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an althusserian lexicon Arrow vol 4 no 2 contents
About borderlands volume 4 number 2, 2005

 


An Althusserian Lexicon


Vittorio Morfino
translated by Jason Smith

 

The following text was originally composed on the occasion of the Italian translation of Louis Althusser's late writings on "aleatory materialism", published as Sul materialismo aleatorio, ed. V. Morfino and L. Pinzolo (Milano: Unicopoli, 2000). Structured as a "lexicon", it includes a large number of long citations of Althusser's late writings, many of which were unavailable in Italian prior to the publication of Sul materialismo aleatorio. Almost all of these same essays remain for the moment unavailable in English as well. For the translation of this essay, I have been kindly allowed to use G.M. Goshgarian's forthcoming English translation of Althusser's late writings, which will appear as Louis Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-87, ed. François Matheron and Olivier Corpet, trans. G.M. Goshgarian (London: Verso, 2006). This volume will include "Marx in his Limits", " Letter to Merab Mardashvili", "The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter", "Correspondence about 'Philosophy and Marxism'" and "Philosophy and Marxism", and "Portrait of the Materialist Philosopher". Because the pagination for this volume has not been established, all references to this text will refer to the original French pagination. Two "late" texts that appear in the Italian edition but not in the edition published by Verso are "Sur la pensée marxiste" (1982) and "L'unique tradition matérialiste" (1986). All translations of passages from "Sur la pensée marxiste" and from the second part of "L'unique tradition matérialiste" (the first part has been translated and published in The New Spinoza , ed. Warren Montag and Ted Stolze [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997]) are mine. In addition to these texts, the IMEC archives also include the following writings from period between 1982 and 1986: "Sur la théologie de la libération. Suite à un entretien avec le P. Breton" (March 28, 1985), "Conversation avec le P. Breton" (June 7, 1985), "Thèses de juin 1986", "Sur l'analyse" (undated), "Sur l'histoire" (July 6, 1986), "Machiavel philosophe" (undated), "Du matérialisme aléatoire" (July 11, 1986). - Translator.    

1. The 1992 publication of Louis Althusser's autobiography The Future Lasts a Long Time - which was originally written in 1985 - can no doubt be credited with rending the curtain of silence that had fallen over the name Althusser since the murder of his wife five years before. Publishing the autobiography seemed, however, only to call attention once again to the "case" of Althusser, in both the medical and literary senses. This in turn gave rise to any number of interpretations of Althusser's work that, however refined they may have been, ultimately tended to short-circuit the relation between Althusser's philosophy and his life, with little consideration for the complex set of mediations required for such a theoretical operation. Treating Althusser - the "murderer" who begins to speak after his trial is thrown out - as a case has had the effect of obscuring every other aspect of Althusser's production prior to or contemporary with the autobiography. In the most generous interpretations, this has led to this later work being quite simply absorbed into the autobiographical problematic. When Fabrice Alcandre and Christophe Brochard, for example, are able to write that "the contingent and irrational fact spoken of by [Althusser's] aleatory materialism is, par excellence, the fact of madness", the discoveries of Althusser's late work are reduced to a theorization of his autobiographical writing (Alcandre and Brochard 1998: 184). In a polemic against just this type of interpretation, Gabriel Albiac points out that one of the paradoxical effects of the publication of the autobiographical writings has been the "eclipse of all his theoretical work" (Albiac 1998: 81). Albiac suggests, to the contrary, that Future be considered not as "true" but as an autobiographical delirium whose logic should be grasped, a logic consisting in an attempt to "demolish the theoretical oeuvre that was his entire life's task"   (Albiac 1998: 88, translation modified).

2. There is, however, a whole range of writings from the years between 1982 and 1985 in which Althusser once again speaks as a philosopher, and these texts, written between two hospitalizations, deserve consideration. I have chosen to treat these texts as a whole, even though the singularity of each text resists just such an operation. There are, in fact, quite notable differences between the texts, particularly with regard to the different evaluations the figure of Hegel receives. François Matheron makes this a point of emphasis: "it is not possible to reduce [these texts] to a truly coherent unity any more than to the tension   between two or more clearly identifiable tendencies" (Matheron 1998: 35). Despite this tension, however, it seems to me that on this point Matheron nevertheless exagerates the heterogeneity of these texts, since it still seems possible, on the purely theoretical plane at least, to discern the unity of project across their diversity .

3. Not only do these texts present a certain unity among themselves, but they also develop a set of themes that are already present in the works of the 1960s. Even if we leave aside any comparison of Althusser's interpretation of Marx before and after 1980 - this would deserve its own detailed analysis - it is no doubt possible to bring into relief a group of themes that would demonstrate a powerful continuity with the better known works written two decades before:

1) the concept of a process without a subject and therefore the negation of
every form of teleology, be it internal or external;

2) the primacy of relations over the related elements;

3) theoretical anti-humanism;

4) the assertion that philosophy has no object;

5) The definition of the structure of metaphysics according to the schema
Origin-Subject-Object-Truth-End-Foundation.

4. It is necessary, of course, to underline elements of discontinuity as well, particularly at the stylistic level. The later texts are above all impressionistic, at times autobiographical, at other times anecdotal (Engels knows the facticity of the working class from being led around Manchester at night by Mary Burns...). Moreover, all of the texts cited in these essays are recalled from memory, resulting in frequent distortions of the original sources, if not outright inventions. These texts in no way demonstrate the systematicity characteristic of Althusser's two masterpieces from the 1960s, Reading Capital and For Marx , where an entirely new conceptuality was produced through an incisive, close reading of Marx's texts; here, Althusser often transforms his references at will.

