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Castoriadis: a militant philosopher? Poiesis, Power and Historicity

Lecturer: Sean McMorrow

Originally Taught: Summer School 2020

This course will provide a general overview of Cornelius Castoriadis’s work. As a starting point, it will take his novel theory of historicity developed in order to surpass practical and philosophical issues with Marxism, involving an attempt to salvage a ‘revolutionary’ perspective on human creativity from Marx’s work. Generally speaking, the course will outline Castoriadis’s understanding of historicity as a temporal mode of poiesis, in order to highlight the fresh approach he brings to politics and the political; ultimately detailing how power shapes institutional contexts in ways that can suppress or open up the creative capacities of a political community. 

The significance of Castoriadis’s perspective will be discussed in relation to the central themes of his work, which include: a revisioning of the imagination, a phenomenological reassessment of the social-historical ‘world’, the notion of social imaginaries, a reconstruction of subjectivity that incorporates psychoanalysis and the life sciences, and the formation of autonomous and heteronomous political regimes.

Three pedagogical incentives will guide the course material; (a) to provide historical context to the intellectual development of Castoriadis’s thought, (b) to situate his work in relation to the philosophical ideas that were influential to his project, and (c) to provide a clear interpretation of the central concepts developed by Castoriadis.

The course is aimed toward those who have no prior knowledge of Castoriadis’s work, but will also provide a comprehensive overview beneficial for those with intermediate knowledge of the material. All suggested readings will be provided upon enrolment.

Lecture 1. a militant revolutionary: intellectual biography, critique of Marx and Marxism

Suggested readings;

Castoriadis C., 2010, ‘Why I Am No Longer a Marxist’, A Society Adrift: Interviews and Debates 1974-1997, trans. Helen Arnold, Fordham University Press

Castoriadis C., 1987, ‘The Two Elements of Marxism and their Historical Fate’ & ‘The Philosophical Foundation of the Decay’, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Kathleen Blamey, Polity Press (pp. 56-70)

Lecture 2. the imaginary institution of society: imagination, phenomenology, psychoanalysis

Suggested readings;

Castoriadis, C., 1997, ‘The Imaginary: Creation in the Social-Historical Domain’, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, trans. David A. Curtis, Stanford University Press

Castoriadis, C., 2007, ‘The Social-Historical: Mode of Being, Problems of Knowledge’, Figures of the Thinkable, trans. Helen Arnold, Stanford University Press

Castoriadis C., 1987, ‘Social Imaginary Significations’ [chapter 7], The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Kathleen Blamey, Polity Press (pp. 340-373)

Lecture 3. historicity, ancient and modern: social-historical power, political anthropology, European modernity and its ancient Athenian legacy

Suggested readings;

Castoriadis, C., 1991, ‘Power, Politics, Autonomy’, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy, trans. David A. Curtis, Oxford University Press

Castoriadis, C., 1997, ‘The Greek and Modern Political Imaginary’, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, trans. David A. Curtis, Stanford University Press

Lecture 4. poiesis and heteronomy: autopoiesis, religion, cultural creativity

Suggested readings;

Castoriadis, C., 1997, ‘The State of the Subject Today’, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, trans. David A. Curtis, Stanford University Press

Castoriadis, C., 1997, ‘Institution of Society and Religion’, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, trans. David A. Curtis, Stanford University Press

Lecture 5. the project of autonomy: liberal oligarchies, rational-mastery, critiques of technoscience, institutional proceduralism and political representation

Suggested readings;

Castoriadis, C., 1991, ‘Reflections on “Rationality” and “Development”’, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy, trans. David A. Curtis, Oxford University Press

Castoriadis, C., 1992, ‘The Retreat from Autonomy: Post-Modernism as Generalized Conformism’, Thesis Eleven No.31, MIT

Castoriadis, C., 2011, ‘No God, No Caesar, No Tribune!...’, Postscript on Insignificance: Dialogues with Cornelius Castoriadis, trans. Gabriel Rockhill and John V. Garner, Continuum