Non-Philosophy: Academic Discourse or Radical Heresy?

william-blake-newtonRecently, on the non-buddhist forum, Glenn Wallis asked for suggestions for non-buddhist “first names”, quoting from Laruelle’s definition of the term in Future Christ:

Fundamental terms which symbolize the Real and its modes according to its radical immanence or its identity. They are deprived of their philosophical sense and become, via axiomatized abstraction, the terms – axioms and theorems – of non-philosophy. (Laruelle, 2010, xxvi)

I have been trying for a while to come to terms with the difficulty of Laruelle’s thought. This effort recently intensified after someone made me a present of three tomes on/by Laruelle. So I was primed to respond to Glenn’s call. But I began to doubt my ability to contribute – not because of lack of time or motivation, but because of the nature of non-philosophical thought and the effort it takes to understand and apply it. As he admitted, his own students, all of whom were equipped with MA’s and PhD’s, were not up to the task. The best attitude, no doubt, and one loyal to the spirit of Laruelles thought, is an attitude of experiment and creativity not overawed by the complexity or seeming impenetrability of the texts.

Be that as it may, his call got me thinking about non-philosophical thought and something paradoxical about its means and its ends.

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What’s the relation between non-philosophy, philosophy, and what we could call ordinary thinking? Can a non-philosopher (someone unacquainted with the history, procedures and theories of philosophy) do non-philosophy? On a superficial reading it might seem that it is possible to side-step the difficulties of philosophy (its complexity, proliferation of ideas, opposing camps, obscurantism, abstraction, specialization – what the ordinary man calls its difficulty). It might seem that non-philosophy is a blow on behalf of the common man against the monolithic and impenetrable obfuscations of philosophical thought. Well, it is, but not in any ordinary way.

A superficial reading of non-philosophical ideas, perhaps from second or third sources, might make you believe that an intuitive stab at non-philosophical thought will get you by. You will come across terms – the Real, the ordinary, the human of flesh and blood, the minimally transcendent, vision-in-One, Determination-in-the-last-instance – which might seem to imply a thought that is more accessible, nearer to the bone, stripped of its philosophical complications, decimated (cf. Wallis, 2013, 94). But a decimated thought is not a simplified thought, a more accessible thought. It’s not a concession to those untrained in philosophical thought. To use a non-buddhist example, the thought of Bodhi as, in its decimated form, the person of flesh and blood, is philosophical thought  shorn of its transcendent presumptions. In its place stands a thought that represents the One, or the Real, in a way that is minimally transcendent – it contains only that amount of transcendence necessary to the workings of thought as requiring a transcendental object known to a thinking subject.

We are, according to non-philosophy, a priori, the One, the Real – but as soon as we represent the One, even in its minimally transcendent form (shorn of philosophical transcendence), we involve ourselves in proliferation (thinking) and all that implies – abstraction, complexity – everything that the division of labor of thought (specialization) tries to overcome by parceling out elements of the task of thinking among specialists – the academic practice of philosophy. Non-philosophical practice happens within this philosophical system of specializations and within the actual structures of the academy, for the most part, not outside it. The ‘outside’ posited by non-philosophy as the ‘Real’ is a state or condition prior to all thought of that state – but that prior state of the ‘Real’ is not spontaneously ‘reflected’ in thought. This is the great illusion of, for example, x-buddhist thought – thinking, thought, mind, awareness, as the passive mirroring of the Real, over and against philosophical thought as a labour of thought that tries to capture the Real. Non-philosophy is neither of these, and yet it does require the accumulated knowledge of philosophy to function, since it is a performative practice on the material of philosophy.

Non-Philosophy makes thought usable to the human of flesh and blood. But this human of flesh and blood is not the human reduced to its historically determined immediacy – to you and me as flesh and blood persons in the particular social, physical and psychological state in which we find ourselves. Non-Philosophy does not directly address this person. It posits the a priori ‘real of the human’ foreclosed to thought and only referenced by non-philosophy as an axiomatic first name – as Laruelle says above, a term that symbolizes the Real in the last instance. In other words the non-philosophical human of flesh and blood feels no pain and doesn’t bleed, in fact it is without any qualities at all in relation to the appropriating philosophical gaze.

This is because non-philosophy has nothing whatsoever to say about the human as real. Non-philosophy is a work on the material of philosophy. It shows the purely decisional nature of the philosophic appropriation of the human real as this or that philosophically determined being. It frees the human that does feel pain and does bleed from the hegemonic denigration of philosophical capture, and establishes the human of flesh and blood as a first name, an axiomatic term in a constitution of terms.

The human posited by non-philosophy is a thought pushed to a state of severe abstraction – a generic thought of the Real, and not a thought of the generic real. Such a thought (the generic real) is an impossibility, and is in fact the thought of the philosophical real as “being. As Laruelle uses the term, being denotes philosophy’s  hallucination of  the human – its use of  the “raw material” of sociology, anthropology and psychology, in its project of capture. This hallucinated being is an admixture of the immanent in the form of the qualities identified as typically human (biological, social, psychological, etc) and the synthesizing unity bestowed on these categories by philosophy as transcendent arbitrator of the Real. This is what it is to be human. So says Philosophy.

