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Writing: The Political Test (Duke University Press, 2000)
So, you, the reader, have found yourself here, which is perhaps as good a place to start, or to end, as anywhere else. Perhaps you are looking for words of explanation as to what the author I have chosen to translate has wanted to say, or--the height of embarrassment for a translator, whose role is eminently self-effacing (though, as I have written before, (1) there is also on the translator's part a civic duty of presentation of a translated author, as well as of self-presentation, in the transnational Republic of Letters)--what I myself have to say. Perhaps you have come across this sentence by pure accident. Or, perhaps--a greater (?) embarrassment--you have been assigned these lines as a textbook example of how not to begin a translator's foreword. In any case, you, the reader of the published version of the present text, are someone I probably do not know, from a millennium in which I have not (yet) lived. Almost everything I have to say to you whom I address these lines is enveloped in the precarious indeterminacy of our only now commencing dialogue--your personality, your experience, your motivations remain in suspense as I write these lines which I am constantly going back over to revise, not sure, beyond a vague outline and a general sense of both form and content, what it is I have to say or what you might be expecting, and yet I write them to you and you, somehow, are reading them and trying to discern what purpose, if any, may lie behind the generalities I have recorded so far. Even the physical basis by which these words come to you has been opened to question: recently, I myself read (on newsprint) a piece about the advent of the e-book, and the day thereafter I read (again on newsprint) that DNA, apparently an excellent electrical conductor, could replace silicon chips (which I am now using to write to you), so that that former support for ink, dead trees ground to pulp, might one day be supplanted by some kind of engaged symbiotic encounter with an organic machine (a twentieth-century writer takes this last phrase to be anoxymoron), (2) thus making possible in a new and unforeseeable way what is already (still?) being described as a discreet and unique "event" conjured up in hypercyberspace.
What, in order to go on, can be retained from the foregoing? I take the word encounter--more specifically, an open-ended, vulnerable, never fully assured and always to be recommenced improvisatory experience whereby the subjective and objective elements in both reading and writing do not so much "meet" as arise together within a temporally diffuse and divided space, one surrounded on all sides by question marks--therefore bounded, but in an abeyant, interrogative mode. This choice of word, and my other word choices so far, it may already be obvious, have been made in response to some of the themes raised in the book I have chosen to translate, which includes extensive and wide-ranging reflections on the arts of reading and writing.
I could thus cite here some general reflections the author Claude Lefort shares with us while discussing "Machiavelli's writing art":
"If one wants to know the intentions of a writer, it seems worthwhile to ask oneself who are his privileged interlocutors, what are the opinions he targets, what are the circumstances that summon up his desire to speak. Let us note in passing that, in order to account for his thinking, it doesn't suffice to answer these questions, supposing that one could, for it is equally true that he writes for no one, that he becomes intimate with a reader who has no definite identity. The reader's place will be occupied, in a future he could not imagine, by unknown people. And again it is true that he draws on circumstances for an ability to think that transcends the contingency of his situation."
A multifaceted sense of uncertainty would therefore seem essential to the writer's situation and to his relationship to his reader. In order to look at the other half of this variable equation and to see if it has any solution, we could turn to Lefort's thoughts on "the art of reading," inspired by his examination of the Marquis de Sade's combination of his writing art with an "art of jouissance":
"What I mean to say, in short, is that every reading of a text implies, for the one who reads it, some manner of saying it to oneself--and, always already, some manner of interpreting it, simply by the inflection one gives to the words, the rhythm to the phrase, by a modulation of speech that in oneself remains unpronounced. One does not read Molière as one reads Racine or Descartes. But the difference is not dictated entirely by the text; it also arises from the operations performed by the reader. Indeed, what would be the point of learning to read if not to decipher and to communicate what are called "messages"? The thing is well known, but usually everything happens as if this knowledge served no purpose. Ordinarily, we are reluctant to admit that the interpretation based on one's understanding, the learned interpretation, is inseparable from this first sensible interpretation of which every reading is made. And there is an indefinable shuttling back and forth between them. It is one's manner of reading that leads to understanding, and it is also one's understanding that leads to rereading, to rearticulating, to scanning the text in another way. Of course, the distance between the actor-performer [l'interprète-acteur] on stage and the scholar-interpreter may be unbridgeable, but there is still a sort of mediation: the art of reading, which is impossible to define."
In this latter case, writing and its art seem to come partially to the rescue, when faced with the avowed impossibility of providing any reliable definition for this art of reading; for, Lefort continues: "Since I have just advanced the idea that the manner of reading is not dictated entirely by the text, I must qualify this statement by adding that it is nevertheless from the power of a piece of writing that a reading draws its power. For, the reader knows that there has to be a proper reading." And yet this comforting talk about a "proper reading" suggested by the power of writing proves to be only a prelude to his introduction of the disturbing idea that there is an inherent "insecurity of reading" and to his assertion that, furthermore, Sade's own writing is of a sort to "throw us into a state of the greatest insecurity." Speaking, in another chapter--"Philosopher?"--of philosophy's potential relationship to nonphilosophical writing (we are reminded here of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's "Philosophy and Non-Philosophy since Hegel," a posthumous text Lefort himself edited), (3) he goes on to ask himself: "What remains, then, of the exigency of philosophy . . . that prompts one indeed to declare that it can manifest itself in writings that do not know that they are philosophical?" and he admits: "I still couldn't find an answer to a question like that. But it doesn't seem to me to be a futile one because it leaves me disarmed." An interesting response indeed, one that indicates that the uncertainty, and the danger, of any true thought by which writing and reading might attempt to advance are not only ineluctable but, as far as he is concerned, also in some way welcome.
In providing you with these quotations, I am, however, getting ahead of, or perhaps behind, myself. For, I have offered the reader a series of English words that Lefort himself has never spoken or written: all the words chosen in this translation have been chosen by me (4)--a crushingly banal point, except if we reflect upon the strange situation of the translator, who, in performing his daunting and nearly absurd job, imagines himself over an extended and exhausting period of time to be someone who not only isn't himself but also doesn't exist--in this case, a native English-speaking "Claude Lefort"--while at the same time endeavoring in some creative and indefinable way to "retain" within the translated text a sufficiently alien presence, so that the translation can also honestly fulfill its eminent, though implicit, civic purpose--that is, the introduction of foreign ideas into what we think of as a determinate yet evolving literary community or "body politic," so as to open that body to the possibility of a considered assimilation of something that is not (yet) itself. It is in emerging from this experience of speaking (writing through translating) in an imaginary voice that is not my own--that is, strictly, no one's and that will now somehow live on, in its own right and closely associated with Lefort and, to a lesser extent, with myself--that I, changed forever by this disconcerting and destabilizing experience, try to find again my own voice in order to indicate to you in writing some provisional guidelines for reading what I have, and yet have not, written in this translation.
It will perhaps not be surprising if I now say that another word I could retain from the first paragraph, besides encounter, is embarrassment. The discomfort built into the constant insecurity of the translation encounter is an experience every translator knows unmistakably, in his constant hesitations as well as in his ultimate choices. That old adage, traduttore, traditore (the translator as traitor), is manifestly true, yet it speaks to the translator's experience only to the extent that the translator has also adopted the apparently contradictory, yet truly complementary, project of rendering a "faithful" translation--which is an infinite and impossible yet unavoidably necessary as well as positively desirable task.
I could begin my endless list of embarrassments with the problems surrounding my translation of the book's subtitle. Whereas the title, Écrire, is fairly straightforward--"writing" or "to write" (though the entire book is an extended meditation on what it means to write!)--this subtitle, À l'épreuve du politique, has posed fairly insurmountable problems. An épreuve is a "test," a "trial," even an "ordeal"--or, to use another French word also found in English, a "travail." I have called upon or called attention to all of these options in the present translation--though the first may sound too scientific or academic, the second too tentative or legalistic, the third overly harsh or downright medieval, and the last merely a melodramatic literary flourish--in order to capture the term's sense of a challenging experience that involves a confrontation with reality. Compounding the inevitable polysemy of épreuve is the appearance, almost right after it, of the curious masculine noun of recent vintage, (5) le politique--"the political" or "the political sphere," as is sometimes said now in English--which contrasts in French with the more straightforward, concrete, and familiar feminine noun la politique--"politics" or "policy," depending upon the context--and which derives from das politische, a neuter German word popularized by the Nazi-era German constitutional scholar and political thinker Carl Schmitt and then by his American emigrant former student Leo Strauss (to whom, moreover, Lefort devotes three extensive and critical Notes). "The political" has been associated, too, with the writings of Hannah Arendt (wrongly, according to one young political scientist, who claims that "this term, developed by the right-wing jurist Carl Schmitt, has been ascribed to her by Marxist thinkers more influenced by Schmitt than she is"), (6) and le politique is employed today by a wide variety of other French-speaking writers besides Lefort, including the late emigrant Greek political and social thinker Cornelius Castoriadis, whose usage of the le/la politique distinction differs markedly from his, (7) and leading French classicist Jean-Pierre Vernant, who, in insisting that "the political," like "politics," has a datable birth and origin in the poleis of Ancient Greece, differs from both Castoriadis and Lefort on this score. (8) Yet, "the political," as substantive noun, still reads rather inelegantly on the cover of an English-language book (9)--even if we note the existence of Reinterpreting the Political, a recently published American anthology of "Continental" political theory that borrows its title directly from a passage in Lefort's influential 1985 essay, "The Question of Democracy." (10) After considering, and then rejecting, the nearly literal Writing: The Test[or the Ordeal] of the Political and the simpler Writing the Political, I searched, without much success, for more satisfactory alternatives, ones that somewhat deceptively transform this unusual noun, however, back into an adjective: Writing: The Political Test ultimately survived only because it seemed mildly less dissatisfactory than Writing and the Ordeal of Politics and marginally less deceptive than such precious (though not entirely misleading) options as The Literature of Politics and the Politics of Literature or such trendy ones as Writing/Politics, which employ the alternative noun, politics, and without incorporating épreuve. (11)
Adding to the humiliation of not finding, for the first time in my fourteen years as a professional translator, a book title with which I could feel reasonably satisfied was the disquiet I felt before what might appear to be a widely disparate collection of essays--a quick glance at the table of contents begins to reveal part of the wide range of Lefort's "privileged interlocutors," both living and dead: George Orwell, Salman Rushdie, Alexis de Tocqueville, the Marquis de Sade, François Guizot, Niccolò Machiavelli, Leo Strauss, Pierre Clastres. (12) I purchased the book shortly following its publication in 1992 by Calmann-Lévy and a while after I had attended some lectures on the fall of Communism given by Lefort here in Paris, because it contained some "reflections" on that topic and with the idea of translating it eventually. (Lefort cofounded the now-legendary postwar left-wing anti-Communist group Socialisme ou Barbarie with Castoriadis, of whose vast writings I have now translated and edited about a million words. (13)) I quickly realized that what seemed to be a bunch of occasional pieces preceding those "Reflections on the Present" had a much greater depth and a much tighter thematic organization than I had first suspected, but my enthusiasm, which increased considerably as I read through the volume, was of no avail with publishers, who, one after another, rejected my translation proposals on the basis of their initial negative impression of its apparently eclectic contents.
