“This is a rich disagreement!”

Tom Pepper’s original idea was to publish an e-mail interview with me to mark the half million hit mark on the blog. That number came and went, and we were still carrying on our conversation. That’s what it is, really. It started out as an interview but quickly became a two-way dialogue. And that’s how it should be.

Tom Pepper (TP): To begin with, what did you hope to “get conversation going” about?  Who did you imagine the interlocutors mighIncite1t be?

Glenn Wallis (GW): I wanted to initiate an intervention, like you do with a wayward alcoholic. The blog would be the space where all of us concerned relatives gather together with Buddhism and confront it with questions like “do you see what you’ve become? how can you continue like this?” We’d tell Buddhism, “you’re hurting yourself and embarrassing all of us.” You know, and, “you have so much potential, yet look at you!” We wouldn’t let Buddhism leave the blog until it vowed to sober up. As you can probably tell from this account, I expected interlocutors who had two basic qualifications. One, they had been hanging out with Buddhism for a long, long time, getting drunk with it, maybe. Two, they, too, were eventually fed up with Buddhism’s poor behavior. I assumed that many of Buddhism’s old friends were growing as tired of its dual personality as I was—both its monotonous, bossy, grumpy traditional side and its facile and fawning contemporary side.  

TP: You were supposed to be working on a book at the time, right?  Did that have anything to do with starting the blog?  To keep the book project moving? To escape it?  

GW: I had just abandoned a project that several major publishers had been showing interest in. It was a biography of the Buddha. I had spent a good year on the proposal for this book. The more I researched it, however, the less feasible the project seemed. In fact, I began to think that it was outright irresponsible to pursue the biography at all. There are simply no reliable data for the kind of marketable reconstruction the publishers wanted to see. I realized a few things at this point. I began to question my previous liberal humanist attempts to “translate” Buddhism into a contemporary western idiom. That project is not in itself so bad; it’s just drastically incomplete. What was lacking was a critical component. So, I actually wrote up a version of the proposal that combined an honest assessment of the data with my own critical analysis of what it all meant to us today. Let’s just say it was not a pretty picture. That Buddha is just too dark and ascetic for the likes of us modern American happiness seekers. It would be like replacing your Aunt Betty’s painting of smiling, big-toothed, white-faced, wavy-haired Jesus with Georges Rouault’s sad-eyed, brooding, filthy, and tormented Christ. So, my agent and I agreed to put the whole thing to rest. But it was in that charged atmosphere that the blog was conceived.

TP: To use your metaphor, do you think the intervention has done any good, or is the drunk still in denial?  I wonder if maybe it’s more like Al-Anon than AA, aimed at helping those affected by this bad behavior gain some distance, with no real hope of sobering up the drunk?  Or, to drop the metaphor, do you think Western Buddhism has begun to seriously engaged any of the criticism?  

GW: I think you’re right, it’s more like Al-Anon, or something else altogether. It turns out that the family is perfectly content with the drunk’s behavior; more even, they actually demand it, such that poor Buddhism, it turns out, is just faking its drunkenness for the sake of survival. Maybe it’s a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Beginning maybe ten years ago, I thought I was seeing what I called a “critical turn” in Western Buddhism. People were starting to ask questions of x-buddhism that the older generation never would have. I began practicing Buddhism as a teenager in 1975, so I was there with that generation fairly early on. That generation was too pious, too enamored of their Asian masters, to think about Buddhism critically. Their attitude is reflected in the three glossy Buddhist magazines—Tricycle, Buddhadharma, and Lion’s Roar. It is equally present in the respective presses that they founded, and beyond, to the trade houses and academic publishers that deal in Buddhist material. To be honest, I believe that that pious insider attitude is reflected in much of Buddhist studies scholarship as well. All three of these institutions—Buddhist sanghas, Buddhist-friendly publishers, and Buddhist studies—do of course claim to value a critical attitude. And we do see elements at work in each that we might fairly label critical. Obviously, Buddhist studies goes very far in this direction. Let’s say it represents the strong pole on the continuum of x-buddhist-critical work. The sanghas and the publishers, on the other hand, are at the weak pole. We could debate the extent to which academic publishers should be lumped with Wisdom or Windhorse. But anyone who believes that there is an obvious difference between a proselytizing press and an academic one should consider this harshly revealing fact:  Columbia University Press publishes Alan Wallace and Yale University Press publishes Stephen Batchelor. I could continue; even Oxford and Cambridge University Presses are guilty of placing marketability over critical standards. And apparently what is marketable to an x-buddhist readership is ultimately celebratory, affirmative writing.

So, I think there has been something like a “critical turn” in recent years, but neither the “critical” nor the “turn” are sufficiently sharp to add up to what we at Speculative Non-Buddhism would consider being “seriously engaged in any of the criticism,” as your question puts it. The critical work that I see has to do with Buddhism’s role in society. There is a sense, particularly among the younger generation of Western Buddhists, that Buddhist thought should have a wider, more direct, and more impactful application to social issues. Some of this thinking is finding its way into academic writing. This is the case largely because younger Buddhist studies scholars are writing about these issues. But is also partly due to the fact that more senior people are seeing the embarrassing direction that Buddhism is heading in the West—toward vulgar commercialism, New Age superficiality, techno-scientistic absurdity, secularist anorexia, neoliberal collusion, and so on—and are actually commenting on it. But I don’t see any of this critical work as being adequately critical. The reason is that the criticism, in every instance I have seen, always, and it seems, reflexively, assumes the sufficiency of x-buddhism. It is always a case of getting the x-buddhist concept or doctrine right. We’re seeing this play out now in the debates around “mindfulness.” If only those mindfulness proponents understood the true meaning of sati, we could get the application right, says Roshi Joe Jikyo Raftskipper. If only those traditionalists understood that the True Dharma is not the possession of Buddhism, they would get on board, says Mindful Mary Sweetspeaker. Neither side recognizes that their views have the current social-political-economic, etc., reality baked into them. They believe that the goods are timeless, ahistorical, beyond any sort of contingency. Until this factor is removed from Buddhist critical work, that work will never rise above, at best, intra-buddhist debate and, at worst, apologetics.

TP: And what would be wrong with a Rouault version of Buddhism?  It might not be what the happiness seekers want, but wouldn’t it still be, to use Laruelle’s term, a sort of philo-fiction?  To put it in my Althusserian terms, if part of the goal is to produce ideology, without necessarily giving up critical thought, do you think the blog has succeeded in making such ideological production a possibility?  Or is the critical work not far enough along yet?  

GW: Nothing whatsoever! I would love to read such a text. Even more, I would love to see the effects of such a perspective in the real world. Just to be clear, I would have produced that bio of the dark Buddha. But the publishers did not want it. I was being asked to produce something along the lines of Karen Armstrong’s Buddha. It was all about sales. I am, however, producing a buddho-fiction in my current book. This point goes to the second part of your question. I do think that the critical work is not yet far enough along. Immanent and deconstructive critique is indispensable, of course. Social criticism, discourse analysis, ideological critique—that’s all imperative. But you are right, a philo-fiction is essential. Without it, the critique is incomplete. A productive non-buddhist ideology requires texts and practices. Maybe the practice could be reading and discussing the texts. Who knows? Having said that, I do believe that the blog has provided ample goods to make ideological production possible. From the very outset, my goal was to craft certain tools, open up a smithy, crank up the heat, and invite people in to hammer away. I never intended to do the buddho-fiction part. You have written much on the topic of ideology production and an actual practice on this blog and in The Faithful Buddhist. You have also gone a good way toward a buddho-fiction with your Badiou-inspired hyper-translations of suttas. And there really is a lot of rich material on the blog that could be of use in construction a buddho-fiction. This construction is what comes next. I’m working on it as we speak. But for it to amount to anything, other people have to contribute as well.

TP: I do think a kind of life of buddha, along the lines of Philip Pullman’s retelling of the life of Christ, could be good—I didn’t like the way I started doing it, though.  It seems like it ought to be less writerly, and more free-form, like a confused collection of sutra hypertranslations interspersed with a sort of postmodern “frame”, perhaps of some sangha discontent, unhappy about the direction the movement is taking…something like that.  Creating a narrative in which to see Buddhist practices as ideology.  

If the critical work does need to go further, but is perhaps at the point where it might enable the production of ideologies/buddhofictions, can you see any place in this for actual in-person groups? What might such a group be like? What would might it do? To speak in my Althusserian terms again, in order to produce ideology there must be a practice. What might the actual practice of producing non-buddhist ideologies be like? What kind of subjects might it produce? Fredric Jameson has said that one of the challenges facing the left is to make certain kinds of human practice “thinkable and conceivable once again,” in the face of near total ideological hegemony of neoliberalism. along those lines, what kind of things might non-buddhism want to make thinkable again, in the face of Western Buddhist hegemony? What kind of practice might enable that? What kind of actions in the world might a non-buddhist group work to motivate?

