PLURALISM AND THE QUANTUM OVERCOMING OF NEGATIVITY: from cronies to chronies

An ordinary human or a collectivity is like everything else both wave and composition and emission of particles. They go through many phases in their undulations, and compose and emit heterogeneous packets of particles. We are not stable homogeneous fluxes of virtue, or of any other desirable quality or ideal state. Nor are we, thankfully, the total opposite of such a utopia. If I or anyone else has occasionally emitted the “wrong” quanta then I hope our individual and collective emissions and undulations past, present, and future swamp them in more pluralist, more democratic and more virtuous waves.

I am a pluralist in the sense of Paul Feyerabend, and think that a plurality of points of view is desirable. I think philosophy is not just an academic exercise but must be applied in our ordinary lives. If “pretention” or “cronyism” or condescension and special pleading are to be found there, then they are just as much philosophical vices as the framing and diffusion of a simplistic and de-humanised ontology (not to mention its virulent promotion),  and must have their “suffisance” (as François Laruelle calls it, meaning both “sufficiency”, or the axiom of the standardised philosophisability of everything, and “pretention”) revoked or suspended, and must be non-philosophically disorganized and reduced to the level of quantized material, to be used in more immanent operations.

If I have been cronyistic or pretentious or condescending then I stand condemned by my own principles and shall make amends without being forced to by extraneous summations, or by procedures stemming from considerations that do not allow for the superposition of all the relevant information, including that from other time frames and from multiple entanglements with other quantum subjectivities. If, by any means, internal or external cronies can be converted into “chronies”, i.e. packets of non-standard conceptual and affective exchange, then I will gladly participate in such Gnostic or alchemical operations both on myself and on others.

I am a pluralist, I am vast (like everyone else) and contain multitudes of quanta of all sorts. One cannot “destroy” a bad quantum but one can hope to swamp it in many more benevolent undulation and emissions. I thank everyone who engages with me for the cultured, civilised and sincere, or facetious and playful tone of their respective quanta emitted in response to my emanations, and I wish them well in their future undulations.

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LARUELLE’S NON-MARXISM: on the way to a democratic pluralism of thought

(Expanded version of my review of Laruelle’s INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM)

Contrary to recent attempts to characterise Laruelle’s style by highlighting its innovative syntax, supposedly dictated by the “syntax of the real”, I must object that Laruelle’s syntax is, for the most part, pretty standard and straightforward. His works are difficult and obscure mainly because of his “kinky” semantics, i.e. by his incantatory use of a largely undefined idiosyncratic vocabulary. Further, in Laruelle’s own terms there can be no syntax of the Real retranscribed in our non-philosophical writing. This would amount to the crudest form of philosophical phantasm of an a-theoretical correspondence with an incoherently posited syntaxic structure of the real.

INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM is a very interesting work of transition, published in French in 2000, and well worth reading in the contemporary context of thought trying to break free from the limitations that prevent it from engaging realistically with the world. It comes just after Laruelle’s ethical phase, where he is still unable to shake off the influence of Lacan and of Levinas on his thought, and just before his religious phase.

Laruelle has trouble freeing himself from the Lacanian and Althusserian vocabulary of his formative years, which perhaps explains his obsessive focus on “science” as a way out of that marasm. This has led to a Lacanian reading of Laruelle’s work where he purportedly theorises a closure within and between philosophical worlds so absolute that any contact with the “Real” can only be trauma. This hermetic separation between the diverse worlds, and between a particular world and the real, is totally rejected and rebutted by Laruelle’s later appropriation of quantum thinking.

Laruelle admits himself to having gone through a phase of scientism, and claims to have freed himself from that trap. However, in his non-standard philosophy Laruelle still places great emphasis on science. Unfortunately this aspect of his work has not been discussed or even clarified very much, as his work has often been presented in a reductive religionist or politicist context and agenda. This has led to the neglect in English of his most important work, PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD (2010), which is permeated by Laruelle’s own non-standard extrapolation of modes of thinking originating in quantum physics.

In an only half-successful attempt to escape from his previous scientism (which despite his denegations is not at all limited to his Philosophy I phase) Laruelle first undertook an ethical turn that left him imprisoned in schemas of thought and ensconced in a system of references inherited from post-68 thought. Mobilising other aspects of that thought, in this case Althusserian Marxism, and attempting to rework it by means of a non-philosophy newly freed from its preceding scientistic phase, Laruelle seems to have initially thought that a non-philosophical extension of Marxism could achieve the breakthrough into nonstandard philosophy that he was searching for.