It was, however, precisely Lefort's linkage of political reflection with a
literary concern to investigate the arts of reading and writing that tied these
chapters together thematically and offered, I came to think, an excellent opportunity
to introduce English-speaking readers to his work--which, despite the publication
in English of two previous collections more than a decade ago,
(14) and notwithstanding the occasional appearance in English translation
of writings by his former teacher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, edited and prefaced
by Lefort himself, (15) has not gained the recognition
in the English-speaking world that that work undoubtedly deserves.
(16) A first opening came by chance, when Vassilis Lambropoulos was
seeking contributions for a 1996 special issue of Duke University Press's literary
journal South Atlantic Quarterly on "Ethical Politics." Lefort's article
on Sade, subtitled "The Boudoir and the City," fit perfectly Lambropoulos's
goal of encouraging "nomoscopic analysis," that is, a critical examination of
laws and ethical norms as explored in literary texts. The fact that this chapter
from Écrire looked at Sade's Philosophie dans le boudoir--a
hybrid (17) work hovering somewhere between
the genres of the novel, the dialogue, the political tract (i.e., the performative
reading of the celebrated and fabled "Français, encore un effort" pamphlet
embedded in the text), and the theatrical play--was also propitious, for "nomoscopy,"
in Lambropoulos's view, (18) would privilege
criticism of more public forms of literary engagement, such as drama, which
have taken a back seat to the novel in recent times. Subsequent interest from
Duke University Press editor J. Reynolds Smith and a grant from the French Ministry
of Culture and Communication have made this translation a reality.
(19) The Sade gig also provided me with an unprecedented and very
welcome opportunity to challenge myself as a translator while trying to capture
the extraordinary richness and subtlety of Lefort's literary-philosophical investigations
and descriptions. (20)
Georges André Claude Lefort was born April 21, 1924 in Paris to an artisan painter, Maurice-Alphonse Lefort, and his wife Rose, née Cohen, a fashion designer. His high-school years under the Occupation were spent at the Lycée Carnot, where he had the extraordinary experience of taking a young Maurice Merleau-Ponty's course in philosophy, and then at the Lycée Henri IV, where, upon joining with French Trotskyism, he became a politically active radical with a considerable following. After encountering Castoriadis (1922-1997) at a postwar Trotskyist meeting, the two joined forces to build an oppositional tendency that eventually transformed itself into the independent group of workers and intellectuals Socialisme ou Barbarie which published a review by the same name. Lefort attended the University of the Sorbonne, receiving there his doctorate in literature and human sciences, and passed the agrégation to teach high-school philosophy courses himself, first in Nîmes (1949) and then in Reims (1950). He was employed from 1951 to 1953 as a scholarly researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, returning to work at the CNRS from 1956 to 1965 and again from 1971 to 1976, with teaching stints in between at the University of São Paolo in Brazil (1953-1954), the Sorbonne (1954-1956), and the University of Caen (1966-1971). In 1976, he was elected as a Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, teaching there until his retirement in 1989. Since Merleau-Ponty's death in 1961, Lefort has also acted as the French philosopher's literary executor.
What, then, are "the intentions of the writer" Claude Lefort, who has set out to scrutinize the political aspects of literary texts and the literary aspects of political ones? We have already mentioned some of his "privileged interlocutors," but a few more words are still in order on that score. There is, especially, the Italian political thinker Machiavelli, "to whom I devoted a work that occupied me for so long that I dare not tell the amount of time," he tells us quite humbly about this monumental 778-page work in his autobiographical piece on philosophical reading and writing, "Philosopher?" (21) Tocqueville, the thinker of the advent and significance of modern democracy, is an author Lefort has already investigated prior to the two Notes he devotes to him here. (22) What is particularly interesting in these Notes is how he explores not only the contradictions and complexity of Tocqueville's thought in Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution but its underlying meaning: Tocqueville himself, Lefort argues in sum, became caught up in, and ended up expressing in his own writing, the improvisatory and open-ended character of the democratic experience. Not only Tocqueville, alongside Sade and Guizot, but also a number of other revolutionary-era and nineteenth-century French thinkers including the historians Jules Michelet and Edgar Quinet (who pop up several times in Écrire) have been central to his work for the past two decades. (23) Turning to German eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thinkers, we note that one chapter of Écrire is devoted to Kant's Perpetual Peace and broaches the question of the difficult and halting genesis of an international community dedicated to the values of human rights and peace (a theme addressed in his Rushdie text, as well). While Hegel is mentioned several times, it is usually only in quite cursory historical or critical terms that Lefort discusses the latter's work. (24) Marx, of course, loomed large for the former cofounder of Socialisme ou Barbarie. In Écrire, however, Lefort, who no longer identifies himself as a Marxist, makes no more than passing references to the founder of "scientific socialism," even though Marx remains a focal point for his reflections in other writings. (25)
Weber's influence, by way of contrast, may be felt throughout the present volume, yet without his ever being especially highlighted in any one chapter. (26) One of the distinctive contributions of Socialisme ou Barbarie, and specifically of Lefort and Castoriadis, is to have extended and eventually to have gone beyond Marxism, doing so by introducing the question of bureaucracy into the heart of Marxian discourse and by bringing this Weberian category of analysis to bear on the bureaucratization of the socialist movement in general and of Bolshevism in particular, as well as of Western capitalist societies. (27) In this way, S. ou B. went far beyond the analyses Leon Trotsky formulated merely as warnings in his very last writings. It was with an in-depth critique of the "Soviet" bureaucracy and a militant advocacy, in contrast, of workers' management that S. ou B. broke from the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI), the French section of the Trotskyist Fourth International, in 1948 and set itself up as a separate organization the following year. (28) Paired with Weber, and also not the object of a separate chapter but turning up on several crucial occasions, is Friedrich Nietzsche, whose thinking on democracy and modernity, Lefort reminds us, played such a key role in informing Weber's thought.
The name of Leo Strauss, another thinker influenced by Nietzsche, has already
been mentioned, but it should be noted that the presence of this distinctive
thinker, who did so much to revive the study of classical political philosophy,
can be felt throughout Écrire and that Lefort is now generally
recognized as himself the person who has done the most to revive political philosophy
in modern France. Significantly, Lefort examines at length Strauss's practice
of "reading between the lines" of political-philosophical texts. In this case,
not "paired" with Strauss but accompanying Lefort along his own path of political
thought is another political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, whose mid-century analysis
of The Origins of Totalitarianism and whose championing of the workers'
councils during the 1956 anti-Communist Hungarian Revolution remarkably parallel
positions taken by S. ou B. (29) Lefort, in
fact, was recently awarded the Arendt Prize from a German foundation. Nevertheless,
in the present volume her overt presence is minimal. Another thinker of democracy
and totalitarianism, more sociologist than political philosopher, is Raymond
Aron, who appears in a rather critical light during Lefort's discussion of the
collapse of Communism at the end of the book. It was under Aron's direction
that Lefort wrote his thesis on Machiavelli. Also, Alexander Solzhenitsyn is
discussed briefly in this last chapter. Un homme en trop was Lefort's
1976 book that helped bring attention in France to the analyses of the author
of The Gulag Archipelago. (30)
The sixteenth-century French author La Boétie makes several appearances,
especially in the chapter Lefort devotes to his late friend and colleague, the
anthropologist Pierre Clastres, whose remarkable work analyzing tribes of South
American Indians, and "primitive" peoples in general, as instances of a Society
against the State is given a fresh, in-depth examination there.
(31) One can sense the poignant significance of a friendship lost
due to the premature death of one of the parties--which doesn't stop Lefort
from offering a critical appreciation of his friend's substantial, if incomplete,
body of work, applying to it his own idea of the political as the mise en
forme ("setting into form") of a human society. He joined Clastres in contributing
original texts to a 1976 scholarly edition of La Boétie's famous essay
on voluntary servitude. (32) Both of them, we
may also note, collaborated with Castoriadis, Miguel Abensour, Marcel Gauchet
and a number of other uncommon French intellectuals at the journal Libre
from 1977 to 1980. This was Lefort's and Castoriadis's second and last attempt
to work together on a journal after their final S. ou B. split in 1958. A dispute
over the contemporary significance of totalitarianism, occasioned by the Russian
intervention in Afghanistan, put a definitive end to one of the most remarkable
and fecund political-intellectual collaborations in postwar times.
Almost last, but certainly not least, is the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who taught Lefort's 1941-42 high school philosophy class and who first suggested to Lefort that his youthful political views might receive concrete expression in French Trotskyism, which is where Lefort met Castoriadis and formed a tendency that became Socialisme ou Barbarie. (34) Merleau-Ponty's proximity is palpable throughout the book, and not just when Lefort speaks of Tocqueville's exploration of the "flesh of the social" or talks personally and explicitly in "Philosopher?", about the great influence his former teacher continues to exercise over himself and his thought. Edmund Husserl, the father of phenomenology, makes a few appearances, too, but Husserl's student, Martin Heidegger, who maintained a long personal relationship with Arendt and with whom Merleau-Ponty entertained an enduring but ambiguous intellectual affinity, only appears once, and then in quite negative terms. "Nothing," Lefort says decisively,
"better instructs one about the phantasm of a world entirely ruled by technology than the argument advanced by Heidegger, who shows his disdain for any attempt to distinguish its centers, its uses, and its effects, and who, in order to respond to what he calls its "challenge," joins with Nazism, that is, a totalitarian formation that wanted to rivet everyone to his particular post and to destroy every sign of independence in society--to achieve, in short, under cover of a moral revolution, that strict integration of men and things that was being imputed to the artificialist philosophy of the West."
