THINKING BADIOU WITH LARUELLE – Is a new concept of the Absolute the antidote to postmodern relativism?

This is the edited transcript of the video for Annex 2: Badiou with Laruelle

Is a new concept of the Absolute the antidote to postmodern relativism?

Alain Badiou is well known as a philosopher of multiplicities. But he is less well known, at least in the English speaking world up to now, as a philosopher of the Absolute.

The Absolute is the theme of the third and last volume in Badiou’s BEING AND EVENT series IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, a big book of a little over 700 pages that came out in French a few years ago, in 2018. In this book, Badiou takes the decision to pursue a different course from that pursued in his previous books, and he decides to look at what worlds look like when viewed from the point of view of the Absolute. This book will be coming out in English translation in February, next year.

One of the things I wanted to do was to prepare myself for the English translation of IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS I’ve already read the book in French, but one of the things I wanted to do was to look at other philosophers in the French Continental tradition who might have adopted a similar move. It turns out that in the 1980s François Laruelle took a very similar turn.

In the 1980s Laruelle broke with his set of books published in the 1970s, which culminated in a sort of radicalised, intensified, transvalued, transcendentalised synthesis of what was the most radical in the French thought of that time, and of the thought of Deleuze and Derrida in particular.

In 1981,Laruellee published THE PRINCIPLE OF MINORITY, or THE MINORITY PRINCIPLE, which has not yet been translated into English, where he tried to go progressively from “philosophy”, from the most radical thought of the contemporary French philosophical tradition, which was from his perspective the philosophy of multiplicities, to proceed progressively from that height of thought to a thought of the Absolute, of Absolute multiplicities.

Once he got to that point, Laruelle published in 1985 A BIOGRAPHY OF ORDINARY MAN, which has been translated, it was translated three years ago in 2018. In A BIOGRAPHY OF ORDINARY MAN, Laruelle proceeds from the Absolute, he takes as his point of departure the Absolute, which was his previous point of arrival in THE MINORITY PRINCIPLE. In this next work Laruelle begins with the Absolute and tries to see what philosophy looks like from the point of view of the extra-philosophical, transcendental field of multiplicities, called the Absolute.

There is thus a certain similarity with Badiou’s path in IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, but there are differences as well.

One is that Laruelle wants to think the Absolute and its multiplicities directly, without mathematical formalization, for example.

Secondly, Laruelle identifies this thought of multiplicities in the Absolute as a thought of finitude, whereas Badiou identifies it with a thought of the highest degrees of infinity.

However, it may turn out that what Laruelle means by finitude or finiteness is not exactly what one would ordinarily mean by the concept, and it may be that there is more convergence despite the lack of mathematical formalization, there may be more convergence with Badiou’s thought than meets the eye.

Anyhow, it’s good to have an external perspective to look at Badiou’s work and situate it within the philosophical context, even if we find that Laruelle’s ideas ultimately unsatisfactory, or we may find that Badiou’s ideas need a little correction.

With all that in mind and preparing for the publication of IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS in February next year, I have begun producing a video book, a Reader’s Guide to Laruelle’s A BIOGRAPHY OF ORDINARY MAN.

I’m putting those videos up little by little, and I’m still at the beginning, I’m still only in the first part of the introduction. So you can perhaps take a look at these videos to see what Laruelle has to say on at least some of the core assumptions of a possibly common core to the whole meta-program of French Continental philosophy, which has been turning towards the Absolute, in a suitably re-conceptualised form.

As another example of this turn, I can cite WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? by Deleuze and Guattari, which mentions the Absolute both as a noun and very often as an adjective, all throughout the book, and which has a non-formalized, rather intuitive idea of infinity, and the word “infinity” is massively present in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, along with a number of synonyms.

This is the constellation of problems and directions that, while waiting for the English publication of IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, we can explore with Laruelle’s book.

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