not continue living. And no doubt in my confusion and unconsciousness I 'did her this service/ which she did not try to prevent, but from which she died."2*
As long as this scene, a hundred times repeated, was not consigned to writing, the name of Althusser and the significance of his philosophical oeuvre would continue to be the object of a complete repression. So it had to be made public, this scene, in other words made into a work, for otherwise it would be endlessly reproduced, recounted, disseminated, falsified, interpreted, by countless witnesses or nonwitnesses who would have no hesitation, in the absence of any trace or archive, in standing in for the author of the crime and speaking in his place.
In 1983 Philippe Sollers was the first to appropriate the scene and describe the strangulation at length in the novel Femmes?1 Comparing the madness of Lacan's last years to Althusser's, the narrator imagined by Sollers turned Althusser into an abject individual filled with hatred for women, especially with unconscious detestation for Hélène: "Small dry shape in a beret, older than him, like a governess. Extraordinarily antipathetic. " She makes him quake with fear, because her intransigence—she had been a militant communist and anti-Nazi résister—torments him unremittingly, and in the end he strangles her, knowingly and in full awareness, with a scarf: "She was poisoning him... sucking the air out of him ... asphyxiating him.... One night... since the time he had been thinking about it, surely.... He takes a scarf, he soundlessly approaches this sleeping woman to whom, all in all, he owes so much; this woman who put up with him, helped him, encouraged him, cared for him in his neurosis.... But who has also become, litde by litde, the grimacing mirror of his own defeat, his failure, his groundless culpability."28 To this description of a strangulation duly premeditated by a murderous philosopher was appended the judgment of the narrator. The murder perpetrated by Lutz, he says, resembles in reverse the one depicted in Nagisa Oshima's 1976 film In the Realm of the Senses: "Where one sees the insatiable whore slowly strangle her consenting partner, sitting astride him, at the moment, indefinitely prolonged, of orgasm . . . and then castrate him."29
Two years after having been thus transformed into a sexual pervert right out of the psychiatric imagination of Krafft-Ebing, Althusser was converted by Jean Guitton into a mystic monk, more of a Catholic Pé-tainist than a communist graced by philosophy. In an interview published in autumn 1985, the academician recalled that the philosopher had been his khâgne student in 1938, that at that time he had wanted to become a Trappist, and finally that "his wife, who resembled Mother Teresa, was a pure mystic of communism." And he went on to say: "I sincerely think that he killed his wife out of love of her. It was a crime of mystical love. And is there such a great distance between a criminal and a saint? ... It is not my business to defend him, but to aid him in the depth of his distress. ... When I learned of the crime, I went to see him often at Saint-Anne, then I took steps to have him transferred to another establishment and ... to have the justice system consider him a madman, not a criminal." Guitton then declared that he, like Althusser, had passed the whole of World War Two in captivity, that he was glad of it, that it was a captivity "accepted with great consent," and that he was proud to have remained, even today, "openly faithful to Marshal Pétain."30
In 1988 Régis Debray gave a rather sober account of the murder scene, comparing it to an altruistic suicide: "He suffocated her under a pillow to save her from the anguish that was suffocating him. A beautiful proof of love ... that one can save one's skin while sacrificing oneself for the other, only to take upon oneself all the pain of living."31
By this time Althusser had already composed his autobiography. More than once he stated his desire to see it published, and he told certain members of his circle what it contained. But he never made up his mind to send it to a publisher, which obviously meant, contrary to what he said, that he preferred to continue to sojourn in the kingdom of the dead rather than reappear in the land of the living. That is why he wrote the murder scene as the posthumous preface to a tale from beyond the grave, through which a narrator tries to reconstruct for posterity the elements of an unusual story of inevitable disaster.32 One might also hypothesize that, in thus recounting the arc of his life from his death, Althusser avoided having to deal with all the comment that it would certainly have provoked.
Speaking privately to André Malraux, Charles de Gaulle had set the Machiavellian notion of fortuna—the opportune moment, in the sense of the Greek work kairos—against the idea of the long term, emphasizing that in politics and in war one always had to be prepared to act at the right moment, on penalty of being hurled into the long duration of an eternal future, a future that lasts a long time [un avenir qui dure longtemps]. In choosing this phrase for the title of his book, Althusser was placing his narrative under the sign of eternal time, of die longue durée of death, if you like: the time of unfinished mourning, the time of melancholy. This was a way of saying that he had always been in mourning for himself, for his own death at the hands of his mother and wife, and that the composition of his autobiography might be able to open a radiant future to him, that of his looming plunge into the eternal time of death: "So then life can still, despite its dramas, be beautiful. I am sixty-seven, but I finally feel—I who had no youth, for I was not loved for myself—I feel younger than ever, even if the business must end soon. Yes^ the future lasts a long time."33 In either case, it is the murder scene that must remain the pure event, beyond life, beyond death, beyond even the infinite circle that erases the boundaries between the world of the living and the kingdom of the dead.
Righdy convinced, his denials notwithstanding, that his deed had definitively interrupted his engagement in theoretical pursuits, he preferred not to face, while still alive, a second burial that would have deprived him once again of any right to speak. And it was in writing this scene for posterity (not to redeem himself, while alive, for a responsibility he assumed outside the bounds of human justice), that he succeeded in punishing himself alone—like the hero of a tragedy—for the crime he had committed. An ultimate way to take his own philosophical'destiny in hand.
In this respect, let me emphasize that, in order to attain its ontological significance and at the same time incarnate the reality of an act the truth of which had eluded all commentators, the murder scene could only be written once and uniquely by its author transformed into a narrator al-
ready dead. At this cost, and at this cost only, could it acquire the value of a true archive, meaning a trace, a proof, a witnessing capable of guaranteeing that the criminal act had indeed taken place and that he who was accused of it was indeed its author.
