François Laruelle, professor of philosophy at Paris X, Nanterre, has been publishing since the early 1970s and now has around twenty book-length titles to his name. English-language reception of his work owes most to the efforts of Ray Brassier, who published an account of Laruelle’s ‘non-philosophy’ in Radical Philosophy in 2003 and critically incorporated aspects of that work into his own project, set out in Nihil Unbound.1 At the end of 2010, Continuum brought out translations of two books: Philosophies of Difference and Future Christ.* It plans to publish two more in the next year: Principles of Non-Philosophy and Anti-Badiou. In 2011 Urbanomic published a bilingual edition of Laruelle’s The Concept of Non-Photography.2 We are therefore faced with the rapid overcoming of a typical translation ‘lag’, seen more recently with Badiou and Rancière, during which English versions of works produced over several years arrive in a concentrated burst. The appearance of disparate texts separated by years within a short period can encourage varied synthetic readings, but generally at the expense of more scholarly ‘BCD’ (Kisiel’s abbreviation for biography, chronology, doxography).3
From this perspective, it is important that Laruelle periodizes his own output. Back in 2003, Brassier listed Philosophy I, II and III, with only the last grouping (dating from 1995) marking ‘non-philosophy’ proper. Tables at the back of the new Continuum translations now run on to Philosophies IV and V. The two books reviewed here appeared sixteen years apart: Future Christ (2002) belongs to a ‘triptych’ that forms part of Philosophy IV, while Philosophies of Difference (1986) belongs to Philosophy II, not III. This already presents difficulties. Philosophies of Difference is glossed in French, ‘Introduction critique’; that is, a critical introduction to the four philosophers of ‘Difference’ identified by Laruelle as forming the contemporary horizon from which he wished to break – Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze and Derrida. However, in the English translation we find it is a ‘critical introduction to non-philosophy’.
Philosophies of Difference has obviously been chosen for translation because it more closely resembles publications produced by other academic philosophers, while simultaneously announcing a ‘new way of thinking’ which will, on Laruelle’s terms, only be fully consummated with ‘non-philosophy’. However, the term ‘non-philosophy’ is not in evidence: instead Laruelle is concerned to present a new science of philosophy. As Anthony Paul Smith, the translator of Future Christ, has emphasized, a fundamental aspect of Philosophies of Difference – its ‘science’ – has been repudiated by Laruelle.
Laruelle came to regard the second axiom of Philosophy II, which stated that scientific thought had some privilege in thinking the Real via an affinity with the vision-in-One, as a mere reversal of the reigning post-Kantian epistemico-logical hierarchy.4
In truth, it is not clear that Laruelle has a compelling account either of philosophy or of science, nor that the move to non-philosophy has rectified this problem, but such an assessment depends in the main on analysing the ‘novel’ use made of philosophical materials: Laruelle’s mode and means of intellectual production. This will be the focus of this article. The content or axioms of Laruelle’s output may shift but the practice is largely consistent. Philosophies of Difference will receive most attention as it is there that Laruelle’s orientation (or, as he has it in French, posture) with regard to philosophy is most clear. The majority of the piece will be concerned with a close reading of that book’s long chapter on Jacques Derrida.
We are repeatedly enjoined by Laruelle’s advocates to assess this practice, what non-philosophy can do. My guiding hypothesis and question will be: it has always been possible to use philosophical materials to construct a personal philosophy or world-view, but how far does Laruelle get beyond an individual project, given the abundant solipsisms in his method? I argue that it is precisely as a practical philosophical orientation that the project is best understood, rather than through its self-presentation as a science of theoretical reason.
This is most clear in Future Christ, to which I will turn towards the end of the essay. Future Christ is best understood as an explicit rival to Levinas’s Otherwise than Being, constructing a gnostic, ‘heretical’ counter to Levinas’s attempt to ‘teach Hebrew to Greek philosophizing’. And while this may represent the manner in which non-philosophy is determined by the materials to hand, I will demonstrate that it is the choice to use these materials that marks the overall aims of Laruelle, while arguing that the materials themselves are little more than the correlates of Laruelle’s imagined understanding of heretics.
Philosophies of Difference offers readings of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Deleuze to diagnose the dominance of ‘difference’ in the cultural or generalphilosophical horizon of contemporary thought. The reading proceeds to show that Deleuze is really only a variant of Nietzsche and that the philosophical issue is to choose between Nietzsche and Heidegger, who is differentiated from the former through the analysis of finitude. The fourth chapter of the book separates Heidegger from Hegel through the primacy of said difference over the reconciliation found in dialectical form (PD 85–90). These readings precede a long chapter on Derrida. This chapter is crucial to the project as Derrida does not fit the schema that has been developed so far: he needs ‘special examination’ (PD xxi). Derrida’s work has to be read as an ‘amphibology’, the equivocation generated when two otherwise unequivocal terms are conjoined: Derrida is a Jewish philosopher. I will concern myself with an analysis of this chapter and the practice exhibited therein later, but here it is worth citing Laruelle’s summary: Derrida’s finitude is a ‘Judaic experience of Finitude’, an ‘inversion’ of the problematic of difference, while still remaining within it (PD xx).
