The Rising Tide Of Insignificancy


In March 1996, when La Montee de l'insignifiance (MI), the fourth volume in Cornelius Castoriadis's Carrefours du labyrinthe (CL, Crossroads in the labyrinth) series, was published, the author prefaced the book with the following brief "Notice":

I have brought together here most of my texts from the past few years that are devoted to the contemporary situation, to reflection on society, and to politics. A fifth volume of the Carrefours du labyrinthe series will follow in a few months, containing writings bearing on psychoanalysis and philosophy.

One will encounter a few repetitions among these texts. Such repetitions are inevitable when one has to familiarize different audiences with the author's presuppositions, which are not obvious to everyone. It is difficult to eliminate them without destroying, each time, the logical order of the argument. I hope to be able to count on the reader's indulgence.

July 1995

Castoriadis's Socialisme ou Barbarie-era writings (1946-1965) had already been republished, along with new and previously unpublished material, by editions 10/18 between 1973 and 1979, and his magnum opus, L'Institution imaginaire de la Societe (IIS, The Imaginary institution of society), an outgrowth of his final S. ou B. writings (1964-1965), had appeared in 1975. Two other "books" [1] -- a joint talk with Daniel Cohn-Bendit published as De l'ecologie a l'autonomie (DEA, From ecology to autonomy), and a volume devoted to posttotalitarian Russian "stratocratic" expansionism, Devant la guerre (DG, Facing war) -- had come out in 1981. And Castoriadis had already published three Carrefours tomes: the eponymous first volume in 1978, a second volume entitled Domaines de l'homme (DH, Domains of man) in 1986, and Le Monde morcele (MM, World in fragments) in 1990. As promised in his MI Notice quoted above, a fifth, more psychoanalytically -- and philosophically -- oriented volume, Fait et a faire (FAF, Done and to be done), did indeed appear in 1997, the year of his death.

While these first three Carrefours volumes enjoyed respectable sales in France, they did not have the full public impact Castoriadis perhaps had hoped for. The second one in particular, DH, was a massive tome of a quite heteroclite nature, very difficult for readers and reviewers alike to get a firm grasp on. And so he waited a shorter time (a four -- instead of an eight -- year hiatus) before publishing a smaller, more compact or concentrated volume, MM. The decision to publish two additional volumes, six and seven years after the third one in the series, with contents separated between the topical (MI addressing primarily social and political matters) and the psychoanalytic-philosophical (FAF) was thus, to a considerable degree, a marketing decision on the author's part, though it was also a decision not entirely alien to his own political and philosophical concerns.

Castoriadis had long felt that no politics could be deduced from a philosophy (Plato's hubris), nor could any philosophy be deduced from a politics (at times, Marxism's error). [2] At the same time, as he explains,

since the end of Socialisme ou Barbarie, I am no longer directly and actively involved in politics, save for a brief moment during May 1968. I try to remain present as a critical voice, but I am convinced that the bankruptcy of the inherited conceptions (be they Marxist, Liberal [in the Continental sense of conservative believers in the "free" workings of a "capitalist market"], or general views on society, history, etc.) has made it necessary to reconsider the entire horizon of thought within which the political movement for emancipation has been situated for centuries. And it is to this work that I have harnessed my efforts since that time.

This statement about a "necessary . . . reconsider[ation of] the entire horizon of thought within which the political movement for emancipation has been situated for centuries," to which he had "harnessed [his] efforts since" his last overt and organized collective political engagement [3] appears in the eponymous interview "The Rising Tide of Insignificancy," which offers, in his "critical voice," diagnoses of the contemporary age. So, even in one of his more topical texts, he refers to the philosophical work that must come to inform (though never dictate) ongoing interventions in the social and political spheres. Philosophy and politics -- whose "co-birth" occurred, Castoriadis argues, first in ancient Greece and a second time in Western Europe at the end of the Middle Ages -- remain in his work the nonidentical yet intertwined twins he consistently described them as being. There is an arbitrariness as well as a certain necessity to this imaginary act of separation effectuated by Castoriadis himself within his own magmatic oeuvre.

The publication history in English of Castoriadis's Carrefours series writings is even more complicated and varied. The first volume in the series was translated, as is, in 1984 as Crossroads in the Labyrinth (CL), while selections from DH and MM, many of them originally written in English, appeared in Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (PPA, 1991), in between the first two and the third selection of S. ou B.-10/18 texts known collectively as the Political and Social Writings (PSW, 1988 and 1993). [4]

Additional selections from DH and MM, as well as a few texts (see below) from the newly published MI were gathered together in the Castoriadis Reader (CR) and in World in Fragments (WIF), both of them published the year of his death. Castoriadis was thus able to see the bulk of his Carrefours writings appear in English during his lifetime -- albeit in a somewhat jumbled manner. But as we have seen, Castoriadis's own method for presenting the Carrefours texts in French was itself a work in progress, constantly open to question along the way by the author himself. Concrete plans were already underway shortly before his death for his long-time collaborator and friend David Ames Curtis to present in English remaining Carrefours texts, many of them already translated by Curtis and published in various journals or still in manuscript form awaiting book publication. [5]

The present volume, The Rising Tide of Insignificancy (RTI), which takes its name from La Montee de l'insignifiance, thus does not contain all the same material as that original French-language book. The first three texts from the initial Kairos section -- "The Crisis of Western Societies" (now in CR), as well as "The Movements of the Sixties" and "The Pulverization of Marxism-Leninism" (both now in WIF) -- had already been claimed. And while the Koinonia section remains intact in this English-language electronic book version, the first, third, and fourth chapters of MI's third and final section, Polis -- "The Greek and the Modern Political Imaginary," "Culture in a Democratic Society," and "The Ethicists' New Clothes" -- also had been preempted by prior publication in WIF and CR. The MI texts preserved in RTI are as follows: "Between the Western Void and the Arab Myth," "The Dilapidation of the West," "The Rising Tide of Insignificancy," "Anthropology, Philosophy, Politics," "The Crisis of the Identification Process," "Freud, Society, History," "The Athenian Democracy: False and True Questions," and "Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime."

