Althusser, an Intellectual Adventure – a film by Bruno Oliviero

altAlthusser, an Intellectual Adventure – a film by Bruno Oliviero. I missed seeing this in Paris last week, and hope other screenings will take place.

Philosopher, Marxist, professor, murderer. More than a quarter century after his death, Louis Althusser, one of the most influential leftist thinkers of the 20th century, remains an enigmatic figure: a man whose work rejuvenated Marxist theory through books such as For Marx and Reading Capital, a Communist who strove to create a new framework following the revelations of Stalinist terror… and a victim of mental illness who, in his darkest moment, strangled his wife of more than 30 years.

ALTHUSSER, AN INTELLECTUAL ADVENTURE traces the development of Althusser’s thought, which influenced a who’s who of French philosophers, including Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, and Barthes. Credited with reinterpreting Marx in a way that encouraged readers to engage directly with his work, Althusser brought the Freudian concept of overdetermination to Marxist theory, and argued that Marx’s work should not be read as one consistent whole, because there was a clear ‘break’ between his earlier and later writings. But Althusser’s most enduring contribution may be the concept of ideological state apparatuses: institutions and social structures including schools, churches, and families, that serve to reinforce the capitalist state.

The film also delves into Althusser’s little-understood struggles with the mental illness that would see him hospitalized numerous times throughout his life. In intimate letters to his wife, Hélène Rytmann, and mistress, Franca Madonia, Althusser describes his treatment and mental states. As Yves Duroux says, in order to understand the man, one must look not only at his philosophy and relationship with the Communist Party, but to “his own madness” which in some ways linked the two.

ALTHUSSER, AN INTELLECTUAL ADVENTURE captures the man, and the implications of his work, in interviews with friends and colleagues such as Lucien Sève, who served more than 30 years on the central committee of the Communist Party of France, and with philosophers and former students including Etienne Balibar, Pierre Macherey, and Jacques Ranciere.

Throughout his life Althusser avoided the spotlight, preferring to be a behind-the-scenes theoretician arguing the case for Marxist revolution. But included in this film is the only TV interview he gave, shot on a rooftop in Rome in 1980—just weeks before he would kill Hélène.

Update 28 Jan: the entire film is available here:

Update 27 Feb: the video has unfortunately been removed.

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2 Responses to Althusser, an Intellectual Adventure – a film by Bruno Oliviero

  1. Nadine says:

    I am sorry but no accounting of Althusser is complete without some analysis of misogyny. So he was a “victim of mental illness”? Was it also “madness” which lead Foucault to disparage women?

    How can such great men as Althusser claim to explain “terror” when their own reign of terror over women is excused as “illness”? So many men abuse (grab pussy) and even kill the women they claim to love that one needs to ask are they all sick or simply doing what men in this culture do.

    Say what one might about Althusser’s brilliance, murdering his wife, like Heidegger’s endorsement of Hitler, surely says much about the man and his work.


    Nadine McDonnell


    • stuartelden says:

      The fourth word of this film’s description is ‘murderer’.
      I’ve not seen the film yet, but it seems to me that this essential aspect is a major part of the account it offers.

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