GW: I think this is the mother of all questions. I think about “practice” constantly. As someone who came of age with an x-buddhist concept of practice, my thinking in this regard has certain tendencies which I myself do not fully trust. That is, during my formative years, I accepted the notion of “practice” in the rigid sense of vinaya, or a disciplined educational system comprising ethics, comportment, and contemplation. My notions of these terms have been over-determined by Indian thought. So, vinaya, as education or practice, has, for me, always been ethics/comportment anchored in a strict sitting meditation regimen. (Think of Talal Asad’s statement to the effect that the inability to enter into communion with God is the function of an untaught body.) While I still see some value in this approach (for some people, at some times), I am not thinking about “practice” in this particular way any longer. Most recently, Peter Sloterdijk, his conservative tendencies notwithstanding, has taught me a new way of understanding practice. Perhaps the fact that his formative experience as a thinker came first in an Indian ashram, and then, right on its heels, in the university Hörsäle of Western philosophy, has something to do with my gravitation toward him. I don’t know. In any case, his usage of the old Greek term anthropotechnic is, for me, a way forward toward a non-religious, non-spiritualist, and non-buddhist practice. The term, of course, suggests something like means of human formation or autopoiesis, with auto signifying a collective endeavor. I find the term helpful because it performs something like Nan-in’s “you must first empty your cup,” of, for instance, practice. One feature of idealist notions of practice is, of course, a fully formed and minutely articulated telos. So, this gets emptied out as well. Now what? Laruelle’s stranger subject strikes me as a fruitful new starting point for practice. To be as brief as possible, we might understand this subject as one who “toils the earth, lives in the World, and thinks according to the black universe.” The earth is our material grounding; the World is our infinite ideological infusions into that materiality; the black universe is “that which is already manifested, before any process of manifestation.” With this as our ideological first principle, we come together as a group to read, think about, and discuss, hopefully to hash out, struggle with, and debate, various thinkers, artists, writers, whatever. (Laruelle’s democracy of thought/equality among regional knowledges, or my idea of the Great Feast of Knowledge is decisive here.) I like the wording that Jameson uses, “making certain kinds of human practice ‘thinkable and conceivable once again,'” with an emphasis on “again.” This stranger group is not out to create new knowledge. It—the stranger practice—is rather a question of conjugating already existing forms of knowledge. The practice must include the following: recognizing the subjugating forms and norms at work in any given material; identifying the material’s stratagem to establish sufficiency; its subjugating and idealizing maneuvers thus made transparent, the depotentialized material is rendered raw, potentially valuable human cultural material. Finally, the difficult work of vital conjugations can now begin. An example of a conjugation might be thinking x-buddhism’s “eradicate desire!” together with Lacan’s “don’t give up on your desire!”  In line with the ideological principle of the democracy of thought, neither system of knowledge is allowed a dominant position. Thus, it is impossible to say in advance what might become “thinkable and conceivable once again.” Generally, in the familiar Buddhist terms, we can begin to think again compassion, wisdom, no-self, emptiness, sangha, the bodhisattva, an infinite array of Buddhas, present-moment awareness, the nature of existential pain. But the again signifies that these concepts have been subjected to a process that makes them virtually unrecognizable as x-buddhist concepts. As elements of a new form of thought—liberated, that is, from Buddhist hegemony—they have mutated into something else entirely. Another ideological principle behind this stranger subjectivity is that we should learn to think from the real. Buddhism posits the real. But it errs in thinking toward rather than from the real. For example, in wanting to think the real of human pain, x-buddhism thinks dukkha (a node in a complex chain of signifiers), and confuses this with pain (a phenomenological given-without-givenness, in Laruelle-speak). So, a crucial element of the stranger practice is to learn to think from the real. All of this is probably too vague for anyone raring to go out and change the world. But it is, I believe, a necessary step and crucial for any subsequent practice—it is a form of ideological due diligence, so to speak. This practice should, for instance, instill motivation and incite action in the real world. What kinds of actions? Won’t anything I name here sound facile and platitudinous? Think from the side of the victim. Take the side of the World’s refuse. Volunteer in an inner-city literacy program. Feed the hungry. Write your congressman. Run for office. Be kind but forthright. Show courage. Expose subjugating forms of thought. Speak out. We hear today resist! and even start a revolution! It all sounds so ridiculously hollow. As a friend of mine said, most liberals can’t even countenance voting outside of the two-party system, and yet they want to start a revolution? I am not even convinced that we have a future as human beings. What would it take to truly alter our current social-political-economic material structures? I read this interview a while ago that has stuck with me. An imprisoned Brazilian criminal/social activist was asked about “the solution” to the catastrophe that is Brazil’s villas miserias or slums. This sends him off on a long and impassioned enumeration of everything that would have to happen for such a “solution” to take hold. “Solution? There’s no solution, brother. The mere idea of a ‘solution’ is already a mistake.” He goes on: there would have to be billions of dollars spent in an organized bi-partisan manner, “with a high level of government, an immense political will, economic growth, a revolution in education, general urbanization, and it would have to happen under a ‘clear-eyed tyranny’ that could jump over the secular bureaucratic paralysis,” the divided legislature, the self-serving judiciary, etc., etc. Not only would this cost billions and billions of dollars over perhaps decades, it would also “entail a deep psychological change in the political structure of the country.” He goes on. But his conclusion: “What I mean is, it’s impossible. There is no solution.”  “In the face of near total ideological hegemony of neoliberalism,” as you say, this kind of pessimism sounds like a form of final capitulation. It is exactly what our neoliberal ring-leaders want us to think. But how do the affirmations and celebrations, how does the optimism, of hegemonic Western Buddhism sound in the face of such an ubiquitous force? In Laruelle: A Stranger Thought, Anthony Paul Smith cites this really powerful snippet of dialogue between Frantz Fanon and his former teacher, Aimé Césaire. Fanon sets it up: “This attitude, this behavior, this shackled life caught in the noose of shame and disaster, rebels, takes issue, challenges, howls, and as that’s how it is, I ask him: What can you do? Start. Start what? The only thing in the world worth starting: the end of the world, of course.” The “world,” of course, is what Laruelle writes as “World,” the current means of harassment that we take as inevitable and natural. It sounds idiotic, though, doesn’t it? Start the end of the world. We have seen so many books recently that acknowledge simultaneously the urgent necessity to change the world and the impossibility of changing the world. (Once the world gets changed, it needs changing all over again. Or, as Hannah Arendt said, the revolutionaries become the conservatives the day after the revolution.) The title of Bifo Berardi’s new book encapsulates the conundrum: Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility. Benjamin Kunkel’s new title also captures something of the general concern in leftist circles: Utopia of Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis. In terms of real-world effects, maybe the most we can hope for right now is to create a community of thought and dialogue that exposes the murderous structures of our current World and, in itself, in its very manner of being, models another World. I know from my own efforts in education and with Incite Seminars that this is a profoundly productive form of practice. But whether its production is ultimately in the measure of Walter Benjamin or Malcolm X, of Hannah Arendt or Angela Davis, others will have to judge. Along the lines of Deleuze’s monstrous philosophical offspring, maybe such a practice can conceive some future Walter X or Angela Arendt. 

TP: Just to clarify, for myself, can you say anything more about the idea of the Stranger Subject?  I can’t quite grasp what this is.  It has seemed to me to suggest the idea of a subject stripped of all the social and symbolic, and limited to some kind of pure biological and bodily interaction with the world.  But for me, this seems impossible, since the human subject doesn’t exist prior to language, which is alway already social—that is, we can’t reduce ourselves to the level of the purely animal, because we are by nature speaking beings—it would be like trying to reduce a mammal back to its evolutionary ancestor by cutting off its limbs and chucking it into the ocean.  Anyway, if this isn’t what Laruelle has in mind, I can’t figure what he does mean by this term.  I can’t get any idea of what it might mean to “think from the Real,” either…the Real just is what we presently cannot think.  So, is thinking from the Real something like Badiou’s “forcing a truth”?  

My own thought on practice have always been that the goal is to do something outside the circuit of money-profit-debt-capital-exchange value.  Theater, maybe, but only street theater.  Writing and teaching, sure, but not for profit through the mainstream media or in the existing ideological institutions. It is important to develop social practice of knowledge reproduction outside the realm of capitalism, as well—but very hard to do.  

My concern with Sloterdijk’s concept is similar to my concern with Aristotle—it is an attempt to adjust the subject to the system, assuming there is a subject separate from the system.  Aristotle (and Plato) couldn’t even conceive of a social formation without slavery, and Sloterdijk can’t conceive of anything but capitalism.  The task, for me, is to produce not new-and-improved subjects, but systems and social practices that make completely different kinds of subjects.  Not a technology of making better people, but way of making better social practices.  The conservative turn here seems to me fatal—it assumes the naturalness of what we need to get rid of.  Like Arendt’s too-clever-sounding aphorism, that works perfectly to dissipate any revolutionary enthusiasm, but is clearly false.  Because the revolutionary communist exactly does NOT become a capitalist once he has triumphed— “conservative” may mean wanting things to stay the same, but there is a huge difference from wanting oppression to stay in place and wanting to maintain a state of human dignity and joy (in the Spinozist sense).  When we make the mistake of assuming the problem is radical=good vs. conservative=evil, we’ve already missed the whole point, and stopped thinking in terms of capitalism and the actual concrete evils to be removed.  It isn’t that endless radical change is the goal (although it is value in certain stages of capitalism); we need to remember that there are specific social practice of violent oppression and environmental destruction that we want to end, not conservatism as such.  For me, this kind of thinking, reminding people to think beyond aphorisms, to stop retreating into the idea that capitalism is eternal and natural, this would be the ultimate kind of practice.  I’m rambling on a bit, but the point seems to me to go to the heart of the concepts created in Buddhist thought: that the existing social formation is a human creation, is ideological, and so can be changed.

GW: Like you, Laruelle believes that “that the existing social formation is a human creation, is ideological, and so can be changed.” Maybe I created confusion by citing the earth-World-universe scheme. This is from a highly “experimental” text by Laruelle, and so probably creates more problems than it solves. (He himself has said that he’s embarrassed by these writings, yet hopes to produce more of them.) Certainly, “earth” is not meant to signify “some kind of pure biological and bodily interaction with the world.” I just take it to indicate the fact that there is a co-terminus relationship between matter and idea. The humans on Mars will likely create ideologies incomprehensible to us earthlings. Here are two short statements on the stranger. Maybe they’ll help a little:

The stranger or the identity of the real is non-reflected, lived, experienced, consumed while remaining in itself without the need to alienate itself through representation. (Laruelle)

The stranger: is the name for the subject of practice-of-theory, modeled (“cloned”) on given material (philosophical, but in this instance sonic/music/ aesthetic/cultural etc.), but determined by the real of the last instance (=One, etc.), whose immanence it effectuates. The stranger-subject is what you become when you think-practice-perform in radical immanence. (Ray Brassier)

When I read what you have written about ideology, subjectivity, and so on, and then read these two statements, I don’t see a difference. So, can it be that you do already understand what the term “stranger” means? Reading a text of yours could be said to be a practice that effectuates radical immanence. Laruelle, too, is trying to produce texts, the writing, reading, thinking about, discussing together, actualizing of which is the practice. As this indicates, in order to grasp the idea of the stranger subject, it is necessary to consider it in terms of performance. That is probably the reason that, once all of the concepts, models, etc. are cashed out, what we’re left with seems so meager. Like what you say your practice is below. That’s all very practical, immediate, and doable. That’s really all I am talking about, too. I want to create a community of dialogue based on ideas that address the need for real change. That’s all, really. And that’s really all the stranger is and does or can do. (Speaking of theater, do you know this book, Theaters of Immanence? This article might also be interesting: “Laruelle’s ‘Criminally Performative’ Thought: On Doing and Saying in Non-Philosophy.”)

Since we all agree that “the task…is to produce not new-and-improved subjects, but systems and social practices that make completely different kinds of subjects,” I think it’s important to keep the focus on formation of practice. Again, what we say will sound meager compared to the grand possibilities inherent in thought. Incite Seminars is my current practice community. It is a system and social practice that aims to make a different kind of subject than is currently on the prowl. I am trying to circumvent the capitalist machinery as much as possible. If I want to continue with it, and to really build it into something, though, I have to earn money. The old Zen saying that the monastery has two gates, finance and teaching, seems true to me. If I can’t make something like the seminars work, I will have to fully submit to the beast in the form of an academic position. It is indeed very hard to “develop social practice of knowledge reproduction outside the realm of capitalism.” I guess I see that conundrum as an element of the practice itself. Again, Buddhism offers something helpful here, the idea of the koan. 

Having said all of that, Laruelle and (some) of his explicators are careful to mention the “uselessness” of non-philosophy.” Smith puts it like this: It “has no future. It is the expression of the radical immanence of human (existence) and such existence has no purpose, has no future other than what has been hallucinated as the determination of lived (reality.” Like this kind of thinking, the stranger subject is one who has no future. But that’s because it only has a present. The entire point of fostering of a community that enables such a subject is the lessening of unnecessary pain here and now. Yet, finally, without a doubt there is a strain of pessimism and “positive nihilism” running throughout Laruelle. Katerina Kolozova’s article might be helpful, too. 

TP: The Kolozova essay was very helpful—although her account of Laruelle is exactly what I was understanding him to be saying.  I just don’t think Laruelle’s thought corresponds to reality on this—the idea that language is “radically alien” to the human, that it somehow requires a transcendental (it does in the capitalist subject of course) or that there is some pre-linguistic that we are alienated from by language, well, seems to buy into the whole Lockean thing too easily.  To me, it’s like saying the bird is radically alienated from the world by its wings, or the elephant by its trunk—language isn’t something separate from reality and separating us out from it, it is a natural real thing that is how we engage the world.  This assumptions seems to me to run through Laruelle—and its why I agree with his goals, but don’t see that he’s offering an way to accomplish them.  It’s a mistake to assume the Real is before and indifferent to language—the Real as the unthinkable is only created in language, doesn’t exist prior to the symbolic in which it is unthinkable (Zizek, sometimes at least, explains this quite well—other times, he seems to miss his own point…).  So, if Kolozova is right, then I guess I was getting Laruelle’s point, I just think he’s dead wrong.

