Badiou on not understanding Laruelle.

Ben Woodard, student at the EGS and specualtive realist partisan, has scored an interview with Alain Badiou. I’m glad Badiou is feeling better as he was unable to attend the Film-Philosophy conference at Dundee and I’m also pleased to hear that he is is apparently not currently on a mountain in the middle of France as he, allegedly, always is, or at least that’s what the email explaining he had a very violent bladder infection said. Anyway, comedy aside, it is interesting in that it gets one of the great living philosophers to comment on a new, popular philosophical trend. Ben, after Badiou says something about the Real in relation to Meillassoux, asks Badiou about his thoughts on Laruelle.

Ben Woodard: Do you see any use in Laruelle’s project of non-philosophy? Does his concept of the Real (as undecidable) not have some worth?

Alain Badiou: I have difficulty in understanding Laruelle [laughs] especially regarding the question of the Real. The strength of philosophy is its decisions in regards to the Real. In a sense Laruelle is too much like Heidegger, in critiquing a kind great forgetting, of what is lost in the grasp of decision, what Heidegger called thinking. Beyond this, and not to judge a thinker only by his earliest work, his most recent work has a religious dimension. When you say something is purely in the historical existence of philosophy the proposition is a failure. It becomes religious. There is a logical constraint when you say we most go beyond philosophy. This is why, in the end, Heidegger said only a god can save us.

Ultimately, I do not see an opposition between being qua being (as multiplicity) and the Real, not at all. The Real can be decided except for the event which is always in relation to a particular world.

It isn’t surprising that Badiou expresses a lack of understanding, nor that he sees a connection between Laruelle and Heidegger (though that connection isn’t exactly easy). Yet, it is also interesting that what Badiou is saying concerning philosophy’s strengths actually repeats in an affirming way what Laruelle says about philosophy in a critical way. Specifically Badiou affirms philosophy’s ability to make decisions about the Real and even to pontificate on what the Real ultimately is or can be reduced to (being qua being as multiplicity). From a non-philosophical perspective this isn’t surprising and is exactly what you one would expect a philosopher to do while the non-philosopher, perhaps too quickly, carries on with her work.

I was, however, annoyed by the final remarks about religion. First, and I don’t think it is any surprise that Badiou’s English is not great (though one can’t help but be impressed by the fact that it is as strong as it is considering he learned it so late in life), but I do not understand what he means when he writes, “When you say something is purely in the historical existence of philosophy the proposition is a failure.” Secondly, while it is true that Laruelle’s recent work has, amongst a lot of other things (the man is as prolific as his work is difficult), taken an interest in religious ideas (though many of them have been there for a long time and necessarily so when you consider the shared life of philosophy and theology, ), it is not a kind of Heideggerian messianic nihilism, but an ultimatum that man be a Christ-subject. That we overturn the dominance of philosophy when thinking, not the Real, but from the Real about reality. One can, of course, disagree with this, but to collapse it into a kind of naive faith is silly. In actual fact, it is a critique of the religious while, not unlike what Badiou did in his St. Paul book, appropriating religion suspended from its own form of self-sufficiency. A recent part of the translation says this nicely, if a bit obliquely. The religious register is mutated by Non-philosophy as matter of “a theoretical-without-theoreticism, whose essence is practical or unilateral, for liberating a Christ-subject. Axioms and theorems, these are our own methods, us men-without-philosophy, in order that we can appropriate religion and adapt the divine mysteries to our humanity rather than to our understanding (Le Christ futur, p.31).”

12 thoughts on “Badiou on not understanding Laruelle.

  1. “When you say something is purely in the historical existence of philosophy the proposition is a failure.”

    I think he is making reference to Laruelle’s (stubbornly-Heideggerean) motif of defining the essence of philosophy tout court. Ray Brassier develops the same criticism against Laruelle, since to underwrite the historical existence of philosophy under a singular essential determination one reinstates the kind of synthesizing entity (of the Hegelian sort) which characterizes idealism, and what Laruelle sees in decision. Brassier’s suggestion is, of course, that non-philosophy should be reinscribed as a non-dialectical transcendental realism which is non-correlationist rather than non-philosophical.

  2. Thanks for your remark. I still don’t understand what Badiou is saying here though. Laruelle’s definition of philosophy isn’t like Heidegger’s at all (he claims it is a mixture of transcendence and immanence, a confusion of its relative autonomy with absolute autonomy of the Real, etc.) The motif of forgetting, in this case the One, isn’t given the same mythological status as the forgetting of Being. In fact, his point is rather “We don’t seem to have ever been able to think from the One as primary, without mixing it with Being.” In some ways this is a lexical problem. Laruelle isn’t saying that all things which go under the name of philosophy will be equal to X, he’s saying that this element will be present and determine it in the last instance. I don’t see how that is a synthesizing entity, but I think he’s modeling the operation on how scientific practices locate the identity of something. This also means it is open to revision. I suppose at some point I should try to get to grips with Ray’s criticism, as obviously his isn’t a misunderstanding but an actual critique, but I just don’t think Badiou is right here at all.

  3. Right; determination in the last instance unilateralizes the disjunction between unobjectifiable immanence and objectifiable transcendence; the latter’s relative autonomy to the former effectuated in the last instance by determination. This is why finally ‘axiomatic ultimation’ suspends the pressumed sufficiency of the transcendental. This, as you say, avoids the dialectical synthetic operation of a reflexivity which would biletaralize the relation; which he takes to be ultimately what compromises Henry’s phenomenological egology.

