I wonder if philosophers are aware of the despair they induce in humans with their subtle conceptions of self, their incitements to becoming and individuation and experience? Of course, we are all more or less spontaneously seduced by the idea of (our)selves, and so we take pleasure in philosophy. Since it is not only philosophers who exercise it, and seeing how in a sense it is present in all self-discourse, self-narrative, self-expression, self-recording, one cannot avoid the impression that we are immersed, if not imprisoned, in it. What leads one to study philosophy in greater depth is, perhaps, always this drive to better understand the seduction of self and the system it forms, i.e., to better understand oneself. For one is caught in a presupposition (I=I) that then must “become real,” and one would like to do it best. An almost unbroken line runs from the oracle at Delphi’s “Know thyself” to Nietzsche’s “become who you are” and Agamben’s “become who you will never be.”

The self has exerted such a fascination on humanity that it is hard to imagine how to get out of this ambitious and vicious circle in which everyone, auto-infected, seems caught. Making things worse, if this exit came from the self and its own decision it would in a sense deny itself, in its very success, reaffirming its power of decision, from its place of exception, and so confirming itself in what is most proper to it: its excess over itself and over the All. Of course, each philosopher considers this circle and its excesses, or its “framing,” differently. Countless models of the self-with-itself, self-knowing-itself, self-knowing-itself-through-its(other)(self) circle, swinging now to the ideal-transcendental, now to the material-technical, have been elaborated. Thus we all feel free to pick out our own theory and conduct ourselves accordingly, mixing and matching abstractions while adding some ethics here and there somewhat arbitrarily. In all likelihood, our preference for one model over another probably boils down to the schema of self (of the “thinker”) that we have most favorably discerned, the one that best helps us make sense of self-and-world or achieve, at least for a moment (but philosophy will only ever give you moments), some transcendence. Transcending the world or the self, it makes little difference, for both have their ultimate reference in the ek-stasis of self vis-a-vis the world-All, over which it rises triumphant either by releasing it totally or by subsuming it in a moment of its own progress, but either way caught in it, confusing itself with everything.

Philosophy is not only a battlefield because there are an endless array of models to choose from, to mix and modify and reject and recommence. It is a war zone from the beginning, in its very system of self. It forms a circle that demands repeated leaps out (over it/self). It endorses and enforces this, as can quickly be discerned in the mystical authority and aura it grants to the proper name (which stands in language for the singularity of the self in its being). Of course, understanding how the self has been exploited in the past (turned into slave, worker, ideologue, tyrant, murderer, “human,” etc.), philosophers have tried to reduce the self to its most minimal structure or point, even its most scientific point (Kant, Husserl, and in a different way Freud). Or they tried to exert some force of subtraction on it, to empty it of all its predicates and works, linking it with openness, inoperativity, or relationality. Or they have tried to situate and sober it by pointing out its constituent elements, drawing out its in-the-world “facticity,” its contact with others, with tools, with signifying networks, technical apparatuses, linguistic confusions, bodily affects, animals, its “entanglements,” and so on (Foucault, Wittgenstein, much of critical philosophy). But these moves all have mixed results and in fact come back to justify the old presupposition, the old priority of self as primal or primary “node” or “locus” of the World-circle or -play, again well summarized as care-of-self. Take just a few more examples, since it is essential to take a broad view of the problem:

One philosophy envisions the self in its pure difference from itself, its immanent excess-over-itself, and names this excess the rupture of the symbolic order, of discourse and knowledge, inviting disruption at every corner; but desire’s tortured structure, its inevitable confrontation with the obscurity of the Other, remains, and with it all the aporias of freedom (Zizek). Or the self is immanently inseparable from itself and what drives it to be; then it is identified directly with Life itself and its essential manifestation (Henry). Another sees in the self an auto-absenting subjectivity, a point of “emission-reception” that vibrates in a present that slips away just like it, yet through this distance amplifying itself (its call or silence, Nancy). Or the self is instead a “mode,” constituted in and through its “way,” emerging through the habitual interactions of self and world, bodies, languages, and landscapes; yet all this remains a “use-of-oneself” that is auto-constitutive of self and culminates in a soul or form-of-life (Agamben).

Overcoming, manifesting, disappearing, appropriating-expropriated, thrown or carried-along, the self retains its central place here however shiftily, and it retains it all the more the more it is displaced. And it retains it best when it sees the world as “inappropriable,” not to be owned, etc. We do not dispute the elegance of these solutions which will continue to exert their attraction. We only wish to point out that, however much the mirror of reflection is bent or broken, the self’s image, however much later, comes back, and this return-back is implied in its initial-step, in its every last repetition. It is set to return, to take place eventually or for all eternity, the difference is little. Everything it passed through and that passed through it will in the last instance refer to itself, will be or will have been itself (as different from itself, of course, altered, perhaps immortal), for all time: eternal return of the same at the heart of an infinite self-difference. Philosophy grants itself all this in the play of distinction and emergence, the play of the singularizing self (auto-poetic, auto-(re)commencing, auto-narrating, etc.): an auto-divided unity that (re)composes itself through its own division. We should stress that this is how it gets its being.

