What can psychoanalysis, a psychological approach developed more than a century ago, offer us in an age of rapidly evolving, hard-to-categorize ideas of sexuality and the self? Should we abandon Freud's theories completely or adapt them to new findings and the new relationships taking shape in modern liberal societies? In a remarkably prescient series of lectures delivered in the early 1960s, the French philosopher Louis Althusser anticipated the challenges that psychoanalytic theory would face as politics moved away from structuralist frameworks and toward the elastic possibilities of anthropological and sociological thought.
Psychoanalysis and the Human Sciences translates Althusser's remarkable seminars into English for the first time, making available to a wider audience the origins and potential future of radical political theory. Althusser takes the important step in these lectures of distinguishing psychoanalysis from psychology and especially psychiatry, which long resisted Freud's analytical concepts of the unconscious and overdetermination. By freeing psychoanalysis from this bind, Althusser can then apply these analytical concepts to the social and the political, integrated with Marxist theory. The result is an enlivened methodology for comprehending social organization and change that had a profound influence on the Frankfurt School and scholars who continue to work at the forefront of radical thought today: Judith Butler, Étienne Balibar, and Alain Badiou.
Louis Althusser (1918–1990) was a French Marxist philosopher and professor of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. His books include Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan (Columbia, 1996) and Reading Capital (1965).
Steven Rendall is professor emeritus of Romance languages at the University of Oregon.
Pascale Gillot is professor of philosophy at the Lycée Henri Moissan and researcher at the Université Paris I.