To fill the gaps created by the vagaries of the Castoriadis publishing history in English, we have delved back into the second, third, and fifth Carrefours volumes. There we have found, for RTI, other texts compatible with the fourth volume's original topical themes concerning society and politics. As noted above, Curtis had already prepared many of these texts for publication. The first four chapters of RTI -- "The Vacuum Industry," "Psychoanalysis and Society I" and "II," and "Third World, Third Worldism, Democracy" -- have been drawn from DH's Kairos section, and the first chapter of RTI's Polis section -- "Unending Interrogation" -- comes from the corresponding section of DH, as well. "The Idea of Revolution," the only chapter from MM yet to be published in book form in English (it, too, had been listed on several previous book proposals presented to American and British publishers but each time had to be dropped for reasons of space), is now also included in RTI as a useful counterpart on modern revolutions to his piece on the birth of Athenian democracy. Finally, from FAF, the fifth and last of the CL volumes Castoriadis published while he was alive, we have included "Complexity, Magmas, History: The Example of the Medieval Town" in an added Logos section. Thus, with the exceptions of a few topical Kairos texts from DH dealing mostly with Marxism, totalitarianism, the erstwhile "Soviet Union," its former satellites, and French politics -- "Transition," "Illusions ne pas garder," "Le plus dur et le plus fragile des regimes," "Pologne, notre defaite," "Le regime russe se succedera a lui-meme," "Marx aujourd'hui," "Quelle Europe, Quelle menaces, Quelle defense?," "La 'gauche' en 1985," and "Cinq ans apres" -- of DH's "Les destinees du totalitarisme," as well as of its intriguing, still untranslated Preface and of one last FAF text -- "Passion et connaissance" -- all Carrefours series texts published during Castoriadis's lifetime are now available in book form in English. A translation of the posthumous sixth Carrefours tome, Figures du pensable (FP) will soon appear as Figures of the Thinkable (FT), with "Passion and Knowledge" replacing an FP text published long ago in PPA ("The Social-Historical: Modes of Being, Problems of Knowledge"). And an English-language collection of previously untranslated DH texts, along with other uncollected writings on Russia, is currently in the works. Other volumes in English are now in the planning stages. The reader's patience is requested as these electronic publishing projects are presently being undertaken under a highly difficult set of circumstances.


For, we are indeed embarking on a new stage in the publication of Castoriadis's writings in English. After the early pamphlet translations of the pseudonymous "Maurice Brinton" published by Socialisme ou Barbarie's British sister organization London Solidarity, and after the writings in Telos and other journals, plus two book-length volumes (CL and IIS), prepared by various translators or written directly in English by Castoriadis himself during the 1970s and 1980s, Curtis came on the scene in the mid-1980s, eventually translating, editing, and publishing approximately a million words of Castoriadis's writings (PSW1-3, PPA, WIF, CR). He meticulously prepared each volume, adding explanatory footnotes, citation references in English, glossaries, bibliographical appendixes, and so on. Le Monde, in particular, praised Curtis for being instrumental to the increasingly broad U.S. reception of Castoriadis's work:

In America . . . where it has the advantage, in the person of David Ames Curtis, of benefitting from a remarkable translator, [Castoriadis's thought] interests not only 'radical' intellectuals but also, in a larger way, numerous researchers in the social sciences. [6]

While his editorial ambitions were not as great as those of, say, a James Strachey who prepared the Standard Edition of Sigmund Freud's work, nor was the time yet appropriate for such an undertaking since Castoriadis was still then a living, active writer, Curtis tried to present Castoriadis's work with all the scholarly seriousness and careful attention to detail that this great author's evolving corpus warranted. Each translated volume was prefaced by an in-depth Foreword that set the book in perspective, provided information the reader might not otherwise have available to her, anticipated common questions and criticisms, presented the translator himself and his motivations so as not to hide these essential aspects of the process of presenting the work of another in the International Republic of Letters, and yet carefully avoided taking advantage of the translator's position as the first reader in a foreign language of the writings being presented so that the labor of autonomous interpretation and creative reception of the author's ideas would remain within the purview of the reading public. Castoriadis went so far as to praise Curtis's Translator's Foreword for WIF as "one of the best things ever written about my work." A little more than two months before his final hospitalization, Castoriadis also wrote the following appreciation of Curtis's professionalism:

David is the kind of translator one encounters rarely: he is extremely conscientious, tirelessly verifying everything he does, never hesitating to ask the opinion of the authors about what might pose a problem in the texts on which he is working. He has now translated six volumes of my writings, which have been published by the University of Minnesota Press, Oxford University Press, Stanford University Press, and Blackwell. Pierre Vidal-Naquet, for whom he has also translated and published several works in translation and who, a philologist by trade, is demanding to the point of scholasticism as concerns the exactitude and accuracy of expressions, is full of praise for him. [7]

Castoriadis's elder daughter, Sparta, recalls him going on and on at a family gathering about how pleased he was in particular about the Castoriadis Reader, the "greatest hits" volume Curtis had edited.

Things took a dramatic, unexpected, still largely inexplicable turn, however, at the end of 1997. Castoriadis's final illness, surgery, and unsuccessful recovery lasted the entire fall of that year. During that time, Curtis aided the Castoriadis family morally, organizationally, professionally, even financially. Near the end, "Maurice Brinton," himself a doctor who was following Castoriadis's medical case closely, called Curtis from England to request that Curtis prepare an obituary, because Curtis was, he said, the most informed, qualified, and appropriate person to do so in the English-speaking world. And Castoriadis's soon-to-be widow, Zoe, explained to Curtis that, while Castoriadis left no written will for his closest relatives, he had foreseen at least one thing for the time after his own death: attending together their friend Francois Furet's funeral, Zoe had asked her husband what arrangements should eventually be made for him; she had assumed that, a nonbeliever, Cornelius would opt for cremation, but instead, to her great surprise, he asked her to bury him across the street from "David and Clara" in the Montparnasse Cemetery, so that Curtis and his life-partner Clara Gibson Maxwell might always be close to him. At Mrs. Castoriadis's request, Curtis researched this possibility so that the necessary arrangements could be made at the appropriate time. Upon learning of his demise, Curtis sent out an e-mail version of the obituary to persons and organizations interested by the Cornelius Castoriadis/Agora International (CC/AI) Website, [8] including Castoriadis family members, and he began trying to place this obituary with a large-circulation newspaper or journal. [9] At the burial ceremony, his widow collapsed, sobbing, into Curtis's arms, telling him in a loud voice that her husband had "loved you so much." This she did with no one else at the grave site. And yet, according to a former Castoriadis student who had attended a postfuneral event at Castoriadis's residence later that day, plans to exclude Curtis were already beginning. These plans culminated in daughter Sparta calling Curtis a week after the funeral to request, without explanation, that Curtis cease "all work" concerning her father -- as if this were something within her control. Aware of the extended nature of the mourning process in general, of the jealousy in this particular case consequent upon Castoriadis having given more thought to his friend and collaborator than to his own family for the period after his death, of the paranoia, perhaps too, of survivors bereft even of a last will and testament who found themselves in the difficult role of literary executors for which they were ill-equipped, Curtis vowed immediately to wait at least five years before going public with his concerns. He even renewed his conciliatory efforts at the end of that self-imposed time interval, but to no avail during an additional year-long period. It would thus be difficult to say that Curtis has not been extremely patient and forbearing toward the Castoriadis family.

