Marx: philosopher of power

Lucio Fontana, “Spatial Concept”, 1968


Preface to the book by Carlos Henrique Escobar

“It is up to me, therefore – after so many years, since texts from the 1960s and 1970s – to reveal that I later published studies on Marx and Nietzsche, investing a lot of my emotions in the face of these philosophers [...]”.[I]

It is as “emotion” that Carlos Henrique Escobar categorizes the essential distinction between his previous works in the face of what, with some dose of ironic boldness, we can call “maturity” studies. We have, in the aforementioned passage, a very interesting reading key for the confrontation that is the study of the texts of the four most recent books by Escobar (besides the present volume; Tragic Marx: Marx's Marxism, 1993; Nietzsche… (from the “companions”); is Zarathustra (The Bodies and People of Tragedy); both from 2000). Author of unavoidable work in the public and academic debate between the 1960s and 1970s, we find, in the aforementioned works, a broad stylistic and objective turn.

It would be rash, however, to categorize this repositioning simply as a rupture. Carlos Henrique Escobar, alongside an important poetic and dramaturgy production, built a theoretical work that advanced far beyond the simple, as he was several times imputed, work of “dissemination” of important authors of French philosophy, linguistics and psychoanalysis. In his works from the 1960s and 1970s, we find true autonomous readings of different themes and fields. The interpretation of the international authors presented great moments of theoretical “production”.

A first look at this creative work can be inferred from its integrative approach to different fields of study. Escobar intervenes in debates in multiple areas such as linguistics and semiology in Propositions for a Semiology and a Linguistics: a new reading of F. de Saussure, from 1973; psychoanalysis in Psychoanalysis and the Science of History, from 1974; epistemology in Epistemology of sciences, today, from 1975; and discourse analysis, in Discourses, institutions and history, de 1975. Despite the polyvalence of his writings, we observe a cohesive reading within the scope of the concept of Science of Ideological Discourses.

This unit, however, is not a mere repetition of the theoretical models in vogue at the time. Escobar textually rejects the orthodox structuralist solution that aimed at a homological analysis of signs. Your science of ideological discourses, we perceive, becomes the opposite of the structural model that it had in linguistics and anthropology, the pilot science. As we observed in his interpretation of Saussure: “We must not confuse structural linguistics with Saussure's linguistics – which does not mean that there is no relationship between them (historical-empirical relationship, I understand). For us, this is a distinction at the level of the respective theoretical practices (science and non-science) that we will try to work to prove as much as possible. […] Saussure, as we will show, produced the object of knowledge of linguistics (the “language”), while structuralisms, linguistic and non-linguistic, have been constituted in discourses about empirical regions, where the misunderstood concepts of Saussurian linguistics arrive and artificially imprint segmentations and classifications”. (ESCOBAR, 1973: 39).

A Science of ideological discourses, which Carlos Henrique Escobar developed during the first half of the 1970s in the aforementioned texts, in contrast, is articulated around the concept of “Historical Production”. With an Althusserian flavor, Carlos Henrique Escobar states that the idea of ​​production does not allow “the flattening of the Levi-Straussian empty unconscious and the structuralist and generative grammatical structures”. Its substratum, he states, is the conception that “men produce against death and in the motivation of Desire” (ESCOBAR, 1975: 55). Thus, even with a reference to the idea of ​​“science” something that will be continually repositioned in his later works, we have a position taken in favor of the indomitable creation and without guarantees of social life and its related “knowledge”.

Still in the construction of the project of the Science of ideological discourses, Escobar, attesting to his innovation, develops an approach that was not present in the European authors he analyzed. Psychoanalysis, linguistics, discourse analysis, semiology and Althusserian Marxism are articulated in a theory that encompasses not only the science of history, but an entire interpretation of art and “madness”.

And it is precisely the inclusion of art and “madness” in an alternative-integrative Science in the face of linguistics and semiology that allows him to build an incursion through “potency”, the central theme of the texts of his maturity. Escobar separates four basic types of discourse for his Science: the “reasonable ideological discourse”, the “ideological discourse of madness”, the “scientific discourse” and the “artistic discourse”. The last two, in his conception, are “cutting” because they are, at first, far from the historical need of utility for the reproduction of the given society. They are products, objects of knowledge in the Bachelardian-Althusserian flavor.

