LARUELLE AND THE PERFORMATIVE HYPOTHESIS: trauma, temporality and non-philosophy

I think that François Laruelle’s rejecting the structuralist 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.

I make this step for quite other reasons than Laruelle does, as I am influenced by Paul Feyerabend’s practical argument that such boundaries are not empirically observable, nor are they desirable. Theoretically, Feyerabend, like Laruelle, rejects such boundaries for “quantum” reasons. I 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.

Laruelle’s argument is 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. Less violent images of relation to the real become possible, such as undulation.

The border need not be a physical or geographical barrier, it may be simply descriptive, interpretative, or metaphorical. The danger to be avoided is being misled by non-pertinent associations tied to spatial metaphors. This is why Badiou’s solution of making qualitative use of mathematical metaphors is perhaps less misleading than Laruelle’s physics-based metaphorics, as long as he can rid himself of the illusion of sufficiency induced by his use of mathematics. Laruelle seeks to incorporate quantum thinking into non-philosophy, to create non-standard philosophy, but he could just as fruitfully have incorporated category theory. For the moment we need both Laruelle and Badiou. In Badiou’s own terms Laruelle’s non-philosophy is “too sceptical”, and Badiou’s scientism is “too pious”.

I look forward to a new, more relaxed, less martial phase in Laruelle’s individuation, where he will be able to envisage his own dream-quest in conjunction with that of other dreamers such as Deleuze and Badiou, instead of in opposition. I suggest even the necessity of a phase of transition, or of reparation. Where earlier Laruelle published a reply to Deleuze under the title “I the philosopher am lying”, I would like to see him publish a retractation under the title “Deleuze the non-standard philosopher was not lying”. As a sequel to his ANTI-BADIOU he could publish a FOR THE LOVE OF BADIOU.

Laruelle is perfectly in his right to make such metaphoric “qualitative” 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 indirect conceptual exploration than about direct 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.

This need to provide criteria and indicators of success explains why we must be wary of the “performative” interpretation of Laruelle, which is an idealist interpretation. For example, John O’Maoilearca’s reading of Laruelle belongs to the performative school, and as such remains idealist. Despite this idealist residue, I think O’Maoilearca’s reading of Laruelle is far superior to the more prevalent old school Lacanian (Kolozova) and Althusserian interpretations (Galloway). His interpretation is however pre-quantum, and his idea of “democracy” suffers from the same inadequacies as Laruelle’s “non-philosophy” phase.

There is a certain confusion in the performative reading as to the role of temporality in Laruelle’s work. The idea of “performance” seems linked to an idea of immediacy, but O’Maoilearca seeks to remedy this by giving a reading of Laruelle in terms of a Bergsonian metaphysics of multiple durations. It remains ambiguous, however, to what extent such multiple temporalities are to be found within Laruelle’s texts, and to what extent they need to be imported.

“Multiple durations” is a de-foundational concept in Deleuze, serving precisely to fracture immediacy and to associate performance and becoming. A foundational use of this concept would be to maintain that a performance can decide (or declare or constitute) in which of the various compossible actualities it is, without any need for empirical tests. This would amount to positing a pluralism at the level of content, but on the meta-level some sort of infallibility would be thought to be guaranteed. “All thoughts are equal” in a basic sense, but some thoughts confine us in hell, and some liberate us from hell, and both sorts are equally performative.

In an article in PERFORMATIVES AFTER DECONSTRUCTION O’Maoilearca states:

“despite its abstract appearance, non-philosophy is a practical theory; indeed, it is a performative practice – it does things”.

This is the sense of performative I am highlighting here, a purely factual one. This performative character is not specific to non-philosophy, everything does things. The question is: does non-philosophy do, or try to do, new or useful or interesting things? does it succeed in its doing? does it perform well?

On a more narrow plane, the performative hypothesis rejoins the Althusserian thesis of theory as theoretical practice. Althusser required a political evaluation of performances. Performance alone is not enough. In his non-standard philosophy phase Laruelle requires a messianic, or a quantum, evaluation. Another example is Bruno Latour, who tells us that there are different felicity conditions for performances in different modes of existence, each with their different temporalities, and actualities. The problem of evaluation cannot be avoided, performance is not enough.

This whole question of a diachronic ontology, or of the relation between temporality and pluralism is important. I first spoke of it in an article published in 1980, where I called it a “flexi-ontology”. I later came to call it “diachronic ontology”, and I provided a summary in my paper for Stiegler’s Summer Academy 2012. So I think John Ó Maoilearca’s attempt to temporalize Laruelle by supplementing him with Bergson is a good move, but it shows the limitation of Laruelle’s thought as compared to to that of Deleuze and of Latour. Deleuze’s philosophy is constructed in an explicit engagement with Bergson’s philosophy of time.

The same can be said of Latour’s philosophy in relation to Whitehead. Further, Bruno Latour’s “felicity conditions” are not those of speech-act theory, but are ontological just as much as enunciative. Latour does not need Bergsonian supplementation because his metaphysics is in its very principle empirical, and is underwritten by his concept of “being-as-other” (of which one of the names inside the modes of existence is “metamorphosis”, MET). So Latour’s criteria of evaluation are immanent and mutable from the outset. This is not the case with Laruelle’s non-philosophy, until he comes to his Quantum Trilogy.

(Note: I cite Latour only to show that this search for a diachronic ontology is a collective endeavour going beyond Laruelle. Even Badiou, since LOGICS OF WORLDS is moving in that direction. Especially if you give him a little push in that direction the way Rocco Gangle does).

This problem of temporalisation, like the problem of a “traumatic” access to the real, is glossed over by the Laruellean orthodoxy. The worst form of such an orthodoxy consists in the autistic manipulation of a sophisticated language while committing to incredibly naive epistemological, psychoanalytic, etc positions. O’Maoilearca’s Bergsonian Laruelle is a definite improvement, as it allows him to avoid these pitfalls. However, there are two problems posed by his approach

  1. Recanonisation: I think it is arbitrary to claim that Bergson’s thought is in itself already nonphilosophical, while maintaining that Deleuze’s is philosophical, as John O’Maoilearca does. On the other hand, to be willing to reclassify some canonical philosophers as being non-philosophical by their own means and in their own way is a good move, and shows us that Laruelle’s thought can be read or interpreted in a less demarcationist and negative manner, and be read as more democratic and more affirmative than the Laruellean orthodoxy allows.
  2. Supplementation: It remains unclear whether this temporal vision is already present in Laruelle’s non-philosophy, and not just compatible with it if introduced by means of a Bergsonian supplement. Nonphilosophy, before its metamorphosis into non-standard philosophy, is relativistic, in both Einsteinian and epistemological terms (except for another grafted on supplement, coming this time from Lacan: the Real). This rather cumbersome and unsatisfying state begins to be overcome in Laruelle’s Messianic works which introduce temporalisation, and then is pursued further in his Quantum Trilogy.

Note: I am indebted to a facebook conversation with John O’Maoilearca for helping me to clarify my thought on these points.

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