GW: This is a rich disagreement! I think we are circling around what Laruelle calls the “heart” of his method. Without it, there is no non-philosophy. The technical term for this is “determination-in-the-last-instance.” In Laruelle, “radical immanence,” like the economic in Marx,  is that which, when all is said and done, has causal power in the real world. It, like vision-in-one, human-in-person, etc., is, of course, merely a “first term.” Like the Hindus say of God, the real has 330 million names. It doesn’t matter what you call it or even if you call it at all, because it, it’s name and the question of its correctness or incorrectness have no bearing on the function it serves. This is the tricky and, for most readers of Laruelle it seems, unacceptable part of his theory. The function of “the real” is purely axiomatic. It is not intended to say something about reality. Non-philosophy has no interest in saying how things are. It is not interested in for instance, adjudicating between competing theories of x or figuring out what properly constitutes the subject. Laruelle’s method certainly isn’t helping us to grasp the real. It is intended rather to help us grasp the idealism and the typically unacknowledged transcendence that, he claims, invariably constitute philosophical forms of thought. It, the real-function, is incommensurable with “being” and “reality” precisely because it, the function, serves to disable the decisional circuitry that is required in making pronouncements concerning such matters. Similarly, language is alienating because it is always tracking in the direction of some decisional matrix. Language is always implicated in and the vehicle for some “occasion,” some regional claim to knowledge, some World. I think that the crucial point here is that it is not a matter of right or wrong. It is only a matter of using the axiomatic method or not. Right or wrong requires decision. Right or wrong is a move in the philosophical game, not the non-philosophical game. Right/wrong requires a decision both in the weak version of deciding which theory or view of is correct, and in the strong version of necessarily, whether explicitly or not, of grounding that decision in criteria that are not given in the x. That’s why  Laruelle says that “the One only acts in-the-last-instance, [meaning] that it does not exit itself.” That’s why he says it’s “One-in-One.” He is aiming for an extreme rigor of thought, and believes that this rigor both requires an axiomatic formulation and, in so doing, depotentializes decision. In short, it is simply a method for seeing (not determining) what happens to some real first term when this term is, as Laruelle puts it, “foreclosed” to the interminable incursions, postulates, and pronouncements that x-thought desires to mix it with. Of course, as Althusser says, “From the first moment to the last, the lonely hour of the ‘last instance’ never comes.” In that case, we only ever have some regional knowledge. Laruelle, however, would claim that we should add “may” before “never.” It all depends of whether we apply the axiomatic method of the real or whether we support the ancient court of philosophical, buddhistic, etc. justice. 

TP: Yes, I think this has been a point we’ve always differed on.  It always seems to me a mistake to assume that because language has an intention and is meant to do something, that it is therefore inherently idealist and transcendental.  I think this mistake is common, at least from Locke to phenomenology, and the fantasy of getting outside of language to some pre-linguistic immanence is, it seems to me, an idealism and transcendentalism, a kind of “decision” that, to my mind, Laruelle makes and fails to notice.  It’s sort of like saying that because a shovel or a hammer has an intentional function they are therefore idealist and transcendental.  Language is not magic or alienating, any more than a pair of shoes is—it is a material practice we construct to accomplish something.  It is the case that in capitalist ideologies there is a powerful attachment to certain master signifiers, to the idea of a transcendental truth, etc.  But it’s important, to me, not to mistake capitalist ideology for ontology.

Lareulle’s thought seems to become somewhat of a “spherical chicken in a vacuum,” sometimes.  It seems to work perfectly, until you try to do something in the world with it.  I find myself, when I read one of his books, agreeing up to a point, then disappointed when he makes, once again, what seems to me the fundamental error of philosophy since Plato: the conflation of the mind-independent world with the humanly-created.  Because when you get down to a concrete instance, Laruelle’s concepts work well enough to expose the hidden master signifiers of an ideology, but don’t work when dealing with material realities. There surely is a right and wrong—it is right to say that the polio vaccine works to prevent polio, wrong to say that it is a government conspiracy and doesn’t work at all.  Sure, we want to prevent polio for ideological reasons, but that doesn’t mean we are doing it only in some transcendental idealistic illusion.  Sure, it would be foolish to say anything about what the subject “really is”, because the subject is always produced by the social system, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say something about what the subject of this particular social formation really is.  When Althusser says the last instance never arrives, he’s trying to point out that the economy can never be the only determinant, it is just the most powerful one—how we produce our food, shelter, clothing, etc. will always be the most powerful determinant in any social formation…but can never be completely determining.  Laruelle’s idea of a last instance seems to me to be troubled by the desire to be free of ideology, caught up in the romantic myth of an original state prior to “alienation” in language.  But human beings don’t precede language—we are the product of the biological capacity to communicate symbolically.  

GW: I agree with most of your position when it comes to these matters (language, ideology, etc.). I still think that Laruelle is up to something that eludes your criticisms here. Again, the pivot point is always the function of the axiom. He is not saying what language, for example, does or does not do in the real world. That is philosophy’s job. Laruelle is rather showing how and when it slips into idealism and supports the transcendental illusion. It is Buddhism and philosophy and mysticism and so on that entertain our “fantasy of getting outside of language to some pre-linguistic immanence.” Laruelle wants to position a massive deaf and dumb stone called the real for those thought-systems to crash against on their way to the Ideal. That stone only exists in thought. he would say that it is all ideology, all this World or that World, all language formation, and so on. But how do we discern that fact? Positing radical immanence axiomatically rather than philosophically is what serves this function in his method.  I completely agree with you that “Lareulle’s thought seems to become somewhat of a ‘spherical chicken in a vacuum.'” I am thinking at this point, though, that this fact simply points to the necessity for the “x-fictional” work. That is, the really hard part is also the most interesting and potentially valuable part, namely, the creation of new ideologies. Really, that’s all a philofiction or buddhofiction is: an ideology constructed out of x-material run through the anti-decisional machinery and slapped with the warrant of “insufficient.”  This is also a rich point of struggle between us: “Laruelle’s concepts work well enough to expose the hidden master signifiers of an ideology, but don’t work when dealing with material realities.” Of course, I agree with the first part. And I don’t disagree with the second part; I am still undecided about that. He claims, and Anthony Paul Smith is quite vehement on this point, that his thought is nothing if not an effective intervention into material realities. I am still seeing how that might be the case. I suspect that if it is the case, it is not the case in a big, robust, change-the-world way. He says, for example, that he always expects the worst. He works with a cyclical rather than linear (and perhaps necessarily teleological?) image of time. So, it’s not “how could this happen! when will it end?!” but rather, “oh, this again.” Having said that, the entire point of this kind of practice is changing the World., changing this social formation in order to create a presently inconceivable, hence “strange,” subject.

One final point. Agreed: “it is right to say that the polio vaccine works to prevent polio, wrong to say that it is a government conspiracy and doesn’t work at all.” This point only highlights for me Laruelle’s elevation of “first-science” (on the model of the ancient “first philosophy”) above all other regional knowledges. Science is a mode of thought that thinks the real in a minimally transcendental manner. That’s why it is capable of rightness. He wants to create a form of thought vis a vis philosophical concerns that is akin to science, a “science of philosophy,” as he calls it. Finally, I am not a Laruelle follower. I am just working with his method in order to perform certain operations on Buddhism that, I think, would be otherwise impossible. It is probably no accident that the most committed Laruellens out there are in the performance arts, particularly theater. I actually think that I am accessing Laruelle’s thought mainly through my experience as a musician, rather than through my interests in philosophy and buddhism.

TP: I do agree that Laruelle is helpful when it comes to pointing out the idealist flinch, what Derrida would call the metaphysical moment, in discourses, particularly in philosophy.  I thought his book on Badiou was very good for this reason, pointing out that Badiou is assuming that a human symbolic system (math, set theory) is ontology; for all that Badiou’s thought enables, he stops short of recognizing that the structure of the human mind might just not correspond to the universe as such.  

The problem for me is when he assumes, as you say, that it is all ideology…this is the collapse of two very different things into one category that has been going on since Plato—either there is just the material world (materialist reductionism) or there is just ideology (idealism), but there cannot be both!  This, as I’ve said before, is what seems to me to be Laruelle’s own “decision,” or metaphysical moment.  I don’t think that he would need to work so hard to produce his obscure terminology if he weren’t so devoted to the idea that there really is NO use of language, no thought at all, that is not ideological.  Even hard sciences may often fall into a sort of spontaneous ideology, so it has no privileged status there (what is String Theory, for instance, other than doing ideology with math?). 

This is why I’m wary of using Laruelle myself.  It is useful to “foreclose” the master signfiers that enable ideology to deny reality…but I think it’s possible to do this with concepts from deconstruction or psychoanalytic theory, or Althusser, and avoid the danger of assuming that it is ALL ideology.  When I read Laruelle, I get the same message that Kolozova describes, the idea that language is inherently unnatural and alienates us from our radical immanence.  This is why its a puzzle how we can ever “discern the fact” that we have an ideology.  If we stop seeing language as other to our nature as humans, this is less of a puzzle—it is because language is a tool we use to manipulate the mind-independent world that we can detect when it represents that world poorly or incorrectly.  

As with Badiou, I think there’s a lot in Laruelle that might enable us to do useful things; but just as I think Badiou is wrong to assume, for instance, that art (particularly poetry) is a truth procedure, or that math is ontology, I think Laruelle makes some idealist assumptions that we need to be wary of.  But then, if he didn’t, he’d surely not be in the job he’s in, or so successful in it, right?  

Ultimately, for me, it comes down to putting the concepts to use, applying them to some particular practice in the world.  That’s the only way I’m ever able to get beyond the “spherical chicken in a vacuum”—I always need real concrete examples to make sense of things for myself.  So if you can put it use on the discourse/practice of x-buddhism, then perhaps that will overcome the idealist assumptions that keep Laruelle’s work spinning out endless new arcane terminology—the spherical chicken will bounce of the stone, perhaps.

GW: Maybe I’ll break it up a but:

The problem for me is when he assumes, as you say, that it is all ideology.

Except that there’s the earth and the black universe. Somewhere between the raw material and the non-reflective emptiness that yet contains all colors, we make Worlds. So, agreed, I shouldn’t have said “all.”

I don’t think that he would need to work so hard to produce his obscure terminology if he weren’t so devoted to the idea that there really is NO use of language, no thought at all, that is not ideological.  

I see two things happening with Laruelle’s obscure terminology. Certainly, his terminology is an important aspect of his practice, or as he puts it, performance of thought. It is precisely his belief in the importance of language in constructing Worlds that he takes such care in crafting his terminology. I am usually pretty allergic to his all-too-French formulations like life-without-Life, force (of) thought, and all the rest, when it’s taken too seriously. I think that Laruelle is often making fun of that tradition. His goal, after all, is to “clone” philosophy, and to do so in a single gesture. But the terminology also forces, or at least aims to force, I think, a new kind of thinking. (Zen language and tantric “twilight language might be distant cousins in both regards.) The thought that is not (or is only minimally) ideological is science. That’s why non-philosophy aims to be a “science of philosophy.”

but I think it’s possible to do this with concepts from deconstruction or psychoanalytic theory, or Althusser, and avoid the danger of assuming that it is ALL ideology.