Note the circularity of these models and the flimsiness of their linchpin. The self is caught in a circuit; breaking out demands some kind of effective action or decision, a comportment of releasement or a deactivation of the circuit’s power from within, etc. It will have to do this because its reputation is on the line, for it could not stand to be confused with anything existing except itself (this is its responsibility). Despite the variations along the spectrum, from stoic detachment and its clandestine happiness to the restlessness of the negative and its enthusiasm to ex-pose, all these models take the self for Absolute, obsess over its (non-)place in the circuit that it ultimately has to consume and negate or else immerse itself in to the point of dissolution, always through a repeated leap-outside-self or some other decisional operation. Whether they gesture toward an augmentation of self in an absolutely immanent life (imperceptible in Deleuze, invisible in Henry), or toward the removal or “exemption” of oneself from the cosmos (Blanchot), or toward an anxiety- or melancholy-driven self-nihilation (Bataille, Heidegger), the circle of self as Absolute never ceases to recompose itself on the reverse side of its equally necessary liberation. It is thus despair, an unending tribulation if only because it implies the recurring turbulence of the Nothing-in-Being. Displacement only turns about in (the ideal) place (of self), even though nothing is there. The self can only vanish as object, image, being, whatever, into the “no-thing” it will have been and which it signs. The self thus on the way to returning to itself even when it leaves itself, and to leave itself turns out to be a most effective means of return, and so the contract is sealed, the self will “leave” itself (to itself) until the end – never returning, perhaps, yet retaining itself as the thing to which it will never return, the self as mark of its own erasure. This is how Nancy puts it in a recent interview:

The “self” is an infinite relation to self. It has no completion, it is nothing more than opening and referral. It is neither a “substance” nor a “subject”, it is a to-itself, in-itself, for-itself, it is a to-in-for-without-towards-by-from. It hears itself and hears that it hears, but what it hears is nothing but the distance from the self that opens it up as self. In the first analysis, seeing is different: the subject sees things outside of itself and as a result refers back to itself as an object. However, it does not see its seeing. On the contrary, seeing escapes in the view and in view. But it disappears into the view and reemerges like another vision which turns back on itself and sees that it sees nothing, nothing but the distance from itself.

I reiterate my question: do philosophers realize how much despair they introduce into human life through such models? Here we have a being that is always already divided, separated from itself, and sees nothing wherever it looks to find itself, except always something or someone different. It can hear itself by continuing to speak “or” by listening, but this doesn’t change that it is trying to hear itself, in relation to itself as a relay-self (relaying knowledges, affects, beings, etc.). Indeed, the self is one giant pre-position (“to-in-for-without-towards-by-from”) tending to every direction, whose every movement leads to a not-to-be-found, save in displacement (or language!), like an empty point totally exposed and vulnerable yet stuck to its presence and, precisely, to its “being,” destined to self-return as nothing. Stuck to its being, (as) stuck to nothing: here philosophy finds a bottomless resource for its recapitulation of self, since nothing can mean anything. The self occupies its “point” as if it were simultaneously one of absolute distinction and difference (not-All) and of absolute event or emergence (not-All-in-All):

How do we know that we “are”? Because others stand outside of us. The “with” consists of this outside which relates us to ourselves as other from others. The “with” is always “without”. The “with” and the plural mean only that there is no such thing as non-relation, no continuum or fusion, just as there are no atoms without interactions. Each “subject” or point of emission/reception is nothing but this, a point, without dimension, without any property but the exactness of emission/reception.

Again the self is outside the circuit which contains its outside: with-without. Wherever the self goes it finds only the precision of its own lack in the circuit, its own nothingness among beings, which Nancy gives a touching spin by calling it a point of passage, of conversation or adoration between all the beings of the universe. All the same, there are confusions here that bespeak an uneasy reconciliation: the self is an atom, but it is also a radio. A piece of infinite light and Light’s emitter. And yet, but a feeling:

And “being” is not a thing to encounter. Being is neither a being nor being. Being is feeling the noise of being, feeling its colour, its movement, its taste.

We shouldn’t be fooled here: these are delectations of the self in its infinite relation to itself, and it enjoys itself infinitely in this relation (Rimbaud). It is an atom in interaction, relaying interactions; or a body “dawning,” caressed and cut on the world-wide horizon of bodies; or a singular-plural being co-appearing with other beings on/at/in the limit of communication and sense, etc. What is so difficult here has to do with the impossibility of locating the self outside of a circuit, whether it be the circuit of the world, otherness, or life and death itself. This impossibility is immediately translated by philosophy into the self’s ownmost possibility (of being-becoming-itself) and however it conceives this possibility it only replicates this initial translation, refolding this en-circling or pass-through or referral (of) self that “relates itself to itself.” This is its original sin, to be (itself), and the self can only try to come to terms with it and philosophy is the most advanced attempt. Indeed, rooted in its own impossibility, the tradition has always been best honored by a betrayal; or when something that had been forgotten is assumed or retransmitted, saved from total oblivion; or when its origin has been displaced once more and in this way corrected; or when the whole thing is reduced to a solitary and quasi-secret cry “in the desert of the desert” (Derrida), which is probably always how the philosopher, whose desert is so obviously the World-circle, feels.

