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Curtis, D.A. (1999). Cornelius Castoriadis: philosopher of the social imagination. Free Associations, 7(3):321-330.

(1999). Free Associations, 7(3):321-330

Tribute to Cornelius Castoriadis

Cornelius Castoriadis: philosopher of the social imagination

David Ames Curtis

Philosopher of The Social imagination, co-founder of the legendary group and journal Socialisme ou Barbarie, seminal social and political thinker credited with inspiring the May 1968 events in France, professional economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, practising psychoanalyst, distinguished Sovietologist, and critical conscience of the international left, Cornelius Castoriadis died on 26 December 1997, in Paris at age 75, from complications following heart surgery. He is survived by his wife Zoé, their daughter Cybèle, and an elder daughter, Sparta.

Praise now flows in. Le Monde's obituary, written by longtime friend Edgar Morin with whom he co-authored a book on May '68, bore the title ‘Titan of the Spirit’. C.L.R. James scholar, Kent Worcester, spoke for many left libertarians when he called Castoriadis ‘our Isaiah’, referring to another recently deceased freethinker, Isaiah Berlin. Even the French Communist Party newspaper, L'Humanitè, acknowledged the significance of this radical anti-Communist opponent, labelling him ‘an essential dissident’.

And yet Castoriadis's ideas long remained better known than his name. To avoid deportation from France, he had to write under pseudonyms. Beginning in the 1960s, Socialisme ou Barbarie's sister organization London Solidarity — and later Philadelphia Solidarity — circulated ‘Chaulieu’ and ‘Cardan’ translations with a certain success.1 Only in the 1970s did Castoriadis gain French citizenship and begin to publish under his own name so that student radicals and others moved by his ideas might discover who had inspired them. A first English translation appeared in 1984.

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