“It is raining,” philosopher Louis Althusser writes. These words: a declaration; a marked change in the world outside; an announcement about the rain felling outside Althusser’s room at the Sainte-Anne clinic in late 1982. Only then, two years after his scandalous psychotic fit, did he begin writing again. Peering through the window to outside, Althusser ended his dry spell with a book “before all else,” “about ordinary rain.” Such ordinary rain is not the common sense notion of rain that pertains to water falling from the sky. Althusser’s rain is far more commonplace: it is the underground current of materialism that runs through the history of philosophy (“The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter,” 167). This watershed year also marked the emergence of another type of rain, which is seen through an altogether different window. 1982 was the year Time magazine named “the computer” its personal of the year. Three decades later, we now watch the streams that rush across our digital screens.
“It is raining,” French philosopher Louis Althusser writes as an introduction to the underground current of materialism that runs through the history of philosophy (“The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter,” 167). But Althusser’s apartment window and the drops that inspired him to write manuscript that is “before all else, a book about ordinary rain,” have been displaced by an even more ubiquitous window – the screen – and a new rain – the digital stream.
This article repeats Althusser’s materialist philosophy of the encounter. It is a materialist philosophy that arrives late in Althusser’s career to combine electric readings of Deleuze, Derrida, and Epicurus not present in his earlier writings on ideology, the state, and determinism. In repeating Althusser, however, this paper is not a return to Althusser – his conjuncture: debates within the French Communist party over Stalinism and the role of class struggle, or the philosophical legacy of Machiavelli and Hobbes – but rather, it chases the current of materialist philosophy as it flows into the field of media studies.