Because the self is precisely nothing, it can always occupy, at least ideally but that is all that matters, the place of any otherness (it can “understand” it), and thus ceaselessly shuffle itself outside itself while at the same time bringing every outside into the self’s “distance” or orbit or chain of signifiers or history or narrative or whatever: into its world. Ultimately its orbit and its “self” is indistinguishable from that circle, and it has rarely known how to define itself outside it. Levinas skirts this difficulty by placing the self a priori in the orbit of the Other, in an asymetrical relation to it, but here the self is only more responsible, only more pursued to its core and even persecuted as self. Derrida, on the other hand, has brought home the force of this entire system, inscribing the relation to self in a work of a priori mourning; and whenever someone dies, the world is lost, lost with the self that also loses it, a self/world that the survivor must somehow carry, mourn, inherit, respect, i.e., bring into its self-circuit somehow, albeit as an irreparable loss that, in the end, has the same structure as the self itself, being doomed to the same mourning work (which can only be balanced through an affirmation of the circuit itself (Nietzsche)).

The self is void, but it is also a void-referral. Its “substance,” now an intangible relation, is all the heavier for being emptied of material reality or “dying” as was recently said of the author or the subject. It has no problem looking at all this as a sacrifice, perhaps even in the name of truth, spirit, history, or in a play of simulacra and masks, without teleology or fixed meaning. Still everything is referred through reference of self. At the root of this operation, is perhaps the anxiety, “If I lose myself, I lose everything.” So many strategies can be improvised from that point (for example, losing everything to regain oneself). The goal remains the same: that the self “be” itself, that it come where it was or return to where it will be; that it be where it had been (somewhere in the circuit); or even that it know what it was be, or what being was; that it be its Being and transcend a little. The self proves inextricable from the Global Moment, the hiccup of the present; it is fused with it and can only gesture toward an escape from it or into its presencing; it temporalizes itself, spaces itself out, writes (to) itself, perhaps even a bit “indisposed”…

These passages through ontology, language, and self are in fact all the same, and the confusions on one end of the trinity support the confusions on the other two ends. What am I saying about beings? Are beings what they say they are? Am I what I say I am or what beings say about me? Am I one being among beings? Am I to seek myself among beings? Am I to seek myself in language? Am I beyond being or language? Do I transcend the present and how? What have I been and how to express it? Where am I? It is not surprising that for many these questions sound pretentious, but they form spontaneous philosophy. The philosopher feigns to respond to the Voice of Being, the call of the Other, the tuning fork of Language, and to do so better than others, but really they only end up displaying one more system of self, which they amazingly forget to assume as a generic subject, choosing instead to universalize (qua singularization of course) the system, injecting it into the general circulation of self-seductions, one more theory of self for a globe of selves stuck in the time of infinite self-relation and self-relay.

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On Autocatalytic Thought

We have to grapple with how the conditions of thought-production are changing, and therefore with how its norms of production must also change. These changes bear on a few basic qualities: size, speed, and output status or “definitiveness.”

The norm that has ruled for ages is based on good form, proportion, measure, and temperance, but it reigns more generally under the name of “beautiful seriousness.” For centuries it has hardly been questioned that the more aesthetically serious a text is in its performance the more seriously it expects to be taken intellectually. This norm bears on the rhetorics of persuasion but also on the formal presentation of concepts. However, it’s not enough to isolate these norms as if they were mere features. Instead we have to address the attitude of thought-production that underlies the beautiful seriousness of “ancient” thought. By ancient thought, I do not mean Plato and Seneca. The term applies wherever beauty or seriousness reign as norms. It is not meant to be pejorative, since in a certain sense all thought is destined to be ancient, beautiful, and serious. Its only purpose is to draw a contrast between “ancient” and “autocatalytic” thought, where the sense of the latter is obviously still to be determined.

Ancient thought is the norm of most thought-production today. It is present in the academies and to a lesser extent in the journalists. It is entirely a question of labor and the community of laborers who decide upon the sufficiency or insufficiency of the output product: it has to be a mixture of technical linguistic skill and conceptual creativity. A community of poets will only accept a poem that is beautiful, assuming that it also contains some seriousness, albeit often in the seriousness of play. A community of scholars will only accept an article if it is serious, assuming that it is at least readable, transmittable, and shows the proper signs of reference to the community, which the community obviously takes for beautiful. Here we should register the asymmetry: in ancient thought seriousness trumps beauty. At the same time, if it isn’t beautiful, ancient thought is doomed for oblivion. Thus the persistence of “great thinkers.” The very existence of the tradition of thought assures us that only those who have a flair for language and attune themselves to its intimacy with thinking will be able to craft their concepts in ways that last and remain relevant for the community of thinkers. Seriousness however remains the predominant element, because it can be analyzed or synthesized by thought. Beauty is the minimal element that quietly carries it along, clandestine but inalienable. Thought might believe it can do without it, but it is ultimately dissatisfied whenever it is absent. Indeed, without a little beauty, who could take themselves seriously, let alone take themselves to be a potentially ancient philosopher?

