He developed an interest in politics after he came into contact with Marxist thought and philosophy at the age of Castoriadis heavily criticized the actions of the KKE during the December clashes between the communist-led ELAS on one side, and the Papandreou government aided by British troops on the other. In , they experienced their "final disenchantment with Trotskyism",  leading them to break away to found the libertarian socialist and councilist group and journal Socialisme ou Barbarie S. Castoriadis had links with the group known as the Johnson—Forest Tendency until Consequently, his writings prior to that date were published pseudonymously, as "Pierre Chaulieu," "Paul Cardan," "Jean-Marc Coudray" etc. In his essay "The Relations of Production in Russia",  Castoriadis developed a critique of the supposed socialist character of the government of the Soviet Union.
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Castoriadis is able to present his ideas well, although he has a tendency to ramble. He carries on with a basis in psychoanalysis in order to present the "underbelly" of social arrangements, an understanding of the shadow construction of ideology founded on only teleological impetus.
Some of his text is perhaps not needed though, as he does ramble. The next step would be to adopt a platform in which the ideological basis for generation does not come from this privileged position of sublimation. He would have to have an aesthetic that reflects the differentials inherent within the discourses he seeks to illuminate Part of his incomplete basis lies with his psychoanalytic insistence of imaginary.
This view is problematic for while Castoriadis notes that this is "grounded on nothing" being only for-itself and therefore imaginary he provides the generative mechanicism of this cyclical return through psychoanalytic drives He is trading one lack for another lack, forming the groundwork of the petit object a from this, falling into the same binding logic of Zizek although Zizek goes from Lacan and Althusser into critical studies in this manner.
Society as an imaginary institution is only a secondary affect of the ungrounding of identity. What Castriadis has really shown is that our sense of being is not supplemented by what we think it is supplement; rather it is formulated by the latent content that has cohered around the formulation of our innate drive states. Despite the fact that many other philosophers have walked this trail, Castoriadis presents this view as being imaginary -- without giving us a sense of what Real is only as the excess of the imaginary.
We are left in our Kantian bubble, a teleological explanation that calibrates our own subjectivity in the manner of Descartes although Castoriadis takes Descartes down as well, as it is not a manner of thinking but what supplements thinking At once, he wishes to build our view from smaller logical parts the supervenience all the while insisting that this emerging logic is not real because it is not found from the smaller parts.
In other words, Castoriadis challenges Descartes on the content of his "I think therefore I am" but insists on utilizing Descartes method as a modality of generating truth. He settles in on the unconscious as the logical container of this excessive supervenience analytic but then insists that it is imaginary because it is not consciously determinable.
This is problematic word play of the worst kind We are instead left with a weakly flickering structure, one that wishes to expand to a maximal explanation but instead is not a revelation of any kind. Not only because others have tread this path, but because Castoriadis is unable to resolve the immanent problems with his explanation.
He does provide plenty of interesting insight, but misses the mathematical fit -- the modeling Descartes provided through his analytical geometry. This methodology provided the path not just for science and math but also characterizes the modality of philosophy as well. Because of this, Castoriadis misses the middle part of his thesis, focusing on the big picture "real institutions" and the small picture "analytical supervenience" but blindly participates in the same automatic theory generation because that theorizational model is natural to him, unnamed and therefore invisible.
His mismapping of institutions, one that uses the unconscious to fill in the void he cannot see, is the problem with this book. He wishes to remain only examining universals, and for that reason, while he is able to point of some key points for society and philosophy he is also unable to tell us what to do with these ideas.
In this sense, his book is less revelatory than it is merely library taxonomy in trying to draw the "longest consistency" available given the field of philosophical materialism. I like his attempt, and applaud his effort but his work is deeply flawed for the reasons cited above. Also enjoyed the aspects that insisted upon the fundamentally social orientation of autonomy. Bit too reliant on Freud and Psychoanalysis for my likings his work could certainly be enriched by a dialogue with Schizoanalysis , but the five stars is earned from the humour and honesty throughout the book.
My favourite section of the book was Castoriadis randomly, but refreshingly, making the case of autogestion self-management and autonomy amidst complex social ontology.
Like most people, I can live in this one and adapt to it -- at any rate, I do live in it. However critically I may try to look at myself, neither my capacity for adaptation, nor my assimilation of reality seems to me to be inferior to the sociological average.
I am not asking for immortality, ubiquity or omniscience. In life, however, as it comes to me and to others, I run up against a lot of unacceptable things; I say that they are not inevitable and that they stem from the organization of society. I desire, and I ask, first of all that my work be meaningful, that I may approve what it is used for and the way in which it is done, that it allow me genuinely to expend myself, to make use of my faculties and at the same time to enrich and develop myself.
And I say that this is possible, with a different organization of society, possible for me and for everyone. I say that it would already be a basic change in this direction if I were allowed to decide, together with everyone else, what I had to do and, with my fellow workers, how to do it. I should like, together with everyone else, to know what is going on in society, to control the extent and the quality of the information I receive.
I ask to be able to participate directly in all the social decisions that may affect my existence, or the general course of the world in which I live. I do not accept the fact that my lot is decided, day after day, by people whose projects are hostile to me or simply unknown to me, and for whom we, that is I and everyone else, are only numbers in a general plan or pawns on a chess board, and that, ultimately, my life and my death are in the hands of people whom I know to be, necessarily, blind.
I know perfectly well that realizing another social organization, and the life it would imply, would by no means be simple, that difficult problems would arise at every step. Even if I and the others should fail along this path, I prefer failure in a meaningful attempt to a state that falls short of either failure or non-failure, and which is merely ridiculous. I wish to be able to meet the other person as a being like myself and yet absolutely different, not like a number or a frog perched on another level higher or lower, it matters little of the hierarchy of revenues and powers.
