FOR AND AGAINST LARUELLE

I find Laruelle very interesting, but I absolutely reject the mystique around his ideas, that he himself cultivates, especially under the principle of uniqueness (the idea that he is the only non-philosopher). I think he is guilty of a double standard: practicing and demanding a charitable reading of himself as non-philosopher, he practices an un-charitable reading of rivals such as Deleuze and Guattari, and Badiou.

Behind this lack of charity there lies a methodological problem. If Laruelle is stifled by the sufficiency of philosophy as he finds it in France, why does he not seek out fellow thinkers outside the confines of a very French nostalgic set of references? There is in his thought a principle of French sufficiency at work. He does seem to refer to German idealism as well, so we could call it the principle of Franco-German sufficiency. Other philosophical traditions are not explored.

We do not fully grasp the gestalt of Laruelle’s non-standard “quantum” thought, as up to now his books have been translated, explicated and discussed principally by his religionist Anglophone followers, secondly by political reductionists, thirdly by lacanian throwbacks, and only lastly, but most interestingly, by a diverse group of artists and those interested in a Laruellian aesthetics. The more scientific ideas that come to the fore in his more recent non-standard philosophy have been left uncommented and under-developped. A Carnap-Popper-Kuhn-Lakatos-Feyerabend axis of reading Laruelle’s quantum thought would be far more satisfying than the various esthetic, religionist, politicist, and lacanian readings that prevail today.

Some more science-based commentators have been hostile to Laruelle’s use of quantum theoretical concepts outside their scientific domain of origin. However, there should be no problem with Laruelle’s making a qualitative use of quantum ideas. Philosophers of science have often commented on the heuristic use of qualitative considerations as a driving force in the development of quantum theory. Niels Bohr put a lot of emphasis on the priority of qualitative explorations, considering that the mathematical formalisation should be subordinated to the qualitative concepts.

This scientistic hostility to Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy is unjustified. I do not think that Laruelle is talking nonsense or misusing quantum vocabulary, but I do think he is lagging behind other thinkers, such as Deleuze and Feyerabend, who have just as much right to call themselves non-philosophers or non-standard philosophers, and who have elaborated their thought in close relation to quantum theory.

Even if by “qualitative quantum” thinking all that Laruelle means is something very simple such as the impossibility of both correlation and withdrawal due to the impossibility of sharply defined untraversable boundaries, that is a very useful insight to keep in mind. Laruelle seems to have a few such maxims that would be very useful if he left them in the form of maxims, but he has inflated them into a system self-proclaimed to beboth radically new and beyond all the other, philosophical, systems.

Laruelle’s rejecting the idea of diverse (linguistic, conceptual, behavioural and perceptual) worlds with sharply defined untraversable borders is an important step, that allows us to cut through lots of the Lacanian pathos of the “trauma of the real”. He makes this step in the first introduction to PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, in terms of his new use of quantum concepts.

Other thinkers make this step for quite different reasons than Laruelle, not necessarily for “quantum” reasons. We can recognise that he is trying to follow out the consequences of such a step in his more recent work, and he adduces quantum reasoning to justify his approach. His argument is be based on a metaphorical or impressionistic application of quantum concepts such as superposition, complementarity, the wave/particle duality and quantum tunneling. In this light we no longer need a traumatic rupture of the borders of our world to communicate with other worlds or to be in relation with the real. This idea of porous borders and quantum leakage is Laruelle’s way of breaking free from the “myth of the framework” and of avoiding the spectre of relativism.

Laruelle is perfectly in his right to make such metaphoric transfers from science to philosophy, on the grounds that (1) we do it all the time, and (2) it is necessary to use concepts loosely in order even to communicate, and even more so to get thought moving. Laruelle is also in his right here in that (3) he is not doing analytic philosophy of of quantum mechanics but trying to construct a “new” general image of thought. (4) A further defence is that philosophy is more about conceptual exploration than about referentiality. This is not a a licence for a philosopher to say just anything that comes into his or her head, regardless of empirical reality. On the contrary philosophy, even transcendental philosophy, is more empirical than it acknowledges, and should be even more so, at least in spirit.