5. At the very least, one of the great merits of these late writings is that they seem to bring to the fore certain aspects of the texts from the 1960s that have until now remained in the margins (most importantly, the theme of the necessity of contingency) - or, more likely, were forced into the margins as a result of the centrality of the debates raging around the themes of the relation between science and ideology and the chronological divisions of Marx's work. While Antonio Negri understands aleatory materialism to be a veritable Kehre in Althusser's theoretical production and contends that "as in every philosophical Kehre , elements of continuity and innovation intertwine, but the latter ones acquire hegemony" (Negri 1996: 58), Gregory Elliott to the contrary maintains that the "later Althusserian aleatorism...is but a unilateral inflection of a recurrent Althusserian tendency" and that the theme of the necessity of contingency is a veritable guiding thread throughout the different phases of Althusser's theoretical production (Elliott 1998: 28). Stanislas Breton also stressed these elements of continuity:

Either materialism arrives at a consequent thought of the aleatory or, to the contrary, materialism tries to give atoms the weight of reality or an existence prior to their fortuitous combinations. On this note, I recall Althusser's critique of the 'reformist' thesis that postulates an existence of classes prior to the struggle between them; for revolutionaries, 'the class struggle and the existence of classes are one and the same thing" and struggle, rather than happening a posteriori, 'constitutes class division itself'. The same logic appears in aleatory materialism, where the atoms do not precede their encounters. ... The primacy of relations, then, must be opposed to the substantialism of matter, to the unwitting reification of the substantive. (Breton 1993: 421)

6. This reclamation of earlier marginal moments in Althusser's text is possible due in large part to the insistent deployment of a new constellation of terms in the later essays. My argument is that this difference in emphasis can be underscored even more forcefully by abandoning the linear trajectory of Althusser's text and that, instead of simply reproducing his reconstructions of the thought of Marx, Spinoza or Machiavelli, we should instead construct a lexicon whose function will be to map out the fluctuation of certain key concepts through the various contexts in which they appear and intervene. The concepts I will consider are:            

1) the void/the nothing;

2) the encounter;

3) fact/ Faktum /factual/facticity;

4) conjuncture/conjunction;

5) necessity/contingency.

7. It will not go unnoticed that the term "aleatory" does not appear in this list, precisely because its signification only emerges through the weaving together of these concepts. As Antonio Negri rightly points out, "alea" is the new term through which Althusser late philosophy erupts. But we should avoid abandoning ourselves to the fascination the word itself might exercise over us. It is necessary, instead, to seize hold of and lay out the conceptual structure underpinning it.

The void and the nothing

8. For Epicurus , the void is a concept allowing us to think the shower of atoms; the nothing, in turn, assumes the figure of the clinamen. The latter is

an infinitesimal swerve, 'as small as possible'; 'no-one knows where, or when, or how' it occurs, or what causes an atom to 'swerve' from its vertical fall in the void, and, breaking the parallelism in an almost negligible way at one point, induce an encounter with the atom next to it, and, from encounter to encounter, a pile-up and the birth of a world - that is to say, of the agglomeration of atoms induced, in a chain reaction, by the initial swerve and encounter. (Althusser 1994a: 555)

9. For Althusser, Epicurus sees the world as the effect of an originary nothing, characterized simply by a void in which atoms rain down in parallel:

Epicurus tells us that, before the formation of the world, an infinity of atoms were falling parallel to each other in the void. They still are. This implies both that, before the formation of the world, there was nothing, and also that all the elements of the world existed from all eter­nity, before any world ever was. It also implies that, before the formation of the world, there was no Meaning, neither Cause nor End nor Reason nor Unreason. The non-anteriority of Meaning is one of Epicurus' basic theses, by virtue of which he stands opposed to both Plato and Aristotle. (Althusser 1994a: 555)

10.There is, therefore, no original "sense" of the world, not even in the genesis of the world; it would therefore be a misunderstanding, according to Althusser, to interpret the clinamen's infinitesimal swerve in the void as an ontological foundation for human freedom in a world of necessity.

11. Machiavelli's void is first of all a philosophical void, both the absence of all cause at the ontological level and the absence of every principle at the moral or teleological level. For Machiavelli,

no Cause that precedes its effects is to be found in it, no Principle of morality or theology (as in the whole Aristotelian political tradition: the good and bad forms of government, the degeneration of the good into the bad)....As in the Epicurean world, all the elements are both here and beyond, to come raining down later [là et au-delà, à pleuvoir]...but they do not exist, are only abstract, as long as the unity of a world has not united them in the Encounter that will endow them with existence. (Althusser 1994a: 560)

12. Thinking the possibility of transforming Italy into a national State requires Machiavelli to void or "evacuate [faire le vide de] all Plato's and Aristotle's philosophical concepts" (Althusser 1994a: 561). The nothing is therefore what precedes the encounter between virtù and fortuna, precisely because nothing allows for this encounter to be anticipated: "the encounter may not take place, just as it may take place. Nothing decides the matter, no principle of de­cision predetermines this alternative, which is of the order of a game of dice" (Althusser 1994a: 561). Here there is no God that might in some way program or calculate the dice throw; with Nietzsche we can instead speak of the "iron hands of necessity which shake the dice-box of chance".

13. The void for Machiavelli is not, however, a merely philosophical void. We can also speak of a "conjunctural" void, namely the political void of the Papal States, an empty space where nothing opposes Valentino's virtù - a virtù that comes from nothing, the virtù of an homme de rien:

[T]he church estates were absolutely not governed, without any political structure, governed only and still, he says, by religion, in any case not by the pope, nor by any serious politician: it was the total political void, another nakedness, in short an empty space without genuine structure able to obstruct the exercise of virtù of the future new prince....It is from this encounter of a man of nothing [homme de rien] and naked (that is, free in his internal and external movements) and of an empty space (that is, without obstacle to oppose Caesar's virtù) that his fortune and success arise. (Althusser 1997: 15)

14. Finally, there is still another void in Machiavelli, the void that Althusser himself refers to in his famous characterization of philosophy as "the void of a distance taken". This void is a metaphor for the stabilization of a balance of power, a stabilization in which the prince assumes a distance from his own passions and, therefore, a distance from the people. Althusser characterizes the prince's distance from his own passions in the following way:

Here we touch upon what is most extraordinary in Machiavelli's political thought (which is not simply a "political" thought). For this means that a certain void, a certain nothing, a certain extreme distance should command within the Prince and among his passions (be it a question of morals or power), so that he can master them and conduct them according to the "if...then..." of every conjuncture that presents itself on the horizon of his political action. We know that Machiavelli says nothing more about it. He does say, however, that this foxlike power in the Prince concerns his social image, i.e. his public image, an image I would call the first ideological state apparatus. This "apparatus" is indeed just that: a systematic, organic structure whose end is to have public effects on the people. Naturally, it therefore has a material existence: the Prince's finery, his entourage, the splendor of his life, his palaces, the troops he himself commands and all of those ceremonies conducted by the regime to inspire fear and respect in the people without provoking love or hate. All the gestures and style of the Prince's discourse, while today...the pitiful media. And this is obviously decisive . The distance of the Prince as "fox" from what he appears to be, from his seemingly passionless persona and from his real passions is indissociable both from these ceremonies and from the entire apparatus of "appearance" that puts distance...between him and the people; it is also indissociable from the void, the fear-friendship he has to maintain with his people if wants his rule to last. (Althusser 1993a: 106-07)

