Lecture de POSTCRITIQUE (2): Don’t hate, accelerate!

Le premier chapitre de POSTCRITIQUE est un texte écrit par Armen Avanessian, dont le titre est « Pour une accélération ». Il s’agit de la traduction en français du premier chapitre de son livre Überschrift. Ethik des Wissens – Poetik der Existenz (Épigraphie. Éthique du savoir – Poétique de l’Existence).

Dans ce texte Avanessian défend la thèse qu’il existe une complicité entre la critique et son objet, telle que chaque élément sert à légitimer l’autre. Il n’y a pas de véritable crise de légitimation, l’ensemble de ces deux éléments (doxa et critique) convertit la crise en stase.

Vanessian s’oppose avec force à l’équation penser = critiquer qui régit non seulement l’académie néolibérale, mais l’université dès son début. Avanessian traite cette équation non plus comme un axiome indubitable, mais comme une hypothèse testable. Il trouve beaucoup de preuves qui falsifie cette hypothèse, et argue que la maintenir aujourd’hui relève de la pensée magique.

La critique, en tant qu’elle fonctionne comme « instance normative hégémonique », n’est pas un opérateur de changement. Elle ne sert qu’à interpréter le monde, et donc à nous réconcilier à son état actuel. Le criticisme est un consumérisme.

Pour changer le monde, il faut pouvoir le « manipuler » de façon à construire de nouvelles configurations. Cette manipulation est une action noétique, menant à la découverte et à la mise en pratique de nouvelles possibilités de vie, suivant des logiques heuristiques telles que l’abduction.

Avanessian identifie la logique de la critique avec le régime de pensée de l’académie, et note que la logique de la création mène à la sortie de l’académie ou à sa transformation. La philosophie deviendrait phronesis, « sagesse situationnelle », en conjuguant l’intellect (noèse), l’action (praxis), et l’engendrement poétique (poiesis).

Une philosophie, dont l’ambition est d’être plus qu’une praxis académique autosuffisante et qui se montre désireuse d’investir sa dimension poïétique, se différencie d’une theoria entendue comme la contemplation d’un savoir préexistant et transmis.

Cette nouvelle praxis de la philosophie, libérée de la suffisance académique, doit repérer et nommer les conflits au lieu de les masquer, pour s’engager dans un processus actif de transformation. Avanessian appelle ceci un processus d’othering, ou d’épigraphie.

Avanessian cite certaines déclarations de Jean-François Lyotard à propos de la critique. L’évolution de Lyotard sur cette question est très instructive. Il est passé d’un rejet de la critique en faveur d’une politique des intensités dans les années 70 à une défense de la critique comme sémiotique des intensités associée à une politique des phrases.

De moniste et dogmatique, la critique est devenue pluraliste et poétique. Il n’y a pas de véritable contradiction puisque la critique a changé de sens. La critique visée par le premier Lyotard était un instrument de dés-intensification en vue de pérenniser le statu quo. Celle prônée par le dernier Lyotard relève du jugement réfléchissant kantien, que Lyotard associe avec la « phronesis » aristotélicienne, défendue également par Avanessian comme sagesse post-critique.

Célèbre pour son analyse du concept de la « postmodernité », Lyotard a explicité le sens de ce vocable en termes de ré-écriture. Selon lui, ce qui caractérise le postmoderne c’est le geste de « réécrire la modernité ». La « réécriture » lyotardienne nous semble l’ancêtre de ce que Avanessian appelle « Überschrift » (« épigraphie » dans la traduction retenue dans ce chapitre).

Il est regrettable que le titre originel de ce chapitre, « Kritische Legitimität » (« Légitimité Critique ») n’a pas été retenu. Le paradoxe est un des outils de l’épigraphie qu’Avanessian prône. Le titre retenu, « Pour une accélération », n’est pas paradoxal mais ambigu, en ceci que l’accélération peut être un concept quantitatif ou qualitatif.

En tant que concept quantitatif il rappelle la politique électrique et machinique des intensités, en tant que qualitatif il évoque la pratique noétique et sémiotique de la ré-écriture ou de l’épigraphie.