Just as I retain it in memory, full and precise down to the smallest details, engraved in me through all my suffering and forever— between two darknesses, the one which I was emerging from without knowing what it was, and the one into which I was going to enter, I am going to state the when and the how: here is the murder scene as I lived it.. . . Before me: Hélène lying on her back, also wearing a dressing gown. Her bedpan is lying on the edge of the bed, her legs are splayed on the carpet of the floor. Kneeling beside her, leaning over her body, I am engaged in massaging her neck. I have often had occasion to silendy massage the nape of her neck, her upper back, and her lower back: I had learned the technique from a fellow prisoner, litde Clerc, a professional football player and an expert in everything. But this time it is the front of her neck I am massaging. I press my two thumbs into the hollow of flesh that borders the top of the sternum, and, applying force, I slowly reach, one thumb toward the right, one thumb toward the left at an angle, the firmer area below the ears. I am massaging in a V. I feel enormous muscular fatigue in my forearms: I know, massaging always causes me discomfort. Hélène 's face is immobile and serene, her open eyes are fixed on the ceiling. And suddenly I am struck with terror: her eyes are interminably fixed, and above all here is the tip of her tongue lying, unusually and peacefully, between her ' teeth and her lips. I had certainly seen corpses before, but I had never seen the face of a strangled woman in my life. And yet I know that this is a strangled woman. What is happening? I stand up and scream: I've strangled Hélène!34
When one reads this scene one is struck immediately by the simplicity with which the narrator recounts the murder and how he becomes aware of the horror of his deed at the very instant at which his reality
seems to elude him. He has killed without knowing that he was killing, and without the victim having uttered the slightest protest. He has killed with an ordinary action that, before this scene, had never resembled a murderous act. And so the only "proof* we have of the reality of the crime lies in the fact that the murderer felt slighdy more muscular fatigue than usual in his forearms.35 There exists in fact no other external trace of the deed: Hélène did not cry out at the moment of her passage from life to death; she seems not to have suffered; and her neck later showed no apparent marks of strangulation. The murder thus bore the traits of a perfect crime, except for the fact that instead of trying to hide it, the killer took the blame by telling his doctor he had done it, which the doctor found hard to believe.
But if such an act could take place, it was perhaps because certain events had occurred some time before, steering the two protagonists of the drama toward its catastrophe.36
Louis Althusser had undergone surgery to remove a hiatal hernia that was making it impossible to breathe when he ate. He tells of the profound mental derangement this produced in him. He was vomiting all the time, urinating in an irregular fashion, and losing his grip on language to the point of mixing up words; on top of that, he was persuaded that the Red Brigades had condemned him to death and were about to burst into his hospital room to finish him off. It was in this state that he returned to the ENS: "This whole 'pathological* system was compounded by suicidal delirium. Condemned to death and threatened with execution, I had only one resource: to forestall the infliction of death by killing myself in advance. I imagined all manner of mortal exits, and moreover I wanted not only to destroy myself physically but to wipe out all trace of my time on earth: in particular, to destroy every last one of my books and all my notes, and burn the École Normale, and also, 'if possible,' suppress Hélène herself while I still could."37
I recall that at this time Louis Althusser visited me often, sometimes with Hélène. He did in fact talk about setting the ENS on fire; he wanted to get away, and tried desperately to buy my apartment, to the point of persuading himself, and convincing Hélène, that I had put it up for sale. No rational argument had any effect in getting him to renounce this project. And yet, as soon as one broached another matter, something to do with politics or philosophy, this erratic behavior vanished.
It was at this period too—and I was a witness—that Althusser was beset with the conviction that humanity as a whole was going into decline and that some way had to be found to save it. Hélène held the same certainty. So it was that he renewed his attempts, but with greater urgency and after trying to alert public opinion by proposing schemes for meetings at the Mutualité, to gain an audience with Pope John Paul II and inform him that the crisis that was putting the salvation of the world at risk could only be resolved if a lasting dialogue between Rome and Moscow were initiated. Louis Althusser, like Jacques Lacan before him, had made many attempts to speak with the pope—clearly an attempt to unite, in a fusional act, the two tutelary figures of his history: Catholicism and communism. But this time, in the depths of his delirium, he had the presentiment that the batde being waged by the Polish pope was already won in the East. When Jean Guitton asked the Holy Father to receive the philosopher, he replied: "I know your friend; he is a logician above all, who pursues a line of thought to its conclusion. I will be happy to receive him."38
During the months that followed, Althusser and his wife shut themselves up in the closed chamber of an organized solitude. She called him a monster or complained of the intolerable suffering he had always caused her, according to which phase of her ritual alternation between bursts of mania and bouts of melancholy she happened to be in. "The limit was reached one day when she matter-of-factly asked me to kill her myself, and this word, unthinkable and intolerable in its horror, caused my whole body to tremble for a long time. It still makes me tremble.... We were living shut up in the cloister of our hell, both of us."39
But Althusser is not content, in his autobiography, just to portray the shattering reality of the great murder scene in its raw state. Putting to use his own experience of psychoanalytic treatment, he retraces in Freudian, and often Lacanian, terms the genealogical structure of a drama that he believed had forged, across three generations, the singular madness of a subject born to a family of the middling Catholic bourgeoisie exiled to Algeria after the defeat at Sedan in 1870.
At the beginning of the twentieth century a young girl, Lucienne Berger, was in love with a young man named Louis Althusser. A younger son, he was his mother's favorite and gave every promise of achieving intellectual success. His older brother, Charles, more boorish and less admired, was engaged to Juliette, Lucienne 's sister. When the war came Louis was called up, and died in a reconnaissance airplane in the skies over Verdun. The two families then decided to obey the ancient biblical custom of the levirate, still current in the Mediterranean world at that time, which obliged an older, still unmarried, brother to wed the widow of a deceased younger brother. So Charles Althusser took Lucienne Berger for his wife, and when a child was born they gave him the name of his uncle Louis. The "madness" of this marriage lay less in its obedience to the tradition of the levirate than in its excessive obedience, outstripping the strict requirement. Nothing actually compelled Charles to wed Lucienne, because his younger brother had not yet married her. The younger Louis Althusser writes: "I had no father, and I endlessly played the game of 'father of the father' to give myself the illusion of having one, in fact to assign myself the role of a father with respect to my pwn self.... I had thus philosophically to become my own father as well. And that was only possible through conferring upon myself the fatherly function par excellence: domination and mastery of any possible situation."40
In thus instantiating the Sartrean idea of the absence of the superego (and the Sartrean rejection of the father), Althusser saw himself as having been given the name of a dead man: that of his uncle Louis. He extracted from this the thesis that all real theorists, especially the three "damned" thinkers of the late nineteenth century—Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx—had been forced to be fathers to their own selves. In identifying with them, he was emphasizing that only a tearing free from the symbolism of filiation could lead to the achievement of a fouhdational act. Hence the idea, destined to become so central to his philosophical position, that a subject is always decentered from his or her ego, because the structure that determines him or her is an absent causality. Must one not, in order to tear free of oneself and save one's soul, dissolve into a history without historicity? But does one not then risk, through decentering, dissolving all subjectivity in the annihilation of oneself and the other?