So does Laruelle—up to a point. That point is when those disciplines—and I would include Buddhism here—start performing their particular amphibologies. He wants to add a further degree of rigor that catches these confusions and adjusts for them. 

When I read Laruelle, I get the same message that Kolozova describes, the idea that language is inherently unnatural and alienates us from our radical immanence…if we stop seeing language as other to our nature as humans, this is less of a puzzle—it is because language is a tool we use to manipulate the mind-independent world that we can detect when it represents that world poorly or incorrectly.

Not “inherently,” or “other than” but in practice and different from. The stranger subject is precisely the one who practices language and thought differently. He also views language differently from the norm of his World, which wields it largely unconsciously as a mechanism as both harassment and replication. The stranger views language exactly as you say here, namely, as “a tool we use to manipulate the mind-independent world.” 

I think Laruelle makes some idealist assumptions that we need to be wary of.  But then, if he didn’t, he’d surely not be in the job he’s in, or so successful in it, right?  

If Laruelle can be shown to harbor idealist assumptions that would be huge. I wonder if you would want to craft such an argument, and maybe we could ask Anthony Paul Smith to reply. If you want to explore this idea, let me know and I’ll refer you to three criticisms along the lines of yours (roughly)—Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harmann, and Ray Brassier—as well as Laruellen rebuttals. I am always on the alert for slippage into idealism in Laruelle. I do think that he never quite succumbs. But this is a big topic, perhaps the topic on which his entire project depends. For, what will we have gained from him if it turns out that non-philosophy itself requires decision and claims sufficiency?

Ultimately, for me, it comes down to putting the concepts to use, applying them to some particular practice in the world.  That’s the only way I’m ever able to get beyond the “spherical chicken in a vacuum”—I always need real concrete examples to make sense of things for myself.  So if you can put it use on the discourse/practice of x-buddhism, then perhaps that will overcome the idealist assumptions that keep Laruelle’s work spinning out endless new arcane terminology—the spherical chicken will bounce of the stone, perhaps.

Again, the claim is that this is through and through a “particular practice in the world.” I certainly live it —enact it, perform it—in the world. I live it, as Buddhists say, in thought, speech, and action. Again, Laruelle’s method itself is “non-epistemological.” It is up to the user to create knowledge and make examples out of whatever material he is working with. Again, your hyper-translations are an example. In fact, it’s an example containing numerous additional examples. Imagine creating a practice community centered on the reading and discussion, and perhaps further creation, of such texts. My Incite Seminars is an example spawning countless unknowable further examples. The SNB blog is nothing if not a “particular practice in the world,” right? Just for clarification, do you see a necessary relationship between idealist assumptions and arcane terminology? Laruelle, I think, might argue that the opposite is the case: our seemingly innocuous everyday terminology is saturated with idealist assumptions, and a new, necessarily unfamiliar materialist terminology must take its place.

TP: Just to be clear, I don’t think new terms are necessarily idealist, and I do agree that thinking outside the ideologically-saturated common sense terminology of everyday speech is always difficult, and will at first seem obscure.  On the other hand, I’m always wary of neologisms—sure, we need them to think new things, but more often they are used to avoid thinking and cover aporias (like Locke’s “consciousness”).  My point is just that, on my reading, Laruelle only really becomes obscure at the point where he lapses into idealism…but right now I don’t think I have the mental energy to make a strong case for it, much less the ability to sit in front of my computer. I think Brassier’s criticism, though, really cannot be successfully refuted—the attempts at ‘rebuttal” I’ve seen really just distort and misunderstand his criticism, none have really addressed what he is actually saying.

That said, I don’t know that it means Laruelle is totally useless.  I mean, I don’t necessarily agree with everything Nietzsche, Foucault or Zizek say, but I think we can still make use of their concepts.  What’s important is less whether they had everything exactly correct than what they enable us to think. At least, that’s how I approach things most of the time.  Jameson may be an absolute naive idealist when it comes to “consciousness,” but he still has lots of useful ideas about literature, art and ideology.

GW: This statement of yours sums it up for me: “What’s important is less whether they had everything exactly correct than what they enable us to think.” I couldn’t agree more. My proclivity to take from a thinker whatever I feel is helpful has got me into some trouble. If you cite a thinker’s idea, people too quickly jump to the conclusion that you endorse everything about him or her. The trick is to do this kind of piecemeal assessment and extraction without falling into a postmodern anything-goes-ism.

TP: Do you have any interest in the conventional “parting words” interview questions?  To wit: what was most disappointing about SNB?  What do you see as the best things to come out of the project?  Any ideas what you might do with the blog next?  

I got pretty much what I expected. Having been around x-buddhist communities for a long time, I knew of their reluctance, and in many cases outright inability, to engage in robust criticism. It has always been clear to me, too, that the principle of “right-speech” functions as a mechanism of self-governance in Buddhist sanghas, whereby the practitioner him- or herself decides not to rock the dharmic raft. The nature of a sangha as an ideological apparatus for molding the x-buddhist subject has also long interested me. (In fact, just before I left mainstream academia I was working on a book tentatively titled The Western Buddhist Sangha: Participation and Identity.) It was this subject whom I expected to encounter on the blog, and I did. It would be too much to say here who this subject is, but briefly, it is someone who: sees himself as possessing, via both Buddhist doctrine and meditation, a critical acumen par excellence yet is really quite poor at critical work; is deeply ensconced in an obviously contrived, even hallucinated, worldview but genuinely, sincerely, and wholeheartedly believes herself to be “seeing things as they are;” views herself as philosophically astute and culturally informed yet exhibits a profound anti-intellectualism and cultural myopia; sees himself as possessing, via some x-buddhist practice, advanced psychological fortitude yet is emotionally hyper-sensitive and even somewhat prudish. The most disturbing aspect of the contemporary x-buddhist subject in general is that it presents itself as politically and socially liberal, even progressive, yet is indistinguishable from your average neighborhood neoliberal. Because I knew and expected all of this in advance, I felt that for the blog to have a chance, for it to cut through the pious pontification and righteous rectitude of x-buddhist discourse, it would have to hit hot and hard. Was I disappointed at the constant harangue from commentators about the blog’s “mean tone”? Of course not!

By far the best thing to come out of the project has been the creation of ideas, concepts, models, and texts that foster the possibility of a new kind of subject in the world. This, after all, was—and still is—the entire purpose of the blog. This is a subject who, at a minimum: recognizes the ways in which a World comes into being, and can make intelligent, ethical choices about what to do about it; recognizes the social nature of self-formation and “practices” accordingly; sees herself as already deeply implicated in the history of ideas, and so labors to become a responsible participant in the continuing flow of that history.

I am not sure what might come next. The hardest part of the Laruellen work is the creation of new “fictions” out of the x-buddhist material. And these buddhofictions should, of course, be the basis of a lived practice in the world. Maybe it can serve as an impetus for that work.

TP: Personally, I think there are some real effects of the blog, even beyond the subtle shift in the discussion of Buddhism (willingness to discuss things like capitalism and ideology alongside Buddhism, or to question the feel-good assumptions of mindfulness or the idealist assumptions of supposed secularists, etc.).  There’s a certain willingness to think, at least among a few of the participants—that is, the production of a new kind of subject, who might think critically.  Sure, anyone who mentions SNB is quick to dismiss it as hostile, sort of like anyone who mentions Firestone’s “Dialectic of Sex” has to mention that she’s “clearly insane”…still, she changed the discussion of feminism, and made it possible for even those who dismiss her to say things they couldn’t have said before…Or, maybe that’s just my wishful thinking.


30 thoughts on ““This is a rich disagreement!”

  1. Tom and Glenn, thanks so much for sharing!

    I’ve given a lot of thought to the Kolozova article, which forms the heart of the discussion. Here’s my take (sorry, it’s long):

    Kolozova makes a case for Laruelle’s theory of the Stranger subject as being a necessary addition to the discussion on various humanisms and discussions of subjectivity. The Stranger is a radicalization of the philosophical “Subject,” which means that the Stranger is “minimally transcendental,” or thought “according to the Real” (60). While both the Stranger and Subject are linguistic subjectivities—and thus, according Kolozova, necessarily transcendental (more on this later)—the Stranger does not attempt to subordinate the data of reality into a unitary theory, but renders all theories of subjectivity “chôra, which is an unorganized, sheer ‘transcendental material’ the non-standard philosophical approach can make use of in ways which are not doctrinally predetermined but rather ‘succumb to the authority’ of the unpredictable, unruly Real.” In other words, all thought is equal before the “mute” Real, in this case referred to as the “Human-in-human,” or the “Lived.”

    The crucial difference between the Stranger and the Subject is the transcendental, and consequently alienating character of the Subject. The Subject, like any other philosophical amphibology (mixing the transcendental and the Real), unites the Dyad of the Real (as the Lived) and the transcendental material (here, subjectivity) into a transcendental unity, subordinating the Lived to a higher “meaning”—“In the case of the post- Lacanian legacies of theories of subjectivity it all comes down to the realization that the estranged Subject is all we have, can possess and control, therefore – we are nothing but spectral subjectivities always already alienated from the Real” (60). There is a fundamental alienation and transcendence from the Real (the Human-in-human) due to subjectivity that the Subject attempts to avoid, “normalize,” or “annul its lived effect by way of compensating through ‘meaning,’” (60) but only ends up introducing the “violent experience of the ‘split I,’ of self-alienation (in both Marxian and Freudian sense of the word)” (64).

    Kolozova notes that the Subject is “doubly transcendental,” in that it transcends the real, lived effects of the Dyad, but also because there is a more fundamental transcendence going on in the Dyad itself (I’ve alluded to this above) (64). Kolozova makes it very clear that there is a radical separation (a “unilateral duality” in Laruelle-speak) between the Lived and subjectivity, Stranger, or otherwise. “Laruelle’s unilateral affirming of the irreconcilable difference between the (mute) real and the (linguistic) subject aims at also affirming the lived reality of the radical estrangement as taking place in the Real” (60). The subject depends on the Real, but the Real in no way depends on the subject. The estrangement of the subject from the Lived also takes place within the Real. This is basically where my understanding breaks down, and I find several aspects of Kolozova’s account problematic, or at least confusing.

    First of all, I’m confused about the identity of the Lived and the Real. I could understand if Laruelle means that the Lived is one aspect of the Real, but Kolozova’s statement that, “the lived (le vécu) is what takes place on – or makes – the plane of the Real” (60), seems to imply that there is some reversability between human experience and the Real, which brings to mind Tom’s concern about a confusion between mind-dependent and independent phenomena.

    Second of all, I’m confused about the unilateral duality between the Real (as Lived) and the linguistic subject. Does this unilateral duality imply the possibility of experience which is separate from thought? Isn’t the linguistic constantly structuring lived experience? Regarding the Lived, Kolozova explains, “I am referring to the notion of certainty in its sense of immanence – of the inalienable, inalterable, inexorable ‘being there,’ of the lived each ‘human-in-human’ is in the last instance. This utter experience, this absolute Lived is overwhelming. It is invasive since it is an elemental force, or rather it is pure force. Therefore, it is necessarily mediated, and mediation is by definition a working of the transcendental (i.e., of signification or of Language)” (63). Kolozova implies here that not only is language dependent on the Real (I mean, dependent on “mute” matter), but that the Real as “Lived” is something that is prior to language, and must be “mediated” by language, rather than being inextricably bound up with it.

