François Laruelle begins his book A BIOGRAPHY OF THE ORDINARY MAN in a surprising and provocative way. Let us first recall the surprising and provocative nature of the title. The book that could easily have borne the inflated title « SYSTEMATIC TREATISE OF TRANSCENDENTAL TRUTH: On the Absolute’s thought of itself » is called in deflated terms a « biography », the transcendental is called « ordinary » and the Absolute is called « man » (= the human).
The title makes us begin with naiveté, whereas the first sentence makes us begin with rigour. The questions of « rigour » and « naiveté » will be dealt with in the foreword, but we can already guess that the writing of the book as a whole will alternate, or superpose, the naive and the rigorous. This pulsation between naiveté and rigour will characterise Laruelle’s work in general.
The first sentence of the book gives us the inflated vocabulary we may expect, but all is not as it seems:
« Cet ouvrage est une tentative de fondation systématique d’une discipline qui a évidemment des esquisses ou des annonces dans l’histoire de la pensée : une science rigoureuse de l’homme » (UNE BIOGRAPHIE DE L’HOMME ORDINAIRE, 5).
In the published translation:
« This book attempts a systematic foundation for a discipline that has, needless to say, already been signaled and hinted at in the history of thought: a rigorous science of man ».
A more literal translation would give:
« This work is an attempt at a systematic foundation for a discipline for which there have obviously been sketches and declarations in the history of thought: a rigorous science of man »
Instead of the deflationist term « biography » we now have the more familiar, but a little old-fashioned, classical philosophical terms of « systematic foundation » and « rigorous science ». The overall meaning of the first sentence and of the title is the same, but the affect is very different.
Laruelle begins his modest biography with a « declaration » of his own, and a radically immodest one. There is a quasi-Nietzschean ring to this assertion: all previous philosophy and humanities sciences have been at best sketches and promises, Laruelle promises to give us a science.
Is it to be a Gay Science? We are not yet equipped to answer that question, but given Laruelle’s emphasis on affect in this foreword and given his determination to overcome the resentment inherent to philosophy, qualified by him as its « unitary resentment », it is a reasonable question to ask. Whatever the answer, Laruelle is effecting a transvaluation of the philosophical affect in his constitution and founding of his new non-unitary science.
Note: I think the published translation « signaled and hinted at » does not fully convey the sense here. It is not a matter of subtle signals and hints, but rather of blatant outlines and promissory notes that have not been filled in or followed through.
Given this interplay, or game of hide-and-seek, between the transcendental virtues of modesty and confidence, or in the case of philosophy between the transcendental vices of humility and pride, we must keep in mind the hint of the subtitle (« On Authorities and Minorities ») to give a double reading of the key terms of Laruelle’s research programme.
On a conventional reading of this incipit, under the sway of the authoritarian principle, Laruelle is making an unsupported, and outrageous claim to the authority of rigour and science. There is however, another reading, from the minoritarian perspective. Laruelle is in revolt against the philosophical Authorities and so he is willing to take over and transvalue their terms, including that of « science ».
My only objection at this point, or rather my only question, concerns Laruelle’s choice of terms to re-appropriate and to transvalue. Is the choice of « science », a choice that Laruelle obdurately maintains throughout his work, a felicitous one? Is it strategically sound? Will this self-styled status of science induce his followers, and sometimes even Laruelle himself, into authoritarian errance?
Or is this a necessary step , a move aimed at revolting against the philosopher-authorities by re-appropriating their words, at giving to the word « science » the positivity it deserves in the indifference to philosophy born of its « positive sufficiency »?