Adam has championed the posting of reading notes for the benefit of our own scholarship and the interest of AUFS readers. His notes on Agamben’s two most recent works, still not available in English but both being translated, have been very helpful to me and I’m sure to many others. Following the example he set and that our friend Andy followed with his notes on Foucault’s last lecture series I have decided to post notes on my reading of some of Laruelle’s key texts. I see two major reasons for doing this. First, it will be a helpful exercise for me as I finish up the translation of Future Christ and begin writing on Laruelle and non-philosophy in the first two chapters of my dissertation. Secondly, I hope that having more information on Laruelle that sticks close to his text will help deepen some of the engagement with non-philosophy in the philosophical blogosphere (and, of course, I hope it spread beyond there). As that non-entity Speculative Realism continues to be the buzzword of the day on philosophy blogs the philosophical taxonomy of a few individuals threatens to kill the reception of Laruelle in English before it has even begun. While it is true that Laruelle is a major influence on the nihilistic work of Ray Brassier, it isn’t the case that Laruelle’s and Ray’s work are of a piece. The fact that Ray was able to use the methods of non-philosophy in a way that seems, at least to me, very contrary to the aims of Laruelle himself is a testament to the model of heresy non-philosophy employs. In short, non-philosophy is worth considering, not because it is the savior of philosophy we’ve all been waiting for, not because it can become the latest fan boy craze, but because it offers us a theory of philosophy in its strengths and weaknesses and a methodology to use when attempting to construct other ways of thinking from the Real. It allows us to be bold in our thinking with a guide telling us where the traps, bind alleys, and false problems lie in the way we think itself. Laruelle’s non-philosophy is a way of thinking that allows for mutation according to knowledge of the Real as given in philosophy and other regional knowledges (science, religion, erotics, poetry, etc.). So, as I have already said, the hope in sharing these notes with the general public is to give interested readers an entry into Laruelle’s thought as directly as possible and to show that it can be both understood and used – in fact, in this case they are the same thing.
A short word about the book itself before I summarize the preface (entitled “Instructions for Use [Mode d'emploi]“. First, before anyone asks, Les Philosophies de la différence: Introduction critique (PUF, 1986) is currently being translated by Rocco Gangle for Continuum. I think we’ll see that English translation come out sometime in mid-2010 in an affordable hardback and then a year later in paperback. In Laruelle’s own history of non-philosophy this work is placed in the period called “Philosophy II”. This is the period of non-philosophy where Laruelle intentionally begins to develop his science of philosophy. The negative finding of this science of philosophy is in the theory of the philosophical Decision as the invariant structure of all philosophy. The philosophical Decision is the structure which dooms philosophy to a hallucinatory specularity, blinding it to the Real as Real. The positive theories developed in this stage are that of the vision-in-One and the reclaiming of science’s relationship with the Real for thought. In short, this book provides the criticism of philosophy and gives us the map to avoid the traps of philosophy’s structure. A necessary prolegomena for the positive work of non-philosophy found in the works of Philosophy III and Philosophy IV (works I hope to provide notes for in the future include the magnum opus Principes de la non-philosophie and Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains).
Laruelle begins by noting the need for “instructions” to reading the studies found in the book. In these instructions he will provide some explication on the method of the book, its ends, the interior problematic of philosophy it intends to introduce (in a critical way) as found in the most manifest problematic of contemporary philosophy (difference), and the book’s internal organization.
Method: Laruelle is explicit that this is not a doxography, it is not a typical history of philosophy book. But rather it makes use of figures, texts, themes, positions, and the usual elements of philosophy as if they were objects of one problematic and undertakes a reconstruction of that problematic from the suspended material of philosophy. Laruelle is considering Difference here as the most enveloping and comprehensive problematic of contemporary philosophy from Nietzsche onwards. The task of this work is not to show what particular thinkers thought about Difference (one might say “thought they thought”), but to use names like “Nietzsche”, “Heidegger”, “Derrida”, and “Deleuze” as indicies, indications of problems, the limits and the possibilities in the problems, etc., and to bring out the “syntax” of philosophy. While the book aims to be an introduction it does so not descriptively, but critically of the thinkers it introduces.
Ends: The goal of the book is not primarily criticism. Laruelle mocks the usual philosophical commentary industry tactics of writings books. Either the author shows that there are no problems in the thinker examined or it claims to have found the insurmountable problem in the thinker or it claims to know the thinker better than the thinker himself and to provide a new Hegelianism beyond Hegel or new Spinozism beyond Spinoza. For this kind of writing philosophy becomes primarily criticism, whereas for Laruelle’s project the criticism is secondary and an effect of the transcendental approach to philosophy. Its real end is to develop a theory of philosophy itself in order to exit the trap of philosophy. It does so in its “scientific theory” of the philosophical Decision.
Internal Problematic: Firstly, Laruelle appears to be resolutely humanist. It is this non-philosophical humanism of “immanent man” that he sets against the problematic of Difference or rather demands that Difference be thought through. He writes, “philosophy is made for man, not man for philosophy (10).” It is with this in mind that he then states a major thesis for the book, “We experiment here, in this case from Difference, from Heidegger and Derrida principally, and from Nietzsche and Deleuze also, with the “thesis” that, in the One (in the sense we have extended to it), we find the radical unity of man and of knowledge [savoir] the most immanent and the most real (10).” We are warned not to confuse unity with unitary philosophy. Instead unity refers to the privileged mode of knowing that science has of the Real, which Laruelle names “gnosis” in honor of the forgotten martyrs of greco-occidental philosophy. It begins by taking up the forgetting of Being in the name of the One. According to Laruelle the One, as found in Dualists and Gnostics, is the minoritarian position in thought even as it is the scientific one. The task then becomes to think Being from the thought of the One and not, as has been the case, the One from ontology. The One is beyond ontological systems and open to the Real that is irreducible to a unitary conception of Being or the One or Difference.
Organization: Laruelle then summarizes each chapter. The first chapter establishes the conditions of possibility for a real and scientific critique of Difference and the philosophical Decision in general. It explains his concept of the “vision-in-One”. The second chapter examines the syntax of Difference, though with the problem of Finitude (which will become a major theme in the chapters on Heidegger and Derrida) suspended as this chapter deals with thinkers of the infinite (Deleuze and Nietzsche). The third chapter examines the reality of Difference and introduces the irreducible dimension of Finitude as “ontic” and “real”. The fourth chapter analys the overlapping of Difference and Finitude in order to overcome the opposition of “Concept” and “finite Difference”. The fifth chapter considers the work of Derrida in order to show the intereiror of the universal and invariant schema of Difference. Here the Jewish-Occidental philosophy of Derrida overturns the Greek-Occidental philosophy of Nietzsche and Heidegger through a radical concept of finitude. This is, however, an idealist overcoming of the prevailing hierarchy. The following two chapters continue this overcoming but through a replacing of the idealist elements with the Vision-in-One and begins the real critique of Difference. The sixth chapter is the most fundamental and shows how the One in its rigorously transcendental essence is required and denied by Difference. That the One has been forgotten. It goes on to examine scientific and non-philosophical aspects of the real critique of Difference. The seventh chapter moves past the specific problematic of Difference to develop the theory of the philosophical Decision using the tools uncovered through the preceding studies.
It is in order to move past the aporias of both Greek-Occidental and Jewish-Occidental philosophy that non-philosophy undertakes its transcendental science. This is not primarily a criticism of philosophy, but a critical introduction to the practice of non-philosophy.