Laruelle arrives at the thought of human of flesh and blood by way of a rigorous philosophical abstraction exclusive in its means (exclusive, for the most part, to the academy, or at least to the academic) and democratic in its outcome – a leveling of the ontological ‘value’ of forms of thought in relation to to each other against the horizon of the Real. From the Real, non-philosophy speaks of the Real as a thought-in-the-last-instance, a thought drained of the excess of transcendence. It rigorously abstracts to put an end to abstraction; to put an end to endless iterations of the human imposed on the living by the dead – the already calcified remains of Philosophical excess.

What we describe here are the structures of the ordinary man. Structures that are individual, invisible in the light of reason or intelligence. These are not ideal essences, but finite, inalienable (and consequently irrecusable) lived experiences. (François Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy, back cover.)

The upshot is that non-philosophical thought pushes beyond philosophical thought to a more rigorously abstract thought to arrive at a minimally transcendent thought, or a Vision-in-One of the Real. There is no escape from the rigors of philosophical thought, only from its presumptions to wholly capture the Real. Does that put it beyond the ken of the ordinary (unspecialized) reader?

Strangely, perhaps, the very simplicity and directedness of this mode of thinking which is ultimately for us here in the world necessitates stringent conceptual labours. At any rate by emphasizing at the start the unavoidability of technical and conceptual sophistication for elaborating non-philosophy’s relation to ordinary experience, we will avoid any possible equation of the real human ordinary with a vulgarism or an anti–philosophy. (Gangle, 2012 , 62; my emphasis)

A technically and conceptually sophisticated text does indeed follow this quote, emphasizing the abstract nature of the non-philosophical project in the way the term ordinary life ends up referring not to our ordinary life but to the examination of two philosophical texts – Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology and Ryle’s The Concept of the Mind. You will need a solid grounding in contemporary philosophy, if not specialist training in phenomenology and linguistics, to understand these texts, which reference ordinary life only obliquely.

Here’s an example of the difficulty we face, from Laruelle’s preface to the dictionary of non-philosophy:

[···] Non-philosophy’s vocabulary is mainly that of philosophy, but each term is constantly reworked in its sense, in its figure and sometimes in its signifier. This language is taken from anywhere in the tradition [...]. Non-philosophy is not bound up to a particular tradition, for it is a theory and a pragmatics of every philosophy, whether actual or possible, past or to come. Hence the effect of overdetermination, a wide variety of languages required and a fluidity of “language games” […]. (Laruelle, 2013, 20; my emphasis)

Are we, then, necessarily beholden to the Philosopher and to the Academy? The answer seems to be yes, but this is, of course, true of all revolutionary thought, including the spontaneous forms of thought (what might be called local or indigenous thought) engendered by specific concentrations of social humanity – the classic example being the concentration of workers in large factory spaces and collective articulation of a series of demands (trade union consciousness) and complex forms of proto-communist thought and expression. The academy’s historical colonization of the thought of this western sub-culture of the factory space is as real as its colonization of the cultures and geographical spaces of Africa, the Americas or Asia.

This priestly caste, as it founds the church of modernity, is instantly and integrally involved in founding a broader colonial division of labour. These new priests conjure up the traditional/modern divide by the use of history – differentiating old and new European Western societies – and by the use of anthropology (later, sociology too), by differentiating the colonized from the colonized. The living knowledge traditions of the colonized are pronounced dead on arrival in the present. And their cosmologies, philosophies, social practices – are entombed into opaque “cultures” the contents of which can only be clearly illuminated by the keepers of the flame. (Shilliam, 2013, web)

This is exactly the subjugation Laruelle has in his sights (he calls it denigration) when he describes how non-philosophy opposes “the ordinary man” as first name :

[...] To the philosophical android or anthropoid – that is to say the homo ex machina, a part of the philosophical machine, of Being, of Desire, of the State, of Language, etc. Man, in his real essence, is not visible within the horizon of these presuppositions [...]. (Laruelle, 2012, 44)

Its worth quoting Shilliam at length to get a flavour of how the academy goes about its work of intellectual appropriation and subjugation:

But the priestly caste prefers to fuels its flame by utilizing an epistemic division between knowledge production and knowledge cultivation. [...] Using the Latin roots of these words, we could say that to produce knowledge is to lengthen, prolong or extend, whereas to cultivate knowledge is to till, to turn matter around and fold back on itself so as to encourage growth. Knowledge production is less a creative endeavour and more a process of accumulation and imperial extension disguised as “knowledge for knowledge’s sake”. […] In this colonial division of knowledge, the priestly caste, as knowers, allow themselves to cultivate their own living traditions and extend them productively into the future. Hence, as the knowers, they gift themselves the privilege of being cultivators (to themselves) and producers (for all others), just as they are also traditional and modern. The priestly caste projects its knowledge tradition across historical and spatial trajectories away from a European genus in the form of a straight line. Recipients are not considered co-creative or self-determining in this intellectual process. They must merely receive and consume produced ideas, and extend them. The colonized and their descendents, as the known, must always be catching up with someone else’s production line. (Shilliam, 2013, web)

Are we, then, unavoidably in thrall to a division of intellectual and physical labour imposed on us by the mode of social relations of capitalism, a mode of relations conditioned on economic structures of exclusion (ownership) and power (the state as guarantor of existing relations). Or can we, outside of the academy, (outside of bourgeois specialization) hope to do non-philosophy. Is that a realistic option?

