François Laruelle: Concept-Collider
Translated by Timothy Lavenz
The following interview might serve as a rough orientation to Laruelle’s thought. I intend it mainly for readers of Non Buddhist Mysticism who are new to him. But it will be helpful for anyone grappling with non-philosophy. I think you will appreciate the fact that it is conducted in everyday language.
This interview was translated by Timothy Lavenz. He published it on his remarkable blog, Fragile Keys. The blog is jam-packed with thoughtful, beautifully written philosophical studies and essays, creative prose, poetry (Timothy’s own as well), and translations. Timothy graciously gave me permission to post the translation whole.
[Timothy Lavenz: The following is my translation of an interview with François Laruelle published in February 2015 by Philosophie Magazine, “Je suis un collisionneur de concepts, pas un dialecticien:” “I am a collider of concepts, not a dialectician.” The French transcript can be accessed at the blog Non-Musicology.]
You are recognized as the inventor of “non-philosophy.” What do you understand by this strange term?
François Laruelle: Don’t close too quickly the trap of a hasty presentation with a simple formula. It’s true that I introduced the term “non-philosophy” at the turn of the 1980s, but I am not the inventor of it and, moreover, I’ve limited my use of the term since then.
The formula was perceived to be an insult, even a matricide against philosophy. But it was already circulating in the great epoch of German philosophy, between Fichte and Hegel, and around Schelling. It served as a war-machine for all those who were opposed to idealism. Kierkegaard is the most well-known of this type of thinker, but there were plenty of others. I have given the formula a more positive sense and a name more acceptable to Anglo-Saxons, “non-standard philosophy.” I would like to believe that I am a loyal philosopher, perhaps too passionate.
A loyal philosopher?
Yes. I have a lot of trouble defining myself as a “non-philosopher.” The objects of all my studies are classical: metaphysics, ethics, religion, art, politics. I began with work on contemporary philosophy. I gave courses on Heidegger, Nietzsche, Deleuze and Derrida. Starting from this ‘quadrangle’, composed of these four authors, I dug deeper into the theme of difference.
What did this quadrangle teach you?
This long work made me understand how the claim [prétention] of philosophy was exercised to legislate over humans. The power of the “non” appeared to me like a limit that needed to be worked on and made radical. But to arm the “non” against philosophy, one must use a lot of philosophy; whence the conceptual deluge that hurtles down my books. This flux of philosophical material sets a trap; the “non” is partially supported by philosophy against its own authority. In my hands, it became a weapon as much as an adversary. Levinas helping me, I broke away from an overly Greek vision of thought, and this led me to enter into battle against the “principle of sufficient philosophy” – my great opponent – and to clarify my critiques in this way.
In what sense do you understand the adjective “sufficient”? A sufficiency of personality? [*Note: in French, “suffisant” can be said of a person and means “smug”, “self-satisfied”, “self-righteous”, “self-important”, etc.]
In many senses, but certainly not as a typology of personalities. Although…I see at least two. First, the moral meaning would be the unheard-of pretension of philosophers to establish rules about the real beyond reality, to say what it is. As an exploitation of humans, philosophy does as much as Capital!
Then there is the scientific meaning: how to translate by this term non-philosophy a transfer of non-Euclidian geometries into the concept? I was interested in science to the extent that it could model philosophy without putting to work a simple metaphorical transfer. Difficult task. Science progresses differently than philosophy – by a negation of the given that is capable of producing an unprecedented theoretical extension or generalization. Inspired by this, I added to the classical objects of philosophy a whole more innovative side, running from quantum theory to cosmology, passing through fractals, messianity and a whole galaxy spinning around the black hole of man.
What do you mean by “the black hole of man”?
I conceive man as a hole of philosophical unknowing [inconnaissance] or of non-philosophy, who inhales the nebula of objects or who holds captive the light of the logos. As for the philosopher, I think of him as a collector of disciplines rather than a man of specialization.
Furthermore, I carried this availability to its most conscious, intense and systematic form, even beyond encyclopedism. Because I have a passion for the “work.” That is perhaps at bottom my principle invention: to have created a philo-fiction parallel to science-fiction, with a material more diverse than its own and a form apparently more “serious” than literature.