It was in 1946 that Louis Althusser met Hélène Rytmann, a Jewish woman of Russian origin, eight years older than himself, whom his friends considered "a little crazy." In childhood she had been the victim of sexual abuse by the family doctor, who had burdened her with the task of administering lethal doses of morphine at intervals to her parents, who were both afflicted with an incurable illness. "This frightful daughter had thus killed the father who loved her and whom she loved. . .. This frightful daughter had also killed the mother who detested her. At age thirteen!"41 In the Resistance she had been a comrade of Jean Beau-fret and the Pericles network and had subsequently joined the French Communist Party. She had been evicted from the party for reasons that remain unclear, though formally she was accused of "Trotskyist deviation" and "crimes." She had, it was said, taken part in the summary execution of former collaborators in the region of Lyon.42
In sharing the life of such a woman, Althusser was confronted every day with a destiny that, in certain respects, brought him ceaselessly back to himself while at the same time contradicting his own commitment. Hélène had been in the Resistance while he, as a prisoner of war, was remote from the anti-Nazi combat; she was Jewish and bore on her own person, in her history, all the stigmata of the Shoah, whereas he, despite his conversion to Marxism, never escaped the formative effect of integ-rist Catholicism. Finally, she became a victim of Stalinism at just the time when he was preparing to bind his conceptual thought to the history of the communist movement. In other words, Hélène was something like his own displaced conscience, pitiless superego, heterogeneous impulsion, damned part, black animality, impenetrable body perverted by a detestable mother. "She retained atrocious memories of her mother, who . .. never took her in her arms. Her mother hated her because she was expecting a boy, and this dark-complexioned daughter upset all her plans and wishes ... : nothing but hate.... I had never embraced a woman, and above all I had never been embraced by a woman (at age thirty!). Desire mounted in me, we made love on the bed, it was new, exciting, exalting, and violent. When she (Hélène) had left, an abysm of anguish opened up in me, never again to close."43
But at the same time, and in a reverse movement, Hélène also represented for him not just the unattractive, dark-complexioned girl, author and abused victim of a double parricide but also the sublimated figure of his own hated mother to whom he remained attached all his life. "If I was dazzled by Hélène 's love and the miraculous privilege of knowing her and having her in my life, I tried to give that back to her in my own way, intensely and, if I may put it this way, as a religious offering, as I had done for my mother.''44
In consequence, the love that Hélène Rytmann inspired in Louis Althusser for thirty-five years was made of the same turmoil, the same putting to death, the same repulsion, the same exaltation, and the same fusion that united him at the same time with the Communist Party, the asylum, and psychoanalytic discourse. The destiny of the philosopher of Marxist melancholy can, in this regard, be compared to that of certain great* mystics of Islam and Christianity, who in some cases wanted to found a singular liberty through the abolition of the Law and the creation of a community "without a subject," while others contested the principle of individual unity, the privilege of consciousness, and the myth of progress.45
Unlike Hélène, the other women loved by Louis Althusser were generally of great physical beauty and sometimes exceptionally sensitive to intellectual dialogue.46 Thus, in the letters he wrote to Franca Madonia between 1961 and 1973, which were published prior to his autobiographical narrative, the reader finds the evocation of a passion that might have led to another murder scene, had it not been contained by any kind of sublimation. Thus, in an identical movement, and in the sumptuous decor of a dream Italy that might have been filmed by Bernardo Bertolucci, the wildness of infatuation and the limitless quest for a desire that only words could restrain were united for a time:
Franca, black one, night, fire, beautiful and ugly, extreme passion and reason, excessive and wise.... My love, I am broken by loving
you, my legs cut off this evening so that I can no longer walk— and yet what else have I done today except think of you, pursue you, love you? ... An infinite march to exhaust the space you open
to me I say this, my love, I say this true thing—but I say it as
well to combat my desire for you, for your presence, the desire to
see you, speak to you, touch you If I write you, it is for that as
well, you have understood it so well: writing renders present in a certain fashion, it is a struggle against absence.47
A philosopher, translator and playwright, Franca belonged to a well-off Italian bourgeois family from Romagna. Her brother, a Marxist militant, went to work in the Alfa Romeo factory at Varese in 1967. As for her husband, Mino Madonia, whose sister Giovanna was married to the painter Leonardo Cremonini, he was a member of the Italian Communist Party, despite being the manager of a firm specializing in the production of felt hats.
Every summer the two families gathered at Villa Madonia, a charming residence situated in the village of Bertinoro, on the confines of the Marche region and the province of Bologna, several kilometers from Forli. It was in this magical setting, surrounded by lemon trees, oleanders, and cedars of Lebanon, awash in ocher light and the strong odor of vineyards, that Louis Althusser fell in love with Franca, discovering through her everything he had missed in his own childhood and that he lacked in Paris: a real family, an art of living, a new manner of thinking, speaking, desiring.
In sum, at the heart of this relationship with this foreigner who translated the works of the great French authors (Lévi-Strauss, Merleau-Ponty) and who made him appreciate modern theater (Pirandello, Brecht, Beckett), he learned to detach himself from the Stalinist tradition of communism, and thus to read the works of Marx another way. Out of this strangeness activated by a woman—by another woman, or rather by a womanhood that transcended his desire for confinement—out of this cleavage induced by the alternation of geographical locations and finally out of this interior exile lived in the mode of the dispossession of the self, there welled up not only his finest texts (For Marx especially) but also his most important concepts, like symptomatic reading, overdeter-mination, the trial without a subject.
The dazzlement lasted four years, from 1961 to 1965. Letters, telephone calls, trips, and meetings were the pretexts for philosophical and litejrary flights articulated in two languages, in which were mixed, in spoken and written words, opinions on current events, politics, and theory, and confidences on the happinesses and unhappinesses of daily life.
Very soon, though, Althusser started to want to inscribe this liaison in the web of psychical confinement that was causing him to oscillate between two models of femininity: the first, guilty and depressing, represented by his companion in Paris, the never-ending victim and object of compassion or repulsion; the second, initiatory and incandescent, incarnated by the foreigner who always projected a sort of Viscontian Italian-ness. So he tried to oblige Franca to become Hélène 's friend, just as he sought to bring Mino into their exchanges. The result was an explosive situation, from which Franca succeeded in extricating herself.
If Louis Althusser was indeed the actor, throughout his life, in a scene of enclosure ever on the point of turning into a murder scene, he was also permanently the hero of a madness of infatuation that led him back every time inside a mystical circle from which sprang forth the most somber and exalted figures of his melancholy.