This, no doubt, has to do with the age old discussion about the relation between Marxism and Philosophy, between revolutionary activism and intellectual work. It touches on Buddhist thought too, bringing to mind the Buddhist exhortations against conceptual proliferation, the thicket of thoughts, and the superiority of moments and methodologies of direct seeing.

At any rate we are left with a mind-boggling paradox. Non-philosophy’s project to arrive at the thought of the Human Real as inalienable must proceed by way of a torturous abstraction of thought that, in its exclusivity, rests upon a division of labour (the academy) and its products (the material of philosophy) whose primary function is to replicate oppressive social relations of ownership, power, and inequality.

What is to be done? Shilliam has a practical suggestion, although I think such gestures, even on a group basis (although it would be a great start) are ineffective except in the context of a mass movement for radical change:

[...] You would need to commit apostacy, disavow the colonial episteme, extinguish the flame of modern revelation, shake free the thin line of the white West’s (co-opted) prophets and (even if just occasionally) stand at the crossroads rather than sit in the agora. You would have to find your other community or communities once again, take part in their redemption, and cash in your privilege wisely. You would have to publically affirm that impossible and ungovernable communities exist, as do their living knowledge traditions, and that the problematique of representation is a deferral strategy for a democratization of dialogue with these communities. If you did this – if we did this as a critical mass – it would precipitate the end of the Western Academy. Our job specs would change, perhaps for the better. (Shilliam, 2013, web)

Shilliam offers a challenge that proposes a practical as much as a theoretical decimation of hegemonic philosophical discourse. It is the corollary in action of Laruelle’s determined abstraction. The more I read Laruelle the more convinced I am of the radicalism of his thought. It insists on the unassailable essence of the human; its always already foreclosed status and its apriori victory over the appropriating grasp of all forms of systematized thought – the human as inalienable (and consequently irrecusable) lived experiences. In this it has an uncanny resemblance to the more radical formulations (or un-formulations)  of Buddhist thought, such as Dzogchen. It peruses the practice of this radical perspective, though, via thought, and that, despite Buddhist claims to the contrary, is its strength. So my last word on Laruelle, for now, is that, despite the difficulties, and despite the inevitable reliance on dubious academic structures and process of knowledge production, his thought is a magnificent, if unwieldy, weapon of liberation, personal and collective. It would not be amiss to devote ones energies to the ‘strenuous conceptual labours’ which seem to be the lot of anyone who wishes to overcome its daunting impenetrability.

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Texts cited:

Glenn Wallis, Speculative Non-Buddhism: X-Buddhist Hallucination and its Decimation. In Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice by Wallis, Pepper, Steingass; 2013.

Rocco Gangle, Laruelle and ordinary life. In Laruelle and non-philosophy, ed. by John Mullarkey and Anthony Paul Smith, 2012.

François Laruelle, Future Christ, 2010.

François Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy, 2012.

François Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, 2013.

Robbie Shilliam, Living Knowledge Traditions and the Priestly Caste, 2013, retrieved 05-22-2014.

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13 thoughts on “Non-Philosophy: Academic Discourse or Radical Heresy?

  1. Hi Patrick. Thanks for this piece (and for the Shilliam reference). Maybe it will serve some people as, among other things, an entry into non-philosophical thought. It really does take a lot of work, doesn’t it? I’ll have to read it again later when I get more time. I just wanted to comment quickly on this point:

    At any rate we are left with a mind-boggling paradox. Non-philosophy’s project to arrive at the thought of the Human Real as inalienable must proceed by way of a torturous abstraction of thought that, in its exclusivity, rests upon a division of labour (the academy) and its products (the material of philosophy) whose primary function is to replicate oppressive social relations of ownership, power, and inequality.

    The torturous abstraction is necessary as long as the thinker/practitioner desires to banish all transcendence from thought and practice. In my experience, a person’s thought and practice always reflects the relative lack or fervor of this desire. You could call me an enemy of transcendence. Of course, I’d have to defend that position with value claims that could very quickly start sounding like they flow from transcendental principles. Being away of that danger, and, simultaneously, desiring to ward it off like a deadly disease, I begin to express myself in ways that sound like tortured abstraction. But that’s just because of the caution and care required for not acquiescing to the transcendental dream, or of–even more difficult–fooling oneself into believing that his thought and practice are necessarily completely uncontaminated by transcendental elements.

