Pierre Macherey


Key figures:

Figures after:


Structuralism, Marxist literary criticism,

Althusser, rue D�Ulm, Freud, Lacan, Pierre Janet?, Comte, Spinoza

F. Jameson?, W. Montag,

�A true analysis�should encounter something that is never said, an initial unsaid.�

Macherey was in favour of reading literature as Althusser and his group read Marx (Dosse).� Philosophy is a form of practice, theoretical practice as understood by the Reading Capital circle (see Philosophy as Operation in ed. Montag 1998) Like all forms of practice philosophy produced effects, often ones it did not have control over, received in the minds of its audience.

As Montag points out in his excellent introduction to In a Materialist Way, Macherey discovered Spinoza quite independently to the Reading Capital circle (Spinoza was the subject of his masters thesis), though he was to collaborate and discuss this shared passion with Althusser. It is important to dispel the charges of �structuralism� levied against Macherey and Althusser, and as Montag points out, of that circle, Macherey was one of the first to develop the critique of structuralist thinking (p. 6).� Whereas structuralism �subverted the concept of the human subject, the individual endowed with consciousness, they often did so in the name of an anomynous subject called structure, a subject that, like any other, employed means to realise the ends that it �desired�. � (p. 5). So Montag stresses, that the Althusserian critique of structuralism was a critique of functionalism too, something missed by those accounts that trunctated Althusser�s comment that �history is a process without a subject or goals.�

Macherey wrote in a special issue of Les temps Modernes (reproduced in �theory of literary production) an article entitled, the tomb of structures, as Montag describes its thesis; �Literary analysis would no longer discover hidden structures but rather the radical absence of such structures, precisely the place of a lack of rationality that would totalise its parts or elements. Where there was assumed to be depth there was only surface, what was sought was discovered not to be hidden (the text offers no refuge of concealment), but missing and missed: the tomb of structures. It is not difficult to see this theme remerge in Derrida�s philosophy. This restatement of the importance of the surface was due to Macherey�s distrust of the idea of a �structured whole (letter to Louis Althusser, 10 May 1965). But it further reflects the concern, later more ystematiclly developed by Derrida, to prioritise the part and fragment over the whole.

Althusser�s response to reading the Tomb of Structures is worth quoting in length. �I have understood what you indicated to me one day, when you told me that the concept of �latent structure� appeared to you dubious�I now see clearly what you meant�It is that the concept is ambigious, divided between a conception of structure as interiority, therefore as the correlate of an intention, or at least of a unity, and another conception, very close to yours, in which structure is thought as an absent exterioirity.� (p. 7). Montage goes on to point out that Althusser was to drop the concept of �latent� structure in all subsequent editions of Reading Capital. Two further quotes are crucial:

�If there is a structure, it is not in the book, concealed in its depths: the work pertains to it but does not contain it. Thus the fact that the work can be related to a structure does not imply that it is itself unified; structure governs the work in so far as it is diverse, scattered and irregular�. (Theory 151)

�The concealed order of the work is thus less significant than its real determinate disorder (its disarray). The order wich it professes is merely an imagined order, projected on to disorder, the fictive resolution of ideological conflicts, a resolution so precarious that it is obvious in the very letter of the text where incoherence and incompleteness burst forth.� (p. 155) (Both Montag p. 9)

Macherey's comments on his books

A Theory of Literary Production �was inscribed within the framework of a discussion with structuralism: it was a question, in opposition to a formalism very much in vogue, of providing a context for literary discourse, without however falling into the pitfalls of �realism�.� The rereading of such texts as Balzac�s the Peasants or Verne�s The mysterious Island had allow me to restore to the labour of literary production its true subject matter: ideology, or the social thought of an age, whose analyser literature had thus seemed to me to be.�

�In The Object of Literature composed in a completely different intellectual conjuncture, these considerations have been simultaneously reprised and displaced: I have sought to show that a kind of thought, in the philosophical sense of the word, is present in literary texts, under very varied forms, none of which can be reduced to the philosophical model of interpretation.� From Soutenance 1991 (Montag 1998 p. 22)


On this site

On other sites



Althusser et le Jeune Marx � Pierre Macherey


Comte, la philosophie et les sciences (1989

Hegel ou Spinoza (1979)

For a Theory of literary production

The Object of Literature (1995)

A production of subjectivity � Yale French Studies No. 88

In a materialist way, selected essays by Pierre Macherey � ed. Warren Montag, trans Ted Stolze Verso New York 1998

Important letter from Althusser to Macherey 21 February 1973, where he states he can't write books anymore.


Marx and the realisation of philosophy [FR] Video

La Philosophie au sens large (groupe de travail anim� par Pierre Macherey)

Qu'est-ce qu'un Livre - (FR)

Quelques réflexions au sujet de l�ensemble des travaux de F. Cossutta

Althusser and Macherey on narrative