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This article is taken from PN Review 94, Volume 20 Number 2, November - December 1993.

Death and Decipherment:Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault Nicolas Tredell

Terminus, the god of boundaries, makes strange terminations. In 1980, Alan Sheridan concluded his study of Michel Foucault with a resonant anticipation: 'When one considers what is yet to come, one may well feel the ground stirring under one's feet' (1981 edn, p. 226). Four years later, Foucault was dead, of a disease to which AIDS had made him vulnerable. By 1980, Louis Althusser was distinctly passé: but one hardly expected to hear that he had returned to consciousness one morning to find that he had strangled his wife. Inevitably, the destinies of Althusser and Foucault were read as commentaries on their thought; and both had indeed thought, and in their different ways lived, on the dangerous edge of things. The publication of Althusser's autobiographies and of a third biography of Foucault prompts the question: what meanings do their thoughts and lives have as we move towards the terminus of the year 2000?

Althusser and Foucault were crucial figures in two successive moments of modern thought: the first of these, buoyed up by hopes of a new kind of revolution in East and West based on mythical versions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the événements of May '68, saw the austere modes of a truly scientific Marxism interfusing with radical change in the real world; the second, rising glittering and chastened from the ashes of those hopes, analysed the way in which the discourses and institutions of power constructed and controlled human subjects leaving only minimal, ...


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