Full transcript of Reading Tristan Garcia’s LETTING BE AND MAKING POWERFUL (1): First Impressions

Hello, I want to talk to you today about a new book by Tristan Garcia that came out just this Wednesday (February 8 2023).


The book’s title is LAISSER ËTRE ET RENDRE PUISSANT, that I am translating literally as « letting be and making powerful ». You can also translate that as to let be and make powerful, or to « empower » instead of to « make powerful ». However, the concept of power comes up quite a lot in the book as a contrast with possible, so it’s probably best to keep it as two words: make powerful.

The title LETTING BE AND MAKING POWERFUL suggests that the project of the book is to put into dialogue, perhaps even to reconcile, two images of thought, as exemplified by Heidegger and Nietzsche: Heidegger, with the « letting be », and Nietzsche, with the « making powerful ».

Another way of expressing the project encoded in the title is: how can we think an ontological pluralism that does not degenerate into the powerlessness or paralysis of a self-defeating radical relativism?

PHILOSOPHICAL LANDSCAPE (physical and mental)

As I said, the book came out on Wednesday, I live in Nice, in France. So I took a 10 minute walk to the local bookshop on Wednesday afternoon. It was a typical sunny winter day on the Côte d’Azur, with a beautiful blue sky. I live just five minutes walk from where Nietzsche lived in the winter.

I didn’t even have to reserve the book, I just went in and picked it up on the new arrivals in philosophy shelf. So I’ve had a couple of days to look through it. I haven’t read it all yet, but it’s a pleasure to read. It’s a work in the tradition of those great philosophical treatises that include all and everything, that the French capable of, exemplifying the ambition and scope of French philosophers at their best.


LETTING BE AND MAKING POWERFUL is written in non technical language for the most part, and is 550 pages long. Tristan Garcia’s previous big treatise was FORM AND OBJECT (published in France in 2011), roughly the same size and format, produced by the same publisher (PUF), but only 480 pages long, as compared to LETTING BE AND MAKING POWERFUL’s 550 pages.

The work is in the form of a speculative treatise subdivided into five « books ». After the Introduction we have Book 1 LETTING BE, Book 2 CATABASIS, Book 3 NEMESIS, Book 4 ANABASIS, and finally Book 5 MAKING POWERFUL. It covers not only fundamental ontology and its movements of thought (letting be, descent, encounter with the enemy, ascent, making powerful) but also time, life, subjectivity, politics and ethics.

So the new book is longer and more inclusive than Garcia’s previous grand treatise. As noted above, the title indicates that LETTING BE AND MAKING POWERFUL is an attempt to reconcile, or to put into dialogue, two images of thought, or constraints on thought, as exemplified by Heidegger (« letting be ») and Nietzsche (« making powerful »).

ONTOLOGICAL PLURALISM: expansion and contraction

Thus we have a movement of expansion and contraction – one of the aims of the book is to see how this sort of ontological expansion to include as much of the possibles as one can, while still being able, and this is the necessary contraction, to operate effectively and to think and to act with power, in the sense of potency (« puissance »), not in the sense of authoritarian power, or power over others (« pouvoir »).

The book aims to reconcile the greatest dose of ontological pluralism and a maximum of potency. This is all already in itself, a very interesting project, and situates itself in the lineage of recent French philosophical thought on the advantages and dangers of ontological pluralism.

Bruno Latour, a few years ago, published a synthetic article on the question « What is the recommended dose of Ontological Pluralism for a safe Anthropological Diplomacy? », where he sums up the different stages in thinking through an ontological pluralism that would not dissolve into a radical relativism.

In resonance with Latour’s question, Garcia’s title makes clear that this idea of ontological pluralism has to go together with not only an idea of diplomacy, but also with a notion of potency, of effectivity or of operativity, if it is not to be some sort of neutralising or paralyzing force. So much for the title for the moment.

PRELIMINARY SUMMARY: reading the back cover

To see further into the basic idea of the title, I’m going to translate from the back cover, which gives us a short summary of the book. We shall see that there’s a notion of what Garcia calls « liberality » in the idea of « letting be », and a notion of force, power, effectivity contained in the second part of the title, « making powerful ».