Evidently, Lefort is not to be classified among the French Heideggerians, who have exerted such a baleful influence over large portions of America's academic "Left." In "The Question of Democracy," Lefort had already expressed surprise and dissatisfaction in his criticism of many of his contemporaries in the philosophical profession: "How," he asked, "can they handle ontological difference with such subtlety, vie with one another in exploiting the combined resources of Heidegger, Lacan, Jakobson, and Lévi-Strauss, and then fall back upon such crass realism when the question of politics arises?" (35)
Lefort also counsels us, when examining a writer, to inquire as to "what are the opinions he targets." As far as recurring themes found in Écrire are concerned, relativism as well as absolutism and a universalism divorced from actual experience, along with sociologism, culturalism, historicism, and positivism are repeated targets of his criticism. The challenging idea of an interminable and unresolvable "war of the gods" introduced by Weber has led today, regrettably, to a rather slack and slippery response--for example, in the uncritical affirmation of a generalized and undifferentiated "right to difference"--on the part of many who are unmindful of the methodological and indeed philosophical problems this idea raised for Weber himself, problems that retain a political as well as a philosophical urgency for Lefort:
"Now, just as much as respect for the other's identity or the critique of egocentrism, of ethnocentrism--and particularly of Eurocentrism--can be fully justified and tolerance, consequently, can be erected into a principle, so an unbridled relativism turns out to confer a legitimacy upon all sorts of impostures and, more precisely, upon all systems of oppression that, under cover of an ethic placed in the service of the purity of a race, of the integrity of a nation, or of the instauration of a classless society, goes about hounding individuals and groups whose characteristics are judged not to be in conformity with the right model."
Likewise, the recent claims concerning "the end of philosophy" leave him cold. Continuing his positive evaluation of questions that challenge him, that leave him "disarmed," he adds:
"As I have already said, it is the discourse about the disappearance of philosophy that I deem to be futile. But that very discourse isn't devoid of motives. Its only error is to convert an interrogation into an affirmation--that is to say, in the present circumstance, into a negation."
The fashionable discourse on the "death of man" (or of "the subject") is, in his view, no less vain. Without taking a stand in favor of a warmed-over "humanism"--as a younger generation of French intellectuals has done in reaction against Louis Althusser's ridiculous idea that a still-extant humanism explains Stalin's errors and against Jacques Derrida's reprehensible attribution of Heidegger's Nazism to a residual "metaphysical" humanism--Lefort explores, upon several occasions, the complex, sometimes complementary, sometimes contradictory components that go to make up "man" in society and that give "human rights" a force and a value today that, he argues, go beyond any ideological defense of "bourgeois democracy."
Democracy and totalitarianism, the dual theme that served as a title for a book by Aron, one that Lefort discusses in the last chapter of the present volume, have long been at the center of Lefort's concerns, and increasingly so as time goes on, even after the progressive decomposition, collapse, and ultimate disappearance of "Soviet" Communism. (36) Here, Merleau-Ponty's idea of the body and of perception as central and privileged phenomenological categories of existence is given a unique political-philosophical twist in Lefort's study not only of the "flesh of the social" in Tocqueville's exploration of democracy but also in his study of totalitarianism's attempt, in the wake of the rise of democracy, to "revitalize" the "body politic" (37) from both above and below. (38) This leads us to mention Ernst Kantorowicz--another of Lefort's "privileged interlocutors," in fact--whose The King's Two Bodies Lefort returns to again and again in order to comprehend the distinctiveness, by contrast, of modern democracy (39)--where power, law, and knowledge are, so to speak, disincorporated and can no longer be embodied unambiguously in a distinct sovereign entity, the king (who once doubled as Christ's earthly representative but whose head has since been severed)--as well as of totalitarianism--which endeavors, in its hatred of democracy's characteristic dissolution and disentanglement of these three spheres, to effect a total reunification of them in "an impossible swallowing up of the body in the head," which also entails "an impossible swallowing up of the head in the body." (40) We are evidently quite far from Michel Foucault's "power/knowledge" rhetoric--which would have us believe that there is an inescapable identity between power and knowledge and which so many of his American followers have confused with being a radical posture of contestation and defiance. (41) Lefort receives inspiration, rather, from Freud, when conducting his fine literary-political study of "the interposed body" in Orwell's antitotalitarian novel 1984.
In trying to revive political philosophy--as the effort to think the constituting political element in the formation of a society and not simply as some kind of historical-interpretative undertaking or an empirically based policy-making endeavor--Lefort also targets "political science" in general: "Interpreting the political means breaking with the viewpoint of political science, because political science emerges from the suppression of this question," he had said in "The Question of Democracy." (42) The debt owed to Strauss here as well as in his criticisms of relativism, sociologism, culturalism, historicism, and positivism is obvious, but their mutual affinity on this score has in no way prevented him from criticizing Strauss's formulations or from questioning whether Strauss himself, in his most extreme formulations (i.e., when our reading between the lines of Strauss's own exoteric texts yields what we think we can glimpse to be his own esoteric doctrine), doesn't end up, contrary to Strauss's own intentions, putting into question the very possibility of our continuing to do political philosophy today. Instead of making the supposed shortcomings of democracy his ultimate target, as Strauss had done (while also confounding democracy with a mass society still riddled with the ever-transmuting destructive contradictions of capitalism), Lefort argues for a nuanced point of view:
"There is nothing to hide about the ambiguities of democracy. Criticism is healthy. Still, such criticism must not sink to the ridiculous level of putting reason or unreason on trial. It must know how to denounce relativism without abandoning the sense of relativity that the totalitarian system sought to destroy."
The reflection on the legacy of totalitarianism, modern democracy's historically contemporaneous and contiguous Other, again proves to be crucial to his revaluation of democracy and to his reevaluation of its inherent problems.
Lefort advises us, finally, to look at "what are the circumstances that summon up [a writer's] desire to speak." We might recall here that one of Lefort's very first published texts--written in 1948, as he and the Socialisme ou Barbarie tendency were withdrawing from the PCI--brought out "The Contradiction of Trotsky" by attacking head-on the myths Trotsky himself had propagated which concealed his longtime hesitations with regard to Stalin before he was excluded from the Party and sent into internal and then foreign exile. (43) This article proved controversial both in "revolutionary" circles--because it appeared in the nonrevolutionary press, that is, in Jean-Paul Sartre's Les Temps Modernes--and at Les Temps Modernesitself--where Merleau-Ponty, the review's political editor, had to serve as Lefort's protector within an otherwise hostile environment. (44) A few years later, in response to Sartre's long serialized Les Temps Modernes article, "The Communists and the Peace," (45) which heralded Sartre's closer ties with the French Communist Party (PCF) in the aftermath of the 1952 anti-Ridgway demonstrations (PCF-led protests against the visit of an American army general), Lefort published in the same review a strongly-worded assault on Sartre's nascent fellow-traveling. "Marxism and Sartre" elicited an equally strong "Response to Claude Lefort" on Sartre's part, Castoriadis entering the fray in Lefort's defense with an S. ou B. text, "Sartre, Stalinism, and the Workers." (46) All this proved to be a historically significant prelude to Merleau-Ponty's departure from Les Temps Modernes and the publication of his Adventures of the Dialectic (1955), which included a long penultimate chapter on "Sartre and Ultrabolshevism." (47) Lefort returned to the offensive in a 1958 S. ou B. article, "The Method of 'Progressivist' Intellectuals," criticizing there "the 'critical' thinkers ofLes Temps Modernes, L'observateur, L'express, or L'étincelle" who were unable to come to terms in a forthright and creative way with the upheavals then taking place in Eastern Europe and Russia--Khrushchev's secret report, the Hungarian and Polish Revolutions, the "Soviet" invasion of Hungary--upheavals which S. ou B. had not only understood clearly (a rarity on the French Left at the time) but could be said to have anticipated. (48) These texts, of an unmistakable polemical bent, are still worth reading today to remind us of the historical circumstances surrounding the heyday of totalitarian Communism, especially since the collapse of the "Soviet Union" and the ensuing chaos (fostered by IMF-tutelage, in a Russia run by apparatchiks turned rapacious capitalists and Mafia-like thugs, and a very weak democratic tradition there) might now lead some on the Left to wax nostalgic for the era of French intellectuals' fellow traveling.
As Lefort's understanding of totalitarianism, informed by his growing interest in political philosophy, deepened, another approach, often still quite sharp in tone but no longer so polemical, began to take shape. He was still, in the tradition of Socialisme ou Barbarie and of a few other radical French workers and intellectuals, willing and eager to challenge not only the orthodoxy of the PCF but also the heterodoxy of those who gravitated around the PCF merely as its internal or external oppositions. Nevertheless, in order to engage his readers in a more transformative sort of way he sought to find the words, the ideas, and the themes that would move them beyond their settled positions. "Now," he asks in "Philosopher?", offering a retrospective account of his changing orientation as a writer:
"how could I have tried to gauge, to take the measure of what was meant by totalitarianism's denial of social division--denial of the division between the State and civil society, of class division, of the division of sectors of activity--its denial, too, of the difference between the order of power, the order of law, and the order of knowledge (a difference that is constitutive of democracy) without seeming to legitimate, without fearing to see myself legitimate, the de facto divisions that characterize the established democratic regimes in which we live? How was I to provide a glimpse of the deadly finality of totalitarianism without justifying the conditions of oppression and inequality belonging to our own regimes? How, too, was I to carry out a critique of Marxism, which reveals everything that has fed the phantasm of totalitarianism, without erasing what constituted the truth of Marx's critique of the society of his time?"
It was through a revaluation of democracy, as an open-ended political form of society--as "savage democracy," he has said on occasion (49)--and not merely as a set political system of established procedures, that questions and problems associated with the arts of reading and writing came ever more clearly to the fore and eventually became his own questions and problems. (50) "To give readers a feeling for the dynamic of democracy, the experience of an ultimate indetermination at the bases of the social order and of an unending debate over right and law," he goes on to say,
"I had to try to shake up not only their convictions but their intimate relationship with knowledge; I had to try to reawaken in them a sense of the kind of questioning that would induce them to undertake the necessary mourning of "the good society" and, at the same time, I had to escape from the illusion that what seems real here and now is to be confused with the rational. Is this undertaking philosophical or political? I wouldn't know how to answer. What is certain is that this task, which little by little had taken shape inside me, had driven me to a method of reading that I had never decided to adopt. It is one that merges with my way of being and that is not normally associated with philosophy."
