Alienation and Its Antidotes


Alienation and Its Antidotes:
Anthony Paul Smith on the thought of François Laruelle

Ffirstlightrançois Laruelle is one of the most trenchant thinkers today. With his “non-philosophy,” he offers us explosive techniques for ferreting out the self-alienating forces at the very heart of our thought and world. His method, however, is not yet another exercise in personal actualization and social positivity. It may sow seeds of utopianism; but its seeds are soaked in a clear-eyed pessimism. It may reveal a universe of promise; but it is an unmistakably black universe. The overall effect is of a strange yet acutely vital form of life, thought, and practice.

Anthony Paul Smith, Ph.D., is the preeminent translator of Laruelle’s French works into English. He is assistant professor in the Religion Department of La Salle University, in Philadelphia. As indicated by the title of his recent book, Ecologies of Thought: Thinking Nature in Philosophy, Theology, and Ecology, Anthony works at the intersection of several disciplines, including philosophy, non-philosophy, theology, religious studies, and scientific ecology.

The workshop will combine presentation of concepts with lively group discussion.

Time: September 23, Saturday, from 10am-3pm.
Cost: $95
Place: Cultureworks, 1315 Walnut St, Suite 320, Philadelphia, PA 19107


7 thoughts on “Alienation and Its Antidotes

  1. For me, Anthony Paul Smith’s recent publication “ Laruelle’s Principles of Non-Philosophy, A Critical Introduction and Guide” has been indispensable in helping get a grip on Laruelle’s often difficult territory—this is essential reading, especially for any new readers interested in Glenn’s Non-Buddhism project.

    @ Glenn–SNB got a face lift… I like it, looks good–the font seems larger, more clear, easier on my tired eyes. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Danny. The old WordPress template that I was using was long outdated and no longer providing updates or offering support. So the change was long overdue.

    Yes, Laruelle is very difficult, so we need all the help we can get. Of all of Laruelle’s explicators, I find Smith the most valuable. Even in a book like Laruelle’s Principles of Non-Philosophy, he goes beyond explaining Laruelle’s thought to doing something creative with that thought. And doing something is, after all, the entire point. I am working through Laruelle’s Principles of Non-Philosophy pretty intensely at the moment for my book. I think there are a couple of crucial but easily overlooked or misunderstood aspects that serve as rough keys to his thought. One is that it is, as he says, “non-epistemological.” He is not making claims about reality, truth, meaning, and being. He is making claims, rather, about what philosophy says about those matters, or better how philosophy thinks about them. Specifically, he is exposing the ways in which any given x-system, posing as a form of materialism, like science, and hence claiming knowledge in those areas, eventually lapses into a system of perpetually self-referential idealism. I am using his thought, for instance, to show x-buddhism’s relationship to its self-articulated real, or knowledge of things as they are. Another key, I think, is to recognize the importance of the axiomatic function in Laruelle. Laruelle believes that the only way to avoid lapsing into the circularity that defines such thought is to permit the real of some system (things as they are or whatever) to be given without the endless and endlessly determinate network of postulates that aims to give it. In working with x-buddhist “real” concepts like emptiness, no-self, dependent origination, desire-pain, etc., I am discovering just how disruptive, transformative, and fertile this move is. This is the third key to Laruelle’s thought, I think: it has to be applied to, unified with, another system of thought. It might be interesting and valuable in certain ways in and of itself, but it doesn’t come alive until connected or “conjugated” with some other form of thought. It is this aspect, the “buddhofictional” aspect, I think, that has never been fully developed on this blog. Some solid steps have been taken in that direction, but there is still a lot of work to do.

    Anyway, thanks for your participation on the blog.

  3. Hi Matthias,
    Schön von Dir zu hören. I’m afraid not. I am very old-fashioned when it comes to education, or even just to dialogue and conversation. I find the presence of even the tiniest technological contraption to be an obstacle to intense and sustained engagement–with the material and with one another. To give you a sense of the degree of my distaste, I mean even pens and paper, markers and a white board, often even lights. This attitude, or maybe it’s a neurosis, has limited my offerings for a couple of decades now, I know. Sorry about that. I myself have participated in a couple of online seminars and found them cold and soulless. Thanks for your interest, though. Too bad you’re not in the Philadelphia area. We’re having a great time in these seminars.

  4. It is interesting that there is enough non-philosophy in x-buddhism’s own literature. Concepts are actively destructed, as a practice.

    It all boils down to end-goal(s), though. Either with laruelle’s or x-buddhism’s. It is recognized it is all made-up-stuff, one way or other. The key is, what made up stuff captures/solves all the questions/confusions. What framework answers all questions, with no room for doubts…when one uses critical thought. Not because someone says.
    Is there such a state one can arrive at, where one is perfectly sane/logical, yet 100% without any doubts? Even if such a state is illusion, if one could abide in it 24/7 it is omniscient.

    Confusion, particularly the unknowing/cluelessness is horrible to live with. Even some religious bigots have it better.

    Where is laruelle going, if he does not have a view on epistemology. Or rather, what are his views…let them bare and let us apply his own framework on his ideas.

  5. Hi Glenn,
    Once again I seem to be dogmatically excluded from the discussion so I will post here. Why you tolerate such behaviour is a mystery to me but there you are. Unless of course you have revised your ideas on the x buddhist imposition of notions of “right speech”.