In the interim, family members set up in France an association loi 1901 whose ambition was to become the "official" [sic] Castoriadis nonprofit organization. They also set up a rival to the CC/AI Website, though theirs has been updated only twice in six years, as well as another, semi-secret one off-limits to the "Association Cornelius Castoriadis's" (ACC's) own rank-and-file members, [10] and they recruited Pierre Vidal-Naquet to be President of this family-sponsored organization. While Curtis was invited to an initial ACC organizing meeting, he was excluded from a second one. The ACC was officially formed in June 1999 at its first General Assembly meeting in Paris. Vidal-Naquet -- champion of Athenian democracy, denouncer of torture and of raisons d'etat, historian of May '68, point man in France against "negationists" (Holocaust deniers), and the most respected living engaged intellectual in contemporary France -- found himself reduced to presenting statutes in whose drafting many "founding members" had not participated, ones that were far removed from the direct-democratic ideals and practices his long-time friend "Corneille" had consistently advocated. Reading these statutes out loud to the assembled members of this new organization, Vidal-Naquet interrupted himself to say, "Well, ahem, it ain't Athens, but that's how it is (bon, bref, c'est pas Athenes, mais c'est comme ca)." He also went on to assure those attending that there would be "absolute freedom of expression" within the organization and without, the ACC simply reserving the right to sue in cases of possible slander or libel.

Not surprisingly, this "official" group, which took its name from Cornelius Castoriadis himself but which violated the man's most deeply-held principles, foundered on its own organizational contradictions and internal personality disputes. In particular, elder daughter Sparta and widow Zoe engaged lawyers to sue each other over the estate, it was learned from Sparta's own mother Jeanine "Rilka" Walter (Comrade Victorine in the Fourth International). The ACC's hand-picked first treasurer, son of a family friend, resigned without public notice and subsequently refused to explain the reasons for his decision. An attempt to move the headquarters out of Castoriadis's apartment, where his widow still resides, was resisted by Mrs. Castoriadis, but neither this inconclusive fight nor the stakes surrounding it were ever revealed to the organization's members. A select Publication Committee was appointed from above. It refused to integrate other interested parties into its projects, despite prior promises to do so to which Vidal-Naquet had affixed his moral "guarantee." This Publication Committee eventually resigned en masse (again without public explanation) and was replaced by the ACC's own officers (which in French is called cumul des mandats, or the holding of multiple offices). The same former student who had warned Curtis of what was afoot after Castoriadis's funeral later informed him that, among the ACC elected directors (five officers and five additional Council members) and with others surrounding the Castoriadis family, things had long ago degenerated into a "war of all against all," so that Curtis was not, by far, the only target of Castoriadis family ire. This person also informed Curtis that selection of speakers at Castoriadis conferences could sometimes be blocked by Mrs. Castoriadis herself; for example, former S. ou B. member David Blanchard ("Canjuers" in the group) was accepted for the June 2003 Cerisy Colloquium only after strong resistance from Zoe because he had not been "orthodox" (!) enough, and Curtis himself could not be invited to speak at this or previous meetings in which she was involved on account of her personal objections to him.

Right before the September 2001 biennial General Assembly, Sparta Castoriadis's own half sister had vowed that she would no longer serve on the ACC Council, and at the start of that meeting their mother, in her "disgust" at her daughter Sparta and at Cornelius's last wife, Zoe, privately urged Curtis to "do everything in your power to embarrass them as much as possible in public." Instead, Curtis made the constructive proposal that the ACC create an "anti-Council" chosen by lot among rank-and-file members, along the lines of schemes proposed at various times by Vidal-Naquet, sortition being a democratic practice long championed by Castoriadis, as well. In extemporaneous remarks he delivered at a joint 1992 conference with Castoriadis and his fellow Cleisthenes the Athenian author Pierre Leveque, Vidal-Naquet exhorted his audience:

Try proposing it! I happened to propose it in the institutions of the Ecole, where I proposed one day in 1968 that to the Ecole's Council be added an anti-Council chosen by lot. Everyone laughed in my face! Only once have I succeeded in winning passage of this idea, that was in 1981; by way of an article in the newspaper Liberation that attracted the attention of [Education Minister] Savary, I got what today is called the C.N.U. to be chosen by lot, and it worked quite well. Never had one had so free and independent a C.N.U. than thanks to this drawing of lots. The funny thing is that I believe Pierre Leveque had been chosen by lot. Well, it is all this that renders democracy possible. [11]

At that ACC General Assembly, President Vidal-Naquet immediately endorsed Curtis's Vidal-Naquet-inspired "Athenian" proposal. And yet he insisted at once that the possibility of an "anti-Council" would have to be studied first by the ACC Council. Two-and-a-half years later, no known discussion has been initiated, no known action has been taken. Indeed, all ACC Council meetings are held in secret. Their agendas have not been publicly announced in advance. No minutes of what was discussed have been communicated to the organization's members. And no decisions subsequently made have been announced in timely fashion. It is even unclear whether the Council meets as often as required by the organization's own statutes, given the huge personality conflicts that occur within it. When officers have resigned, this information, too, has been kept quiet. Searches for replacements have not been opened to rank-and-file ACC members either for suggestions or for participation. And the silent choices to replace the mysteriously disappeared were never reported in public. Indeed, no list of current officers' and Council members' names, addresses, and phone numbers is made available to the membership. Moreover, the officers proposed at the September 2001 General Assembly to abolish its own Council as an efficiency move. When someone in the audience who knows the Castoriadis family intimately explained that this proposal was being advanced for fear that Curtis, specifically, might be elected to one of the ten extant posts, the allegation stood unchallenged. At that meeting, Curtis received a majority from those present and voting for Council member positions, but he was excluded by fiat of the officers on account of additional, spoiled ballots that were designated as counting against his election.

As so many contradictory explanations have been advanced, it has been extremely difficult to discern in what the Castoriadis family animus against Curtis consists. What seems most difficult is "getting to Yes," as the expression goes. During one meeting, with Zoe, Sparta, and a member of the erstwhile Publication Committee who had been a part of S. ou B., an agreement was worked out on the upper floor of a Parisian cafe chosen by the family as a neutral meeting place. At the moment Curtis repeated what had just been decided upon, Mrs. Castoriadis rose up from her seat and began screaming, distraught, in public, before running down the staircase and out of the building; the two others sat in silence, and so no final agreement was reached. Similar hysterical episodes occurred four times during Mrs. Castoriadis's and Curtis's last one-hour meeting together, at the end of the Cerisy Colloquium. When it came to setting down in writing a formal agreement in the weeks that followed, new objections were raised at every turn, with Zoe stating that, "anyway, everything will be decided at the last moment" concerning the RTI and FT translations. In other words, no language could ever be considered binding on the family, and so no foreseeable and reasonable agreement equally applicable to all parties could be reached.

The primary sticking point seems to have been those meticulous footnotes and highly praised Translator's Forewords for which Curtis became well known, Castoriadis frequently referring to his American translator as his "angel." In On Plato's Statesman, the one translation the Castoriadis family allowed him to publish in the past six years, he was granted permission to write only a Translator's Afterword separated as far as possible from the book's front matter, so petty had the family's objections become. [12] In particular, family members became incensed because Curtis pointed out in this Afterword an error in the original French transcription of this series of Castoriadis seminars (which transcription had been approved by the Castoriadis family but from whose preparation Curtis, among others, had been excluded). The family, in particular Zoe, also seemed concerned that well-edited English-language translations of Castoriadis's writings might cut into sales of the French originals in a world where English is the dominant language and French-language books are notoriously lacking in the most elementary scholarly apparatus. She also tried to force upon Stanford University Press (SUP) an entire half of another, non-Carrefours posthumous Castoriadis volume when SUP requested that the volume of Carrefours selections they had contracted to publish in translation be split into two smaller tomes for financial reasons, Zoe later admitting to Curtis that she thought that this would be the only way she could sell those particular texts abroad. Even an e-mail from Curtis to SUP editor Helen Tartar, drafted jointly in advance by the two of them and then sent cc: to Mrs. Castoriadis in order to explain that these additional writings were perhaps not the most appropriate contents for RTI and that other Castoriadis interviews and writings might be more germane (again, see below), failed to change her determination to peddle as much copyrighted material as possible, no matter how thematically unrelated to the book in which they were to be included.