Confronted since 1948 with this saga of confinement, which he found echoed in Foucault 's History of Madness, he maintained a relation to Freudianism as ambivalent as that with Marxism, maintaining a split between his status as psychiatrized analysand engaged in an orthodox cure and his position as theorist of psychoanalysis familiar with the Lacanian renewal.48 On one hand he was the consenting and horrified victim of a chemical treatment against which he never ceased to rebel, on the other he saw himself as the defender of a doctrine of madness that denounced the principles to which he had voluntarily submitted. And likewise, every time he tried to escape the sealed chamber he had constructed with Hélène—by making the madness of infatuation alternate with the passion of sequestration—he did no more than reinvent the great journey of infinite lamentation that haunted him from childhood, from the time he had violendy rejected his mother, his father, his ancestors, and along with them, later on, the very notion of family, the worst of the "ideological apparatuses of the state." In this respect the letters to Franca bear witness, as much as The Future Lasts a Long Time does, to Althusser's relation to psychoanalysis, to his own psychoanalytic cure, and to his main psychoanalyst, René Diatkine, himself a former analysand with Jacques Lacan.
The beginning of Althusser's analysis was preceded by an event that bore witness to the strange relationship between Hélène and her husband. In the summer of 1964, when she had just read the writings of Melanie Klein, she wrote Louis a letter in which she delivered herself of a striking interpretation of his "Oedipal" situation, reminding him especially of the extent to which his father had been an intruder and a "false husband" to his mother: "May one then say that the child is going to find himself compelled to be his own father?"
Fifteen days later Althusser noted the content of a murderous dream in his private notebooks:
I must kill my sister49 or she must die. .. . Kill her with her own consent, as far as that goes: a sort of pathetic communion in sacrifice ( ... I would say, almost like an aftertaste of love-making, like uncovering the entrails of my mother or sister, her neck, her
throat, to do her good) Why is it my sister I must kill in the
dream? no doubt fear of killing the other in the sexual act, fear of falling, through the sexual act, into the domain of death held by my mother, my sister, etc. as the domain of death. To accomplish the sexual act is to kill (the image of the other, the image of the
mother). Crime in the effusion, in the warmth I will thus kill
her with her consent and by her consent (and I will do it to the best of my ability), I am not guilty.50
Two months later, and nine months after having brought Lacan's seminar to the ENS, he began his analysis with Diatkine, with whose anti-Lacanian stance he was perfectly well acquainted. In January 1965 the sessions became more frequent, and in June the real work of exploring the unconscious was launched. He was soon telling Franca about the positive effects of this "orthodox" psychoanalysis. In July 1966 he affirmed that the treatment was yielding "spectacular results."
Now at that date Diatkine also took Hélène into therapy, while assuming the burden of the ongoing psychiatric care of his patient. A pathological relationship then came about between Althusser and his analyst, making the transference all the more constrictive and impossible to unbind in that Hélène 's parallel analysis was helping to weld tighter the union, already dangerously fusional, between the philosopher and his companion, through which psychoanalytic knowledge served as a basis for wild interpretations. As a result Althusser felt galvanized into a state of all-powerfulness as "father of the father." He "played" the analyst: with Hélène by explaining her "case" to her (since she was explaining his to him), and with Franca by talking about Hélène 's case with her. Simultaneously he posed as intellectual tutor to Diatkine, going so far as to ridicule him by giving him lessons in Lacanism: "Why do you give way to your impulse to repress the oeuvre of Lacan? It is an error, a fault that you ought not to commit, and yet that you do commit. You answer me by adducing Lacan's personality, but that is not the point: it is a question of his oeuvre.... It is a question of the existence of the right to theory in the analytic domain. Paris was certainly worth a mass. Between us, the 'personality* of Lacan, his 'style' and his manias, and all the effects they have produced, including personal wounds, are all worth it for his theory."51
Throughout this interminable psychoanalysis, Althusser succeeded with brio in occupying the position of "analyst of the analyst." The consequence of this was that he no longer separated his destiny from that of Hélène, while distancing himself from Franca and the Bertinoro circle. The two lovers continued to correspond, but as the years passed the tone changed: the love remained but desire fragmented, and the ideal of a new order of the world of which they had dreamed grew dim as the desire for à more vigorous commitment disintegrated. In 1970, in a ietter with premonitory overtones, Franca wrote: "Do you know that Jack the Ripper not only strangled women, but tore out their viscera and hung them like garlands around the body and the bed?"52
The last letter addressed to Franca by Althusser, dated August 1973, reveals that the work of fusion with Hélène, heightened by analysis, had
by now reached its limit: "If I stopped playing, I would stop myself in a manner as aggressive as my game itself. . . . H. for her part is going through a very bad analytic 'passage.'... The result was that our stay in Brittany, in which we were together twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, was marvellous as far as the countryside went, but catastrophic for our shared life."53
Althusser's autobiography could have been called The Murder Scene. This unclassifiable, undefinable text, unruly and unregulated, resembles no other, neither Rousseau's Confessions nor an ordinary pathography, nor even a clinical document interprétable by a rational consciousness in the same way, for example, as the Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber, which Freud analyzed so well,54 or as the clinical document drafted in the nineteenth century by Pierre Rivière, who murdered his mother, his sister, and his wife, commented upon by Michel Foucault and his team.
In truth, and although it was subtly constructed both as an homage to Sartre's Words and as a Dionysiac challenge to his own For Marx, The Future Lasts a Long Time cannot be qualified as literary narrative, psychiatric document, autofiction, or autobiography in any strict sense. Composed by an author whose consciousness vacillates while retaining an implacable lucidity, it presents the story of a delirious life of which the hero is both object and subject, divided between a cogito that places him outside his own madness and a madness that sends him back into the interiority of his cogito, split between a figure of compassionate femininity that drives him to murder and an imaginary of feminine passion that never succeeds in tearing him free of melancholy.
So there is nothing astonishing in the fact that this hero, the narrator of himself, can present himself, from his death, as the magistrate who is judging his crime, as the doctor who is conceptualizing his case, as the philosopher who is deconstructing communism, and as the madman who is accounting for the genealogy of his madness with the most scientific terminology of psychoanalysis and psychopathology.
A real challenge to reason, written at speed, and unadorned with the literary qualities one finds in many of Althusser's other works, this un-nameable text, unique in the annals of philosophy, was logically bound to make anyone who ventured to comment upon it rave deliriously themselves.
