ON AN INDIVIDUATING READING OF CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY: BADIOU AND LARUELLE

For those who critique my blog as unduly negative or full of nonsense I must admit that I am sorry to create this impression as what I write here is what I really think. Badiou and Laruelle for example have been part of my intellectual atmosphere (a sort of pre-individual intellectual soup that surrounds those who take a serious interest in philosophy) and of my intellectual individuation for 32 years. Feyerabend distinguishes between historical traditions and abstract traditions, and though these thinkers are rather abstract, I include them in my own personal historical tradition, or path of individuation.

As to Badiou, I read BEING AND EVENT when it first came out in 1988 and was bowled over by it. This was quite against my will as all I knew of Badiou before was THE FLUX AND THE PARTY where he was quite virulent in his criticism of Deleuze and Guattari, saying that they “flow like pus”. This I read in 1980 or 1981 when I arrived in France. As I had given up my homeland and traversed the world from Sydney to Paris for the sake of going to Deleuze’s seminars, I was understandably negatively impressed. After that I had vaguely read his stuff on models and logic and the dialectic but found it uninteresting. I read THEORY OF THE SUBJECT when it came out in 1982 but though I liked the project I found it too Lacanian to my taste, and so too retrograde.

So when I saw BEING AND EVENT in the bookshops I was not too well disposed, but I was curious and I leafed through it and was immediately wildly excited. I bought it and read it through and was very impressed, but not at all in agreement with many things. It was the sheer conceptual power of the work that impressed me, and I waited impatiently for the promised sequel which came out as LOGICS OF WORLDS in 2006. The wait was long (18 years) but I was eager to see where his project could go and how he responded to the criticisms that had been made, notably, for me, those of Lyotard.

Concerning Laruelle I began to read him when I first arrived in Paris in 1980, and I was initially impressed and ultimately disappointed by the writings of that epoch. These writings correspond to what he later came to call his Philosophy I. One critique that has been made of Laruelle’s Philosophy I is that it is essentially derivative or parasitic on the work of other thinkers, and he seems to accredit this idea with respect to his Philosophy I days. He declares that “Philosophy I was situated under the authority of the Principle of sufficient philosophy”. So however original, or not, the theses expounded he had not yet broken with the founding principle of philosophy and its form. Laruelle claims however that at the level of content something new was happening that had yet to find adequate form. During this period he “was already trying to highlight certain themes that would only find their definitive form, a transformed form, in Philosophy III: the individual, his identity and multiplicity, a transcendental experience productive of thought, the theoretical domination of philosophy” (PNP 39).

There is a fight going on, an intense combat, against resistances both in Laruelle and around him. It is interesting to note that Laruelle to describe this period does not adopt the language of resistance but of affirmation and of transformation – it is philosophy that resists and that clings to outdated and confining forms. We can see both creative ambition and residual conformism in this phase of his work. Laruelle talks of his “effort to construct a problematic to rival that of Marx, but on a terrain and with means that were essentially Nietzschean” (PNP 39).

Aware of remaining within philosophy and its principle of suffisance, Laruelle searched for some means to continue his fight and to accomplish his ambition. In his Philosophy II period (1981 – 1995), to break with philosophy’s arrogance and supposed sufficiency in order to attain to the immanence of the Real Laruelle turned to science. He thought that a “scientific” knowledge of philosophy was possible and that it was capable of undoing the primacy that philosophy accorded itself over everything else. The obvious objection is that this is just swapping one arrogance and sufficiency for another, so it is very strange to see a « post-Nietzschean » take this path.

I must admit that living in France during Laruelle’s Philosophy II period, I would regularly leaf through his publications as soon as they came out in the bookshops, and often buy them out of a sense of duty. I was put off by what seemed to be his derivative dependence on Deleuzian vocabulary and themes, his all-englobing pretentions, and his out-dated  scientism. Inversing the primacy, from philosophy to science, was yet another philosophical move, and Laruelle claims to have now gone beyond this “reversal of the epistemo-logical hierarchy in the privileged element of science” (PNP 39). Once again the terrain and the means were inadequate to the project, as Laruelle fell victim temporarily (14 years!) to a scientism that he should have left behind many years before.

