Tatiana Istomina's conceptual art/writing project is inspired by the story of Hélène Rytman, who was murdered by her husband, prominent Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, in 1980. Today Hélène is largely forgotten; in death, as in life, she remains an insignificant woman lost in the shadow of her famous husband. Althusser, on the other hand, persists as an influential thinker: his texts written before and after the murder continue to be published, widely read and discussed. Althusser’s main contribution to theory is his famous analysis of ideology. He defines ideology as a set of discourses and concepts through which we live our relationship with reality, but which do not truly represent this reality: ideology makes us believe that we are free subjects, while in fact our thoughts and actions are fully controlled by the state, family, education, and other ideological structures. There has been little discussion on how Althusser’s crime relates to his theory. At the time of the murder, was he, the radical philosopher, a free individual, a cog in the oppressive ideological apparatus, or simply a puppet activated by social or biological forces outside his control? The artist book Fhilosofhy of the Encounter considers this question from Helene’s point of view, reconstructing what could be her side of the story and reviewing Althusserian theory from this new perspective.
The book is based on Althusser’s posthumously published memoir The Future Lasts Forever. Using Althusser’s method of “symptomatic reading”, Istomina rewrote parts of his memoir from Helene’s point of view – in much the same way as Althusser rewrote some of Marx’s texts to uncover the “true” Marxist theory uncontaminated by bourgeois ideology. She then reassembled the text out of cutout fragments from several used copies of the memoir, some of which retain notes in the margins left by previous readers. The new, visually-striking version of the memoir now tells the story of the murder—in haunted, engaging prose—from the victim’s own perspective.
PRAISE FOR FHILOSOFHY OF THE ENCOUNTER
"This, really, is a book about reading. It is a book that reminds us that reading is a physical act. It is incredibly easy not to think so, but we must be aware, always, that to speak is to be embodied, and to hear, too, is to be embodied, and those bodies have relationships to one another—ideological but also material. And that, I would argue, is the hidden beauty of the project. Istomina doesn’t merely reconstitute Hélène; she does so in a way that makes a show of the labor in doing so; of the violence of her erasure in the first place; in the difficult, on-going negotiation of presence and absence in historical narratives."
"...a word must be said for the physical loveliness of the print. With slick pages, ink verging on Vantablack, and marvelous trompe-l’oeil collaging effects, Fhilosofhy of the Encounter forbids the reader to divorce the text from its material container. This feels like one more way of conjuring Rytmann—offering her a body, along with a voice."