    This statement by Marjorie Gracieuse in Laruelle and Non-Philosophy is something to chew on in this regard.

    Laruelle and Deleuze stand out as two thinkers who have invoked immanence in the most obstinate way, presenting it as a material realm that must be protected from belief in autonomous and transcendent orders of reality and truth. For these two thinkers, transcendence constitutes the most detrimental yet entrenched “transcendental illusion” of traditional philosophy. If faith in transcendence is seen as the source of all alienation, it is in so far as it introduces artificial yet effective divisions between humans and their productive forces, enslaving practices to established orders, and preventing beings from fully realizing their immanent power of singular and collective transformation. When it is caught up in the belief in transcendence and supra-signifiers, philosophy becomes abstract hermeneutics, that is, a self-centered doctrine that privileges interpretation over experimentation and despises humans’ intrinsic potentialities in favor of obscure principles of explanation such as the Unconscious, Being, Power, etc…. This is why both Deleuze and Laruelle seek to neutralize transcendence, conceiving [it] as an abstraction, an illusion which is produced in thought when the logos negates the material and ever-new moving realm from which it emerges and to which it belongs, namely the living…matter or “immanence.” (42-43)

    One way to prevent discourse on immanence from replicating, and thereby perpetuating, the social divisions given in the real world is to consciously and continually invite others into the conversation. Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice is an example. If that book is at home anywhere (and I don’t think it is), it would be Buddhist studies or maybe Religious studies. I made a very conscious, intentional decision when I asked Tom Pepper and Matthias Steingass to contribute to it. The fact that neither of them is trained in Buddhist or Religious studies yet is fully capable of infusing fresh thought-blood into those bodies of discourse helped me to actualize the very spirit of the non + x manner of participatory thinking. An amusing fact: I have been asked to contribute to volumes on three occasions since the publication of that book. The topic in each case was roughly related to Buddhism and politics. Each time I said:
    –no thanks, but can I recommend someone who has a lot to say in that regard?
    –Sure, who?
    –TP. MS.
    –Who?
    –Yeah, they’re not blah, blah, blah, but they do xyz really real, etc.
    –Um, no thanks.

    So, even the fact that this non-buddhist thinking and writing is happening outside of “the academy”–a snobby, ridiculous term–has a radical component to it.

  2. Hi Glenn,

    Regarding torturous abstraction the phrase expresses the panicky aversion I feel approaching a Laruelle text for the first time (or for that matter your text ‘Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism’ when I first came across it).

    You could call me an enemy of transcendence. Of course, I’d have to defend that position with value claims that could very quickly start sounding like they flow from transcendental principles. Being away of that danger, and, simultaneously, desiring to ward it off like a deadly disease, I begin to express myself in ways that sound like tortured abstraction.

    I understand that very well and have come to realize the inevitable resistance your texts will engender in the general reader. Anyone I introduce them to has the same reaction— they read, pause, look at me, read again, shake their head and get angry. If they happen to be Buddhist multiply that reaction by four.

    For the new reader the antidote is, of course, the application of effort. In my teens and early 20s I sat in small reading groups of trade–unionists and we dragged each other sentence by sentence through texts by Marx or Hegel or whatever, on our own and sometimes with the help of a professor from the university or an advanced student. So I know it can be done, even by someone with basic reading skills and little else. But it does require commitment, support, encouragement and persistence. What I would hope is that down the line we might create a network of small local non-buddhist reading groups. We have, of course, an added hurdle to overcome, something Tom has continually reiterated—- the pervasive habitual bias for consumption over work, and effortless acquisition of desirable objects over persistent application of energy. Complicated by the fact that almost everyone, whatever their occupation, is exhausted by the ruin of everyday life—the ceaseless expenditure of energy just to survive, or, equally ruinous, to maintain the economic / social status they have acquired over time and probably at great cost (a concern for manual workers as much as for academics)

    I think what David and John have done with Badiou’s text is exactly what’s needed, something that’s even more effective in a small group in person. I imagine the class you spoke of was something like that?

    The thrust of the post, though, is about something else. Two ideas : that in order to do non-philosophy we must rely on academia, since non-philosophy is a performative practice on philosophy and pushes thought to what Laruelle calls a ‘rigor specific to theory as such’; secondly this fact emphasizes the need to continually question and undermine the division of labour on which the academy is founded.

    As you say:

    One way to prevent discourse on immanence from replicating, and thereby perpetuating, the social divisions given in the real world is to consciously and continually invite others into the conversation.

    The other way is to constantly link our non-buddhist theorizing with a critique of the appropriation of knowledge by way of structures of the division of labour and of specialization, perpetuating exclusion. This seems naively unrealistic only because the way things are structured always produces the illusion that existing conditions are either ordained by god or nature. To invite others into the conversation is an act of sabotage, since it questions the notion of the separation of physical and mental work as naturally given, rather than imposed as structures of control, devision, status and power. Quoting from your quote.