Lefort's revaluation of political philosophy and "the political" in general and of democracy as an unprecedented political form of society in particular doesn't entail, however, a denigration of "politics" or the adoption of an ostensibly a- or antipolitical perspective that is characteristic of much contemporary liberal discourse (the term liberal being taken here and elsewhere in its Continental acceptation as a generally conservative ideological defense of supposedly unrestricted "free-market" policies). In his chapter on Machiavelli, for example, Lefort takes time to explain that "Reflection on the political and reflection on politics are at once distinct and intertwined. Everything happens, nevertheless, as if for many people the political was noble and politics trivial." Nor does he champion "civil society" at the expense of everything else. In the first of his two Notes on Tocqueville, he comments that Tocqueville "is always keeping an eye on adversaries in his own country who seek only to reinforce state power and do not understand the new character of civil society"; but, in bringing out Tocqueville's contradictions and thus not adopting an uncritical Tocquevillean outlook himself, as some other French intellectuals have done recently, he also asks:
"In our time, don't we still need to denounce the illusion of those who would wish to protect the state administration from the effects of all kinds of associations, since their demands hinder its action and don't easily lend themselves to projects crafted by experts? And don't we likewise still need to denounce the inverse illusion of those who place their only hopes in strictly civil associations and who hold "politics" in contempt?"
A simplistic, smug, and celebratory liberal attitude is by no means being endorsed here by this political philosopher for whom questions count at least as much as any provisional "answers" that might be obtained. This is evident in his chapter on Kant: "The critique of all forms of totalitarianism would be futile if it were reduced to the statement of a de facto preference for a regime based on liberties. The meaning of the relative does not erase, but rather carries within it, a universal exigency." This "universal exigency," or overriding moral requirement, which is not to be confused with any sort of blind or automatic universalism and that is expressed, he believes, in a foundational and generative democratic "right to have rights," means that no convenient formula can be found that would allow one to limit in advance what becomes in fact an unending and ever-expanding search for truth and justice in the social sphere. In his "Reflections on the Present," Lefort adds:
"Furthermore, is it not true that the search for democracy is by its nature tied to the desire for an improvement in the material conditions of existence? And isn't it true that this desire in no way obliterates the value of political freedoms? How would one remove from democracy the social question and therefore that of economic organization, if not by joining up with the most reactionary form of free-market liberalism?"
Lefort no longer speaks in terms of "workers' management" or of a "republic of Councils," (51) but this does not necessarily put him in the camp of the present, heavily ideological status quo, the minimalist and difficult-to-challenge "invisible ideology" of "the Western democracies of our time." (52) Indeed, as he goes on to ask in his early 1990s "Reflections on the Present":
"In response to the aspirations now dawning in the East and to the kinds of resistance to which these aspirations are giving rise, are we doomed to fall back on a cramped position, limiting ourselves to Isaiah Berlin's notion of "negative liberties"? Isn't the task before us to conceive democracy as a form of political society, a regime in which we have an experience of our humanity, rid of the myths that conceal the complexity of History?"
If we thus begin to understand "what are the circumstances that summon up" Lefort's own "desire to speak," and to speak in such a way that he can be heard amid the clamorous and repetitive rhetoric of outdated Marxist and Liberal dogmas, we still need to try to understand that "way of being" of which he spoke that is his both as a person and as a writer. I was struck by the prefatory remarks Lefort made at a Paris dance concert/colloquium I helped to organize recently. The object was to relate the main ideas of his life's work in an extemporaneous way to the themes of the multimedia choreographic event, Corpsensus, which was intended to "explore the connections that unite the Body--lived as field of the sensual experience of a flesh that is an already socialized tissue--and the City--considered as the space of political experience, the weaving together [tissage] of acting and reflecting bodies." (53) Before presenting a lucid and succinct exposition of his political-intellectual itinerary and connecting that itinerary with the democratic and improvisatory themes of the evening's performance (which included the European premiere of a solo violin piece written by jazz musician and classical composer Ornette Coleman), Lefort first told the audience with candor, and in a hushed voice, that he felt rather "embarrassed" and "intimidated." Lefort is not someone who launches into a topic directly, with a clearly defined thesis to be "defended." He approaches the themes he wishes to discuss via a process that develops in close and ongoing contact with the subject matter itself. That is why one finds it so hard to extract a concrete "lesson" from his writings and also why he may easily be misunderstood, for his process-oriented exploration of a line of thought may be (mis)taken as conclusive, whereas in fact it is one side of a continuing exploration that "concludes" only with new questions, not ready-made answers or a full-blown doctrine. "For [the practitioner of political philosophy], quite particularly," he says in his preface, clearly thinking of himself as well,
"writing is therefore facing up to a risk [l'épreuve d'un risque]; and the risky test he faces offers him the resources for a singular form of speech that is set in motion by the exigency that he spring the traps of belief and escape from the grips of ideology, bringing himself always beyond the place where one expects him via a series of zigzag movements that disappoint by turns the various sections of his public. No doubt, it is toward the true that he tends, otherwise he wouldn't be a philosopher; but he must, via a winding path, clear apassage within the agitated world of passions. Such an undertaking always fails by half, moreover, as shown by the welcome he most often receives from his contemporaries and, still more, by the stupidity of readers who will later press upon him a vulgar or scholarly discourse in order to celebrate or condemn his "theory" or to discover his "contradictions." Think only of the fate that awaited Machiavelli or Rousseau."
Characteristically, he adds that "he therefore is not, cannot be the master of the effects of his speech."
The broad but winding path Lefort has chosen has led him away from the straight
and narrow one of spotting and exposing the "contradictions" and errors of a
Trotsky or of another political or literary writer, whether Marxist or Liberal.
He thereby invites the reader, too, to face the "risky test" of thinking (reading
thoughtfully) through a text's implicit political mise en scène
(its "staging") as well as its explicit political positions and implications.
The ties between philosophy and literature become both apparent and themes for
further literary-philosophical reflections and investigations. The "result"
is not a grammatology, a unilateral--and shaky--assertion that the text is everything
and the author and/or reader nothing, or a proclamation of the end of philosophy
and/or its dissolution in the element of the literary--the sorts of "high-altitude
thinking" Merleau-Ponty had denounced for having lost contact with our experience,
which is aesthetic, political, and philosophical, as well. It brings out the
difficulties associated with reading and writing and makes the "arts" of reading
and writing central to the problem of philosophical reflection today, which
is now also unavoidably caught up in the enterprise of reading and writing about
texts both philosophical and nonphilosophical. And for Lefort it is their political
meaning that continues to be of crucial importance, even as their literary character
is being foregrounded--in the first place because they continually remake the
social bond in their very act of being written and being read. Thus you, the
reader, are potentially one of Lefort's privileged interlocutors, upon the condition
that you are ready to have the opinions you hold most dear become on occasion
his targets for criticism, that you have been able to summon up a desire to
listen to him, as part of a precarious mutual relationship only you can activate--and,
finally, upon the condition that you, too, will summon up a desire to speak,
to talk back to him, to question him and his questions.
Ever since I was first faced with the task of writing a foreword to a book I had translated, I found myself placed before a series of quandaries. If I had done my work well in the translation, it seemed superfluous, I thought, to tell the reader, in a separate introduction, what it is that he would be reading or had already read in the body of the text. Since the principal authors I have chosen to translate--Castoriadis, the historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, now Lefort--are themselves quite articulate in their own right and historically associated with a libertarian socialist outlook, it also seemed to me presumptuous as well as premature on my part to tell the reader in advance what he should think of work only now becoming available for the first time in the English language. Yet it also seemed to me that the translator has a civic duty, in the transnational Republic of Letters, to present an author to his foreign reading public--and to make a self-presentation, an explanation of reasons for making this choice of author and an exposition of the problems encountered and solutions discovered in the course of translation. And this entailed a challenging self-reflection on my part in my work as a translator and, more broadly, as a go-between who introduces an author to his new public.
What seemed most appropriate, I thought, would be to provide some background knowledge the reader might not otherwise have. I have done this knowing that it involved choices of emphasis and subject matter for which only I could take responsibility and which others would handle differently. Yet the last thing I wanted to do was just to repeat the same format each time, for I would thereby be avoiding the challenge of the specific work I had translated and the inspiration to new ways of thinking that work contains. (And we now know Lefort's own stated opinion that knowledge of such background information does not suffice for the reader to gain an adequate understanding of a writer.) Thus, the problem of the literary form of the translator's foreword was posed for me in a radical way from the very outset and continues to be so for each new one I write. Since the writers I have consciously chosen to translate have been ones who do not try to impose some doctrine or other but who seek, rather, to raise philosophical, political, and/or historiographical questions, it also was clear that my forewords should include improvisatory, experimental, or otherwise open-ended features not necessarily associated with a traditional introduction written by a translator. If I, as first reader in English of a foreign author's writings, had indeed been moved by his work (and what would my translation be worth if I hadn't been?), I should also be able to express in my introductory remarks some of that moving experience, to face up to that risky épreuve, as Lefort himself might say. I constantly wonder to what extent, if at all, I ever succeed in conveying this enterprise, which is bothemulative and, I hope, somewhat creative on my own part. (54) And I continually worry that what I say and how I say it will remain too repetitive and derivative of the ways in which the author I have translated has already expressed himself (now through me, in translation) or that, on the contrary, I might be going too far afield, thereby losing the connection with the author whom I am supposed to be introducing. I thus find myself placed in new quandaries (ones reminiscent, however, of my initial translation encounters with the author), never settled down upon any solid and secure ground. And that is perhaps not a bad thing.