Overall, Laruelle attempts to demonstrate that philosophies of difference depend in transcendental manner on a unitary ‘One’ from which they differentiate themselves in self-positing ‘Decision’. Laruelle’s science is an analysis of this structure of philosophical decision as made by individuals without grounding criteria. That is, philosophical decision is ultimately arbitrary – there is no good reason for choosing to be either Nietzschean or Heideggerean (PD 210). Laruelle glosses the reflective uptake of the ‘equivalence of all philosophical decisions’ as democracy and peace. In this move, philosophy becomes just one kind of thinking among others; Laruelle is resolutely opposed to the grandiosity of Heidegger’s claim that only philosophy thinks and to any attempt to give special status to philosophy’s form of thinking.5 Out of this insight, a proper science of philosophy can be developed – one that rescues philosophy from its pretension to ‘sufficient reason’ and allows it to be used as material for ‘science’. This move appears to invalidate the variety of forms of evidence that are present within philosophy. However, it is the evidence for the ‘One’ in which these particular philosophies of difference participate which puts a certain philosophical demand upon Laruelle, if non-philosophy is to be more than a personal view about philosophy which others may come to share.
In a recent blog post, John Mullarkey, who champions Laruelle’s ‘absolutely democratic vision of thought’, seems to suggest that the One should be understood as an as if, an idea along the lines of a neo-Kantian hypothesis (Hermann Cohen) or fiction (Hans Vaihinger):
what Laruelle offers us is a new vision of philosophy as a whole that is neither the right nor wrong representation of reality, but posits all thought, itself included, as a material part of the Real. The work of ‘non-philosophy’ is an experiment with what results in our knowledge from seeing philosophy in this way.6 (my emphasis)
Assessing the status of such claims within the two books under discussion is not straightforward, mainly because they are not addressed head on. But if it is consistent with a certain strain of neo- Kantianism, then assessing what results gets to the crux. By concentrating on the manner in which Derrida is used and abused, we can see both the practice and its results clearly: Laruelle’s approach has its own tyrannical aspects and is not ‘democratic’ per se; moreover, its method or practice is rife with problems.
* François Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, trans. Rocco Gangle, Continuum, London and New York, 2010. 228 + xxii pp., £18.99 hb., 978 0 8264 3663 4; François Laruelle, Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy (2002), trans. Anthony Paul Smith, Continuum, London and New York 2010. 151 + xxx pp., £16.99 hb., 978 1 4411 1833 2. References to Philosophies of Difference are embedded in the text as PD followed by page number; references to Future Christ are abbreviated to FC. Where both the English and the French original of Philosophies of Difference are referenced, ‘PD’ will be followed by two numbers, with the English first and the French second (François Laruelle, Les philosophies de la difference: introduction critique, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1986).
Thanks to David Cunningham, Benjamin Noys, Katherine Ibbett and Peter Osborne for comments on the draft.
1. Ray Brassier, ‘Axiomatic Heresy: The Non-Philosophy of Francois Laruelle’, Radical Philosophy 121, September/October 2003, pp. 24–35; Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2007.
2. François Laruelle, The Concept of Non-Photography, trans. Robin MacKay, Urbanomic Press, Falmouth and New York, 2011.
3. Theodore Kisiel, The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1993, p. 4.
4. Anthony Paul Smith, ‘The Philosopher and the Heretic: Translator’s Introduction’ in Future Christ, pp. xi– xxv. See also François Laruelle, Principes de la non-philosophie, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1995, p. 39.
5. The privileging of science seems simply to accept and invert Heidegger’s 1950s’ claim: ‘Science does not think. This is a shocking statement. Let the statement be shocking, even though we immediately add the supplementary statement that nonetheless science always and in its own fashion has to do with thinking.’ Martin Heidegger, ‘What Calls for Thinking?’, in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell, Routledge, London, 1993, pp. 365–91. Similarly, the interpretation of philosophical decision appears to owe plenty to the characterization of Dasein as ‘being-guilty’ in Being and Time: a generalized ‘being-guilty’ of philosophy and philosophical presentation.
6. ‘Can We Think Democratically? Laruelle and the “Arrogance” of Non-Philosophy’, January 2012, emphasis added; www.thelondongraduateschool.co.uk/thoughtpiece/ can-we-think-democratically-laruelle-and-thearrogance- of-non-philosophy. See also my review of Mullarkey’s Refractions of Reality (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2009) in Radical Philosophy 158, November/ December 2009, pp. 66–7.
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