15. The distance the prince takes from his passions therefore allows him to open up still another void, this one to be used to govern. Althusser deploys the "void of a distance taken" as a metaphor for the use of a jeu de bascule, a balancing act:

What should the Prince do in order to be the Prince?   Found, constitute and preserve an empty distance between himself and his people, through a subtle balancing act which uses the "magri" - the poor - to hold off the "grassi", the great men: the distance characterizing fear and friendship, not the contagious proximity of hate or love. Spinoza will repeat the terms of this ambivalence word for word. For hatred and love draw (see Savonarola for the one and the Sforzas for the other) the people into its passions and brings out in the Prince himself the contagious passions of the people, passions which are, indeed, fatal. (Althusser 1993a: 105-06)

16. This void has a symbol - the severed head of Valentino's lieutenant, Ramiro da Lorqua. Ramiro da Lorqua's sacrifice makes possible the restoration of the duke's distance from the people, a people that have begun to hate him for the wickedness of his lieutenant's decrees:

Look at what the inhabitants of Cesena discovered one fine morning in the town plaza...: the bloody body of Borgia's lieutenant Sinigallia [here Althusser incorrectly identifies Ramiro da Lorqua as Singallia - VM] resting on a large block of wood, his head severed with a hatchet. Caesar cruelly opened this void so that "fortune" could be reborn through it: "if" you continue in this way, "then" nothing is possible anymore, "then" the people will turn to hatred, which will in turn make any governing of men whatsoever impossible. This severed head is the end of every cause, essence and origin - it is, more precisely, their real, active negation. It marks the end of what was already a past and yet still encumbered the governing of the people, since it made impossible the establishment of the strange relationship of fear-friendship between the Prince and the People, a relation that alone makes governing possible. (Althusser 1993a: 104)

17. We now come to Spinoza. Spinoza's void is first of all the void of the "whole", that is, the void of an existence that is nothing, insofar as it is an existence deprived of all relations. But this void is just as much the void of the knowing subject, who for Spinoza exists only in the practice of knowledge. Finally, this void is the voiding of morals or religion. Here we discover the same void Althusser located in Machiavelli, a void "evacuating" all causes and first principles:

What remains of philosophy once both God and the theory of knowledge, destined to establish supreme 'values' that provide the measure of all things, have been reduced to naught? No more morality, or, above all, religion. Better: a theory of morality and religion which, long before Nietzsche, destroys them right down to their imaginary foundations of 'reversal' - the 'inverted fabrica' (see the appendix to Book I of the Ethics). No more finality (whether psychological or historical). In short, the void that is philosophy itself. ( Althusser 1994a: 565)

18. Althusser therefore manages to maintain the paradoxical thesis that the object of Spinoza's philosophy is the void, but a void with all the colors of the world, since it allows reality in its radical facticity to emerge from the ashes of the great hypostases of metaphysics.

19. Hobbes saw the void as an absence of obstacles to movement; it is, therefore, the very same conjunctural void Althusser isolated when speaking of the absence of obstacles to Valentino's action:

As a good theoretician of Natural Law, our Hobbes... proceeds to give us a theory of the state of Nature as well. To reduce the state of Nature to its elements, one has to pursue the analysis down to the level of the 'atoms of society' constituted by individuals endowed with conatus, that is, with the power and will 'to persevere in their being' and create a void in front of themselves [faire le vide devant eux] in order to mark out the space of their freedom there. Atomized individuals, with the void as the condition for their movement: this reminds us of something, does it not? Hobbes does indeed contend that freedom, which makes the whole in­ividual and the force of his being, resides in the 'void of impediments', the 'absence of impediments' in the path of his conquering power. An individual only joins the war of all against all out of a desire to avoid every obstacle that would prevent him from forging straight ahead (one thinks here of the atoms descending in free fall parallel to each other); basically, he would be happy to encounter no-one at all in a world that would in that case be empty. (Althusser 1994a: 567-68)

20. Rousseau's void has all the characteristics of the Epicurean void: it is the void of the forest where, because this forest is boundless, no encounters manage to take hold, to last:

Of course, a man and a woman can meet, 'feel one another out', and even pair off, but only in a brief encounter without identity or recognition: hardly have they become acquainted...than they part, each of them wending his way through the infinite void of the forest. (Althusser 1994a: 571)

21. The forest nevertheless differs from the Epicurean void in this sense: where Epicurus' rain of atoms makes any encounter at all an impossibility, here what is impossible is an encounter that lasts, since every encounter in the forest can only ever be a brief pause along a nomadic path. The boundless void of the forest is, however, eventually delimited through the intervention of a nothing, a nothing that takes the form of an event : that is, an event that has no cause and that is deprived of the nobility of an Origin (and, consequently, a Telos, an End). This event of nothing that alone introduces a limit into the boundless forest is found, according to Rousseau, in the irruption of natural disasters, which are the anti-theo-teleological events par excellence (one need only think of the great philosophical debates provoked by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755). For Rousseau just as for Epicurus, then, sense or meaning in general is the effect of the void and a nothing, in this case the void of the boundless forest and the nothing of the natural disaster that limits it, a limit that alone allows encounters to last:

The forest is the equivalent of the Epicurean void in which the parallel rain of the atoms falls: it is a pseudo-Brownian void in which individuals cross each other's paths, that is to say, do not meet, except in brief conjunctions that do not last. In this way, Rousseau seeks to represent, at a very high price (the absence of children), a radical absence [néant] of society prior to all society; and - condition of possibility for all society - the radical absence of society that constitutes the essence of any possible society. That the radical absence of society constitutes the essence of all society is an audacious thesis, the radical nature of which escaped not only Rousseau's contemporaries, but many of his later critics as well. (Althusser 1994a: 571)

22. Rousseau's theory of the prior absence of society corresponds, therefore, to the originary absence of sense in Epicurus.

23. We should now take up again the entire constellation of significations the void assumes through the prism of the authors belonging to what Althusser calls "the underground current". They can be reduced to the following four:

1) The void is first of all understood as the negation of every metaphysical principle compelling thought to imagine the thing rather than think what Machiavelli defined as its "effective truth". This void is not a point of departure but a point of arrival, bound to a specific action: it means that, through knowledge, one makes a void, but a void that is not absolute. This void is the voiding of metaphysics, the metaphysics of knowledge as well as the morals and religion that imprison the real in the snares of an imagination whose function is to mystify this real. It is to make a void that renders visible an existence that is beyond good and evil, a network or weave of relations in which human actions insert themselves according to the logic of an "if...then..."