Musical metaphors, and specifically the democratic experience that is jazz, have been foremost in my mind when I composed these essays. It was not a matter of mere "variations on a theme" or an "accompaniment" in the sense of a strict subordination to the author as main instrument but, rather, of riffing and improvising on a given theme that remains open to further interpretations. Here "accompaniment" is expressing oneself in a voice of one's own that has something else to say but that also speaks in response to the living work at hand. I have been inspired especially by Ornette Coleman's musical theory in this regard. (55) In Coleman's democratic conception of "Harmolodics," harmony, motion (or rhythm), and melody are treated as equal elements of improvisatory composition and performance, so that any instrument (or voice) can intervene at any moment to help move the music in new and unprecedented directions. Everyone "solos" at once, (56) and yet the result of such a collective improvisation is not mere cacophony if there is a general and genuine "participation in a value-idea," to borrow his phrase. (57) Coleman, I note, has never conceived "Harmolodics" as a strictly musical concept but one applicable, rather, to all aspects of life and at the same time specific to democratic societies.
What I have gained from translating Écrire. À l'épreuve du politique and from writing about Writing: The Political Test is a heightened sense of a simultaneously self-reflective and political challenge to encounter the work--and my translation work on the work--in such a way that the arts of writing and reading now come ever more clearly to the fore, and yet without that occulting what the work has to say, even as one examines and endeavors to express how it is said. (58) If I have been able to impart to the reader a small bit of the adventure this experience has inspired in me, then this Foreword will not have been written, and perhaps read, totally in vain.
--Paris, April-May 1999
1. In the unpublished version of what became the Translator's Note to my 1996 Pierre Vidal-Naquet translation: The Jews: History, Memory, and the Present (New York: Columbia University Press).
2. Or science fiction within science fiction: I just attended a showing of David Cronenberg's film Existenz.
3. See the "Présentation," for Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Philosophie et non-philosophie depuis Hegel. Notes de cours," ed. Claude Lefort, Textures 8-9 (1974): 83-87. This text appeared in Telos 29 (fall 1976): 43-105, with Lefort's introductory remarks ("Presenting Merleau-Ponty," ibid., 39-42). Lefort is himself the author of a text called "Philosophie et non-philosophie" (Esprit [June 1982]: 101-12). Here and elsewhere, I am relying on Hugues Poltier's excellent and very extensive (as well as generally accurate) "Bibliographie chronologique des publications de Claude Lefort," a first version of which was published at the end of Claude Habib and Claude Mouchard's valuable Lefort Festschrift, La démocratie à l'oeuvre (Paris: Éditions Esprit, 1993): 369-81, and which appeared in its updated form in Poltier's La Passion du politique. La pensée de Claude Lefort (Geneva: Labor et Fides/Le Champs Éthique, 1998), 285-94, followed by a bibliography of "Études sur Claude Lefort" (secondary source material), 294-96, which I have also consulted. Poltier previously published another book on Lefort entitled Claude Lefort. La découverte du politique (Paris: Michalon, 1997).
4. I should note that Lefort kindly made himself available to answer my translation questions and also helped me to track down various bibliographic references. I, of course, take final responsibility for the translation and for any shortcomings it may include.
5. The masculine French noun le politique can also mean, in its older acceptation, merely a "statesman."
6. John Ely, "The Polis and 'the Political': Civic and Territorial Views of Association," Thesis Eleven 46 (August 1996): 33-65; see 33.
7. Lefort calls "the political" the "form" of a society. In "Power, Politics, Autonomy" (1988), Castoriadis defines "the political" as "a dimension of the institution of society pertaining to explicit power, that is, to the existence of instances capable of formulating explicitly sanctionable injunctions" (Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, ed. David Ames Curtis [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991], 156). As such, it does and must pertain to any society. By way of contrast, "Greek politics, and politics properly conceived, can be defined as the explicit collective activity which aims at being lucid (reflective and deliberate) and whose object is the institution of society as such" (ibid., 160). "Politics" thus appertains, for Castoriadis, only to those societies in which the "project of autonomy" has already emerged and become operative.
8. See my forthcoming Jean-Pierre Vernant translation, "The Birth of the Political," in the Australia-based social theory journal Thesis Eleven. Like Lefort, and despite their differing definitions of le and la politique(see preceding note), Castoriadis too considers "the political" to be an essential and inescapable element of any human society. Vernant's argument could be summarized by saying that it makes no sense to speak of either "the political" or "politics" before the advent of the polis as an effective social-historical institution. That raises the question whether both of these terms might be datable (and thereby historical in character), instead of one or another or both being a "form" or "dimension" of all societies. But what would one then call this element, in pre-polis times, whereby a society gives itself its "form" through social division (Lefort) or organizes its "explicit power" (Castoriadis)?
9. Upon seeing Dick Howard's book title, Defining the Political, my ever pragmatic father exclaimed, in confusion and disgust, "Defining the political what?" Clearly, "the political" does not necessarily go without saying in an English-language book title. Fred Dallmayr's "Postmetaphysics and Democracy," Political Theory 21 (February 1993): 101-27, the second section of which reviews the 1988 English-language Lefort translation Democracy and Political Theory, offers "polity" and "policy" as provisional translations of le politique and la politique, respectively. I have not adopted these intriguing suggestions, but they are worth keeping in mind. In addition, Dallmayr suggests "staging" for mise en scène (which I use already), but also "shaping" for mise en forme (I prefer "setting into form," since mere "shaping" assumes work on a preexistent material) and "meaning assignment" for mise en sens (a phrase that doesn't appear in Écrire, but that I translate elsewhere, for similar reasons, as "putting into meaning"). Two more tangential comments to conclude the present note: (1) Lefort's terms mise en scène and mise en sens were developed in the 1970s by Castoriadis's wife at the time, Piera Aulagnier (author of the important post-Lacanian metapsychological treatise La violence de l'interprétation [Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1975], which I one day hope to translate), and (2) the Telos issue in which Hugh J. Silverman's translation of Lefort's edited version of Merleau-Ponty's "Philosophy and Non-Philosophy since Hegel" appeared (see note 3 above) also includes Dallmayr's "Marxism and Truth" (ibid., 130-59) and Silverman's "Re-Reading Merleau-Ponty" (ibid., 106-129).
10. "The Question of Democracy," Democracy and Political Theory, trans. David Macey (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, and Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 1988), 10. Cf. Reinterpreting the Political: Continental Philosophy and Political Theory, ed. Lenore Langsdorf and Stephen H. Watson, with Karen A. Smith (Albany: SUNY, 1998), vii. This book retains the rather artificial "Continental philosophy/Anglo-American philosophy" distinction that creates so many misleading oppositions (despite their mutual incomprehension, both the Logical Positivists and Heideggerians in reality shared, for example, a ferocious and somewhat scattershot antipathy to all things "metaphysical"). There is in this volume a text by Steven Hendley, "Reconsidering the Limits of Democracy with Castoriadis and Lefort" (ibid., 171-82), that treats Lefort's and Castoriadis's views only in very general terms and presents a harmonizing reading that fails to bring out the considerable and probably unbridgeable differences between the two. I also note the existence in this volume of an excellent article on Castoriadis by the gifted young Italian philosopher Fabio Ciaramelli: "The Circle of the Origin," 127-40.
11. Épreuve can also mean "proof," as in mettre quelque chose à l'épreuve (to prove something or to put it to the test), à l'épreuve du feu (fire-proof), and les épreuves (galley proofs). I haven't opted for "proof" in the present translation, but one shouldn't forget this alternative meaning, either. Épreuve has the meaning of "experience," as well, but it seemed that this choice of word might confuse the reader, since expérience is also a term Lefort uses on occasion.
12. For reasons of space and because of financial considerations, it was agreed that the English-language translation of Écrire would not include the seventh and eighth chapters of the original volume: "Foyers du républicanisme" and "Formation et autorité. L'éducation humaniste."
13. Cornelius Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings, 3 vols (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, 1988, 1993); Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); The Castoriadis Reader (Malden, Mass. and Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1997); World in Fragments (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997). For a more extensive Castoriadis bibliography in nearly a dozen languages, one may consult the Cornelius Castoriadis/Agora International Website: <http://aleph.lib.ohio-state.edu/~bcase/Castoriadis>.
14. The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, ed. and intro. John B. Thompson (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press and Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 1986), and Democracy and Political Theory (1988). Telos published a number of Lefort texts in the 1970s, including: "What is Bureaucracy?" (see also note 27 below), Telos 22 (winter 1974-75): 31-65; "The Age of Novelty," Telos 29 (fall 1976): 23-38; "Then and Now" (translation of the introductory statement for the first issue of Libre), Telos 36 (summer 1978): 29-42; and "French-Style Socialism," Telos 55 (spring 1983): 189-92. See also note 3 above and 28 below.
15. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, followed by Working Notes (both published posthumously in 1964), ed. Claude Lefort, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1968), with Editor's Foreword, xi-xxxiii, and Editorial Note, xxxiv-xxxix; and The Prose of the World(published posthumously in 1969), ed. Claude Lefort, trans. John O'Neill (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1973), with Editor's Foreword, xi-xxi, and Editor's Note, xxiii-xxiv. Lefort also contributed a préface to Merleau-Ponty's posthumous L' il et l'esprit (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), i-viii (published, without Lefort's Préface, as "Eye and Mind" in The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays, ed. James M. Edie [Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1964]); an introduction to the 1980 Gallimard reprint of his 1947 book Humanisme et terreur. Essais sur le problème communiste, 11-38; and a préface to his Notes de cours au Collège de France 1958-1959 et 1960-1961 (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 7-30. A nonexhaustive collection of Lefort's writings on Merleau-Ponty was published as Sur une colonne absente. Écrits autour de Merleau-Ponty (Paris: Gallimard, 1978). See also note 3 above.
