Force of creation; The non-Aesthetic

Phillip Guston

Phillip Guston

The Artist

Popular imagination ascribes a ‘vocational calling’ to the artist, distinguishing him from the run of ordinary mortals, often using terms borrowed from the discourse on religion. This residual of a romantic idea long abandoned by the academy is a mixture of ideas about internal essences, creativity and self-realization, extracted from the human potential movement, new age pseudo-spiritual discourses, or popular psychology. The metaphor of the ‘call’ rising from the depths of the mind accompanies a host of equally overused metaphors alluding to inner journeys, searches for meaning, and creative/spiritual explorations. The artist is named as one who searches within to find inspiration on the basis that somewhere in the ‘depths’ of his mind there are inexhaustible resources of the imagination, unique to him and yet of universal significance; fuel for artistic burning, energy for transforming mundane material into the gold of high art; an alchemy of the imagination — making something, (high art, spiritual realization, wisdom) out of nothing, (that mysterious thing we call the mind) – the artist as shaman endowed with a vital power exercised on behalf of the collective.

The word endowed implies, of course, that we are the passive receptors of this impulse to create. What powers we are as humans endowed with are but faint reflections of a power transcendent of our puny egos, and one we would do well to appease. Searching within is a dangerous thing. It’s not all sunshine. There are shadows. Which is why many insist that when we peer into the depths, we will find not only god and his angels but also the devil and his monstrously sublime children. Painters, and artists generally, are particularly afflicted in this regard, as any number of ‘tragic’ biographies will attest. For the most extreme forms of this romantic mythology, art is a marriage of madness and genius, a species of inner intoxication, a plunge into the ‘underworld’ which only the most gifted seer can hope to survive.

The impulse to make art, seen in this light, is the corollary of the idea of the religious impulse, a natural expression of human nature, transcending cultures and historical periods. Such a vision bestows on the person an inevitable grandeur. If we search inside of ourselves inspiration will  percolate up from the unconscious, just as clear fresh water percolates up from a wellspring located deep underground in the mysterious and unfathomable reaches of the earth. It’s no surprise that this vision of the unconscious origin of artistic inspiration (and the artist as the bearer of inner truth) began to predominate at the same time as we began to think of religion as an ineffable experience where the person peered into the unfathomable reaches of the mind – a reified interior space into which one could peer just as easily as one could into the depths of a well.

For many this conception of the mind functions as a form of refuge, a retreat of last resort for the surviving vestiges of the human as sacred essence, rescued from the assault of materialistic consumerism and a predatory science. Who would not want to believe in such an existent, unsullied by the drive to consume and safe from the objectifying gaze of the human sciences, a gaze that would reduce the human to its social, psychological and anthropological predicates, or deliver it over to the exact sciences as simply a mass of evolved biological drives, machine-like cognitive mechanisms or reductive psychical processes.

No doubt the insights of the human sciences – psychology, sociology, anthropology – do shed light on their areas of investigation; and no doubt the findings of biology and neurobiology cannot be discounted.

[T]he experimental non-philosophical labour of scientific concepts 1) lets a particular scientific theory be in its own legitimacy without intervening in it as philosophy wants to, and 2) does not imprudently “apply” or generalize this particular theory for the benefit of philosophical authority . […] This labour produces open ensembles, a uni-verse of truly fractal knowledges that adequately “reflect” the One. Such a task is distinguished from the task of the philosopher-sage who, believing to hold the authority of transcendental approval, repeats the mixed espistemo-philosophical gesture of expropriation and reappropriation instead of using the sciences themselves under the conditions of a transcendental axiomatics.

François Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-philosophy, p. 70 f.

Painting in the last instance

When philosophy presents us with the dilemma – an essence transcendent of matter, biology, and the social, or a reduction to matter, biology, the social – this dilemma and its solution (on either count) just is the absolutizing move which Laruelle critiques as the mixture of the epistemological and the philosophical, of empirical investigation and philosophical generalizations. When science is left to itself, however, it produces open ensembles of knowledges, in which the findings of the sciences interact while remaining distinct – to lie alongside each other rather than being gathered up by philosophy as its raw material.

