I’ve been interested in François Laruelle since he hit my radar, probably around the time Urbanomic, with Sequence Press published The Concept of Non-Photography. I ordered a copy and slowly pecked through the book, fascinated but a overwhelmed. Since then, I followed (at a distant) publications of Laruelle’s work in English, occasionally diving back in. I’m in no way a Laruelle expert–in fact, most of what I’ve read from him goes completely over my head–but I do enjoy the man’s work and always anticipate reading more. Last year, when Urbanomic/Sequence published From Decision to Heresy: Experiments in Non-Standard Thought, I found myself excited by the fact that the book was purported to include some of Laruelle’s “experimental” texts.
I emailed Robin McKay (the publisher of Urbanomic–who also translated most of the essays included in the book) to see about getting a review copy for the express purpose of writing about the experimental texts. As a poet/writer who dabbles in (non-academic) theory & philosophy, I wanted to approach the texts more from a literary perspective than one directly in line with Laruelle’s thought. Admittedly, separating the two could disservice the texts themselves, but what I’ve found from reading them is that for me–closer to poetry than philosophy–the experimental texts are particularly illuminating of certain of Laruelle’s ideas in addition to being fascinating texts-as-texts.
In the introduction to From Decision to Heresy, Robin McKay quotes François Laruelle on his experimental texts:
I have always wanted to write experimental texts, I would love to write more of them. But I am held back by scruples, or by a self-critique–shame, even. Because I know they will be judged harshly by poets, by philosophers, by pretty much everyone! I feel that this in fact is what I want to do, but I dare not do, any longer. I am still obsessed by the idea that one day I may write such a book, with texts that are freer like this. However, in most of my longer books there are sections that are at the limit, that become ‘experimental’ texts. Above all in the ‘christo-fiction’, or in the book on mysticism, there are texts that are really at the limit of a type of poetry of thought, or an experimental writing. So it is not something I have entirely distanced myself from. But I have these scruples, I dare not free myself completely.
My problem is really that of how to treat philosophy as a material, and thus also as a materiality–without preoccupying oneself with the aims of philosophy, of its dignity, of its quasi-theological ends, of philosophical virtues, wisdom etc… None of that interests me. What interests me is philosophy as the material for an art, at the limit, an art. My idea, which has been growing for some years, and may last a little longer, is to make art with philosophy, to introduce or make a poetry of thought, not necessarily a poetry made of concepts, a poetry that would put forward some philosophical thesis–but to make something poetic with concepts. Thus, to create a practice that could destroy, in a certain way, the classical usage of philosophy.
This quote, pulled–as I mentioned–from the book’s introduction, serves as a nice launching point for these texts. I’m immediately struck with a comparison to Bataille’s work in his Somme Atheologique; works that approach the limit of the text & swerve outside of the regular discourse that surrounds philosophical ideas, pushing rather into the realm of fiction or poetry to come to terms (via language) with what would otherwise be impossible to address, and it seems that this is part of Laruelle’s interest in writing experimental texts himself.
And so, I’ve decided to approach each of the experimental texts included in the volume on their own, hopefully presenting a bit of the flavor of both Laruelle and his experimental texts.
* * *
VARIATIONS ON A THEME BY HEIDEGGER
Laruelle takes that of a theme by Heidegger; being Heidegger’s exegesis of Da-sein. Heidegger’s definition of da-sein can read as Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons if not enveloped into a specified thought: without such precise focus, philosophical discourse becomes meaningless, is reduced entirely to the language presented. Following a presentation of the original theme, Laruelle takes the theme and repeats it, but he modifies phrasing, changes words, both to restructure meaning and to create new meaning qua meaning. A loop of self-reference that eventually, in the 16th variation, collapses into poetico-philosophic aphorism:
When finally man, through Vision-in-One, in whose mode he ‘is’, before all understanding of Being, sees the circle of circles passing by again, it is to perceive it outside the One and passing under the One, below it, and even ‘upon’ it, like clouds over the moon, or the sun of reason upon the unalterable opacity of man. Thus philosophy floats, indifferent, in the ‘non-philosophical’ element.
A language game takes us from Heidegger to what might be one of Laruelle’s theses. A sense of meaning arrived at out of the permutation of the word. There is more meaning throughout, much lost on me, but I can read within the play, I can find pleasure in the way words are changing, leading me out of a maze of Heideggerian thought into a loci of Laruelle.
Leibniz is known by most in Philosophy 101 classes at state universities for his construction of a “proof” of God’s existence stemming from the initial premise that “there exists something rather than nothing.” Wikipedia will also quickly tell you that “Leibniz is most noted for his optimism, e.g., his conclusion that our Universe is, in a restricted sense, the best possible one that God could have created.” Taking the presupposition that “there exists something rather than nothing,” Laruelle uses Leibniz’s formal construction to, ostensibly, dive into his own concept of the One–radical immanence. But, as Laruelle mentioned in his explication of the experimental texts, he is more interested in using philosophy as material (think, perhaps, of the way the LANGUAGE poets use language as material rather than signifier). As such, philosophy as language as material results in a sort of vertiginious text-abyss with echoes of late-Beckett. (Despite my insistence on bringing in Beckett, it should be remembered that while there is most often an abstracted body present in Beckett’s work, for Laruelle there is only the philosophical preposition available for permutation.)
Thus, language cycling through variant provides both a meta-commentary on & extrapolation of the One, collapsing a distinction between a (non-)philosophical thought & the space that thought occupies in positionality toward the world. But this is not a pedagogical text! The pleasure to be found in the totality (in the sense that the text demonstrates there is ALWAYS an outside, perhaps) is sensual: the text, when read aloud, waxes and wanes into rhythm and disjunction, and the repetition renders communication impossible. The text becomes a demonstrative projection of philosophy directly into sonority.
