The Despair of Philosophy

The Despair of Philosophy and The Fall of First Philosophy, by François 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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