16. The American political philosopher Dick Howard deserves credit for having been the first person (after George Lichtheim and his brief discussion of S. ou B., "Bureaucracy and Totalitarianism," in Marxism in Modern France [New York: Columbia University Press, 1966], 182-92) to have presented Lefort's work to the English-speaking world, in his "Introduction to Lefort," Telos 22 (winter 1974-75): 2-30. This Introduction was reworked and reprinted (minus the characteristic "constitutive editing" to which it had been subjected by Paul Piccone's Telos) as "Bureaucratic Society and Traditional Rationality: Claude Lefort," in Howard's book, The Marxian Legacy (New York: Urizen Books and London: Macmillan, 1977), 222-61 (the 1988 second edition [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press and London: Macmillan] includes an afterword with a section entitled "Claude Lefort: History as Political," 306-20). Shortly thereafter, Mark Poster's "Socialisme ou Barbarie" section appeared in the "Stalinism and the Existentialists" chapter of his Existential Marxism in Postwar France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 202-5, as did a translation of Richard Gombin's 1971 book on gauchisme: The Origins of Modern Leftism, trans. Michael K. Perl (London: Penguin, 1975), which examines Lefort (pseudonym Montal), Castoriadis (pseudonyms Chaulieu and Cardan), as well as their groups Socialisme ou Barbarie and Informations et Liaisons Ouvrières. John B. Thompson published "Ideology and the Social Imaginary," on Lefort and Castoriadis, in Theory and Society 1982: 659-81, a revised version appearing in his Studies in the Theory of Ideology (Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 1984). Also of note, in English, is Bernard Flynn, "Lefort: The Flesh of the Political," Political Philosophy at the Closure of Metaphysics (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities, 1992), 164-202. Flynn has written a forthcoming book on Lefort that is tentatively titled The Political Philosophy of Claude Lefort.
17. In "Philosopher?" Lefort makes clear that works of a "hybrid" character attract him the most.
18. See Lambropoulos's "Introduction: Approaches to Ethical Politics" and his "Nomoscopic Analysis," in the special "Ethical Politics" issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly 95 (fall 1996): 849-54 and 855-79, respectively.
19. SAQ Managing Editor Candice Ward should be thanked for her role as instigatrix in introducing the book to her journal's publisher, Duke University Press. I am also very appreciative of the letters of support Benjamin R. Barber and Henry Louis Gates Jr. sent to the Press on my behalf. My Paris study group with Warren Breckman, Max Blechman, and Fabien Doyennel has been of immense help in furthering my understanding and appreciation of Lefort's oeuvre.
20. The text is bursting, so to speak, with sexual double-entendres. For example, the French wordculbuter--from cul, "ass," and buter, to "butt against" or "to knock over"--could have been rendered by "tumble" to convey both the idea of knocking someone over on his ass and that of "laying" a person sexually (its more "impolite" meaning, as dictionaries say; cf. Hamlet act 4, scene 5, line 60 regarding "tumble"). I ultimately settled upon "upend" to heighten the sexual overtones in this article on Sade, whose obsession with anal sodomy is very deep-seated.
21. See the published version of Lefort's thesis, Le travail de l' oeuvre, Machiavel (Paris: Gallimard, 1972), which includes parts of a 1960 text, "Réflexions sociologiques sur Machiavel et Marx," Cahiers internationaux de sociologie 28 (1960): 113-35, and a 1971 text, "La guerre, le discours sur la guerre et la politique," Textures 2-3 (1971): 79-129. A year prior to the publication of this book, he contributed "Machiavel et les jeunes" to an Aron Festschrift, Science et conscience de la société. Mélanges en l'honneur de Raymond Aron, ed. Jean-Claude Casanova, vol. 1 (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1971), 191-208. Lefort's 1974 Toronto lecture, "Machiavel: la dimension économique du politique," appeared in his Formes de l'histoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), 127-40, and he wrote a préface to a new edition of Machiavelli's Discours sur la première decade de Tite-Live (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1980): 9-19. We might note that Merleau-Ponty's "A Note on Machiavelli," published inSigns (1960), trans. Richard C. McCleary (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 211-13, was originally written as a "paper sent to the Umanesimo et scienza politica Congress, Rome-Florence, September 1949" (ibid., 211).
22. Among Lefort's other essays dealing with Tocqueville, see, in English, "Reversibility: Political Freedom and the Freedom of the Individual" (1982) and "From Equality to Freedom: Fragments of an Interpretation of Democracy in America," in Democracy and Political Theory, 165-82 and 183-209, respectively.
23. Among Lefort's essays in English translation on the French Revolution, on historians of the French Revolution such as Jules Michelet and Edgar Quinet, and on certain other nineteenth-century French authors, see, in English, "The Revolutionary Terror," "Interpreting the Revolution within the French Revolution," "Edgar Quinet: The Revolution That Failed," "The Revolution as Principle and as Individual," "Permanence of the Theologico-Political?", and "The Death of Immortality?", in ibid., 59-88, 89-114, 115-34, 135-48, 213-55, and 256-82, respectively.
24. Dante is also examined here briefly, and in a more favorable way than Hegel. Dante may thus be considered another of Lefort's "privileged interlocutors." A year after the publication of Écrire, Lefort wrote an introduction, "La modernité de Dante," for a Dante volume in French translation: La monarchie (Paris: Belin, 1993), 6-75.
25. Among Lefort's essays on Marx, see, in English, "Rereading The Communist Manifesto," Democracy and Political Theory, 149-62, as well as "Marx: From One Vision of History to Another" and "Outline of the Genesis of Ideology in Modern Times," The Political Forms of Modern Society, 139-80 and 181-236.
26. Lefort's first article on Weber, "Capitalisme et religion au XVIe siècle," Les Temps Modernes 78 (April 1952): 1892-1906, appeared three years before Merleau-Ponty published his chapter on "The Crisis of Understanding" in The Adventures of the Dialectic (1955), trans. Joseph Bien (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 9-29; that chapter concludes: "It is only by beginning with Weber, and with this Weberian Marxism, that the adventures of the dialectic of the past thirty-five years can be understood."
27. Lefort published a synthetic article on bureaucracy, "Qu'est-ce que la bureaucratie?" in Arguments 17 (1960): 64-81 (reprinted in Éléments d'une critique de la bureaucratie, 2nd ed. [Paris: Gallimard, 1979], 271-307, and translated as "What Is Bureaucracy?" in The Political Forms of Modern Society, 89-121). Arguments was the review of dissidents led by Edgar Morin who had left or been expelled from the French Communist Party by or before 1956, the time of the Khrushchev's secret report and the Russian repression of the Hungarian Revolution. It was Lefort who, speaking for the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, had replied to Morin's mocking attack ("Solecisme ou barbarisme," Arguments 3 [April 1957]: 13-19) against S. ou B.'s revolutionary conception of Russia as a form of "bureaucratic capitalism" in "Sur l'article de Morin" (ibid., 19-21.) Later, Arguments and Socialisme ou Barbarie cooperated rather closely, the two groups quietly sharing subscription lists and Morin speaking publicly at S. ou B.-organized events in the early 1960s (after Lefort's departure from the group); and Lefort coauthored with Morin a 1964 volume, Marxisme et sociologie(Paris: EDI, 1964). Morin and Castoriadis later teamed up with Lefort to publish the first book on the May '68 student-worker rebellion, Mai 1968: La brèche. Premières réflexions sur les événements (Paris: Fayard, 1968). Lefort's contribution, "Le désordre nouveau" (The New disorder) was reprinted in the second edition (Mai 1968: La brèche suivi de Vingt ans après [Brussels: Complexe, 1988], 35-62), along with his 1988 retrospective "Relecture" (Rereading, ibid., 199-212). Only Castoriadis's contributions--"The Anticipated Revolution" (Political and Social Writings, 3:124-56) and "The Movements of the Sixties" (World in Fragments, 47-57)--exist in English. For Morin's recollections of his various collaborations with Lefort, now definitively ended, see "Mes années Lefort" (Démocratie à l'oeuvre, 359-67). In relation to the Socialisme ou Barbarie theme of bureaucratization, it should also be pointed out that Castoriadis was himself the first to translate Weber into Greek, during his wartime years in Athens.
28. The journal Socialisme ou Barbarie was published between 1949 and 1965, the group itself disbanding in 1967. Its history was punctuated by a number of breaks, or "scissions," principally those of 1952 and 1958, when Lefort and Castoriadis found themselves as spokesmen for opposite sides in disputes over the organizational question. See Lefort, "Le prolétariat et le problème de la direction révolutionnaire,"Socialisme ou Barbarie 10 (July-August 1952): 18-27 (reprinted as "Le prolétariat et sa direction," Éléments, 59-70), and "Organisation et parti. Contribution à une discussion," S. ou B. 26 (November-December 1958): 120-34 (reprinted in Éléments, 98-113). Castoriadis's S. ou B. texts on organization are--in addition to "Le parti révolutionnaire (résolution)," S. ou B. 2 (May-June 1949): 99-107 (reprinted as "Le parti révolutionnaire," L'expérience du mouvement ouvrier, vol. 1: Comment lutter [Paris: Union Générale d'Éditions, 1974], 121-43, and followed by "Postface au Parti révolutionnaire et à La direction prolétarienne", ibid., 163-78), which testifies to a first dispute on this organizational question--are "Proletarian Leadership" (1952), Political and Social Writings, 1:198-205, with a postface, ibid., 1:205-6, and "Proletariat and Organization" (1959), Political and Social Writings, 2:193-222. The second part, "Prolétariat et organisation (suite et fin)," appeared in S. ou B. 28 (July-August 1959): 41-72, and was reprinted as "Prolétariat et organisation, II," L'expérience du mouvement ouvrier, vol. 2: Prolétariat et organisation (Paris: Union Générale d'Éditions, 1974), 189-248; an English translation exists only in typescript form. With Henri Simon and other members, Lefort left S. ou B. definitively in 1958 to form Informations et Liaisons Ouvrières (ILO), which later became Informations et Correspondances Ouvrières (ICO) after Lefort's departure. For background information on both S. ou B. and ILO/ICO, see Lefort's "An Interview with Claude Lefort" (originally conducted 19 April 1975 in French as a pamphlet for Anti-Mythes 14 [November 1975]), trans. Dorothy Gehrke and Brian Singer, Telos 30 (winter 1976-77): 173-92, and Castoriadis's 26 January 1974 interview conducted by the precursor to Anti-Mythes (now available in English as "'The Only Way to Find Out If You Can Swim Is to Get into the Water': An Introductory Interview," The Castoriadis Reader, 1-34), as well as Simon's 7 September 1974 interview, "De la scission avec Socialisme ou Barbarie à la rupture avec ICO (entretien avec H. Simon)," Anti-Mythes 6 (December 1974), and his I. C. O., un point de vue (available c/o Échanges, B. P. 241, 75866 Paris Cedex 18 France). A final internal conflict developed in the early 1960s, after Lefort's ultimate departure from S. ou B.; that conflict culminated in the break of 1964, when a group including Alberto Véga, Pierre Souyri, and Jean-François Lyotard left, taking S. ou B.'s monthly militant newspaper, Pouvoir Ouvrier, with it. Of the Libidinal Economy-era Lyotard, Lefort says: "It is really hilarious how Lyotard, who then strapped himself into a Bolshevik uniform and who played Trotsky to Castoriadis's Lenin, is the same Lyotard who now plays with madness . . . " ("An Interview with Claude Lefort," 177). See Castoriadis's "An Introductory Interview" (Castoriadis Reader, 14-15), his "Postface to 'Recommencing the Revolution'" (Political and Social Writings, 3:80-85), and my own discussion of this last split in ibid., 3:85-87n1, which provides further references.