It has to be said as well that no other piece of writing ever aroused such detestation. Aside from the literary critics who eagerly celebrated both the ruin of Marxism, which they made responsible for the Gulag, and the downfall of its last philosopher, necessarily an assassin too and so heaped with infamy, other adversaries, commentators, psychiatrists, philosophers, and psychoanalysts all piled on merrily.
In a style of great vulgarity, and brushing aside all respect for fact, the psychoanalyst Daniel Sibony adopted the widespread view that it was a case of premeditation, explaining that the philosopher had been compelled to "smother" his "other half" in order to signify how much the Marxist truth she incarnated, and of which she had been the "implacable Virgil" for him, deserved to be "eclipsed so that the other part of truth could finally be envisaged."... But the passage could not be accomplished without the gesture of madness in which however a whole stretch of History was driven and hallucinated; well before the thaw in Russia and the end of the USSR, this philosopher went ahead and carried it out with his own hands: by twisting the neck of the very soviet union in which he was confined with his wife; so as to protect himself from what might be coming. His eastern bloc could not be split without it starting to come unblocked and finally grasping the other aspect of his truth.55
From a quite different intellectual vantage point, Eugénie Lemoine-Luccioni set about massacring the autobiography of the philosopher (whom she apparendy imagined to be alive in 1992, since she refers to him as having just published the work). Struck, evidendy, by the fact that Althusser had dared, in a rigorously Lacanian fashion, to act as his own analyst, and ignorant of the relationship he had had with Lacan, she accused him of understanding nothing about the question of the symptom. While attacking Derrida's notion that "a letter doesn't always reach its destination," and without in the least understanding what Derrida meant, she retailed a baseless anecdote right out of an idolatrous imaginary: "An analysand of Lacan to whom Althusser confided his perplexity—for there are some letters that get lost, evidently—repeated what he had said to Lacan. Lacan reflected for a good while, it seems, then answered: Althusser is not a practitioner/ A luminous reply!"5*
For their part, two psychiatrists, Michel Bénézech and Patrick Lacoste, employing a psychopathological discourse worthy of Père Ubu, published a close commentary on the philosopher's "uxoricide," positing that the strangulation had been caused not by the philosopher's state of depression but by a "conflict of love and hate between two persons: Althusser, to escape the anguish of separation and existential annihilation, must have preferred to kill the object of his attachment with his own hands, thus possessing it indefinitely in death."57 And they professed their surprise that the philosopher had not been treated with lithium salts.
Knowing as one does that in fact Althusser swallowed enough lithium salts to make him choke, and observing that these two practitioners of psychosis and specialists in criminal psychiatry saw fit to mobilize a vocabulary right out of Melanie Klein in order to interpret the history of this tragedy in such a banal fashion, all the while remaining deaf to what a man had to tell about himself, one is driven to suppose that the book really was conceived by Althusser as a weapon of war for the purpose of turning, by its very rationality, the exponents of a discourse of assessment that is no more than a caricature of Freudian conceptuality into raving idiots themselves.
Another who resorted to the Kleinian approach was André Green, who roundly declared that Althusser had identified with a sadistic father to the point of taking himself for the protective and destructive mother of his students at the ENS. Green went on to correct the diagnosis of his psychiatrist colleagues, claiming that the philosopher was afflicted not with a "pure" manic-depressive psychosis, but with a more complex psychosis that supposedly led him to adopt a "psychotic lifestyle." He went on to stress that in Althusser there was by turns a murdered child and a dead child, and to posit that Hélène was a mother to him first, before becoming his father.
Finally Green gave an account of a meeting in the course of which he had used his psychiatric knowledge to bring supposed relief to the philosopher:
Althusser's friends wanted a different analyst to take over from the one he was with. I was telephoned, the hope was expressed that I
would help him to change analysts So I went to see him, out
of affection and in order to say what I thought. Louis kept asking me repeatedly "But why did I kill Hélène, why, why?" I finally answered: "You killed Hélène so as not to kill your analyst." At that moment he received my interpretation as though he were thunderstruck. "Quoi!" Then, with a haggard air he got up, went to sit on the edge of the bed, opened the drawer of the bedside table, and took out an enormous bar of chocolate, which he devoured avidly.58
Pointing out quite correctly that it was Althusser's habit to stuff his mother with chocolates, Green concluded on that basis that the philosopher was himself no more than a "fed mother" and that he was obsessed by fantasies of perpetual abandonment. And he declared himself satisfied with his interpretation, all the while affirming, in the face of the evidence, that it had had a beneficial effect on Althusser.59
Louis Althusser devoured food with relish, and he sometimes ate in an ostentatious fashion. He was always claiming that he wanted to change analysts. On numerous occasions he asked me for analysts' addresses, even insisting that he wanted to begin analysis with my mother, Jenny Aubry. But he made all these requests in a way that betrayed avoidance of, or flight from, the very idea of change. When he said these things, Althusser behaved as though what he was saying was being caused by some sort of hallucination independent of any alterity. Arid the more he swamped his interlocutor with requests, the more he arranged things so that the replies would be inoperative, already inscribed, that is, in a discursive organization the sole purpose of which was to perpetuate the circle of a highly ritualized confinement. For this reason, I adopted the
practice of answering him only with concrete actions, like furnishing him with addresses or arranging, with no ulterior therapeutic intention, for him to meet those he wished to meet.
There is, consequently, no warrant for the assertion that in killing Hélène he wanted to avoid killing his analyst, while taking the place of a cannibal mother. But there is warrant for thinking that in inventing such an interpretation André Green was actually responding, in delusional fashion, to an interrogation that was meant to provoke him into uttering nonsense. Althusser knew perfectly well how much his interlocutor disapproved of his analyst's methods. For that matter, every time anyone tried to get involved in the transference relationship he maintained with Diatkine, he made a game of pretending he wanted to escape from it. And the game was always tragic.