I wish to see the other, and for the other to see me, as another human being. I want our relationships to be something other than a field for the expression of aggressivity, our competition to remain within the limits of play, our conflicts -- to the extent that they cannot be resolved or overcome -- to concern real problems and real stakes, carrying with them the least amount of unconsciousness possible, and that they be as lightly loaded as possible with the imaginary.
I do not count on people changing into angels, nor on their souls becoming as pure as mountain lakes -- which, moreover, I have always found deeply boring. But I know how much present culture aggravates and exasperates their difficulty to be and to be with others, and I see that it multiplies to infinity the obstacles placed in the way of their freedom. I know, of course, that this desire cannot be realized today; nor even were the revolution to take place tomorrow, could it be fully realized in my lifetime.
I know that one day people will live, for whom the problems that cause us the most anguish today will no longer even exist.
This is my fate, which I have to assume and which I do assume. But this cannot reduce me to despair or to catatonic ruminations. Possessing this desire, which indeed is mine, I can only work to realize it. And already in the choice of my main interest in life, in the work I devote to it, which for me is meaningful even when I encounter, and accept, partial failure, delays, detours and tasks that have no sense in themselves , in the participation in a group of revolutionaries which is attempting to go beyond the reified and alienated relations of current society -- I am in a position partially to realize this desire.
If I had been born in a communist society, would happiness have been easier to attain -- I really do not know, and at any rate can do nothing about it. I am not, under this pretext, going to spend my free time watching television or reading detective novels. Does my attitude amount to denying the reality principle? But what is the content of this principle?
Is it that work is necessary -- or that it is necessary that work be meaningless, exploited, that it contradict the objectives for which it is allegedly done? Is this principle valid, in this form, for someone of independent means? Is it valid, in this form, for the natives of the Trobriand islands or Samoa? Is it still valid today for fishermen in a poor Mediterranean village?
Up to what point does the reality principle reveal nature, and at what point does it begin to reveal society?
Why not serfdom, slave galleys, concentration camps? Where does a philosophy get the right to tell me: here, on exactly this inch of existing institutions, I am going to show you the borderline between the phenomenon and the essence, between passing historical forms and the eternal being of society?
I accept the reality principle, for I accept the necessity of work as long, in any case, as it is real, for it is becoming less obvious every day and the necessity of a social organization of work. But I do not accept the appeal to a false psychoanalysis and to a false metaphysics, which introduces the precise discussion of historical possibilities, gratuitous assertions about alleged impossibilities, about which this philosophy knows nothing at all.
Might my desire be infantile? But the infantile situation is that life is given to you and that the Law is given to you. In the infantile situation, life is given to you for nothing; and the Law is given to you without anything else, without anything more, without any possible discussion. What I want is just the opposite: I want to make my life and to give life if possible, and in any event to give something for my life. I want the Law not to be simply given, but for me to give it to myself at the same time.
The person who remains constantly in the infantile situation is the conformist and the apolitical person, for they accept the Law without any discussion and do not want to participate in shaping it. Someone who lives in society without any will concerning the Law, without any political will, has merely replaced the private father with the anonymous social father. The infantile situation is first receiving without giving, and then doing or being in order to receive. What I want is a just exchange to begin with, passing beyond exchange afterwards.
The infantile situation is the relation of duality, the phantasy of fusion -- and in this sense it is the present society that constantly infantilizes everyone, by the imaginary fusion with unreal entities: leaders, nations, cosmonauts or idols. What I want is for society to cease to be a family, moreover a false one and even a grotesque one; I want it to acquire its peculiar dimension as a society, a network of relationships among autonomous adults. Is my desire a desire for power?
But what I want is the abolition of power in the current sense; I want the power of each and every one. For current power, other people are things, and all that I want goes against this. The person for whom others are things is himself a thing, and I do not want to be a thing either for myself or for others. I do not want others to be things, I would have no use for this. If I may exist for others, be recognized by them, I do not want this to be in terms of the possession of something external to me -- power; nor to exist for them only in an imaginary realm.
The recognition of others has value to me only inasmuch as I recognize them as well. This seems more than improbable to me. If this were to happen, a battle would perhaps be lost but not the war, and am I to rule my entire life on the assumption that I might one day slip back into childhood? Should I follow this chimera of wanting to eliminate the tragic side of human existence? It seems to me that instead I want to eliminate the melodramatic aspect, the false tragedy -- the one in which catastrophe arrives without necessity, in which everything could have been otherwise if only the characters had known this or had done that.
And if one day humanity perishes by hydrogen bombs, I refuse to call this a tragedy. I would call it stupidity. When a neurotic repeats for the 14th time the same behaviour-pattern of failure, reproducing for himself and for those nearby the same type of misfortune, helping this person get out of such a situation is to rid his or her life of grotesque farce, not tragedy; it is to allow the person finally to see the real problems of life and the tragic element they may contain -- which the neurosis served in part to express but especially to mask.
Have they wiped out sadness, sickness, old age and death? No, replied the disciple. Then, they might as well have kept still, thought the Master.
And he plunged back into his contemplation, without bothering to show his disciple that he was no longer listening to him.
Band II: La dynamique du capitalisme. Band III: Capitalisme moderne et revolution. Band IV: Le contenu du socialisme. Thucydide, la force et le droit. Suivi de Dialogue. Band 1: Autonomie oder Barbarei.
The Imaginary Institution of Society