LETTER TO DELEUZE
There’s less at stake in terms of poetic bent here, rather this just strikes me as Laruelle taking a sort of analytical/axiomatic approach in responding to Deleuze’s question of “What distinguishes the One from Spinoza’s substance?” Formally echoing Wittgenstein (& his specifically axiomatic approach toward meaning) though sticking to brevity (instead of the totality offered in the Leibniz & Heidegger Variations), attempting to articulate a point instead of fully expanding on an idea–something that, I think, serves as an outline to a way that would further articulate complicated ideas (the mapping of idea serves to remove the thrust from the swirling nature of most philosophical texts).
UNIVERSE BLACK IN THE HUMAN FOUNDATIONS OF COLOUR
Taking color as myth: a repositing of the world’s development. Science as starting point for myth. Black and white not as opposites, but “Black in its stance or its inherence to the real, white in its representation of the real.” A cosmological myth that is telling, segueing into a position of contrasting philosophy (“thinking by way of a generalized ‘black box’; it is the effort to encase black into light and to push it back to the back of the cave.”) with non-philosophy (though not by name), what Laruelle manages to do in this text is approach a system of (non-)philosophy as a mystic (and there is a wealth of untranslated Laruelle texts which, based on their titles, seem to indicate this is a position he has taken before).
Outside of From Decision to Heresy, the same text was translated in a slightly different form (by Miguel Abreu alone instead of by both Abreu & McKay) in the volume Dark Nights of the Universe, a series of essays “after” the experimental text at hand, which includes essays from Eugene Thacker, Daniel Colucciello Barber, Nicola Masciandaro & Alexander Gallowy. I read the text first in this volume, and have included my initial notes below:
First thought is that this text carries a resemblance to Bataille’s cosmo-myth “The Solar Anus.” A fictional approach to a real issue in development. Operating like narrative poesis, often imageless (but never lacking events). Movement comes not from a narrative in story, but rather through progression, as if there is a real that Laruelle is aiming to get closer to. Meaning can falter, but there is something present. “The Black Universe,” Laruelle’s non-philosophy as paroxysm of the universe.
Do not think technology first: rocket and the lift off of the rocket. Look instead, like in the depths of a closed eye, into the opacity of knowledge where, forming one with it, the rocket passes through infinite distances. Think according to the knowledge that steers the rocket as if in a dream, heavier and more transparent than the boundless night it penetrates with a silent thunderclap. Think science first.
But there is no science here, really, there is only science in the term Laruelle defined it as several points before: “Science is the mode of thought in which black determines in the last instance white.” For the universe is based on these ideas of black and white– not colors, mind you, but either a pure murk of all (which is how we imagine absence, ironically), or by the nothing that is white, pure reflection.
WHAT THE ONE SEES IN THE ONE
“What the One Sees in the One” presents a suite of three poems and concludes with a set of axioms & theorems called “A Short Treatise on the Soul.” This section, which I had entirely failed to notice upon a precursory flip through the book, ended up being one of the most exciting of the experimental texts, as there is a sincere similarity between the poetry herein and much of the post-L’Ephémère poetry of France in the early 70s (take, for example, Alain Delahaye), as Mary Ann Caws put it, “sparse on the page but aligned with the left-hand column … play[ing] about in … a Place of Silence reminiscent of Bonnefoy’s True Place.” As such, they are exemplary of both a poetic and (non-)philosophic state.
Consider the last half of the included “SOLITUDE OF PHRASES”:
What the Eagle says
when it looks in the Eagle:
that there is nothing in the sky
or outside the sky to nail it down
to the peak of its flight or to cast it
into the hallucination of the fall;
that suspense exists only
on earth and the fall
for things that have already fallen.
What the Serpent says when it
looks in the Serpent:
that there is nothing on the ground
or outside the ground to knot
or unknot the ruse;
and that only
already broken rings
the multiplication of rings.
What the Sea says
when it looks in the Sea:
that it is impossible to be
the enemy of the Sea, and
that there is nothing in the wave
or outside the wave
to quell or
to swell it.
What the Phrase says when it
looks in the Phrase:
that there is nothing
in speech or outside
to render more solitary
the black diamond
* * *
Jan Baetens, in an essay postured against the minimalist poetry of the French which I would insist Laruelle’s work–here–invokes, states the following:
… the secret weapon of minimalism, the weapon that makes it in some sense unbeatable, is the collusion between poetry and philosophy. Minimalist poetry always presented itself as the servant of philosophy. In a moment when philosophy was undergoing its “linguistic turn,” it was a matter of demonstrating that poetry, on the one hand, was capable of “thinking,” and that, on the other, philosophy was right to transform itself into philosophy of language. The result was a direct convergence of interests between poetry and philosophy. Philosophers declared that minimalist poetry was the only philosophically tenable poetry, closer to the truth in literature than other forms of writing, which are too easily seduced by something other than language alone. Moving beyond the solution of continuity between poetry and philosophy, poets for their part allowed certain philosophers of language to reject from the realm of the “truly” philosophical any philosophy that was not itself a practice of language.
What Laruelle demonstrates throughout his experimental texts serves to nicely subvert Baetens’ thesis here: Laruelle has, instead of taken Language as the “substance” of Philosophy, has taken Philosophy as the material to be modified through experimental, language-based work (and there’s a case to be made against Baetens in the idea of much of the écriture qua poetry that he is railing about here, but that’s a bit off point). Truth, I’m sure Laruelle would says, is neither outside of nor apart from Truth, so the only manipulable material one can approach Truth with is Truth.