    …When it is caught up in the belief in transcendence and supra-signifiers, philosophy becomes abstract hermeneutics, that is, a self-centered doctrine that privileges interpretation over experimentation and despises humans’ intrinsic potentialities in favor of obscure principles of explanation such as the Unconscious, Being, Power, etc….

    I don’t know enough yet about Deleuze’s thought but Laruelle’s insistence on the a priori individual as concrete lived experience is my weapon of choice against the transcendence spoken of here; what he calls the excess of philosophy, its predicates —the individuel. From the determination -in-the-last-instance of the individual we can make acts of resistance. So it seems to me that if one is fortunate enough (from a tactical point of view) to be a professor of Buddhist studies among professors of Buddhist studies, one should make full use of that status. One of the privileges of anyone who happens to be a resident of the Winter palace is the honor of weakening the palace defenses prior to opening the gates to the surging mob.

    So, even the fact that this non-buddhist thinking and writing is happening outside of “the academy”–a snobby, ridiculous term–has a radical component to it.

    Great. But I hope that doesn’t exclude bringing the revolutionary proclamation to the Tzar’s dinner table and disrupting the superficial and refined chatter of the aristos?

    We out here, in other words, need you to be fully in there, so that we can meet at the gates. This applies to all academics who have ears to hear the roar beyond the walls. On that condition I look forward to an even longer and more rigorous (is that possible?) explication of non-buddhism for Professors of Buddhist studies—an anarchist bomb with the word Wallis written all over it.

  3. Alain Badiou gave a talk on the Cultural Revolution in 2002, reproduced in a collection titled Polemics. The following is from page 307:

    “For sure, the Red Guards in no way invent the anti-intellectual radicalism of the revolutionary spirit. At the moment of pronouncing the death sentence of the chemist Lavoisier during the French Revolution, the public accuser Fouqier-Tinville offered this remarkable statement: ‘The Republic has no need for scientists.’ What happens is that a true revolution considers that it has itself created everything it needs, and we should respect this creative absolutism. In this regard the Cultural Revolution was a true revolution. On the question of science and technology, the fundamental slogan was that what matters is to be ‘red’, not to be an ‘expert’.”

    I just happened to be reading Badiou’s talk right after reading the Robbie Shilliam piece you cited. Shilliam makes some interesting points (mostly those you extract in the course of making your excellent and provocative argument). But on the whole I had serious misgivings about his perspective. It is hard enough to evaluate when knowledge is of value without having to first take into account its color.

  4. Hi David ,
    Re# 3,
    As you probably know my background is in left politics (sporadic, almost always problematic and beset by doubts ) I went from doctrinaire Stalinism during my teens, to a flirtation with Maoism before I came to the conclusion that in practice it was an irrational form of politics, and then a long on and off association with the Trotskyite movement . This ended for good with the exposure of the leadership of the two largest movements in England as corrupt, sexually abusive, and in one instance a proven proxy of Gaddafi, who had financed the organization in an effort to destabilize England ( the other part of that programme was the arming and financing of terrorist organizations (some with English Trotskyite links) in Ireland. History now, but my point in raising it is to put my opinion of Badiou’s ‘Maoism’ in context (I was around when he was active in the early seventies) Lets just say that I have little respect for him in that regard.

    The point you make about knowledge and colour is interesting and touches on the relation between Imperial conquest, racism, the appropriation of the means of knowledge production by elites, and epistemology. If you want to delve into that hornets nest we would be happy to accept a post for publishing. Really!. As for myself I am too confused and, at the moment too intent on chewing the large chunk of Laruelle I have just bitten of. Thanks for the compliment and keep up the good work you are doing on the forum. I wish I could participate more but ……

  5. Patrick, you write with remarkable lucidity about these abstract, impossible things. In whatever follows, I must say that I only know Laruelle through the mirrors (or not) of you and Glenn, so I’m likely (inevitably) missing things.

    One of the threads with which you are weaving here is the necessary dependence of non-Philosophy on the Academy, and I want to try to unravel that a bit. One of your Gangle quotations:

    “Non-philosophy’s vocabulary is mainly that of philosophy, but each term is constantly reworked in its sense, in its figure and sometimes in its signifier. This language is taken from anywhere in the tradition [...]. Non-philosophy is not bound up to a particular tradition, for it is a theory and a pragmatics of every philosophy, whether actual or possible, past or to come. Hence the effect of overdetermination, a wide variety of languages required and a fluidity of “language games””

    There seem to be two senses here in which we might say argue that non-philosophy is dependent on the Academy. One is that it acts on philosophy, the produce of the Academy. The other is that it takes sophistication, a ‘wide variety of languages’ and language games to play.

    I think there is a strong case for the latter – that it is an abstract, arduous project that requires the learning and unlearning of a sort of grammar, a means by which the world is ordered in concept – a fluency gained over time. This is a dependence on the material of thought; one must have consumed a great deal of concepts, which by and large, due to our history, rather necessitates a dependence on Academic thought (whether or not one is an academic).

