MAY 17, 2015
FRANÇOIS LARUELLE, a strange and little-known thinker, claimed to have invented something called “non-philosophy” (or, with its more recent title, “non-standard philosophy”). He purports this to be not a new theory, but a new experience, or use, of theory (philosophical to begin with, but not limited to that field). As such, for those looking for the next big thing in “Theory” (critical, philosophical, or otherwise), Laruelle’s work can only prove disappointing. He does not aim to improve upon or eclipse that of Derrida, Deleuze, or Badiou (that is, the men of the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s, respectively): indeed, to attempt to do so would entirely miss the point of his project. For non-philosophy, the discourse of European “master-thinkers” is passé. What Laruelle offers us instead is a new way to experience philosophy: neither as the right nor wrong representation of reality (through difference, multiplicity, or eventality, as in Derrida, Deleuze, and Badiou respectively) but as a material, immanent part of it. Laruelle’s project of non-philosophy aims at nothing less than a re-vision of what counts as thought, taking it well beyond the hype of philosophical mastery and into a materialism that sees philosophy as only one kind of thinking, one part of what he calls “the One.”
Such a romantic-sounding effort will make many smile, especially those individuals hardened against previous avant-gardes that promised much by way of new “immanent” experiences, but delivered little in terms of actual changes to the ways in which thought is conducted. Wasn’t that precisely the novelty of Deleuzianism — less a new set of concepts (though it was also that, to be sure) than the affect of creating new concepts? Didn’t Badiou promise us all the intense excitement of militant fidelity (to events political, amorous, artistic, and scientific)? Yet for each case the anticipated socio-political changes, be it as micro-revolution or macro-insurrection, never came, the arrival of which was never even hinted: these positions became dated as quickly as dilettantes and marketing men took up their clichéd vocabulary with little apparent loss of meaning.
So what fresh approach could possibly be on offer in Laruelle’s non-philosophy now, which — as he is always careful to state — is not a negation of philosophy but its expansion into new realms of thought? “Je suis un collisionneur de concepts, pas un dialecticien,” he says (in a recent interview with the Parisian Philosophie Magazine), but how does that translate into a usable code of conduct for thinking? How do we introduce a genuinely new practice (if such it be) into extant modes of thinking without betraying them, that is, without reducing them to standard forms of exposition? In this same interview, Laruelle relates how, at his own thesis defense as a student, jury-member Clémence Ramnoux declared that “Vous avez voulu faire de la musique avec des concepts, ce fut pour moi une joie et une fureur.” Indeed, Laruelle could be described alternatively as a thwarted musician who has been forced to create with ideas rather than sound, and who struggles with them as material elements within an atonal composition (where each idea-note has equal force). Hence, his endeavor, he says, is to “use philosophy as a material (as one would use space or color, as a materiality) for an art that would be of a piece with conceptual thought without making a new aesthetic or a new philosophy.”
A weak interpretation of such an artful aspiration might take it to imply merely a peculiar variation upon philosophical method (most often due to novel subject matter) whereas, in fact, Laruelle seeks a radical mutation in methodology and content at the same time. He seeks an “experience of thought” that is even “non-Greek” in terms of its trajectory which, for Laruelle, means that it must avoid logical identity at all cost. While standard philosophical approaches take their conception of what proper philosophy is and then apply it to all and sundry objects — what Laruelle calls the “Principle of Sufficient Philosophy” — non-philosophy is a “style of thought” that mutates with its object. So, non-philosophy has no logical identity: it is neither “theoretical nor practical nor aesthetic, etc., in the sense whereby philosophy defines separated regions of experience.” It is all of these at once.