In lieu of a longer examination, we can briefly characterize the production of ancient thought thusly: (1) it seeks extension and length, long lines and paragraphs, in a complex interweaving; the exemplar is Hegel; (2) it seeks slowness and meditation and carefulness, even when this means being cumbersome; the exemplar is Heidegger; (3) it seeks an output that is worth storing in the archives, that can last, that will have an impact and is thus “definitive” for humanity in some way; the exemplars are Nietzsche, Freud, Marx. Definition is the key characteristic here, but it can manifest in multiple ways: as the definition of concepts to be used for the interpretation of the world, or as the definition of a worldview itself, or as the definition of the solitary artist in his or her testimony, etc. Definitiveness seems to drive the need for extension and slowness. Leaving a mark requires a mark that is remarked upon at length. To put it tautologically, ancient thought cannot be sure of itself without sureness, without assuring itself of its sureness, and it takes not only time but also breadth to be sure it is sure. Thus philosophers take decades to finish their multi-volume works. But it also takes a sort of proof of definitiveness, of a capacity to change the world, even if this is given innerly in the consciousness of the artist-producer. Thus every thinker becomes intoxicated with their own potentiality as a historical subject or, which is the same thing, as a potential immortal. Without that ancient thought would go nowhere.

Again going too quickly, we can say that the production of autocatalytic thought differs from the ancient in the following ways: (1) its extension is not textual or real, but virtual, and seeks nothing but sparks; it is not concerned with ways or works, but with divergences, interferences, shared surprises; not unrelated is its independence from tradition, its rightful disregard if not of ancient thought than at least of the norms of its modes of production; (2) its carefulness is not in hesitation but in the speed of swerves and curves that get forgotten in the press forward, in the risks relaunched; (3) its forsakes definitiveness for the sake of uncertainty, flow, and futurality, which is not indefinitiveness but implies a practice of sub-definition. Let’s speak more freely about its qualities.

Autocatalytic thought withdraws from the model of the artist-producer, without for all that needing to entrust itself to any given community. Autocatalytic thought proceeds generically, not from historical subjects. Its capacity to change the world is not something expected or anticipated or dreamed of as its future consequence, rather, the change is immanent to the autocatalysis. This change is inseparable from the modification of the “producing subject” who here abandons every pretension to becoming-ancient. Autocatalytic thought is thus rigorously opposed to every notion of the “legendary.” It recognizes that the poet’s instantaneous beauty is more powerful for the community than the philosopher’s prolonged seriousness, but it strips that beauty of its “poetness.” In a like manner, it strips seriousness of its philosophy, thus liberating thought’s beautiful play. Autocatalytic thought is a bouncing ball that never stops bouncing from reception point to reception point, but the reception points are themselves known to be transitory whereas the autocatalysis itself and the novel thoughts it never fails to spark remain immanent. These are thoughts whose beauty comes from immanence, not from rhetoric or linguistic skill, and whose seriousness comes not from the definitiveness of its output but from the speed of transformation in the community that recognizes every output to be insufficient.

This short note contradicts this change only insofar as it gives the appearance of a long meditation. In truth, it is inspired, indeed educated, by the unstoppable effects of an autocatalyzation of thought whose community is not only coming but comes constantly and comes carrying constantly renewed potentialities for autocatalysis. This is nothing like the supposed auto-position of ancient thought, its auto-position in time, in tradition and lineages, in the history of humanity, in institutions, in subjectivities, in language, in thinkers. It is rather unilaterally determined by the immanent thought that erupts in it, nothing more, and it has no cause to decide from where or from when or from who the thought comes. This is its freedom to be serious and beautiful without concerning itself with seriousness or beauty per se. It is a new form of invention and at every point it invites formerly philosophical subjects, rendered generic a priori in the autocatalysis, to join in this mode of thought-production and never return — neither to the self who once thought itself a producer, nor to any ancient thought whatsoever.


We will all transform from ancients to generic catalysts in our own way, that is, in ways “relatively” or partially determined by the occasional factors that make up “who we are” as historical subjects or as beings-in-the-world. To negate our historicality or our personality outright, in an absolute way, would just be another philosophical-mystical operation, a ruse to try to turn us into absolute catalysts rather than generic ones, whereas genericity is more like a “middle.” The truth is that we know we are performing operations based on certain precedents, grammars, heritages, etc., but one struggles to define the place of intentionality here or to find anything necessary in what is recouped, since through the generic it has been robbed of its location in consciousness and in space-time and futuralized along a vector that is in principle indiscernible. We are forced to say that it, intentionality, is determined by an intuition, namely, of being-generic, and that the materials thrown back into play by the generic catalyst are “simply necessary” because they’re the only materials we have.

