I am trying to see non-philosophy as a path rather than as an illuminated state attained by conversion to a set of principles. The non-philosophical conversion is not an all-or-none once-and-for-all event. It comes in degrees and flashes and may well be different for each individual. The non-philosopher is on the way to immanence, but under the condition of immanence itself. Further, what has been seen as the “derivative” nature of much of Laruelle’s work, his need to situate it in terms of non-X, can be revisioned as an integrally dialogic aspect of his work. The convergence here with Feyerabend’s non-philosophical method is illuminating. There is no orthodoxy of gnosis, no transcendental doxa, and so no “movement”, in the sense of an organised school of thought, of non-philosophy. There is however the movement towards immanence and under its dictation.
Given the Bachelardian resonances of the prefix “non-” in non-philosophy, I am tempted to see in the choice of this term of “non-philosophy” a dynamic aspect that conveys both the continuous rectification of thought and the individuation of the thinker. In PRINCIPES DE LA NON-PHILOSOPHIE (henceforth PNP) Laruelle divides his non-philosophy into three successive phases called curiously enough Philosophy I, II, and III. The seeming paradox of a non-philosophy unfolding itself in successive philosophies should have alerted us to the difference between non-philosophy and any romantic negation or dissolution of philosophy.
Laruelle tells us that this progression was no smooth and continuous evolution, but a staggering progress made up of forward and backward lurches, and that it involved overcoming certain obstacles in himself first of all. He speaks of
“a patient elaboration punctuated by advances and repentances, slowed down by the philosophical resistance that we first experienced and fought with – it’s not finished – in ourselves” (PNP 38).
One critique that has been made of Laruelle is that it is essentially derivative or parasitic on the work of other thinkers, and he seems to accredit this idea partially 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 here 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 period. 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).
(Personal note: this is the Laruelle that I read when I first arrived in Paris in 1980, and I was initially impressed and ultimately disappointed by the writings of that epoch).
Laruelle at this stage was still under the “domination” of philosophy and of the history of philosophy. He was subject to the authority of philosophy and to its principle of sufficient philosophy. His work remained as he says “intra-philosophique” despite the innovative themes and theses, in spite of the struggle, the ambition and the effort of construction. We can see the subtle play on words in the title of the book that contains this retrospective elucidation (THE PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY) as the juxtaposition of a reference to “principles” and an appeal to the thought of radical immanence suggests that non-philosophy is not governed by principles (objective genitive) but rather uncovers and suspends the principles that govern philosophy (subjective genitive). There is a process of rectification and transformation at work, such that being able to talk adequately about the individual will mean leaving the subjection to (philosophical) authority and coming into one’s individuality, so as to be able to talk non-philosophically.
Laruelle was engaged in combating the philosophical institution inside himself as well as in the outside world. He was in rebellion against the authority of philosophy yet fighting it on its own terrain and with its own means, even if this terrain and these means were at the extreme edge of philosophy, coming as they did from Nietzsche (and also from Deleuze and Derrida). We know that unqualified “rebellion” is not enough, and is in danger of confirming the very structures that it seeks to transgress. (Laruelle later distinguishes between such philosophical rebellion and a more radical non-philosophical rebellion). He begins to see that the problem lies in the very foundational and structuring principle of philosophy itself, that he calls the “principe de la philosophie suffisante” or the “principe de la suffisance philosophique”.
It is unfortunate that a choice has to be made between two senses of “suffisant” and “suffisance” when one translates Laruelle into English, as both are pertinent to Laruelle’s project. One sense is cognitive and ontological: whatever exists can be philosophised, philosophy is sufficient to cognize the world. But there is another, ethical, sense: philosophy has the pretention, the arrogance to presuppose and impose its epistemic and ontic adequacy, its epistemological and ontological sufficiency.
For Laruelle every attempt by philosophy to uncover and to escape from its limits was ultimately a failure, as it fell back within the limits of its constitutive principle of sufficiency. Laruelle searched for some means to continue his fight and to accomplish his ambition. 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. (NB: this question of “primacy” seems to me to be moot in contemporary continental philosophy). 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.
One could argue that already during this period, “science” already had a very different meaning from its habitual signification. Maybe so, but this is not the tack that Laruelle takes here. He explicitly includes his Philosophy II period within the “scientistic avatars” (PNP 40) of philosophical sufficiency. It is notable that in Laruelle’s telling he admits to having given primacy and authority to science and this scientistic period was no mere short-lived “repentance”, a brief backward lurch in his staggering forward progress. His non-philosophical scientism lasted 14 years, beginning with the publication of LE PRINCIPE DE MINORITÉ in 1981 and ending with THÉORIE DES ÉTRANGERS (1995).
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. But I was put off by what seemed to be his derivative dependence on Deleuzian vocabulary and themes, his all-englobing pretentions, and his scientism. Laruelle himself finds the books of this period to be caught in a performative contradiction. On the one hand “wholly consecrated to the effort of liberation and of specification of non-philosophy”, while on the other “giving vent to an excessive critique of philosophy in the name of science” (PNP 41). This uneasy mix of liberation from and submission to authority was “excessive” in Laruelle’s eyes, and this effort and this excess still took place under the ethical and theoretical domination of philosophy. 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 what he calls, rather optimistically, “a last ruse of philosophy”.
Laruelle extracted himself from this potential impasse by his own means, as he came to see that just as there is no special affinity between philosophy and the real, there is equally no special affinity between science and the real. Thus he freed himself from another philosophical resistance, the “spirit of hierarchy” and from another authority, that of science. He abandoned all primacy, that is to say all “principles”.