Your research is sophisticated… Isn’t the concept of non-philosophy ultimately a joke, if not an impudence?
Yes [laughs] for impudence! Others talk about provocation or terrorism, but I’m used to it. I accept these invectives willingly: “philosopher-without-philosophy”, “scientific without theorem”, “mystic without God”, “faithful-without-belief”… I should add “musician-without-music.” Am I the integral of my failures?
On the contrary, I refuse the vulgar objection of failure. For there is a failure in philosophy much deeper than we imagine, what I call the “generic.” There was once a time when I numbered my stages or new directions, according to my theoretical ruptures, until the whole thing became too complicated to still be manageable. I have established over time a system-fiction, a kaleidoscope of approaches, styles and postures, painting a landscape, with one oceanic side swelled with waves and sparkling reflections and another side filled with skies and clouds, floating nebulae I will have tried in vain to put into galactic order. Running between the two are at times streaming flows of metaphors, at other times a deluge of concepts advanced by the quantic wind.
That is to lose all footing!
I recognize that. No one, by the way, is ashamed to tell me, not my enemies or my friends. This is because a lot of strategic twists are necessary to throw off [dérouter] pursuers. Some of my readers (finally, less and less) find me contradictory: one should be either a philosopher or a non-philosopher. By that I understand: “you should make an effort to explain and popularize”!
And why not?
Non-philosophy is not pedagogy or journalism, it’s a music. I propose a vision of ensembles without being able to get into the micro-philosophical detail of unrepresentable conceptual particles. Let’s instead distinguish between a melody, rhapsody or variations, on man, and a counter-point of various, more specialized themes.
You sweep away with a very Nietzschean gesture the relics of tradition while at the same time maintaining an unusual systematic demand… That’s what’s still so disconcerting [déroutant]!
I construct a system, but it is made up of collisions. It’s a matter of conjugating and producing some new ideas, such that they destroy some others. I only “critique” the most fecund of my masters. Neither Derrida nor Badiou understood this when accusing me of terrorism, but I resist violence through zeal [rage].
I will never have enough gratitude for this woman with a Greek essence, my Diotima to me, Clémence Ramnoux, a member of my thesis jury who dismissed her colleagues (and they were among the greatest – Ricoeur, Henry, Levinas) for their misunderstanding, by revealing to me my profound obsession: “You wanted to create music with concepts; it was for me a joy and a fury.”
Music is the exception, I think?
It is the only art I admit as gnostic. But I haven’t written anything on it. [*Note: Laruelle’s last work will be a “tetralogy on philosophy and music.”] On the other hand, I have expressed myself on photography. I give it the same dignity I give philosophy, which is a developed mental photography. Inversely, photography is a planar or flat philosophy, fallen to the earth and battling harshly with the landscapes of the world. The first photograph was made by philosophy as an apparatus or technology. The real is discovered through an originary flash that illumines the cosmos and that comes back in the most material technologies. This flash continues to shine and has a hard time going out. The creation of the world has become in photography an automatism of repetition.
Why haven’t you written anything about music?
Perhaps because I always write on the musical drip that keeps me alive, without however managing to go beyond listening to write musically as I would have liked. What most regularly runs in my veins is the sonorous blood of the voice. Is philosophy the most beautiful music? This Socratic paradox is my cross.
Your taste for the “music of concepts” has not been well understood.
I am constantly the object of confusions and similarities, even with Zen, Spinoza, Parmenides, Marx and many others. I would end up believing – all the names of philosophy, that’s me!
Why did you go to war with almost all philosophies?
With all philosophies? The media really saddens me with their mental debilities and foolishness. Nevertheless, yes, I lead a universal battle against the principle of philosophical sufficiency. Non-philosophy is a messianic adventure, a montage and a focusing of rockets shot into the abstract space of theory. I turn philosophy, quantically re-armed, into a strategic weapon of defense against the assaults of its imperial form. It is science-fiction at the level of philosophical technology…
What does quantum physics bring to this “strategic defense”?