It is this intuition that will have the greatest consequences for the autocatalytic revolution in thought, because it is capable of “bringing down” the pretensions of the historical subject without submitting it to a total erasure. The generic catalyst remains in the middle: relatively determined by the occasional factors of a life and a world-historical past, the subject knows that it and those factors are ultimately determined by autocatalysis itself. Yet it is these “relative” factors that nonetheless contribute to the character of the output, the products and traces, left by such a subject. It is the paradox of a generic transformation that nonetheless iterates itself in a style that is identifiable, only now that style is only relatively determined by subjectivity, artistic intentionality, “personal” creativity, and historical reconfiguration or construction, while its radical determination remains autocatalysis itself. This is in fact all that the generic catalyst, “lost” in the flux of “its own” operations, can remember: that it’s using materials that are *strange* to it, but that it has no difficulty in making *stranger*. This is what we call a generic operation.

The ancient desire of the subject to recognize itself in its own operations and products and language is suspended and aborted, along with whatever “mission” it might have thought it had. Rather, its mission stems from the coming community determined by an autocatalysis of the future, that is, by radical immanence in its most “thinkingful” mode. Nonetheless, we see this inflected in a singular way that will forever seduce us back into the paradigm of the ancients. Let us grant the world that semblance, while resisting its temptation ourselves. We have accepted that our styles, our thoughts, our missions, our intentions, will never square. We will never recoup ourselves and we will never return to any sphere, even as we continue to draw from all of them. Autocatalysis will remain immanent and “we” will disappear into our strangerhood. That “we” will have iterated it as uniquely and as singularly as we have: this is our seriousness, our beauty. It is given-in-thinking, futurally, without reference to anything yet “referable to,” while still referring in the last instance only to the immanence of the coming auto-catalytic community, for which we might say the generic catalyst has a primary affect: thankfulness, which may make it possible for it to reconcile or even fuse with its own occasional ancientness.

Dedicated to Peter Lee

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The Despair of Philosophy and the Fall of First Philosophy (Laruelle)

The philosophy of despair is one thing, the despair of philosophy is another. It is more extended and includes the first like a simple model that remains unthought and thus unsurpassable. The non-philosophical method, which is only justified in a generic and quantum context, consists in general in abasing a particular philosophical modality, a system if you like, to the state of a model of the “complete” concept of philosophy. It is no longer a matter of dialectically raising a notion, but of making it fall in-immanence, making it fall like a simple model. For this effect one obviously needs an entire complex dispositive that makes the quantic, the philosophical, and the generic intervene. Let us remember for now that the choice is between elevating philosophy above itself, augmenting its power, and abasing it from inside itself for the sake of safeguarding humans.

The description of thought and of human life, the evaluation of their means and ends, is the task of philosophy. But who will describe and evaluate philosophy, if not itself one more time? It reflects upon itself, it carries the power, “surpasses” itself and turns spontaneously into meta-philosophy. There is its great find, its force and its weakness. It has not ceased to critique its roughest and most empirical forms of representation by supposing that in this way it critiques itself and liberates itself from its own representation. This is the pinnacle of its truth and its illusion. With the moderns, who implicated it in its own object and combined it with a touch of Judaism, it found the means of a universal examination, more extensive than the Greeks, which leaves nothing to the side and exercises a surveillance that must suffice. This mechanism is impressive, and Kierkegaard gives us an example, or rather for us a model, in accordance with this despair – in its crazy and stumbling course, doesn’t philosophy offer us an image of intellectual, even theoretical, despair?

In line with the most perfect tradition, Kierkegaard constructs this mechanism with three terms, a relation that relates itself to itself, oriented towards itself and establishing itself as the self, and a third agency [instance] that could already actually be the self but which more positively is an Other that establishes the relation. Relations of any kind, this is all there is in the philosophical material, syntheses and the analysis of contraries. But these relations are inert or deprived of philosophical subjectivity; it is again necessary that they relate themselves to themselves, implicate themselves in themselves or affect each other, becoming selves as Kierkegard says. Such is the most general matrix of philosophical thought in its first degree. Reserving the right to interpret the third agency [instance], Heidegger and many others have drawn the consequences from it: transcendence exists not through a given fact or act; it is a possibility or a virtuality that auto-affects itself and that reality kills. Philosophy does not descend from the possible to the real without in this very descent climbing back up from the real to the possible. This mechanism is described here in dialectical terms; it acts in an auto-contradictory way, and it is this auto-contradiction that constitutes the true specific self of philosophy; it is universal and holds for all philosophy. Nowadays one talks about philosophy in terms of life, death, and survival, but all of this falls under a mediatized and commercial conception, or to say it in the most noble terms, actualist and vulgar materialist, in every way theological. By its essence, it is more a matter of the possible and the virtual, precisely of “despair” as an existential category, the impossible coincidence with self. Concretely, this mechanism signifies that the more philosophy critiques itself, the more it affirms itself or at least seeks its salvation in this attitude. Is this not the case with critiques and deconstructions? Inversely, but still logically, must one conclude that the more it wants to be itself the more it destroys itself? The more it is affirmed as Idea, the more it cracks, empties itself of all substance and reduces itself to a stellar flicker?