2) The void is also understood as what allows for an access to this "effective truth" of the thing. This "effective truth" of the thing is not what the thing should be, but the thing thought as having its foundation in an abyss [an Ab-grund]. The void is the radical absence of God and every guarantee that could be introduced to stabilize being: the void opens the way to the effective truth of the thing not a parte post - the constituted existence of the thing - but a parte ante , to the fluctuation or instability of the elements that have given rise to the existence of the thing, an existence that might not have taken place or emerged at all.

3) The void is understood as the possibility of movement, as a favorable conjunction in which there is no impediment opposing action. It is in this void that we find the sole materialist concept of freedom: "the absence of impediments to movement", according to Hobbes' definition.

4) Finally, the void as distance, the void as the place where it is possible to draw a line that will allow for the momentary management of a given balance of power: the Machiavellan metaphor of the fox incarnates the possibility of creating an empty distance necessary for the institution of an enduring power.

The Encounter

24. The concept of the "encounter" functions in strict correlation with the conceptual pair of the void/the nothing, such that considering one in isolation will result in altering the nature of both. An invocation of the sequence of authors that belong to the underground current of materialism will allow us to see how this concept is developed.

25. Epicurus. For Epicurus, there is an encounter between atoms that is an effect of an infinitesimal swerve in the void; this encounter is characterized as the origin of the world. It's more complicated, however, since not every encounter between atoms in fact generates a world. There are also fleeting encounters that produce no effect and have no consequences:

In order for swerve to give rise to an encounter from which a world is born, that encounter must last; it must be, not a 'brief encounter', but a lasting encounter, which then becomes the basis for all reality, all necessity, all Meaning and all reason. But the encounter can also not last; then there is no world. (Althusser 1994a: 555)

26. The encounter does not create the "reality" of the world, because the elements that come together in the encounter can be said to precede this encounter. And yet the encounter alone confers reality on the atoms that fall, since before the encounter they are simply abstractions deprived of reality: "we can say that the atoms' very existence is due to nothing but the swerve and the encounter prior to which they led only a phantom existence". ( Althusser 1994a: 556)

27. Machiavelli. Machiavelli sees and grasps the encounter in its irreducible plurality. An encounter does not simply consist in the bringing together or composition of two elements, since every element is revealed to be in its turn already the result of prior encounters. When Machiavelli reflects on the conditions of possibility of Italian political unity, he asserts that such a unity is possible only if there is already an "encounter between a man and a region" that takes place or "takes hold":

In order for this encounter to take place, however, another encounter must come about: that of fortune and virtù in the Prince. Encountering Fortuna, the Prince must have the virtù to treat her as he would treat a woman, to welcome her in order to seduce or do violence to her; in short, to use her to realize his destiny. Thanks to this consideration, we owe Machiavelli a whole philosophical theory of the encounter between fortune and virtù. The encounter may not take place or may take place. The meeting can be missed. The encounter can be brief or lasting: he needs an encounter that lasts. To make it last, the Prince has to learn to govern fortune by governing men. (Althusser 1994a: 559)

28. The encounter between a man and a region depends, then, on another, prior encounter - an encounter between virtù and fortuna, without which the virtue of the great founders of kingdoms would have been deployed in vain. But the encounter between virtù and fortuna depends on still another encounter, this time between the fox, the lion and man in the figure of the Prince:

Consequently, the Prince is governed, internally, by the variations of this other aleatory encounter, that of the fox on the one hand and the lion and man on the other. This encounter may not take place, but it may also take place. It has to last long enough for the figure of the Prince to 'take hold' among the people, to 'take hold', that is, to take form, so that, institutionally, he instills the fear of himself as good; and, if possible, so that he ultimately is good, but on the absolute condition that he never forget how to be evil if need be. (Althusser 1994a: 560)

29. As was the case for Epicurus, here too the first elements of the encounter are nothing more than abstractions: "all the elements are both here and beyond, to come raining down later [là et au-delà, à pleuvoir ] (...the Italian situation), but they do not exist, are only abstract, as long as the unity of a world has not united them in the Encounter that will endow them with existence" (Althusser 1994a: 560).

30. Spinoza. Spinoza sees the encounter as an oscillation or fluctuation that precedes and conditions the necessary becoming of history. Althusser already asserted in his Elements of Self-Criticism that Spinoza furnished an example of the third genre of knowledge in his Theologico-Political Treatise: the history of the Jewish people (Althusser 1976: 136). This history is permeated by the imaginary, a term Althusser suggests can be translated into Husserl's terms as the Lebenswelt, the world as it is actually lived, intended and perceived. Now, it is precisely in the imaginary that fate's "necessity" fluctuates or oscillates:

[T]he theory of the imaginary as a world allows Spinoza to think the 'singular essence' of the third kind which finds its representation par excellence in the history of an individual or a people, such as Moses or the Jewish people. That it is necessary means simply that it has been accomplished, but everything in it could have swung the other way, depending on the encounter or non-encounter of Moses and God, or the encounter of the comprehension or non-comprehension of the prophets. The proof is that it was necessary to explain to the prophets the meaning of what they reported of their conversations with God! - with the following limit-situation, of nothingness itself, which was Daniel's: you could explain everything to him for as long as you liked, he never understood a thing. A proof by nothingness of nothingness itself, as a limit-situation. (Althusser 1994a: 566)

31. This prophetic knowledge is not, therefore, taken as a sign of destiny or fate. It is instead seen as the effect of an encounter between imaginaries that takes hold, sometimes despite the prophet himself, taking hold even when (as in Daniel's case) there is a total inability of the prophet to understand the sense or meaning that emerges from the encounter.