The quantic turning is a relatively late discovery in non-philosophy, a new way of affecting philosophy with a scientific theory and of decreasing its sufficiency. This model rests upon at least two pillars: a certain number of concepts, simple but twisty [tortueux], that set traps for philosophical minds; and some never-ending mathematical calculations.
I can already see your objection, “But you are neither a physicist nor a mathematician.” Indeed! But beware of your objections about position: we also work with what we are not. The equations escape me and I do not claim to enter into a rivalry with physicists. However, I do see a formalizable model of thought that destroys Newtonian and common-sense ways of thinking and makes it possible to hold the variable place I seek for the “non.” This quantic modelization of philosophy involves the destruction of conceptual corpuscles and their fusion with waves. I tried, not without some approximations, to make this work in Non-standard Philosophy; Generic, quantic, philo-fiction.
You take these conceptual particles from one place or another, you cause a collision, they explode, and then you watch what happens?
I am a collider of concepts, not a dialectician. There will be nothing to recover the particles, not even a body-without-organs like there is in Deleuze. We cannot know exactly, at the same time, two properties of a micro-object. We cannot assign man, in a precise and definitive way, two predicates and draw from them a synthesis. We do not get off the hook with quantum physics as easily as we do with the dialectic, which is very complacent despite its famous “work.”
Would you ultimately be a sort of mystic led astray by quantum physics?
Lots of physicists were led astray by the mystical and vice versa. In quantum physics I see only a powerful instrument of thought for reformulating intense obsessions and drawing works from them.
Your latest book Christo-fiction appeared in 2014. Its subtitle is: “The ruins of Athens and Jerusalem.” Might you be suffering from refounder’s syndrome?
Oh sure! And even a “refounder of future ruins,” if you like. That’s the best definition of philosophy. I am not a thought-menu that is narrow and hateful of philosophy when I say it is the myth of foundation, such that it exists in its future ruins. Why philosophize if not to refound this myth? I have already written that the House of Philosophy sank into its own ruins. That said, if you think I’m a nihilist or worse, it’s because you’re simpler than me or I am too complicated.
A non-nihilist, you criticize the discourse about victims. What is this criticism based on?
I explained myself on this in my book, General Theory of Victims. I call “victim” one who is condemned two times in a single judgment, in reality and in the concept. Two levels of victims exist, the victim in fact and the victim represented, photographed for example, but especially redoubled by philosophy, which reaffirms it in the concept and makes of it a victimizing victim itself. I am horrified by the open contempt of “great” philosophy, and the secret contempt among intellectuals, for victims and “victimary” discourse. Philosophy is a double punishment, a double victim-ology from which its “base” form, media lamentation, is derived. Accompanying this doublet, there is scientific victimology, which takes charge of wounds of any kind. And at the intersection of the two branches of this doublet is the victimized victim, impossible to represent, grasped the moment she becomes a victim, dazzled by death or seized by the suffering that, even more than the famous existential anguish, cuts off her speech and forbids the lamento. Finally, there is the “Victim-in-person”: the possibility peculiar only to human-being, rather than to the animal, of being persecuted in its lived and not just in its life. I distinguish a lived-without-life [vécu-sans-vie] as the weak force of the human, a force that makes it available to a double philosophical crime.
Your issue is with what is called victimism, playing the victim?
It’s a little more complicated than that. Does one play the victim if it means being, in turn, a victim of this game? The logos of the victim, between the science of victims and philosophical sniveling, is very tricky [retors]. But I cannot bring myself to speak cynically about “victimary” discourse like Badiou does in the name of “strong thought.”
What is left of the three main concepts of metaphysics: God, soul, world?
The first thought that comes to me is, “God is a useless and dangerous invention for humans.” Less crimes are committed against his name than in his name. I oppose to him the Christ – see Future Christ, A Lesson in Heresy and Christo-fiction, In the Ruins of Athens and Jerusalem. If there is salvation for God, he will be difficult to save. And yet, there must be a non-theology! I therefore undo and dismantle the doublet of God and Christ, to preserve the Christ at whom I suffer the least outrage. Christ is a Greco-Judaic collision who makes history explode. His message is an event that destroys Christianity as a religion, making the promise, the future and salvation desirable to us.