However, it is another coordinate in the present distinction that interests us more than the already classic separation between court and ideology. Reasonable scientific and ideological discourses concern social (emotional and material) demands, even when, in the case of the scientific approach, they allow contradiction with the simple reproduction of productive social relations. The “ideological discourse of madness”, as Escobar develops, deals with the field of the subject's original omnipotence, repressed by reasonable ideologies, of the initial ignorance of death.

As he states: “If we remember now what was said right at the beginning of this preliminary exposition, that is, that all discourses produce history, they make history according to the two basic intellectual strands. We will be able to understand everything that essentially constitutes the ideological discourses of “madness”. The repression and non-elaboration of original omnipotence (or choice of Death) end up, according to specific complexities of psychological-historical status, in certain concrete PTP, reappearing in their demands. But no longer to cause death, but to, in the body of a specific discourse, know “death”, to produce a type of knowledge related to the problematic of death. Now, it so happens that the ideological discourses of “madness”, at the level of ideological discourses, undertake this knowledge [...] It is a question of a refusal, now without power, to resume the No of “entrance” (the pure signifier of original omnipotence) and which is now constituted in specific ideological discourses within history” (ESCOBAR, 1975: 65-6).[ii]

Carlos Henrique Escobar still affirms the ideological reality of the discourses of “madness”: they, even if “gauchement” (“go and be left in life”), are dominated (even physically in institutions) by “reasonable” discourses, and end up entering the signs of the established. The artistic discourse, on the other hand, does not suffer from this frustration when entering the field of knowledge of the power of individuality.

Art, for our author, creates enriched, absolute and non-reproducible materials, which allow any individual who penetrates into their specificities and truths, to inhabit life without indifference towards death. In text: “Knowing is a project that overlaps the economic and psychological forms of increasing power over the environment, it is, on the contrary, a commitment (historically relativized) to inhabit life without indifference to death, to move in the desire with the restored original omnipotence, that is, elaborated” (ESCOBAR, 1975: 76).[iii]

In the mid-1970s, even affirming the original power in his individual expressions in art and in “madness”, the great term for Escobar was still science. As early as 1979, Escobar followed, to a large extent, the Althusserian self-critical movement in seeking a departure from the past “formalist approach”. He mentions that a Leninian approach emerges in Althusser and Balibar where the centrality resides in the concept of social formation and not in the combination of previously regulated “transitions” in the “modes of production”. The approach becomes markedly political, as he states: “there is no general theory of transition as an explanation of the real causality of a process, hence the conviction that each historical transition is different” (ESCOBAR, 1979: 24).[iv]

The 1979 book, Science of history and ideology, moreover, Carlos Henrique Escobar provides a glimpse of how the theme of potency and difference comes to dominate the author's work to the detriment of the theme of the “precision” of the scientific before the ideological. Here we have a definition of Marx's theory of modes of production as a materialist affirmation of difference. Escobar describes that Marx's great novelty lies in his reading of the dialectic as a topic (ultimately determined) and not as the interiorization of moments of a single rationality in the Hegelian manner.

With that, Marx becomes an author who enables a reading of the desiring production never submitted to logocentrism, as he demonstrates: “Now, what is important to know is that Marx is a thinker of differences, that is, the principality of matter is a thought of differences. differences and is not consistent with the metaphor of the circle. The Marxist whole, reflection of history, are different parts and in these terms articulated, it is a complex and unequal whole, and unequal in the parts because established in the final determination. […] And here is what is theoretically essential, that is, the Marxist topic does not work with pure and ideal contradictions, does not aspire to betray natural and historical materials in the name of an original and teleological normalization” (ESCOBAR, 1979: 20- 1).[v]

Another sign of greater openness to the “productive” and “desiring” interpretation of society is evident in the change in position in relation to the thinking of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri. Escobar initially evaluates the present work in the anti-edipus as an anarchizing endeavor that, even with merits in its critical potency, “replenishes the enemy, dissolves the meaning of theoretical work (psychoanalytical and Marxist) and makes practice an unarticulated critical pluralism” (ESCOBAR, 1975: 124)[vi].