But why not just accede to whatever might be the Castoriadis family demands at a given moment, so that at least something could be published? Was it not pride, egotism, hubris -- or all three -- for Curtis to refuse to give in to these demands, however contradictory and enigmatic they might be to fulfill, and to continue to insist upon publishing quality footnotes, apparatus, and translator's forewords (or "afterwords")? These were the questions Curtis asked himself every day for six years. And the answer was always the same. Besides an unwillingness to lower professional standards and his moral commitment to Castoriadis himself to publish quality translations already completed, in response to the above queries Curtis had to ask himself another question: What would it mean to say that it is alright to be silenced in the cause of continuing to publish Castoriadis's work? If Curtis agreed to such a pact, where process takes a permanent back seat to "results," how would he then be able to defend anyone else in the "Association Cornelius Castoriadis" (or anywhere else) whom these self-appointed censors might also try to silence (such as a Daniel Blanchard)? Castoriadis had always read Curtis's translator's forewords in advance of publication, and he made suggestions Curtis would often incorporate, but sometimes they would disagree and Curtis would publish under his own name and responsibility his own words, without the least opposition from the author whose work was being introduced by his translator. Unfortunately, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who had set himself up as the moral guarantee of the family's Association, promising zero tolerance for censorship of any kind, in the end never resigned his post when faced with the reality of both prior censorship and widespread blacklisting. Heartbroken, Curtis was forced to conclude that Vidal-Naquet is not a man of his word but someone who stands bereft of the courage of his erstwhile convictions. And while Curtis still defends Vidal-Naquet in the latter's conflict with Noam Chomsky over a petition Chomsky circulated about alleged "findings" made by the negationist Robert Faurisson, a defense that cost Curtis his position on the Board of Editorial Advisors of Democracy & Nature, it will now be up to Vidal-Naquet to defend himself over this fresh charge of failure to defend freedom of expression, for this time it is Curtis himself who feels compelled to lodge it. [13]


The old saying goes, "There are two things you don't want to see being made, sausage and legislation." Originally attributed to the German statesman Otto von Bismarck, this adage has often been applied to the American law-making process. It is a telling statement in more ways than one.

The general idea is that one's degustatory enjoyment, one's pleasure in consumption, would be spoiled by intimate familiarity with the process of production. An interesting proposition. And yet one belied, precisely in the case of "sausage-making," by the dire consequences of consumer ignorance. Investigative journalist Upton Sinclair exposed the plight of immigrants in the unhealthy conditions (for producers as well as consumers) prevalent at turn-of-the-century Chicago meat-packing plants. His novel, The Jungle, which had been rejected by many publishers for its socialist ideas, eventually became, under threat of self-publication, a best seller that went on to impel passage of the Pure Food and Drugs and the Meat Inspection Acts of 1906.

Which brings us to legislation. The idea, once more, is that appreciation of the effects of law-making, the public good obtained, would be spoiled by too close inspection of the legislative process. An equally curious proposition. Here, an "interest"-based theory of government offers the semblance of an explanation: while one might want to avert one's eyes from the "procedures" (often labeled healthy and astute "horse-trading" or rotten "pork-barrel legislation," depending on one's particular view of the ultimate results in each case), the final outcome ensures a "democratic representation" of the various interests that make up a body politic, thus becoming, without too much reflection, its own justification. Taste and awareness again seem at odds, as do means and ends, process and result, experience and knowledge, and so on -- a general alienation of man from his works, presented as the condition for achieving desirability.

How uncanny that, just a few years after Bismarck is said to have uttered this enduring dictum, its two elements, sausage-making and legislation, would come together in America in such a revealing way. The work of Sinclair and other investigative reporters helped make "progressive-era" legislation possible -- "palatable," one might say -- and President Theodore Roosevelt benefitted from their endeavors in order to institute these and other popular reforms. The socialistic implications of this sort of journalism were too disturbing, however, for President Roosevelt, who soon joined the chorus of those who employed the derogatory epithet of muckraking to denigrate these writers' efforts and thus helped to undercut the reform movement associated with his presidency.

There still survives today a naive view of legislation, dressed up in Kantian cum utopian cum Marxian verbiage as purely procedural instantiation of communicative action. In "Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime," Castoriadis thoroughly criticizes this exclusively process-oriented (i.e., substanceless) Habermasian conception of democracy that is shared by John Rawls and Isaiah Berlin. What the saying we are examining here tells us is that law-making activities in modern societies, its procedures of enactment, are a literally obscene process whose workings cannot stand public scrutiny. And the sausage-making metaphor associated with it goes to show, in the case of Sinclair's Jungle, the dire consequences that may result from unexamined and disempowered life in society.

Taking now legislation, law-making, in the broader sense intended by Castoriadis -- that is, as the positing of explicit laws, but also of norms, values, customs, ways of making, doing and saying things -- we ask why it is so difficult for us to look at our "laws" and the process of their "enactment." This is not to say that sociological, historical, and political-scientific studies are lacking. Quite the contrary. But in a democracy, it is the collective positing activity of law-making that especially counts, not its theorization and manipulation from the outside by self-appointed "experts" of all stripes. [14] And it is conscious and willed collective positing activity -- autonomy, in Castoriadis's terms, which has both its social and individual sides -- that, according to the main argument of the present volume, is in crisis. Contrary to the practices of many, and especially to the posturings of those who now pose as prime proponents of "antitotalitarianism," Castoriadis wishes to bring out in plain terms "the burning issues of the day: the decomposition of Western societies, apathy, political cynicism and corruption, the destruction of the environment, the situation of the poor countries of the world," as he says precisely in the volume's eponymous interview. RTI takes a good, long, hard look at the obscenity of our current "legislation" -- the laws and rules by which we live our lives or, rather, by which we avoid living our lives in full knowledge of the relevant facts.

This last phrase, "in full knowledge of the relevant facts (en connaissance de cause)" is taken, let us note, from Castoriadis's landmark 1957 essay on a self-managed society, the second part of "On the Content of Socialism." For, the theme of a "rising tide of insignificancy" might at first appear merely to be a part of the dyspeptic ramblings of a disappointed and bitter old man nearing the end of his life. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. A brief anecdote illustrates this point. At a gathering a few years after Castoriadis's death, a former S. ou B. member complained that this seemingly pessimistic "insignificancy" theme took Castoriadis far afield from his earlier political concerns. Yet what, this comrade was asked in turn, does the "socialism or barbarism" alternative indicate but that, throughout his life, such barbarism was for Castoriadis an ever-present tendency of modern-day society, to be ignored at our peril? [15] The comrade made no reply.

