Self-Constraints VII (“Man”)

This articles continues the series on this website dedicated to understanding and communicating non-philosophy. I raise a few problems I encountered while reading a text by Alex Dubilet, “Non-Human Identity and Radical Immanence – On Man-in-Person in Francois Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy,” which I otherwise very much appreciate. The original date of writing is June 29, 2017.

Dubilet leaves non-philosophy the moment he wants to have knowledge of Man. Since non-philosophy at every stage attempted to develop a non-epistemological thought, this desire to know amounts to a domain error. Questions of knowledge are certainly not out of bounds for non-philosophy, but they fall under the heading of the “philosophizable.” Philosophy can always philosophize about any X it can grab hold of, including “Man-in-person” if it wants to. Exporting that signifier outside the non-philosophical matrix or philo-fiction inevitably brings about a loss, since it only has a function in the construction of that matrix, in the constitution of its play. But non-philosophy thinks Man-in-person in the same way it thinks the One-in-person, the immanence of the Undivided, which it supposes axiomatically to be given “prior” to the reach of philosophy (also prior to phenomenological givenness and any statement about being “man”). It is not an isolable, separable X at all. Neither the Real nor “Man” qua Real is philosophizable or “knowable”—not because it is unknowable like some Thing-in-itself, but because Man, the generic human, has its identity immediately in-One without needing to cognize it, represent it, grasp it, or even ask a question about it; it is unseparate and unseparable, the generic milieu. Man is not without qualities and predicates because he is an ineffable mystery accessed via negativa, nor because as a body he is open to infinite change and manipulation through technology, but because his radical identity is in-One, which itself is indifferent to predication, qualification, determination—and this due to the One’s immanent nature, not because it is unspeakable or actively repels significations. Man-in-person, in other words, unilateralizes ‘man’ according to the One foreclosed to man’s language and thought, not vice versa where immanence is defined through man. The axiomatic method (a rigorous theory-fiction “according to the One”) is meant to achieve this, and to export its terms outside that apparatus is bound to cause confusion (though the limitations of the axiomatic method can surely be critiqued).

Connected to this point, Dubilet mischaracterizes or misapplies non-philosophy when he writes, “we only know that man is,” where emphasis really lands on the “is.” If it is still Man-in-person that we’re implying here, then this is an error. One of the cardinal axioms of non-philosophy is that the One, and so Man, is not convertible with Being. This point cannot be emphasized strongly enough. That the One is not convertible with Being is perhaps the hardest axiom to apply rigorously, but without it non-philosophy dissolves. It forces grammatical caution in everything; for if we say, using the verb to state existence, that “the One is,” we immediately forfeit the axiom. It will always be a corruption of non-philosophical thought to say things like “radial immanence is there,” or worse, that, “one has always been [material immanence]”! The here/there division, as well as the position of externality and the topology it implies, illusions of some primordiality of essence, can only be overcome by starting each time with the axioms, axioms given in-One, according to the One; within the non-philosophical matrix of thought, these are meant to safeguard the autonomy of the One from any division by Being, from spatio-temporalization and from all the other predications into which our natural use of language, our spontaneous philosophy, tries to lead us. This may seem like a minor point, but in fact a great deal is decided here, for it is not possible to comprehend an ‘impredicable’ “Man-in-person” without taking the same parameters into account. Case in point: Dubilet allows a slippage between Man-in-person and “a” man, as if we could seamlessly slip from the radical immanence (of) the One to the being-there of a living being (one among many, this man here, ecce homo, etc.); as if it were a matter of realizing, “I myself will always have been just that: the Real” (non-human or not). Likewise, it would be an error to think that Man-in-person designated the presence of all humanity in “me.” Non-philosophy is in fact dedicated to correcting such dubious mixtures.

Dubilet deliberately mixes up Man-in-person and the metaphysical, historical, or worldly avatars of Man (or at least he plays to the reader’s suspicion on this matter). This is due largely to the fact that he wants to philosophize critically about the former; to do so, he must identify it with, or impute to it, the ‘transcendent’ residues of the latter, the whole philosophical baggage of humanism, of human’s supposed priority, and so on. Thus, Man-in-person is without further ado lumped in with what today’s discourses call “the human” (leaving aside the fact that by invoking the human as an object of knowledge we are squarely in philosophy; whereas Man-in-person is no category, has no ‘referent’ ‘in reality’, etc.). Dubilet does note that Man-in-person is only a “first name” within the non-philosophical apparatus, but he does not go on to explain the theoretical function of them: how immanence is indifferent to them, how they are all equal, how their use for theory (philo-fictions) is determined in the last instance by the One, how they aim to “use silence,” how they lack the priority of logos, and so on. Instead, he treats it as if it were a proper name; and more crucially, as if Man-in-person were a sufficient name of the Real. No name is sufficient, but naming and sufficiency aren’t the goal here, and there is no restriction on invention; one can speak, as Laruelle sometimes does, of the Nowhere-in-person, the Answer-in-person, Redemption-in-person, etc. This is an inventive model whose central ambition is to ‘recall’ humans (or transhumans, whatever we are who speak) to their strangerness to the world, including their strangerness to philosophical definitions of “Man.” It is not a question of what it is or names, but how it is used in a theoretical matrix to modelize immanence, the radical autonomy of the One vis-a-vis not just names but language as well.