I began to neglect Laruelle and I totally missed out on his Philosophy III phase (1995-2002). Supposedly breaking with his scientistic presupposition (at last!, when I broke with my last remnants of scientism in 1972 with my reading of Feyerabend’s essay AGAINST METHOD, and Deleuze, Lyotard, Derrida broke with scientism at the end of the 60s) and opening up a non-marxism (already accomplished in their own way by those same philosphers) Laruelle no longer seemed to be proposing a thought stimulating enough to follow. It was only with his Philosophy IV phase, beginning in 2002, with LE CHRIST FUTUR, that I began again to read Laruelle’s works. Something new was happening in these works that spoke to long-standing problems and obsessions of mine: gnosticism, anti-scientism, the relation between philosophy and science-fiction, even the problem that Badiou posed for me.

So I have been reading this stuff for a long time. I have lived in France since 1980, and although I am not a philosophy teacher (as a foreigner with no contacts this seemed to me to be an unattainable goal) I read the major books as soon as they are published and follow the discussions as much as I can and try to keep up on publications in English as well. I’m sorry some people find my blog full of nasty drivel, as it is in fact an attempt to keep my philosophy side alive in difficult circumstances. I am not a professional philosopher, I am an English teacher in a technical college. I have 6 or 7 classes each year, with a total of roughly 200 students to teach and to correct homework and exams. My spare time is thus limited, and I devote a lot of it to reading and writing for this blog. I have no philosophical career to maintain or to aim for, and I feel free to pursue my reflections wherever they may lead me.
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6 commentaires pour ON AN INDIVIDUATING READING OF CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY: BADIOU AND LARUELLE

  1. antoine dit :

    One of things I most apreciate in your blog is the way you give an account of you personal bildung, and the back and forth between the theoretical references and their echos on your life story. And that is, in general, one of the reasons why I like to read blogs.

    J'aime

  2. noir-realism dit :

    I wouldn’t worry about those that criticize you. I get it a lot from time to time. Goes with the territory of a blog life. What’s good is that you express yourself honestly, no holds bar… I mean, to me, that’s the point, to say what you want to say in your own way. I remember my old teacher Walter Kaufmann used to harp on just being honest with yourself. Yes… that you are. I say: keep it up… many of us out here probably need more of that kind of honesty in the blog world.

    J'aime

  3. terenceblake dit :

    Thanks for the continuing encouragement. I think blogging is a useful tool for stimulating thinking and writing because it is public without having the finality of the published book or article. When you write just for yourself, and for a few friends, there is something too immediate, too « personal » about the writing. I put « personal » in scare quotes because it has nothing necessarily to do with the actual content, which need not be personal in the ordinary sense. In my case I have kept a diary for over 30 years, and a large part of it used to be occupied by my « thoughts » (after all I have been through a very long formation in philosophy). But somehow these reflections remained at an inchoate level, never fully blossoming into a ready for publication piece.
    I began my blog a little over 2 years ago and it has totally transformed my writing. There was a transitional phase where I wrote first in my diary, and then transcribed and adapted it for the blog, but that didn’t last very long. Nowadays I write directly for the blog, and use my diary for more personal records and reflections (and so much less often). I think that even without taking into account the reactions and feedback from others (which is very important, and part of the aim of the blog) there is another phenomenon at work: writing for a blog integrates in the act of writing, in the act of inspiration itself, a public regard or gaze. It’s not so much that other people will read you and judge what you have written, but that your very act of formulation will be different as it comports within itself a sort of generic eye, and the mediated approach that ensues.
    I think that there is something powerful in the transition from « for me » (or « for us ») to the « for the generic Other » that blogging implies and that is potentially a stimulant to a more « non-narcissistic » writing.

    J'aime

  4. « Humanity » has never been this useful and meaningful. Keep on.

    J'aime

  5. I too really appreciate the mix of personal and philosophical reflection that appears in your blog. I am saddened by the thought that you don’t consider yourself a professional philosopher; it seems to me that much of what you’ve written here is very much of the quality, detail, and analytical rigor demanded by philosophy publications, and that you probably have the material for at least several substantive articles, if not entire books, that would be taken very seriously by editors and publishers. Recent topics–« Laruelle’s 5 Phases » is one that comes to mind–seem almost ready for publication as is. I encourage you to try it–I doubt that the pains of the inevitable rejections (which are usually fairly polite) that come along the road to eventual publication can be worse than dealing with the stupidity of some of the comments your work receives in the blogosophere.

    J'aime

  6. terenceblake dit :

    Thanks for the suggestion, I have been thinking along similar lines for a while, and wondering what I could put into a more publishable and how to weld it all together. The future is wide open.

    J'aime

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