Castoriadis: "*A* Hobson's choice?"

OpenSentence Type Foundry typefoundry at
Fri Nov 14 13:26:54 MST 2003

> Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 04:31:32 +0100
> From: "Jurriaan Bendien" <bendien at>
> Subject: "Paper bears anything; so does a certain public"  
> The radical imagination of Cornelius Castoriadis, by Scott McLemee 
> Paris in the forties was a city awash in forged identities and remade lives.
> But few transformed themselves as completely as Cornelius Castoriadis. When
> the young Greek émigré arrived, in 1945, he settled down to write a doctoral
> thesis on the inevitable culmination of all Western philosophies in "aporias
> and impasses." But by the end of the decade, he had quit academia to lead a
> curious double life. As Cornelius Castoriadis, he worked as a professional
> economist, crunching numbers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation
> and Development. Meanwhile, adopting a number of aliases, he developed one
> of the most influential bodies of political thought to emerge from the
> non-Communist left over the last half century. Mr. Castoriadis's covert
> writings helped to rally France's beleaguered anti-Stalinist left in the
> fifties and to inspire the spectacular Paris revolt of 1968. 
> Yet even as other intellectual heroes of Paris '68 marched on to academic
> renown in the English-speaking world, Mr. Castoriadis's work has remained
> little known. That may change this year: As he turns seventy-five, academic
> presses are generating the biggest wave of Anglophone publications by and
> about Castoriadis yet. 
Good to remember Castoriadis (who died in 1997, for those who don't know), 
but frankly you are remembering him poorly.  You make him sound like he had 
a Paul de Man makeover upon arriving in France, when in reality like Xenakis 
he was heavily involved in the Greek civil war; and unlike Xenakis he was a 
member of the Trotskyists, and made both Stalinist and fascist death lists.
Secondly, although I am fascinated but not surprised to learn Ornette 
Coleman is an admirer of Castoriadis, I expect this is due to CLR James and 
Castoriadis' connections to the funny-but-not-ha-ha-funny Johnson-Forest 
Tendency; their pamphlet *The American Worker*, which really counts as the 
first appearance of worker "dictation" in left *theoretical* discourse, was 
reprinted by Socialism ou Barbarie.  Furthermore, Castoriadis and 
Dunayevskaya worked very closely together; SoB differed from the Johnsonites 
in taking a sharply critical view of the Soviet Union, but I suspect whether 
or not this is taken as more or less left depends on whether you talk to a 
68er or a globalization expert. 

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