Saul Newman – From Bakunin to Lacan

Newman coined the term «post-anarchism» as a general term for political philosophies filtering 19th century anarchism through a post-structuralist lens, and later popularized it through his 2001 book From Bakunin to Lacan. Thus he rejects a number of concepts traditionally associated with anarchism, including essentialism, a «positive» human nature, and the concept of revolution. The links between poststructuralism and anarchism have also been developed by thinkers like Todd May and Lewis Call.

Newman is currently Reader in Political Theory at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He received his B.A. from the University of Sydney, and his Ph.D in political science from the University of New South Wales. His work has been translated into Turkish, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian, and has been the subject of a number of debates amongst anarchist theorists and activists as well as academics.

Cornelius Castoriadis – The Rising Tide of Insignificancy


In March 1996, when La Montee de l’insignifiance (MI), the fourth volume in Cornelius Castoriadis’s Carrefours du labyrinthe (CL, Crossroads in the labyrinth) series, was published, the author prefaced the book with the following brief «Notice»:

I have brought together here most of my texts from the past few years that are devoted to the contemporary situation, to reflection on society, and to politics. A fifth volume of the Carrefours du labyrintheseries will follow in a few months, containing writings bearing on psychoanalysis and philosophy.

One will encounter a few repetitions among these texts. Such repetitions are inevitable when one has to familiarize different audiences with the author’s presuppositions, which are not obvious to everyone. It is difficult to eliminate them without destroying, each time, the logical order of the argument. I hope to be able to count on the reader’s indulgence.

July 1995

Castoriadis’s Socialisme ou Barbarie-era writings (1946-1965) had already been republished, along with new and previously unpublished material, by editions 10/18 between 1973 and 1979, and his magnum opus,L’Institution imaginaire de la Societe (IISThe Imaginary institution of society), an outgrowth of his final S. ou B. writings (1964-1965), had appeared in 1975. Two other «books» [1] — a joint talk with Daniel Cohn-Bendit published as De l’ecologie a l’autonomie (DEA, From ecology to autonomy), and a volume devoted to posttotalitarian Russian «stratocratic» expansionism, Devant la guerre (DG, Facing war) — had come out in 1981. And Castoriadis had already published three Carrefours tomes: the eponymous first volume in 1978, a second volume entitled Domaines de l’homme (DH, Domains of man) in 1986, and Le Monde morcele(MM, World in fragments) in 1990. As promised in his MI Notice quoted above, a fifth, more psychoanalytically — and philosophically — oriented volume, Fait et a faire (FAF, Done and to be done), did indeed appear in 1997, the year of his death.

While these first three Carrefours volumes enjoyed respectable sales in France, they did not have the full public impact Castoriadis perhaps had hoped for. The second one in particular, DH, was a massive tome of a quite heteroclite nature, very difficult for readers and reviewers alike to get a firm grasp on. And so he waited a shorter time (a four — instead of an eight — year hiatus) before publishing a smaller, more compact or concentrated volume, MM. The decision to publish two additional volumes, six and seven years after the third one in the series, with contents separated between the topical (MI addressing primarily social and political matters) and the psychoanalytic-philosophical (FAF) was thus, to a considerable degree, a marketing decision on the author’s part, though it was also a decision not entirely alien to his own political and philosophical concerns.

Castoriadis had long felt that no politics could be deduced from a philosophy (Plato’s hubris), nor could any philosophy be deduced from a politics (at times, Marxism’s error). [2] At the same time, as he explains,

since the end of Socialisme ou Barbarie, I am no longer directly and actively involved in politics, save for a brief moment during May 1968. I try to remain present as a critical voice, but I am convinced that the bankruptcy of the inherited conceptions (be they Marxist, Liberal [in the Continental sense of conservative believers in the «free» workings of a «capitalist market»], or general views on society, history, etc.) has made it necessary to reconsider the entire horizon of thought within which the political movement for emancipation has been situated for centuries. And it is to this work that I have harnessed my efforts since that time.

This statement about a «necessary . . . reconsider[ation of] the entire horizon of thought within which the political movement for emancipation has been situated for centuries,» to which he had «harnessed [his] efforts since» his last overt and organized collective political engagement [3] appears in the eponymous interview «The Rising Tide of Insignificancy,» which offers, in his «critical voice,» diagnoses of the contemporary age. So, even in one of his more topical texts, he refers to the philosophical work that must come to inform (though never dictate) ongoing interventions in the social and political spheres. Philosophy and politics — whose «co-birth» occurred, Castoriadis argues, first in ancient Greece and a second time in Western Europe at the end of the Middle Ages — remain in his work the nonidentical yet intertwined twins he consistently described them as being. There is an arbitrariness as well as a certain necessity to this imaginary act of separation effectuated by Castoriadis himself within his own magmatic oeuvre.

