The key word for this new book by Laruelle is « amplitude », which describes the aim of the book to englobe the whole of human experience, its sites and its stages, freed from the confines of philosophy, reaching from the Earth to the Universe, from the Cavern to the Stars, and from Birth to Messianity. To attain this goal he must make philosophy far more inventive than it has become. These two words also describe the underlying values of science fiction.
1) Prolegomenon: amplitude and invention
In this text I am going to discuss Tetralogos An opera of philosophies written by François Laruelle. It is an exciting and ambitious book, of great breadth and depth of thought, and also of great abstraction. The book does not only contain abstract concepts, but it also has a dramatic structure, with characters, landscapes, architectures, movements, and acts, but these elements are themselves abstract, conceptual. They are « de-schematized ». One has the persistent feeling when reading the book that it is very difficult to understand, because it lacks concrete and intuitive examples.
At the same time, we are aware of the great work done in the book to tear philosophy out of its usual shackles, to make it more ample and more generic, and to free its inventive powers. Non-standard philosophy shares this concern for amplitude and inventiveness with science fiction. In both cases, we do not invent everything from scratch. Science fiction operates as a « mega-text, » and reading it presupposes that we have read quite a few other science-fiction texts to understand the specific inventiveness of the text we are reading.
My hypothesis is that Laruelle’s non-standard thinking transforms traditional philosophy into a conceptual mega-text, open to repeated and continuous re-inventions. We are not summoned to stop reading or to abandon philosophy, but to read a great deal of it and to use it freely, inventively.
Laruelle inscribes this inventiveness in our imitation of the Universe itself, and the genericity of humans composes our capacity to inventively receive the Universe.
In this conference, I can only speak about the broad outlines of his vast speculative project, but to make it more concrete and more accessible to intuition, I will propose a schema of understanding through the parallel, established by Laruelle himself, between his non-standard philosophy and science fiction. To begin this discussion I will start from a classic definition of science fiction proposed by Darko Suvin, according to which science fiction is « the literature of cognitive estrangement ».
The operation of cognitive estrangement proceeds by introducing into a narrative or a novel what he calls a « novum », that is an absolutely new object, entity, fact, or law of nature and whose inclusion compels us to imagine another way of conceiving our world.
So, I am going to « re-schematize » the system of concepts in TETRALOGOS by means of the literature of science fiction. The danger in doing so is that I run the risk of contradicting the hard core of Larullea’s metaphysical research program, which proceeds by « under-determination ».
Under-determination, in Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy is an operation on a system or theory that suspends or subtracts from some of its defining concepts or to which they are closely associated, to allow for greater flexibility in application, transformation, or invention. of our concepts. This under-determination can be seen as one way among others to accomplish science-fictional estrangement.
In speaking of science fiction and giving examples, and thus re-schematising, I risk re-determining or over-determining what has just been under-determined by Laruelle.
Nevertheless, my hope is that by shedding light on TETRALOGOS by the science fictional as a conceptual character already at work in his text I will under-determine not the book itself, but the overly philosophical reading that one could make of it, and in so doing to open it to other readings.
First I would like to make a comment on the question of conceptual characters: we are used, since Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, to consider philosophy not only as an invention of concepts, but also as a creation of conceptual characters, their architectures, and their dramas. François Laruelle gives an unusual extension to this definition. He considers that philosophy, non-philosophy, the generic, and the quantic are the main characters of his opera. They preside not only over our memory but also over our destiny. Every conceptual character has a future dimension.
We can already see in this futurality another meeting point with science fiction. This is why I have just proposed to include science fiction, or rather the science-fictional in the list of conceptual characters that appear in the drama of the book.
In TETRALOGOS, Laruelle makes us see that these new concepts, landscapes, acts and characters, enriched by many others that parade along its pages, give us the means to understand and talk about human experience in all its amplitude.