Indeed, the "collapse of culture" in Russia was a theme already broached as early as a pre-S. ou B. text from 1947, [16] and in a 1983 lecture on Hannah Arendt, Castoriadis reminds us that, like S. ou B., she "saw very clearly that with totalitarianism we face . . . the creation of the meaningless." [17] For him, this theme stemmed from an overall analysis of a Weberian rationalization process gone mad within "bureaucratic capitalism," whether of the "total and totalitarian" (Russian) or "fragmented" (Western) variety. We cannot attempt to trace here all the stages in Castoriadis's evolving articulation of this devastating process of emptying meaning out of people's lives, from his earliest writings and commentary on Weber, when he became the first person to translate the great German sociological thinker into Greek during the Second World War, to the 1949 inaugural S. ou B. editorial "Socialism or Barbarism" (PSW 1), his 1956 essay on "Khrushchev and the Decomposition of Bureaucratic Ideology" (PSW 2), his statement in "Modern Capitalism and Revolution" (1960-1961, also in PSW 2) that modern capitalism privatizes individuals while seeking the destruction of meaning in work, a destructive process that spreads outward in a generalizing way eventually to encompass all social activities and to become a destruction of social significations, especially those of responsibility and initiative, his 1965 talk given to Solidarity members on "The Crisis of Modern Society" (PSW 3) that incorporates issues of gender and youth, his negative conclusions in the 1967 circular "The Suspension of Publication of Socialisme ou Barbarie" (PSW 3) about the initial prospects for the shop stewards' movement in England and for American wildcat strikes to provide an alternative to the growing bureaucratization of the labor movement, his 1968 reflections on the "tree of knowledge" threatening to "collapse under its own weight and crush its gardener as it falls" and on the juvenilization of all strata and segments of society ("The Anticipated Revolution," PSW 3), the 1979 text "Social Transformation and Cultural Creation" (also PSW 3) where Castoriadis declares, "I have weighed these times, and found them wanting," the updated version of this same text, "The Crisis of Culture and the State," as well as the ominously titled essay "Dead End?" on the dangers of technoscience (both of these 1987 texts now appear in PPA), and on to such WIF texts as "The Pulverization of Marxism-Leninism" and "The Retreat from Autonomy: Postmodernism as Generalized Conformism" (both MI texts, originally published in 1990), not to forget the 1982 text "The Crisis of Western Society" (MI's introductory essay, now in CR). Indeed, even this brief listing of thematic precursor texts from all periods of his life leaves out many pertinent bibliographical hints and indications, such as the stunning sections of DG on "The Destruction of Significations and the Ruination of Language" and on "Ugliness and the Affirmative Hatred of the Beautiful."


There is, we noted, both a certain artificiality or arbitrariness and a certain logic to Castoriadis's choice in the mid-1990s to divide his topical writings from his psychoanalytical-philosophical ones and to place them in separate volumes. The dual character of his choice may be glimpsed as well in an editorial story that will serve to introduce and to explain our choice of subtitle for RTI.

SUP editor Helen Tartar visited Paris in May 1996, after preparations for the WIF translation were well underway and just two months after MI appeared in France. Tartar proposed to commission Castoriadis for an entirely new volume to be published in English, discussing with him at some length the possibility of his writing a book dealing with post-1989 Western societies. Here is how Curtis, in his September 2000 talk at the Crete Castoriadis Conference, described his subsequent consultation with Castoriadis on this idea for a book whose title was to be drawn from title of a Raymond Chandler novel denoting death:

When, a year or two before his death, Castoriadis was offered an American contract to write a book on his theme of The Big Sleep in contemporary Western societies, I could tell he was tempted by this offer to let him bring his political views up to date, but he then suddenly said that all he wanted was to "do pure ontology." I knew that the context was that he felt he had accomplished a great deal already in writing about topical political matters and that this work would stand and could continue to influence those who were willing to let themselves be moved by it and who wanted to go further themselves -- and not that he had decided to put all of his past political efforts behind him. So I looked at him squarely, and asked if he really meant that about "pure ontology." His answer was equivocal, informed by his impending sense of mortality. A more revealing admission came when he said that he used to think every day about re-forming a revolutionary group but that the conjunctural situation, as well as psychological impediments to group activity, were so discouraging that he had begun to think about this "only once every other day." In his last interview, published about a month after his death, he stated nevertheless that he would always remain a revolutionary. How he might express this, in philosophy, in psychoanalytic practice, in political engagement, in artistic expression, and so on, remained for him an open question. To the extent that we are interested in engaging his legacy meaningfully and confronting it fully, this is a question that still lies before us, too, not behind us.

We now take The Big Sleep as RTI's subtitle, in order to distinguish RTI and its contents from the overlapping but nonidentical MI and in honor of a similarly topical volume once projected but never written. As explained below, we have included in RTI a number of non-Carrefours texts that develop, beyond MI, this important theme. [18]

"The Big Sleep" expresses what we may call the figures of contemporary barbarism Castoriadis spied on the horizon and already saw at work in 1990s society. For example, the Asian financial crash of late 1997 occurred while Castoriadis was already in a coma and facing death. Had he not anticipated this or similar events in his comments on the "vast financial casino" into which the world was being transformed? Also, he continues ecological concerns already expressed in such texts as DEA and "Dead End?" when he explains that,

prosperity has been purchased since 1945 (and already beforehand, certainly) at the price of an irreversible destruction of the environment. The famous modern-day "economy" is in reality a fantastic waste of the capital accumulated by the biosphere in the course of three billion years, a wastefulness that is accelerating every day. If one wants to extend to the rest of the planet (its other four-fifths, from the standpoint of population) the liberal-oligarchic regime, one would also have to provide it with the economic level, if not of France, let us say of Portugal. Do you see the ecological nightmare that signifies, the destruction of nonrenewable resources, the multiplication by fivefold or tenfold of the annual emissions of pollutants, the acceleration of global warming? In reality, it is toward such a state that we are heading, and the totalitarianism we have got coming to us is not the kind that would arise from a revolution; it is the kind where a government (perhaps a world government), after an ecological catastrophe, would say: You've had your fun. The party is over. Here are your two liters of gas and your ten liters of clean air for the month of December, and those who protest are putting the survival of humanity in danger and are public enemies.

And in the most explicitly ecological text now in RTI, he adds a concern about the growing unmanageability of immigration within the current global imbalance:

We know that a terrible economic and social imbalance exists between the rich West and the rest of the world. This imbalance is not diminishing; it is growing. The sole thing the "civilized" West exports in the way of culture into these countries is coup d'etat techniques, weapons, and televisions displaying consumer models that are unattainable for these poor populations. This imbalance will not be able to go on, unless Europe becomes a fortress ruled by a police State.

Many more of these interrelated figures of contemporary barbarism are to be found among the pages of the present volume, where he also repeatedly underscores, in the face of an "unlimited expansion of pseudorational pseudomastery," the waning of those manifestations of the project of autonomy that had once made the "dual institution of modernity" an eminently contestatory form of society.

