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On Alexander Galloway's "Laruelle: Against the Digital"


The LA Review of Books has a review of Alexander Galloway’s new book on the French philosopher François Laurelle, entitled Laruelle: Against the Digital. Here’s an excerpt of the review, written by film professor John Ó Maoilearca:

Yet here is exactly where the problem arises for any commentator on Laruelle (and possibly any subsequent uptake of his approach too): short of composing a piece of music, or installing a video-work, how is one to explain this new form of thought without reference to older textual forms of philosophy? In other words, how can one explain Laruelle’s strange image of “non-philosophy” without any terms of reference found in philosophers’ explanations, so as to stay true to its mission as a new form of thinking? This is probably why even the most sympathetic interpreters like Rocco Gangle have pointed out that introducing non-philosophy is particularly challenging given that there is “a distinctive ‘pedagogical’ or ‘initiatory’ problem built into the very fabric of non-philosophy,” while Taylor Adkins has openly admitted that any “proper” (that is, philosophical) introduction to Laruelle “is an illusion.” In what way can we experience how “thought” might be experienced when we look at it with non-philosophical eyes, once it is “defetishized,” as Laruelle puts it? In order to introduce non-philosophy in the right spirit it would seem necessary to think about it non-philosophically, that is through what Laruelle describes as “technologies of creation that would be pictorial, poetic, musical, architectural, informational, etc.”

And this is something of a challenge when one is restricted to writing a book introduction. Which is why we should have all the more admiration for Alexander Galloway’s attempt at explicating Laruelle’s work in Laruelle: Against the Digital. Galloway is a respected media theorist working at New York University whose writings equally cover philosophy, contemporary art, and film. He is also an artist and a software programmer. As a consequence, Galloway does not come to non-philosophy with the usual expertise (read “baggage”) of a “trained” philosopher, but with an eclectic mix of theoretical and practical knowledge. This allows him, at least potentially, a greater sympathy for the notion that philosophy does not have a monopoly on what counts as “proper” thought (essential, fundamental, rigorous, clear, etc.), or even that there are other forms of (non-standard) philosophical thought that are found neither in the academy nor in the various textual canons it endorses.


By Terence Blake

One of the great dreams of French philosophy of the last century was that of a thought that would be both inside and outside the confines of philosophy, that would be philosophical and somehow “more” than philosophy. Several philosophers called this new type of thinking “non-philosophy”, amongst many other names.
The dream of “non-philosophy” is too big and too enduring to leave in the hands of any élite. We have seen the dream of a new kind of thought, in relation with the outside, begin with writers including Blanchot, Klossowski, and Bataille. We have seen the dream of non-philosophy carried by philosophers who wanted to be different and more than philosophers, who wanted a new kind of thinking: Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Lyotard.
Michel Foucault tells of how he wanted to be able to move freely between a position inside philosophy and one outside. He describes how he began by thinking that a certain sort of literature and experience (Blanchot, Klossowski, Bataille, and through them Nietzsche) would permit him such freedom, only later to find both the relation between philosophy and the outside and the freedom of movement in an involvement with concrete political problems:

“These comings and goings around the position of philosophy finally rendered permeable—and thus finally derisory—the frontier between philosophy and non-philosophy” (FOUCAULT LIVE, 119).

Deleuze too talks about the relation between philosophy and the outside that he sought in these authors, and in an outside image of thught whose traces he could find in the history of philosophy. He tells us how he came to enact this movement in relation to concrete political problems thanks to his collaboration with Guattari. Badiou in his theory of the four “conditions” of philosophy and of the relation with “anti-philosophy” expresses the same dream. As does Bruno Latour with his project of an “empirical” metaphysics.
Laruelle with his own version of non-philosophy, far from expressing a unique aspiration, is a fitting fellow traveller on the paths of the dreaming. Foucault describes how the dream of an “other” to philosophy stimulates us to a movement that renders “permeable” and finally “derisory” the dualistic frontier between philosophy and non-philosophy. This is why Foucault came to talk in terms of “thinking otherwise”, while Laruelle adopts the expression “non-standard philosophy”.
Recently, We have seen the forgetting of the heritage of the previous generation of non-philosophers (genealogists, nomad thinkers, pluralists, and deconstructionists) and the rise of a new wave of nonphilosophy in the works of Laruelle, Latour, Stiegler, and Badiou. We have also been witness to the spread of an imperialist annexation of the word “non-philosophy” as the unique property of a small group.
I was dreaming of non-philosophy 45 years ago, reading Bertrand Russell and Nietzsche and Zen sutras. This is why I like Laruelle. But my dream of non-philosophy began long before and has continued ever since, all my intellectual life, and mostly outside of Laruelle. This is why I feel free in relation to Laruelle’s thought, and not blindly credulous. I came to France following my dream, and I encountered Laruelle in the dream of non-philosophy. To love philosophy and to have that dream of nonphilosophy is already a lot, but the word does not belong to him, nor the practice, nor the aspiration, the experimentation, the long years of patient study and reflection.
Painters, poets, musicians, photographers, novelists, and even academic philosophers dreamed of non-philosophy and found it in Laruelle’s works. But their dream came first, non-philosophy is theirs too, and they will continue to dream it further with or without the help of Laruelle and of his followers.
Some academics have begun to codify the dreaming. This is good, we need codes so as not to be submerged by the chaos. But these academics have seized on one fragment of the dreamscape and insisted on viewing the rest from that viewpoint. This is “suture”, to call an ugly thing by an ugly word. They claim to show the way out from the “sufficiency” of philosophy, but they imprison us in a new reductionism. In their case the sufficiency has only changed its base. The sufficiency is in the suture.
There is too much credulity in all this. Just because Laruelle declares in a slogan that he proposes a new form of thinking does not automatically mean that he actually does. When Laruellians say “Laruelle thinks from the One”, we must read and understand “Laruelle claims to think from something he calls the “One”, but this concept is unclear and even when clarified it is not obvious that this is what he does”.
Further, if we are to talk of a new kind of thinking, we must ask:”new” in relation to what? New in relation to the doxa? Here one must agree, Laruelle’s thought breaks with many a doxa (for there is not just one doxa). Or does it mean new in relation to Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault, Latour, Stiegler? Here one must disagree. To take one example, everything that Laruelle and Laruellians say about Deleuze is rubbish, referring at best to a pre-Guattari Deleuze. This is an example of what I have called Laruelle’s time machine. Whenever he criticises the position of a definite philosopher, the position is over twenty years old, and the philosopher in question has already criticised and modified his position, often for very similar reasons.
I wish to scrape beneath the surface of advertising slogans and see what is really going on. There is little to help us here. Laruelle, along with certain of his predecessors (Deleuze, Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida) and contemporaries (Latour, Stiegler, Badiou) gives us precious indications of how to escape from the traps of credulity. In books such as NON-STANDARD PHILOSOPHY, ANTI-BADIOU, and CHRISTO-FICTION Laruelle invites us to begin, or to continue, dreaming. He does not seek to get us to believe his dream, nor even dream his dream, but to enter the dream time and to dream our own dreams, moving freely from the dream to the world and back.