    This brings me to my last concern: Why is language necessarily transcendental and alienating. I understand Glenn’s point that oppressive ideological systems are “made of” thought/language, and language may “tend towards” authoritarianism (but often, so do humans) but do we have any other choice than to use language? So why is there an alienation of subject from the Real? If my rudimentary knowledge of Lacan is correct, the development of children, they must traumatically enter the Symbolic from a pre-symbolic, Imaginary existence. Is Laruelle going for a similar idea with the Stranger’s alienation from the Real? I didn’t understand the section on “non-analysis,” but I think so.

    Glenn says that the Real for Laruelle is axiomatic; he doesn’t make metaphysical claims. But by putting the Lived in opposition with language (the linguistic subject), aren’t there philosophical assumptions here about the possibility of “raw experience,” the “sheer lived”, unmediated by language?

    So where am I going wrong, Glenn?

    (Also what is Brassier’s critique of Laruelle called?)

  2. I’m not going to offer an answer to Jonathan’s question, but an extension of it.

    For me, the difficulty of Laruelle is in the elaborate system of neologisms. It seems to turn into one of those schools of thought where there is a group of “initiates” eager to denounce anyone who tries to say anything concrete with its terminology. The attempt is immediately denounced as misapplying one of the key terms. We see this with certain grad students fanatical about Lacan, for instance, or with the worst kind of x-buddhists, or at one time the fanatical Blake scholars in English departments drawing Byzantine maps of Blakes “system.”

    Can we avoid producing what I call the “spherical chicken in a vacuum” problem? That is, this becomes an elaborate “system” of abstractions that might cohere, but only so long as we avoid saying anything about the world. Can anyone offer a concrete real-world illustration in which to discuss this?

    For instance, Jonathan writes: the Stranger does not attempt to subordinate the data of reality into a unitary theory, but renders all theories of subjectivity “chôra, which is an unorganized, sheer ‘transcendental material’ the non-standard philosophical approach can make use of in ways which are not doctrinally predetermined but rather ‘succumb to the authority’ of the unpredictable, unruly Real.” In other words, all thought is equal before the “mute” Real.

    Okay, I think I know what is meant here. I don’t think I’m particularly dense, or a poor reader, and I have an idea what a Laruellean might mean by to be saying here. But if I’m right, I cannot see what is gained by this terminology other than avoiding saying anything specific about the real world. What would be a real example of the Stranger performing the act of “making us of” such “transcendental material”? What would it mean, exactly, for such “material” to “succumb” to something that is “unpredictable”? What would be an example of that happening, in the real world? I think I can imagine such examples, but if I understand it correctly I cannot see the need for any of this obscure terminology…so perhaps I’m not getting what Laruelle is after here?

    I also cannot conceive of why language would be alienating, unless we make the same old phenomenological/Lockean error that Derrida so exhaustively explains to us in Speech and Phenomenology. It’s like saying we are “alienated” from the dirt in our garden by the shovel. Perhaps, in a very romantic and metaphorical use of the term “alienated” (with illusions of how much more enjoyable it would be to sink our bare hands into the soil, etc.). But this is the worst kind of Romantic dream—the illusion that animals, for instance, live more natural lives in states of blissful union with “nature.” But this is a separate problem.

    I think we might move the discussion along if we could discuss this using a real concrete example. But maybe that’s just me—I’m told its a failing of mine that I always want to put theory to use on specific examples…

  3. And I forgot to mention—Brassier discusses Laruelle in his book Nihil Unbound, and also in an essay in the collection Laruelle and Non-Philosophy. The latter, an essay called “Laruelle and the Reality of Abstraction” seems to me to point out a serious problem with Laruelle’s project; however, it does it at the level of abstraction—that is, Brassier explains how Laruelle’s system itself is not completely internally consistent and coherent, that it depends on a conceptual error. I find Brassier convincing, but I’m still concerned with what exactly is gained by talking about reality using Laruelle’s concepts.

  4. Tom, this is a very good point. People can become overly attached to complex and “pretty” systems like Laruelle’s, and I fell into that a bit here. In my defense, I was trying to get grip on what Kolozova/Laruelle is saying with regard to the Stranger. Obviously, I don’t fully get it.

    To put that quotation into more colloquial language, if we think of theories of subjectivity as simple material, none of them being completely “true” by themselves, if we don’t come at it from a “Lacanian” or “Althusserian” perspective for instance, we might be more successful at conjugating theories from gender theory and post-marxism or something. I think the idea is that, having a thoroughly materialist perspective—thought is a material part of reality and cannot be “unitary” (a completely accurate or perfect system that can always be adjusted for the addition of new facts (similar to your vaccuum chicken))—will make one more creative and consistent (in terms of not making totalizing idealist moves) in the creation of philosophy. “All thought is equal before the ‘mute’ Real,” doesn’t mean that no idea is better or more useful than another, just that thought is a material practice and that reality as a whole doesn’t give us a privileged vantage point from which to evaluate thought—it must be worked out “scientifically.”

    As Glenn has mentioned before, Laruelle’s terminology is so “tortured” partially because he is trying not to make any totalizing claim about reality. He wants to stick to claims about ideological/philosophical material. (This is why I’m also so confused about his apparently philosophical statements about subjectivity.)

    I also want to see Laruelle’s ideas applied. However I’m a Laruellean neophyte. I assume it’s being done, I just haven’t seen it yet.

  5. I guess the problem I’ve always had with the idea that “all thoughts are equal” is that they so clearly aren’t.We can safely put some thoughts to the side because they are just so bad. I guess the only yardstick Laruelle uses is whether or not an idea “conforms” to the Real—avoids making totalizing statements about reality.

  6. Jonathan,

    I removed the earlier comment for you.

    My concern with the “tortured terminology” is that it isn’t really necessary to avoid making totalizing or transcendental claims. There are already abundant terms in which to talk about ideology and philosophy without making any such claims. The problem is that, in Laruelle’s case, the terminology actually serves to obscure a transcendental assumption he in fact is making—one which many philosophers have tried for many centuries to remove. Sometimes, when we invent new terms, it turns out to be a way to go on making a mistake that has already become impossible to make in existing terminology!

    The passage I quoted from your question doesn’t seem, to me, to be unusual for Laruelleans. My only question was whether anyone can offer a concrete example of that practice, the pracitce of the “stranger.” What would be an actual instance of doing this? If it is only a matter of using arcane and impenetrable terms, if that’s the only way to “succumb to the unpredictable Real,” then I’m not sure what that gets any of us. I’m guessing Laruelle must have something more useful in mind.

  7. “a critical acumen par excellence yet is really quite poor at critical work”

    Slightly off topic, but relevant, I believe critical thought is overrated…as it paralyzes the subject. if not, it creates the same blind spot laruelle cautions against.

    More important, is the reinforcing (forming) action…aka bhavana, you beautifully captured in your book. But the challenge is “knowing” what that formation should be. What should one become/build?

    Critical thought, every guy has one. The supreme formation ? that’s a hard one to become.

  8. Hey everyone. Thanks for the great discussion and especially the critical points and questions. I hope to chime in soon. I am literally finishing up the book, and am hyper-focussed on that.

    I can’t help but see johsh’s comment as I write this note. I have to ask johsh: how did you come to that conclusion except through paralyzing and overrated critical thought?

    Anyway, onward!

  9. Hmm, a raft that I let go, perhaps 🙂

    Actually, I would like to think I use practical thought, or “skillful thought” if you prefer Buddhist parlance. As opposed to “critical thought” … which honestly is not as clear to me as the aforementioned kind. You need know what you are being critical about, or for what. The practical aspect gives me that clarity. Ideology gets us no where…except reinforce the ideology.

    I see no value if one doesn’t improve…not just in thought, but every aspect of one’s well being. Critical thought is not nearly enough, infact it could be an abyss.

  10. Thanks for these very thoughtful comments and questions, Jonathan. I can only point to a few signposts that might suggest directions for your thought to go. I’ll get to the remaining comments and questions on this thread as soon as I can.

    A couple of general points first. I always find that it helps when reading Laruelle–in fact, it can often make the difference between usefulness and incomprehension– to bear in mind that he is not offering us insights into reality, being, or truth. His thought is “non-epistemological” in that sense. He simply refuses to play that quintessentially philosophical game. He is not producing knowledge about reality, etc. He is producing procedures for us to better comprehend how the interminable x-systems of thought construct Worlds, or ideologies and their subjects. It is up to us to put these procedures to work. Doing so requires furthermore that we take up some material as our basis. I am doing this work with Buddhist material. The “chora” that you mention refers to the fact that the material has been placed outside of the sovereign domain of it origins (that’s the ancient Greek meaning of khora). Thus outside, the material becomes a void matrix open to use “otherwise” or as a “whatever” material, as Laruelle puts it. So, when that work is being done, or better, when it is being performed, it starts to look something like a loyal citizen of the sovereign polis (x-philosophy, x-buddhism). That means, among other things, that the mutation–the reconfigured material– starts to give clearer indications of some stance in relation to “reality, being, and truth.” I put that in scare quotes because the placing, or really wrenching, of the material outside of the x-domain was accomplished through the exact same means that renders these terms anemic: sufficiency and decision. Outside of the original domain, they become insufficient and inconclusive. Laruelle himself does this work, of course, in a text like Future Christ, where he seems to be making positive statements about being or the subject, or whatever. But in being marked at every turn by insufficiency and inconclusiveness, his pronouncements are self-consciously fictional. That does not mean, of course, that they don’t or can’t have powerful effects for an actual life in the world. So, when the work involves the non-philosophical method, theory, and procedure, it is highly abstract and, in a sense, autistic (it doesn’t communicate as we would like it to). But when it is becomes philo-fictional, it really comes to life, but never in the way the sovereign desires.

    About your first question, there is never a “reversibility between human experience and the Real.” I am assuming that be “human experience” you simply mean what Laruelle might call the in-human or person-in-person (really, man-in-man). In this sense, that experience is never anything other than that of the One; for, another name for the human is the in-One. But if we have to use that language, we would call it human-experience-without-human-experience because to make utterances concerning “human experience” is precisely the task of systems like philosophy and x-buddhism. This leads us to the topic of alienation. Marx says that no “abstraction” (and by that he means something like philosophical system) can tell us what our experience is or should be. He, of course, really speaks in terms of “real interest,” but I think we can expand on that idea to include “experience.” The four modes of alienation that Marx mentions are: alienation from the product of our labor; alienation from productive activity itself; alienation from species being; and alienation from other people. Kolozova, particularly in Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism, adds to this mix alienation from our own physicality. The problem with systems like Buddhism is that are precisely predicated on the assumption that know our real interests better than we do. Included in enlightening us to what that real interest is, is the usurpation of our very physicality. That includes not only our animality but our very capacity for joy and pain. (Just consider how much energy x-buddhism expends on its rhetoric of suffering and happiness.) Disabling x-abstraction clears a way for non-alienating interests to breathe. Marx says that this performance constitutes “reintegration or return of man to himself, the transcendence of human self-estrangement.” Kolozova reads this statement to indicate that:

    the human species can transcend alienation—hence, oppression—only by radically grounding itself in its material or real humanity, one that precedes philosophy, and ultimately, language. The human can come to its fullest realization by succumbing to the immanence of human animality (the human without humanism), through following the syntax of the real that it dictates in the processes of cognition and metaphysics it prompts. (30-31)

    Maybe we can use this statement as a segue into your comments about language. Language is always transcendent because it is by nature representational. In my opinion, it is this very fact that illuminates the dire necessity of doing the kind of work that Laruelle is doing. That is, if already at the point of utterance we are implicated in some degree of metaphysics and transcendence, then, assuming that our “real interests” lie in immanence, we really have to be careful. Again, x-buddhism is aware of this fact. Hence, the performance of the koan, and the warnings about discursiveness and the fraudulency (also Lacan’s term for the imaginary) of the image-language nexus. The eternal error that x-buddhism makes, of course, is to redress the issue with its own representations that it passess off for non-representations.