29. See also Lefort's two-part article "Une interprétation politique de l'antisémitisme: Hannah Arendt,"Commentaire 20 (winter 1982-83): 654-60, and 21 (spring 1983): 21-28, as well as "Hannah Arendt and the Question of the Political" (1985), in Democracy and Political Theory, 45-55. On the Hungarian Revolution and the effervescence of Eastern European contestation during the mid-1950s, Lefort's key texts are "L'insurrection hongroise," S. ou B. 20 (December 1956-February 1957): 87-116 (reprinted in L'invention démocratique: Les limites de la domination totalitaire [Paris: Fayard, 1981], 202-46); "Retour de Pologne," S. ou B. 21 (March-May 1957): 15-58 (reprinted in the first edition of Éléments [Geneva: Droz, 1971], 221-59 and then in L'invention démocratique: 273-332); "La situation en Pologne," S. ou B., 22 (July-September 1957): 163-65; and "Pologne: La Kadarisation froide," S. ou B., 24 (May-June 1958): 107-10. Regarding these texts, Lefort notes his close collaboration with Castoriadis, which contrasts with their ongoing disagreements over organizational and philosophical matters: "In the face of major events (French politics, East Berlin, de-Stalinization, Poland, Hungary and Algeria), Castoriadis and I found ourselves so close that the texts published by either of us were also in large part the product of the other" ("An Interview with Lefort," 177). And to return to Arendt, Castoriadis stated, in his 1996 interview with Drunken Boat's Max Blechman, which is to accompany my translation of Castoriadis's 1994 interview: "The Rising Tide of Insignificancy. An Interview with Cornelius Castoriadis": "There is little difference between [Hannah Arendt's political] thinking at the time and what S. ou B. was saying."
30. Claude Lefort, Un homme en trop. Réflexions sur "l'Archipel du Goulag" (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1976). This volume incorporates a previously published commentary on The Gulag Archipelago, "Soljénitsyne,"Textures, 10-11 (1975): 3-38.
31. See also "An Interview with Claude Lefort," 186-87.
32. See, in Le Discours de la servitude voluntaire suivi de La Boétie et la question du politique, ed. Miguel Abensour (Paris: Payot, 1976, 5th ed., 1993), Clastres's text ("Liberté, Malencontre, Innommable," 229-46) and Lefort's contribution ("Le nom d'Un," 247-307). Of note is Fabio Ciaramelli's recent essay on La Boétie, "Friendship and Desire," which draws upon Lefort and Castoriadis as well as upon Freud and which I have translated for a forthcoming issue of Free Associations.
33. For Lefort's writings on totalitarianism, see notes 29 and 30 above and notes 36 and 37 below. Castoriadis published the first installment of what later became his Devant la guerre book (Paris: Fayard, 1981; 2nd ed. 1983) in the last issue of Libre 8 (1980): 217-50, arguing there that Russia had become a "stratocracy" and was no longer a classic totalitarian State. The other journal Lefort and Castoriadis collaborated on in the 1970s, before Libre, was Textures (1971-75). There was also a period of collaboration within the "Cercle Saint-Just," later renamed the Cercle de Recherches et d'Études Sociales et Politiques (CRESP). See Lefort's comments on CRESP in his Anti-Mythesinterview, 21-22 (this response was not translated for "An Interview with Claude Lefort"), Pierre Vidal-Naquet's description in "Souvenirs à bâtons rompus sur Cornelius Castoriadis et 'Socialisme ou Barbarie'" (Revue Européenne des Sciences Sociales 86 [December 1989]: 19-20; this journal issue was reprinted as Autonomie et autotransformation de la société. La philosophie militante de Cornelius Castoriadis [Geneva: Droz, 1989], with the same pagination), and Philippe Gottraux's section in his (often informative but deeply flawed) Bourdieu-inspired sociology of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, "Socialisme ou Barbarie". Un engagement politique et intellectuel dans la France de l'après-guerre (Lausanne: Payot, 1997), 309-12.
34. In "An Interview with Claude Lefort" (173), Lefort explains: "I owe my political orientation to much more than a chance encounter. In 1941-42, I was in Merleau-Ponty's class at the Lycée Carnot. He was able to establish a personal rapport with some of his students, so that one day, toward the end of the school year, he asked me if I were interested in politics and then, more precisely, what I thought of the French Communist Party. Astonished by my answers, he then asked if I were familiar with Trotsky. I replied that I wasn't, and he made a remark I won't ever forget: 'It seems to me that if you knew him, you would be a Trotskyist.' . . . Although I cannot say when my 'ideas' were formed, at least in one sense they certainly were formed prior to my philosophy class. But in another, decisive sense, they were formed during that year under Merleau-Ponty's influence. His course in psychology was a condensed version of The Structure of Behavior, which he was about to publish, and his course on ethics dealt largely with sociology and Marxism. This influence is extremely important, for when I became a Trotskyist in 1943, I immediately discovered that my inclinations diverged from those of my elders and companions." Lefort was soon running a "clandestine group" at the Lycée Henri IV, holding weekly meetings that drew, on average, one hundred people, and he eventually "created a network of work groups" before Castoriadis came from Greece on a student scholarship at the end of 1945. Lefort adds: "I don't know what would have become of this faction, however, if Castoriadis had not arrived in France at that time. As I recall, I first heard him lecture to the Party on the USSR in preparation for the Third Congress. His analysis overwhelmed me. I was convinced by him even before he reached his conclusion" (ibid., 174). And yet a "first conflict" arose, even "before the birth of Socialisme ou Barbarie," over the organizational question of how and when to leave the PCI, Castoriadis looking for an open and public break, well timed to bring along as many sympathizers as possible, Lefort opting for an earlier and quieter exit: "A handful of us were convinced that this delayed departure was harmful; our faction would only be corrupted by staying in the Party any longer. We thought it essential to regroup independently, with the dramatization of the break being of minor importance" (174-75). In this little episode, we see, perhaps more than the differing articulated principles (Lefort considers them revelatory), the essence of two opposing characters, their quite contrary "ways of being" (see below, in the text of the present Translator's Foreword). For Castoriadis's account of the transition from PCI to S. ou B., see "An Introductory Interview," 1-4. It must be added that sometimes Lefort is just plain mistaken about his differences with Castoriadis. Later in "An Interview with Claude Lefort" (177), he says that Castoriadis's close association with a "vaguely Hegelian" Raya Dunayevskaya, "who used the pen name Rya Stone," was the first of the three principal reasons for him to "intensify [his] opposition" to S. ou B. and its "rigidity." However, Lefort has confused Ria Stone (pseudonym for the Chinese-American Grace Lee Boggs, who greatly influenced Castoriadis's thinking by opening him up to nonworkerist issues of women's liberation, civil rights, etc. in the early 1960s--traces of which can be found in the crucial 1962 internal S. ou B. document, "For a New Orientation,"Political and Social Writings, 3:7-26) and the Hegelian-Marxist Raya Dunayevskaya (Trotsky's former secretary in Mexico and, along with C. L. R. James's "Johnson," "Freddie Forest" of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, which broke from Trotskyism in America about the same time S. ou B. did so in France). Castoriadis vividly told me one day how he couldn't stand Dunayevskaya when he met her in Paris in 1947; for her account of their meeting--"we are in the process of serious discussions, and I have hopes of winning him"--and of her discovery of the Chaulieu-Montal group--"this is the biggest thing since my arrival here"--see her letter to James in C. L. R. James: His Intellectual Legacies, ed. Selwyn R. Cudjoe and William E. Cain (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 298-300. In fact, Stone/Boggs, who also was a member of Johnson-Forest, later broke with that group's continuators, opting for a less Hegelian-Marxist orientation that would be able to talk revolution in the American vernacular; for example, in her 1985 talk "I Must Love the Questions Themselves" (from the privately printed pamphlet Grace: Selected Speeches by Grace Lee Boggs: 26), she speaks of "tongue-tied U.S. Marxists." Misunderstandings as well as personality differences, we see here clearly, play an important role in history. (Thanks here to Johnson-Forest scholar Scott McLemee and to Grace L. Bogg's recently published Living for Change: An Autobiography, foreword by Ossie Davis [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998], which has helped to clear up some of my own misconceptions.)
35. Democracy and Political Theory, 10.
36. Lefort has just published a critique of François Furet's 1995 book, Le passé d'une illusion: Essai sur l'idee communiste au XXe siècle--just translated into English (with a title that, unless I am mistaken, slightly misses Furet's clever allusion to Freud's The Future of an Illusion) as The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, trans. Deborah Furet (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1999)--and of Martin E. Malia's The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917-1991 (New York: Free Press, 1994). This new Lefort book, La complication. Retour sur le communisme (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1999), develops his critique of totalitarianism and brings it up to date.
37. "The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism," The Political Forms of Modern Society, 305. Lefort's other writings in English on totalitarianism include: "Totalitarianism without Stalin" (originally published as "Totalitarisme sans Staline--L'U.R.S.S. dans une nouvelle phase," S. ou B. 19 : 1-72; reprinted inÉléments, 155-235), "The Logic of Totalitarianism" (1980), and "Pushing Back the Limits of the Possible" (1981), ibid., 52-88, 273-91, and 307-19, respectively.