Publisher’s summary [my comments are in square brackets]:

We are separated and opposed. Our struggles result in conceptions that are irreconcilable as to the very being of things. In this work Tristan Garcia refuses to accept the confrontation and proposes to grant rather a common existence, that is a minimal and equal, to grant a minimal equal common existence to all possible entities, so as to better reconstitute their differences and their powers.

[This is the liberal side, or you could call it the anarchistic side. I’m not sure if Garcia willing to use the word here. This is the « letting be » side that then, and this is the « making powerful » or empowering side, reconstitutes their differences, powers, and degrees. So Garcia doesn’t want ontological pluralism to end up in a sort of in the undifferentiated blob, in a Hegelian night where all cows are black, i.e. in a state of ontological and phenomenological confusion. He wants to maintain differences and distinctness despite tolerating all possibles, and he wants these possibles to be powerful, to have their own power or powers as much as possible.]

He responds to the destitution of the universal that is criticized on all sides, by way of the research for a « distinct common »

[or a « distinct commons », perhaps we can sometimes append the « -s and sometimes not, because Garcia makes extensive use of this notion of the common, including both the ontological and the political dimensions]

that is to say of a being that is common to all things, a minimum of determination, which would not be the expression of a power,

[which would be without authoritarian power, without power (« pouvoir ») over something else (and not in the other sense of power, « puissance », which is present is in the title, which means potency]

without falling for all that into inconsistency.

[so a minimum of determination, that does not express a power and yet does not fall into inconsistency]

By means of this non hegemonic conception, critical thought, materialism or realism are reconsidered. The liberality and the authority of each position of thought are elucidated up to the point of exposing the contradiction of every ontology that is too liberal: letting be also that which blocks being.

[this is the basic contradiction of a liberal or anarchistic pluralist ontology. If you are to be tolerant and let everything be, then you have to tolerate, i.e. to « let be », that which denies this tolerance and tries to impose its own authority. I’ll get to this later when I discuss the contents of the book.

In brief, for Garcia there is a descent from where we are now, from our conflicting modes of being and thinking about what exists. We descend via abstraction. He calls this descent Catabasis. We descend till we get to the minimum of distinct and common being that permits the maximum of possibilities, and there, we confront our Nemesis. Nemesis is that which would block, deny or overcome our tolerance or liberality. And then we have to move up again, to ascend, he calls this ascent Anabasis, to ascend to the common being of our ordinary life again, equipped with what we’ve acquired in the movements of going down or Catabasis, Nemesis confronted and overcome, and Anabasis or coming back up. So these are the words used in the titles of the five « books » of the treatise: letting be, catabasis, nemesis, anabasis, and making poweful]

The inquiry arrives at the formulation of a new, « resistant » metaphysics, that is attached to distinction, equality, and permanent formation of all beings.

[Perhaps one could rephrase this as « a new, resistant » metaphysics that is attached to the distinction, the equality and the permanent formation of all beings. So we’re not going to fall into indistinction, we’re going to maintain distinctions, we’re not going to fall into hierarchies, or hegemonies, we’re going to maintain equality. And nonetheless, we’re going to have forms that are not purely fluid or purely fixed, but somehow both processes and results. That’s the « permanent formation of all beings »]

LETTING BE AND MAKING POWERFUL thus permits a renewed conception of time, of living beings, of political coexistence, and of our manners of being.

That’s the back cover, and it gives us a first approximation, a rough summary of the book. After that, we have the table of contents, in French fashion appearing at the end of the book.

TABLE OF CONTENTS: a noetic voyage

The Introduction, is roughly 50 pages long. It poses the question of how to think being when noone agrees on anything in matters ontological. It posits that underneath the ontological war lies a possible basis for peace, something that is the least constrained and the most common. Garcia gives us no Greek title for the introduction, so I propose « Polemos ».

Book One Letting Be is 80 pages. It sets out the goal of perceiving and thinking and knowing all the possibles. No Greek title is given, I suppose one could call it epoché, but I propose « Lysis ».