En conclusion, l’accélération au sens d’Avanessian n’est pas un concept quantitatif, elle est inséparable de procédés relevant de l’heuristique la découverte et de la construction de nouvelles configurations: l’abduction, la manipulation, la récursion, l’épigraphie. Ces procédés ne relèvent pas des intensités empiriquement données, mais de leur reprise noétique et sémiotique.

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Lecture de POSTCRITIQUE (1): relativisme post-vérité ou pluralisme post-critique?

Le livre commence avec une « Ouverture » par Laurent de Sutter, qui a récemment publié un essai sur la POP’PHILOSOPHIE.

(Etant donné l’importance qu’il accorde à l’apostrophe entre « pop » et « philosophie », peut-être il aurait préféré « post’critique » comme titre de ce nouveau livre).

Contrairement à ceux qui affirment que nous vivons désormais dans l’ère cynique de la post-vérité, Laurent de Sutter et ses collaborateurs estiment que nous n’avons pas encore quitté celle de la critique. La conscience critique leur semble définitoire de notre temps.

Il est possible que les deux diagnostiques soient justes. Chacun de nous joue le jeu de langage de la critique de façon asymétrique. Le sujet contemporain critique tout et tout le monde, en même temps in ne supporte pas d’être l’objet de la critique. En tant que destinateur de la phrase critique le sujet idéologique contemporain valide et participe à la pertinence du jeu de langage critique, tandis qu’en tant que destinataire il rejette sa validité et participe dans le régime de la post-vérité.

En fait, le problème n’est pas la critique en tant que telle, sinon on tomberait facilement dans la contradiction pragmatique de « critiquer » la critique, il réside dans l’hégémonie et l’omniprésence de la critique comme « relation à la pensée » et surtout comme relation de la pensée à son objet.

C’est une relation violente et guerrière. Dans la critique comme image de la pensée

« la pensée doit pouvoir triompher de ce qu’elle pense ».

Avec la critique, on est aux antipodes de l’intensification comme image de la pensée et de la vie que Laurent de Sutter décrit dans POP’PHILOSOPHIE. Ainsi la critique fait virer la force vers le pouvoir, au lieu de la faire bifurquer vers l’intensité et la puissance.

La critique est donc un agent de dés-intensification.

L’opération idéologique de notre âge critique consiste alors à faire passer cette évidence et cette violence non pas pour les instruments d’une doxa simplificatrice et stéréotypée mais pour de la lucidité. La critique, c’est la lucidité et vice versa.

(On pense à Cioran, qui se réjouit sans cesse de sa propre « lucidité » critique).

Pour finir cette courte Ouverture en dix points, Laurent de Sutter annonce que le but du recueil (dix essais, par dix auteurs, relevants de dix différents) est

« l’exploration d’un régime de pensée alternatif à sa soumission à l’exigence de lucidité ».

Mon hypothèse de lecteur sera le suivant: le régime alternatif de pensée « postcritique » doit éviter l’écueil d’un relativisme a-critique. Derrière la doxa et sa critique se trouvent la pluralité des intensités. Mais le pluralisme des intensités risque toujours de retomber dans le relativisme au service du néolibéralisme et du supermarché des idées. Derrière les intensités se trouvent de multiples régimes sémiotiques et noétiques, qui peuvent être comparés selon des critères partagés et partageables.

Je pose le spectre d’un relativisme « acritique » comme un danger à éviter, non pas comme une conséquence inévitable. L’a-critique serait le seul régime alternatif uniquement si on pensait en termes d’une logique binaire oppositionnelle simpliste.

Heureusement, on peut imaginer beaucoup d’autres régimes de pensée: la poly-critique, la « surcritique » (défendue par Mark Alizart dans sa contribution au livre), la méta-critique, etc. L’essentiel n’est pas d’abolir la critique mais de la ramener au statut d’un outil heuristique, certes utile, mais un outil parmi beaucoup d’autres. Je vois le préfixe « post » dans le titre du livre POSTCRITIQUE non pas comme incitation à éliminer toute critique mais plutôt comme opérateur de sa pluralisation.

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Derrida’s Seminar La vie la mort (1): the back cover

My translation:

« Life Death is one of Jacques Derrida’s most fecund seminars. At stake: to think life and death in virtue of a logic that would not pose death as the opposite of life. The philosopher asks at the outset: is not the purity of life, in essence, contaminated by the very possibility of death, since only a living thing can die? In reversing the classical perspective, Derrida undertakes to teach his students that it is on the contrary death that makes life possible.

