MUTATION AND THE INVENTION OF CONCEPTS
Laruelle’s book IN THE LAST HUMANITY The New Ecological Science (to give it its full title, translated literally) begins with the basic movement of his philosophical project: to revise concepts, to expand concepts beyond their standard philosophical limits, to cancel their positivity in order to permit greater inventivity in their formation and use. To effect a conceptual mutation.
This is the formal procedure: to change the syntax of our concepts.
« Une telle mutation de la rationalité écologique, fondée sur l’algèbre du nombre complexe ou imaginaire, exige la création de nouveaux termes ou une re-donation de sens aux anciens » (page 7-8).
« Such a mutation of ecological rationality, founded on the algebra of the complex or the imaginary number, requires the creation of new terms or the re-donation of sense to the old ones ».
COLLAPSE AND THE IMAGINARY NUMBER
This formal procedure, of syntaxic « mutation », is at the same time a material procedure that removes the standard content from our concepts, collapsing them away from their standard metaphysical scaffolding. Thus syntaxic mutation is accompanied by semantic collapse. New concepts require new objects.
Note: Laruelle’s use of the complex or imaginary number is explicated here.
LIVING-WITHOUT-LIFE AND LIVED IMMANENCE
Such new objects include the « living » in a transformed sense
« Ils sont considérés sous l’angle de leur vécu par une écologie très élargie comme science nouvelle, moins biologique que quantique, moins empirique que transcendantale, qui prend pour objet le « vécu-sans-vie » comme le fond abyssal (ou le « collapse ») » (page 7).
« They are considered from the angle of their lived by a very extended ecology as new science, less biological than quantic, less empirical than transcendental, which takes as object the « lived-without–life » as the abyssal ground (or the « collapse »).
Translator’s Note: one often translates « vécu », the past participle of « vivre » (to live), as « lived experience ». This addition of « experience » would seem to be blocked by Laruelle’s qualification that the new science of ecology is « less empirical than transcendental ». This qualification is based on a dualism that is overcome elsewhere (e.g. in his TETRALOGOS) by the concept of transcendental experience. Another way round the clumsy expression « the lived » would be to integrate the context of the previous sentence, which is about the new ecology as based on immanence: « the immanent history of the living ».
One could then translate « vécu » as « lived immanence ». This phrasing would be between the two (« their lived », « their lived experience »), expressing the transcendental kernel of a lived experience.
NON-STANDARD METHOD: COLLAPSE AND MUTATION
This dualism of syntax and semantics has its usefulness as well as its limitations. One is entitled to talk of conceptual collapse followed by conceptual mutation, as long as we are aware that the collapse is also in the real. This « method » of collapse and mutation recalls Bernard Stiegler’s method of noetic ascent and descent, where a noetic shock leads to a noesis (conceptual invention) and a new bifurcation.
Those who follow Laruelle but show themselves incapable of, or unwilling to, follow the requirement of syntaxic ascent are what one could call the little Laruelleans (as Stiegler talks about the little Deleuzians » and « little Derridians »), entrenching a positive Laruelle. They repeat the terms, but without the collapse or the mutation.
This phrase “less empirical than transcendental” is key, I think. It seems to function simultaneously at two registers by the insertion of “less”. This less is a philosophical absurdity, since, in Kants system, there is no degree of measurement that could apply to the transcendental. Transcendentals are not quantifiable.
Laruelle, as usual, is writing between existing concepts, at the level of the murky ocean bed or “abyssal ground” a phrase that immediately takes things out of a narrow concept of thought and into the “poetic” as encompassing a mode that functions across the mind/body/environment divide. This is probably what Laruelle means by “ecological rationality”, although, as usual with Deleuze, Badiou and Laruelle, I suffer a collapse of confidence in the face of their erudite pontifications.
Even reading this little piece of translation/interpretation by you, I’m already irritated by the obscurantist flavour of the original. This is well illustrated by your linked text on Laruelle’s use of the “turn” and complex numbers etc.
This recourse to technical languages obscures at a level that is exactly not the murkiness of the “abyssal ground” but, rather, a layer of complication. Maths is, after all, a system in which denotation and connotation has been bifurcated at the expense of “lived experience”, which is not reducible to “complex” numbers but is the condition under which complex numbers appear as humanly constructed mathematical concepts. This “appearance” is very murky indeed.
I suppose one man’s obscurantism is another man’s bread and butter. It’s no coincidence that “back to normal” almost always means back to production and, for philosophers, explication. It’s exactly the “drone”of explication that kills life or “vécu” and wasted time is a real murder, as every school boy knows.
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Hello Patrick, you are more irritated than usual with Laruelle (and perhaps with me?). This is perhaps explicable given that as I indicated Laruelle is fudging his concepts here in the Foreword, as he wants to have it both ways instead of doing his job and deconstructing the opposition or going beyond it. Probably what he should have said is that this new ecology is « a-transcendental », as Stiegler calls it, in that it takes on some of the problems addressed by the transcendental but tries to resolve them immanently. As I indicated in my review of TETRALOGOS Laruelle still wants to be « empirical » (and so « scientific ») but feels he has to replace experience by a transcendental clone of experience, one that has been tidied, and prettied, up. I still feel it is useful
1) to « de-obscurantise » Laruelle as much as possible, so that we know more clearly what he is talking about and what he is saying about it
2) to establish translations and passages between his work and that of other living philosophers (Zizek, Stiegler, Latour, Agamben) so that we can compare what he is saying with other research programmes and better evaluate his contributions.
The explicating philosopher is an easy target. The best of philosophers produce work that is, necessarily, dialogic and only explicate a process of collective exploration. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for your work here, even if it sometimes irritates the hell out of me. The explication regarding Laruelle’s use of complex numbers is a case in point.
Me and philosophy- it’s love/hate all the way down.
As the Buddha was fond of pointing out, philosophical explication is a thicket of views. Irritation is a necessary accompaniment to thought, along with aversion, hatred and ignorance. Which did not prevent him from producing a conceptual jungle of his own.
His antidote to the hatred and aversion was the cultivation of their opposites, patience and kindness. His antidote to ignorance was the creation of enlightened concepts, chief among them the concept of the dependent origination of concepts, a sort of transcendental structure or virtual machine grounded on an outside intrusion into thinking of the actual dependently originated individual.
Math is an attempt to squeeze all irritation out of denotation. 1+1 = two. Useful, but all of the connotation resides in the = which, when imported into philosophy as is, bristles, on provocation, in defence of ontological sufficiency. That’s fine but…
It’s a sly simplification but why the economy of concepts -production, import, export, structure outside etc? Why not growth, thicket, thorniness, irritation and cultivation?
Well, you can probably see, mostly thanks to you, that I have, belatedly, discovered Deleuze, and am at the moment seeing everywhere, rather simplistic examples of the “image of thought”.
All that said, it’s the content of your recent posts that I would like to comment on. But that would an attempt at explication. There’s the rub!
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