    I think the above comment (in answer to Jonathan) is a beautifully succinct re-statement of Laruelle’s project. If your coming book explores this territory I really look forward to reading it. You seem at last to take the bull by the horns and address the radical challenge non-philosophy makes to Althusser and those social-constructionist stances that absolutise the role language plays in determining social reality, inclusive of a critique of the absolutist or dogmatic use Lacan has been put to by a certain strain of neo-Marxism. Laruelle, of course, decimates such stances and reduces them to material we can creatively “play with” as individuals or social groups with particular “interests”. As you say these “interests” are, contra a culture of self aggrandisement and power, “human” or “lived”, which means they circulate around material and spiritual needs or “use values” rather than “exchange values” to use a doctrinaire Marxist language.

    Of course Laruelle also challenges an absolutist reading of Marx, in no small part influenced by O Henry’s “Marx: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy”. Kolozova follows O Henry in exploring the concept alienation from a view point explicitly rejected by Althusser as “bourgeois humanism”. This tension between “versions” of Marxism and its importance for Laruelle’s project has has never been adequately explored here. And of course this includes the radical challenge Laruelle puts to dogmatic versions of philosophical materialism of a reductive kind which would condition the human exclusively on material or social correlates.

    Again, you seem to be breaking new ground (here at least) by explicitly challenging the divide inserted by certain discourses between the body/physicality/visceral experience and language/culture/ideas infamously expressed in Badiou’s “there is language and bodies….” Kolozova’s “radically vulnerable pre-subjective identities,” hits the nail on the head, again greatly influenced by O Henry’s “radical subjectivity”. I don’t think this stance is at all challenged by the idea of “ thinking all the way down” It simply folds thinking into an enactive or performative notion of thought as coextensive with experiential or subjective physicality, accessible via introspection and the body, accessible via biological science (a stance Marx, in his thesis on Feuerbach, came close to enunciating)

    In the end it all comes down to Laruelle’s refusal to play the philosophical game and posit an absolute ontology for the human. His axiomatic “human – in – person” which is radical rather than absolute posits an a priori transcendental of the human and cuts the philosophical “Gordian Knot” for once and for all.

    Does this put an end philosophy? I don’t think so. It simply renders all philosophical absolutisms usable as material for spontaneous play, which is another word for science when that practice is shorn of its scientism. This leaves us in a strange position though, since we remain dependent on the continuation of a form of philosophical orthodoxy or academic production to have the material to play with in the first place. Which proves that Laruelle’s stance is non – philosophical rather than anti-philosophical, despite its radicalism. In that it is like the shadow that always accompanies metaphysics.

    I think you rightly express the criterion we should use in making such challenges to academic philosophical orthodoxy, Marxist, Lacanian, or otherwise, with this:

    “The question will always come down to whether the thinking of these matters produces material for yet another form of Worldly capture, or one of lived insurrection against such violence.”


  6. Reading the discussion so far, the interesting thing for me is how Laruelle’s idea of decision applies to it. Laruelle seems to use the term in a very precise and technical way that describes a transcendent structure inscribed into language as an inescapable default mode, so that one can only speak of “reality” in philosophical terms. So there is absolutely no question of an unmediated take on the real. Talk of the real, of being, of existence, of becoming – in a word Philosophy– just is talk of a World, or in Althusser’s terms, of a subject already and always interpellated into an ideology and a social practice.

    Laruelle’s project is, in philosophical terms, philosophical nonsense. The Non is an arbitrary cut in philosophical argument that posits an axiomatic – what if we were to radicalise Kant by declaring the whole of human experience as an a priori transcendental? The possibility of doing that is premised on the actual insufficiency of philosophy– its interminable disputes with itself about being, existence, becoming, mind, process etc. over and against it insistence on its own sufficiency.

    In philosophical terms the stranger- subject who transcendentalises the human as Man-in-Man is exactly what Laruelle intends it to be – a fiction. This axiomatic gesture has no ontological significance. It proclaims no knowledge about the real but seeks to relativise philosophical absolutisms which proclaim, by fiat, an end to philosophical discussion. This decision is especially significant in the context of certain materialisms which arbitrarily appropriate logic, rational inference and the results of local knowledges such as psychics or sociology to the service of their philosophical agendas; or certain Idealisms which appropriate logic, introspection and subjective experience to the same end.

    The significance of the non-philosophical axiomatic is that it validates a struggle in actual worlds against absolutist philosophical or ideological capture, a capture which, as Althusser makes clear,
    is not only a theoretical assault but is also a physical capture of the person in social and economic structures and processes of exploitation and repression. That is so because philosophical postulates function in the social world as social practices – as religious, political, bureaucratic, legal, economic and cultural Institutions and Authorities.

    The interesting thing is why a certain person opts for a philosophical stance while another seeks not to do so. Inevitably this must have something to do with the actual insufficiency of philosophical and ideological tropes to account for the actuality of human experience. There is an excess which cannot be accounted for. This does not mean that thinking cannot accompany affective experience at this level only that the excess always evades any absolute philosophical iteration. Since our practices are innately insufficient to account for the totality of reality they can produces only local knowledges, even if, on a relative basis, we must privilege some over others in particular situations—for example science over metaphysical speculation or economy over imaginative utopian futures.

    At any rate a person can opt for philosophy and continue to produce philosophical concepts according to this or that philosophical trajectory. That is inevitable and necessary, most especially for the the possibility of a non-philosophical use of that material. Which is why non-philosophy is not an anti-philosophy, and why it is better described as a heretical gesture dependent upon and accompanying philosophical production. Who becomes the heretic and who remains loyal to a particular philosophical iteration? Who knows. Both are necessary and both, as history proves, can contribute to human liberation. But the radical philosopher cannot object to the non-philosophical heretic who would undermine the tendency to absolutise. In fact every philosopher is, by dint of the insufficiency of his philosophical postulates, also a non-philosopher. Laruelle has just formalised a situation that always existed but that philosophy in its absolutist form always sought to deny.

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