    When Kolozova elsewhere (p. 30) speaks of “radically vulnerable pre-subjective identities,” she is alluding to a preeminent Laruellen move, namely, the axiomatic positing/positioning of the real. This idea touches on your questions. The real relates to us (albeit indifferently), but only from its side, hence, “unilateral duality.” “Does this unilateral duality imply the possibility of experience which is separate from thought?” As I experiment with Laruelle method, the answer, I think, is yes in that “the lived” refers to the radical vulnerability that is coextensive with our very physicality and sensuousness. Again, x-buddhism also speaks of these matters. Pain, dukkha, is considered a kind of tuché or an unavoidable “accident” of materiality, an originary trauma. Specifically, it is the unstenchable irruption of the real into lived experience as pain. It is completely impervious to language, representation, and signification. “Isn’t the linguistic constantly structuring lived experience?” As experimenter in the Laruellen lab, I think the answer is no. The real is doing that. Maybe it will help to think of it as a kind of a priori, like the hard materiality of the analog film stock within which is “burned” the “film” as cultural production (World). It is the perpetual thrust of material, animal “sheer experience” into the accidents of language, etc., which we might says, yes, structures experience in its endless repetition (Lacan’s automaton, more or less).

    Contrary to the constant criticism I receive about the “over-intellectualization” and “ultimate irrelevance” of this line of thought, I believe it is not difficult to “prove” its profound relevance to human life—or to a human life. It is, for what it’s worth (and it should be worth a lot to many readers of this blog), wholly in line with the concerns of x-buddhism. 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.

  11. “the transcendence of human self-estrangement”

    The promise is that of “seeing”(wisdom) all blind spots (ignorance, karmic inertia induced blindness), and one of embracing not estrangement.

    “whether the thinking of these matters produces material for yet another form of Worldly capture”

    The promised land/state is supposed to go beyond any/all captures(dukkha). But, one has to learn to “see” first. The problem with critical/thought alone is it is not enough…one really has to learn to see not just the bad, but all forms. Critical thought tends to enslave itself to a certain view.

    One has to got to learn to see themselves, how their own view points got formed(birth), changed…and then that of others. Once one sees theirs, they will now be capable of seeing others, and finally one is ready to arrive at the end-state of ending formations.

    This process is captured in a story form of Buddha seeing past lives, other’s lives, and finally arriving at end-state. This is under three knowledges…


    I don’t take all of it literally, but I do think one has to learn to “see”. Not just like laruelle, or with critical thought, but of all forms. This only possible by first learning to see one’s self properly…as there is no other way one can learn to see otherwise, or know of they are indeed seeing properly. Then, they will have to apply it to others, and finally go beyond all forms of seeing.(end of formations/births).

  12. Hi Tom. Thanks for your comments. Can we begin with your reference to Brassier’s criticism? I’m not sure what you were referring to exactly. Maybe you can say. I’ll use the comment you made in an email to me as the basis of my response. You wrote:

    I am increasingly convinced that Brassier’s critique of Laruelle is correct, and that the key to the error is in the fear of “capture” by ideology/Worlds. A “World” is not what enslaves us, but what frees us from living like animals, merely reacting to what’s around us and unable to transform it. Of course, we have to choose the right World, and know that it is one…but that’s the whole challenge.

    I think we are in agreement on this point, and by extension, so are Laruelle and Brassier. It is precisely the function of a World to capture us. So, maybe there is something inherently fearsome, or better, awesome in the old sense of the word, in the very fact of Worlds. Maybe we could even say that worlding is a real for us humans. Like shitting, loving, and dying, we just can’t help ourselves. It’s a messy, volatile human practice. It’s a practice that is fraught with danger–just look at the goddamned world. But, as you indicate, it is also the very human practice that offers us a way forward, maybe even hope. Just look at utopian science-fiction in which a just World is minutely imagined. Even Schopenhauer could bring himself to argue that if we could become aware of the suffering all around us it might “remind us of what the most necessary of all things are: tolerance, patience, forbearance, and charity.” We “owe” these qualities to one another, he says (in “On the Suffering of the World”). Yet, these exact same words could come out of the mouth of someone like Thich Nhat Hanh, couldn’t they? So, considering the larger body of his work and looking at the kinds of subjects his community creates, it becomes obvious that these qualities are but minute features of a much more massive network of postulates that, when all is said and done, comprise the Plum Village World.

    Buddhism, of course, is nothing if not an elaborate network of postulates related to the founding of Worlds. Looking at the textual blueprints, some of those Worlds are indeed utopian and liberatory. But looking at the communities that employ those very texts, and judging by the subjects that they create, I have to wonder: What is happening here? And: What else might conceivably happen here? This is where Laruelle’s method becomes useful. It is a theory that throws light on what is happening, and it is a method that enables me to reconfigure the x-buddhist material in ways that I judge valuable. You say, in this regard, if I understand correctly:

    I think we might move the discussion along if we could discuss this using a real concrete example.

    If you’re interested in examples of the non-x-whatever subject in Laruelle, you’ll find them in texts like Future Christ and Christo-Fiction. You can also find numerous examples in works like Anthony Paul Smith’s A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature: Ecologies of Thought, and “What Can Be Done with Religion?: Non-Philosophy and the Future of Philosophy of Religion,” or John Ó Maoilearca’ All Thoughts are Equal. (By the way, he means they are all equal in the first instance as the raw materials for constructing Worlds.) There is an infinity of possible subjects, and so of examples. On this blog, over several years now, I have been trying to envision a buddha-subject. Unlike in Badiou’s thought, this is not someone who is faithful to the Event of the Buddha. It is a subject who performs the way of life, the values and dispositions, and so on, that is encoded in some given “non-buddhist” text, or a blueprint for a World that imagines this very subject. In a sense, this blog is just such a text. Writing the texts, reading the texts, thinking about them, responding to them, arguing against them, telling others about them, becoming influenced by them in whatever capacity, railing against them or embracing them, imagining and enacting a World together with them–that’s a non-buddhist practice. A crucial point here is that the “non” has an absolutely non-negotiable function. And that is that encoded within this practice is the very insufficiency and inconclusiveness of the practice. Hence, the necessity of the non-buddhist subject not to get attached, as the Buddha teaches us. Maybe this leads us to another of your points:

    For me, the difficulty of Laruelle is in the elaborate system of neologisms.

    As far as I can tell, most of Laruelle’s weird language is actually derived from the history of western philosophy and religion. He may mutate it sometimes, but it’s still recognizably philosophical or theological. He is, after all, adamant about the necessity, of his project anyway, of using philosophical and theological materials. So, most of it is not as neologistic as it might appear. Maybe you can offer some examples of terminology you find new and particularly (unnecessarily?) difficult.

    For me, learning to work with Laruelle’s lexicon is like learning another language. An even better example is learning a different musical style. Musicians get as stuck in their musical vocabulary as we do in our linguistic vocabulary. They often poo-poo other styles as being too simplistic or unnecessarily difficult or whatever, just like we do other styles of communication. (To wit: the endless harangues we get for the style of this blog.) So, I never know what to say when people bring up the terminology issue. Maybe it’s just a matter of taste. Difficult, weird, foreign terms just so happen to light my jouissance. So, I am probably a poor interlocutor on this matter.

    Finally, I would like to say this to every reader of this blog:

    The most important issue of all is whether we are going to continue to argue endlessly over the value or proper interpretation of this or that material, or whether we are willing to fashion new materials for thought and practice. The latter is itself a powerful practice. That’s how we got to this point, personally and collectively: the creation of and engagement with thought that was fashioned by other humans. Come to think of it, maybe there is a messianic aspect to the non.

    Back to Tom. I think your work on this blog and on The Faithful Buddhist are exemplars of the kind of work I have in mind as “practice texts.” We need more.

  13. Yeah, I know, when I criticize Laruelle (or Deleuze, or Wittgenstein) I always get the response that I’m just afraid of their “difficult” vocabulary, afraid of being challenged to think in new ways, of being set “free,” etc.

    I’m guilty, I guess—I’ll stick with the obviously less challenging volabulary of the man-on-the-street thinkers like Lacan, Derrida, Badiou, Althusser, etc. Much less mentally taxing.

    But seriously, this is the same kind of rhtetoric used against those who initially complained about Locke’s neologisms like “consciousness” and “self.” They saw them as unnecessary terms, terms without a concept, used to mask the idealism around which empricism’s purported materialism is built…and they were just timid and intellectually lazy, afraid to get on board and play the new and challenging games Locke’s system enabled…the game of capitalism, I guess.

    My concern, one more time, is not with difficulty of neologisms, but with the use of them to mask an idealist assumption that structure a purportedly materialist project. The Brassier piece I’m referring to is the essay in the collection mentioned above—where he points out that Laruelle is making the mistake of assuming some possibility of unmediated access to the real—some thought prior ot the social. He mentions Wilfrid Selllars as having refute this error, but I woudl include Quine and Derrida (the latter was most convincing or me). Laruelle, I’m afraid, enable us to keep playing the same old game, with the same capitalist ideology, but fail to notice we are doing it.

    That’s why I’m interested in a concrete example—not one of Laruelle’s texts, where he remains vague and abstract, but something specific in the world. What exactly would Sue Stranger Subject be doing if she were engaged in refusing to submit reality to some theory and instead succumbing ot the authority of the real? In real life, where might somebody do such a thing?

    My position is, if we can’t get to any concrete instance, then we shoulld really stop bothering with the terminology (I’d say the same about Lacanians who can never quite apply their sublte and sophisticated account of Lacanians terminology to any real life person). So, how about something like this: suppose Sue Stranger Subject is a English teacher, assigned to teach Macbeth to a class full of kids. She doesnt’ belive the traditional account of Shakespeare as a divine being who’s texts have finally made us fully human, while prior to them we were mere savage beasts (I’m not exagerating at all here—the christological language in Shakespeare scholarship is overbearing). So, what might she do, as a stranger subject, in that situation? How might she use the material of the play as “chora” to address the “real”? What is the “real” here? What exaclty is so unpredicable about it? What can be gained by thinking such an ordinary situation in Laruellean terms?

  14. Hi Tom. Thanks again. I have to run off to a seminar, so I have to be very brief–and all for the better, I’m sure!

    Yeah, I know, when I criticize Laruelle (or Deleuze, or Wittgenstein) I always get the response that I’m just afraid of their “difficult” vocabulary, afraid of being challenged to think in new ways, of being set “free,” etc.

    I’m not saying that at all. Strange speech does it for some of us and does not do it for others. I personally don’t think it has to do with being afraid to engage thought or being challenged. It’s one of those questions of personal style. I am surprised that you include Wittgenstein in your list. In German, anyway, he never, ever strays from everyday speech, at least in what has been translated as Philosophical Investigations.

