It is a disappointing feature of much of the discussion in Continental Philosophy that it is dominated by the vocal supporters of one or another master thinker. The Deleuzians mock Badiou and condemn Zizek, the Zizekians dismiss Latour, the Laruellleans condescend to everyone else. The audience is summoned to take sides in a battle for hegemony rather than to participate in an open dialogue. Many choose to keep silent for fear of being held up to ridicule, patronised, or simply ignored.
This refusal of dialogue is not only ethically reprehensible and inhumane, it is also an epistemic vice that harms intellectual progress. My ambition on this blog is to restore dialogue, at least between ideas, even if their proponents and defenders avoid exchange. Something is lost if we do not envision alternatives, our ideas become emptied of sense, meaningless war cries or signs of membership in the right club.
I read Zizek with Laruelle’s non-philosophy in mind, even though neither discusses the other. I think that each adds something to the understanding of the other. In particular, Laruelle’s emphasis on the far-reaching consequences of “quantum thought” allows us to see that Zizek’s use of quantum physics is not just one example amongst many other ones, but is of central importance. The different interpretative options that each adopts allow us to see more clearly what is at stake in each option and their possible coherence or conflict.
Zizek like Laruelle is a non-standard philosopher. Also like Laruelle he turns to quantum physics for a model of non-standard thinking. However Zizek’s use of quantum physics is very different from Laruelle’s in that Zizek privileges its disparatous pluralist aspects whereas Laruelle privileges quantum uniformity, called by him “unilaterality”. Laruelle’s thought is one of ultimate convergence, resumed under the name of “determination in the last instance”. In contrast, Zizek’s thought favoursdisparity, divergence and “over-determination”.
Zizek makes use of quantum physics as model but he acknowledges that Badiou’s use of set theory and category theory achieves similar goals. Laruelle is less pluralist about the choice of models. In his book ANTI-BADIOU. He requires us to choose between quantum and set theory. This is in accord with the uniqueness hypothesis, or rather the axiom of uniqueness that subtends Laruelle’s thought:
A1: there is only one non-philosophy, there is only one non-standard philosophy and Laruelle is its thinker.
Zizek does not discuss Laruelle directly, but he outlines a critical analysis of the use that Ray Brassier makes of Laruelle’s key concept of “determination in the last instance”. For Zizek the big problem with Laruelle, Brassier, and their epigones is scientism and what he calls “direct naturalization”.
Zizek rejects naturalism as a project based on the “full naturalization” of Being and the “total naturalization of humanity”. He argues that this naturalist project is one of total de-subjectivation, and that subject is based on denaturalization.
Another problem is that Laruelle’s and Brassier’s scientism leads to the uniformisation of thought and to the denial of incommensurability and divergence in favour of uniformity and convergence.
A related point is the denial of ontological difference. In effect, Laruelle’s non-philosophy falls under the same aporia as Harman’s object-oriented philosophy (OOP): it asserts the existence of animpermeable apophatic veil but then, in contradiction with this, proceeds to specify what lies behind the veil (Harman’s real objects, Laruelle’s One) and its mode of relation (Harman’s withdrawal, Laruelle’s unilaterality).
Brassier’s naturalization of Laruelle’s One, like Levi Bryant’s naturalization of Harman’s objects, is an attempt to resolve this aporia by simply dropping the apophatic aspect.
Perhaps behind the explicit alliance of Zizek and Badiou mentioned above there is an implicit rivalry founded on a divergence of interpretative style. Zizek is to Niels Bohr (qualitative approach) as Badiou is to Paul Dirac (formalist approach). Dirac contributed a useful formalism to quantum mechanics, which was mathematically equivalent to the others. However, his underlying philosophical interpretation of the formalism was not equivalent. Dirac was more deterministic than Bohr and seems to have rejected Bohr’s ontological interpretation of the uncertainty principle.
Laruelle leaves Dirac (formalism) behind but doesn’t quite get to Bohr because his non-philosophy leads him to subordinate complementarity to unilaterality. (For more discussion on Laruelle’s quantum thought see my paper: https://www.academia.edu/9639078/LARUELLES_QUANTUM_HERMENEUTICS).
Zizek argues that the recourse to quantum physics is necessary to avoid presupposing a stratification and hierarchisation of Nature, rising from the supposed completeness and presentiality of inanimate nature to the incompleteness and absentiality of human nature. For Zizek such a theory of emergence is a form of dualism and explains nothing.
Zizek lists four features that according to him characterise both the quantum universe and the symbolic universe: the actuality of the possible, knowledge in the real, the delay of registration, and retro-activity. The key feature for the discussion here is Zizek’s use of the concept of non-causal “retro-activity”, which is in direct contradiction with Laruelle’s idiosyncratic notion of unilaterality, that he imports arbitrarily into his deployment of quantum thought.
Zizek also differs from Laruelle in that he he separates the notions of over-determination and determination in the last instance. He assigns superposition/coherence to the side of over-determination and disparity and collapse/de-coherence to that of determination in the last instance.
Paradoxically Zizek’s use of quantum theory is a gesture of pluralism and anti-scientism. It functions as a key part of his argument against the scientistic vision that theories of emergence tend to reinforce, a vision of a unified science corresponding to the stratified hierarchised whole of a unified nature. In contrast, Laruelle’s use of quantum theory is both monistic and scientistic, and can easily be recuperated by a monist naturalism.
Zizek’s analysis shows us that science itself, in the form of quantum physics, furnishes us with some of the best arguments against scientism.