In fourteen erudite and exciting sessions delivered during the year 1975-1976 Derrida deconstructs the traditional opposition between life and death by way of multiple and deliberately pluridisciplinary readings, elaborating his thought as much in contact with philosophy (Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger) and the epistemology of the sciences (Georges Canguilhem) as in confrontation with contemporary genetics (François Jacob) and psychoanalysis (Freudian categories of life and death drives) ».

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Reading WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (16): the introduction is not the beginning

We are reading Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? from the perspective of the helpful advice it might contain for living and thinking in the 21st Century, a century that Deleuze and Guattari did not live to see.

We have not yet finished with the « Introduction », but it may be that we are proceeding too rapidly, like the brash young philosophers presented on the first page as

« dominating [the question] in passing rather than being seized by it »

We should not forget to examine the introduction’s subtitle: « Ainsi donc la question… ». « Ainsi donc » indicates that we are starting in medias res, in the middle of things, and so the « introduction » is not the beginning, but rather the continuation of a line of thought. This expression can be translated variously as « and so », « therefore »,  « as a result », « thus », consequently ». It marks a new turn or a bifurcation in an already existing discussion or argument.

In the last post we extracted Deleuze and Guattari’s advice for reading philosophically:

Read noetically (in terms of creation of concepts, problematics, conceptual personae and landscapes, and their novelty, interest and importance).

This advice can be generalised to cover not just reading (and writing) but also thinking philosophically:

Philosophy is thinking by means of the creation of concepts, the creation of planes (multi-dimensional spaces), problematics, conceptual personae and landscapes, in terms of their novelty, interest and importance.

We are learning contextually about concepts, even before Deleuze and Guattari begin to define them. Concepts are to be distinguished from abstract ideas under the firm control of a dominating intellect. They are concrete powers that seize hold of us, and that tear us away from the stupidity of everyday life.

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JOHN W. CAMPBELL’S QUARTER TURN: √-1, cognition and estrangement (2)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Laruelle’s « quarter turn » has its precedent in science fiction. In his recently published book « ASTOUNDING: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction » Alec Nevala-Lee notes:

The September 1971 issue featured the short story “On the Nature of Angels,” the last piece of fiction that he ever wrote. Campbell proposed that the soul was a complex number in which the variable b stood for the level of sin. No one knew the exact level at which a spirit became good or evil after death, so it would be best, he said, “to keep our soul’s b value as close to zero as possible.” (ASTOUNDING, 379).

Taken at face value this story appears to be a silly tongue-in-cheek thought-experiment, but I think that as a metaphor it describes something of the genre of science fiction itself. and of non-philosophy.

The superficial « humorous » level comes from the moralistic description of the imaginary axis as giving the level of sin or grace. However, this complex number could also be seen as determining the respective values of imaginary estrangement and real cognition. This would provide a formula for defining the difference between science fiction (defined by Darko Suvin as « the literature of cognitive estrangement ») considered  as escapism and as speculative fiction:

Campbell had wanted to be an inventor or scientist, and when he found himself working as an editor instead, he redefined the pulps as a laboratory for ideas—improving the writing, developing talent, and handing out entire plots for stories. America’s future, by definition, was unknown, with a rate of change that would only increase. To prepare for this coming acceleration, he turned science fiction from a literature of escapism into a machine for generating analogies (ASTOUNDING, 8).

Thus Campbell writes in the short story not only of a quarter turn, as Laruelle does, but of a limit to respect beyond which lies mere escapism, and within which the analogies of speculation remain productive:

Scientists have proven, however, that if the soul’s end-of-life b component is less than some number, E, the resulting « eternal » wave function will represent a « good » spirit, with a positive eigenvalue. Conversely, if b exceeds E, the soul will become an « evil » spirit (John  W. Campbell, On the Nature of Angels, Analog, September 1971, 160).

The question of the value of E, the escapist limit, is an important one, for both Laruelle and his followers. I have argued that most of the « performance » philosophy elaborated by the Anglophone disciples of Laruelle go beyond E into escapist idealism.