One of the most far-fetched interpretations of the murder scene came from Jean Allouch. Stressing that Althusser's "imposture" had been to not ask Lacan to be his analyst, he asserted that, unlike Diatkine, Lacan would have taken the risk of not hospitalizing him and even letting him commit suicide if it came to that, so as not to give in to his pressure. Allouch then goes on: "Only one woman was able to make him show his worth, a Jew with the characteristic nose, a bundle of suffering, a piece of rubbish, she made him show his worth, it is true, without being able to escape paying for it with her life. This added to Althusser's feeling of persecution... he called her appareil idéologique de l'état [ideological apparatus of the state] and abbreviated it 'AIE/ Of course the combination of these three letters was an acronym. But it is impossible not to transliterate it into the interjection 'aïe!' which Hélène Legotien-Rytmann never uttered."60
It is well known that Lacan was always inviting anyone and everyone to recline on his couch. Yet in his relations with Althusser he carefully avoided any such proposal. It is also well known that he never hesitated to commit a patient dangerous to himself or others to hospital. So there is warrant for thinking that Allouch's wordplay on "AIE/aïe," coupled with his reference of the most dubious kind to the discourse of anti-Semitism (the Jewish woman's nose), amounts to a very odd way of proceeding. It has less to do with the real murder scene than it does with the twisted reality of an author, Allouch, who makes a travesty out of the scene he claims to be commenting upon.
Once more then, Althusser's text serves to remind the official exponents of psychopathology that the rigor of psychoanalytic knowledge can sometimes allow a subject—be he the most demented of murderers—to reappropriate the meaning of his own destiny, at the cost of punishing himself with ten years of inner exile for the crime he committed and for which he assumed responsibility.61
But there is another reason this autobiography holds such a special place in the history of French philosophic discourse at the end of the twentieth century, provoking outbursts of rancorous hatred and idiotic nonsense: It subverts all the rules proper to this genre of narrative. Instead of playing the game of transparency, introspection, the quest for the self, and the revival of buried memories, Althusser presents himself before the reader in multiple facets, and leaps from one subject, and one epoch, to another. Sometimes he contradicts himself or commits errors of fact, even going so far as to say that he was an impostor, and that he had never read a line of Freud's oeuvre—even that he was scarcely acquainted with that of Marx. Adopting a carnivalesque pose,62 he attempted to travesty his own thought, pretending in retrospect that it had all been a hoax.
Mixing intimate confession, fantasy, and the reflexive gaze, he never ceases to plant doubt in the minds of his future commentators, as though, knowing that he would never have to answer for what he was setting down—since he would be dead at the time of publication—he were wreaking vengeance, in a tone half tragic and half macabre, for having been put in the position of having to expound his own "case." Taking himself in structural fashion for the "father of the father," it was incumbent on him as well—and this is one of the main themes of the autobiography—to transmit a teaching, and so to draw up a balance sheet, addressed especially to his students and disciples, of what he had contributed to twentieth-century philosophy. It was incumbent on him to explain himself for posterity. The tempest had swept him up in the worst way possible, since, although he was a militant communist, he had never physically taken part in any combat: neither the anticolonialist struggle, nor that against Stalinism, of which he had nonetheless been the great deconstructor and fierce enemy. All his commitments came down to battles of the written word, punctuated by retreats into melancholy, and it was his coruscating writings that had gained him worldwide recognition, never any strictly political acts.
Consequently the act of 17 November 1980, or rather the surrender to the impulse to act that had turned him into a murderer, had become his major act, the only one indeed for which he had to answer. So the narrative of this act would necessarily supply the most authentic testimony on the meaning of a life and the import of an oeuvre.
To put it another way, it is because Althusser was willing to confront, in writing, the murder scene—or rather the reality of this unnameable scene—that he could render an accounting, after the fact, of his intellectual destiny. This, no doubt, is why the finest pages of the autobiography are those that recount his commitment to Marxism—a corporeal, physical, sexual, vital, fusional commitment. In the Spinozist theory of the body, in Machiavelli'syorama, in the idea of an authority able to put an end to the "war of all against all" (from Hobbes to Rousseau), in the materialism of Marx, and in the purest forms of the concept of political action, he encountered, on each reading, and throughout the course of the collective work upon which he had embarked with his closest collaborators—friends or students—his own "experience of a body at first torn apart and lost, an absent body, everything of excessive fear and hope that there was in me, recomposed and, as it were, discovered.... That one might in this way regain the disposition of one's own body, and draw from this appropriation the wherewithal to think freely and strongly, thus properly speaking to think with one *s body, in one *s body even, of one's body, in sum that the body might think through and in the deployment of its strength, was truly amazing to me."*3
This passionate plunge into conceptuality was accompanied by a certain ignorance of political reality in Althusser, so great was the gap between the space of interpretation and that of praxis. And so his body, so present in the elaboration of thought, fainted away whenever the risk arose of a confrontation with real events. While May 1968 was happening, Althusser, who had dreamed of the revolution, passed the spring and part of the summer confined in a clinic. Convinced that the French Communist Party had betrayed the working class by refusing to join the insurrection, he failed to see that the people had different demands from those of the student youth.
Seeking new subjective freedoms, the young contested the whole academic system: the professorial mandarins, the modes of transmitting knowledge, the rigidities of the old patriarchal authoritarianism, the barriers to the free unfolding of a sexuality without limits. Even if the rebels took over the words, concepts, and slogans of Marxist practice in aid of their struggle, they were already situating themselves outside that discourse. They spoke of their dreams using outdated and utterly dogmatic language, without perceiving the phase shift between a rhetoric that belonged to the past and aspirations already fixed on the near future.
Hence they reproached Althusser for remaining attached, body and soul, to a party headed for extinction, to a certain image of an outmoded communism of which they were themselves, much more than him, but only in appearance, the most archaic representatives. The upshot of this was that Louis Althusser did not succeed in transmitting any philosophi-cakheritage. Oscillating between the internal criticism that condemned him to confinement and a subversive teaching that drove his students to act against him, he was the victim of his own blockages.
This explains why he suffered so keenly when the leadership of the French Communist Party decided to jettison the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat, erasing it from their statutes.64 You don't abandon a concept, he would say, the way you abandon a dead dog. He regarded this gesture as a theoretical disaster because to him it meant that a handful of bureaucrats had arrogated to themselves the right, arbitrarily and for opportunistic reasons, to inflict injury on a system of thought that was in a sense an integral part of his own body. To him it was like a killing and it plunged him once again into the tempest.
Three years after Althusser's death, Jacques Derrida was invited to give a lecture at the University of California on the topic "where is Marxism headed? Is it moribund? * The philosopher of deconstruction had never been either a Marxist or a communist or a member of any party. His commitments lay elsewhere. But the idea of discussing this subject, at a time when the Soviet system had entirely collapsed, gave him the chance to think about a new approach to the oeuvre of Marx.