Nevertheless, his dark diagnoses of trends within present-day society never induced Castoriadis to adopt a fatalistic prognosis. A 1991 exchange with the editors of Esprit that was perhaps dropped from that journal's final printed version for reasons of space had these editors inquiring of him: "Added up, your position seems rather pessimistic" -- to which Castoriadis firmly replied: "Why would that be pessimism rather than an attempt to see things as they really are?", a response that clearly echoes the "sober senses" quotation from Marx Castoriadis repeatedly cites here in RTI as well as elsewhere. Indeed, in an earlier Esprit interview presented now in RTI, Castoriadis turned their own pessimistic questioning of him back against them in order to affirm the following:

To say (as you Esprit editors hypothesize) that a dull and lifeless social sphere has taken the place of a fecund one, that all radical change is henceforth inconceivable, would mean that a whole phase of history, begun, perhaps, in the twelfth century, is in the process of coming to an end, that one is entering into I know not what kind of new Middle Ages, characterized either by historical tranquillity (in view of the facts, the idea seems comic) or by violent conflicts and disintegrations, but without any historical productivity: in sum, a closed society that is stagnating or that knows only how to tear itself apart without creating anything. (Let it be said, parenthetically, that this is the meaning I have always given to the term "barbarism," in the expression "socialism or barbarism.") There's no question of making prophecies. But I absolutely don't think that we are living in a society in which nothing is happening any longer.

That interview statement was made in 1979. The figures of contemporary barbarism return, along with figures of contemporary autonomous resistance thereto, in a rhetorical question Castoriadis poses in "Anthropology, Philosophy, Politics," a talk delivered a decade later:

Can one exit from this situation? A change is possible if and only if a new awakening takes place, if and only if a new phase of dense political creativity on the part of humanity begins -- which implies, in turn, that we exit from the state of apathy and privatization characteristic of today's industrialized societies. Otherwise, although historical novation certainly will not cease since any idea of an "end of history" is multiply absurd, the risk is that this novation, instead of producing freer individuals in freer societies, might give rise to a new human type, whom we may provisionally call zapanthropus or reflexanthropus, a type of being that is kept on a leash and maintained in the illusion of its individuality and of its liberty by mechanisms that have become independent of all social control and that are managed by anonymous apparatuses already well on the way toward achieving dominance.

Philosophical anthropology, as well as the social and political anthropology conceived by Castoriadis in terms of his major motif of "the imaginary institution of society," come to inform his reflections on this Big Sleep into which Western societies are rapidly falling. Nevertheless, this broad anthropological perspective is not a new one within his overall oeuvre. We can see its already starting to constitute a principal concern of his at least as far back as 1962 in the internal programmatic S. ou B. text "For a New Orientation" (PSW 3), when he urged the group to consider the work of Margaret Mead and other anthropologists, its becoming explicitly thematized in "Marxism and Revolutionary Theory" (his final S. ou B. writings from 1964-1965, which became the first half of IIS), and its being articulated in clear revolutionary terms in his 1979 preface to the 10/18 volume of writings on the content of socialism, when he speaks of the "transformation of society, the instauration of an autonomous society involv[ing] a process of anthropological mutation" ("Socialism and Autonomous Society," PSW 3, p. 328).

In RTI's eponymous interview from 1994, Castoriadis notes that

we are touching here upon a fundamental factor, one that the great political thinkers of the past knew and that the alleged "political philosophers" of today, bad sociologists and poor theoreticians, splendidly ignore: the intimate solidarity between a social regime and the anthropological type (or the spectrum of such types) needed to make it function. For the most part, capitalism has inherited these anthropological types from previous historical periods: the incorruptible judge, the Weberian civil servant, the teacher devoted to his task, the worker whose work was, in spite of everything, a source of pride. Such personalities are becoming inconceivable in the contemporary age: it is not clear why today they would be reproduced, who would reproduce them, and in the name of what they would function.

He had already articulated this problem more succinctly and sharply in "The Idea of Revolution" (1989):

Without [the democratic] type of individual, more exactly without a constellation of such types -- among which, for example, is the honest and legalistic Weberian bureaucrat -- liberal society cannot function. Now, it seems evident to me that society today is no longer capable of reproducing these types. It basically produces the greedy, the frustrated, and the conformist.

Here we have, in a nutshell, Castoriadis's radical anthropological analysis of the crisis of contemporary society and of the rising tide of insignificancy that crisis expresses in its tendency to induce "the Big Sleep": figures of a social-historically-instituted -- and not of a universal, biologically-based (classical Freudian) -- "death 'instinct.'" [19]


In the many talks and interviews Castoriadis gave between 1979 and 1996 that make up a large portion of the present volume, it is remarkable how often his questioners try to draw him into purely "Franco-French" quarrels and other, merely transient issues. It is equally remarkable how often and determinedly he resists limiting his responses to those sorts of terms. Castoriadis witnessed only the first stages of the internet bubble, and he did not live to see its bursting, let alone Seattle in 1999, September 11, 2001, various massive financial and business scandals, [20] the "war on terrorism," the "second" Gulf War, and so on and so forth. RTI certainly is not to be read as a "guide" to the early twenty-first century world in which we live today, for it does not dispense one with having to think for oneself. And yet, this refusal to devote time to the ephemeral, to passing phenomena, and this persistent concentration on long-term trends ensure that RTI will remain relevant to people today as they seek to make sense for themselves of drastically changed world circumstances.

Castoriadis comes out fighting at the start of RTI with "The Vacuum Industry," our loose and humorous translation of the title of Castoriadis's 1979 defense of Vidal-Naquet in a polemic with the writer Bernard-Henri Levy. This title -- "L'industrie du vide," literally "the emptiness industry" -- perfectly captures the themes Castoriadis will develop in the present volume. Cornelius had already ferociously criticized "BHL" and the so-called New Philosophers two years earlier in "The Diversionists" (PSW 3). BHL's Barbarism with a Human Face, he felt, had shamelessly plagiarized the ideas of Socialisme ou Barbarie while diverting that group's radical critique into a vague "antitotalitarianism" that concealed its own totalitarian roots (BHL himself being an ex-Maoist). His animus against BHL was evident in that earlier article when he asked (p. 275), "How is it that [BHL] is able to go out and 'market' philosophy, instead of being the eighth perfumer in a sultan's harem -- which, perhaps, would be more in line with the 'order of things'?" What is interesting is that what could have been merely another Franco-French argument or a personal vendetta is turned by Castoriadis into a general reflection on the failure of critics to resist the promotional hype of the media industry. Rather prescient in this regard is Castoriadis's related point that, with the exception of a few journals like the New York Review of Books, book criticism no longer fulfills its appointed function in contemporary society. It is therefore worthwhile quoting in extenso a recent critical review published by NYRB of BHL's latest book. Who Killed Daniel Perl?, which is currently enjoying considerable success stateside, is said to be:

unsound on matters of fact . . . deeply flawed, riddled with major factual errors . . . much of it is invented and its political analysis ill-informed and simplistic. The book's principal problem is the amateurish quality of much of Levy's research. The section on the English childhood of Moar Sheikh begins raising one's doubts about the author's veracity. . . . BHL's grasp of South Asian geography is especially shaky. . . . Gossip and hearsay are repeated as fact. . . . More seriously, there are numerous occasions where Levy distorts his evidence and actually inverts the truth. . . . Levy's misuse of evidence here is revealing of his general method: if proof does not exist, he writes as if it did.