    But is it then necessary for non-philosophy to operate on Academic thought? Well, as a first counterexample, I think we can point to non-Buddhism as evidence that, having attained fluency in rigorous and abstract thought, the recognition of overdetermination, etc. can be applied to non-Academic thought. Couldn’t this same sort of project be carried on against any sufficiently dense material – maybe Montaigne, or G.K. Chesterton, or some folk-philosophy? Fox News? Could the alien, abstract thought of non-philosophy be born from the language of some common tongue? It would no doubt be a monstrous bastard child. Or is this all too-colonial a thought, to have non-philosophy force itself on other worlds? Better to let something other arise from the other. Sorry to end on so much of a waffle.

    On a separate track.

    I keep wanting to draw a parallel between art and non-philosophy. When I read Glenn’s first terms, I am struck most by affect. This perhaps stems from not having the references that someone who has really done the work of non-philosophy might have. But the way in which the familiar turns into the abstract and alien has a stunning effect — that is, it stuns. Thought does not proliferate along long-grooved lines; it stops or is shaken off of its tracks.

    This seems similar to what art can do when it is alien enough; it can stimulate an affect that can stun and provoke and allow for something new to arise from the encounter.

    Is this sort of slap-in-the-face effect part of what Laruelle is after in challenging philosophy’s capture of the world, or is it more about the engagement in the arduousness of following each abstract thought to its end? Or am I making sense?

  6. Hi John,

    Well, as a first counterexample, I think we can point to non-Buddhism as evidence that, having attained fluency in rigorous and abstract thought, the recognition of overdetermination, etc. can be applied to non-Academic thought. Couldn’t this same sort of project be carried on against any sufficiently dense material – maybe Montaigne, or G.K. Chesterton, or some folk-philosophy?

    I think I get what you are saying here.—that Glenns application of non-philosophical thought to Buddhism shows that it can be applied to any form of systematized thought. Thats true but I think Laruelles thought is distinguished from deconstruction or contextual critique (ideological, textual, historical, etc) by its insistence on the central role of decision. I think it works so well with Buddhism because Buddhism is at one level a philosophy—a set of transcendental postulates revolving around a decisional structure.

    Could the alien, abstract thought of non-philosophy be born from the language of some common tongue? It would no doubt be a monstrous bastard child.

    In other words a common tongue would make non–philosophical thought a less alien form since it will use the common terminology?

    I don’t know if that is likely. I think while the philosophical contortions of academic philosophy may be difficult to unravel, there is a difference between saying something is tortuously abstract and saying that it is unnecessarily so (obscurantist). I don’t think that is the case with much of the philosophy Laruelle deals with. For example Kant’s text on the transcendental deduction is difficult not because of the difficulty of the terminology, although that is difficult, but because it forces you to think right to the edge of a particular place of thought. Non-philosophical thought is difficult for the same reason.
    Having said that I think we can simplify the language without losing any of the content, but I think that sort of thing is a special talent not found usually in the academy!

    This seems similar to what art can do when it is alien enough; it can stimulate an affect that can stun and provoke and allow for something new to arise from the encounter.

    This is a great point. I feel exactly that, especially in relation to Glenns text ‘Nascant Speculative Non-Buddhism’ I think this has much to do with Glenns use of language, which functions on levels not accessible to, for example, Laruelles texts. Not surprising if one takes into account the interest Glenn has in poetry , especially in the poetry of the surreal image.

    I have been working on a text for a long while in an effort to respond to just that aspect of non-buddhist thought, but I am finding it very difficult going, perhaps because I try normally to keep my interest in art separate from my interest in philosophy. Myself and Matthias have made a conscious decision to try and bridge the gap in some way by producing texts that speak on many levels of understanding and interpretation. I tried to articulate what that might mean in my post ‘reorientation’

    I think there is an aspect of Laruelles thought that is connected with the idea of what happens when we push thought to the edge and confront the limitations of thought-the aporia within the symbolic system. And this can often be the effect produced by art-not always a necessarily positive experience. For example Goya’s lithographs and dark wall paintings are one example of the way art can force one to look into the abyss-in this case the moral and ethical abyss conditioned on the irrationality of human behavior once the ‘norms’ are overthrown or spontaneously break down. Much of the horror genre does the same thing. All of this connects, of course, with Buddhist meditative practice and warrants investigation. I mean in the sense that , for example, in the Pali tradition, one is forced to confront the visceral reality of experience beyond the abstract conceptual level-the most extreme example being the graveyard contemplation practices. In Tantra a whole array of non-conceptual factors are brought into meditative practice, including sound, dance, yogic modifications of the inner somatic experience, visualizations, and extreme confrontations with taboos experiences of all sorts. In Dzogchen, in contrast, there is the meditative realization of ordinary experience as magical (read utterly forclosed to thought) in its own right. Art , in the western tradition,surely plays some such function, along with all of the others (ideological interpellation being a major one)

  7. Patrick (#6),
    thanks for your pointer to the Goya lithographs. They really do show great thought-limiting art. I appraise your thought of confronting experiences with a minimal transcendent level. The horror genre is a great way of doing this. And this fits well with the graveyard contemplation practices. At the moment, I’m keeping track of the big thought how this may effect our overall experience as human beings. What will happen if we minimize our human-centric views, our thoughts about e.g. permanence, immortality. What will happen when we push them to the insufferable limit? I think we may catch a glimpse of the abyss, the void. In a way, this would faciliate the realization the even our thoughts are subject to emptiness, lacking intrinsic, general, self-supporting value. Everything we think is rendered uncertain.