What does the soul become?
It’s a projection: a little god in man, a Greek affair. The soul? I only consider it through its lived mystical experience [son vécu mystique]. Belief? I prefer faith. Theory? I turn it into a lay messianity. Non-philosophical writing is my way of mystical practice and messianic fidelity.
And what does the world become?
The world is the big place, more or less immanent but at the same time open, in which we trudge and get stuck. In the Bible, it’s sin. For the Gnostics I appreciate, it’s hell. They don’t love the world and the God who created it very much. For some mystics, it’s the place where something sometimes called the soul, a little light, got thrown. The whole problem is to recover this spark, to make it come back into itself, to save itself. For Heidegger it is facticity that keeps us prisoners to being-in-the-world. For Levinas it’s what attaches us to biology. In short, I prefer the universe…
You said earlier that the soul was an illusion and now it’s thrown into an incoherent world and must be saved.
On the question of the soul, I draw upon the mystical register of Meister Eckhart and the Russians, the “Glorifiers of the Name.” The soul resides in a place that is called the “reduced.” It’s a matter of a spark or, according to the Gnostics, of a pearl of man who was thrown into a world after a dirty trick of the divine. You want my confession of faith?
A new paradox?
Messianic passion is with terrestrial love my “non-Christian” Gospel. It rests on two tables, the no and the yes. For the first: I apply certain forces of resistance, Marxism, Gnosis, heresy, anti-philosophy. I am a Gnostic in the rebellion, a heretical expert of symbolic bonfires and academic condemnations, a schismatic in reason’s honor, a non-philosopher in paradoxical and unconditional love with philosophy, a believer [fidèle] in compassion for victims who are always n+1, finally, a man of faith in the genre “non-believer.”
The second table contains what you expect, the axiomatic and problematic aspect of non-standard philosophy, not just the clouds, waves and music, but the antidote to philosophical sufficiency, messianity as the principle of all these fights. I define man himself as “ordinary” or “generic” through a coefficient of messianity that cannot be evaluated by only philosophy or only religion separated.
What then? My response is extraordinarily poor [mince]. In this rigorous messianism, with a rigor different than that of the God of Israel, before whom I am an atheist, I have searched like always for the mathematical formula that paradoxically counterbalances [balance] the deadly excess of philosophy by “lowering” philosophy or under-determining it. This coefficient of messianity is for all, not just for “great thinkers.” It is a complex number, it fits in a mathematical symbol “the square root of -1…” So many promises with such small means, one would think it’s like Leibniz! But one must know how to develop motif musically: fidelity through creation, faith through invention, messianity through discovery.
This musical development of non-philosophy was honored by Symposium at Cerisy in September 2014. What did you take away from this tribute?
The ten days at Cerisy was a psychological test, a form of anticipation of the last judgment, where one must learn how to support the banalization of one’s name. Where I also felt myself reduced to being a father, thankfully betrayed by my children, sacrificed to this perishable and surviving discipline that is philosophy. My work is no longer under my control, it is no longer intended for me! Thanks to all my friends from several continents who made these ten days possible, helped me and participated.
To have become a reference – how ironic for someone who has vowed an absence of reference and deference.
A certain number of my texts contain some collages, short parodies of famous texts whose greatness is recognized. But reading little, I quote even less, it’s true. And it’s annoying, I agree. My firm bias for a lack of references, I stand against the winds of slander-mongering so much that academics are apt to be enraged. I made only one citation in my 500-page thesis, a nursery rhyme sung by little girls, to show the jury I knew what a citation was.
I’ll prove it to you again by ending this interview with a quote from Hans Jonas that resonates, like a testament, with the shades of despair that suit me: “Thus protected against both unreasonable hope and inevitable disillusion, I advance with a certain joy on the ground become desert, ready to meet the metaphysics already declared so often to be dead, so much is it better to be guided by it to a new defeat than to no longer hear its song.”
[*Other translations of Laruelle on fragilekeys.com: Levinas-Effects, The Specter of Non-Philosophy and The Despair of Philosophy.]
What do you think?