32. Rousseau. In Rousseau, the encounter is initially absent or only fleeting - it is only later that the encounter will impose itself. Through the fictional figure of the primeval forest, Rousseau is able to represent the absence of encounters between isolated individuals who, when they do in fact wander into each other, only give rise to the briefest encounters, encounters with no consequences or effects. Rousseau, however, establishes a limit to this space where no encounter can truly take place. The natural disaster (his equivalent of the Epicurean clinamen) creates a limited space within which encounters can occur:

For a society to be, what is required? The state of encounter has to be imposed on people; the infinity of the forest, as a condition of possibility for the non-encounter, has to be reduced to the finite by external causes; natural catastrophes have to divide it up into confined spaces, for example islands, where men are forced to have encounters, and forced to have encounters that last: forced by a force superior to them. I leave to one side the ingenuity of those natural catastrophes that affect the surface of the earth. ...Once men are forced to make encounters and found associations that, in fact, last, constrained relationships spring up among them, social relationships that are rudimentary at first, and are then reinforced by the effects that these encounters have on their human nature. ... Society is born, the state of nature is born, and war as well. Along with them, there develops a process of accumulation and change that literally creates socialized human nature. It should be noted that it would be possible for this encounter not to last if the constancy of external constraints did not maintain it in a constant state in the face of the temptation of dispersion, did not literally impose its law of proximity without asking men for their opinion; their society thus emerges behind their backs, so to speak, and their history emerges as the dorsal, unconscious constitution of this society. (Althusser 1994a: 571-72)

33. Marx. Finally, we find in Marx - or at least in the Marx that Althusser sees as belonging to the current of aleatory materialism and that he opposes to the "teleological" Marx - an encounter that constitutes the aleatory foundation of the capitalist mode of production:

In untold passages, Marx...explains that the capitalist mode of production arose from the 'encounter ' between 'the owners of money' and the proletarian stripped of everything but his labour-power. 'It so happens' that this encounter took place, and 'took hold', which means that it did not come undone as soon as it came about, but lasted, and became an accomplished fact, the accomplished fact of this encounter, inducing stable relationships and a necessity the study of which yields 'laws', tendential laws, of course: the laws of the development of the capitalist mode of production (the law of value, the law of exchange, the law of cyclical crises, the law of the crisis and decay of the capitalist mode of production, the law of the passage - transition - to the socialist mode of production under the laws of the class struggle, and so on). What matters about this conception is less the elaboration of laws, hence of an essence, than the aleatory character of the 'taking-hold' of this encounter, which gives rise to an accomplished fact whose laws it is possible to state.

This can be put differently: the whole that results from the 'taking-hold' of the 'encounter' does not precede the 'taking-hold' of its elements, but follows it; for this reason, it might have not 'taken hold', and, a fortiori, 'the encounter might have not taken place'. All of this is said - in veiled terms, to be sure, but it is said - in the formula that Marx uses in his frequent discussions of the 'encounter' [das Vorgefundene] between raw labour-power and the owners of money. We can go even further, and suppose that this encounter occurred several times in history before taking hold in the West, but, for lack of an element or a suitable arrangement of the elements, failed to 'take'. Witness the thirteenth-century and fourteenth-century Italian states of the Po valley, where there were certainly men who owned money, technology, and energy (machines driven by the hydraulic power of the river) as well as manpower (unemployed artisans), but where the phenomenon nevertheless failed to 'take hold'. What was lacking here was doubtless (perhaps - this is a hypothesis) that which Machiavelli was desperately seeking in the form of his appeal for a national state, namely, a domestic market capable of absorbing what might have been produced.

The slightest reflection on the presuppositions of this conception suffices to show that it is predicated on a very special type of relationship between the structure and the elements which this structure is supposed to unify. For what is a mode of production? We provided an answer to this question, following Marx: it is a particular 'combination' of elements. These elements are an accumulation of money (by the 'owners of money'), an accumulation of the technical means of production (tools, machines, an experience of production on the part of the workers), an accumulation of the raw materials of production (nature) and an accumulation of producers (proletarians divested of all means of production). The elements do not exist in history so that a mode of production may exist, they exist in history in a 'floating' state prior to their 'accumulation' and 'combination', each being the product of its own history, and none being the teleological product of the others or their history. When Marx and Engels say that the proletariat is 'the product of big industry', they utter a very great piece of nonsense, positioning themselves within the logic of the accomplished fact of the reproduction of the proletariat on an extended scale, not the aleatory logic of the 'encounter' which produces (rather than re­produces), as the proletariat, this mass of impoverished, expropriated human beings as one of the elements making up the mode of production. In the process, Marx and Engels shift from the first conception of the mode of production, a historico-aleatory conception, to a second, which is essentialistic and philosophical. (Althusser 1994a: 584-86)

34. The capitalist mode of production is, therefore, the result of an encounter that has held, has taken hold. And yet this encounter has not taken place once and for all, but must continue to occur over and over again: the capitalist mode of production can persist only through the continuous repetition of this "taking hold":

It would, moreover, be a mistake to think that this process of the aleatory encounter was confined to the English fourteenth century. It has always gone on, and is going on even today - not only in the countries of the Third World, which provide the most striking example of it, but also in France, by way of the dispossession of agricultural producers and their transformation into semi-skilled workers (consider Sandouville: Bretons running machines) - as a permanent process that puts the aleatory at the heart of the survival and reinforcement of the capitalist 'mode of production', and also, let us add, at the heart of the so-called socialist 'mode of production' itself. Here Marxist scholars untiringly rehearse Marx's fantasy, thinking the re­production of the proletariat in the mistaken belief that they are thinking its production; thinking in the accomplished fact when they think they are thinking in its becoming-accomplished. (Althusser 1994a: 587)

35. The concept of the encounter therefore receives a complex articulation within Althusser's consideration of the authors of aleatory materialism. The following are, I believe, the fundamental points:

1) Encounters can be brief or can last. The lasting encounter is one in which the relations between elements take hold; but the fact that the encounter endures does not guarantee that it will last forever. Every encounter is, in fact, provisional (even the ones that last). And not only that: every encounter is founded literally on an abyss; that is, on the fact that it cannot take place.

2) Every encounter is the result of prior encounters, all of which in their turn might not have taken place: "There are encounters only between series [ séries ] of beings that are the results of several series of causes - at least two, but this two soon proliferates, by virtue of the effect of parallelism or general contagion..." (Althusser 1994a: 580). The reference here is to Cournot's Exposition de la théorie des chances et des probabilities, where "chance" is defined as an encounter between two independent causal series.

3) The encounter depends on an affinity between the elements that encounter one another. Even those elements containing nothing of what they will be after the encounter are nevertheless affinissables : "... every encounter is aleatory in its effects, in that nothing in the elements of the encounter prefigures, before the actual encounter, the contours and determinations of the being that will emerge from it. Julius II did not know that he was harbouring his mortal enemy in his Romagnol breast, nor did he know that this mortal would be lying at death's door and so find himself outside history [hors histoire] at the critical hour of Fortune, only to go off and die in an obscure Spain before the walls of an unknown castle. This means that no determination of the being that issues from the 'taking-hold' of the encounter is prefigured, even in outline, in the being of the elements that converge in the encounter. Quite the contrary: no determination of these elements can be assigned except by working backwards from the result to its becoming, in its retroaction." ( Althusser 1994a: 566)   The elements can, therefore, have affinities, but they do not have them prior to the encounter. They do not have, therefore, a priori affinities of the sort Goethe described; they can, however, develop an affinity in very specific, aleatory conditions (because every element is in its turn the result of an encounter). The elements have affinities, then, but only a posteriori, which means that these affinities can only be discovered retroactively, by looking back over an encounter that has already taken place.

