My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
While I was in jail in Pretoria for two decades in consequence of my pursuit of the Marxist ideal, one of my fellow inmates, serving a mere seven years, had spent some time in the Sorbonne reading for an MA in politics. He had sat at the feet of Louis Althusser (LRB, 17 December 1992), and expressed his admiration for the maestro by running seminars on the thought of Althusser for us. Marxists are not merely concerned with a delineation of Communist society – an ideal which seems somewhat further away now since my release. In fact, Marx himself was rather coy about a detailed description of Communism for fear of being regarded as a utopian. Marxists also present a critique of capitalism in much greater detail. A part of this is the analysis of the state, which was particularly the concern of Lenin. In prison, we discussed Althusser’s notions of ideology and ideological state apparatuses. According to him, these serve to bolster the capitalist state, and he lists the family among other institutions as an ideological state apparatus. Thus, if one is opposed to capitalism, one can contribute to its downfall by undermining ideological state apparatuses. Therefore it might seem logical to destroy that foundation of capitalism, the family, by strangling one’s wife. My comrade was not impressed when I put this to him after we heard of Althusser’s action. He continued in his respect for Althusser’s erudition and incision by imitating his style to some effect, although not in spouse-strangling. In deciding whether Althusser was motivated by lunacy or logic, it would have helped if he could have strangled some children as well, but it seems that none came to hand. – David Kitson on Jeremy Cronin (Althusser strangled his wife.)BACK TO TOP