Yet here is exactly where the problem arises for any commentator on Laruelle (and possibly any subsequent uptake of his approach too): short of composing a piece of music, or installing a video-work, how is one to explain this new form of thought without reference to older textual forms of philosophy? In other words, how can one explain Laruelle’s strange image of “non-philosophy” without any terms of reference found in philosophers’ explanations, so as to stay true to its mission as a new form of thinking? This is probably why even the most sympathetic interpreters like Rocco Gangle have pointed out that introducing non-philosophy is particularly challenging given that there is “a distinctive ‘pedagogical’ or ‘initiatory’ problem built into the very fabric of non-philosophy,” while Taylor Adkins has openly admitted that any “proper” (that is, philosophical) introduction to Laruelle “is an illusion.” In what way can we experience how “thought” might be experienced when we look at it with non-philosophical eyes, once it is “defetishized,” as Laruelle puts it? In order to introduce non-philosophy in the right spirit it would seem necessary to think about it non-philosophically, that is through what Laruelle describes as “technologies of creation that would be pictorial, poetic, musical, architectural, informational, etc.”
And this is something of a challenge when one is restricted to writing a book introduction. Which is why we should have all the more admiration for Alexander Galloway’s attempt at explicating Laruelle’s work in Laruelle: Against the Digital. Galloway is a respected media theorist working at New York University whose writings equally cover philosophy, contemporary art, and film. He is also an artist and a software programmer. As a consequence, Galloway does not come to non-philosophy with the usual expertise (read “baggage”) of a “trained” philosopher, but with an eclectic mix of theoretical and practical knowledge. This allows him, at least potentially, a greater sympathy for the notion that philosophy does not have a monopoly on what counts as “proper” thought (essential, fundamental, rigorous, clear, etc.), or even that there are other forms of (non-standard) philosophical thought that are found neither in the academy nor in the various textual canons it endorses.
This heterodox, tangential approach begins with the subtitle of his book, “against the digital,” which Galloway admits is not inline with the language Laruelle normally uses. Moreover, Galloway’s own use of digital and analogue, while referring to computation does not focus on computers, software, the Internet, or other digital technologies as he does in his other works. The goal of his book, writes Galloway, is to “superimpose Laruelle onto digitality” — this he does with impressive results, covering the themes of immanence and transcendence, objects and events, aesthetics and politics, as well as philosophy and non-philosophy across 10 chapters. But, of course, it is the last dyad that really counts throughout the book, because, as Galloway puts it, “the same kinds of things that Laruelle says about philosophy and non-philosophy can also be said about digitality and non-digitality.”
Though the digital (and analogical) could be expounded in numerous different ways — zeros and ones versus continuous variation, differentiation versus integration, or even just digits (fingers and toes) and non-digits — here it is understood to delineate “the broken and the smooth, the difference between discrete points and continuous curves.” The analogue is the smooth, the flat, the level, or the equal; if Laruelle is “against the digital,” then it is because he is in favor of a flat thought, a democracy of thinking beyond the hierarchism of philosophy. When Galloway subsequently describes the digital as “the one divides into two,” while the analog means “the two coming together as one,” this spirit of integration should not be understood as a real synthesis of genuinely separated parts, but the indivision of a “One” or Real that immanently was only split into two — high and low, thought and non-thought — by the hallucinations of philosophy in the first place. As Galloway explains toward the end of his book, Laruelle’s greatest discovery is a “new concept of relation that is neither dialectical nor differential; a relation that is not digital.” And yet this “not digital” is not so much a new concept, but a new experience of a concept such that — as Galloway eventually concedes — the idea of a non-digital is not the negation of the digital in preference for Laruelle’s flat analogical thought, but the re-visioning of the digital non-standardly as a species of analogy (if the one simply negated the other we would have returned to dialectics).
