Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Society Adrift

Bookforum has a very interesting review by the always excellent Scott McLemee on a posthumous collection of writings by Cornelius Castoriadis entitled A Society Adrift. Castoriadis was part of the "Socialisme ou Barbarie" group, which, as McLemee explains, grew out of a Trotskyist faction known as the "Chalieu-Montal minority," which was in turned linked to an American Trotskyist group whose leaders included C. L. R. James. In France, Castoriadis was associated with two other intellectuals who later became well-known in very different ways, Claude Lefort and J.-F. Lyotard. Lyotard became a theorist of postmodernism, while Lefort influenced a generation of "left liberal" intellectuals, most notably Pierre Rosanvallon. Some years ago, Lefort came to Harvard, where during lunch he mentioned that the group to which he and Castoriadis belonged was often erroneously identified as "Socialisme et Barbarie," a mistake that he regarded as a revealing Freudian slip. Sure enough, at the lecture afterward he was introduced by an eminent Harvardian as a representative of "Socialisme et Barbarie." Remember the group's sobriquet, SouB (perhaps one should call it a soubriquet) and you won't make that mistake.

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