In the text “Some deleuzian motives”, from the collection Deleuze Dossier (1991), Carlos Henrique Escobar reaffirms the critical work of the author of Difference and repetition. In the same way as before, the critique of Hegelianism and the “Platonism of the same” is considered necessary because it allows an escape from the idealism of a “social history”, analyzing the social through the body and through desire “in its strength and in its diversity”. – in the free pulsation of the eternal return [...]” (ESCOBAR, 1991: 144).[vii]

Now, likewise, Carlos Henrique Escobar praises this theory focused on the “bodies of tragedy” that Deleuze and Guatarri advocate. Bodies, as a challenge to ideal representation, as they are especially linked to the production of desire in the clash of forces. Carlos Henrique Escobar states: “It is to see in the cursed bodies-beyond representation – the 'free differences' and the 'complex repetition' as anecdotes or singular theaters of thickening-thought” (id: 146). Body, here I desire, does not allow itself to be contained by the flattened simplicity of the logocentrism of its knowledge. It is a tradition, with non-chance parallels with the random materialism of the last Althusser[viii], which Carlos Henrique Escobar recalls and claims for Deleuze's inclusion.

The original point of this tradition is Heraclitus: “The non-human body of thought in the speed and (splendid) monstrosity of Heraclitus and Empedocles, of Sade and Nietzsche, of the heavens, the earth, the wolves, the madmen and, above all, Zarathustra, whose rhythms are singular and crack men, cities and knowledge – this body does not allow itself to be contained by an embrace like armfuls of flowers and water. Bodies that breathe – that thicken – the eternal return, that breathe it without the lungs “bodies without organs”, without organicity, intense features (in the thickness only features, only exteriors) of this Heraclitean burning” (ESCOBAR, 1991: 147).[ix]

If, as we said at the beginning, it is under the term “emotion” that Carlos Henrique Escobar describes the general mood of his maturity texts, we can now see that, even while respecting the notions of science (fundamentally in the strict sense that, according to Escobar, Marx used, as “creation and irreversibility” and not as Platonic repetition), the search is for the previous materialist foundation, the power of thought.

As Carlos Henrique Escobar states in the introduction to this volume: “In place of beforehand of spirit, matter and logic, what one sees in Marx (and in Engels) is an open problem that leads us, in turn, to the question of dialectics”[X]. Precisely, the issue of Marx's dialectic, in his reading, refers not to Hegelian teleology but to fire, to Heraclitean dynamics.

Carlos Henrique Escobar approaches Heráclito as the original thinker, in the Nietzschean manner, of the tragic and the Dionysian, critical of the entire process of attributing an indisputable substance: “Tragic Greek thought (Heráclito above all) thematizes fire and thinks about it to a surprising and peerless as a resistance to Greek thought and politics in the process of being substantiated. Greek commitment resumed under different forms (becoming, time, transformations) through which the Greek power of thinking and the involvement of this people with political alternatives is outlined. […] Marx and Nietzsche do not think of the eternal return only through specific influences from the physics of heat and the thermal technologies of the XNUMXth century. XIX, as their philosophies and policies contain the theme of time as a condition of “justice” that they aspire to and promote for life. In this sense, where history and principle combine, Marx and Nietzsche are as Greek as they are modern.

Escobar, in this sense, affirms Marxism, in his own philosophy, as a thought of matter. Matter, for him, can only be observed in a beyond-epistemological way, outside the ideal of truth. It is, constitutively, evaluation within the (political) clash of forces. What is under evaluation can only be considered as “what it is about”.

“What it is about”, “factum-thought”: key terms for our author. In a central passage of the book, these terms are revealed as “what remains” when we think of reactivity (a Nietzschean term that Escobar approximates to the Althusserian reading of ideology, as a mechanism, away from the critique of false consciousness) beyond epistemology. When society is thought of as production: always partial moralities, always produced.

