chapter  2
Critique’s muse: Althusser’s adventures with dialectics
Pages 26

Turning from Hegel to Louis Althusser is not the most obvious of progressions in a work concerned with dialectics. Indeed some will be alarmed because Marx appears to have been passed over. As I suggested already, Althusser him self seems only to be concerned with the inhuman, structural side of dia - lectics, reserving significant contempt for the experiential component that I have argued is also essential for a critical dialectics. Yet there are important reasons for choosing to proceed by way of Althusser. Accounts of Althusser as starkly anti-Hegelian remain too common. Part of this chapter addresses Althusser’s shifting positions on dialectical thought via Hegel and Marx, which inform his ongoing engagement with the composition of critique and how it can contribute to radical politics. Tracing some of these careful modifi - cations reveals an underappreciated nuance: the ruthless interrogator of Hegel is also quietly respectful, so much so that his own conception of dialectical critique came to depend increasingly on Hegelian insights. Examining aspects of how Althusser interpreted and redeployed Marx for his own purposes acknowledges Marx’s influence while at the same time avoiding some unnecessary detours through well-trod ground. In particular I am thinking of Marx’s materialist ‘inversion’ of Hegel, which relieves the rational kernel (a critical and materialist dialectic) of its mystical shell (an idealist dialectic and metaphysics of Being). Althusser’s position, as I mentioned earlier, is that Marx’s inversion only produced an ‘idealist anthropology’ when a non-humanist materialism is needed. This is one of the reasons I find Althusser so important. Notwithstanding some similarities, I show that he offers an alternative way of conceiving of dialectics from my own, by locating it on a register that is decidedly more structuralist. This chapter’s emphasis is intended to suggest that the now-tired questions about structuralism (or

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interest today are his posthumous publications on ‘aleatory materialism’. Not only does Althusser make the astonishing claim that he discovered an alternative tradition of materialist philosophy running from Lucretius through Machiavelli to Derrida, he induces a crisis of dialectical thought by questioning the very possibility of consistent historical tendencies, let alone our ability to grasp them. This is also where the tension in Althusser’s work between Marxism and post-Marxism reaches its peak. I argue that a schism develops between dialectics and Marxism that gives an unexpected priority to a postMarxist dialectical sensibility. Without repudiating Marxism, Althusser develops resources that see dialectics extend beyond Marxism’s theoretical terrain.