The publication history in English of Castoriadis’s Carrefours series writings is even more complicated and varied. The first volume in the series was translated, as is, in 1984 as Crossroads in the Labyrinth (CL), while selections from DH and MM, many of them originally written in English, appeared in Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (PPA, 1991), in between the first two and the third selection of S. ou B.-10/18 texts known collectively as the Political and Social Writings (PSW, 1988 and 1993). [4]

Additional selections from DH and MM, as well as a few texts (see below) from the newly published MI were gathered together in the Castoriadis Reader (CR) and in World in Fragments (WIF), both of them published the year of his death. Castoriadis was thus able to see the bulk of his Carrefours writings appear in English during his lifetime — albeit in a somewhat jumbled manner. But as we have seen, Castoriadis’s own method for presenting the Carrefours texts in French was itself a work in progress, constantly open to question along the way by the author himself. Concrete plans were already underway shortly before his death for his long-time collaborator and friend David Ames Curtis to present in English remaining Carrefours texts, many of them already translated by Curtis and published in various journals or still in manuscript form awaiting book publication. [5]

The present volume, The Rising Tide of Insignificancy (RTI), which takes its name from La Montee de l’insignifiance, thus does not contain all the same material as that original French-language book. The first three texts from the initial Kairos section — «The Crisis of Western Societies» (now in CR), as well as «The Movements of the Sixties» and «The Pulverization of Marxism-Leninism» (both now in WIF) — had already been claimed. And while the Koinonia section remains intact in this English-language electronic book version, the first, third, and fourth chapters of MI‘s third and final section, Polis — «The Greek and the Modern Political Imaginary,» «Culture in a Democratic Society,» and «The Ethicists’ New Clothes» — also had been preempted by prior publication in WIF and CR. The MI texts preserved in RTI are as follows: «Between the Western Void and the Arab Myth,» «The Dilapidation of the West,» «The Rising Tide of Insignificancy,» «Anthropology, Philosophy, Politics,» «The Crisis of the Identification Process,» «Freud, Society, History,» «The Athenian Democracy: False and True Questions,» and «Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime.»

To fill the gaps created by the vagaries of the Castoriadis publishing history in English, we have delved back into the second, third, and fifth Carrefours volumes. There we have found, for RTI, other texts compatible with the fourth volume’s original topical themes concerning society and politics. As noted above, Curtis had already prepared many of these texts for publication. The first four chapters of RTI — «The Vacuum Industry,» «Psychoanalysis and Society I» and «II,» and «Third World, Third Worldism, Democracy» — have been drawn from DH‘s Kairos section, and the first chapter of RTI‘s Polis section — «Unending Interrogation» — comes from the corresponding section of DH, as well. «The Idea of Revolution,» the only chapter from MM yet to be published in book form in English (it, too, had been listed on several previous book proposals presented to American and British publishers but each time had to be dropped for reasons of space), is now also included in RTI as a useful counterpart on modern revolutions to his piece on the birth of Athenian democracy. Finally, from FAF, the fifth and last of the CL volumes Castoriadis published while he was alive, we have included «Complexity, Magmas, History: The Example of the Medieval Town» in an added Logos section. Thus, with the exceptions of a few topical Kairos texts from DH dealing mostly with Marxism, totalitarianism, the erstwhile «Soviet Union,» its former satellites, and French politics — «Transition,» «Illusions ne pas garder,» «Le plus dur et le plus fragile des regimes,» «Pologne, notre defaite,» «Le regime russe se succedera a lui-meme,» «Marx aujourd’hui,» «Quelle Europe, Quelle menaces, Quelle defense?,» «La ‘gauche’ en 1985,» and «Cinq ans apres» — ofDH‘s «Les destinees du totalitarisme,» as well as of its intriguing, still untranslated Preface and of one last FAF text — «Passion et connaissance» — all Carrefours series texts published during Castoriadis’s lifetime are now available in book form in English. A translation of the posthumous sixth Carrefours tome, Figures du pensable (FP) will soon appear as Figures of the Thinkable (FT), with «Passion and Knowledge» replacing an FP text published long ago in PPA («The Social-Historical: Modes of Being, Problems of Knowledge»). And an English-language collection of previously untranslated DH texts, along with other uncollected writings on Russia, is currently in the works. Other volumes in English are now in the planning stages. The reader’s patience is requested as these electronic publishing projects are presently being undertaken under a highly difficult set of circumstances.

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