Warren Montag geïnterviewd over Althusser en Spinoza

Op 1 febr. 2017 had het kwartaalblad Salvage (over revolutionary arts and letters) een uitgebreid interview dat George Souvlis (a doctoral candidate in history at the European University Institute in Florence) had met Warren Montag:

Althusser, Spinoza and Revolution in Philosophy: An Interview with Warren Montag [cf.]

Warren MontagWarren Montag is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. He is known primarily for his work on twentieth-century French theory, especially Althusser and his circle, as well as his studies of the philosopher Spinoza. [cf. ook ‘t blog van 28-09-2013 “Warren Montag over Louis Althusser (1918 - 1990) en Spinoza”]

Ik haal alleen de laatste van twee passages die in het bijzonder over Spinoza gaan hier naar binnen (voor de eerste, die een interpretatie van Hegel’s Spinoza en Macherey’s Spinoza betreft verwijs ik naar het interview).

GS: In Bodies, Masses and Power: Spinoza and his Contemporaries you argue for “Spinoza’s paradoxical and unsuspected contemporaneity”. Where does this contemporaneity lie?

WM: It seems that contemporaneity has two different meanings here. First, the question of fact: has Spinoza, insofar as he is revived, resuscitated or rehabilitated, become our contemporary, figuring not simply as a reference point but as a living body of thought capable of growth? The answer here is certainly yes. For reasons I explained in the preface to the New Spinoza, the radicalization that occurred internationally around 1968 produced as one of its effects a resurgence of Marxist theory whose weaknesses and gaps became apparent in practice. Neither philosophies grounded in Hegel or Kant nor, later, those grounded in Analytic philosophy were capable of identifying let alone addressing these weaknesses. The former proved incapable of separating themselves from the teleologies that plagued Marxist thought, while the latter which tended to see teleology everywhere (especially in structuralism) turned to the methodological individualism of Hobbes and Adam Smith without any awareness of the providentialist and thus teleological tendencies to which it is linked.

From these perspectives, Spinoza was unintelligible. But for Althusser and his colleagues, as well as Negri, Spinoza’s critique of concepts like order and providence, of emanationist and expressive causalities, that is, his thorough assimilation (but also transformation) of Epicurus and Lucretius, as well as Machiavelli (as both Filippo Del Lucchese and Vittorio Morfino have demonstrated) allowed us to see these problems as problems for us. Similarly, Spinoza’s problematization of the idea that the mind through an act of will moves the body and thus that belief “causes” action poses a profound challenge to political theory past and present.

But there is another question concerning Spinoza’s relation to the present: not simply does he belong to it, but what does he have to offer it? The answer of course is that he has a number of concepts, including those that exist in the practical state in his work, that can be put to use. As far as I am concerned, the most important and also the most difficult is the concept of the immanent cause which is captured perfectly in Spinoza’s declaration in Ethics I, P33, sch.2 that “God did not exist prior to his decrees nor can he be without them.” Althusser insisted that the notion of structural causality, “the presence of the structure in its effects,” another way of saying the cause is absent outside of its effects, always already re-presented by delegation through a metonymic structure, marked a “shattering of the classical theories of causality.” The model of base and superstructure, the determination of ideologies by the economic base, conceived along the lines of an emanative or expressive causality, had the paradoxical effect of tying the realm of ideas to material existence but at the expense of maintaining the immateriality of ideology which existed in the realm of consciousness as beliefs and ideas. Althusser’s notion of the ISAs was predicated on the thesis that “ideology has a material existence,” one effect of which was to eliminate the possibility of an ontological hierarchy whether of the primacy of spirit over matter, soul over body or matter over spirit, body over soul. I emphasize Althusser’s objective here because it is at risk of being forgotten. I refer to certain tendencies in that very Anglo-American movement of the new materialism which strike me as profoundly idealist. First, a declaration of independence from the history of philosophy (mimicking Analytic philosophy) as if one can free oneself from historical determination by a decision or act of faith. Second, a turn to objects (and more recently matter) instead of the subject or subjects through whose mediation alone objects were available to us, which declares language or discourse mere “epiphenomena,” a term whose primary function is to dematerialize that to which it is applied on the (Platonic) grounds that it is too distant from the source of truth. It is absolutely predictable that in another decade or so we will witness a return to the subject in a reaction against a crude and reductive objectivism, if not materialism. We are a long way from the notion that philosophy must, before anything else, understand the theoretical and political conjuncture in which it exists in order to act effectively, that is, it must confront its own material existence.


Nog meer over Althusser en Spinoza: het artikel van 
Peter Thomas, "Philosophical Strategies: Althusser and Spinoza," in: Historical Materialism Vol. 10 (2002) (#3): pages 71-113, is te vinden op academia.edu