non-philosophy books

non-book review score+4

Principles of Non-Philosophy
François Laruelle
Bloomsbury, 2013

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise Reviewed by T.J. Nelson

Non-philosophy is François Laruelle's term for what might be called an anti-dialectic, or more precisely an anti-Kantian, way of doing just that which Kant repudiated: acquiring knowledge about a thing-in-itself by pure thought.

Traditional philosophy, says Laruelle, imposes artificial structures on the world, which prevent our understanding of its true nature: being and nothingness, for example, or ontology and theology. Non-philosophy would do away with all that, and allow us to appreciate the Real as a One, whose true essence we can never really grasp. What Laruelle wants to do is to reconceptualize philosophy itself, to put it on a firmer footing on a par with science. He wishes to create a unified theory of science and philosophy—not a philosophy of science or metaphilosophy, but a new, undivided way of thinking.

“The One” is Laruelle's term for an entity undivided by the analyst's philosophical dichotomies, whatever they may be. He hopes to understand the world's “radical immanence,” i.e. its indivisible nature, without transcendence, thought, or movement. This new kind of philosophy would appreciate and inspect the world as it is, rather than through the framework of a philosophical system: “Non-philosophy,” he writes, “is a thought-without-object.” [p.29]

Perhaps because just how to do this has not yet been worked out, his writing is a model of non-clarity. He writes: “Non-philosophy is the object of a transcendental induction and deduction from the real-One (or the force-(of)-thought) in the field of experience insofar as it is constituted from now on by philosophy and regional knowings.” [p.7]

The whole book is like this. What does it mean, for instance, to call something a “determination-in-the-last-instance,” as he refers to it so often, and how is it different from an ordinary, everyday determination in, say, the second-last-instance? This is a concept he borrowed from Marx, but he means it, he says, in a Nietzschean sense. Yes, you guessed it: Non-Marxism. His non-definition is: “‘Determination-in-the-last-instance' means the only possible relation of the empirical or of philosophy to the Real which is not a refusal or a ‘forgetting’ of being-foreclosed of the Real but a thinking based on that ‘criterion’ of foreclosure.” Got that?

The challenge we will face is to discover how to think about the “One” as such. What will it actually mean, in terms of what you actually do after sitting down at your desk on a Monday morning, when you re-position philosophy as an immanence? If you could think without words, subjects, or objects, how would you write it down? These questions Laruelle has not yet answered. We don't have a good way of thinking about inaccessible, incomprehensible, unthinkable things. Laruelle suggests we might be able to “clone” the real-One and make an abstract copy, which we could then analyze and dissect.

So, is non-philosophy really something radically new, or just another form of philosophy? I guess that depends on your definition. If you define philosophy as mankind's eternal quest to understand its place in the world, and to find meaning in their humble individual existence, I would have to say no. But if you define philosophy as a way of groping toward a new way of seeing the world, and creating along the way a mass of nearly impenetrable jargon, discussing made-up words with little relationship to anything in the real world, and setting for yourself a manifestly impossible goal, thereby ensuring that you will fail spectacularly, as Heidegger and so many others did, then non-philosophy qualifies as a superlative example of mainstream continental philosophy.

oct 28, 2013