At for the third, positive agency, the other who establishes the relation, it is confused with the first degree and, needless to say, is distinguished from it. Whether it’s a case of God or the Absolute matters little, we can only view here a transcendence capable of establishing the transcendence of the ego, whether it be transcendental or contradictory and dialectical. Philosophy in the complete sense is only the relation of the self to itself, a distinction destined to save God, but a double transcendence, a doublet with multiple planes and levels.

Now where Kierkegaard asks “how to extirpate despair from the self…”, for us here the question is how to extirpate philosophy from the self and return peace to it? How to oppose the despair of philosophy, the other name of its dialectic? Will we return one more time to the good old Greek wisdom of pleasure, happiness and the good happy life? Materialism and in general every philosophical “position” is an effort to stabilize the contortions and jerks of someone dying, but these attempts at stabilization are from all eternity inscribed in this dialectic of despair and programmed to be carried away in the general turbulence.  As Descartes and Kant sensed, philosophy is at the bottom of this raging sea, this disquieting ocean that borders the islands of dry land that humanity won and upon which it found refuge. In this perspective, humans would be those thrown-to-the-earth (not to the ground) instead of thrown-into-the-world, and from there will have colonized the dreaded ocean like they never cease to colonize the philosophical sprawls, sending back the surface of thought through their systems. It is not certain that philosophy’s vocation is the peace between the human heart and the world as the Ancients supposed and the Moderns hoped, rather its agitation. Conciliation and reconciliation are perhaps ideals without means because their only means are precisely those taken from philosophy, which can only agitate one more time the furious waters. Kierkegaard’s solution for example never really leaves the orb of philosophy that we call complete or double transcendence. His is satisfied to be against Hegel but not against the essence of the philosophical doublet inclined to paradox and the absurd, the truncated form of the dialectic of opposites (the second contrary is not already given, unless in the past, but must be produced or desired, the object of a “repetition”), its suppression or its surpassment in infinity, which for all that is not abased but rather “overrun” or “outdated” one more time in the infinite, yet another way of “raising” the self one more time through an excess of transcendence.

The abasement of double transcendence, passing from its doublet-form to its simple form, is distinguished from every excess of transcendence; it is a depotentialization. It is in no way a suppression of its empirical form or a conservation of its ideal form (Hegel). Nor moreover is it a mystical annihilation, always in extreme transcendence. Needless to say, it is even less a “strong thought” (Badiou), like a Platonic overbidding of transcendence. To define philosophy by a fall (Althusser) rather than a climb (Bergson, Deleuze) was an interesting symptom. Abasement is neither an annihiliation nor even a nihiliation but a reduction of the transcendence re-fallen in an immanence that transcends for the first time and not for the second as though through an ultimate effort or jump. To transcend for the first time, to be removed from itself without separating from itself, to no longer practice the Platonic jump as is done with each new philosophy, there must be an emergent drive [pulsion] of its own proper passivity. Such is the rigorous definition, without duplicity nor mixture, of generic immanence: that where every complex or over-done transcendence lays down roots without stemming from it and where it must fall again. This is also the definition of the passivity of the Last Instance and of its proper action.

How then to transform Kierkegaard’s scheme and make it admit this solution when non-philosophical practice is a transformation in models of hegemonic or first principles? It is science, in particular quantum physics, that has the power to transform the dominant themes of first philosophy into simple models and to substitute order for hierarchy. The relation does not redouble itself or it does not refer to itself, it is not already in itself reflexive before becoming so for itself. It has to be simple without any possible splitting in two. Far then from multiplying itself with and through itself, it is superposed or adds up to itself, so much so that the self is no longer this auto-contradictory individual in every possible situation and who can only draw its salvation from “plunging” (Kierkegaard) into the infinite. If the relation must plunge, it is neither reflexively in itself nor mystically in God, in referring to or pertaining to itself, but in its interference with itself, that is, its wave-like interference. Far from being an (eventually religious) elevation, superposition is a way of living in-immanence that can appear like an abasement in relation to philosophy but which only is one for the latter, which endures it and is forced there by it and results for the self properly speaking, the self that believes itself all-powerful, by diving into this generic immanence.

Finally, what is the despair of philosophy, even the wisest and most ancient, this activity without hope except in theological glory or these days mediatized glory, if not to have replaced the “generic self,” if one can say so, that makes humans, that is, to have given the self an undue, royal place that ceaselessly celebrates a community running from the professionals of the promise to the happy swallowers of life who listen to them, seduced by the mediation of its intellectual acrobats. The paradox is that only a regulated abasement of philosophy’s pretentions can prevent it from falling into mediocrity. For that is surely what it’s about, the best usage of philosophy which must continue to be a means in the hands of humans.