So too the labour of the artist and his productions – they are, according to the non-philosophical perspective, free from expropriation and re-appropriation by philosophy, which would use the art object for its own transcendental purposes. From this point of view there are artistic knowledges in the same way as there are scientific knowledges; these knowledges can function beyond (or before) the legitimizing authority of philosophy. Laruelle uses the idea of the ‘fractal’ to express the way art practices (or scientific practices) can function independently of each other but in relation, and can ‘reflect’ knowledge of the Real in terms of a first name, or as in-the-last-instance. These practices and their knowledges – the sciences, the various art practices, are forms of human activity, as is the practice of philosophy and philosophical decision, and its ways of ‘processing’ the real – universalizing particulars, synthesizing dialectical opposites, appropriating art practice as aesthetic truth – all of this philosophizing is in the last instance ‘mere’ human activity before the binding formulations of philosophical capture appropriate it as truth of philosophy. In this context one can ask “what is the nature of  art – the painting, the poem, the piece of music the novel etc. – as an experience of the object before philosophical capture formulates it as truth, or as the bi-bifurcations of form and content, material trace and cypher, material object and cultural artifact, or their synthesized unity. What, in other words, is painting in the last instance?”

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  Non-Aesthetics

The usage of non-aesthetics should be found instead within the specificity of the activity of the “non”, indeed in a specifically artistic concept, if not of the Real, at least that of “force (of) creation.” […]

In the end any artistic composition can be combined with any composition of thought without limit: this is the first axiomatic constant. From this point of view, it is necessary to rethink the currently used concept of the “avant-garde” in a non-historical context, since all linearity and circularity of history are excluded.

A second constant of axiomatic creativity reposes upon the fact that combinations can be assembled […] according to a principle of generalized relativity, forming like fractal-isles of thought on art, fractal-isles that can border on the works themselves, at best by constituting an equivalent poetics. Different particular non-aesthetics that then spring forth, spread out and combine to describe the most varied works – be they ancient or traditional, recent or futuristic. This is an activity to which no limits can be fixed. […]

But, third constant, everything must be able to be erased and return to the non-system of-the-last-instance. This constant keeps non-aesthetics from congealing into a system of sufficiency i.e. returning to a philosophical illusion. […]

François Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-Philosophie, p. 87 f. (my emphasis)

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Equivalent poetics

Phillip Guston, painting, smoking, eating, 1974

Phillip Guston. Painting, Smoking, Eating. 1974

The artist lies in bed smoking a fat cigarette, perhaps a joint. The sheet is pulled to the neck as if to deny him movement. Only his head is visible. His hands – the all important painter’s hands – are hidden; it might be that he holds a gun beneath the sheet, who knows? Around him the debris of living – various utensils, a heap of shoes. A bulb and a light switch dangle near to hand. The light is harsh, flooding the constricted space evenly, casting no shadows. Beneath his head a dark patch, the darkest spot in the painting, stains the pillow, as if blood were seeping from a head wound into the white fabric. His eyes are wide, alert, unmoving, in expectation of some event, or listening for some far off sound; he stares into a space beyond the frame. He waits. The objects of his world surround him like an alien assemblage, each form enclosed in a blood-red line, an insistent line that establishes each object as a self-contained unit with no real connection to its neighbour. No unifying light moves across the forms and no structure under-girds the arrangement. Man, bed, sheets, shoes, utensils, bulb, switch, are not the elements of a composition, but an accidental heap. The image is, it seems, loaded with meaning, but there is no narrative that would explain what has happened or what is about to happen. On his chest, poised precariously at an angle, a plate of uneaten food rests, forgotten. It is the only point of tension in the scene, since even a slight movement from Guston will send it sliding towards the bottom of the frame. For now, though, it remains poised, caught in the general air of stultification, postponement, expectation.

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Phillip Guston, Head and bottle, 1976

Phillip Guston. Head and Bottle. 1976

The painter’s head, reduced to a grotesque lump of bone and flesh, balances on the front of its chin. His body has disappeared, or he never had one to begin with, since there is no sign of overt violence. There is, though, a sinister splash of red on the chin and around the edges of the form, making us wonder if an unnatural rebirth has subjected the painter to some sort of fantastic metamorphosis. Or perhaps this is the painters natural state, minus torso, limbs or mouth, his form expressing his essential nature as the all-seeing eye. It is the eye we are familiar with from other paintings, locked in confrontation with the spaces and objects of its world.  And yet he is not helpless. His eye exudes an intense concentrated energy, the point of axis around which the scene revolves. With the stupefied persistence of a drunkard, he stares into the dregs of an empty bottle. Near to hand are the implements of his trade – a brush and a rolled sheet of paper – now forgotten. A naked bulb floods the space with a harsh light beneath which nothing can hide. A parched desert landscape and a blue sky replace the space of the studio. And yet that same claustrophobic atmosphere prevails, as if the world was not big enough to contain this primal confrontation between a mind and its alienated objects. The bulb, dangled precariously close to the painters head, seems to burn through the wall of his skull, its heat charging the intense state of wakefulness emanating from the painters eye.

