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Introduction to Castoriadis's
"From the Monad to Autonomy"
by David Ames Curtis and Sparta Castoriadis

Cofounder of the revolutionary group and journal Socialisme ou Barbarie (1948-1967), philosopher, social critic, professional economist, practicing psychoanalyst (since 1974), and Director of Studies (since 1980) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, Cornelius Castoriadis (b. 1922) is known to the readers of Free Associations as the author of "The First Institution of Society and Second-Order Institutions" (12, 1988) and as the subject of editor Paul Gordon's 1990 interview (24, 1991). He describes himself as close to the "Fourth Group," the French-Language Psychoanalytic Organization, that is separate from the two French psychoanalytic associations recognized by the International Psychoanalytic Association, as well as from the now-defunct Lacanian "École Freudienne" (from which it split in 1968) and from the École's various successors. Castoriadis's writings on psychoanalysis include: "Epilegomena to a Theory of the Soul which has been presented as Science" (1968) and "Psychoanalysis: Project and Elucidation" (1977), both now in Crossroads in the Labyrinth (Brighton: Harvester, 1984), "The Social-Historical Institution: Individuals and Things" (1975, the sixth chapter of The Imaginary Institution of Society [Cambridge: Polity, 1987]), "The State of the Subject Today" (1986; Thesis Eleven, 24 [1989]), "Reflections on Racism" (1987; Thesis Eleven, 32 [1992]), and "Logic, Imagination, Reflection" (1988; American Imago, 49:1 [Spring 1992]). In these texts and others, he has developed a unique critical reassessment of the Freudian psychoanalytic tradition and scrutinized in particular the tattered legacy of the Lacanian movement.

Key to Castoriadis's reassessment is his novel idea of an initial "psychical monad" located at the core of the human psyche. Contrasting this monad with a "social-historical" sphere irreducible to it, Castoriadis offers a distinctive conception of psychical development. The articles "State" and "Logic" place this conception explicitly within an ontologically-based outlook on the various self-created forms the "for-itself" takes on: the simple living being, the psychical sphere, the social individual, and society. The relationship of what Castoriadis once called socialism, and now terms "the project of autonomy," to psychoanalysis and to psychoanalytic theory continues to stand at the center of his concerns.

In the present interview with the French review Chimères, Castoriadis presents some of his most recent thinking on a variety of topics in these fields of inquiry. "From the Monad to Autonomy" both offers a general overview of his work and explores further the differentiations, as well as the mutual implications, that are to be found among the ontological regions he has discovered, described, and elucidated. Here we catch several glimpses of a work not only still "in progress" but already achieving results with new insights and ideas, particularly as concerns the incredibly complex interconnections between psyche and soma, and among the Conscious, the Unconscious, and the Nonconscious.

Chimères was founded in 1987 by Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze. At the time of the Castoriadis interview, the Editors-in-Chief were Jean-Claude Polack and Danielle Sivadon. Chimères, which is subtitled a "review of schizoanalyses," grew out of the "Tuesday Seminars" begun in the early Eighties by a group of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, historians, ethnologists, anthropologists, mathematicians, artists, etc. Rejecting the "supremacy" of a Freudian perspective and of Lacanian views on the "signifier/signified" and "structure," this group has developed, through its practical work, the idea that "the Unconscious is not a universal symbolic topology that would underlie a precarious biological infrastructure, but an always dated production, directly connected to History."

Jean-Claude Polack and his colleague Sparta Castoriadis conducted this interview in June 1991 at Cornelius Castoriadis's residence in Paris. Its main purpose was to allow for a confrontation between the lines of research conducted in Chimères and the paths hewn by Castoriadis. Author of numerous articles in Chimères and of several books, including La Médecine du Capital (Paris: Maspero, 1971) and, with Danielle (Sabourin) Sivadon, La Borde et le droit à la folie (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1975) and L'Intime utopie. Travail analytique et processus psychotiques (Paris: PUF, 1991), Polack is a psychiatrist, a psychoanalyst, and a cofounder of the Traverse Collective, an "experimental alternative to psychiatry in urban areas." Sparta Castoriadis, Cornelius Castoriadis's elder daughter, works in a collective in Paris with a group of her fellow psychiatrists and psychoanalysts.

—David Ames Curtis and Sparta Castoriadis, Paris-Saint Cloud, July 23, 1993

Reprinted from Free Associations, 34 (1995): 123-24 [final paragraph restored as originally drafted by Curtis and S. Castoriadis].