I realize I haven’t posted anything non-Laruelle (ha!) related for some time now, but I figure my adventures with teaching are basically what every new American university lecturer deals with and so may not be of interest. While I’ve been experiencing some writer’s block in relation to a few ecology pieces I’ve been trying to write for Environmental Critique, and the only other things I’ve wanted to write lately have been snarky remarks on other blogs. While sometimes entertaining, this is not an entirely healthy exercise. So, for now, all you get from me is material related to Laruelle. (I still am accepting people to the e-seminar, so far we have 16 signed up. I figure I’ll cap it at 25 or 30.)
And with that, let me begin with an announcement. This June, Nicola Rubczak and I should finish our translation of Principles of Non-Philosophy, which will be out in early 2013 with Continuum. This is probably the last text I’m going to publish with Continuum, for various reasons, but I’m glad they’ve been supportive of getting Laruelle out there. But following this translation I have just signed the contracts to translate Introduction to Non-Marxism and co-translate Struggle and Utopia with Drew S. Burk for Univocal. Struggle and Utopia may see publication before the end of 2012 andNon-Marxism should be be out relatively early in 2013. I’m very excited to work with Univocal, whose business practices regarding translators are more ethical than many others and whose business model and vision for their books is rooted in a deep love of philosophy and theory.
Last week, after I posted on Laruelle’s latest book, Théorie générale des victimes, I set to reading it. My initial hunch that this was going to revisit a lot of his work from the early 2000′s was basically correct, but I was struck with the clarity of the text. Now I think in general the protest about Laruelle’s style, especially from OOO-ers, is overblown and basically bullshit (to cut to the point). But I do understand that he is a very difficult thinker and his writing equally difficult, in translation or not. In general, though, this is owing to the second level of abstraction inherent in the non-philosophical project. If so much of non-philosophy is devoted to being a science of philosophy, that means its object is already abstract and so to put forward theories on that abstract object we are being more abstract. In Théorie générale we still have a high-level of abstract, but the purpose of that abstraction, a kind of defense of the human-in-person against philosophical abstraction, becomes clearer here. In effect, we have an application of non-philosophy to thinking through, not ethics as such, but rather the basis of ethics; the victim. While many trained in philosophy would find talking about ethics relatively straightforward, even though it is by nature abstract, Laruelle’s abstraction is by focusing on the underlying, “concrete” cause of ethics.
I was struck that in his description of this concrete, cause or determination of ethics in-the-last-instance, Laruelle had recourse to language that is downright poetic. Laruelle’s writing has been most playful in his book on mysticism, Mystique non-philosophique à la usage des contemporains, which apes and uses the style of various Christian mystics like Eckhart. Perhaps this is part of the underlying performative nature of non-philosophy, when it speaks of philosophy itself it remains abstract, when it speaks to religion it becomes a kind of preaching and takes on the gnostic, apocalyptic style of the sources he loves, and when speaking of the victim, even theoretically, he has to have recourse to the political eulogy and poetry. This illustrates something about non-philosophy and Laruelle specifically that I really love. His great target in Théorie générale, are those intellectuals that in America and England we might refer to as “public intellectuals”, but that the French usually refer to as an intellectuel médiatique or “media-friendly intellectual” (think of Bernard-Henri Levi). Those intellectuals whose constant directing of attention to victims ultimately serves to veil them, to direct attention to the intellectual himself, or to create further victims (as in the cause of BHL’s advocacy of intervention in Libya). But isn’t their tool the eulogy, the political speech, a certain kind of poetry evoking empathy? And so it becomes Laruelle’s tool as well.
For me it was good to see Laruelle expand his understanding of what it might mean to be a victim-in-person to animals as well as humans. His project is not humanist in any usual sense of that term, but he has devoted most of his time to thinking about what the human might actually be prior to philosophical determination and so it has tended to look like a human-centred thinking. Here he corrects that and even opens up the possibility that the same question that drives his attempts to think the human, namely what is it’s actuality, may also drive our attempt to think through animals or even ecosystems. The real temptation to be avoided is theodicy, whether it is theological in the orthodox sense as we find in so many monotheistic thinkers or atheistic as we find in someone like Hegel or Badiou. Theodicy always comes to kill the victim a second time.
I’ll just end this short observational post with my favorite line in the book:
“The true atheism is not nearly as simple as philosophy imagines it, it goes through two stages, the banal refusal to believe in a God is self-contradictory and satisfies the small-thinking, but the refusal to believe in a good God is the true rebellion.”
To that I can only say Amen.