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Phillip Guston, Head, 1975

Phillip Guston. Head. 1975

The artist’s disembodied head appears to have been skinned, exposing the dirty red of congealed blood and raw flesh. It dominates the empty landscape, the top of its head grazing a claustrophobic sky made of the same fleshy substance. It stares into the space beyond the frame with the usual intense expectation of an event which will never happen. Its monumental solidity has endured some cataclysmic event that has erased other forms from the world. It waits, locked into a solitude that is its fate, an image bereft of any narrative clue that would revel something of its inner essence, beyond the mysterious intensity of its mesmerized stare into an infinite nothingness.

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Phillip Gusto 'East Coker, T.S.E

Phillip Guston. “East Coker: T.S.E.”

The poet lies in bed, the sheet pulled to his neck. His body is emaciated, the skin wrinkled as if in the process of detaching itself from the skeleton. Although the arms, hands, torso and legs are not visible we know that whatever wasting disease has attacked him has rendered them useless. But for the support of the pillow the scrawny neck would be unable to bear the weight of the head. The mouth is set in an agonized grimace. The eyes stare. His world, now stripped of form and reduced to a murky grey fog, threatens to dissolve, voiding itself of itself. Only the bed, the sheet, the pillow and the body are present to the mere fact of dissolution, a fate stripped of narrative and proscribed meaning.

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The Alchemist

The painter Phillip Guston abhorred the idea of ‘official art’. His intention was to undermine it by pushing painting to the brink. He was acutely aware of the ambiguous nature of the practice of painting, by which one was necessarily implicated in a tradition, a discourse, and, ultimately, a system of power relations, crass commodification, and ideological co-option. If that were not bad enough, art, according to philosophy, needed the universalizing validation of philosophical discourse, grounding it according to the logic of the philosopher, and giving it voice as the bearer of an aesthetic truth; the painting could not be left as mute form (the painting as brute object); philosophy, final arbitrator of the true, the good and the beautiful, must explicate its meaning according to its dictates. Guston instinctively resisted such appropriation and proclaimed the autonomy of art; its capacity to embody its own truths. He practiced painting as intensity of form, an act in which the remainder was a mute object propped against the wall of his studio. Matter preceded sign, which was necessarily dependent upon it. Mute matter, unilaterally gave the sign, but was not given by it. Painting, as Guston practiced it was an alchemy, by which substance became sign via the transmutation of matter/paint. Once created these signs were Janus faced. They looked, on one side, to the shared social world created by the shifting relations of words and their referents; and yet they were mute objects stacked against the walls of the studio.

As Guston approached it, a painter, in the process of making, manipulated a material substance, a practice enacted at the cusp of the void – a point where the flimsy covering stretched across the chasm gives way underfoot, exposing one to the awe-ful moment when knowledge of the absolute contingency of one’s existence becomes a matter of certainty. At that point one was apt to experience the abrupt failure of words, and a primal sense of abandonment. For Guston, an artist sought to inhabit that precarious position in which the basic ungroundedness of experience was vividly present to awareness. His practice was to continually test the ground underfoot, like a man lost in the darkness of a marsh who, with each tentative footfall, must risk being sucked into a bottomless chasm, but who had no option but take the next step.

Practicing lived experience

What Guston demanded from the viewer was a commitment to risking meaninglessness; he expected, as a matter of course, a refusal of any proscribed meaning or the fetishization of the art object as bearer of truth or, worse, holder of exchange value. Art practice, as making of the art-object or as experience of the art-object, was not a matter of production or consumption, but of a sensitivity to the raw data of life; to what Laruelle calls ‘lived experiences‘:

The text of this science [of man] is thus no longer the cogito and its membra disjecta distributed across the Human Sciences. It is the irreducible kernel one must extract from the cogito in which it is still enveloped and masked. But this extraction cannot be conceived in turn as a philosophical operation, since it is rather an immediate given to which we are here content to ‘sensitize’ ourselves.

Francois Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy, p. 49

For me this idea of sensitization is a practice, a way of resistance; a rejection of  the confining systematization of thought; a practice in which we can return to that immediate given which Laruelle describes:

I am a sufficient Solitude, far too short of ‘solipsism’ to have to disabuse myself of it. I am not a cogito, a relation to a Site or to an Other. I am out-(of)-the question: not the question of man, but the ontical or the ontological primacy of the question of man. I do not find my essence in my existence or my questions, I feel my subjective essence before these questions arise. I am the beginning of my life and my thought.

François Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy, p. 48 (my emphasis)

Of course, philosophy will insist on its inevitable ‘jurisdiction’ over lived experience, pointing to the way such experience is necessarily filtered through the symbolic system as already and always given, so that unmediated experience is apriori excluded. Such a position takes at face value the bifurcation posited by philosophy between ‘raw’ experience and symbolic representation. Non-Philosophy, on the other hand, posits dualities as lying alongside each other, resisting a resolution that would involve a synthesizing move. It proposes axiomatic terms in place of the circular process of a shattered unity and a synthesizing resolution that would establish a new unity. Both terms – raw experience and symbolic representation – are certainly related, but on the one plane as it were, lying alongside each other as terms standing in for, or cloning, the real, and not as terms within a  dialectical  process – an apriori unity that must be shattered and re-established on a higher plane according to the dictates of philosophical thought.

For artist and viewer alike, what Laruelle suggests is not passive consumption or even rigorous analysis but an active determination to sensitize ourselves to the primacy of the given – the material form in which the painting exists or has its mode; and our experience of this material entity as a ‘material’ manifestation or a given-without-givenness in its own right. How we might consistently do this has interesting parallels in x-buddhist practice, touching on the paradoxical nature of Zen’s ‘just sitting’ and Dzogchen’s ‘natural state’. It seems clear that, as far as either goes, it is not a matter of simplistically dispensing with thought, and making a fetish of a state of no-thought; or cultivating concentrative states to induce higher order cognitive capacities; or elevating visceral felt meaning to the level of a cognition.

What we describe here are the structures of this ordinary man. Structures that are individual, invisible in the light of Reason and Intelligence. These are not ideal essences, but finite, inalienable (and consequently irrecusable) lived experiences. The individual structures of ordinary man are describable outside of any anthropological prejudice – that is to say outside of all Greek philosophical rationality.

François Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy, p. 49

What then does Laruelle mean by the term sensitize, and the statement:

I feel my subjective essence before these questions arises. I am the beginning of my life and my thought. 

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Francois Laruelle,  From Decision to Heresy – Experiments in Non-Standard Thought, Urbanomic, Falmouth, 2012.

Francois, Laruelle,  Dictionary of Non- Philosophy, Univocal, Mineapolis, 2013.

Dore Ashton, A critical study of Phillip Guston, University of California Press, Oakland, 1990 (available here for download).

9 thoughts on “Force of creation; The non-Aesthetic

  1. It’s only an intuition so far, but perhaps “the bifurcation posited by philosophy between ‘raw’ experience and symbolic representation” has to do with the expropriation of time, or the capitalization of time, in capitalist economy. I mean, we learn, or we are trained, to see everything in a certain mode which utilizes it at once. Thus immediate interpretation as a cognitive process which works under the edict of capitalization. Instead of interpretation could become a first order cognitive process as ‘raw’ experience which is not grounded in anything other than this cognitive process (with all the ingredients of sub-personal neurological domains and a-personal socio-economic ones). Perhaps it is the task to take capitalized time back and to make it into the time of the stranger again. Which is the time s/he gets by being a thinking living being.

    Man, bed, sheets, shoes, utensils, bulb, switch, are not the elements of a composition, but an accidental heap. The image is, it seems, loaded with meaning, but there is no narrative that would explain what has happened or what is about to happen.

    The result of this taking back of time would be the ability to look again at the world (this picture of Guston, this music, this other human…) without even the above quote being an interpretation. Instead it would open up to the new because interaction would become unpredictable.

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  3. Hi Matthias,

    I’ve been ruminating on the points you made for the last few days but I can’t really say I’ve got a handle on them. This idea of the Stranger subject is an aspect of Laruelle’s thought that I haven’t really understood up to now. I can see that there is a relation between how we experience time in the context of the received ideas about time ( all of which amount to an acceptance of a simplistic idea of time that doesn’t hold up under even a cursory examination) And I am aware of the way this is complicated by the experience of time as a mode of being ; as social processes/structures parceling out time i.e production, consumption, labor-time, etc.

    When you say:

    Perhaps it is the task to take capitalized time back and to make it into the time of the stranger again. Which is the time s/he gets by being a thinking living being.

    I can’t get the connection. I remember reading something in Laruelle about the Stranger subject and the experience of time. It’s obvious that the concept of time needs to be re-approapriated from philosophy as a first name or a determination in the last instance– and clearly this has something to do with Marx and his idea about a re- appropriation of time . For Marx this involves a practice. Ultimately a social revolutionary practice that would overturn the alienation of the individual in the form of an anti-human expropriation of labor-time and its accumulation as surplus value-that is the accumulation of capital and its inversion of the world as something other-as operating against rather then for the human.

