From Hal Foster’s The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century (Cambridge: MIT Press/October Books, 1996), 2-3:

“In ‘What is an Author?’, a text written in early 1969 in the heyday of such returns, Michel Foucault writes in passing of Marx and Freud as ‘initiators of discursive practices,’ and he asks why a return is made at particular moments to the originary texts of Marxism and psychoanalysis, a return in the form of a rigorous reading. The implication is that, if radical (in the sense of radix: to the root), the reading will not be another accretion of the discourse. On the contrary, it will cut through layers of paraphrase and pastiche that obscure its theoretical core and blunt its political edge. Foucault names no names, but clearly he has in mind the readings of Marx and Freud made by Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan, respectively. (Again, he writes in early 1969, or four years after Althusser published For Marx and Reading Capital and three years after the Ecrits of Lacan appeared—and just months after May 1968, a revolutionary moment in constellation with other such moments in the past.) In both returns the stake is the structure of the discourse stripped of additions: not so much what Marxism or psychoanalysis means as how it means—and how it has transformed our conceptions of meaning. […] The moves within these two returns are different: Althusser defines a lost break within Marx, whereas Lacan articulates a latent connection between Freud and Ferdinand de Saussure, the contemporaneous founder of structural linguistics, a connection implicit in Freud (for example, in his analysis of the dream as a process of condensation and displacement, a rebus of metaphor and metonymy) but impossible for him to think as such (given the epistemological limits of his own historical position). But the method of these returns is similar: to focus on the ‘constructive omission’ crucial to each discourse. The motives are similar too: not only to restore the radical integrity of the discourse but to challenge its status in the present, the received ideas that deform its structure and restrict its efficacy. This is not to claim the final truth of such readings. On the contrary, it is to clarify their contingent strategy, which is to reconnect with a lost practice in order to disconnect from a present way of working felt to be outmoded, misguided, or otherwise oppressive. The first move (re) is temporal, made in order, in a second, spatial move (dis), to open a new site for work.”

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