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LARUELLE’S QUARTER TURN: √-1, cognition and estrangement

One may find that philosophy taken as a whole is boring, tedious, monotonous, repetitive and lacking in creative intensity, with only a few exceptions. Even the exceptional cases (books, systems, concepts) can come to be banalised by their own creators, as they recite and organise their ideas over repeated use. Sometimes our own productions seem to be second hand copies of our few moments of learning or of inspiration.

Despite a sometimes euphoric rhetoric of de-anthropisation, individuation, conceptual creation, infinite intensities, pluralism, and the great outdoors, nothing seems to change and the old academic game seems to perpetuate itself.

Even Deleuze’s battle cry « philosophy is creation of concepts » has lost its provocative and political power, and can be found repeated unthinkingly as a self-evident formula. It has gone from strange provocation to marketing slogan to micro-social doxa in the space of a few years.

We have witnessed many attempts to break out from this impasse. The image of a « turn » has been invoked to proclaim, to describe and to incite to a radical change. The linguistic turn, the practice turn, the ontological turn, the ethical turn, the speculative turn, and the mathematical turn have succeeded or accompanied each other, provoking change within the academic microcosm but without changing its fundamental laws.

François Laruelle has felt this stifling aspect of philosophy intensely for decades, to the point of calling his own philosophy « non-philosophy », and « non-standard philosophy ». His solution is to take the image of the turn literally, mathematically and physically, and to take the mathematics and the physics imaginally, generically.

At this very general level, Laruelle is operating with the same sort of double crossover, or two way cross movement, as science fiction. An image (insight, affect, intensity, virtuality, quality, potential, speculation, intuition) is translated (literalised) into cognition, and this cognition is re-translated (estranged) into imagination.

More specifically, Laruelle employs the mathematics of complex numbers, comprising a « real » component (inscribed on the horizontal axis) and an « imaginary » component (the factor of a real number multiplied by √-1, thus forming an imaginary number (inscribed on the vertical axis). The two axes (real and imaginary) define the complex plane, and allow Laruelle to express his own non-philosophical turn as a « quarter turn », the result of multiplying standard philosophy (horizontal axis) by  90º, effecting a rotation onto the imaginary or vertical axis.

We can make several remarks at this point in our analysis

1) Laruelle is not always very clear on this point, but we must consider that the specific geometrical two way cross movement on the complex plane is only one possible analog of the generic conceptual double crossover.

2) Laruelle, at this stage of his argument, takes for granted the first movement, a quarter turn in which a speculative item on the imaginary axis is rotated into a cognitive content on the real axis. This first rotation is equivalent to the formation of standard, « sufficient » philosophy. The dissolution of this sufficiency requires the inverse movement, a rotation in which cognitive content is transposed onto the imaginary axis.

3) Laruelle seemingly considers only pure cases, sufficient philosophy limited to the real axis and non-standard philosophy confined to the imaginary axis. Despite vague talk of composites of philosophy and science under science, Laruelle does not make full use of the complex plane in its entirety.

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TETRALOGOS: first reactions

TETRALOGOS is possibly François Laruelle’s most important and most human book. It poses the paradoxical question: can one make music with concepts?

Can a work full of concepts and conceptual personae, a work of philosophy, produce and contain an inaudible soundless music? Laruelle’s new book « TETRALOGOS An opera of philosophies » is an attempt to reply in the affirmative to this question and to make speculative music under the sign of de Socrates musician.

Laruelle declares that he has always wanted to compose music by means of philosophy, to write not a philosophy of music but music composed out of concepts. We have long been accustomed to the scientistic programme of Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy, and we are amply confronted in this new book with his idiosyncratic attempt to conceive of a non-reductionist scientism. I find this position neither convincing nor even coherent.

However, there is something new in this book, which aims to

« describe, by a montage of philosophical theories and of references central to music, the harmonic and contrapuntal amplitude of the epic of human life as a function of its sites, which go from the Cavern to the Stars, and the diversity of its stages and intrigues, which go from Birth to Messianity » (TETRALOGOS, 11, my translation).

The book is very interesting, and calls for a close reading, but in this introductory post I will limit myself to the most general « traits » or « features » (in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?). The musical inspiration of the book is situated much more at the implicit level, in its style and structure and movements, than at the explicit thematic level, despite its continuous reference to music.