François Laruelle, Sept 6, 2010
Trans. Timothy Lavenz, Oct 5, 2016

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The Specter of Non-Philosophy (Laruelle)

The Specter of Non-Philosophy, by Francois Laruelle

What will we bring to the light of day? Between eternal thinkers and armchair philosophers, between an announced death and an excess of communication, between a permanent coup d’Etat and democratic chattering and gossip, we know the song. It is useless to join the choir once one has understood that we philosophers are cyclothymic, bipolar. At least beyond our personal taste for opera and philosophical variety, there is no choice to be made between a defense of ancient figures and the vanity satisfied by opinions, where the academic repetition that occupies the middle-ground only functions to assure its economic survival. The refoundation of philosophy reminds us of capitalism’s, its defense lets us believe it’s under threat, its scholarly embalming makes us believe it was living.

Move, philosophy! Like the gnostics, and before being crushed by the cynicism of the State, the lies of the Church, the necessity of Survival, it is perhaps again time to invent our more rigorous mythology! Why is philosophy, which verges on madness and invents such beautiful, ambitious systems, finally so sage, if not because it has prudently come to a stop mid-way? It invents inside its own codes; there are constantly even new “great” thinkers. Yet it seems fascinated by its own movement, siderailed by its own greatness, sunk in contemplation of its monuments, which is mirrored in its Ideal of the ego, which it calls Absolute. It has everything of the premature and incomplete individual who must try several times to be born, who continues to reject its placenta but without reaching itself, and decides suddenly to affirm itself once and for all. Yet it has neither the controlled surety of science nor the pig-like certitude of opinions. Science without being science, poetry without being poem, political without real power, its permanent hesitation induces the coup de force of the Impossible.

Faced with this situation without exit, one of non-philosophy’s objectives is to attempt to formalize the rules of an ultra-philosophical invention, starting from the philosophical model. What we call following others a generic gesture, thinking as “radical” but not absolute, is a type of inventive “forcing” opposed to the permanent coup de force of philosophy. Why would it be necessary to philosophize without the received and verified codes? We don’t want to add one philosophy to the others, nor to simply withdraw or retreat, but to produce “from” the quasi-philosophical, be it in bits, pieces or fragments, or like a new spectrality instead of the left-over stench of the old spectacle. The radiating specter of philosophy is already narrow enough, perhaps it is possible to spread its spectrality, to vary its nuances. What is a fiction in the neighborhood of philosophy, a philo-fiction? One of non-philosophy’s ambitions would be to create a new theoretical genre, philo-fiction with its political, ethical, and artistic affects pertaining. Another combination of science and fiction, less literary perhaps, more conceptual, less naively technological and more theoretical, coming to “accomplish” the ancient Law of philosophy rather than deny it…

Still it would have to possess the key of spectral invention and look toward science. The difficulty with the non-philosophical imperative is evident, how to get past the Platonic aporias of philosophical knowledge? Why not go to a certain limit already practiced elsewhere, up to those philosophers “without” a work [oeuvre], that is, the works [uvre] of a certain non-action. Can we imagine non-philosophers who would put their energy into inventing their powerlessness to invent? After all, why not make of our powerlessness a work or a doctrine? By definition, it does not belong to us to simply formulate a generic imperative, or even recipes, but we also do not want to dishearten rebellious wills; this would be a political ideal. One must seek out models in other practices, sciences, literature, and science-fiction; there is a minimum of procedures and means to get us on our way, faults or interstices of the earlier philosophy, actual excesses, ludic aspects, bricolages, parallel philosophies today. The idea is obviously to introduce a certain rigor of rules, and to prove an example of reflection on the conditions of invention. But perhaps if the term non-philosophy poses too many problems, produces too much fear or too many smiles, then “non-standard philosophy” would be just as meaningful and more open, but always on the base of a closure or a “non” that is decidedly inevitable.

Francois Laruelle, May 17, 2009
Trans. Timothy Lavenz, Oct 4, 2016

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Note on Immanence

Immanence is im-mediate in the sense that it is not mediated by language, trace, notation, history. This is a strong claim, but it’s purpose is to discover a stance that can defend humans against the harassment (often violent) of all these mediations (this is the salvific intent of non-philosophy). Laruelle is trying to show up the “weak power” of an indifference to all those mediations, a non-acting with regard to them as ‘sufficient’, an indifference that is immanent in ‘silent simple human/generic presence’.

However, if I could put it this way, all those things just named (which all ‘transcend’ in some fashion) are “caught up in” or “fall into” immanence (obviously, otherwise we’d have no presentation of them, they would be transcendences beyond our access).

The immediate of immanence would not be an absolute negation of mediation (as if it could be done away with, by magic or fiat or theory), nor of its relative power in the world wherever it functions. But it would/could/does undermine and *under-determine* mediation. It robs it of its power over the lived experience of a subject, robs it of its priority. The idea is to access an “immediate human immanence” that could serve as an ‘a priori’ resistance to the violence of all these mediations (see General Theory of the Victim).

