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Etienne Balibar and Anne Querrien: François Matheron

Etienne Balibar and Anne Querrien on the philosopher François Matheron, who died on 3 April at the age of 65.

9 August 2021

Etienne Balibar and Anne Querrien: François Matheron

The philosopher François Matheron, who died on 3 April at the age of 65, leaves behind the memory of a man in whom rigour, uncompromising convictions and professional conscience were combined with a disdain for convention and unfettered fantasy. He made a deep impact on many intellectual adventures of our time.

François Matheron, son of Françoise and Alexandre, was born in Paris on 5 August 1955 into a bourgeois, artistic and scholarly family, committed to the revolutionary hopes of the twentieth century and willing to pay the price. His first, indelible years were spent in Algiers, where Alexandre, on the way to becoming a leading authority on Spinoza, worked as a university assistant both before and after independence.

A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure, then a professor of philosophy, François taught all his life in secondary schools, apart from a few temporary post, and finally at the Centre National d’Enseignement à Distance.

In 1977, his first stint at the Scuola Normale in Pisa, he experienced the enthusiasm and tragedy of the red and black years and immersed himself in Italian culture. He met Carole Ksiazenicer, a specialist in Yiddish literature, with whom he had three children: Lucretia, Judith and Jonas. She particularly introduced him to Sholem Aleichem, whose short stories were his last reading pleasure.

Matheron established close relations with the entourage of Antonio Negri, then imprisoned and accused of terrorism. He went on to translate two of Negri’s books: L’Anomalie sauvage. Puissance et pouvoir chez Spinoza (Éditions Amsterdam, 1982), and Le Pouvoir constituant. Essai sur les alternatives de la modernité (PUF, 1997).

In 2000, François Matheron helped found the journal Multitudes, one of the vital organs of French critical thought, at the crossroads between the post-Marxist study of capitalism (particularly taking up the legacy of Félix Guattari) and what is now called intersectionality, under the double sign of autonomy and Spinozism. He published several articles in the journal, particularly on Althusser, on the legacy of the English revolution and the Diggers, and on the significance of urban and alterglobalist revolts.

For the world of philosophy both in France and abroad, François Matheron was above all the discoverer of Louis Althusser’s posthumous philosophy, centred on the idea of ‘aleatory materialism’ and the interpretation of Machiavelli’s politics. He reconstructed this it by editing and commenting on unpublished material preserved at the Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine, in collaboration with its director Olivier Corpet, Althusser’s biographer Yann Moulier-Boutang, and his close friend the Japanese philosopher Yoshihiko Ichida.

In a few striking articles, Matheron showed how this ‘final’ philosophy of Althusser’s, the key to interpreting everything that precedes it, is based on the ‘recurrence of the void’ in the interstice of social relations of domination, which calls for the emergence of a politics ‘outside the state’, like communism itself.


In 2005, François Matheron suffered a stroke that left him severely disabled. He experienced a sense of disarticulation between the powers of the body and those of thought, in particular that resulting from the unavailability of certain linguistic functions, which he described in a text that is both humorous and profound: ‘L’Homme qui ne savait plus écrire’ (published in Multitudes in 2007).

As his physiological condition continued to worsen, Matheron began an intimate and speculative correspondence with several of his friends, from which he drew a book with the same title (La Découverte, 2018). Despair, an unwelcome disgust, but also the surprising and the comical, combine with the exercise of self-control to illustrate Spinoza’s formula often quoted by Deleuze: ‘No one knows what a body can do.’ 

Published by Le Monde. Translated by David Fernbach