Indeed, the reviewer goes on to note:

It is an alarming reflection of how widespread is the ignorance of Islam in general and of Pakistan in particular that only one of the many reviews of the book that I have seen in the US, by a Pakistani writer, has called attention to BHL's errors and elisions, or even bothered to note his disturbing expressions of contempt for ordinary Pakistanis . . . Who Killed Daniel Perl? is not only an insult to the memory of a fine journalist who refused to accept the crude ethnic stereotyping that Levy indulges in, and who was notably rigorous in checking his facts. It also shows the degree to which it has become possible for a writer to make inaccurate and disparaging remarks about Muslims and ordinary Pakistanis as if it were perfectly natural and acceptable to do so. [21]

A very damning assessment -- and one quite reminiscent, a quarter century later, precisely of the kind of criticisms Castoriadis made against BHL. What this reviewer nevertheless fails to note is a likely connection between these recent "inaccurate and disparaging remarks about Muslims and ordinary Pakistanis" and BHL's own prior championing of certain other forms of a politicized monotheism. Another book, another diversion.

RTI continues with two interviews from the mid-1980s on "Psychoanalysis and Society." The first, originally conducted in English, offers a good, brief introduction to his psychoanalytic views, which "Freud, Society, History" will then develop in greater depth. The second broaches a few of the personality changes in contemporary society Castoriadis will examine more thoroughly in "The Crisis of the Identification Process" and will relate there to the question of "anthropological types" mentioned above.

Next comes "Third World, Third Worldism, Democracy." Already in 1985, and thus well before the collapse of Russian and Eastern European Communism and the accompanying "pulverization of Marxism-Leninism," Castoriadis was already reorienting his critique away from "Marxist" regimes -- "I presume everyone here is clear about what really goes on [there]" -- and turning his attention toward that other nineteenth-century ideology that survived and flourished in the twentieth century: "Liberalism," in the Continental sense of conservative ideological advocacy of the supposedly unfettered workings a "free-market," plus "representative democracy." There follow two 1991 pieces occasioned by the "first" Gulf War: "The Gulf War Laid Bare," written just before its outbreak, and "Between the Western Void and the Arab Myth," a joint interview with his long-time friend Edgar Morin conducted soon after its conclusion. [22] The former remains remarkably relevant today, especially in its comments about the illusions of declaring instant "Nescafe victory" and about the "favorite blunder" of military strategists who, in declaring that the war in Iraq will not become another Vietnam, completely "forget that war involves people." It also contains a number of bracingly disabused statements about Israelis, Palestinians, Arab regimes, and the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, themes developed further in his debate with Morin and in other RTI texts. And how even more compelling today is Castoriadis's outspoken perspective on, for example, the ineffectiveness and uselessness of the United Nations in our age of unilateral preemptive strikes.

Another 1991 interview, "The Dilapidation of the West," now brings us to the heart of the "rising tide of insignificancy" theme. We are fortunate to have a Postscript written by Castoriadis in English three years later, as well as an update to this update, in Castoriadis's brief additional mention of Rwandan genocide for the 1995 French version published in MI.

Now, "The Gulf War Laid Bare" as well as the next piece in the present volume, an interview on "The Revolutionary Force of Ecology," did not appear in any of the Carrefours volumes. We have included in the 2003 English-language RTI edition these two non-Carrefours texts, along with a follow-up interview to the book's eponymous chapter and "The Coordinations in France," in order to extend the "rising tide of insignificancy" theme beyond the texts printed in the French MI volume and to show how deeply and broadly engaged Castoriadis remained at the end of his life, offering original and trenchant public statements of criticism and reflection on contemporary social, political, and ecological matters -- his desire to confine himself to "pure ontology" notwithstanding. Indeed, we could easily have cast a much vaster net beyond these four particular texts. [23] Let us note that the length of the resulting list indicates that Castoriadis himself underestimated how many texts, including printed interviews and published talks, he had available that were "devoted to the contemporary situation, to reflection on society, and to politics"; for, in this light, MI can hardly be said to include "most of my texts from the past few years" on these topics. This brief look at non-Carrefours texts also offers an occasion to marvel at how open and available Castoriadis made himself, not only to academic audiences or to established newspapers and magazines like Le Monde and Esprit, but also to more obscure activist journals, such as the anarchist arts review Drunken Boat, and to the author of a small book on grassroots labor organizing, for whom Castoriadis wrote the only known book preface he composed during his lifetime.

When the 1994 eponymous interview "The Rising Tide of Insignificancy" was reprinted in MI in early 1996, Castoriadis added a footnote concerning the huge labor strikes and student demonstrations that in the interim had seized hold of France: "Whatever their final outcome might be, the strikes unfolding now (November-December 1995) in France defy, by their implicit signification, this characterization." That is to say, he quite willingly considered the possibility that mass action from below might come to upset, pose a challenge to, or at least temporarily escape the logic of those disturbing underlying trends whose contours he had been tracing out. After all, his denunciations of the "vacuum industry," of the "void" of present-day Western societies and of their inability to offer anything other than hollow alternatives to the Third World and to Arab and Muslim cultures prey to religious and nationalistic fanaticism, as well as his analyses of the growing meaninglessness already discerned in Russian totalitarianism and in modern capitalism, were predicated upon, if not the hope, at least a strong desire that positive new options might continue to be created, to swell up from underneath today's stultifying complacency and generalized conformism.

In his follow-up interview to "Rising Tide . . . ," Drunken Boat's Max Bleckman questioned Castoriadis closely and at great length about this footnoted admission. This, then, is a precious document for bringing MI up to date at the beginning of the third Millennium. After his death, the Seattle protests in 1999 and the subsequent growth of an "antiglobalization" movement that is presently morphing into an altermondialization (alternative globalization) movement at least in France, might seem to some a further proof of the inaccuracy -- or, more accurately, the limitations or current inapplicability -- of his "rising tide of insignificancy" theme. Now, no one can presume to know how Castoriadis might have greeted these new developments and would have modified or extended his views. To the extent that one wishes to think the present-day situation out for oneself, but with the aid of Castoriadis's past reflections, the carefully nuanced and vigilant response the latter provides in "A Rising Tide of Significancy?" may prove to be of great assistance. In particular, we can discern his enduring concern with the question of organization when he examines the uniquely French phenomenon of coordinations, those grassroots labor groupings created recently to bypass the traditional union bureaucracies. The mixed assessment he provides of these coordinations here and in his preface to a book on the same subject may serve as a caution to our enthusiasm and may encourage us, as well, to conduct an in-depth and balanced appraisal of today's potentials for collective self-activity.