    All these consequences are implied in the statement that the worker is related to the product of labor as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself, the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. It is the same in religion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object. Hence, the greater this activity, the more the worker lacks objects. Whatever the product of his labor is, he is not. Therefore, the greater this product, the less is he himself. The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien: Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

    We can see from this that there is a clear relation between accumulation of capital, time and labor. The connection is very well explained in this quote from a very interesting essay:

    As a starting point, I take the basic nexus of time and society. If the proverbial saying ‘time is money’ is to be taken literally, we have to examine the temporal structure of capital accumulation and labour-power in their mutual interdependency. Capital, as Marx claimed, “is not a thing, but rather a definite social relation of production, belonging to a definite historical formation of society, which is manifested in [presented by] a thing and lends this thing a specific social character.”[4] If capital is a historically specific relation of production, how can we conceive of the temporal structure of this relation? The movement of capital is defined as the self-valorization of value, the “substance” of which is formed by congealed, “abstract” human labour. The Time of Capital and the Messianicity of Time: Marx with Benjamin Sami Khatib

    The key is the correlation between labor-time/surplus value /accumulation /capital.
    The human drive to turn the given of nature as a “thing in itself” into food, (physical , mental emotional spiritual)-into a “thing for us” by means of work, is transformed and becomes an alien process in which humans no longer create themselves in the process of creating the world. Rather the world as the workings of capital creates the human as an alien form—as a self-alienated ego caught in the self replicating ‘wheel’of capital and its mode as congealed time.

    What Laruelle has to say in this regard is crucial but as I say I haven’t quite got it yet either.
    And maybe I am missing something of what you are saying in all this?

  4. Patrick, I am sorry for writing an obscure little brainfuzzled piece which might look like more than it actually is.

    My thought about time has a bit of a history and it was only lately reinvigorated when I was at a presentation and discussion about the depiction of time in music. The speaker mentioned the Marxian thought about disposable time, about the available time. The interesting thing was that music, in Bach for example, might have played historically an important role in the quantification of time – and its “disqualification” in the sense that the richness of time with diverse qualities was totalized over centuries into a strictly quantified regime. At last this lead to Taylorism and Ford, for example, with the first assembly belt etc. Today it is the total capitalization of time which is most visible in the financial markets but of course permeating all society. Time is money.

    But I think one can break out of this spell and develop different qualities of time again. I articulated a first crude thought about this in a text at the SNB site (Are Buddhists Stupid?) in which I mentioned Heidegger’s “Langeweile”. This discussion was, of course, at once suffocated by Pepper, who, not being able to see anything but his own specularity, was unable to translate the German Langeweile other than with “boredom” – while what Heidegger means is anything but boredom. Rather his German Langeweile should be translated somehow with abiding. In fact Heidegger’s Langeweile = lange Weile… might be long lingering or dally not busy. I don’t know, its no use to find an english equivalent right now. in any case he develops out of lange Weile a certain phenomenology but I stopps before it really gets interesting.

    Something resonated with me with Heidegger’s notion. After I began my personal meditation praxis I noticed that I began to be able to be in certain situations differently. For example waiting for a train or sitting in an anteroom at the physician wasn’t boring any more. Relaxing in the middle of noisy city traffic was possible. That might be the effect mindfoolness people might be looking for because it can easily be integrated into capitalized time. But that than is still under the spell of totalized and quantified time. A second feat is that within this different appropriation of time while ‘lingering’, the individual mind might find a second quality.

    I speculate that this has to do with what Laruelle calls the “essence” in the text A Rigorous Science of Man:

    A transcendental non-positional experience-(of)-selves. (p. 54)

    From there, from before even the cogito – the “I think” – becomes possible the axiomatization (the cogito would be one). But in respect of time this there is also before the quantification and capitalization of time. Mindfoolness does never go through to this other side because it does not get beyond the desire of relaxation etc. It might get to the relaxation, but, as it it is said in the good old texts about mahamudra: relaxation is not the point, it is a marker that tells one to be on the right way but nothing else. Through attention to attention the model building ability of mind implodes but also it becomes clear that model building as such is possible => that means from this difficult and dangerous morally neutral space every model becomes available (what lead Zen into the Abyss of nationalist Japan or what made Tibetan Buddhism into a nightmare in which people can be cut to pieces alive with the Lama blessing the bloodbath). That then becomes axiomatization with Laruelle. I think his crucial turn is his axiomatization with its need for transcendental minimization, which in turn doesn’t allow for any prebuilt philosophy and also in turn makes visible that it is already a democracy in which this all unfolds. There is absolutely no hierarchy anymore and it is beyond the grey postmodern flatland.