There is thus some irony in the fact that Dubilet makes a plea for emptying the signifier “Man” of sense, when non-philosophy never gives it any sense at all. Otherwise it would not be an axiomatic and non-epistemological theory, modeled on science rather than on philosophical discourse. It is at least unfair to suggest that non-philosophy retains such “humany,” total-meaningy connotations under the heading of Man-in-person, without once discussing the importance of oraxioms (lived axioms) and the specificity of first names, which have nothing to do with “naming radical immanence human.” First-naming is not an act of necessary nomination, but of contingent experimentation for philo-fictions, which cannot make any absolute jump out of the circle of philosophical terms and connotations. Failing to reconstruct the logic and syntax of non-philosophical thought, as a use of philosophical material (including humanism) in a transformed state, this amounts to an objection to a choice of words. Later, Dubilet suggests “Cockroach-in-person,” the cockroach as name of the Real, as the “truth of non-philosophy”—but does that really accomplish more, or something better? Is this a serious proposition? What would its acceptance accomplish? He implies that in non-philosophy there is a “process of humanization” that needs to be thwarted, but the latter is only assumed or projected, since as I said above, the sense of non-philosophy = 0. My fear is that he is responding to the spontaneous connotation of words and misunderstandings of the theory, at any rate dissatisfied by non-philosophy’s manner of emptying humanism of sense (and of course there is always room for that critique).

When the article comes to Lispector, the slippages and inconsistencies continue. In the name of the non-human, Dubilet wants to elevate the experience of “neutral” and “impersonal” life above what he sees as Laruelle’s overemphasis on the “in-person.” He wants to be able to say, “I, neutral cockroach body.” A few comments apply here. First, it is the subject who says “I am” and “I live.” But it is the grossest error to think non-philosophy is about learning to say, “I, Man-in-person” (not to mention the error of converting immanence into being). The subject of thought, existence and enunciation has only ever been theorized as a transcendental “clone” of the One and for good reason. The solitude of Man-in-person is not at all, as Dubilet seems to suggest, a matter of “one’s own proper individual self.” That is exactly the ‘double transcendence’ or self-constraint against which nearly every word of non-philosophy is aimed (depotentializing philosophy means dethroning the philosopher-self). Nor does immanence set off anything like an individuation process. This misunderstanding is what the thematic of the generic, which is not just present but central throughout the last decade of Laruelle’s work, is meant to remedy: it already responds to the demand for the neuter and the impersonal. In French, Man-in-person is written “Homme-en-personne,” which I believe can be read as Man-in-no-one (English commentators should mention this). For it is never a matter of identifying “personally” with the One, or of “being” Man “oneself.” As is made clear in books like Christo-fiction, the “effect” of the wave-like One (quantic, materiel, non-human…) is rather a depersonalization, deindividualization, a rendering-generic. To replace this with a rendering-cockroach is speculative realism at best, a product of the imaginary.

To return to Lispector, she sees a nonhuman, nonspecific, general movement of Life in the cockroach, and she identifies with it. Now, isn’t this recourse to “Life” rather a bit… metaphysical? Isn’t life here that which transcends all living beings whose presences, Dubilet tells us, “radiate” it? Life is spoken of in an essentialist manner, as if it were a transcendental emanating out into immanent entities. Dubilet takes us in the direction of Michel Henry’s philosophy of Life or Deleuze’s “a life”—but he leaves out all mention of the non-philosophical concept of the “lived-without-life,” which stands in non-philosophy for the generic lived, subtracted from life-death, experience which is not folded into a singular life (me, my, “I”) or subsumed under the totality of Life; a concept which, more over, is more than ready to accommodate prosthesis, technological supplementation, ‘inanimate’ aspects. That the logic of the ‘lived-without-life’ is left out is another instance of a failure to adequately reconstruct the theory, or to even discuss the option it presents to this problematic. What Dubilet advocates for “humans” is an immanent, impersonal and non-human Life-in-person, which occurs or joyfully surges prior to all subjectivity, humanity, and worldly existence. And yet, although the goal here is to extract, “the human from false metaphysical attributes,” he also quotes Lispector favorably when she writes that, “man… is inevitably human.” He is no ideal human (but Man-in-person is no ideal either), but neither is he a cockroach!

In sum, Dubilet rightly wants to decouple radical immanence, “from the process of transcendence and ideality, of humanization”: this is a primal aim of non-philosophy. But to do so by coupling it to the non-human—or to an animal chosen essentially at random, a cockroach—is bound to fail (except as a creative commentary). Especially if, after all is said and done, “man… is inevitably human.”

I too have been wary of the term Man-in-person and have questioned its necessity. That is why I felt the need to evaluate this critique of it. I have always felt it was designed to mobilize a philosophical term and heritage to new uses. To defend it in full would take lots of reconstructive work and would likely not be worth it. In my view, most of Dubilet’s goals (impersonality, etc.) are pursued by Laruelle in a rigorous way under the heading of generic immanence, generic humanity, and the generic human. It would probably be necessary to look at “En dernière humanité” to really evaluate all this.

I am obviously ready to be corrected on these matters and I’m happy to discuss. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I do have a concern for the rigor of the theory, thus I share my thoughts. Thanks to Alex Dubilet once again for writing a thought-provoking piece.

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