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Kirshner, L.A. (1999). Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan: Louis Althusser. Edited by Olivier Corpet and François Matheron. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 194 pp., $29.50.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1423-1428.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1423-1428

Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan: Louis Althusser. Edited by Olivier Corpet and François Matheron. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 194 pp., $29.50.

Review by:
Lewis A. Kirshner

Louis Althusser was a prominent Marxist intellectual who taught at the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Born in 1918, he was himself a “normalien,” whose studies in philosophy were interrupted by the Second World War. During the invasion of France he was captured by the German army, and he spent four and a half years as a prisoner. After repatriation, Althusser resumed his preparation for the agrégé in philosophy, and began an active career as a writer and teacher closely identified with the French communist party. He was a significant figure in the postwar efflorescence that saw such remarkable thinkers as Barthes, Foucault, Lacan, Lévi-Strauss, Merleau-Ponty, and Piaget creating the new paradigm of structuralism, which was to have profound effects on many disciplines. Thanks in part to Althusser, psychoanalysis was able to play an important part in these developments and, through the influence of Jacques Lacan, to shape a generation of intellectuals.

At the same time, Althusser was a profoundly troubled man who apparently suffered from a manic-depressive illness. Hospitalized soon after the war, he undertook a series of biological treatments, including electroshock therapy, with a number of prominent psychiatrists, including Pierre Mâle. Around 1964, he entered psychoanalysis with Réné Diatkine, a distinguished member of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society (SPP) and a severe critic of Lacan. He was still in treatment and negotiating yet another hospitalization in 1980 when, in a fit of manic rage, he strangled his wife Hélène, leading to a celebrated hearing at which he was deemed not criminally responsible.

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