LYOTARD AND LARUELLE: credibility and dispersion

In his book THE PRINCIPLE OF MINORITY (first published in French in 1981 under the title LE PRINCIPE DE MINORITÉ, and still untranslated) François Laruelle proposes taking up the traditional problems of philosophy once again, on a new basis provided by a new theory of multiplicities.

Laruelle’s aim is to renew the “transcendental method” of philosophy. To accomplish this he proposes to inquire into

the practical rules valid for the classical use of the transcendental method of philosophy, for its destruction, and for its new use elaborated under the title of “dispersion” or of “dispersivity” (page 5, my translation).

This inquiry is motivated by an affect of “distress” caused by the collapse of the traditional philosophical systems, including their most recent (in Laruelle’s view) avatars: the philosophies of difference.

Can we palliate the distress in which we are placed by the theoretical and political vacancy of the Dialectic, of the Structure, of Difference perhaps, by a new use of this “method”, without engaging in the neo-Kantianism by means of epistemology of the Nineteenth Century or the paleo-Kantianism by means of morality that is being tried out today? (9-10).

One is struck by the similarity in Laruelle’s analysis of the conjuncture to that proposed by Lyotard two years before in THE POSTMODERN CONDITION (1979):

I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with
reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth… I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives. This incredulity is undoubtedly a product of progress in the sciences: but that progress in turn presupposes it (xxiii-xxiv).

For Lyotard, as for Laruelle, we are plunged into a credibility crisis and an intellectual and ideological void that cannot be filled with a new variant of the same old type of story. It should be noted thatLyotard does not talk only about philosophical validation but also about social and political legitimation.

To the obsolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation corresponds, most notably , the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the university institution which in the past relied on it (xxiv).

Lyotard too wants to think beyond dialectic, structure and difference in favour of dispersion

It is being dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements -narrative, but also denotative, prescriptive, descriptive, and so on (xxiv)

Laruelle gives us only the most rarefied and indirect context for his project, begun in 1981. A necessary part of that context is Lyotard’s THE POSTMODERN CONDITION (1979) with its problematic of crisis, incredulity, void, and dispersion. Another piece of the puzzle is Deleuze and Guattari’s A THOUSAND PLATEAUS (1980), which ignores the problematic of difference and proposes a theory of multiplicities as micrological dispersion.

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