Just as in his generic treatment of philosophy, freeing it from its enclosures (for example in epistemology or ontology, or even in a « philosophy of music »), here Laruelle tries to treat music generically in order to free it from its sonorous enclosure and to allow its transposition into other materialisations.

As usual in my reading of Laruelle’s works, I am of mixed feelings, I am torn between a feeling of distance and one of proximity. Everything is interesting in this book, and one feels the sense of wonder that belongs both to the best science fiction and to the most exciting philosophy. If science fiction is the « literature of cognitive estrangement », then non-standard philosophy is the literature of conceptual estrangement.

At the same time, everything in this book is full of programmatic declarations, of the rejection of other philosophies, and of self-satisfaction. Laruelle passes much more time announcing or describing what non-philosophy or non-standard philosophy can do, and much less time doing it,  actually putting this inspiring programme into practice.

We are constantly confronted with the excesses of the « self-cloning » that Laruelle seems to feel obliged to practice throughout his books. This self-cloning leads Laruelle to over-identify with his primary conceptual personae (the figures of the non-philosopher and of the non-standard philosopher).

This identification lies behind Laruelle’s « uniqueness hypothesis »: that he alone of his compeers has attained radical immanence, that he is the only non-philosopher). Despite this constant of self-promotion, I think that TETRALOGOS is Laruelle’s most important, clearest, most accomplished, and most human book.

(Is this self-proclaimed uniqueness in the attainment of radical immanence really a « constant »? It may be a more charitable reading to see it as the value of a variable of the Laruelle wave-function. In fact, TETRALOGOS is perhaps the book of Laruelle’s that is most in dialogue with Deleuze and Guattari and with Badiou, to the point of borrowing from them key terms such as « conceptual persona » and « forcing ». True, he still declares that they remain within the domain of sufficient philosophy, but Laruelle goes out of his way to exhibit his indebtedness to his predecessors. It is clear that they are key members of his cast of conceptual personae, for both their positive and their negative traits).

If I critique Laruelle for his practice of « self-cloning », it is because he over-identifies not only with his conceptual personae, but also with his characteristic concepts (« quantum », « messianity », « algebra », « idempotence »). It is always a very strange experience in reading Laruelle to see him complain about the boring monotony and the lack of inventiveness of standard philosophy in an extremely repetitive text, as full of the same abstractions as his previous books, and which are still as badly explained.

Despite bringing new confirmation for my critical distance from Laruelle’s theoretical project (since I reject his scientism, his solipsism, and his obscurantism), this book also confirmed in me a feeling of proximity. This feeling of conceptual closeness consolidated  also a sentiment of human proximity, as I can see even more clearly in reading this book a kinship in the attempt to invent, each in their own way, a realist pluralism closely tied to radical human experience. In this common cause, we share to a large extent the same criteria: immanence, noetic democracy, testability, realism, pluralism.

(I have made it no secret that despite this commonality I consider Laruelle to remain too structuralist).

In reading this book I had the impression, much more than with his other books, that if only Laruelle could dis-identify with his concepts and his conceptual personae (and I add if I could dis-identify with mine), while still persisting with them, we could come to a mutual understanding.

If Laruelle could content himself presenting his philosophy as simply a conceptual auto-biography by way of his philosophical project, his research, his trials and errors, and his personae, without excessive pretensions, then it would be a fascinating, mind-expanding  undertaking. Unfortunately, this conceptual biography, despite its undoubted intensity, is still in some of its aspects narrow-minded, not « generic » enough. I continue to feel the need to supplement it with other readings, other concepts, other conceptual personae, for example those taken from the works of Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, Bruno Latour, Bernard Stiegler, Michel Serres).

In TETRALOGOS Laruelle himself seems to practice this conceptual supplementation and to invite us to follow his example rather than to adhere to his theses. As we have seen, the book is full of borrowings of the vocabulary and the concepts of his contemporaries, especially Deleuze and Badiou. Laruelle does not want to destroy philosophy, but to make it flexible, permeable, inventive. He is struggling against the boredom and monotony of philosophy, against its autocracy, to open it to democratic encounters and exchanges.

I can only wholeheartedly approve of his ambitions and try to help him improve on their execution.

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