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Curtis, D.A. (1999). Castoriadis on culture. Free Associations, 7(3):367-373.

(1999). Free Associations, 7(3):367-373

Castoriadis on culture

David Ames Curtis

Author's Note: ‘Cultural studies’, which is often reliant on the presuppositions, biases, and jargon of what Castoriadis has termed ‘the French Ideology’, has become one of the more popular fads in ‘left-wing’ academic circles. As a recent announcement for a Graduate Student History Conference at New York University put it, ‘Many intellectual and cultural historians argue that discourse, ideology, and narrativity ought to be privileged categories of social analysis. To what extent has this view challenged or supplanted an older view that society is to be studied as a realm of competing structures, contending classes and groups, and conflicts over material resources?’ It would seem that we are being presented with another of the tiresome, false dichotomies so characteristic of academia today. One thinks immediately of the supposed alternative of ‘communitarianism or liberalism’ — as if one could or should make a choice between ‘the community’ and ‘the individual’! The ‘humanism versus anti-humanism’ debate also comes to mind, where one is counselled to re-embrace some vague ‘humanist’ values as the appropriate response to Louis Althusser's outrageous ‘criticism’ of a residual ‘humanism’ in Stalinism or to Jacques Derrida's reprehensible claim that a ‘humanism’ deemed still ‘metaphysical’ lies behind Heidegger's Nazi-inspired Rektoratrede.

The present article is based on the entry on Cornelius Castoriadis which appears in the new Dictionary of Cultural Theorists edited by Ellis Cashmore and Chris Rojek, published in January 1999 by Arnold, London. As translator and frequent presenter of Cornelius Castoriadis in the English-speaking world, my unambitious ambition is, here again, not to offer ready-made conclusions about his work but to establish a few benchmarks, note some relevant references, highlight a number of basic terms, and guide the interested reader where she can go to familiarize herself further with this work so that she herself might extend, elaborate, refine, and, if need be, challenge and go beyond Castoriadis's views.

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