It was not upon China, nor the eastern bloc countries, nor upon any communist, neocommunist, or postcommunist party that Derrida chose to focus his critical gaze. He preferred to reflect, in a manner both lyrical and Shakespearean, on the foundational work of Marx in relation to the history of communism. "A specter is haunting Europe: the specter of communism," Marx had written in the opening of the famous Manifesto. So what then is the nature, Derrida responded, of the new specter haunting the maniacal and jubilant discourse of those who are today proclaiming everywhere that Marx is dead, that his decomposing cadaver is safely stowed away, and that never again will he turn up to disturb the good conscience of the West?
Specters of Marx is certainly one of Derrida's finest books, and one understands why it was a worldwide success. Rather than being turned toward the past, or nostalgically evoking a bygone era, it sounds a call to a new struggle against the triumphant powers of the technosciences, which are using the pretext of the death knell of the Marxist period to impose a globalized order in which man will be no more than a piece of merchandise meant for enslavement all the more bitter for being decked out as the fulfillment of the democratic ideal:
For one must cry out, at a time when some dare to neo-evangelize in the name of a liberal democracy finally fully realized as the ideal of human history: instead of hymning the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the "end of ideologies" and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never overlook this macroscopic obvious fact, composed of coundess individual sufferings: no amount of progress warrants us to ignore the fact that never, in absolute terms, never have so many men, women, and children been enslaved, famished or exterminated on earth.
As he was writing the lecture that was to become Specters of Marx, Derrida was thinking of South Africa, which had just renounced apart-
heid. He knew that a communist militant had just been assassinated there: "I remind you that it was a communist as such, a communist as communist, that a Polish immigrant and his accomplices, all the assassins of Chris Hani, put to death a few days ago. The killers themselves declared that they went after a communist. So they tried to interrupt negotiations and sabotage a negotiation that was under way.... Let me salute the memory of Chris Hani and dedicate this lecture to him."66
In this profoundly Freudian text, which opens with a call to hope—"I wish to learn to live at last"—Derrida renders a last homage, without explicitly saying so, to his friend Louis Althusser, to one who, after having led a spectral existence for ten years, had ended by being no more than the murderer of himself. Not a militant assassinated for being a communist, but a thinker of communism condemned to wander in the infernal circle of a universe of crime: crimes perpetrated in the name of communism, the killing of conceptuality, the murder of a woman of the Resistance, a militant of the communist idea.
1. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps. The tide of the published English translation is The Future Lasts Forever.
2. Hélène Rytmann (1910-80) is also known as Hélène Legotien and Hélène Legotien-Rytmann because "Legotien" had been her cover name in the Resistance and she continued to use it. She was buried in the cemetery of Bagneux in the section reserved for Jews.
3. Article 64 stipulated that "there is neither crime nor delict when the person suspected was in a state of dementia at the time of the deed." By the law of 22 July 1992, article 64 was replaced by article 122, which stipulates: "The person who was afflicted at the moment of the deed with a psychical or neuropsychical disturbance that altered his discernment or hampered his control of his actions is not penally responsible. The person who was afflicted at the moment of the deed with a psychical or neuropsychical disturbance that altered his discernment or hampered his control of his actions remains punishable: nevertheless, the court takes this factor into account when it determines the length of the sentence and decides under what conditions it shall be served."
4. Sarraute, "Petite faim."
5. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 19. "Even though I was released from psychiatric confinement two years ago, I remain, for the public to whom I am known, one of the disappeared. Neither dead nor alive, still unburied but 'unemployed*—Foucault*s magnificent word to designate madness: disappeared,... One of the disappeared may startle public opinion by turning up again (as I am now doing) in the broad daylight of life ... in the great sunshine of Polish freedom.**
6. Althusser, L avenir dure longtemps, 18.
7. I refer essentially to the coverage inLe Monde, Liberation, Le Matin, andLe Nouvel Observateur,
8. Cited by Robert Maggiori, Libération, 18 November 1980.
9. Jamet, "Le crime du philosophe Althusser.**
10. Jean Bousquet was the director of the École Normale Supérieure at this time.
11. Pierre-André Taguieff takes the prize for the greatest contemporary detestation of Louis Althusser. In a work claiming to denounce anti-Semitic hatred—and that is no more than a tissue of police-style imprecations against those who do not think like him—he endorses the view that the philosopher got special treatment after having premeditated a killing and taught his students to view crime positively, as akin to revolution. He goes on to characterize those in the philosopher's circle, and all the rebels of May 1968, as "islamo-communists,** meaning Stalinist terrorists tainted with anti-Semitism: "Balibar was, after all, one of the inner circle of his master and friend Althusser, who, it should be recalled—despite attempts to hush the matter up—was interned after having assassinated his companion 'in a moment of madness* (as it was called).** Careful to exempt Althusser from anti-Semitism, Taguieff still manages to hint, through a denial, that he had suspected him of having killed Hélène because she was Jewish: "The Jewish origin of the victim seems not to have constituted a determining factor in the murder. The essential point lies elsewhere: in the postulate that killers are always excusable, or pardonable, if they have presented themselves as 'revolutionaries' or partisans of the 'good cause.*** Taguieff, Prêcheurs de haine, 317—18.
12. See Balibar, Écritspour Althusser, 119-23.
13. See Althusser, "Sur la Révolution culturelle.** This article was published by Althusser anonymously. Contrary to what has since been stated, this text, which displays great political naïveté in light of the crimes committed by the Red Guards, does not include any call for the massacre of the "enemies** of the working class, or any "racist** conception of the notion of class struggle. Althusser wrote: "In no case, even against the enemy of the bourgeois class (crimes being punished by the law), ought one to resort to 'blows' and violence, but always to reasoning and persuasion." See Marty, Louis Althusser, 141—45.
14. In La pensée 68, Ferry and Renaut state that they preferred not to devote a chapter to the oeuvre of Louis Althusser, on the grounds that "it is in the work of Bourdieu that the French Marxism of the 1960s continues to hold a place in the intellectual field. Althusserism, even in Althusser's disciples, seems very dated, and irresistibly calls to mind a recent but outmoded past, like the music of the Beades or Godard's early films" (240). As for Furet, in Le Passé d'une illusion, he accuses Foucault and Althusser of having depicted bourgeois society as a totalitarian system.
15. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 152.
16. Moulier-Boutang, Louis Althusser, 147ÎÎ.
17. Althusser, Lettres à Franca, 215.
18. I have related this episode in Histoire de la psychanalyse en France, vol. 2.
19. Althusser, Journal de captivité,
20. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 102.