  8. Hi Matthias M .

    Re 7#

    What will happen when we push them to the insufferable limit? I think we may catch a glimpse of the abyss, the void. In a way, this would facilitate the realization the even our thoughts are subject to emptiness, lacking intrinsic, general, self-supporting value. Everything we think is rendered uncertain.

    There is a subtle point though. Its obvious that Laruelle’s thought is thought–is a pushing of thought to the limit so that one edges up to the cusp of the void. This way of speaking is misleading though because it uses spacial metaphors-in fact there is no way of getting nearer to the void since the void, by definition, has no location and does not figure as ‘being’. Void in that sense of the word ( as a representation of an aspect of being) is the concept void over and against the concept existence; both terms are, in a decisional move, synthesized as being.

    Void in the sense Laruelle uses it is the apriori condition or state before conceptual thought makes its defining capture. He uses the term ‘transcendental naivety’ to describe this stance. It is naive in that it refuses to engage in philosophical circularity; it proclaims the possibility of a capture of the real as just philosophy’s unification of its own representations of the real—as if, as Laruelle says, philosophy could step over its own shadow. At one point Laruelle says that we must ‘sensitive’ ourselves to the immediately given nature of our own individuality, beyond (or before) the operation of philosophical thought on our innate givenness.

    So we can speak of affect (horror, bliss, insight, etc) in relation to the experience of the void, but at that point we are already speaking in terms of the relational- in terms of ‘being’ The void, the real, or the One (as individual finitude) remains absolutely foreclosed to thought . All meditative practice is, in that sense, a matter of cognition, including affect (emotions such as bliss or horror) which in their directionality— pointing towards a particular aspect of experience, horror, for example—are a form of knowing, a mixture of thought and emotion-a cognition, which is necessarily circular—my proof of horror as an essential aspect of being is my convincing re–presentation of horror as constituting a fundemental element in an overall theory of being. An interesting experiment would be to try to find a minimally transcendent term for bliss or horror, an axiomatic term rather than a philosophical postulate functioning within a system of thought.

  9. Patrick,

    Re 8#

    I see your point and think that your thought of a non-special, non-essentialist definition of the void takes the same line as Hakamaya Noriaki’s and Matsumoto Shiro’s critique of “…any eternal, substantial, underlying basis or locus on which everything else depends or arises from” (http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/en/files/2012/12/zen-is-not-BUDDHISM.pdf). I’m not really sure if I’m on the right track here, nevertheless Paul Swanson’s added article makes a good read. Who can help me in comparing the concepts of ‘emptiness’ and ‘void’? Where are differences and similarities?

  10. Hi Matthias M
    Re 9,

    Thanks for the link. It looks interesting. I need some time to read it. One thing I would emphasize is that when Laruelle uses the One, or the Real, I think he is talking not about a unity arrived at by philosophical thought or an underlying unified ground accessed by insight, intuition, or meditation, ( the equivalent of ‘original nature’ ) but the One as finite individuality or singularity. For the human this means the concrete individual as a finite entity. When we conceptualize this individual it should be as a minimally transcendent term not as a claim to the capture or appropriation of the real. We speak from the real of course (since we are that prior to any re-presentation of that) but once we speak from the real of the real we immediately enter the world of dualities, of being as distinct from the One , and from there to a synthesized unity of the divided pairs we have created—-what Laruelle terms a divided unity. The way this might relate to Buddhist notions of the void, emptiness and no-self needs careful thought. Its not something I can say all that much on at the moment. What we can say quite clearly is the the process of creating this divided unity when formalized is the practice of philosophy-a systematization of thought dependent on a decisional structure. This decisional structure is found in classical Buddhism and its critiques, ancient or modern, what we have named as the x. So while such critiques may be interesting they fail when they fail to address the central issue of decision. Which is not to say that they are without merit, usefulness or interest.

  11. Matthias M. #9: That’s a hell of an essay by Swanson. Thanks.

    If I want to think of myself as a partisan of Tom Pepper’s campaign to eradicate Atman, I suppose I ought to be firmly in the Shiro-Noriaki camp, But I found myself having two renegade thoughts.

    First, if we say tathagata-garbha thinking is wrong because it teaches that words are not reliable (p127) and promotes a notion of harmony that lends itself to coercive use by the powerful to maintain the existing social order and restrict criticism (p133) (here we might speak of interpellation into the hegemonic ideology), haven’t we gone too far in the direction of allowing the political consequences of thought to determine its soundness? (This is a version of the “red” versus “expert” question I raised in #3.) In law school I learned to think my way to the best argument for a client. I don’t want to suggest that this isn’t true thinking, but thought that predisposes itself to reach a certain conclusion bears the limits of that predisposition.