    A transcendental non-positional experience-(of)-self is before quantified time and therefor it opens up the possibility of new time – and that even within quantified time because non-positional experience-(of)-self is a kind of irreducible positive residual which the human is and which everybody experiences right away. From this residual cloning becomes possible. Every concept suddenly becomes available – even the concept of non-pure experience of a painting of Guston or a music by Stockhausen.

    I think this residual is the kernel of what Laruelle later begins to call the stranger.

    I fear this is as obscure as it can get. I found it always problematic to talk to people about this but the thought/fact about the expropriation of time now makes it clearer at least to me. People who try to meditate are mostly deeply permeated with the thought that ‘their’ time has to be used in a useful way. Where useful is already unconsciously thought (ideologically interpellated) in terms of capitalized time. The problem is how to break this spell.

    Robert Kurz (the late German Marxist) writes about in Die Enteignung der Zeit about an inversion of the abstract and the concrete which came about with the rise of money into something totally self referential defining in-the-last-instant every social interaction: The concrete is now always only an expression of this abstract, every concrete social interaction is determined-in-the-last-instant by abstract capital. Even human time is therefor capitalized. Without realizing this no meditation and no action at all, no move of resistance will lead anywhere because it always only leads to more capitalization. But the residual, the essence of the stranger, lies within this like a bomb. The problem is that we cannot invert the inversion of concrete and abstract again. This would be a kind of Freudian regression.

    I think what you Patrick try to explain can help in finding a new time. That is what I found so good in this sentence of yours I mentioned:

    The image is, it seems, loaded with meaning, but there is no narrative that would explain what has happened or what is about to happen.

    We have to realize that – especially with electronic technology – every narration within capitalization stops to be useful. But in a strange way this opens up a vast new territory which lies ahead of us because the essence of the stranger is free within this. Maybe because it is a-semiotic itself.

    I have to develop all this somehow. Sorry for more brainfuzzling noise.

  5. Just one further thought. I see how I use spatial and temporal metaphors will trying to point to an essence which might be a-semiotic. This in itself points to the problem one faces thinking about the new while using the old syntax. …and that’s what makes Laruelle so difficult to understand: he tries to find a new form/syntax.

  6. Patrick, just some short notes before I hit the road today.

    1) I didn’t know the text A Rigorous Science of Man before. This text being from 1985 is very explicite, polemic and much less abstract than later texts by Laruelle. What it makes clear in my view is the incompatibility of Tom Pepper’s Marxism, Lacanianism, Althusserism etc. with non-philosophy. Regarding non-buddhism it should therefore be clear, and this should be said explicitly, that Pepper’s philosophy is one which is strongly rejected by Laruelle in the Rigorous Science text. By extension it is doubtable if Pepper’s thought has anything to do at all with the idea of non-buddhism as it was laid out in 2011 in Wallis’s text Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism which strongly turns, like Laruelle, away from circularity.

    2) However this may be, at this point and with what you write (not only about art), it is clear that there is a bifurcation in non-buddhism (and it is not just about different fractal islands) which lead in totally different directions. Here it is very much the question how and to what extend one dares to really think by his- or herself instead of still being lead in an authoritarian and even totalitarian way. This question has been answered already in a practical way (different blogs etc.) but with the mentioned text it is also answered again in a theoretical way. I would strongly recommend people who are interested in non-buddhism to read and work the text A Rigorous Science of Man.

    3) The question your text raises also is: how should one go on in the light of non-philosophy. Especially here regarding art – painting, music, writing etc. – on the side of the recipient as on the one of the artist. It very well might be that this distinction finally really blurs as it has often been said before (reading is as much an art as writing). This is so because, for example, recipient and producer are products of the same circular syntax as general/particular, basis/superstructure, technology/nature etc. and Laruelle finally manages to find a new syntax with which we really can begin to think different-without-difference. For my part you make this clear in your thinking-along-Guston’s-pictures. It might be different for other people. Bu one thing is clear: Nobody needs any kind of governance in perceiving this or any other art. The problem is not about the question what kind of philosophy is behind the art, or what the artist wanted to say. The problem is about the force (of) creation of the human confronted with what we call art (a term which might become obsolete too with Laruelle).