One precaution to raise here: immanence is not the “immediate” consciousness of a self or whatever, definitely not to be confused with sense-certainty. One of Laruelle’s way to say this is that radical immanence “pre-empts” the lived of the subject. It is come before anything (any X) comes, it is “defined” only by this pre-emption. It is generic instead of individual or subjective. It comes underneath existence or under-comes, and is never reducible to the movement of being, to a localization in beings, not reducible also to an atomistic and/or corpuscular model of the universe, nor to “philosophy” with its circles of transcendence (world, history, being, etc.) and all that they imply in terms of mediations (identities, individualities, histories, languages, etc.). Thus the need eventually to discuss immanent fluxes, waves of virtuality, etc. in order to get at the indeterminate nature of what is “immediate” (and again, not immediate like an object or a thing, but immediate like the crest and trough of a wave– not the wave crashing against something, but the form-movement that it is).

I think we know this experience of an immanence outside the world or outside time (sometimes we feel this when we fall in love or have a flash of insight). Put stupidly, I’d say Laruelle is trying to get at a theory of this split-second surprise happening (“the Last Instance”) that always in one way or another escapes the encapusulating and capturing mechanism of exterior mediation.

This is where the logical tools like “unilateral duality” come in handy. Immediate immanence is not mediated and yet it is capable of “mediating” mediations (not just interpreting, but debasing, deprioritizing). For Laruelle immanence can transform/determine transcendences but transcendences do not determine immanence. It’s one-directional from immanence to transcendence, and this comes as a message of salvation. The composite in theory thus ends up having to be called a “mediate-without-mediation” (the Messiah) : immanence can mediate all this, but in its immediacy nothing mediates it, it “escapes” every capture by transcendence and keeps ascending.

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Getting Wet

A short programming note for coming philosophers: when reading a text, listening to a lecture, or engaging a friend in conversation, instead of asking “what’s the point?”, sense out “what’s the wave?”

If one searches for positions, one will only ever get positions–data points on your radar screen, itself informed by other known positions, opinions, concerns, rumors and tidbits, ready to inform new navigation schedules and trajectories through the rough seas of discourse and its institutions, where all the buoys float melancholically and the beacons are overcharged with meanings too intimidating to deal with without being blinded by the anxiety of too much work–too many coasts to reach and record, too many entries in the logbook, too many worlds and too much boredom.

Detecting the wave–being floated by it, engine and deck lights off, hardly even a hum of consciousness in thinking–requires immersion, a sloshing and splashing without purpose in waters over which one hasn’t even the illusion of control. You never let yourself know how it will lap up on your cheek, where it will transport you or pull you under, how it will provoke you in deeper or else back to the shore where you can dry off and just listen.

No one was ever ‘taken’ by a position. Sure, they can be convincing, they can be effective in arguments, they can even win you prizes and recognition–positions–but underneath them something more persuasive is always in flux, and it’s this that seduces us to swim, perhaps even to drown in the water we’ve tasted.

No one ever fell in love because someone made a good point. It happens when another ‘pointless’ existence swells at its own threshold and bowls us over. It’s their style, the ease of their manner that commands our attention, because we know they don’t know it, we know they’re not putting on a show for us. It’s them–who they are underneath their and our consciousnesses, however astute and clever and sincere and awesome they are–it’s them as wave, as ripple, swell, and wake, that we adore and want to wash over us in all its humble, silent splendor. And it’s only ourselves as wave that we can bring to theirs. Together we can only make waves.

I believe it would do us some good to remember this whenever we engage with philosophy, and in human intercourse in general. What matters is not that we each take up our places like a fleet of battle cruisers jockeying for strategic advantage, lobbing cannon balls and submarine missiles at each other, a struggle that can at best end in an accidental collision or the raising of a thousand white flags. What matters is the flux and interference, the submergence and the nearness–the amplitude of the wave we create together and the influence it will have on other waves.

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Exact release into inexact peace, the last of your hairs standing on end on repeat, trembling but never terribly, never again terribly, as if no death in the Universe could exist.

Frequent that call as the futural you you had so often cherished from time immemorial; a finger scanned into accidents of a thousand pillowing pages; a hand throwing waves received secretly from the sun’s gazes; while the most ample reservoir of life turns too, unbecoming, gainless but plush: remanence of the imagination to come, or an invitation to love: simplest touch of time unbound, in trust of all the multiples undivided in One, that rest in the potentiality to see; or asking, in the second to last, for the next one next to you to breathe.

Moral of the story is forget it without loss, let grieve the non-return of your me. The fresh base (quantic), where every representation founders, revives continuously the belief miracle (generic) received by no one (philosophy). There is nothing to be deceived of in this world, where we’ve all died. Every other human is perfection come to face: resistance in the shiver of the never-replaceable. Nothing can prevent that taste to appreciate in us: the arrival of a shared material remorse for the lie, radiated with sympathy and forgiveness, spontaneous and without question, in no common language. Even on the sinking ship of no account, our little reason disappears from violent reach, does not span into rust, though there it confides its manifold lament. The inappropriable sending, the liaison fantastique, cautious eye to eyes invisible, breaching a stranger beloved, tugs tirelessly us through the groove of vanishing being, unfreezing all the blessings of the keep.

This you need not see for it to come: the quietude of the ultimate horizon you aren’t, uninterrupted and free.

Aug 24, 2016
in thanks to Laruelle and the Grado group

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