In his book INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM (2000), Laruelle proposes a concept of “determination-in-the-last-instance” freed from its Althusserian shackles. This concept has been isolated out from Laruelle’s ongoing evolution, and has permitted the elaboration of a form of post-Marxist reading of his whole project that conveniently forgets that this concept has been reworked by Laruelle in the light of his later non-standard philosophy. The last instance is “pre-primary” and it is not determinist but “quantum” indeterminatist. What the Marxists are doing associating with the religionists I have no idea, as fundamental discussion on these points is simply avoided in the literature in English.

Far from hailing Laruelle’s non-marxist notion of “determination in the last instance” as a major concept, readers should be aware that from the point of view of Laruelle’s later works this concept is seen to be an impasse as it is articulated in this book, just as his concept of Christ in THE FUTURE CHRIST is ultimately an impasse. Both are overcome and fused together in Laruelle’s quantum approach, is which to be found principally in NON-STANDARD PHILOSOPHY, ANTI-BADIOU, and CHRISTO-FICTION. One of the most notable innovations in these books is that the notion of “determination in the last instance” is reworked to mean indetermination in the pre-primary instance.

INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM is a transitional work, caught in an impasse. Preliminary overviews of Laruelle’s work often give primacy to one or other of Laruelle’s phases over the others. I am particularly worried by the reductionist (politicist) readings that tout the pre-quantum version of “determination in the last instance” as a panacea, just as I am worried about the (religionist) appeal to the pre-quantum Christ. I am glad that Laruelle’s “quantum deconstruction” is part of his ongoing process of liberating his thought from pre-established limits, and I think it is what is needed to avoid the suture of his thought with any one particular truth procedure (science, psychoanalysis, ethics, art, religion, or politics).

Laruelle’s INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM as it stands articulates a very interesting non-philosophical extension of philosophical Marxism, but it remains a sutural work, and thus reductionist, for that very reason. In this book he provides us with a well-worked out example of the application of his non-philosophical approach to a particular philosophical thought-world that is still producing useful effects today. However, Laruelle argues later in his most synthetic work to date, NON-STANDARD PHILOSOPHY, that what is needed for thought today is not the simple (and still monist) extension of any particular philosophical thought-world, but rather a more complex thought comprising the quantum superposition of a plurality of different thought-worlds, relieved of their tendency towards closure and sufficiency, contributing to a democratic pluralism of thought.

An interesting confirmation of my analysis can be found in an interview with Badiou about Speculative Realism and Laruelle. Badiou groups Laruelle with Heidegger as thinkers of a grand narrative of forgetting, whereas Badiou refuses this pathos. He indicates that insofar as undoing this forgetting is tied to somehow going beyond philosophy Laruelle’s whole project has always had an implicit religious dimension even if this has only now become explicit. Overall Badiou situates Laruelle in the camp of critique, nostalgia, and loss, and thus implicitly of transcendence. Despite Laruelle’s explicit talk of the Real and of science, amounting to a foreground scientism, Badiou finds that religiosity pervades and determines the whole project, constituting a background of religionism. Laruelle’s scientism functions as a mask for his deeper religionism.

Far from representing a decisive break with French post-structuralist Marxism, Laruelle’s INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM is an interim report, coming between his earlier ethicist phase (Philosophy III) and his religionist phase (Philosophy IV). By applying his non-philosophical approach to a single philosophical material (“Marxism”, but whose Marxism?) Laruelle is able to extend philosophical Marxism beyond certain of its limits, but he remains by the very structure of his argument caught in a form of monism.

This form of monism, called suture by Badiou, consists of being bound to a particular thought-world (or truth procedure) and of giving it  (explanatory and/or ontological) primacy. It is only in his later “quantum” phase (Philosophie V) that Laruelle manages to overcome this defect, by means of the superposition of a plurality of thought-worlds. The question arises: is this a real overcoming of the principle of suture (called by Laruelle the principle of sufficiency) or does his quantum thought merely disguise the problem by the superposition of sutures?

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Bookending the crisis of modernity: Latour is finishing what Nietzsche mistakenly started

terenceblake:

Latour travesties Nietzsche’s thought and then presents as his own idea a reformulation. From Nietzsche’s “Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense: “In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of “world history”—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die”. Nietzsche certainly didn’t believe in a stable nature, or any other “eternal ground”, as Latour well knows.

