In a recent blog post advertising his latest book, Anthony Paul Smith gives a good account of the dream of non-philosophy, a dream that existed and guided the steps of many long before Laruelle came to propose a new embodiment for it. This dream is not universal, to claim as much would be a philosophical move that many, including Laruelle, would prefer not to make. Rather than universal, the dream is “generic”, to use one of Laruelle’s non-philosophical terms. Many people are passionate about philosophy (philosophical concepts, theories, arguments, and examples), but do not want to be caught in the confines of philosophy as domain or discipline or guild, nor do they want to be excluded from it. They do not want the tyranny of experts but the democracy of thought.
These dreamers, whatever their profession or situation in life, are ordinary people who have encountered philosophy in some way and glimpsed something of interest and concern for their everyday living. Enthusiastic at first, often they have felt disappointed and become a little wary, but still they continue to hope and to search, to try out and experiment with philosophy, without stopping at the boundaries. These people form a community outside the academic guilds and grids, and they share a common dream, that thought be democratic and unbounded.
Non-philosophy is one embodiment of that dream and that practice, it is one possible codification. Laruelle does well to declare “Laruelle does not exist”. There is a Buddhist ring to it, as if he were declaring “Laruelle does not exist, and neither do you!”. We should not be misled by Laruelle’s own obsessive circling around (and perhaps inside?) Christianity, for example in his books THE FUTURE CHRIST, NON-PHILOSOPHICAL MYSTICISM, and CHRISTO-FICTION. Just as the Buddha refused to answer the big philosophical questions, saying “The Buddha does not exist, work out your salvation with diligence”, we can hear Laruelle as saying “Laruelle and non-philosophy do not exist, work out your non-philosophy with diligence”. Not existing (should we call it, in a new sense of the prefix non-, “non-existence”?) implies hard work and rigour over a very long time.
Laruelle is no messiah, no prophet, no guru. He comes from, and belongs to, the great community of dreamers and practitioners of philosophy unbound. He cannot lord it over us, and has no desire to (most of the time!). He can contribute something of worth to be examined and, perhaps, used by us or inspire us to emulation. French philosophers are passionate readers and Laruelle has read widely and deeply in philosophy. Far from calling on us to “forget” Foucault (Deleuze, Derrida, Lyotard, Badiou, Althusser, Lacan, etc.), he inspires us to read them with intensity and freedom. And he invites us to read his works, and to write our own, in the same intense and free manner. Along with the erudition and the rigour, there is great freedom in Laruelle’s texts.
Laruelle is not a guru, he is one of us. In a democracy, we are entitled to ask: what have you done with all that time devoted to reading and thinking about philosophy? What do you have to contribute to the community? Not in the sense of judgement and critique, but of evaluating a contribution from a fellow dreamer, and a fellow traveler. Many of us have read the same books over the years, have had many of the same influences. Amongst the living, in France, we can cite Alain Badiou, Bruno Latour, Bernard Stiegler, Michel Serres.
All of these thinkers share with Laruelle a desire for a democracy of thought. All are pluralists, concerned about the contradictory mix of tolerant relativism of opinion and brutal realism of exploitation that characterises our society, and its relation to others. Democracy means being open to others, and also open to change. These thinkers also emphasise that time and change run as deep as anything. Nothing final can be said, and the real is ultimately ineffable, as it cannot be reduced to any of our particular working realities.
I do not think that contemporary philosophy in France is “post-Continental”, only some noisy and conceited newcomers pretend to that. All that is living and worthwhile in that passionate community contributes to a thought that is pluralist, valuing change, humble and non-dogmatic in what can be said about the real, open to experience and experiment, and above all democratic. Laruelle’s thought is a welcome contribution to this community, and much can be learned from it if it is approached with fellow feeling.