The fascinating detail Bleckman brings out is that the events of November-December 1995 in France had inspired Castoriadis to consider forming a new group -- and not an academic or intellectual one, but one committed to presenting before as wide an audience as possible the current political stakes for revolutionaries, as well as an analysis of the difficulties and obstacles movements for radical change face today. Indeed, we have gleaned from other sources additional, though inconclusive, indications of Castoriadis's general motion in that direction shortly before his death. And as noted above, in his final interview he proclaimed that he would always remain a revolutionary. [24]

Castoriadis asked himself, at least every other day, whether he should re-form a revolutionary organization. It is difficult to conceive how, if we are to take Castoriadis's ideas and analyses seriously, we can avoid posing the same question to ourselves. And to the extent that we want to remain serious about our commitment to the autonomous self-transformation of society and not to live life as compromised greedy frustrated conformists lacking a moral compass, sometimes we may just have to decide that radical departures from the normal but obscene operation of society, of institutions, and of organizations are warranted and even desirable.


Two final comments about the title page of this electronic edition. As noted there, the present volume is translated from the French and edited anonymously as a public service. An alternative would have been, under current circumstances, for Translator/Editor to have publish these writings under a pseudonym. In either case, this Foreword would still be lacking one thing Curtis's Forewords and Afterword always conscientiously included: a self-presentation. Unfortunately, neither an anonymous nor a pseudonymous T/E can do so. On the other hand, and let this last observation serve as a concluding remark on the title page, on pseudonyms, and on the present volume in general: Cornelius Castoriadis has expired, but in a new way now the writings of Paul Cardan live on! [25]

November-December 2003


[1] As noted in the Translator's Afterword to On Plato's Statesman (OPS), none of Castoriadis's many "books" were actual written volumes composed at one time for book publication. Castoriadis was primarily an essayist and editorialist for various reviews as well as a public speaker for a variety of audiences who subsequently collected his writings and speeches for book publication, never an author of weighty tomes.

[2] In "The Rising Tide of Insignificancy," Castoriadis stated in a subsequently deleted passage: "For example, in Marxism, or what passes for such, there is a false deduction of a bad politics from an absurd philosophy." As noted in a Translator/Editor (T/E) footnote to this eponymous interview, this view echoes positions advanced in IIS. But it may also have been cut because Marxism also has the tendency, noted in the body of this Foreword, to subordinate philosophy to political considerations (based, however, on a philosophical interpretation of the political role of the proletariat).

[3] Castoriadis made a brief attempt to reform Socialisme ou Barbarie during the May '68 student-worker rebellion. As the "events" themselves were unfolding, former members distributed a tract he wrote. An extended version of this tract appears as "The Anticipated Revolution" in PSW 3.

[4] On the publication of PPA specifically, see now Curtis's 2003 Preface to the Electronic Reprint of the 1989 Editor's Foreword to PPA.

[5] Some of Curtis's unpublished translations were around so long awaiting publication that they had been saved in a computer format incompatible with existing disk operating systems, and thus required retyping.

[6] Christian Delacampagne, op-ed piece entitled "Cornelius Castoriadis et l'esprit d'utopie," Le Monde, December 22, 2000, p. 18.

[7] Excerpts from the French original of this letter are available on the web.

[8] With Castoriadis's knowledge and encouragement, Agora International set up the Cornelius Castoriadis/Agora International Website in July 1997 at Ohio State University (OSU). Both Curtis and Castoriadis had attended an OSU conference in April of that year organized by OSU Modern Greek Department Chairman Vassilis Lambropoulos. It was Lambropoulos who put Curtis in touch with the person who became and still is the CC/AI Website's web guy, OSU librarian Beau David Case. The obituary mentioned in the text is to be found at now that Case, as well as Lambropoulos, have moved to the University of Michigan.

[9] Major newspapers such as The New York Times and The Independent refused to consider publication of this text. It was eventually published as "Cornelius Castoriadis: An Obituary" in Salmagundi (118-19 [Spring-Summer 1998]: 52-61) -- a journal that had previously published several of Castoriadis's essays, some of them translated by Curtis -- and was reprinted in Free Associations, 43 (1999): 321-30, as part of a special issue on Castoriadis.

[10] The URL is Visitors to this website receive a "forbidden access" notification.

[11] Pierre Leveque and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, 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, with a new discussion On the Invention of Democracy by Pierre Leveque, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, and Cornelius Castoriadis, trans./ed. David Ames Curtis (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1996), p. 109.

[12] Psychoanalyst Joel Whitebook got into the act after being asked by the Castoriadis family to prepare a volume of Castoriadis's psychoanalytic writings. He informed Curtis that the latter could write a translator's foreword for this book if and only if he promised not to make any "political" comments! Philosophy professor Dick Howard later followed suit; editor of a new series in political philosophy at Columbia University Press, Howard stipulated through CUP that Curtis would be allowed to translate a volume written by Socialisme ou Barbarie cofounder Claude Lefort only if Curtis would refrain from writing not only a foreword but explanatory notes, glossary, or any other words at all.

[13] See note 18a in the electronic reprint of Curtis's "On the Bookchin/Biehl Resignations and the Creation of a New Liberatory Project," originally published in Democracy & Nature, 11 (1999): 163-74) and now available in full here.

[14] This point was best made by Castoriadis in "On the Content of Socialism, III" (1958, PSW 3), with its recognition of the primacy of the workers' own critique of industrial organization for any pertinent critique of industrial sociology.

[15] On "socialism or barbarism" as a "present contending alternative," see Curtis's "Socialism or Barbarism: The Alternative Presented in the Work of Cornelius Castoriadis," Revue Europeenne des Sciences Sociales, 86 (1989): 293-322; reprinted in Autonomie et autotransformation de la societe, ed. Giovanni Busino (Geneva: Droz, 1989), pp. 293-322.

[16] "The Problem of the USSR and the Possibility of a Third Historical Solution," PSW 3, p. 52.

[17] "Destinies of Totalitarianism," Salmagundi, 60 (Spring-Summer 1983): 108.

[18] Of particular note is that fact that the phrase "the big sleep" actually appeared in the French title of one of Castoriadis's interviews: "Le grand sommeil des democraties". L'Express international, 1970 (14 April 1989): 54-55.

[19] Need we repeat here the role repetition plays in stunting the possibility of creative alternatives?

[20] "If financial statements aren't honest, then capitalism is in trouble," a Washington Post editorial ("Players in the Scandal," International Herald Tribune, January 29, 2002: 6) rather belatedly comes to realize.

[21] William Dalrymple, "Murder in Karachi," The New York Review of Books, December 4, 2003: 53-56.

[22] Morin reportedly had some discussions with Castoriadis later on, before his friend's death, about the two of them going to Chiapas together to meet and debate with members of the Zapatista movement.

[23] See the Appendix to the present volume.

[24] "La derniere interview de Cornelius [sic] Castoriadis, 'Pourquoi je suis revolutionnaire,'" L'evenement du jeudi, 8-14 janvier 1998: 80-81. This interview was reportedly published without the Castoriadis family's consent.

[25] The reader is also requested to refer to the Notice to the present volume.