    But seriously, this is the same kind of rhetoric used against those who initially complained about Locke’s neologisms like “consciousness” and “self.” They saw them as unnecessary terms, terms without a concept, used to mask the idealism around which empricism’s purported materialism is built…and they were just timid and intellectually lazy, afraid to get on board and play the new and challenging games Locke’s system enabled…the game of capitalism, I guess.

    Laruelle’s ‘the real-One” is precisely a term without an object (that’s what you meant, correct?) That is, he would wholeheartedly agree with his critics on this point. He would also tell Locke’s critics that the point is not whether or not the neologism “consciousness” tracks a feature of reality, but rather whether it, and the ideology of which it is but a node, creates a desirable subject for a desirable world. When Laruelle says he brings peace to the philosophers, he really means it. It’s a philosophical or an x-buddhist game to argue about the proper constituents of reality (much less the contents of the real). The non-x game is precisely to view this material otherwise. The Lockean concepts of “consciousness” and “self” do a certain kind of work in Locke’s system and, still, within our own capitalist system. That fact proves the very point about the power of x-fiction to impact the human world. And it proves the point about the necessity of fashioning new fictions for our time and for our place. But, as Audre Lorde said “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Hence, a certain peace reigns in the non-x-fiction World (though not in its prior, and necessary, deconstructive mode).

    The Brassier piece I’m referring to is the essay in the collection mentioned above—where he points out that Laruelle is making the mistake of assuming some possibility of unmediated access to the real—some thought prior of the social.

    I don’t have the piece in front of me. If Brassier levels this charge against Laruelle, then he is sorely misunderstanding him. In fact, Laruelle is adamant about the precise opposite being the case: there is no possibility of unmediated access to the real. His first major premise, in fact, includes the eternal foreclosure of the real to thought.

    That’s why I’m interested in a concrete example—not one of Laruelle’s texts, where he remains vague and abstract, but something specific in the world. What exactly would Sue Stranger Subject be doing if she were engaged in refusing to submit reality to some theory and instead succumbing ot the authority of the real? In real life, where might somebody do such a thing?

    You are an example.

  15. I think it’s worth looking at Brassier’s essay. He isn’t really denying that Laruelle insists on this, he is merely pointing out that despite insisting that this is not possible his entire project depends on assuming that in fact it is! I think it’s a fairly convincing, if short, critique—I was troubled by the same problem repeatedly in reading Laruelle.

    The easy rejection of reality, the assertion that it is just “a game to argue about the proper constituent of reality,” is the problem, for me. There are mind-independent constitutents of reality, and failing to properly “track” them can often lead to real material problems. This kind of talk just sounds to me like the worst kind of Romantic ideology…or worse, like Rorty.

    So, if I am en example, exaclty where, and how? That’s what I’m asking for, an actual specific instance. I know that I am hopelessly concrete-minded in this respect, but I can’t take seriously any discourse that can’t point to something in the real world.

  16. 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 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 particular instances-idealism, materialism etc.

    In philosophical terms the stranger- subject 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 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, or in Laruelle’s terms, 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 particular instances 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 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 his 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.

  17. Brassier reads Laruelle in too philosophical a manner. But, sure, let’s have a look. Where, exactly? In Nihil Unbound?

    The emphasis is on argue about. The non-x game involves, first, a deconstruction and then a reconstruction. That’s quite a different game than the philosophers and x-buddhists are playing. It’s closer to the game that science plays.

    If you don’t want to get some examples directly from Laruelle, I would suggest Anthony Paul Smith’s chapter “Ethics, or Universalizing the Stranger Subject” in Laruelle: A Stranger Thought. But basically I would counter your request for an example with: Your actions in the world aren’t concrete enough?! In all seriousness, when you are producing hyper-translations; when you’re arguing with communists and x-buddhist ideologues; when you’re refusing to accept that Laruelle escapes idealism; when you step back even from Badiou, someone from whom you learned a lot; when you craft an essay like “Taking Anatman Full-Strength” or a novel like An Insula Life; this is evidence of a stranger subject. It is a subject who, as Smith says, “rejects the englobaling function of the World…A subject who may have the end of the world as its object without naming exactly what the end of this World might look like.” In fashioning certain kinds of texts, you (or one) may, of course, speculate on what “the end of the World” might look like. But, if it is to be non-x type of speculation it must be deveined of sufficiency and decision. The thrust of this non-x project is always toward creativity. BUt serious creativity in which new, perhaps currently inconceivable, Worlds are seeded.

  18. I’m not able to respond at length, but I do have a question. Glenn mentions that philo-fictions are “marked at every turn by insufficiency and inconclusiveness”; I know that they do not make claims about the Real, as such, but do they create knowledge about reality?

  19. It may be that something specific like my writing that essay on “full strength anatman” is the act of a “stranger subject.” I am aware of this as a possibility, but it is exactly what I would prefer to avoid. My hope is not to destroy worlds and somehow imagine I’m living in the “real,” but to construct Worlds which are more productive. I am aware, though, that I may fail to do that in writing this text. That is, it may function to do exactly what I was hoping to avoid: allowing the reader, and myself, to think that I have thought my way out of the trap of some other suffocating philosophy, into the ultimate truth…and then to stay there. To stop at the point of “the self is constructed, but real” and just “feel” free in the ironic awareness of this dependent arising.

    Take as an example another essay from the collection Laruelle and Non-Philosophy (edited by Smith and Mullarkey, where the Brassier essay I referred to also appears). Rocco Gangle describes the stranger subject this way:

    “Rather than joining philosophy’s fight on one side or another, the Stranger merely acknowledges the manifest absurdity of its stakes: the struggle is grounded only in itself. Non-philosophy rejects not philosophy but only philosophy’s self-legitimating and hence thoroughly relative circumscriptions of its Other(s). The stranger thus does not opt out of the real world, but instead sees that the world itself as defined a priori by philosophy as a form of contest and enclosure (however infinite or horizontal in principle) in fact opts out of the ordinary human Real.”

    Could there be a better description, in contemporary continental-philosophical terms, of the Romantic subject? Ironically above the false struggle of mere intellect, and immersed in the “ordinary Real” of the human? This kind of absurd repetition of capitalist ideology posing as radicalism is what I hope to avoid—but quite seriously fear I have in fact too often participated in. One can claim this is not what Laruelle means…but when I read him this seems to me to be what he is doing. And it obviously seems to many of his followers to be the intent of his project as well (not just Gangle, but Kolozova and the passage from Smith you mention all say about the same thing).

    My hope is to avoid doing Romantic ideology once more in new terms—but again, I fear I haven’t succeeded. If I am, as you suggest, a “stranger subject” when I do things like write my unpublishable anti-dectective-novel novel, then I need to find a way to do something else.

    The important thing, to me (and I’ll make this as clear as I’m able to briefly), is to refuse to delude myself that I can escape into the “ordinary human Real.” Instead, I need to remember that the Real is always only a product of some discourse, is always the limit of an existing World, and if I think I’ve freed myself from that World by stopping there, I’m far more deluded than anyone actually interpellated in that World—I’ve mistaken the aporias constructed by that ideology for the eternal truth!

    My hope, then is to do two things: to recognize that Gangle gets it completely wrong, and that philosophy, or any discourse, is absolutely never grounded “only in itself,” but is grounded in material practices; and to try to actually construct material practices, without pretending that I can’t know in advance what their effect might be—we can certainly know what the effects of our practices will be, to some extent—to claim that such knowledge is an illusion is the world kind of postmodern relativism!

    I may, then, have failed to accomplish what I hoped. I may not have produced any material practices engaged in by groups of subjects (I think I have failed to achieve this—as yet, almost nobody has read my novel; not a single person was willing to contribute to my “hypertranslation” project, etc.). But if all I’ve done is to enact the kind of naive Romantic subject Gangle describes, then that’s probably worse than just failing!
    I’ll stop repeating myself, though. My concern is that the kind of thing Gangle understand Laruelle to enable is exactly what his new terminology does enable—just like Phenomenology repeating the Lockean subject in new terms, so that it took people decades to even notice that was what they were doing!

    If there’s something else that Laruelle enables, maybe someone smarter than me can point it out. My reading of him agrees with Gangle and Kolozova and Smith and Brassier—I just think, with Brassier, that this is not as good a thing as it might at first seem. So I’ll stop commenting, and just read what other people have to say not this matter, and maybe someone can clarify it for me.

  20. Tom,
    The best clarification I can offer: Who cares what Gangle or Kolozova or Laruelle thinks about anything? Who cares about “the stranger subject”? It’s a conceit devised to get a particular type of work done. Again, in the deconstructive phase of the non-x work, we engage in battle with some World. We argue passionately against that World’s acolytes. We do so in order to force that World’s dismantling and the decamping of its troops. But the whole point of this fight is precisely to clear the ground in order to “construct Worlds which are more productive,” as you say. So, the second phase of this non-x work (which I am hoping to initiate here on the blog) is to create the materials that seed such Worlds. This inaugurates a period of sublime peace. There is nothing to argue against anymore. The adversary has been disarmed. There is just human cultural material lying prostrate on the earth. The non-x subject gets to work. More than “the stranger,” I prefer to call this subject “the buddha.”

  21. “serious creativity in which new, perhaps currently inconceivable, Worlds are seeded.”

    How will that new world be different than any other x-world. And, in that case, why bother…for what purpose. To understand reality a little better, by using non-x-laruelle again …and go in circles.

    It’s like blowing air in the wind. There are stronger forces at play that get reality into existence, we could seed/create new potential s hopefully they become reality at some point.
    But, that is exactly the purpose of “dharma” … to seed new worlds of thoughts, form future culture. And, it is lot more effective as it is accessible to the masses…not just philosophy majors.

    when you ground your seed to be as basic as “dukkha”, you get the masses. Your seed grows like a weed, as big Buddha, or the folks after, found 🙂

    Seriously though, there are people who blow air in the wind…just because. They enjoy it, it is part of reality. Then, there is the real reality of masses, and of one’s self. Thought formations, karmic inertia, habitual self-addiction (world capture)…to use a single word “dukkha”. This x-buddhist excercise is also a kind of seeding a new world currently inconceivable, and serves one’s self much better…as this seed is bioengineerd to fix one’s “world forming addiction”.

    I understand you want entirely blank/new seed, without any prior influence. In that case, laruelle pollutes too. I believe a more fundamental reason and purpose is needed/grounded.

  22. Hi Johsh,

    I like the way you insist on using x buddhist terminology in scare quotes.

    “.This x-buddhist excercise is also a kind of seeding a new world currently inconceivable, and serves one’s self much better…as this seed is bioengineerd to fix one’s “world forming addiction”

    The world forming addiction is exactly that, but its an addiction we cannot wean ourselves off, since it is enabled by an a priori of thought — we cannot think without also deploying thinking as a transcendent structure that presupposes a subject and an object, complicated by our ability to redeploy that structure to the power of one, so to speak, so that we get a new subject able to cognise the subject/object relation as a new object. Another way of saying this is that the subject has doubled back on itself… and so on ad infinitum.

    Kant cottoned on to this strange quality of human thought but left the door open to the possibility that this elusive subject could be another name for God, or in x Buddhist parlance, Buddha nature.

    I presume this is the “ground” you refer to in your last sentence.

    It would be a huge mistake to confuse this ground with Laruelle’s “ foreclosure of the real” or to confuse his “stranger subject” with the generic “Buddha” we all are. The two sets of concepts are related in a round about way but Laruelle’s “foreclosed real” or his “lived” are terms without a referent and only function in relation to doing something with a discourse and doing something in a World that changes that World while short-circuiting the transcendent structure of thought by regarding the subject/ object form as an inevitable, dangerous but useful fiction.

