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Gordon, P. (1999). ‘Why this law rather than another one?’. Free Associations, 7(3):397-401.

(1999). Free Associations, 7(3):397-401

‘Why this law rather than another one?’

Paul Gordon

World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis and the Imagination, Cornelius Castoriadis, (edited and translated by David Ames Curtis); Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997, £40 (cloth) £14.95 (paperback), 506 pages.

The Castoriadis Reader, David Ames Curtis (editor); Oxford: Blackwell, 1997, £50 (cloth), £15.99 (paperback), 470 pages.

We Are Summoned to think what is, Cornelius Castoriadis once said and this is what he himself was engaged in for the past half century. The translation from the French is crucial here. As David Ames Curtis, Castoriadis's long-time editor and translator puts it, penser means for Castoriadis not just to think but to think what is, not just to think thoughts but to think the world. Castoriadis suffered from a constitutional inability to accept all but the most obvious proposition. For him everything was in question, or ought to be. It is with no disrespect to Castoriadis to say that much of the time he was ‘simply’ looking at what is before him, but this was a looking that was anything but simple, that involved a refusal to ignore the contradictions or the difficulties he encountered and in the face of which lesser intellects or less courageous minds might have come to a stop or abandoned the attempt. If the intellectual emperor had no clothes, Castoriadis would say it, or point out that he and his courtiers were clad only in caches-misères, designed to hide their poverty.

As a recent example we might take the piece ‘Reflections on Racism’, republished in World in Fragments. It is a commonplace that racism began with Western capitalism a few hundred years ago. Asinine, responds Castoriadis, read the Bible, the first racist text that we know of, where the ‘others’ are invariably described in derogatory terms — impure, unclean, worshippers of false gods and so on. But the issue is not just one of historical accuracy. It is what racism means that is important. Racism derives from the idea that ‘we’, a society, are superior to the others.

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