Butler avec Althusser: Notes for an Investigation

Décalages 2 (4):109-136 (2022)
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In this essay, I try to go through the questions and analysis that Judith Butler puts on Althusser’s work—reading fundamentally and almost exclusively the essay on the “Ideological State Apparatus” from 1970, and the relationship she maintains in her reading with the Freud’s concept of repression and the Lacanian “symbolic order”. My central hypothesis is that it is the Foucauldian reading of Freud and Lacan, begun early in 1990 with Gender Trouble, that guides Butler in his interpretation of the Althusserian concept of interpellation understood almost exclusively from the perspective of the “hailing” example that Althusser provides in his essay from 1970. This leads Butler to a reading that I characterize here as biographical—for its obscene reliance on a particular episode in Althusser’s life: the murder of Helène Rytman—and anti-Cartesian, insofar as it attempts reading the ideological readiness of the subject as something beyond the split of the cogito, and materially effected by an ontological repetition. The problem with Judith Butler's concept of repression is its unappealable juridical nature—which is paradoxical for an erudite reader of Michel Foucault—insofar as the agent of repression appears as analogous to the State and therefore it results assimilable with rebellions “melancholic” subjectivity. This conflation of the psychological and the social is conducive to some mass psychologism, which forgets Althusser’s debt to Lacan when elaborating his theory of ideology. I proceed to investigate the origins of this theory in the text “Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses” (1968) and in the recently published Que faire (2018). My tentative conclusion is that there is an idea of supplementary violence (in the Lacanian sense of plus-de-jouir) constitutive of the unconscious in Althusserian theory of ideology that cannot be overlooked, and that is linked to his reading of Freud.


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