    4) There are already experiments what happens if non-philosophy is applied. By Laruelle himself, for example, Future Christ and Non-Photography, by Katerina Kolozova Cut of the Real, by Achim Szepansky (the first German application) Kapitalisierung, A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature by Anthony Paul Smith or Laruelle and Non-Musicology (cf. reference #1)… But nobody should mind that this stuff in part really befuzzling: The difficult part is not about understanding all this, it is about understanding the problem of circularity and difference. Is there a place for non-buddhism in all this? Personally I haven’t seen it yet… or maybe all this is it already: if paticcasamuppada was the truth event taking place then, if we dare to hypothese that we understand what was meant then, Buddhism with paticcasamuppada at its heart is here at least since Nietzsche and Marx. It is already incomprehensible for x-buddhists. In this regard we don’t have to do an more work.

  7. Hi Matthias,
    Well, I agree with your assessment of Laruelle’s text: A rigorous science of man. As always with Laruelle we have to qualify everything in order to avoid simplistic interpretations, since, as you say, Laruelle tries to create a new syntax (taking that word to mean a new relation between words and their ‘real’ referents and not an attempt to create a new grammatical structure)
    For example the words science and man in the above have meanings specific to Laruelle’s thought. This is a problem for anyone coming to Laruelles thought for the first time, for anyone trying to apply Latuelle’s thought to an area of human activity, or for anyone trying to communicate Laruelle’s thought to the “uninitiated”. In the end anything we say here demands from the reader an effort at comprehension that will inevitably involve an attempt to study Laruelle. This might mean a declining readership, but I can see no way out of this since , as I tried to make clear in my post Academic discourse or radical heresy there is a paradoxical relationship between Laruelle’s intent and his means:

    This situation is not without a certain practical paradox of theory: the non-philosophers who proclaim a certain poverty of knowledge, especially of philosophy, need to acquire more and more knowledge, to master philosophy in order to subtracts themselves from the latter’s spontaneous excess if they would produce understanding […] Philosophers must make their way through “all” acquired forms of knowledge [···] but must do so as if they do not possess them, or as if they were without – philosophy, i.e. without spontaneous faith in transcendence.

    Laruelle: From the first to the second non-philosophy, pg 325 (my emphasis)

    Having said that I think you make a very good synopsis of Laruelle’s connection between time, self, and the real (as an axiomatic term of last instance):

    A transcendental non-positional experience-(of)-self is before quantified time and therefor it opens up the possibility of new time – and that even within quantified time because non-positional experience-(of)-self is a kind of irreducible positive residual which the human is and which everybody experiences right away. From this residual cloning becomes possible. Every concept suddenly becomes available – even the concept of non-pure experience of a painting of Guston or a music by Stockhausen.
    I think this residual is the kernel of what Laruelle later begins to call the stranger.

    Here again a qualification regarding terminology has to be made in the context of Buddhist usage of the terms self and irreducible. Laruelle is not talking about an irreducible essence or self as used in buddhist discourse or in platonic thought– the essence or self that needs to be refuted — irreducible here is a determination in the last instance pointing to the real as finite individuality before any philosophical capture.
    As you say A transcendental non-positional experience-(of)-self is before quantified time and therefor it opens up the possibility of new time. It follows that this experience of new time is a non-temporal experience—an experience of time before the time of philosophy as parceled out linear time and/or its opposite non-linear time. This formulation of time is similar to the idea within Buddhism of an experience of thought that is neither thought or no thought but non-thought —– thinking as a human activity that happens before the capture or reification consequent upon conceptualization.
    And you add and that even within quantified time This is similar to a thought also found in Buddhism, especially in the Dzogchen, referencing the “natural state beyond meditation and no meditation”
    For me there is still some value in making such connections, since,as I tried to make clear in my last post, I am wondering about the problem Laruelle raises about how exactly we have access to this state of A transcendental non-positional experience-(of)-self. To quote from the post:

    What then does Laruelle mean by the term sensitize, and the statement:
    I feel my subjective essence before these questions arises. I am the beginning of my life and my thought.

    Buddhism has already asked this question and has answered it in the context of excluding any simplistic reification of a state of no thought. Hence the concern of Dzogchen to establish a meditative state as nothing other than the ordinary state before the reifications of conceptual thought but inclusive of the act of thinking. And the concern of middle way philosophers to preserve the viability of the concept of causality or relativity in the face of a Buddhist transcendentalism which would reduce both to the status of mere illusion.

    People who try to meditate are mostly deeply permeated with the thought that ‘their’ time has to be used in a useful way. Where useful is already unconsciously thought (ideologically interpellated) in terms of capitalized time. The problem is how to break this spell

    This is the nub of the matter for thought and for practice.

    What it makes clear in my view is the incompatibility of Tom Pepper’s Marxism, Lacanianism, Althusserism etc. with non-philosophy.

