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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