TETRALOGOS is possibly François Laruelle’s most important and most human book. It poses the paradoxical question: can one make music with concepts?
Can a work full of concepts and conceptual personae, a work of philosophy, produce and contain an inaudible soundless music? Laruelle’s new book « TETRALOGOS An opera of philosophies » is an attempt to reply in the affirmative to this question and to make speculative music under the sign of de Socrates musician.
Laruelle declares that he has always wanted to compose music by means of philosophy, to write not a philosophy of music but music composed out of concepts. We have long been accustomed to the scientistic programme of Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy, and we are amply confronted in this new book with his idiosyncratic attempt to conceive of a non-reductionist scientism. I find this position neither convincing nor even coherent.
However, there is something new in this book, which aims to
« describe, by a montage of philosophical theories and of references central to music, the harmonic and contrapuntal amplitude of the epic of human life as a function of its sites, which go from the Cavern to the Stars, and the diversity of its stages and intrigues, which go from Birth to Messianity » (TETRALOGOS, 11, my translation).
The book is very interesting, and calls for a close reading, but in this introductory post I will limit myself to the most general « traits » or « features » (in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?). The musical inspiration of the book is situated much more at the implicit level, in its style and structure and movements, than at the explicit thematic level, despite its continuous reference to music.
Just as in his generic treatment of philosophy, freeing it from its enclosures (for example in epistemology or ontology, or even in a « philosophy of music »), here Laruelle tries to treat music generically in order to free it from its sonorous enclosure and to allow its transposition into other materialisations.
As usual in my reading of Laruelle’s works, I am of mixed feelings, I am torn between a feeling of distance and one of proximity. Everything is interesting in this book, and one feels the sense of wonder that belongs both to the best science fiction and to the most exciting philosophy. If science fiction is the « literature of cognitive estrangement », then non-standard philosophy is the literature of conceptual estrangement.
At the same time, everything in this book is full of programmatic declarations, of the rejection of other philosophies, and of self-satisfaction. Laruelle passes much more time announcing or describing what non-philosophy or non-standard philosophy can do, and much less time doing it, actually putting this inspiring programme into practice.
We are constantly confronted with the excesses of the « self-cloning » that Laruelle seems to feel obliged to practice throughout his books. This self-cloning leads Laruelle to over-identify with his primary conceptual personae (the figures of the non-philosopher and of the non-standard philosopher).
This identification lies behind Laruelle’s « uniqueness hypothesis »: that he alone of his compeers has attained radical immanence, that he is the only non-philosopher). Despite this constant of self-promotion, I think that TETRALOGOS is Laruelle’s most important, clearest, most accomplished, and most human book.
(Is this self-proclaimed uniqueness in the attainment of radical immanence really a « constant »? It may be a more charitable reading to see it as the value of a variable of the Laruelle wave-function. In fact, TETRALOGOS is perhaps the book of Laruelle’s that is most in dialogue with Deleuze and Guattari and with Badiou, to the point of borrowing from them key terms such as « conceptual persona » and « forcing ». True, he still declares that they remain within the domain of sufficient philosophy, but Laruelle goes out of his way to exhibit his indebtedness to his predecessors. It is clear that they are key members of his cast of conceptual personae, for both their positive and their negative traits).
If I critique Laruelle for his practice of « self-cloning », it is because he over-identifies not only with his conceptual personae, but also with his characteristic concepts (« quantum », « messianity », « algebra », « idempotence »). It is always a very strange experience in reading Laruelle to see him complain about the boring monotony and the lack of inventiveness of standard philosophy in an extremely repetitive text, as full of the same abstractions as his previous books, and which are still as badly explained.
Despite bringing new confirmation for my critical distance from Laruelle’s theoretical project (since I reject his scientism, his solipsism, and his obscurantism), this book also confirmed in me a feeling of proximity. This feeling of conceptual closeness consolidated also a sentiment of human proximity, as I can see even more clearly in reading this book a kinship in the attempt to invent, each in their own way, a realist pluralism closely tied to radical human experience. In this common cause, we share to a large extent the same criteria: immanence, noetic democracy, testability, realism, pluralism.
(I have made it no secret that despite this commonality I consider Laruelle to remain too structuralist).
In reading this book I had the impression, much more than with his other books, that if only Laruelle could dis-identify with his concepts and his conceptual personae (and I add if I could dis-identify with mine), while still persisting with them, we could come to a mutual understanding.
If Laruelle could content himself presenting his philosophy as simply a conceptual auto-biography by way of his philosophical project, his research, his trials and errors, and his personae, without excessive pretensions, then it would be a fascinating, mind-expanding undertaking. Unfortunately, this conceptual biography, despite its undoubted intensity, is still in some of its aspects narrow-minded, not « generic » enough. I continue to feel the need to supplement it with other readings, other concepts, other conceptual personae, for example those taken from the works of Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, Bruno Latour, Bernard Stiegler, Michel Serres).
In TETRALOGOS Laruelle himself seems to practice this conceptual supplementation and to invite us to follow his example rather than to adhere to his theses. As we have seen, the book is full of borrowings of the vocabulary and the concepts of his contemporaries, especially Deleuze and Badiou. Laruelle does not want to destroy philosophy, but to make it flexible, permeable, inventive. He is struggling against the boredom and monotony of philosophy, against its autocracy, to open it to democratic encounters and exchanges.
I can only wholeheartedly approve of his ambitions and try to help him improve on their execution.