My Week with Laruelle

Debating whether to include a section on Laruelle in my last-minute writing of the Speculative Realism book, I settled down with a couple of his books and several secondary sources on him. Tonight, I also read Andrew McGettigan’s piece in Radical Philosophy critically examining Laruelle’s work. Let me note some thoughts, not really saying anything systematic, but perhaps to get corrected by those who know his work better.

* The status of Non-Philosophy: Any writer that self-writes his or her own trajectory as Laruelle does (Philosophy I, Philosophy II, etc…) worries me as less interested in thought than the mechanics of academic presentation. Moreover reading Laruelle–this is a point McGettigan also makes–I was reminded of Derrida’s questions to Levinas in “Violence and Metaphysics,” namely that a claim not to be doing philosophy only naively brings a classical repertoire you were pretending to escape. This is all the more striking to me, since Laruelle’s “science,” on my initial readings, is highly formalistic, evoking a host of terms that cannot not pull along a whole philosophical trajectory. For those who have read that essay, the force of Derrida’s critique of the notion of “experience” in Levinas applies here as well in Laruelle, who attempts to think “a type of experience or Real which escapes auto-positioning, which is not a circle of the Real and of thought, a One which does not unify but remains in One, a Real which is immanent (to) itself rather than to a form of thought, to a logic” (see James, New French Philosophy, 166).

If this sentence has meaning at all, that is, if we can judge it “non-philosophically,” then it would be the philosophical meaning of the term. Laruelle often seems to have caught his writing hands in a Chinese finger trap: the more he pulls away, the tighter the bind becomes. This is never more clear than in Dictionary of Non-Philosophy. We are used to post-structuralist attempts to testify to difference or Otherness without reifying those concepts–while still having to speak using them. But here Laruelle says, in this dictionary, don’t look for definitions. One begins to wonder what language we are speaking, if we are beyond all thetics:

Non-Dictionary: Collection of non-autopositional universes obtained by the reiteration of a universal pragmatics in a material of philosophical and regional terms; open list of non-conceptual symbols obtained on the basis of a list of philosophical concepts.This expression does not exist in philosophy but could here designate a negative or suspended moment in the economy of a dictionary, a dialectic or differential economy, etc. A non-dictionary is produced from a pragmatics on the basis of the vision-in-One and its ordination of conceptual, philosophical—indeed philosophizable—material (regional terms). It opposes the sufficiency-to-the-Multiple of the real One to unitary philosophical autosufficiency rather than the multiplicity of philosophical and semantic decisions. Whereas philosophical dictionaries constitute an inventory, in the name of unity, of the multiple opinions in the subject of a presupposed-Being or (psychoanalytic variant) of a supposed-Other, a non-dictionary— without another supposition—translates the real multiplicity inherent to the force (of) thought beginning from an empirical plurality of concepts. The force (of) thought manifests the repertory terms as so many non-unitary universes.

We have all met those lurkers on the academic scene who always claim not to be doing “academic philosophy,” and terrorize others for the violence of their “metaphysics” or “knowledge” or whatever. They are just too cool for that, even as they reject in a quick breath thousands of years of philosophical endeavors under simplistic renditions of a “tradition” that is never singular, has no unitary trajectory, and whose archive we mortals could never begin to broach in the shortness of our lives.

* The Real: I’ve seen in several places that the radicality of Laruelle is his attempt to think thought as part of the Real. But Laruelle often is a vulgar Schelling, with the One being the “prius” that is prior to differentiation as such. Moreover, this attempt to think thought as part of the real as such has a long philosophical trajectory–see Sharp’s reading of Spinoza, or Hegel, Fichte, etc.

* Reading non-philosophically: Laruelle, as Ian James notes in his The New French Philosophy, has a reading of philosophy that outdoes Heidegger, but is grossly simplistic. For Laruelle, all philosophy is inherently “transcendental,” which is a neat way of avoiding Spinozism. But my worry is that his readings of particular philosophers is perfunctory and in the case of Derrida and Heidegger, egregious. McGettigan makes this point as well. (This is a good place to say, too, that if you think “transcendental” simply means there is another world, please visit the philosophical literature on the topic–I see this explanation of the term far too often in recent works evaluating contemporary thinkers.) Note well: I get the point that for Laruelle that “non”-philosophy is not simply privative, but is a careful working out of the meta position of all philosophy. But in articulating this “science” he is certainly arguing for a place outside of philosophy (such as in his discussion of scientists’ relation to the Real).

* McGettigan also points to Laruelle’s use of the trope of Jewishness for Derrida. There is no way around saying that I, too, came away with a terrible affect in reading this part of Laruelle’s work. I waited for the Zizekian wink/nudge to let me know that this was not his voice, but a play on very dangerous tropes (the stuff on Derrida’s duplicity and Jewishness) that are actually under critique.  For example, his essay on Derrida in Philosophies of Difference fails at what should be the easiest task: you should read it and make out Laruelle’s own distance from Derrida, who appears often, it seems to me, to very close to Laruelle’s thinking. But the whole stuff on the Jewish Derrida or Jewish deconstruction made little sense to me (granted on a quite quick reading on a train ride). To identify Derrida’s work wholly with Judaism, as if his birth, but none of his actual philosophical itinerary (recall that Derrida didn’t even read Jewish religious texts until late in life), can’t help but tangle with overdetermining his work on this basis–McGettigan suggests one potential reason.

This is also a good time to recommend The Young Derrida, whose central thesis is exactly that to think the “Jewish Derrida” is of really limited use, or is rather an over-determined trope backed by no archival resource.

In any case, my readings of Laruelle will continue. But these are questions I’ll have in mind. Waiting at home in St. John’s are a couple of more books, and there’s good people, such as Anthony Paul Smith and John Mullarky working on him, so this is all not to condemn him, but simply an opening to things my readings need to address.