I’ve crossposted this at An und für sich, but thought it would be of interest to readers of Speculative Heresy as well and a fitting first post here. Shamelessly I’d also like to direct your attention to some fundraising I am doing to help support my academic work. Please consider donating if you can.
François Laruelle has become an unstoppable writing force (or should that be force (of) writing?) in the past few years. After publishing his massive work Philosophie non-standard last year he went on to write three new works in the months that followed. All of which, I understand, are extensions of major themes found within Philosophie non-standard. These include a work with the title Théorie des victimes and another on messianicity with a working title of Une théologie gnostique. I think that Laruelle’s publisher wants to space out the release of these books so that they don’t flood the market and thereby lower demand for them, and I think this with some good information on this but without wanting to commit myself to the ultimate veracity of the claim. So of those three manuscripts the only work we have is his polemical work Anti-Badiou. Sur l’introduction du maoïsme dans la philosophie (which the very talented Robin Mackay of Urbanomic fame is translating into English for Continuum). This is a polemical book. One that Laruelle has himself described to me as often being “very violent”. While I’m looking forward to reading this book, for who deserves a good polemical attack more so than the little prince of contemporary polemical works, I am also a bit worried as polemics produce a lot of attention and often times distract from the more interesting aspects of a philosopher’s (or non-standard philosopher’s) work.
So what follows are some of my impressions that I think would be helpful for new readers of Laruelle to keep in mind as they turn to this book. The first of these impressions has to do with the subtitle, “Sur l’introduction du maoïsme dans la philosophie”. In English this would translate into “On the Introduction of Maoism into Philosophy”. At first I thought this was the first time that Laruelle had used this formula in a negative since and when I asked him about this he actually showed me that I had conflated two different things in my head. For the usual way he writes this is “pour l’introduction de X à la philosophie” or “the introduction of X to philosophy” or perhaps even more accurately “towards the introduction of X to philosophy”. This is how we find it in Future Christ where he introduces heresy to philosophy, though I went with the first translation there as I was unaware he would mark such a distinction in a future work. I always describe this as a mutation of philosophy by some other material and vice versa. But in this case it’s a different sense that signifies a form of philosophy that already has within it a mutation, this time of French Maoism. And this is what I think is interesting here and what may mark an advance in non-philosophy. For it’s less a negative use of this phrase and an investigation of a philosophy that is, in terms of general method, very similar to non-philosophy. Indeed, this was already marked out in an earlier work, “Badiou et non-philosophie. Un parallel”, written under a pseudonym which Taylor Adkins has produced a draft translation of.
The second impression that struck me about this book was it marks a new relationship with Badiou’s philosophy. In Philosophie non-standard Laruelle begins to mark out the major differences between their projects and I think he has to do this at this stage because of the influence Badiou’s work had on the stage of non-philosophy that goes under the name Philosophy III. The main text of that period, really the most mature formulation of non-philosophy until Philosophie non-standard is Principes de la non-philosophie. In that text, though hints of it exist in earlier ones, there are a number of themes that seem clearly to be drawing upon and radicalizing themes familiar to readers of Badiou. For Badiou reconceived of the dominant division of labor between philosophy and extra-philosophical material. This is most famously referred to in his theory of the four truth-conditions that philosophy serves but also, I would argue, controls (master/slave dialectic anyone?). Those four conditions for those who don’t know are the realms of science, by which he means mathematics, politics (communism), love (psychoanalysis), and art (usually poetry is discussed here, though arguably it is now film that is the avant garde of truth in art). This is tricky for from a non-philosophical perspective this seems to undercut the principle of sufficient philosophy which states that for everything there is a philosophy in the same way that the principle of sufficient reason says that for everything there is a sufficient reason. In Badiou’s case we see that philosophy is seemingly never sufficient in of itself, but requires material from outside itself to operate. But the tricky part is that this implies that while things like mathematics can think, it doesn’t in a sense know that it can think philosophically and so the philosopher’s task is to speak for the material. (Some Badioulist may take issue with my presentation, that’s fine.) Regardless this emphasis on four truth conditions that allow for philosophy to be practiced in Badiou is a precursor to the wild mutations we see in non-philosophy. Or, as I already said above, this is a book on the introduction of a material into philosophy that is used not to mutate and disempower philosophy in the name of empowering the human in radical immanence, but to harden and empower the discourse of philosophy. In short, this is a study in how non-philosophy can turn into its opposite and is thus a kind of self-critique masked as a polemic of another.
Non-philosophy is kind of like Badiou’s philosophy here. It doesn’t operate in a vacuum, it requires material from outside itself to function and so of course Laruelle engaged with Badiou. Yet, just as he did with Deleuze and Derrida, Nietzsche and Heidegger, there has to be at some point a reckoning with that material so that the material doesn’t overdetermine the new form it is put into with non-philosophy’s introduction of some other extra-philosophical material into it. A great example of this is actually his use of Levinas where he intermingles the question of the relationship of science and philosophy with the ethical philosophy of Levinas to create an ethical imperative within philosophy itself to respect its Other. So, I hope that people do not read Laruelle’s polemic as a call to burn the earth of Badioulism, but instead see it for what it is, an attempt to mark out a difference.
Finally, there is the question of the style of the book. Despite his reputation with some philosophers, Laruelle is a very playful writer. He may be only entertaining himself and a few of his fans with this playfulness, since it is coded within highly dense theoretical discussions, but that’s simply because he refuses to talk down to his ordinary readers. The difficulty of thinking isn’t something that he tries to cover over with a pedantic tone, but while not being pedantic a number of his texts will often times take on the voice of another. In one of his responses to Deleuze he writes in the style of Spinoza. In his Nietzsche contra Heidegger he writes in a strange mixture of Derrida and Nietzsche. I think in the last instance that is what is happening in this polemic text. He’s taking on the voice of Badiou against Badiou and, to me, that’s funny.
There are some dangers in this text. If non-philosophy is predicated on a fundamental disinterest in the war of philosophers, this text risks entering into that war. It may aim to do so on non-philosophical grounds, a kind of mocking aping of that war, but it remains to see if it successful. I’m also worried about the problem of distinction within non-philosophy. Prior to the last big book I had always assumed that the emphasis on “occasions” in non-philosophy referenced a promiscuity of thought where any occasion whatsoever could lend itself to non-philosophical mutation. In Philosophie non-standard we see him write very strongly against the principle of sufficient mathematics and while I don’t take that to mean an anti-mathematical stance, he does suggest that there is something within the very material of Cantorian set theory lends itself to a hardening of thought, setting itself up as a master over the rest of thought itself. That may be true, but I would like to see a wider theory of something like normativity, to be intentionally annoying let’s call it a non-normativity, or “organon of selection” within non-philosophy. That task may be the responsibility of those who take up this practice and attempt to use it differently than Laruelle himself does.