The author consolidates: “There is no epistemological question in Marxism because this question per se is tied to the ideal of Truth and to the rejection of everything that is treated as Marx's materialism. Materialism imposes the critical crudity of historical materialism on epistemological questions. […] Marx's materialism is a “knowledge” inseparable from the singularity that is invented as folds of thickening-thinking, it is communism as differences and as what is at issue in factum, in chance (and factum-thought). Marx's materialism is inseparably historical materialism, but not as an epistemology, but as a critique and fight against reactive societies from a point of view of the philosophies of power”.

It is precisely communism, the construction of a policy of communism, that alone is the key to interpreting the thought “what is it all about” in its uniqueness. And, in the present reading, communism is nothing more than the thought, in its political resolutions, of the certainty of the future affirmed as future. The certainty that the only possible fact for politics is “working power”, far beyond “working power”. The bet on the idea that becoming is the incessant production of untamed realities and differences.

Carlos Henrique Escobar thus understands a possible universality in Marx, totally opposed to the cynicism of the Enlightenment of the mere understanding of differences: “These differences are present in communist politics due to the independence of communism thought (what it is about) from reactive social formations ( either as a mode of production or as social formations). Or else because universality as a purpose of capitalism is a fiction of abstraction and terror and the “open universality”, suggested by transmutation-communist policies, are threshold predispositions absent from any power of causation in social history as an object. Therefore, this universality – Marx's meaning – cannot be confused with the Enlightenment “universal” of progress, the dialectical process or the absolutization of reason. The universal in Marx is not the Same (the return of the same or the culmination of a “true same”) but the philosophy and politics of communism as a communism of differences that stick together and that explore threshold conditions in the reactive historical process.

For Escobar, communism should be read as a party. Feast of the free creation of life[xi]. Celebration because it is the thought of abundance and, critically, the thought of the certainty that something “beyond” can be done in collective terms. Communism defies all negations, reactions, substantiations. To be a communist is to bet on the politics of desire. For Escobar, the communist is, he does not represent. He desires.

Follow the reading of Marx: power philosopher is to enter a completely unconventional perspective of the German classic. Carlos Henrique Escobar, however, was not alone. The reaffirmation of the critical power of communism was something that returned in the period of crisis that official Marxism went through in the early 1990s. of communism”. The reprint of this book (along with Tragic Marx also by the Revolutionary Sciences) is, without a doubt, an invitation for new companions to focus on this theme and focus on the innovations that Escobar, a Brazilian philosopher, autonomously built.

*Felipe Melonio Leite is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).


Carlos Henrique Escobar. Marx: power philosopher. Sao Paulo, Ed. Revolutionary Sciences, 2022.


[I] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique. Preface. Linguistics & Marxism: conditions of emergence for a French theory of discourse in Brazil. São Paulo: Editora FAP-Unifesp, 2015. p. 15–19.

[ii] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique. Discourses, institutions and history. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. River, 1975.

[iii] Idem

[iv] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique. Science of history and ideology. Rio de Janeiro: Grail, 1979.

[v] Idem

[vi] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique. Discourses, institutions and history. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. River, 1975.

[vii] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique. Deleuze Dossier. Rio de Janeiro: Holon, 1991.

[viii] As we demonstrate in our article (LEITE, Felipe Melonio. Immanence, politics and Marxism: from Althusserian self-criticism to the materialism of the encounter. Revista Trágica: studies in the philosophy of immanence, v. 13, no. 3, p. 109–139, 2020.): “The author, however, states that Epicurus' position is only the first of a series of philosophies, suffocated by the idealist tendency to unify the dominant ideology, which would be materialist in their principles. This “underground” current would permeate all Western thought, going from Epicurus himself to Heidegger. It would include contributions from Lucretius, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Hobbes, Second Discourse Rousseau, even Heidegger himself. It would even be Heidegger who would give the meaning of the suffocation of this current: the presidency of Sense over reality, logocentrism”. (p. 130)

[ix] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique. Deleuze Dossier. Rio de Janeiro: Holon, 1991.

[X] Pg 07 of the first edition

[xi] Tragic Marx (p 14.) of the first edition.

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