Although the title that Laruelle has chosen for his manual for a new paradigm of thought may surprise us « A BIOGRAPHY OF THE ORDINARY MAN » taken in itself seems straightforward, but but at the same time vague, indeterminate. There is none of the unfamiliar jargon and tortured syntax that one habitually associates with Laruelle’s non-philosophical « obscurantist » style ». But is this first impression founded?
A clue to a possible complexity underlying this apparent simplicity is given by the subtitle:
On Authorities and Minorities
(Note: one may regret that the translation does not read « On Authorities and On Minorities ». Both translations are equally valid linguistically, and the version chosen certainly sounds better, but it may, inevitably, gloss over a conceptual point that I will try to spell out in what follows).
This too looks quite straightforward in itself, but understood properly, i.e. in terms of the new paradigm, it may give us an indication as to how to read the title. Laruelle himself says that we must read the book in the order of its theorems and explications, but also that he cannot avoid presenting us with certain « anticipations destined to give an overview of the whole ». So we are invited both to read everything in order and to make use of anticipations.
« On Authorities and Minorities » looks like a typical analytic subtitle detailing two symmetric or bi-lateral facets of the title. This already provides us with an interesting guide to the title, as naturally the biography of any ordinary man will deal with their relations to authority and also with their singular traits, each of which marks them as belonging to a minority. The ordinary man is subsumed under the various relevant authorities and subsumes his various properties.
But, one is entitled to ask, what has all this got to do with a work of transcendental inquiry that is proffered to us as going beyond even the most hyperbolic radicalisation of radical thought? We may begin to suspect that the preceding paragraph, despite its mention of « minorities », is entirely subsumed under the rubric of « Authorities » and that the minorities it alludes to exist only in relation with, only relative to, the Authorities.
A second hypothesis is that the subtitle « On Authorities and Minorities » is not analytic, but dualytic. We are invited to place ourselves directly in the Absolute (= Minorities) and to view the whole title and subtitle by means of dualysis, presupposing the radical separation between Minorities (=the Absolute) and the World (=Authorities).
Read dualytically, the title could be written
On Authorities [and (Relative) Minorities] and On (Absolute) Minorities
Equipped with this key we can now go back to the title, and perhaps understand it differently.
« A » – Laruelle writes « a », as he is an absolute pluralist, thinking radically outside the canons of « unitary thought ». He is not writing THE one and only authorised biography but one amongst many. Nor does he simply drop the article and write « Biography », as this would pull the title over to the side of that « indeterminateness » that Laruelle considers to be one of the principal marks of philosophy, especially in its conception of « Man ».
« Biography » – This book is a transcendental investigation. Laruelle does not intend to write an empirical descriptive story of a « life ». He rejects empiricism as misguided, and « life » is precisely one of those philosophical universals that he wants to get away from. He does not proceed in chronological order, but quite otherwise.
The book is a conceptual or transcendental biography, but the concepts employed have been freed of their enclosure by the philosophical Authorities and their derived institutions. The book has an order, but one which is not chronological. Laruelle tells us that the book is to be read linearly, the linear order is necessary and rigorous, following the rigorous order of its « theorems », and the necessary order of its « experiences ».
« Of » – French philosophers like to play with the multiple senses of the genitive « of », which arise from its subjective and objective (and other) uses. Taken as an objective genitive « of » (« de« ) signifies « about » or « on » as the official translation indicates. Taken as a subjective genitive « of » signifies « from », « by ». This second linguistic reading gives us a second conceptual reading: the biography is not so much about the « ordinary man » as written by an ordinary man, written by the Absolute-in-person (such is the overarching ambition hidden by the seemingly modest title). « Of » is a very useful particle for conveying an implicit dualysis.
« The » – The definite article in French and in English has multiple uses. It can singularise (« the cat is over there ») or universalise (« the wheel is one of humanity’s greatest inventions »). As used here it would seem to mean « ordinary man » not as simply a transcendentally thinkable concept but as real and really encounterable, albeit as the transcendental dimension of an empirical encounter. (The published translation drops « the », leaving a bare noun phrase, which draws the expression towards the pole of generality).
« Ordinary » – « Ordinary » (=Minorities) is not used in the reductive statistical sociological sense of the everyday, with no particular distinguishing features, favoured by the authorities. In fact, the subtitle indicates, and we are beginning to implement this lesson in our reading of the title, that there are two paths, two voices, speaking out of each word and sentence of the book: the voice of authority, of the locutor still embroiled in philosophical transcendence, and the voice of minority, of the ordinary man « indifferent » to philosophy-as-authority.
« Man » (perhaps it would be better to say « Human ») – Laruelle is in revolt against the authority of philosophy and of the human sciences, and this includes lexical revolt. He asserts that these are relative instances that make use of the word « man » with no rigour, with no understanding of nor humanity towards, real humans. Laruelle’s attitude here, as with a number of other traditional terms, is that there is no reason to leave the words we need to the Authorities and that we can reclaim them by giving them an ordinary sense.