On the question of science, Laruelle’s system would be in big trouble if it could be shown that he got all the science wrong. Yet science makes use of or presupposes philosophical concepts, and we should not accept that they are the sole proprietors of these concepts. So (5) we can defend Laruelle’s attempt on democratic grounds as well. I say Laruelle’s “attempt” as there is no guarantee that he is successful in constructing a new and useful type of thought. One of the indicators would have been to explore argumentatively but charitably the relations of his thought to other recent and contemporary thinkers working on comparable endeavours, but this is vitiated by Laruelle’s continuing noetic posture of uniqueness and beyondness.

One of the major obstacles to understanding Laruelle’s texts is lexical: the absence of proper definitions, even on a very loose contextualised notion of defintion. I must admit that I do not see why he insists so much on “idempotence”. Laruelle uses a set of words in an incantatory way, a veritable Laruelle litany. This does him a disservice. For example one of his older, non-philosophical, incantatory words is “unilateral”. In his new non-standard philosophy phase he introduces the quantum notion of complementarity, but he cannot stop himself from talking about “unilateral complementarity”, which is a contradiction in terms.

There is also the problem that his text is extremely repetitious, and his use of mathematical and physical vocabulary take on a role of ritual invocation of a future thought that he announces without being able to provide. This is what I have called the “Laruelle litany””. It is often a place-holder for a concept-to-come. For example, applying Badiou’s distinction of three types of negation, we can say that Laruelle’s use of the term “superposition” is basically a case of paraconsistent negation, and the more physical associations are mostly not relevant.

Some people have tried to claim that Laruelle’s style is obscure because its syntax is innovative, following the “syntax of the real”. But I do not see much syntaxical innovation in his texts, rather the obscurity is lexical: terminological innovation, badly justified metaphorical transfer and the absence of adequate definitions (Further, this notion of “syntax of the real” is an expression of the very worst sort of naïve empiricism. There is no syntax of the real).

Laruelle’s qualitative use of concepts is close to Deleuze’s notion of “deterritorialised” concepts in view of a pop-philosophy. The problem is that neither Deleuze nor Laruelle attain that pop level of expression. Only Badiou seems to have done that: first with his manifestos following each difficult book, and even more so with his series of “plays for children”. Notwithstanding, I do not think that in the absolute Laruelle can be criticised for not teaching us the relevant quantum physics, as he declares that this is not his aim. Relatively, however, he comes out bad compared to Badiou, who does help us to learn more about set theory and category theory. and to understand them better. Nor will knowing something already about quantum theory necessarily help us to understand Laruelle’s discussions. Badiou himself often quite effectively makes an allegorical use of mathematical language, but Laruelle’s quantum allegory remains comparatively under-developed.

NB: Laruelle published in 2010 a big book of over 500 pages, entitled PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, expounding his non-standard ideas after his quantum turn. I have tried to explicate the first introduction to that book (as there are two of them) which is only seven pages long. It is very interesting, but hampered by the ever-present Laruelle lexical litanies. My explication can be found here.

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3 Responses to FOR AND AGAINST LARUELLE

  1. JH says:

    Your writings on Laruelle is very helpful! I wonder whether you might be able to write even a more extended piece on the works of Laruelle, maybe something like “a Laruelle Companion”. As a novice reader, I feel that though Laruelle proclaims ‘non-standard philosophy’ like you said, he almost exclusively works with a milieu of modern French philosophy. Your connection to Laurelle with Feyerabend is helping me to frame and think about Laruelle a bit better. I also do see a certain relationship between non-philosophy and analytic practices of meta-ethics, science studies and though hard to swallow, theology. Working with unseen foundations under philosophical systems and building new axes of thought (possibly distinguished from a ‘concept’ or an ‘idea’) are very interesting to me, but I wish I can study Laruelle more systemically.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ZZZ says:

    To understand Laruelle (not that I claim to fully understand him) I had to read him over and over again until I had internalised his vocabulary. So I agree – what Laruelle calls ‘performative’ seems to amount to nothing more than ‘if I repeat X enough times, it will be convincing/true’. Hence ‘unilateral complementarity’ – a performance of the paraconsistent logic you attribute to Laruelle, no?

    As for idempotence, it seems important to Laruelle’s method of ‘dualysis’. (I do realise that I’m repeating his litany here.) Dualysis can be performed only once – hence if it is performed again (given that it is methodologically “pure”) it should produce the same results as the first time. This to avoid the circular and ‘hallucinatory’ reflections L. attributes to standard philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

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