LARUELLE’S DE-PERFORMATIVE USE: re-essentialising Badiou

In a recent interview surveying the overall sense and direction of his oeuvre, self-styled “non-philosopher” François Laruelle contrasts his search for “new” uses of philosophical concepts to the arrogant, dogmatic use that philosophy has always made of its own conceptual creations. Laruelle calls this “bad” use of concepts “philosophie suffisante”, usually translated as “sufficient philosophy”. However, Laruelle is playing on another sense of “suffisant”, which in French can also mean “arrogant” or “self-important”.

On this construal of the term, Laruelle’s critique of sufficient philosophy is a form of virtue epistemology, and for him the sufficient philosopher is not virtuous. Sufficient philosophy is not only closed and dogmatic, but also arrogant and authoritarian.

“Sufficient philosophy” is Laruelle’s name for the enemy, corresponding to what others have called “onto-theology”. Laruelle’s work contains not only a critique of ontology, but also, in recent books such as FUTURE CHRIST and CHRISTO-FICTION, a rejection of “theology”. Striving to find a “new use” for religious concepts such as the Christ, he extends his critical analysis of sufficient philosophy to the domain of sufficient Christianity and posits a new figure, that of the “quantum” Christ. This quantization of Christ has much in common with Meillassoux’s hyper-chaoticisation of God and falls prey to much the same objections; In particular, Laruelle’s messianism cannot exclude the coming of a “quantum” flying spaghetti monster as synonym of his own more traditional appellations.

An important conclusion of this discussion is that there is no saving metaphor: you can’t break from the tradition simply by conserving its vocabulary and quantising, or “hyper-chaoticising”, the terms that happen to please you more than the others. Something more is needed. Laruelle acknowledges this problem, that a re-visionary conceptuality is not enough to ensure philosophical “virtue”. A new use of concepts is required. Here, a second problem arises. Laruelle cannot just declare that he is making new uses of old concepts, he must give us some reason to think that he is indeed doing so.

Laruelle constantly declares that he is not using philosophical material in the same old non-virtuous way. Yet is it so? His Anglophone disciples do not bother to pose the problem, and take him at his word. When they feel the need to justify Laruelle’s repetitous incantatory self-legitimations, they talk of his “performative” style. However, this is to ignore that “performatives” have felicity conditions, as Bruno Latour tirelessly points out. A performative can be inappropriate, inauthentic, feigned, or irrelevant. It can be a fake or a failure.

The discussion takes place at such a high level of abstraction that we are often tempted to “take his word for it”, but this would not be virtuous. It would also amount to attributing to Laruelle’s propositions the very “sufficience” that he is attempting to break free of. In such a confused and confusing situation, an example may help us to fix our ideas. In the aforementioned interview, Laruelle sums up the difference between his approach and that of Alain Badiou:

“I find the reference to physics more fecund than the reference to mathematics. Mathematics has always had to do with philosophical authority, while physics refers to strategies of thought, to gestures of interpretation, as does quantum theory” (my translation).

Here Laruelle is unwittingly repeating Badiou’s distinction between Truth and knowledge, between the event of a new truth disrupting the static structures of authoritative, and authoritarian, knowledge and that knowledge as instituted veridicity. Mathematics, for Laruelle, is always already linked to synchronic domination, whereas physics is diachronic, mobilising “strategies” and “gestures”.

Thus, Laruelle takes over Badiou’s distinction, which applies inside each domain insofar as it participates in one of Badiou’s “truth-conditions” (art, politics, love, and science), and turns it into a criterion of demarcation between static authoritarian domains and dynamic democratic ones. This is a case where we can see Laruelle at work in what he calls a “new use” of philosophical material. The philosophical material is Badiou’s conceptual distinction between Truth and knowledge, alluded to in Laruelle’s distribution of roles between mathematics and physics. The “new use” is Laruelle’s extraction of ths dialectical distinction from a dynamic historical perspective and his reifying it into some essential distinction between domains.

In short, Laruelle’s use of this philosophical material is abstract, universal and essentialist, whereas Badiou’s use is in comparison concrete, historical, and dialectical. His attempt at new performativity fails, it is sufficient and not virtuous. Worse, Laruelle is incapable of recognising a more virtuous performativity when he comes across it in Badiou, and instead of citing Badiou in a democratic pluralist spirit as an exemplar of his own goals, hailing his non-standard usages, he re-essentialises them.

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4 Responses to LARUELLE’S DE-PERFORMATIVE USE: re-essentialising Badiou

  1. JH says:

    A formidable critique! I thought you were a supporter of Laruelle, but wonder where you see his merits now – especially since this criticism seems to be re-value his overall project of “non-philosophy”.


    • terenceblake says:

      I like Laruelle’s questions, but not so much his answers. I think that the questions can be turned back on him. I agree with his demand for new uses of conceptual material, but find that he does not go very far in that direction. Finally, despite his promotion of “philo-fiction” his own story-telling is more than a mittle graceless.


    • SY says:

      the weird thing about non-philosophy as found in many of laruelle’s books is that it is strangely philosophical – as per terence’s critiques. laruelle seems to be philosophically describing non-philosophy. but this doesn’t mean that non-philosophy is without value. we can try to practice what he describes without copying his method. in order to be truly non-philosophical, one would have to also make use of and mutate laruelle’s transcendental materials in practice rather than asserting them in a dogmatic fashion (as laruelle himself does).

      when one reads articles/essays on laruelle, one so often finds descriptions of what non-philosophy is. and laruelle’s style of thinking/writing encourages this – despite its stated emphasis on performativity. and in these same articles it is always emphasised that non-philosophy’s value resides in how it is used, which remains to be seen. so it surprises me that so few have actually tried to use it (in the mutational way that laruelle describes). i think kolozova does a decent job in her book though.


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