Althusser on Abstraction

‘Can we draw some provisional conclusions from this long analysis of abstraction?

First of all, we can say that human beings live in abstraction, under abstract relations, which control all their practices. Next, we can say that abstraction in general does not exist but that there exist different types and different levels of abstraction, depending on the different practices and their different types. We can even say that if there exists no abstraction in general, there exist general abstractions, which control the totality of different practices and more or less profoundly influence their own abstractions. These general abstractions are social relations: relations of production, circulation, distribution; political relations; and ideological relations—all linked to class relations and class struggle.

Finally, we can say that all these abstract relations are only abstract in as much as they are and remain rooted in the materiality of social practices and that they are abstract only to the extent that they permit the final production of the concrete, whether the production of objects of consumption, the transformation of political relations, ideological relations, fantasy relations, the production of works of art, etc.

This entire gigantic cycle of social production, in the rhythms of its different rotations, in its complex networks, operates under the primacy of the concrete-real over the abstract, therefore, under the primacy of practice over theory. But at any moment of the cycle one observes no pure distinction, on the one hand, between practice, or the concrete, and, on the other hand, theory, or abstraction. At each moment, every practice exists only under abstract relations, which can be brought to the level of theory. At each moment, all abstract relations, including theoretical relations, exist only under the condition of being rooted in practice, in the concrete. They are the contradictions of this immense cycle that produce, under the form of the class struggle, what one calls human history, and make this history human, that is to say, not a disembodied history but a history heavy with gravity, materiality and finitude, with human suffering, discoveries, and joys.’

Translated by Ted Stolze


About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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