Under the impulsion of Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy, « forced » by the generic and the quantic, the book seeks to get us out of the landscapes of closed worlds, and to enter the Universe in all its extension. This new amplitude of thought would make it possible to establish philosophy according to other affinities than that of the scientist philosophy and its reductionist models. Philosophy would be free to become something else, ready to compose with other (scientific, artistic, poetic, religious, political) acts according to other « knottings ».
François Laruelle builds his book from two of these affinitive partners: science fiction and music. (1) He presents non-philosophy as a general science-fiction, or a philo-fiction, which he treats as a variable of which one of the values would be music-fiction. (2) Given the transcendental, generic and quantum nature of his thought experiment, Laruelle posits that the book can be seen, or heard, not only as a music-fiction but also as a musical work, inaudible and soundless, hence the subtitle « An opera of philosophies ».
The musical dimension is even more present in the structure of the book than in the themes explicitly addressed, contrary to what the summary at the beginning of the book might suggest. Laruelle claims to have always wanted to bring together music and philosophy: not to write a philosophy of music, but to « make music with concepts ». On this model, the generic would be the melody, and the quantic would be the harmony.
In the book, Laruelle oscillates between two positions: modest and ambitious.. One, modest, says that TETRALOGOS is only a « libretto » for an opera, « without sonic and auditory actuality ». The other, more ambitious, position is that his book is a « u-phony », which by itself constitutes a complete opera, including conceptual music. So the book supposes two readings (at least): it should be read both as a libretto and as u-phonie.
My reading approach will be personal: I will read the book « TETRALOGOS, an opera of philosophies », as it was written: inside a generic matrix, and as a paradigm, that is both a model and an example, of what a general science fiction could be. We will see to what extent the book fulfills its own criterion of genericity and to what degree it ‘re-founds’ radical science-fiction, as it already exists in the great canon of science fiction.
In this prologue, I would also like to discuss a criticism of Laruelle’s style and language that is often made concerning the « obscurity » of his language. An answer to this criticism can be found in Laruelle’s texts and also in the nature of science fiction.
Laruelle asserts that in order to free oneself from the established forms and disciplinary norms of standard philosophy, it is necessary to invent one’s own language. There is no basic language, from which one can explain all the other language levels and into which all the other languages can be translated. One is forced to manage either with familiar terms invested with a new meaning partly obscure, or with new words and, in both cases, with innovative syntaxes.
To talk about this book, we too are forced to invent our own language. (That’s what I’m trying to do in this intervention). It may be noted that the description of science fiction often emphasizes these two traits, the use of transformed language and the invention of neologisms. We do not write, and we do not read, science fiction according to the same codes as for standard literature, and we do not read a work by Laruelle according to the same codes as standard philosophy.
An example taken from the canon of science fiction would be DUNE with its dictionary of terms at the end of the book and its appendices on ecology, religion, the Bene Gesserit, and the Great Houses. We are constantly obliged to interrupt our reading of the story to consult this material, otherwise what we read does not make sense. The strangeness of science fiction also operates at the level of language. Interruption is another technique of estrangement.
In the same way, at the end of TETRALOGOS, there is a glossary of abbreviations, which is also the case for his book NON-STANDARD PHILOSOPHY, which contains a glossary of « generic quantic » that can also be used as a glossary for TETRALOGOS. We are plunged into a field of neologisms, new acronyms, and transformed language. These are all forces of linguistic interruption.
In fact, TETRALOGOS constitutes the clearest, most accomplished synthesis of Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy, the synthesis not only of his theses, but also of the forces and means that underlie them:
« We throw into the battle all our theoretical forces, drawing a rapid topology … complex of our means. These means are deployed on a space … generic, ontologico-existential and quantum, space which contains a mathematical contribution … but to which it does not become enslaved ». (TETRALOGOS, 29-30).
In this generic, ontologico-existential and quantic space, I will read Laruelle’s tetralogic « opera of philosophies » according to the codes of the most radical science-fiction, as a non-standard space opera.
To carry out this reading, I will first present the structure of the book and its themes, and then summarize its dramatic movements and acts, before talking about science fiction as it exists and Laruelle’s proposed formula for a non-standard science fiction.