    Your “ground” if I get your meaning, offers the possibility of transcending thought’s “world forming addiction”. That can be argued for, either by logical inference or by positing the possibility of some form of special insight. The former cannot escape the transcendent structure and the latter simply dissolves the argument by appeal to an outside. I agree there is an outside but, like some forms of Dzogchen, I think any appeal to special insight is unnecessary. We are, as subjects, already and always included in the world just as the excluded of thought. The deployment of thought is already an act of creating a world and an action within it. The key question we need to address is what thoughts seed the more just and more humane world and why even in the situation of thinking just those thoughts and acting upon them, the “World”, like some “subject”in its own right, has a devilish way of thwarting our best intentions

  23. That’s a great question, Jonathan. What do you think? One reason I like to work with Laruelle’s method is that it is, as he puts it, an “ordinary pragmatics.” I take his notion to be that the method is intended to produce knowledge. (Crucially, it doesn’t, of course, produce knowledge about the real.) As I have been using it, his method involves two basic procedures.

    In the first procedure, you render the material a chaos of disorganized human cultural matter. That’s the chora you referred to in one of your comments. This work liberates the material from the conceptually constricting and personally subjugating tyranny of the original system. You can then more easily perform the other two necessary actions. I call the first of these “decimation,” since you are reducing excess noise, excess data, from the material. Who decides what counts as excess? The performer does. You do. But you do so on the basis of what you have hypothesized most adequately places the material in coextension with immanence. (We might say “determined,” but it would be determination without overdetermination; that is to say, insufficiently and inconclusively.) This constitutes the second necessary action of the first procedure.

    In the second procedure, you construct what Laruelle calls a new “syntax” out of this material, one that, you have already hypothesized, correlates the material with immanence or with the real, or whatever first term you’re employing to capture some productive human a priori. Buddhist terms might include emptiness and no-self. This new syntax manifests most fully as an x-fabulation.

    The x-fiction is a claim to knowledge. But a strange expression of knowledge precisely because its knowledge teaches it to avoid at all costs (including utter strangeness) the usual violence done to the human by claims to knowledge. (Science is weird that way. So is art.)

    The point is to create.

  24. @Patrick jennings

    The whole point is to go beyond the loop (kind of samsaric cycle), so there is no subject doubling down… as it is seen there is no self.

    Non-self world creation is a possibility, but even that is “seen”…not identified with.

    You could argue there is a infinite loop here, or one would always have to be in some “world”. Yes, but the big difference here is the true free.will/choice one can have when they transcend. They choose their world…they accept the reality that one can only come into existence as a world. And, this world, is the right.intention/wisdom/sila etc, not because it is idealistic, but purely on pragmatic/practical reasons. Any other type of world, dukkha follows like a wheel.

    Yeah, it is all about freedom. Mental slavery (“world addiction”, aka samsaric cycle, dukkha etc) is a real thing. Not infinite loop, but one that can be played with a choice.

    As Glenn Wallis puts it,

    “The point is to create.”

    One needs to see all possibilities, and then ensure what they are creating is not just enslaved creation, or karmic inertia induced. One can see, and freely choose, from outside the loop.

  25. Probably, the comment section is no place for such convoluted argumentation, but since Brassier’s stance on Laruelle has been thrown into the pot here is my take on the text cited.

    “Ultimately, Laruelle faces a dilemma: either he regresses to Michel Henry’s phenomenological idealisation of radical immanence, or he accepts that the radicalisation of the immanence of
    the Real necessitates the dissolution not only of intentionality, but also of intuition itself, which is to say, of gnosis.”

    The charge of “regression” is slipped in here as if there was philosophical consensus about the regressive nature of Henry’s output – an example of the insufficiency of philosophy masquerading as a sufficient capture of the “real” in the guise of Brassier’s materialism. Both Henry and Brassier would insist that their particular iterations account for the real, necessarily denying each other philosophical validation premised on the logic of if not p then q. One or the other has to be right but it will never be proven to anyone’s satisfaction.

    To defeat their enemy both materialism and Idealism must appeal to an outside of philosophy: materialism to a reductive science, either a reduction downward to material correlates or upward (what Harmon calls over-mining) to social structures or processes; both these reductions being premised on the authority of science to deliver validated knowledge, a knowledge which science either simply does not deliver or which is, in any case, philosophically contested. Meanwhile Idealism must appeal to a knowledge validated by the self-knowing of an unmediated access to an inner experiential realm.

    As a matter of fact Henry does make a case for the retention of a form of intentionality compatible with radical ipseity. For Henry there is a duplicity of appearances which enables a phenomenological intentionality oriented towards a terminus located in the objective or inter- subjective sphere and an auto affection which is the radical ipseity of the self — its capacity to self-realise as just this continuum of subjective corporal or material manifestations — what he terms “in the flesh” ( not to be confused with the bio-material flesh assessable to science. This flesh is the terminus of the phenomenological intentionality directed towards the realm of appearance) Both the concept of radical ipseity and intentionality are allowed to lie alongside one another without the compulsion to synthesise them( which is the origin of Laruelle’s concept of dialysis in which entities are left to relate to each other and themselves in a non -organised fictive universe of thought-worlds which we are always and always engaged with and included in)

    Laruelle’s position is a reprise of this radical ipseity or auto affection in which the formulation is shorn of its ontological pretensions and presented as a presupposition or an axiomatic of the human.(essentially a political gesture rather than a statement of ontological truth )

    Both Brassier’s and Henry’s positions are interesting stances and I hope both trajectories are pursued. More juicy speculation to conjugate with! Which, incidentally, does not imply a playfulness that would abjure “action in the world” As recent events in Catalonia illustrate, the political situation can heat up quite unexpectedly, at least in Europe. In that situation I’m all for transferring the site of “play” to the street!

    Brassier makes a simplistic observation about the limitations of the idea of the immediacy of self knowledge as itself a mediation or conceptual presupposition:

    “This is, of course, ‘the myth of the Given’, originally targeted in Hegel’s critique of sense-certainty, and more recently dismantled – arguably in a more profound and definitive fashion than it was by Hegel – by Wilfrid SeIIars”

    As if Henry and Laruelle were not both aware of this fact and had not gone to great lengths to show how the idea of first person subjective authority, premised on the immediacy of first person knowledge, did not automaticly lead to a solipsistic scepticism about other minds or the external world. For one thing the charge of solipsism could be overcome by the quite straight forward use of a guillotine — there is no infinite regression except as a trope of philosophical thought; the regression ends where we choose to end it, which is what materialism and idealism do when they appeal to an outside of philosophy; in materialism’s case, science, or, in Idealism’s case, some form of meditative introspection premised on a pre-given socially constructed discourse communicated from an “outside” via language.

    Having set up this straw man Brassier proceeds to demolish it:

    “But the crucial Kantian insight is that we can abjure this without succumbing to the lure of absolute idealism, once we realise that the reality of appearances is grounded in the reality of what does not appear; that acknowledging the concrete reality of the phenomenon requires acknowledging the abstract reality of the noumenon; and ultimately, that sensible being is founded upon the intelligibility of that which is not. Thus the identification of the Real with ‘Man-in-person’ is the height of abstraction, for it brusquely identifies the nounmenon with the phenomenon, using the divisive power of the former to secure the absolute indivisibility of the latter.”

    Brassier misconstrues Laruelle’s position, conflating it with Kant’s insight that:

    “ultimately, that sensible being is founded upon the intelligibility of that which is not”

    This is exactly not what Laruelle means by the real or Man-in-person — it is not the absence which is the unknowability of the noumenon, nor is it Henry’s unmediated subjectivity, although it relates to both in that, historically, it arises as a reprise of a kantian trajectory of thought mediated by Henry’s concept of radical ipseity and transmuted by Laruelle’s gesture of transcendentalisation.

    Laruelle’s position is a philosophically invalid in-sistence on the absolute unknowability of the real premised on an axiomatic transcendentalisation of the whole of the experiential continuum as prior to conceptualisation but inclusive of it.

    Philosophical gobbledgook. But thinkable gobbledgook

    This transcendentalisation of the whole experiential continuum cannot be logically justified. Laruelle is well aware of that fact. No forensic examination of Laruelle’s position is necessary to expose this lack of philosophical validation. In text after text Laruelle proclaims as much. This is, of course, unacceptable to Brassier who, as the good philosopher, must try to incorporate Laruelle into the philosophical corpus to defend his brand of philosophical materialism.

    Brassier continues his defence of philosophy by the only means at his disposal – scholastic explication:

    “This is gnosis understood as a ‘radically immanent’ mode of knowing immunised against the
    all-too-philosophical demand for justification: ‘Man-in-person is defined by this idempotent “gnosis”, this indissolubly scientific and philosophical lived experience, which is not a being in the
    world, or a being in philosophy. The genericity of man consists in being knowledge that he himself does not “know”, a lived experience that is not reflexive and cumulative.”

    True, but again Brassier misses the point: the non-philosophical axiomatic is a unilateral declaration and not an attempt at an ontology. Brassier’s misunderstanding of Laruelle’s stance in made explicit in the next declaration.

    “The result is a terminal abstraction masquerading as the termination of abstraction. Laruelle has hypostatised an absolute abstraction and subjected it to a premature identification with an empirical instance – the human individual ‘in flesh and blood’ – in a misguided attempt to stave off its re-idealisation in a transcendence in and of the concept.”

    In no way is this “identification with an empirical instance – the human individual ‘in flesh and blood’” a true account of Laruelle’s concept of the real (or Henry’s). In innumerable texts Laruelle goes to great pains to show that his conception of the human-in-the-flesh is not an empirical entity accessible either to scientific study or sociological analysis. It is an axiomatic, premised on a transcendental a priori shorn of either an Idealist interpretation of Kant or a materialist scientism — that is neither grounded in subjectivity or in an empirically accessible bio-materiality, or for that matter in a linguistic symbolic order or quasi-material social practice.

    What it boils down to is that because Laruelle’s position is neither philosophical nor anti – philosophical, this fact presents philosophers with a frustrating conundrum: either they must try to incorporate his stance into the philosophical corpus (make it an epistemology and an ontology) in order to defuse its potential by way of a scholastic rebuttal. Or they must simply ignore him. Either way Laruelle is free from danger. The first alternative provides more fuel for the non-philosophical engine; the second allows him the speculative freedom he seems to crave.

  26. “The point is to create”

    And experience it ?

    I feel everyone is creating something all the time, knowingly or not. Even with non-x creation I see no difference, other than extra creativity.

    What they miss is why they are creating, and if they are experiencing their creation?. An analogy is our daily life…do we just work(or do) for work’s sake, or should one understand why/what/how they work, and plan/experience that.

    Not work (or your creation) dictating your experience/existence/being (and subsequent creations in a loop), but you dictating the creation/experience.

  27. I was commenting generally about any creation. I believe I understand what is being urged, probably not. Is the purpose more about changing the world/discourse and thought ? It feel it’s like blowing air in the wind…things will function the way they are supposed to. Does not mean we don’t blow air and hopefully everyone blows changing the wind.

    It’s just that I feel there is even more important wind, which reflects external, inside one’s own existence (thus influencing what you are asking to create). If one doesn’t learn to blow/change/control/create own’s one wind, not sure if what one is creating (your urging) is indeed optimal. As it’s biased/polluted to start with. Again, this is more a general/higher-level comment about any creation (world capture).

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