21. Althusser, Pour Marx', Althusser, Balibar, Establet, Macherey, and Rancière, Lire "Le Capital. "
22. Althusser, Pour Marx, 19.
23. Derrida, Chaque fois unique, 149.
24. Karl Marx, Les manuscrits économico-philosophiques de 1844 in Ecrits de jeunesse, presentation by Kostas Papaioanu (Paris: Éditions sociales, 1956); Thèses sur Feuerhach (Paris: Éditions sociales, 1956). Althusser, Écrits philosophiques et politiques.
25. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, p. III.
26. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, p. III. I can testify that Louis Althusser always gave the same version of what had happened.
27. Sollers, Femmes. In this novel Althusser is called Lutz.
28. Sollers, Femmes, 106—7.
29. Sollers, Femmes, in.
30. Jean Guitton, "Entretien avec Pierre Boncenne," Lire 121 (October 1985): 126.
31. Régis Debray, Les masques (Paris: Gallimard, 1988).
32. The philosopher had thought of calling his testimony Brève histoire d'un meurtrier (Brief History of a Murderer) or D'une nuit l'aube (Of a Night the Dawn).
33. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 273. André Malraux, Antimémoires (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), 1:155. Éric Marty gives an interpretation of this tide that differs from mine. See Marty, Louis Althusser, 43.
34. Althusser, L'a venir dure longtemps, 11—12.
35. Louis Althusser was known to have unusual physical strength.
36. "An early-morning massage transforming itself, without his realizing it into a strangulation, without the victim being there other than silendy (as if dead), then dead for real. Without the passage from life to death being assignable. Without the consciousness present here in the writing being de-scribable as conscious." (Moulier-Boutang, Louis Althusser, 38.) The murder took place in a room that was not normally occupied either by Louis or by his companion. No one knows the reason why Hélène had chosen to sleep there on that night.
37. Althusser, L avenir dure longtemps, 243.
38. In 1953 Jacques Lacan for his part had asked his brother Marc-François to arrange a meeting for him with the pope, so that he could expound his doctrine to him. In the same period he had sought a meeting with Maurice Thorez. He did indeed believe, and with good reason, that the Catholic church on one hand and the French Communist Party on the other, were the two major institutions susceptible of incorporating the Freudian doctrine. I have recounted this episode in Histoire de la psychanalyse en France, vol. 2. See as well Jean Guitton, Un siècle, une vie (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1988), 156.
39. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 245. We know today that Louis Althusser did not limit himself to taking the antipsychotic medication his psychiatrists prescribed for him. He also resorted, like Hélène, to constant self-medication, swallowing drugs of every sort without, for that matter, giving up the consumption of alcohol.
40. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 163.
41. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 137.
42. Moulier-Boutang, Louis Althusser, 344—444.
43. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 109 and 116.
44. Althusser, L'avenir dure longtemps, 154.
45. See Michel de Certeau, La fable mystique (Paris: Gallimard, 1982). Christian Jambet, La grande résurrection d'Alamût: Les formes de la liberté dans le shî'isme Ismaélien (Lagrasse: Verdier, 1990). It was Certeau who first remarked to me in 1969 that Althusser's destiny resembled that of the great mystics of Christianity and that his oeuvre bore traces of this.
46. This was the case of Claire Z., for example, with whom he had a long relationship before meeting Franca Madonia when he was forty-two.
47. Althusser, Lettres à Franca, 14.
48. On the relations between Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan, see Althusser, Écrits sur la psychanalyse, and Roudinesco,/<zc£ae£ Lacan, 383—403.
49. Georgette Althusser (1921-91), whose married name was Boddaert; in 1957 she sank into a serious depression after the birth of her son, François, who was raised by his grandparents and is today his uncle's heir and controller of his literary estate. Thanks to him the philosopher's papers were deposited and made available for consultation at the IMEC(Institut Mémoires de l'Édition Contemporaine).
50. Cited by Moulier-Boutang, Louis Althusser, 75-76. This text, obtained by Fernando Navarro in 1984, was published in Spanish in 1990. Althusser had refused to have it appear in print while he was alive.
51. Louis Althusser, letter of 18 July 1966, in Althusser, Écrits sur la psychanalyse,
52. Althusser, Lettres à Franca, 771.
53. Althusser, Lettres à Franca, 806. Franca met Louis Althusser once more, at Bologna in 1980. She died in Paris from the effects of cirrhosis of the liver caused by hepatitis C, without having been able to visit him after he was interned in the Saint-Anne hospital following the murder of Hélène.
54. Daniel Paul Schreber, Mémoires d'un névropathe (Leipzig 1903; Paris: Seuil, 1975). Sigmund Freud, "Remarques psychanalytiques sur l'autobiographie d'un cas de paranoïa" (1911) in Cinq psychanalyses (Paris: PUF, 1954), 263-321.
55. Daniel Sibony, Libération, 22 June 1992, reprinted in Sibony, Le peuple psy (Paris: Balland, 1993).
56. Lemoine-Luccioni, L'histoire à l'envers, 8.
57. Bénézech and Lacoste, "L'uxoricide de Louis Althusser selon son récit autobiographique."
58. Green, "Analyse d'une vie tourmentée," 31.
59. Green, "Analyse d'une vie tourmentée," 31.
60. Allouch, Louis Althusser, 51.
61. Louis du néant, by Gérard Pommier, recounts the melancholic itinerary of the philosopher. It is largely based on the work of Yann Moulier-Boutang and adds nothing new to Althusser's autobiography.
62. In his first autobiography, Les faits (1976), Althusser had already adopted this pose. Éric Marty takes it at face value and makes Althusser into a real impostor, responsible "for a million dead** (the Chinese executed during the Cultural Revolution). See Marty, Louis Althusser, 141.
63. Althusser, L avenir dure longtemps, 211.
64. The decision was taken by Georges Marchais during the twenty-second congress of the Parti Communiste Français in February 1976. The dictatorship of the proletariat can be defined as "the ensemble of temporary political measures that the proletariat must take in order to prevail during the revolutionary crisis, and so resolve it.** It is part of an exceptional situation and has a practical purpose. See Georges Labica and Gérard Bensussan, Dictionnaire critique du marxisme (Paris: PUF, 1982) and Etienne Balibar, Sur la dictature du prolétariat (Paris: Maspero, 1976).
65. Derrida, Spectres de Marx, 12.
66. Derrida, Spectres de Marx, 141.
Elisabeth Roudinesco, PHILOSOPHY IN TURBULENT TIMES, Columbia University Press, 2010(2005)