    Second, I had a problem convincing myself that the idea of tathagata-garbha, at least to whatever extent it is adequately captured in the phrase “the grasses, trees, mountains and rivers all attain buddhahood” (p118), requires an Atman. Swanson as well ends by suggesting this may be too simple a conclusion (pp 141-42). Animism has its pitfalls, to be sure, but so has humanism. If the claim that humans can attain buddhahood need not entail the existence of an Atman, I don’t see why it would be entailed by the same claim as to any other particular entities. I don’t think anyone has a workable rule for determining which entities are and which are not sentient.

    On the other hand, the notion that there is “no religion without time” (p121) strongly appealed to me, and suggested a connection between anatta and temporality that had not previously occurred to me.

  12. Hi David
    Re 11,

    ….haven’t we gone too far in the direction of allowing the political consequences of thought to determine its soundness? …. thought that predisposes itself to reach a certain conclusion bears the limits of that predisposition.

    Shit, that’s a powerful thought! My knee-jerk reaction to the Badiou quote was aversion, exactly because (I now see in the light of the point you make) it supports a position of overvaluing revolutionary intent over rational argument.—that the fervor with which the (mostly) young militants implemented Mao’s political objective of overturning the party bureaucracy made it too easy to distort the movement in favor of an alternative party clique…as it turned out the choice (after Mao’s death) between the gang of four clique and the ‘capitalist roaders’ was no choice at all for the Chinese people.

    On a more abstract level the statement ‘thought that predisposes itself to reach a certain conclusion bears the limits of that predisposition’ has lots of interesting implications. For example I wonder about the way we seem to be ‘naturally’ predisposed to try and add two and two together when we think . (I mean that a certain inbuilt momentum in thought ( built into the structure of language and enabling the flow of speech — its speed and un-selfconsious fluency) predisposes us to connect, simplify, synthesise, make theories. Isn’t that the very definition of thinking and one of the insights of Buddhism and contemporary thought,—-that there is no co-ordinating self in command of speech or thought (no ghost in the machine). At a very basic level predispositions to believe there is a ghost in the machine are built into the structure of language, hence the difficulty of speaking of the alternative…it requires careful effort; a form of self-consious correction of ones thought –a reflexive auto—critique of one’s thinking as it happens.
    All of this is linked with Althussers idea of interpellation —what we are interpellated into turns out (after the fact) to be our unconscious predispositions. For Althusser we are always and already in ideology, that is always predisposed in a certain direction. The criticism leveled at this thought centered around how we could ever escape from the circularity his theory seems to describe —in other words how can we think over and above (or below) our predispositions, to a new thought?

    I don’t think anyone has a workable rule for determining which entities are and which are not sentient.

    Strangely , I would have baulked at such a thought not so long ago. But my reading (belated ) has convinced me that there are huge holes in a positivist or reductionist or atomist science, one that can make transparently obvious statements about sentience-a reduction to brain function for example, or an approach that concluded sentience was an epiphenomenal excess of a complex system—brain / nervous system/environment. The problem is there seems to be no definite point at which one can limit the boundary between creature and environment, and yet each organism functions as a bounded entity; or to exclude simple organisms which interact with each other and the environment in coordinated ways. There is also the question of how we structure our theories of what is and isn’t sentient—our predispositions. The theory that thinking is spread across a collectivity of individuals (albeit individuals in possession of a brain and nervous system,) leaves open the possibility that more rudimentary organic collectivities possess some form of sentience. As you say, what then of Buddhahood conceived as the already essential (but not atomist) condition of all life, or even of all existents.

    I don’t think ,though, that such a thought necessarily weds us to a conception of a unified ground or field— of awareness for example. In fact the conception of a sort of flattened out immanence is a betrayal of the subtly of madhyamaka thought, which insists on the particularity, singularity and uniqueness of forms and their evolution along a temporal continuum. A concept of time and space is essential, since it is the fact that a form occupies a particular location in space and excludes any other form from occupying that same space, that is one of the guarantors of its uniqueness as a form; like wise the evolution of a form along its own unique temporal continuum. Laruelle expresses this thought beautifully in his description of the individual finite human as ‘solitary or celibate of the world’ (of the world as unitary thought-world or admixture of immanence / transcendence). Laruelle’s idea is able to include within any field of immanence a conception of the existence of bounded individuals, relational levels, and unities within unities (holons) that does not imply a bland featureless primal field of transcendence—his idea leaves us exactly where we are as unique singular individuals while establishing our apriori foreclosure to philosophical capture. Most interesting is Laruelle’s idea, following from this, of the possibility of science as a non-philosophical or naive practice grounded in the apriori axiomatic principal of real identity or immanence— as just the givenness of the real before any unitary theory is imposed upon it.

  13. Pingback: democratic non-philosophy, np as an academic discourse, some thoughts on np as an assistant to science | DIFFEREND Komplex

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