A diagram by Althusser captioned “The future lasts a long time” (the title of his memoirs) appears on several of his book covers. Below is my own reproduction, based on a sketched version found here.

Surely the diagram is meant to illustrate some philosophical concept (rather than, say, being an abstract representation of wife-strangulation). I would like to know what the diagram represents.

To my knowledge, this diagram is not used in any of Althusser’s books. I have not found anything written about it in English, but there may be resources in French that I have overlooked.

Some more specific questions might be: do the x-axis and y-axis have meanings (e.g. space/time)? Do the shapes (spiral, ‘cap’, circle) have well-defined roles? Also, in the photograph version, Althusser is standing in front of the rightmost part, so I’m not certain if the original had a ‘cap’.

Another approach may be to date the photo itself, e.g. whether it is from his aleatory materialist period or (presumably) earlier. Ideally, one could find the date the photo was taken, and then the specific seminar, and then see if the text of that seminar is available.

  • Perhaps 'la gran Althusser,' as he so proclaimed himself when running in the streets after slaying his wife, might have attempted to visually declaim the decay of what is obstruction to pure reality. A preoccupation of the old metaphysically aware Marxists. Even, as it seems, of Lukacs. Zizek would, one fears, perhaps, be best poised to answer this. Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 3:08
  • If Althusser had meant this to be taken as an analytical diagram, he would have labeled and bulleted; he probably would have written an entire monograph on it. Philosophers in general abhor ambiguity, usually to the point of over-explaining. But at the same time, philosophers (and bright people in general) tend to have quirky moments and odd senses of humor. For all we know he tossed that up on the board as a cubist self-portrait, or because he was bored and decided to doodle. Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 13:11
  • Here is an article regarding Althusser and the contingency of the future. lareviewofbooks.org/article/althussers-philosophical-disorder
    – Gordon
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 15:44

1 Answer 1


A really interesting question that for now does not seem to have a good answer. Basically it's supposed to be picture from 1978 seminar by Althusser. It's in the Imec archive and has been used for the cover of the book. But there is an apparently well supported suggestion that it may have been staged (Bachir). On the picture Althusser appears to be pointing to the words "the future lasts a long time", which (check) is a phrase coined by de Gaulle!? The diagram is below.

  • Very interesting; good find!
    – Gordon
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 17:48

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