Originally posted on Christopher Watkin:

NietzscheLatour

I’m currently writing the final chapter of The Human Remains, addressing Bruno Latour’s modes of existence project and work on Gaia in relation to Serres, Malabou, Meillassoux and Badiou’s accounts of the human. It’s all hands to the pump and there is little time to expatiate on this blog, but I couldn’t resist quickly drawing attention to one striking Neitzschean resonance in Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern. One passage in NM struck me as reading inescapably like a “translation” (to use that pregnant Latourian term) of Nietzsche’s parable of the madman from Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft, and handily enough this resonance provides a convenient vignette of something larger at stake in Latour’s thought: Nietzsche and Latour stand as bookends to the crisis of modernity. Here are the two passages side by side, Nietzsche first…

Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing…

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Badiou on Speculative Realism

terenceblake:

Interview with Badiou about Speculative Realism and Laruelle. Interesting in the light of Badiou’s letter to Deleuze (translated here:https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/badiou-on-deleuze-and-heidegger-a-letter-to-gilles-july-1994/). Laruelle is grouped with Heidegger as thinkers of a grand narrative of forgetting, whereas Badiou groups himself with Deleuze in refusing this pathos. Badiou indicates that insofar as undoing this forgetting is tied to going beyond philosophy Laruelle’s whole project has always had an implicit religious dimension that has now become explicit. Similarly, in the “Letter” Badiou diagnoses a subjacent religious dimension in Deleuze’s work, rendering possible his occasional explicit uses of Christ as metaphor. Overall Badiou situates Laruelle in the camp of critique, nostalgia, and loss, and thus implicitly of transcendence. Despite Laruelle’s explicit talk of the Real and of science, a foreground scientism, Badiou finds that religiosity pervades and determines the project, constituting a background of religionism. Scientism as a mask for religionism.

Originally posted on Speculative Heresy:

Badiou was kind enough to have 30min one-on-one sessions with students who requested them. I decided to conduct a short interview of sorts following from his celebratory comments regarding Speculative Realism and some of the themes presented in the course thus far which has centered on the theme of negation.

Q: In class the other day you positively mentioned what you called the new Speculative Philosophy. How do you see your work in relation to the work of the Speculative Realists (Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman). Meillassoux sees himself as a materialist and not a realist, is this distinction pivotal for the future of metaphysics and affirmation as you see it?

A: The work of Speculative Realists, from the beginning is very interesting for me, and they refer to me sometimes too. The rupture with the idealist tradition in the field of philosophic study is…

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Towards a Comprehensive Michel Serres primary bibliography (2): prefaces, edited books and book chapters

terenceblake:

Serres is very prolific, and this bibliography is very useful in tracking down his lesser known texts.

Originally posted on Christopher Watkin:

Here is the second instalment of the comprehensive Michel Serres primary bibliography: prefaces, edited books and book chapters/sections. As before, if you spot a mistake or an omission please let me know and I will make the change.

(1975). Comte, Auguste. Philosophie première, Cours de philosophie positive, leçons 1 à 45. Edited by François Dagonet et Mohammed Allal Sinaceur; presentation and notes by Michel Serres. Paris: Hermann.

(1981). Serres, Michel. “Préface.” In L’Etre et la relation. Avec 35 lettres de Leibniz au R. P. Des Bosses, edited by Christiane Frémont. Paris: Vrin.

(1986). —. “Préface.” In Jacques Testart, L’ Œuf transparent. Paris: Flammarion.

(1987). —. “Préface.” In Jean de Cayeux, Hubert Robert et les jardins. Paris: Herscher.

(1989). —. “Préface.” In Maurice Capul, Abandon et marginalité: les enfants placés sous l’Ancien Régime. Toulouse: Privat.

(1989). —. “Préface: l’invention algorithmique.” In Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Naissance…

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Towards a Comprehensive Michel Serres primary bibliography (1): single-authored and co-written books

terenceblake:

Michel Serres is a very interesting pluralist thinker who deserved to be ven better known in the Anglophone world than he is at present.

Originally posted on Christopher Watkin:

I’m continuing work on the Michel Serres project and am currently compiling a primary bibliography,  filmography, and list of TV appearances. Blimey, he’s written a lot!

I have synthesized the bibliographies provided by Steven Connor, the EGS, amazon.fr, the Institut Michel Serres (who copy the EGS list), his Stanford page the IMDB, ina.fr, the Librairie des dialogues, and the archives of Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération, Le Point, Télérama, Le Nouvel Observateur… et j’en passe, along with all the usual academic journal databases and some pieces I found myself.

Over the coming days I will be posting the bibliography under the tag “Michel Serres bibliography“, section by section (as I tidy it up).

I’m pretty sure it’s the most complete bibliography and filmography of Michel Serres out there now (I’ve just counted up 82 interviews), and I’m…

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QUANTUM ALLEGORIES AND LEXICAL LITANIES: on some difficulties in reading François Laruelle

I find Laruelle’s non-philosophy very interesting, and his non-standard philosophy even more so, but I absolutely reject the mystique that has been thrown up around his ideas, one that he himself cultivates. Laruelle is guilty of a double standard: while practicing and demanding a charitable reading of his own work as non-philosophy, he practices an uncharitable reading of the work of rivals such as Deleuze and Guattari, and Badiou as enmeshed in philosophy’s sufficiency.