Book Two Catabasis is 130 pages, so it is a major movement of the book. That’s where you get to the descent and a criticism of the various possible metaphysical and ontological positions. He says that to each phase of the the descent there corresponds a « degree of being »and a « degree of abstraction », so we can say that each stage corresponds to a degree of ontology. By going down, we go through the different sorts of ontology that are possible, and at each stage of the descent, by examining this ontology, we’ll be able to formulate something that it does not and cannot include, that necessitates descending to a deeper, more inclusive or more liberal ontology.

Book Three Nemesis is roughly 40 pages will. Presumably, after all that preparation and descent we’re now capable of taking on our noetic enemy Nemesis, and dealing with it effectively.

Book Four Anabasis is about 100 pages. It is devoted to a comparative analysis of the two major types of ontology that Garcia distinguishes ‘process metaphysics and result metaphysics) side by side with his own « resistant » metaphysics. Result metaphysics is oriented around the categories of identity, order, and property; process metaphysics around intensity, bond, and expression; resistant metaphysics is oriented around distinction, equality, and formation.

Book Five: Making Powerful is about 140 pages. It contains the practical or concrete conclusions that we can draw from this ontology, after these movements of setting out, descending, confronting Nemesis, and climbing back up again. It is the longest and most « concrete » part of the book, getting into time, life, subjectivity, politics and ethics. There is no Greek title, so I propose Nostos (this is the « Ritorno » that I discussed in my analysis of Alain Badiou’s THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS) and Dunamis (this is the power that Garcia proposes to « render »).


I’ll break down Book Five. It is composed of a brief introduction and four chapters of roughly 40 pages each.

Making is un-numbered, it is an introduction to the rest and contains an analysis of a key term in the title « making » (or « making again », in French « rendre »).

Chapter One – Order and Disorder of Time. Everything is subjected to time and its order, except perhaps subjectivity, but in order to render to time all its power we need a resistant subjectivity: « subjectivity disorders time, this resistant subjectivity disorders its own subjective disorder » (page 430).

Chapter Two – Life without Subjectivity, Subjective Life, and Subjectivity without Life. Against panpsychism, life is that which resists matter, but not all life has a soul or subjectivity. Conversely, not all subjectivity

Chapter Three – Living between Fellow Beings at War. We are surrounded by fellow subjectivities that resemble each other, and that nevertheless are at war with each other, with each side striving for hegemony. To render its power to politics is to construct a « We » non-hegemonic.

Chapter Four – Being Non-Hegemonic. This is the ethical chapter after the political chapter. Being non hegemonic, if I list the subsections, is

ethical power: manners of being; interrupting a hegemonisation; resisting, resisting oneself; without promising oneself the infinite; interrupting oneself.

That’s the project of the book, in its broad outline and movement. I think it looks quite inspiring. We can readily see that although the book is not technically presented, and so from the point of view of style it’s easy to read, all along Garcia is inventorying and confronting the variety of metaphysical currents of thought, and synthesising and alluding to his philosophical predecessors in quite an interesting and intelligent way.

This sort of noetic voyage is not unique to Garcia, and we can see versions of it laid out in the work of Alain Badiou (THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS) and François Laruelle (TETRALOGOS), but it is accomplished in Garcia’s own manner, and may inspire us to set out on our own noetic voyage.

I think the book looks quite promising. So let me know if you are interested in me doing more, in my continuing the analysis. This is a scoop, the book has just come out in French and I’m giving you a live reading of it, starting today, in English. So I hope this is of interest to someone. Please let me know that you’re interested and that will encourage me to go on. Thank you.

