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New Left Review 113, September-October 2018

Althusser and his wife Hélène Rytman were in London for a few days to visit their friend, the Chilean surrealist painter Matta. It was his first visit to England. He seems to have rung because of the Gramsci essay in no. 100, since he is working on an article on Gramsci for Rinascita.There were four hours of conversation. [1] Aide-memoire set down in July or August 1977, after an unexpected visit by Althusser to the New Left Review office. ‘The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci’ had appeared in the journal in February.

perry anderson


Summer 1977

Althusser was in general unforthcoming on biographical matters—personal questions about his history encountering a wary, although not blank response. The two main experiences of his youth were Catholicism, with its then interest in ‘the social question’ (one of them, he commented ironically), and five years of imprisonment in Germany during the war. His education was broken by the war, in the way that those of Williams or Hobsbawm were, resuming again in 1945. He received little philosophical training, attending some lectures by Merleau-Ponty at best. His decision to join the party in 1948 was not motivated by the advances of the Chinese revolution, or by the Czech crisis, but seems to have been the product of a gradual evolution from 1945 onwards (effects of Spanish Civil War also), precipitated by personal factors (his encounter with his wife, of whom he did not speak?—a surmise).

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Perry Anderson, ‘An Afternoon with Althusser’, NLR 113: £3

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