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Published Nov 2016
ISBN: 9789004153370

The Detour of Theory

Gregory Elliott

First published in 1987, Althusser, The Detour of Theory was widely received as the fullest account of its subject to date. Drawing on a wide range of hitherto untranslated material, it examined the political and intellectual contexts of Althusser’s ‘return to Marx’ in the mid-1960s; analysed the novel character of the Marxism developed in his major works; charted their author’s subsequent evolution, from his self-criticism to the proclamation of a ‘crisis of Marxism’; and concluded with a balance-sheet of Althusser’s contribution to historical materialism.
For this second edition, Gregory Elliott has added a substantial postscript in which he surveys the posthumous edition of the French philosopher’s work published in the 1990s, from the early writings of the 1940s through to the late texts of the 1980s, relating the unknown Althusser revealed by them to the familiar figure of For Marx and Reading Capital, together with a comprehensive bibliography of Althusser’s oeuvre.

Biographical note

Gregory Elliott was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, where he completed his D.Phil. on Louis Althusser in 1985. An independent translator and writer, his books include Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History (1998). His most recent translation is Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s The New Spirit of Capitalism(2006).


[…]The Detour of Theory must be counted as amongst the best biographies of a postwar Marxist; Elliott, in detail, tracks Althusser’s different positions over time on the nature of philosophy and its relation to science and historical materialism.
Simon Chilvers, Macquarie University, Review of Radical Political Economics, March 2011, 43: 115-117

Table of contents

Preface to the Second Edition

1. The Moment of Althusser
2. A Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism
3. Returning to Marx? A Reconstruction of Historical Materialism
4. The Time of Theory, The Time of Politics
5. Questions of Stalinism
6. The Eclipse of Althusserianism

Conclusion: Unfinished History
Postcript: The Necessity of Contingency
Bibliography of the Published Writings of Louis Althusser