4) Finally, after the encounter takes hold, the structure takes priority over the elements.

36. According to Althusser, the concepts of the encounter and the void, thought together in their strict interdependence, necessarily lead to a primacy of the nothing over every form and the primacy of aleatory materialism over every formalism - that is, over every type of structuralist combinatory of elements. Every form emerges out of and is founded on a triple abyss. The encounter

1) can not be;

2) can be brief;

3) can no longer be.

37. Philosophy's essence is, according to Althusser's Spinoza, the void. It is nothing other than the recognition and observation of the encounter: "What becomes of philosophy under these circumstances? It is no longer a statement of the Reason and Origin of things, but a theory of their contingency and a recognition of fact, of the fact of contingency, the fact of the subordination of necessity to contingency, and the fact of the forms which 'gives form' to the effect of the encounter. It is now no more than observation [constat]: there has been an encounter, and a ' crystallization ' [prise] of the elements with one another (in the sense in which ice 'crystallizes')" (Althusser 1994a: 556).

38. Observation of the encounter or the fact - another fundamental term of aleatory materialism.

Fact, Faktum, factual, facticity

39. Philosophy is the pure recognition, the pure acknowledgement and observation of the fact: as the later Engels put it, philosophy "say[s] the fact stripped of every external addition", even if these external additions are for Althusser nothing other than opacities internal to the imaginary.      

40. Althusser's concept of the "fact" is not, however, univocal. He gives the term two different nuances, depending on the theoretical context in which it intervenes.

41. The fact is first of all played off against the juridico-transcendental or dialectical thematic - that is, it is played off against every form of explicit or implicit teleology. For example, Spinoza's philosophy of facticity is set against both metaphysics and the theory of knowledge. To the metaphysical question par excellence - 'why is the world thus and not otherwise?' - Spinoza replies that it is a simply a fact that only two attributes are knowable; to the question concerning the quid juris of consciousness, Spinoza responds with the facticity of thought:

"[T]here is also nothing left to say about the great problem that invaded all of Western philosophy with Aristotle and, especially, Descartes: the problem of knowledge, and of its dual correlative, the knowing subject and the known object. These great causes, which are the cause of so much discussion, are reduced to nothing. Homo cogitat, 'man thinks', that is just how it is; this is the observation of a facticity, that of the 'this is how it is', that of an es gibt which already anticipates Heidegger and recalls the facticity of the falling atoms in Epicurus. (Althusser 1994a: 564)

42. That Euclid existed is, for example, nothing more than a fact - his experience is not the site where an originary sense suddenly appears, an appearance that will in turn initiate a teleology of history: "it is a fact that Euclid, thanks to God, only God knows why, existed as a factual, universal singularity". Spinoza's philosophy is a philosophy of the necessity of the factual. Althusser represents the mode of existence of this philosophy through the image of a philosopher who jumps on a train as it's moving, knowing neither where it comes from nor where it's going, who then quickly maps out the train's arrangements, figuring out with whom he is in fact traveling. For Rousseau, the formation of social ties is a fact that is opposed to the teleological attraction of a humanity conceived as sociable by nature:

Once men are forced to make encounters and found associations that, in fact, last, constrained relationships spring up among them, social relationships that are rudimentary at first, and are then reinforced by the effects that these encounters have on their human nature. (Althusser 1994a: 572)

43. For the young Engels, the condition of the English working class is a fact in the same sense:

Having learned a great deal from this experience, Engels begins the work he researched in books and in the field. A book results from it 1845: The Conditions of the Working Class in England. This book closes with the defeat of Chartism, and in it universal history happens in a completely different way than was outlined in the Manifesto 's schemes. Everything in history is now said to depend on the living conditions (Lebensbedingungen) and working conditions (Arbeitsbedingungen) imposed on the exploited, conditions that emerge out of the great dispossession called 'primitive accumulation', that threw these men from burning houses into the streets and into the arms of the local owners of the means of production. No question of a concept, of contradiction, negation and negativity, the primacy of the class struggle, the primacy of the negative over the positive. Rather, a factual situation, resulting from an entire historical process that was as necessary as it was unforeseen, a process that produced this factual situation: the exploited in the hands of the exploiters. As for struggle, it too was the result of a factual history. (Althusser 1993b: 19)

44. This same concept of facticity is found in the anecdotal and 'imaginary' discourse of Mary Burns as Althusser characterizes:

[T]here are ('es gibt ') men and women who have been thrown into the streets, whose houses have been burned and whose fields possessed (Faktum), people who therefore left on foot, stomach empty, moving through the large thoroughfares of the city in order to find employment and willing to work at any price to avoid dying of hunger. They came all the way to here, where they found the factory door open and where they were received like beggars asking for a mouthful of bread. Behind the high walls were the towers of the local industrial gentry, who owned everything in the factory and imposed their implacable law. (Althusser 1993b, 17-18)

45. The fact is therefore opposed to the concept understood in its idealist sense; namely, to the dialectical concept that gives form and direction to the process of the real. It therefore functions in Engels just as it does in Spinoza and Rousseau (taking into account the different contexts), where the fact is played off against the teleology immanent to dialectical thought.

