Overdetermination

LeoCasey at aol.com LeoCasey at aol.com
Wed Feb 21 22:07:32 MST 1996


In a message dated 96-02-21 22:18:32 EST, David McI writes:

>(It is indeed tempting to note here how the
>wretched duo Laclau & Mouffe attempt to use both "overdetermination" and
>"hegemony" as explanatory concepts in their _Hegemony and Socialist
>Strategy_ -- sorry L&M fans.)

>It seems to me that claims such as those of L&M that "overdetermination",
>"displacement",  and "condensation" constitute what 'remains valid' in
>Althusser's corpus is an absolute travesty.  These terms -- borrowed from
>Freud -- have been used to extend Lacanian categories to the analysis of
>politics etc in terms of "lack" and other Lacanian hocus-pocus.  In terms
>of L&M's anti-Marxist project, this is indeed "useful".  One should
>remember that Althusser only used them to describe something much more
>important -- contradictions.

Leo:

About once every full moon, David seems intent upon bringing out Laclau and
Mouffe through some tangential point, and then being as surly as possible
when discussing them, but always without making any substantive point that
actually engages their thinking. If the object is to advance discussion, it
fails.

As I tried to make clear in my response to the inquiry concerning
overdetermination, Althusser employs the concept polemically -- not simply to
describe contradiction and dialectic, but to oppose a certain essentialist
(Althusser would say Hegelian) notion of contradiction and dialectic. He
mixes in a number of things, like the incredibly crude notion of
contradiction and dialectic found in Mao's writings, and so the result is
less than sterling, but to pretend that there is not something important
going on there is really misleading. (And, David, it has nothing to do with
Spinoza: if we want to trade insulting asides, I could mention the
interminible and boring discussions of Spinoza on this list; it seems that
now that we are finished with the labor theory of value, we had to find some
equally turgid and ultimately immaterial topic to beat to death).

The (Hegelian) notion of dialectics, in which all antagonism can be reduced
to that one essential and pure contradiction, has had a long half-life in
ultra-left Marxist, especially but not exclusively sectarian Trotskyist,
politics: all social antagonism, from race and gender to nationality, is
reducible to the one essential class contradiction between capital and labor.
(Nationalism is bourgeois; feminism is bourgeois, ad naseum.) Althusser's
notion of overdetermination insists, if nothing else, upon the complexity and
multifaceted nature of contradiction. If we are going to find something valid
in Althusser, a critique of the Hegelian (pure, essentialist) dialectic is a
damn good place to start.




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