Mute Cries: Louis Althusser Between Roberto Álvarez Ríos and Wifredo Lam

This introductory essay examines the role of two articles on the Cuban painters Roberto Álvarez Ríos and Wifredo Lam, “A Young Cuban Painter Before Surrealism: Álvarez Ríos” (1962) and “Lam” (1977), in the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser’s writing on art. It argues that these largely ignored articles offer snapshots of two key shifts in Althusser’s thought: his transition, during the early 1960s, from Hegelian Marxism to structural Marxism, and, during the late 1970s, from structural Marxism to so-called aleatory materialism. It contextualizes the articles in the social and political milieu of French philosophy during the 1960s and 70s and shows how his articles on the Cuban painters, specifically, and art, more generally, are largely concerned with contemporary developments in the third world, a subject that receives scant attention elsewhere in his work. The articles not only register Althusser’s reflections on Lacanian psychoanalysis, the nature of language, and the philosophy of history, but also reveal that his connections with Latin America to exceed mere questions of intellectual reception.

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