The importance of equality to such a non-digital thought is paramount, as Galloway realizes: Laruelle is the “great thinker of radical equality.” Coming from the Latin, aequalis, “equality” not only means “the state of being equal” but also “even” or “level,” and Laruelle is indeed the great equalizer or leveler. What Galloway describes as Laruelle’s theoretical “autism” is really the autism of the One or Real whereby all things are equal in respect to it. What does that mean? Well, one implication of Laruelle’s democracy of thought is that all entities are equal, that is to say (in his language), they are equally “One.” To respond to this with the query, “equally one what?” is to miss the point of this essentially performative gesture, for even to say “equally different” (with Deleuze), or “equally Being” (Heidegger), or “equally multiple” (Badiou), remains too philosophical for Laruelle, too definitional. Laruelle’s equalizing or flattening gesture renders everything indefinite, undefined, and Galloway captures this notion well when he compares Deleuze and Badiou with Laruelle on the event: whereas the former takes the larval, microscopic route and the latter the heroic, macroscopic route, the Laruellean event (Galloway says) is based in “indecision and indifference.” Philosophy is about decision, the “cut-away” from the Real, which can only be inverted by indecision or a “radical non-cutting,” an indecision that “integrates entities as one.” And this is deemed to hold not only for human thought, but also for the “generic facticity that binds the human together with chimp, mouse, or microbe.” Indeed, the only way to understand the human itself is as indefinite or “generic” too. Such a non-standard concept of the human, like that of thought, must be expansive, as Galloway explains in this passage:
To say all men are created equal, as in Greek democracy or in many modern democracies both before and after civil rights (where gender equality remains an unfinished project), is to assume a political commandment, for male is not a generic category and therefore cannot be an ingredient of any ethics. As Laruelle says, only human- or indeed trans-species categories like creature or entity-could possibly become a generic category.
Every thing is One — and this is firstly a performative gesture before it becomes an ontological thesis (that tells us “what things are”): individuals make equality, they do not possess it (as a philosophical property of difference, multiplicity, etc.).
This notion of making or performance is crucial, especially given the fact that equality (and inequality) are fast becoming commonplace themes in popular discourse, given our straitened times and recent efforts to uncover not only the vast social inequities around us, but the origin of such inequality. (Inequality was even an “issue” for this year’s World Economic Forum at Davos — a sure sign that global capitalism will have to find new means of selling unfairness as good thing.) Yet the notion of equality at play in Laruelle’s thought does not evoke the equal or unequal distribution or possession of any thing — monetary wealth, or goods, or privileges, or rights, or any other supposed property for that matter. Nor is it to suggest less tangible possessions such as consciousness or sentience or even thoughtfulness — who has what, how much do they have, and so on. Rather, Laruelle’s idea of a “democracy in thinking” simply addresses the equality of thinking itself, irrespective of what, or even if, it is a thinking about x, y, or z — money, rights, consciousness. It is the question of an equality immanent in thought, in theory, rather than any theory of a specific equality.
Which brings us back to philosophy. For having looked at the equal, the smooth, the analogical, or the non-digital begs the question of the digital and philosophical: what of philosophy in this democracy? The first thing that Galloway says here is that for Laruelle, philosophy is the unequal, the privileged stance that makes everything (at least in its own mind) philosophizable: everything is for philosophy (and its current definition of thought). Indeed, despite what appears to many as philosophy’s benign, abstract, and consequently (perhaps) even irrelevant status, the attitude Laruelle adopts takes it to be the supreme form of thought control, or, to be perfectly clear, a device for controlling what counts as thought. Philosophy is the name of whatever is defined as proper thinking, whereas for Laruelle, “non-philosophy” is the “manner of thinking that does not know a priori what it is to think.” Philosophy’s objective is to capture everything under its own authority — its definitions of reality, knowledge, and, most especially, thinking itself — an aristocratism of thinking. If there is a one and a zero, then philosophy alone occupies the one — indeed, it creates the distance or withdrawal that produces the digital binary.
This is why Laruelle points to the Pre-Socratics as the very first to enunciate the quintessentially philosophical speech act wherein everything is declared to be “Water,” “Earth,” “Fire,” etc. What their particular archè may be was irrelevant; it is the formula “everything is …” that is the unacceptable decision or withdrawal for Laruelle. But any an-archic variation of this kind of pronouncement, such as “everything is chaos” or “everything is becoming,” or “everything is difference,” would be no less problematic. They still contain the formula “everything is …” And Galloway is especially good on this, writing that “all thought is essentially pre-Socratic.” But then, of course, we teeter at the abyss of performative contradiction (there still being an “everything is” at work here). Hence, Galloway has to continue as follows: “The goal is not all is fire but fire is all. In short, the non-standard question is not ‘What is x?’ but ‘What is all?’ What is the All? What is the one?”