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3 commentaires pour Full transcript of Reading Tristan Garcia’s LETTING BE AND MAKING POWERFUL (1): First Impressions

  1. Obligatory Injunction dit :

    I personally find the project of an ontology problematic, as I find the concept of being too anchored in substantialism ; I also find ontology too disconnected from what Gilbert Simondon called the « ontogénèse » (ontogenesis, perhaps), which approaches « being » in terms of potential, (meta)stability and relations (in other words, it approaches being as becoming). These days I tend to find the concept of potential more clear and useful than the classic one of « puissance » or power, even with its nietzschean or spinozist variations. I have little idea of what Garcia is doing, but this habitual idea that reality is really undifferentiated before it comes into contact with the subject or Dasein makes no sense to me, as I consider physical reality or matter to be by definition a process of differentiation (organisation-destruction). One really has to counter the kantian notion of the disorganised real as pure flux, which places organisation entirely in subjective categories. It seems to me like Garcia’s project really is political, which makes the relationship between ontology and politics rather strange (the « problem of being » would be what links them, which in this case would be a problem of political unity). At any rate despite these perhaps superficial reservations, I am interested and I thank you for the reference.

    Aimé par 1 personne

    • terenceblake dit :

      Thank you for your comment. I am only at the beginning of a summary of the text, so I am suspending critique to later. As you may know from many earlier posts on this blog I am very wary of synchronic (a-historical, non-ontogenetic) ontologies and favour a diachronic approach. A further point of agreement is that Garcia’s emphasis on the « common » is questionable. I am not so much concerned on this point with differentiation in general as with the differentiation arising from and generating incommensurability. A third point of agreement is the political nature of Garcia’s ontological project, and the need to examine its presuppositions and consequences carefully from that perspective.


  2. knudgeknudge dit :

    ‘Life without Subjectivity, Subjective Life, and Subjectivity without Life. Against panpsychism, life is that which resists matter, but not all life has a soul or subjectivity. Conversely, not all subjectivity.’

    That’s v. interesting. I’d like to hear more about that!

    The concept of resisting matter reminds me v. much of the the notion of ‘semovience’ or ‘self-motion as developed principally by the Argentine neuroscientist/philosopher Mario Crocco.
    Also interesting that it is ‘against’ panpyschism. Another point in common with Crocco.

    ‘Piaget, Jean: Swiss academician, fellow of the Vatican and the USSR Academies of Sciences, whose lifelong research was centered on the developmental acquisition of the equilibrable system of mental operations that arises from the extramentalities’ frustrations and allowances thwarting or permitting the continuation of actions originated in the individual human or non-human animal: a system, this one, thereafter exclusively available to its individual developer for categorizing new encounters, frequently in coincidence with other finite observers.’

    ‘Frustrations: thwartings of sedimenting semovience, which limn extramentalities in operative terms; see noûs poieetikós.’

    ‘Noûs poieetikós (Greek for “productive intellect”): mind’s acquired component (articulated collection of mental contents) that produces the proper notion about sensory notices, after these notices arrived by sensory channels. For example, when sewing a button or leading an army to battle one sees the thread and button positions – or the field positions – by sensory means, and the noûs poieetikós turns these attended sensory contents into interpreted, meaningful perceptions; but the sort of knot one is doing and one’s army’s strategy are “seen” only by means of the noûs poieetikós. The noûs poieetikós was carefully studied throughout the history of Western and Oriental psychology except in Modernity’s Empiricism (which, essaying in this way to counter the Scholastic notion of soul, promoted Plato’s view of memories as bodily-impressed data, claimed to be the mind’s unique acquired contents). Currently the noûs poieetikós is best described in Piaget’s terms, as the internally consistent system of the operations that one can do with every sensorily detected encounter through the means at one’s reach, thus “categorizing” these encounters. The noûs poieetikós beautifully instances the experiences without sensory contents, or non-intonated because the noûs poieetikós’ monitoring (the availability of one’s abilities and knowledges and the fitting of new perceptions to them, as in recognizing a previously forgotten name or a problem’s solution) does not require causal exchanges (given that one’s onticity is ontological, not demanding a further causal action to know oneself) and the causal enactment of its praxias has extramental effects, exhausted outside their originating mind and thus powerless to generate by themselves intonative reactions in the enacting mind’s onticity. This system of the operations that one can perform conserving the operated-on things is developmentally formed in the ontic-ontological consistency of one’s existentiality by “sedimentation” of the operations one is doing day by day on the encountered realities, as well as of the combinations of these operations that the reality of the encountered things renders either fruitful or frustrated.’ (Mariela Szirko).


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