Laruelle’s Utopian Non-philosophy and the Future

I just read François Laruelle’s article “The End Times of Philosophy” in a recent issue of  continent. The article is only a part of his book, Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy (2012). I must admit that this is the first I’ve read any of Laruelle’s work (and also, I’m pretty new to philosophical texts in general). Since I’m reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason right now, I might end up using that as a starting point for some of my thoughts on Laruelle’s article. Having seen his name come up several times, along with my friend Sean meeting him on an art gallery in New York City, I figured I should learn more about Laruelle’s work. A philosopher whose project is called “non-philosophy” could be interesting. What that name might mean, however, is something I’m still unsure of.

My best guess is that Laruelle posits his work within the endless struggle and slow death of philosophy to find its way in a proper methodology. Along with philosophy’s own issues, it is also within the larger structure that makes up the totality of World, History, Humanity. Here, Laruelle uses his own term “Humaneity” to describe the small “hells” in each of these realms. A more universal, surreptitious hell pervades all, he claims: “As a modernized form of Hell, perhaps harassment has a long future in front of it” (161). Concerning the means of solving such a problem, Laruelle continues, “with no way of recovering and which tolerates only salvation” (161). Here, it seems that by salvation, Laruelle means something beyond the grasp of the work of subjects, or, to continue Laruelle’s religious terms, salvation can only be a miracle. If this is true, then I would say that Laruelle falls into the same problem that Alain Badiou enters when he talks about communism as an Idea. For Badiou, to be a militant communist is to be one of the faithful—faithful to the future possibility of the Idea entering the Real. Although it’s an enchanting concept, I find it to be a faith that actually appears empty, or at least sad from the perspective of an outsider (a non-believer). Communism should rather be a continual self-working-through on the part of society. On the other hand, Laruelle might not mean that salvation relies upon an approach of a deus ex machina. He later speaks of self-transformation through thought: “non-philosophy is also a sort of ultimatum for considering one’s life and transforming one’s thought from the perspective of a uni­version rather than a conversion” (165).

Laruelle’s emphasis on non-philosophy’s connection to the future is interesting. For non-philosophy, he says, thinking the world should not be based upon our imaginations—which have the biases of all previous epistemology and all its assumed preconditions of thought—but rather, thinking the world just be based on the Future itself. I’m reminded of a section in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, where he talks about the pitfalls of types of arguments, in which certain propositions themselves already posit preconditions, which have not yet been determined to be stable grounds for the current proposition. Laruelle describes this utopian form of thought: “utopia as the determinant principle for human life, or to put it another way, of the Future as an irreducible presupposition of (for) thinking the World and History” (161). Of course, the question then arises, How do we access the Future’s imagination of itself within the World and History? I’m not sure if Laruelle answers such a question in this article. I would hope, though, that he addresses this later on in the book.

There are times in the article where non-philosophy sounds like a philosophy of philosophy itself. Laruelle speaks of different levels of philosophy, using terms to describe it like “topographical” and “topological”, as if non-philosophy were the theory of the geological, mathematical strata of philosophy—mapping out various flows and influences. This mapping sometimes takes on a tone reminiscent of philosophical inquiries at the level of language, in which obscured themes run below superficial “Logos”. I’m guessing that it is through this cartography, that non-philosophy would then be able to heretically infect those hellish realms that dominate all.

I should confess though that the difficulty of the text leaves me with only more questions on the meaning of many terms, or even the purpose of devising the school of non-philosophy. Regardless, it was an interesting read if only for its strangeness. A blog post by Terence Blake—someone who seems to be much more familiar with Laruelle’s work—puts forth the idea that Laruelle is experiencing a rise in popularity due to a standstill—even a regression—in contemporary continental philosophy. Blake implicates Slavoj Žižek, Alain Badiou, and Quentin Meillassoux in this regression. While I also think that Badiou and Meillassoux’s work is not as politically groundbreaking (or even groundbreaking) as some think, I am not so quick to include Žižek in that same  group, which has much of its roots in Louis Althusser’s apolitical aleatory materialism.

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