    I agree. This has never been explicitly addressed by Glenn and needs to be, especially in the light of Laruelle’s text, and by that I mean a substantive investigation of the relation between Marxian and Althusserian thought and non-buddhism. Again this is something I tried to raise way back in my post on Marx, Althusser and Badiou, ( in a fragmented and incoherent way, I’m afraid ) I would rather see these questions addressed directly via Althusser and Marxist ( and Lacanian ) thought and not as a polemic with or against Tom pepper’s contribution. Such an undertaking would become another diversion by way of Peppers thought, which, although he raises many useful points, is an interpretation of Lacan, Althusser and Marx . I would rather see the original thought of these thinkers referenced in an investigation . I think the work has already been done in non-philosophy and now needs to be transposed to non-buddhism. I don’t feel qualified to do that.
    The points you make in 2) 3) 4) I agree with wholeheartedly. I think what you outline here is our programme of inquiry for the future.

  8. Matthias,

    A few more thoughts.

    People who try to meditate are mostly deeply permeated with the thought that ‘their’ time has to be used in a useful way. Where useful is already unconsciously thought (ideologically interpellated) in terms of capitalized time. The problem is how to break this spell

    This point could be the basis for a very useful post. (For that matter all of the points we are discussing here need thorough investigation. Wish we had some help! Ha!)

    Marx’s idea of capital as “congealed time” is one of those thoughts that makes me want to start all over again as far as Marxism is concerned. There is so much potential there, despite the simplistic reifications of Marxist ideology—which is one of the reasons I will try my hand at a study of non-marxism. That inevitably involves a study of Marx’s original work , not to mention the large body of interpretation! We will always come up against this wall–not only the problem of “mastering” philosophy in order to embrace philosophical “poverty” but the problem of specialization consequent on the division of intellectual labor (which is the essence of the academy and its appropriation of knowledge and the means of “knowledge production”)

    Where useful is already unconsciously thought (ideologically interpellated) in terms of capitalized time

    Two things about this:

    What does “unconsciously”mean in this context? One of the implications is that there is a connection between capital, ideology and the unconscious, or between materiality, thought, and drives, or between Marx, Althusser and Freud. And that, in essence, is the point Althusser makes in his text on the ideological state apparatus.

    Laruelle’s thought implies a form of decimation of Marx, Frued and Althusser, as a non-marxism and not an anti-marxism (and so too with Freud and Althusser.) In this way valuable knowledge is preserved for use, while the admixture of empirical fact and philosophical decision is decimated so that the transcendental excess can be extracted and discarded.
    We have said something similar many times, of course, but it deserves reiteration,in relation to all forms of philosophical thought, pre-modern, modern, or post-modern.

  9. Hi Patrick, I just lost the whole text I wrote for an hour or so. Now it’s gone again. One wrong keyboard stroke and its away. Fine.

    Just some short notes. You are right, there are a lot of terms and notions here which have to be carefully examined. But I think everybody can read Laruelle, if one dares, so the question of essence should be solvable.

    The topic of time I have to work out. Basically I come about it via Giorgio Agamben and what he writes about messianic time. That is also where I stealed the term residual I used. I am not sure if I would like to call that other experience of time non-temporal – except you mean the non in the Laruellian sense…. what you probably do. To me it seems like the different quality of time is the key – to meditation (useless to try Mahamudra without changing the time), to art (modern music, Stockhausen and the like, certain electronic stuff, painting to be looked at sans philosophy, like you wrote) to communication/interaction etc.

    There indeed might be a connection to the thinking of dzogchen and mahamudra. But I think one has to be clear about how one attempts to think again this thought. The hermeneutics change under determination-in-the-last-instance. However I am very much tempted to think the transcendental non-positional experience-(of)-self in terms of phase 3 and 4 of mahamudra as Gampopa wrote about it some 1000 years ago. Phase three 3 is usually termed “one taste”, while I prefer “single piquancy” (Herbert Guenther); and phase 4 is “no more learning”. However this is termed, phase three 3 is about a “breakdown of the barrier between an experiencer and the experience” or a “breakdown between stillness and movement”. This can be translated into the transcendental non-positional experience-(of)-self: There is obviously an experience-(of)-self (the parentheses here are of great importance: the make they term after the (of) an adjective like in the french femme fatale), it is transcendental (in mahamudra and dzogchen they would say the mind in its proliferation of concepts is all there is – even the meditator is such a proliferation. And he s/he realizes it in phase 3), and in phase 3 it becomes non-positional (meaning the immanently experienced transcendental is One – immanence and transcendence is fused, hence radical immanence). Phase 4 then – no more learning – is certainly not what x-buddhism is making of it: the hallucination that somehow one hasn’t to learning anything anymore….

    I have to leave it here….

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