46. The second nuance is that although Althusser uses the notion of the "fact" in an anti-metaphysical sense, it can always become a hypostasis in its turn. To avoid this risk, Althusser must therefore submit the fact to the most radical contingency. In the philosophy of Epicurus the world is first of all a fait accompli that, once accomplished, permits "the reign of Reason, Meaning, Necessity and End [Fin]" to be established. And yet, this " accomplishment of the fact is just a pure effect of contingency, since it depends on the aleatory encounter of the atoms due to the swerve of the clinamen. Before the accomplishment of the fact, before the world, there is only the non-accomplishment of the fact, the non-world that is merely the unreal existence of the atoms" (Althusser 1994a: 556). The same logic is present in Machiavelli, "not in terms of the Necessity of the accomplished fact, but in terms of the contingency of the fact to be accomplished":

In other words, guarantees that the reality of the accomplished fact is the guarantee of its durability. Quite the opposite is true: every accomplished fact....like all the necessity and reason we can derive from it, is only a provisional encounter, and since every encounter is provisional even when it lasts, there is no eternity in the "laws" of any world or any state. History here is nothing but the permanent revocation of the accomplished fact by another undecipherable fact to be accomplished, without our knowing in advance whether, or when, or how the event that revokes it will come about. Simply, one day new hands will have to be dealt out, and the dice thrown again onto the empty table. (Althusser 1994a: 561)

47. Althusser therefore opposes a logic of the fait accompli to a fact that would fulfill or be a fulfillment - in short, he opposes accomplishment and fulfillment. The fact is not a Faktum in the transcendental sense - it is not an a priori condition of possibility but a material condition of existence. To isolate the fact in its process of being-accomplished or in its status as accomplished is to exhibit and expose its contingent foundation, the contingency of the fluctuation or variation of elements that was or will be the origin of every encounter taking place in the absence of any "pre-established harmony". This is the only way to bring out the doubly provisional nature of the fact: (a) it can not occur; (b) it can no longer be. Althusser writes:

This makes it all too clear that anyone who took it into his head to consider these figures, individuals, conjunctures or States of the world as either the necessary result of given premises or the provisional anticipation of an End would be mistaken, because he would be neglecting the fact (the 'Faktum') that these provisional results are doubly provisional, not only in that they will be superseded, but also in that they might have never come about, or might have come about only as the effect of a 'brief encounter', if they had not arisen on the happy basis of a stroke of good Fortune which gave their 'chance' to 'last' to the elements over whose conjunction it so happens (by chance) that this form had to preside. (Althusser 1994a: 581-82)

48. Only by recognizing the two-fold abyss of the fact - its being able not to be and its being able to be no longer - is it possible to avoid another metaphysical figure that haunts every hypostatization of the fact, namely the fact of a given 'order':

The fact is that we have to do with this world and not another. [This world] is subject to rules and obeys laws. Hence the very great temptation, even for those willing to grant the premises of this materialism of the encounter, of resorting, once the encounter has 'taken hold', to the study of the laws which derive from this taking-hold of forms, and repeat these forms, to all intents and purposes, indefinitely. For it is also a fact, a Faktum, that there is order in this world and that knowledge of this world comes by way of knowledge of its 'laws' (Newton) and the conditions of possibility, not of the existence of these laws, but only of knowledge of them. This is, to be sure, a way of indefinitely deferring the old question of the origin of the world (this is how Kant proceeds), but only in order to obscure all the more effectively the origin of the second encounter that makes possible knowledge of the first in this world (the encounter between concepts and things).

Well, we are going to resist this temptation by defending a thesis dear to Rousseau, who maintained that the contract is based on an 'abyss'... (Althusser 1994a: 582-83)

49. The laws that regulate and rule the order of the world, that regulate its facticity, are therefore as provisional as the encounter that gave birth to them, since this order is founded neither on its own universality, the immutability of a transcendent ens nor the transcendentality of an "I". Althusser therefore inaugurates, in the historical field, a materialist theory of laws, laws understood not as the science of physics does but instead as repetitive or constant invariants: "[I]t is only in the individual and social life of singularities (nominalisms), really singular - but universal, for these singularities are as if traversed by repetitive or constant invariants, not by generalities but repetitive constants - that one can rediscover under their singular variations in other singularities of the same species and genre." (Althusser 1997: 9)   These laws would therefore be what Marx called "tendencies", tendential laws. A tendency does not posit the form or figure of a linear law but, to the contrary, bifurcates through encounters with other tendencies: "At each intersection the tendency can take a path that is unforeseeable because it is aleatory " (Althusser 1994b: 45). It is this materialist conception of laws that founds the Machiavellian method, a method that reasons according to the hypothetical syllogism "if...then..."; a method that "takes upon itself nothing other than the facticity of the given conjuncture, the existing factual conditions, with no consideration of any ontological or moral principles".

Conjunction and conjuncture

50. In Althusser's writings from the 1980s, "conjuncture" becomes another name for facticity. Conjuncture names the set of material conditions within which one is compelled to think and to act:      

[W]hen one raises the question of the 'end of history', Epicurus and Spinoza, Montesquieu and Rousseau range themselves in the same camp, on the basis, explicit or implicit, of the same materialism of the encounter or, in the full sense of the term, the same idea of the conjuncture. Marx too, of course - but Marx was constrained to think within a horizon torn between the aleatory of the Encounter and the necessity of the Revolution. (Althusser 1994a: 574)

51. The most important metaphors for the concept of conjuncture cited by Althusser are Montequieu's "climate" and Machiavelli's "fortuna". Rousseau is also inscribed in this tradition; but Althusser's Rousseau is a Rousseau read outside the boring academic debate that "constantly counterposes the Contract to the second Discourse". We can therefore clarify

the status of the texts in which Rousseau ventures to legislate for the peoples (the Corsican people, the Poles, and so on) by reviving, in all its force, the concept that dominates Machiavelli - he does not utter the word, but this hardly matters, since the thing is present: the concept of the conjuncture. To give men laws, one must take full account of the way the conditions present themselves, of the surrounding circumstances, of the 'there is' this and not that, as, allegorically, one must take account of the climate and many other conditions in Montesquieu, of these conditions and their history, that is to say, of their 'having come about' - in short, of the encounters which might have not taken place. (Althusser 1994a: 573-574)

52. Conjunctures can be political, ideological, or philosophical. The conjuncture is the facticity of the world that practice confronts, and practice is in turn possible only within the interstices of this facticity, since it can only intervene within the relations that constitute practice in the first place. But the conjuncture can never be conceived as a transcendental structure; the conjuncture is a con-juncture, the joining of elements. It is an encounter that has its "ground" in the double abyss of not having had to take place and of not having to be any longer. It is out of this abyss that any given form can, by chance, emerge: "the conjuncture itself being junc­tion, con-junction, congealed (albeit shifting) encounter, since it has already taken place, and refers in its turn to the infinite number of its prior causes, just as (let us add) a determinate [défini] individual (for instance, Borgia) refers to the infinite sequence [suite] of prior causes of which it is the result" (Althusser 1994a: 580).