Behind ths lack of charity there may lie a methodological problem. If Laruelle is so stifled by the sufficiency of philosophy, why does he not seek fellow thinkers outside the confines of a very French nostalgic set of references? Paradoxically, there is a principle of French sufficiency at work in his writings. He does seem to refer to German idealism as well, so we could call it the principle of Franco-German sufficiency.

We are not yet in a position to fully grasp Laruelle’s “quantum” thought, as up to now he has principally been explicated either by religious or by political reductionists. I have no objection to his making a qualitative use of quantum ideas. A number of philosophers of science, including Paul Feyerabend, have highlighted and commented on the heuristic use made of qualitative considerations as a driving force in the development of quantum theory.

Laruelle is not trying to dupe us in his transfer of quantum terminology and concepts into philosophy. However, in doing so he is not at the forefront breaking new ground, but  is lagging behind other thinkers such as Deleuze and Feyerabend. Even if by his notion of “qualitative quantum” thinking all that Laruelle means is something very simple such as the impossibility of both correlation and withdrawal due to the impossibility of sharply defined untraversable boundaries, that is a very useful insight to keep in mind. Laruelle seems to have quite a few of such useful maxims, but he has inflated them into a system self-proclaimed to be new and beyond all the others.

Rejecting such sharply defined untraversable borders is an important step, that would allow us to cut through lots of the Lacanian pathos of the “trauma of the real”. Personally, I make this step for quite other reasons than Laruelle does, not for “quantum” reasons. I recognise that he is trying to make such a step in his more recent work, and he adduces quantum reasoning to justify his step. His argument seems to be based on a qualitative application of the wave/particle duality associated with the phenomenon of quantum tunneling. This is Laruelle’s way of breaking free from the “myth of the framework” and of avoiding the spectre of relativism.

I defend Laruelle’s right to make such metaphoric transfers on the grounds that we do this sort of thing all the time, and that it is necessary to use concepts loosely in order even to communicate, and even more so to get thought moving. I further defend Laruelle’s right here in that he is not doing analytic philosophy of quantum mechanics but rather trying to construct a “new” general image of thought. A further defence is that philosophy is more about conceptual exploration than about referentiality. I do not see this as a licence for a philosopher to say just anything that comes into his or her head, regardless of empirical reality. On the contrary I think philosophy, even transcendental philosophy, is far more empirical than it usually acknowledges, and should be even more so, at least in spirit. On the question of science, Laruelle’s system would be in big trouble if it could be shown that he got all the science wrong.

Yet science makes use of or presupposes philosophical concepts, and I do not accept that scientists are the sole proprietors of these concepts. So I defend Laruelle’s attempt on democratic grounds as well. I would emphasise “attempt” as there is no guarantee that he is successful in constructing a new and useful type of thought. One of the indicators would have been to explore argumentatively but charitably the relations of his thought to other recent and contemporary thinkers working on comparable endeavours, but this is vitiated by Laruelle’s continuing noetic posture of uniqueness and beyondness.

One of the major obstacles to understanding Laruelle’s texts, and so responsible for their obscurity, is the almost complete absence of proper definitions, even according to a very loose, contextual, notion of defintion. Laruelle uses a set of words in an incantatory way, agglomerating them together to form a veritable Laruelle litany. This does him a great disservice. For example one of his older, non-philosophical, incantatory words is “unilateral”. In his new non-standard philosophy phase he introduces the notion of complementarity, but he cannot stop himself from talking about “unilateral complementarity”, which is a contradiction in terms.

Some people have claimed that Laruelle’s style is obscure because its syntax is innovative, following the “syntax of the real”. But I do not see much syntaxical innovation in his texts, rather the obscurity is lexical. Further, this notion of “syntax of the real” is an expression of the very worst sort of naïve empiricism. There is no syntax of the real.

Laruelle’s qualitative use of concepts is close to Deleuze’s notion of “deterritorialised” concepts, in view of a pop-philosophy. The problem is that neither Deleuze nor Laruelle attain that pop level of expression. Only Badiou seems to have succeeded in doing that: first with his manifestos following each “difficult” book, and even more so with his series of “plays for children” (the Ahmed tetralogy).

Notwithstanding, Laruelle cannot legitimately be criticised for not helping us to learn more or to better understand quantum physics in the absolute, as he declares that this is not his objective. Relatively, however, he comes out looking bad compared to Badiou, who does help us to learn more about set theory and category theory, and to understand them better. Nor will knowing something already about quantum theory necessarily help us to understand Laruelle’s discussions. Badiou often quite effectively makes an allegorical use of mathematical language, but Laruelle’s quantum allegory remains comparatively under-developed.

Note: I am indebted to a very interesting conversation on facebook with McKenzie Wark, Dominic Fox, Matthew Landis, and Samuel Vriezen.

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