And the answer is? Here we return to the performative side of Laruelle: for the answer is not a new concept but simply a new way of seeing concepts, a new experience of what thought (both philosophical and extra-philosophical) is, and a new performance of philosophy. Which is why Laruelle does not define thought when asked to: “Non-philosophy responds that thinking is not ‘thought,’ but performing.” Hence, despite its own sometimes abstract and abstracted appearance, non-philosophy is intended to be a practical theory too. Indeed, it is forwarded as a performative thought that does things (to philosophy and to “Theory” generally). Laruelle even goes so far as to say that “non-philosophy is a practice, it is enacted, almost criminally performative, this is the only way of demonstrating it.”
To demonstrate non-philosophy is not to expound through philosophy but to make (perform) new kinds of philosophy, through media, through film, through technology. Galloway’s Laruelle: Against The Digital, then, is a faithful study, or non-standard introduction, to Laruelle precisely because it does not take the well-trodden path of comparison and contrast between non-philosophy and, say, Kant, or Hegel, or Heidegger. It invents an image of non-philosophy from its own extra-philosophical resources, showing all the same how they too are forms of thought, albeit ones that do not conform to standard philosophy. They belong to a utopian space where art and technology are recognized as philosophical too (but without the supposed authority that might follow from that). Yes, the book does contain many informative discussions of Laruelle’s contemporaries — Badiou and Deleuze on the event, Michel Henry on radical immanence for instance — and though Galloway sometimes oversteps the mark in my opinion (to argue that the One is “best understood as an event” is too Badiouian), overall he pursues the book’s tangential approach — through the digital and non-digital — with great consistency and coherence. Laruelle is not reduced to readymade philosophy, he is not recaptured by the canon and its standards. In doing so, Laruelle: Against The Digital is an excellent study that makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of this very difficult, and strange, thinker.
Philippe Petit, François Laruelle, “Je suis un collisionneur de concepts, pas un dialectician,” Philosophie Magazine, at http://www.philomag.com/les-idees/entretiens/francois-laruelle-je-suis-un-collisionneur-de-concepts-pas-un-dialecticien
 François Laruelle and John Ó Maoilearca, “Artistic Experiments with Philosophy: François Laruelle in conversation with John Ó Maoilearca,” in Realism Materialism Art, ed. Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey, and Suhail Malik (Berlin: Sternberg/CCS Bard, 2014), 177-83: 177.
 François Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, trans. Taylor Adkins (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2013), 116.
 François Laruelle, “Non-Philosophy as Heresy,” in François Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy: Experiments in Non-Standard Thought, ed. Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic/Sequence Press, 2012), 257-284: 259.
 François Laruelle, Principles of Non-Philosophy, trans. Nicola Rubczak and Anthony Paul Smith (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 285.
 Rocco Gangle, trans., François Laruelle’s Philosophies of Difference, 7; Taylor Adkins, “Death of the Translator,” ii.
 François Laruelle, Anti-Badiou, trans. Robin Mackay (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 13.
 Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, 135.
 François Laruelle, “‘I, the Philosopher, Am Lying’: Reply to Deleuze,” in The Non-Philosophy Project: Essays by François Laruelle, eds. Gabriel Alkon and Boris Gunjevic (New York: Telos Press Publishing, 2012), 40-73: 67.
 François Laruelle, “What is Non-Philosophy?” in Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy, 185-244: 233.
 François Laruelle, Intellectuals and Power: The Insurrection of the Victim. François Laruelle in Conversation with Philippe Petit, trans. Anthony Paul Smith (Cambridge: Polity, 2014), 149, my italics.