Necessity and contingency

53. Althusser's use of the conceptual couple necessity/contingency seems, at first glance, contradictory. In "Sur la pensée marxiste", Althusser at first seems to oppose the necessity of positive facts to the dialectic:

There is indeed some philosophy at work in history, but it is a philosophy without philosophy - that is, a philosophy with neither concept nor contradiction. This philosophy acts at the level of positive facts, not the level of the negative or the conceptual principles. It could not care less about the Revolution, the negative or any "great reversal". It is a practical philosophy in which the primacy of practice and the association of men take precedence over theory and the Stirnerian egoist autonomy of the individual. In short, there is some truth to the Manifesto, yet everything is wrong because upside-down. To accede to the truth it will be necessary to think otherwise . (Althusser 1993a: 19)

54. In this passage, necessity is deployed against the teleology immanent to the dialectic. But in the essay on the materialism of the encounter, necessity is instead identified with teleology itself, to which Althusser will oppose "contingency". When Althusser characterizes the nature of the "underground current" of materialism, he states:

To simplify matters, let us say, for now, a materialism of the encounter, and therefore of the aleatory and of contingency. This materialism is opposed, as a wholly different mode of thought, to the various materialisms on record, including that widely ascribed to Marx, Engels and Lenin, which, like every other materialism in the rationalist tradition, is a materialism of necessity and teleology, that is to say, a transformed, disguised form of idealism. (Althusser 1994a: 554)

55. The same deployment of contingency against necessity appears in the following passage, where Descartes' theory of knowledge is opposed to Spinoza's:

There is not, as there is in Descartes, an immanent necessity that brings about the transition from confused thinking to clear and distinct thinking. There is no subject, no cogito, no necessary moment of reflection guaranteeing this transition. It may take place or not. And experience shows that, as a general rule, it does not, except in a philosophy aware that it is nothing (Althusser 1994a: 564).

56. Contingency and the necessity of positive facts would seem to be opposed; but here they nevertheless play a similar role, each being deployed against every notion of teleology. They can play this same role because the necessity of positive facts is not ordered by any overarching power, being instead nothing more than the play of referrals and interactions among facts themselves. This necessity is, then, grounded in a contingency, namely the contingency of being able to not be, to be "briefly", or of being able to be no longer. In this sense, philosophy becomes the recognition of the (necessary) fact of contingency:

What becomes of philosophy under these circumstances? It is no longer a statement of the Reason and Origin of things, but a theory of their contingency and a recognition of fact, of the fact of contingency, the fact of the subordination of necessity to contingency, and the fact of the forms which 'gives form' to the effect of the encounter. It is now no more than observation [constat]: there has been an encounter, and a 'crystallization ' [prise] of the elements with one another (in the sense in which ice 'crystallizes'). All question of Origin is rejected, as are all the great philosophical questions: 'Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the origin of the world? What is the world's raison d'être? What is man's place in the ends of the world?' and so on. I repeat: what other philosophy has, historically, had the audacity to entertain such theses? (Althusser 1994a: 556)

57. There is necessity, then, but this necessity cannot be identified with a sense, reason or a telos. The only necessity there is is the necessity of the absolute purity of contingency: a necessary cum tangere that is always an encounter rather than the spontaneous generation of a necessary series whose origin would be a subject (whether it be God or a human will). The cum tangere is necessary, and it can assume the form of an encounter that doesn't "take", a brief encounter, or an encounter that lasts. In this last case, another form of necessity opens up: the necessity of the fait accompli, of the accomplished fact. But this fact cannot be mistaken for an eternal fact, since it rests on a necessary contingency, on the cum tangere from which it originates; it is solely through the repetition of the cum tangere that it can last and endure, without the security of a transcendent or transcendental guarantee. We can now understand and penetrate the enigma of Althusser's formula "the necessity of contingency" - the key to the late Althusser, but also to the "earlier" one as well. The necessity of contingency is not a necessity that traverses and governs contingency, a necessity that contingency would "have"; it is, on the contrary, the necessity that contingency "is", its esse in alio (and not an abstract capacity to be this or that, that is, an abstract possibility that presupposes the regio idearum of a divine intellect that would sustain it). This esse in alio is a necessary reference to the other, a referral that alone gives rise to an encounter not programmed by some mode of teleology: "instead of thinking contingency as a modality of necessity, or an exception to it, we must think necessity as the becoming-necessary of the encounter of contingencies" (Althusser 1994a: 581). This is, in turn, the great legacy left by Montesquieu and Rousseau:

The most profound thing in Rousseau is doubtless disclosed and covered back up [découvert et recouvert] here, in this vision of any possible theory of history, which thinks the contingency of necessity as an effect of the necessity of contingency, an unsettling pair of concepts that must nevertheless be taken into account. They make themselves felt in Montesquieu and are explicitly postulated in Rousseau, as an intuition of the eighteenth century that refutes in advance all the teleologies of history which tempted it, and for which it cleared a broad path under the irresistible impulsion of the French Revolution (Althusser 1994a: 574).

Conclusions

58. The rhapsodic, unsystematic and at times unrigorous way Althusser presents his materialism of the encounter can, it seems to me, easily lead to misunderstanding. It has been claimed that these writings propose a philosophical romanticism, an irrationalism, or even a materialism of freedom. Constructing a lexicon of terms - rather than following Althusser as he runs through the entire Western tradition - allows us, it seems, to bring out the systematic fabric of these texts and to demonstrate their rigor, even when they assume the form of a rather free and loose narration. This allows us in turn to diminish the rhetorical emphasis placed on some of these concepts, concepts which, when removed from their theoretical context and function, become altogether misleading (the conceptual pair the void/the nothing is the most powerful from the rhetorical point of view). We will avoid the temptation to give the Althusserian philosophy of the encounter, of the aleatory, his materialist philosophy of "rain" any sort of label, be it classificatory or polemical: such exercises will be superfluous the moment the signification and function of its key concepts are rigorously determined.

Vittorio Morfino is "Ricercatore" in the History of Philosophy at the University of Milano-Bicocca. He is the author of Substantia sive Organismus (1997), Sulla violenza. Una lettura di Hegel (2000), Il tempo e l'occasione. L'incontro Spinoza Machiavelli (2002), Incursioni spinoziste (2002) and Il tempo della moltitudine (2005). He has edited Spinoza contra Leibniz (1994), La Spinoza Renaissance nella Germania di fine Settecento (2000) and (with Luca Pinzolo) the Italian edition of Louis Althusser's later writings, Sul materialismo aleatorio (2000). He co-directs the "Spinoza" series for Edizioni Ghibli and "Althusseriana" for the publisher Mimesis, and is an editor of the journal Quaderni materialisti.

Jason Smith is Adjunct Faculty at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He will complete his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of California-Irvine in 2006, and is currently working on a book-length study of Derrida's relation to Marxism.

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