    However, Brassier doesn’t think that this framework for ‘philosophical decision’ is easily transitive to non-correlationist philosophy. How does the tripartite structure of immanence, transcendence and transcendent give itself, say, in Hume, Churchland or Pierce? It is not a reified entity Laruelle proposes so much as a reified structure which is supposed to express philosophy’s historical essence. ‘Radical immanence’ suspends a certain kind of philosophy, but not philosophy at large.

    Similarly, Badiou claims there that to place something solely in the historical existence of philosophy one reintroduces the expectancy for an invariant structure present in philosophy as history; which in Laruelle’s case effectively sidesteps the relation between the essence of philosophy and its specific historical configurations (we don’t have something like a Seinsgeschikte). However, once we drop the idea that non-decision suspends philosophy, but only a certain kind of philosophy, the precise role of non-dialectical negativity becomes positively configurable within philosophy (Brassier does this, for example), precisely by dismembering synthetic unity. This in place, the role of non-decision cannot be, as Laruelle stipulates, the general form for a negative separation from philosophy’s historical existence outside philosophy’s essential determination, but an integral part within an specific philosophical argumentation with specific philosophical import.

  4. This is exactly what I mean by a lexical problem. I’m not so sure that Hume, Churchland, or Pierce don’t have this structure, but if they don’t that would mean they aren’t philosophy in the same way. I’ve tried to say repeatedly when talking about his theory of the philosophical decision that it doesn’t mean “all those things that call themselves philosophy” and it doesn’t mean “all those things that are located by this are de facto wrong”. It’s simply what allows Laruelle to render all philosophies equivalent as simple material to be worked with under new axioms. That’s not side-steping their historical configurations, that’s precisely relativizing them. I think Brassier’s critique focuses too much on this aspect of Laruelle, which I don’t know is ultimately the most interesting aspect, but that combined with the focus on shoehorning the whole correlationist angle in ends up with something that isn’t really Laruelle (and that’s fine, in so much as Brassier has a different project). I mean, frankly, I get the impression you’re just repeating Ray’s critique here.

  5. Well, I am not taking sides here, I am merely stipulating the source for an aversion to the idea that non-philosophy is a gesture which gives itself against philosophy in its historical essence.

    Concerning Brassier, the question remaining from his critique is whether philosophical decision could in fact be generalized to philosophy in general, including those empiricisms allegedly immune to the straightjacket of decision. Of course Brassier is not merely trying to reproduce Laruelle; but to subtract his view from ‘non-philosophy’. This comes down to the idea that philosophy can be structurally specified ‘at large’: you say that if decision is absent from a peculiar kind of philosophizing, in which case ‘non-philosophy’ becomes rather a negation of a certain sort of philosophy, or you say these philosophers are not really doing philosophy. You mention that if such exceptions were present then they would not be ‘philosophy in the same way’. But this is problematic for the idea of non-philosophy as a suspension of philosophy as a whole, and of decision as explaining the transcendental structure of every philosophical decision. Is there room for such ‘non decisional exceptions’ INSIDE philosophy, in Laruelle? I ask this with all frankness; I am no expert.

    In the end, my reference to Brassier is simply because it is the one substantive account against this part of Laruelle’s work. Both Badiou and Brassier’s materialist pretensions seek to jettison the idea of ‘philosophy as a wholy determinable historical development’. Of course, one could say Badiou does something quite similar in equating ontology with the axiomatics of mathematics; ans subverting Leibniz’s thesis. But there’s nothing there like a purported ‘essence’ of philosophy, nor non-philosophy. Badiou, along with all the speculative realists, find the whole post-critical obsession with stepping outside philosophy rather suspicious. Personally, I am not qualified to take sides on this matter; at least not at this point.

  6. But Laruelle never says that empiricisms are immune to the philosophical decision! Have you read any Laruelle or just Nihil Unbound? Yes, Laruelle sees precursors to non-philosophy in other philosophies, and thus “exceptions” to the decision, his claim to originality is to have formalized it into a transcendental theory. If you’d like a nice introduction to Laruelle I’d recommend reading En tant qu’un.

  7. I have to go back now to Laruelle, since before Brassier’s exposition I couldn’t understand anything. Now I think I have a much better grasp of the general idea, even if the details are a little fuzzy on the technical side of unilateralizing duality. About the text you recommend; is there a translation anywhere?

    What i’m still not clear on is the status of non-decisional philosophy. If you don’t mind explaining, i’d like to hear how these purported ‘precursors’ which are excepted from decision are nonetheless inside philosophy for Laruelle. I ask this because you mention that if a set of philosophers wouldn’t exhibit the decisional structure they would ‘not be philosophy in the same way’, but also that there are precursors to non-philosophy. I take it that these would be coextensive? And if so, what exactly positions them inside philosophy, if not decision, for Laruelle?

  8. There isn’t a translation, but if you have some French it’s the easiest of his to understand. Interviews make up about 1/3 of the book.

    I’ll consider the other question and try to come up with a convincing response.

  9. Thank you! As you can probably tell, i’m fairly new to this material. I’ve been grinding through Badiou’s work intensively, and so far Brassier’s appropriation of Laruelle seems closest in advancing something of a substantive critique of it (I am still to see if the indictment to meta-ontology vis a vis it’s transcendent status linking ontological from non-ontological situations is definitive. As you can see, i’ve been mainly trying to do a close remaing of NU in my blog; but it’s not an easy process.

    By the way, I am left wondering if there have been any replies to Brassier’s criticism of Badiou in NU? I apologize for any obtuseness.

  10. I don’t know for sure but Adrian Johnston’s Badiou, Zizek and Political Transformations might talk about it. But that’s all I can think of. Ray is a very nice guy and if you email him I bet he will know of articles. He’s not one to back down from a debate!

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