38. I say "from both above and below," for, according to Lefort, the totalitarian "Egocrat" ("or . . . his substitutes, the bureaucratic leaders") "coincides with himself, as society is supposed to coincide with itself" (ibid., 306). My perspective being close to that of Castoriadis while also being informed by Lefort's skeptical attitude toward "above" and "below" formulations (which still owe a great deal to political theology, he believes), I have highlighted, instead, some possibilities for the democratic self-transformation of society in my Translator's Foreword to Pierre Lévêque and Pierre Vidal-Naquet's Cleisthenes the Athenian: An Essay on the Representation of Space and Time in Greek Political Thought from the End of the Sixth Century to the Death of Plato (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities, 1996), ix-xxvii. Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet's book, which is not a traditional intellectual history, contrasts the Pythagoreans' failed efforts to effect political change in society from without--i.e., via the formation of a separate group possessing an allegedly scientific knowledge (based in numbers mysticism)--from Cleisthenes' successful radical reorganization of civic space and time, which simultaneously associated the masses with his political grouping and provided a mathematically based formula and framework designed to enable greater citizen participation. I thus challenged in this foreword the ostensible "history from below" perspective of classical historian Joshua Ober, who neglects the important connections between political thought and mass action and who thereby reestablishes such false dichotomies as "organization" versus "spontaneity."
39. Ernst Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957).
40. "The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism," The Political Forms of Modern Society, 306.
41. Ibid. (see the chapter's final paragraph). We may note that the Foucauldian power/knowledge dyad doesn't adequately account for what is Lefort's third term: law. The Nietzschean "vitalism" characteristic of Foucault as well as of Lyotard during his post-S. ou B. days here reveals its limits; both these authors found themselves belatedly (but not very convincingly) obliged to return to questions of justice that they had previously overlooked.
42. Democracy and Political Theory, 11.
43. "The Contradiction of Trotsky," The Political Forms of Modern Society, 31-51. "La contradiction de Trotsky et le problème révolutionnaire," Les Temps Modernes 39 (December 1948-January 1949): 48-69, was reprinted as "La Contradiction de Trotsky" in Éléments, 33-58.
44. On the controversial nature of the publication of this article in a nonrevolutionary journal, see Gottraux's book, 206-10. An article, "Les mains sales" (Dirty hands), which appeared in the Trotskyist organ, La Vérité228 (15-28 February 1949): 5, and which was signed "P. F." (i.e., the Trotskyist leader Pierre Frank), violently attacked the young upstart Lefort for his critique of Trotsky. (Gottraux reminds us that David Rousset had just split off from the "right wing" of the PCI to form, with Sartre, the short-lived Rassemblement Démocratique Révolutionnaire; we may note, moreover, that Les mains sales was a 1948 play written by Sartre.) Under his pen name Pierre Chaulieu, Castoriadis responded even more violently in Lefort's defense with "Les Bouches inutiles" (Useless mouthings) in the inaugural issue of S. ou B. 1 (March 1949): 104-11. Internationalisme, the organ of the non-Trotskyist ultraleft organization of Bordigists, the Groupe Communiste de France, picked up on this controversy in "Salut à Socialisme ou Barbarie,"Internationalisme 43 (June-July 1949): 36-43. Twenty-five years later (see "An Interview with Claude Lefort," 177), Lefort still retained a negative recollection of the Bordigists (followers of the Italian left-wing Communist Amadeo Bordiga), whom he calls "blundering comrades" and some of whom, in the meantime, had joined S. ou B.
45. "Les Communistes et la paix" was originally published in Les Temps Modernes 81 (July 1952): 1-50; 84-85 (November 1952): 695-763; and 101 (April 1954): 1729-1819; reprinted in Situations (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 6:80-384 and translated by Martha H. Fletcher in The Communists and the Peace (New York: George Braziller, 1968), 3-231.
46. Claude Lefort, "Le Marxisme et Sartre," Les Temps Modernes 89 (April 1953): 1541-70; Jean-Paul Sartre, "Réponse à Claude Lefort," ibid., 1571-1629 (reprinted in Situations [Paris: Gallimard, 1965], 7:7-93 and translated by Philip R. Berk as "Response to Claude Lefort," The Communists and the Peace, 233-96); Pierre Chaulieu (Castoriadis), "Sartre, le stalinisme et les ouvriers," S. ou B. 12 (August 1953): 63-88 (reprinted inL'expérience du mouvement ouvrier, 1:179-248 and translated as "Sartre, Stalinism, and the Workers,"Political and Social Writings, 1:207-41). Lefort's response to Sartre, "De la réponse à la question," finally appeared a year later in Les Temps Modernes 104 (July 1954): 157-84. Lefort's earliest published article, "L'analyse marxiste et le fascisme" (a review of a new edition of Daniel Guérin's Fascisme et grand capital), was, according to the Poltier bibliography, printed in the second issue of Les Temps Modernes, 1 November 1945, 357-62; it is the first of the dozen Les Temps Modernes texts Lefort penned between 1945 and 1954.
47. The Adventures of the Dialectic, 95-201. Interestingly, near the conclusion of his Epilogue Merleau-Ponty writes: "One of my Marxist friends says that Bolshevism has already ruined the revolution and that it must be replaced by the masses' unpredictable ingenuity" (ibid., 232). One would think that this "Marxist friend" would have been Lefort, but the "masses' unpredictable ingenuity" formula is more likely Castoriadis's (see the opening paragraphs of his "Proletarian Leadership" text), and Castoriadis himself, in conversations with me, claimed paternity for this Merleau-Pontean reference (see the "1973" reference in Appendix F to Castoriadis's Political and Social Writings, 3:347).
48. "La Méthode des intellectuels dits 'progressistes': Échantillons," S. ou B. 23 (January-February 1958): 126-53, was reprinted as "La Méthode des intellectuels progressistes" in Éléments, 236-68. This article discusses, among other texts, Marcel Péju's "Retour de Pologne," Les Temps Modernes 137-38 (July-August 1957): 37-56, which is also the title of a March 1957 S. ou B. article by Lefort (mentioned in note 29 above). See note 14 on page 55 of Péju's article for pejorative references to S. ou B.
49. See Miguel Abensour's "Savage Democracy and the Principle of Anarchy," trans. Max Blechman,Philosophy and Social Criticism (forthcoming).
50. In fact, Lefort's interest in the possible connections between phenomenological philosophy, radical politics, and literary theory extends back quite far. "For me," he says, speaking in retrospect about the influence his high-school philosophy professor Merleau-Ponty exercised over him, "Marx's thought found its true expression in the language of phenomenology and phenomenology, in turn, found its basis and teleology in Marx" ("An Interview with Claude Lefort," 173). One early text especially worth highlighting is "L'Expérience prolétarienne," his unsigned editorial for S. ou B. 11 (November-December 1952): 1-19, the first issue published after his short-lived 1952 split (see note 28 above). The historian of the group, Stephen Hastings-King, devotes an entire chapter to this Lefort text in his laudable 1999 Cornell University History dissertation, Fordism and the Marxist Revolutionary Project: A History of Socialisme ou Barbarie, Part I. Elements of Hastings-King's discussion of this editorial statement regarding workers' writing (témoinages--eyewitness accounts or testimony--Lefort calls them) may also be found in his article for the special Castoriadis issue of Thesis Eleven 49 (May 1997): 69-84, "On the Marxist Imaginary and the Problem of Practice, Socialisme ou Barbarie, 1952-6." Hastings-King has also written in this dissertation the first serious treatment of the working-class writing of S. ou B. member Daniel Mothé (Jacques Gautrat), a former automobile worker at Renault's Billancourt factory who became a workplace sociologist in the 1970s. On the S. ou B. group, including comments on Lefort, see Mothé's own 8 June 1976 interview for Anti-Mythes 18 (1976).
51. "L'insurrection hongroise," 91; reprinted in L'invention démocratique, 210.
52. "The Invisible Ideology" is a section of Lefort's "Outline of the Genesis of Ideology in Modern Societies,"The Political Forms of Modern Society, 224-36; see page 224 for the phrases quoted in the text.
53. Corpsensus was conceived and performed by the Paris-based American choreographer Clara Gibson Maxwell, who is also my life partner, in collaboration with the dancer Isabelle Pierre, the musicians Roman Garioud, Paul Susen, and Pierre Trocellier, and the painter Daniel Chompré. The mention of weaving refers to a text by Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Tisser l'amitié," which I have translated as "Weaving Friendship" for a forthcoming issue of Salmagundi; in French, tissu means both (human) tissue and fabric (either "cloth" or "the fabric, e.g., of society").
54. Such efforts have had varying degrees of success, from Castoriadis praising my World in Fragmentsforeword as one the best things ever written about his work, to my having my forewords cut down--a little (a few paragraphs in my Foreword to Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy were removed without my being informed of this editorial decision, thus creating an imbalance still found in the published version; the editor also added a subtitle, Essays in Political Philosophy, which neither Castoriadis nor I had approved: in contrast to [in response to?] Lefort, Castoriadis has nothing but contempt for political philosophy, a term that he almost invariably places within quotation marks before denigrating it) or a lot (see the reference regarding my Translator's Note to Pierre Vidal-Naquet's The Jews, above, note 1; Vidal-Naquet had told me that I "shouldn't change a word" right before the bulk of my essay was eliminated by the publisher)--or to my feeling compelled to abandon writing any introductory remarks at all, because of the publisher's objections to the untraditional format I had adopted as most suited to a particular book (my Dick Howard translation, The Birth of American Political Thought, 1763-87 [London: Macmillan Press, 1990], contains no translator's foreword).
55. Even before meeting Coleman and encountering his theory of "Harmolodics" in 1990, I made jazz the central metaphor for my discussion of Castoriadis's work in the foreword to my translation of the first volume of his Political and Social Writings (see xvii-xx). Coleman, moreover, provided the cover art for my last two Castoriadis translations: The Castoriadis Reader and World in Fragments.
56. Jacques Derrida was invited to "solo" in a duet with Coleman during the July 1997 Festival de la Villette in Paris, at which Coleman was the featured performer. Grammatologie oblige, Derrida stumbled through his reading of a prepared text--a "lesson," as he called it!--and was promptly booed off stage by most of the six hundred jazz fans in attendance. We may conclude that there is not only poetic but also musical justice in the world. A privately-printed account of this event is available by writing to my e-mail address: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
57. Coleman employed this phrase to describe the choreographic process of Clara Gibson Maxwell, the creator of Corpsensus (see note 53 above). Her interview with Coleman on friendship and collaboration in the face of commercial vicissitudes appears in the November 1999 issue of the jazz magazine Cadence.
58. Lefort's combination of literary with philosophical concerns should in no way be confused with the much-touted "linguistic turn" of some other philosophers.