The patient cannot last long

The presence on our bookshelves of such texts as Louis Althusser’s Reply to John Lewis and Jacques Rancière’s Althusser’s Lesson immediately invites the readers who pick them up to ask themselves what might be at play between titles that so readily mix, miss or specify the genres – if there are any – through which a text seeks its readers.

Formally, Althusser gave the impression that he was engaging in a straightforward debate. The debate, essentially about Althusser’s contribution between 1960 and 1972 to the Marxist theory developed by Europe’s communist parties, demanded that he intervene in his capacity as a Party member and a participant in its public discussions. But, right away, the opening sentences of his reply to John Lewis describe something else entirely. Althusser, picking up on the title of the article Lewis had devoted to his texts in Marxism Today, improvises a theatrical scene. ‘The whole family, as it were, together with his silent colleagues, stood motionless at the bedside, while Dr John Lewis leaned over to examine “the Althusser case”. A long wait. Then he made his diagnosis: the patient is suffering from an attack of severe “dogmatism” – a “mediaeval” variety. The prognosis is grave: the patient cannot last long.’1



1. Louis Althusser, Reply to John Lewis, in Essays in Self-Criticism, trans. Grahame Lock, New Left Books, London,1976, p. 35.


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