Laruelle at the University of Nottingham: Reflections and Audio

The audio files have been re-uploaded as of February 2nd 2013 – APS.

Last week François Laruelle spoke at the University of Warwick, to their philosophy department, and at the University of Nottingham, ostensibly to the theology and religious studies department though I’d say the crowd was made up of maybe 7% theologians. For me it was an extremely exciting time and perhaps the most stressful five days thus far in my life. I was tasked with translating the two talks and, due to a number of other obligations, couldn’t turn to them any earlier than two weeks before the conferences. Though I finished the Warwick translation with plenty of time I came down with the flu which slowed progress on the Nottingham one, though it was finished just in time. All of this was coupled with the fact that I had to prepare introductory talks for both events and help Prof. Laruelle travel from Warwick to Nottingham via the famed British public transportation system (which chose this time to fail me).

Of course, the most important aspects of the days had to do with the ideas and I was very excited to see Laruelle take a number of new directions in his thought. He has always aimed to challenge philosophy with science but this has confrontation has become both more scientifically grounded and more philosophically interesting. He has engaged with quantum physics in a way that elucidates the philosophical conception of immanence, changing out the use of this “fuzzy” word with that of superposition from quantum physics. But he has also cast a new “generic” role for science in order to undercut the philosophy at work in the concepts used by physicists. In his presentation at Nottingham he expanded this to the ethical problem of the separation of mean/ends. This ended with a very interesting discussion of a messianity (as opposed to messianism) completely denuded of any appeal to a transcendent God. I found the discussion fascinating, though I’m still trying to deal with what it all means, especially in an ecological context.

The roundtable discussion went well, thanks to Marjorie Gracieuse of the University of Warwick and Dr. John Marks of Nottingham. It would have been nice if there had been more time to answer questions from the audience and if some of the questions had been phrased more succinctly by members of the panel, but nothing was out of the ordinary. All in all we had about 60 people attend, which is really very impressive for such difficult and unfamiliar material, and there is the possibility of some kind of publication arising out of the events. Prof. Laruelle was incredibly patient and kind to all of us and for me, as someone who has found a certain inspiration in the way he practices this thing called thinking, it was an honor to meet and work so closely with him.

It is little secret that my time at Nottingham has been in many ways disappointing, and some of that was on display here with members of staff talking about me to other students and the usual mafioso secret talks in the hall, but this event felt like something of a turning point for me intellectually. It felt, for a brief moment, like this was all worth it. Thanks to François Laruelle for that reminder of my inalienable humanity.

Audio Files [Coming soon]

25 thoughts on “Laruelle at the University of Nottingham: Reflections and Audio

  1. That’s great it went so well Anthony. I read through Laruelle’s Principles of Non-philosophy a couple years ago and found it interesting but not quite sure what to do with it. I’m looking forward to your translation coming out.

    Did you catch the ref. to Laruelle in my discussion with Brad about theology? Maybe I should call what I’m doing “non-theology.”

  2. A combination of both: Laruelle correctly identifies the problem with philosophy (team RO cheers!) but it only applies to post-Scotist philosophy (Kant is only Scotus in extremis). Which is another way of saying Christian theology as well as Platonism and neo-Platonism evades the critique Laruelle makes of philosophy with the notion of non-philosophy. Hence to avoid nihilism we need to return to this philosophy and the analogia entis.

  3. When the audio is finally uploaded (only one more hour!) everyone will be able to get a sense of this “confrontation” in the roundtable. There was an interesting question raised by Milbank, but it was unfortunately muddled and lost in the crusading. The question is ultimately that of the accuracy of Laruelle’s location of an invariant structure to philosophy and what that might mean. That question could have been asked directly, but instead a whole world had to be presented and so the answer required was too large, especially for our English to French and then French to English format. If you press Laruelle on this he says that he is quite reserved, he doesn’t know enough about, say, Indian or Chinese philosophy to say if it has the same problems as Greco-Occidental philosophy. That said, I don’t think Plotinus or any of the neoplatonists escape Laruelle’s criticism and Milbank’s confusion comes from focusing on the application of non-philosophy to post-Kantian philosophy. Since that is what Laruelle is mostly concerned with the discussion will focus on the Kantian shape of philosophy. But he remarks in a number of places that the invariant structure isn’t Kantian, but the dualysis of post-Kantian philosophy must match its object. If Milbank wants to get a sense of Laruelle’s critique of neoplatonic Christian thought he should read the mysticism book, where the problem comes down to a split between Man, World, and God.

    I will note, for those who will soon by listening to the audio, that Milbank also misspeaks when he says that Laruelle’s “turn to religion” is some kind of hidden acceptance of this fact. Laruelle’s interest in Gnosis, mysticism, and other religious themes have been present since his first major work of non-philosophy (Biography of Ordinary Man). It isn’t a kind of appeal to a God of the gaps to plug holes missing in his system or something.

  4. I am conscious that there is a possibility that this might derail into another RO thread, but I have to add that, from Laruelle’s perspective Milbank would still be trapped within what he critiques about philosophy, because Milbank believes that theology alone has access to the Real (and everything else is quite literally grounded in nothing) hence he repeats the gesture that is precisely the problem for Laruelle. Hence in RO we have a huge plethora of ‘theologies of X’ which is precisely the kind of move that Laruelle imputes philosophy for.

  5. So, just so everyone knows, Rocco isn’t Rocco Gangle.

    Anyway, you bring up a good point that I think needs a bit more spelling out. I do just such a thing in the chapter for After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion. Essentially the theological response to what you say is that they precisely do what non-philosophy claims to do – they don’t think of the Real (you can’t think of God in that way) but only from God. There is a difference here between philosophy and theology that is important to acknowledge if we are going to treat theology as a simple material. For philosophy the sufficient access to the Real is direct because the Real is its object. For theology God is its object and since God isn’t an object theology formally has no object, which is what allows it, in its own view, to speak then about everything.

    Of course Laruelle criticizes just such an apophatic view of the Real in his Philosophie et non-philosophie, but I think there is still something to this notion that non-philosophy repeats in some way the structure of theology. There is a temptation to a kind of self-sufficiency in non-philosophy that comes from this theological form (the principle of sufficient theology, which RO certainly falls under, as does all forms of orthodox theology). I suggest that non-theology then operates both as a non-philosophical unified theory of philosophy and religion (or what we normally call philosophy of religion) and a kind of science of non-philosophy.

  6. Hello,

    I also felt like there was an important question, or issue, in the Milbank Moment, and also felt like it got a little lost in the Big Story. But if I remember rightly, part of the question of whether the Laruelle’s critique ‘applies’ to pre-Scotus-Kant was about the divorce of philosophy from religious practice, or from being self-consciously linked to religious practice, at least. That part of the question seemed to be quite historical, Milbank saying that Laruelle has an insufficient sense of what philosophy is historically, seeing it mainly as a particular, isolatable gesture (I think he used that word). Something like: is the basic philosophical gesture the same if it’s made within a context which presumes a very different relationship between philosophers and religion?

  7. I don’t really understand what religious practice really has to do with Plotinus that is separated from what it had to do with Scotus though. Laruelle, it should be noted, responded to the question by saying something along the lines of he’s not concerned with the historical problem, which may seem like he’s giving in to Milbank’s point, but it has to do with a far more subtle point. Milbank’s theology is very close to a Heideggerian reading of the history of thought, it posits a kind of fall from grace for thought (theology over philosophy, but held together in the right measure pre-Scotus). It is a narrative of decline. Laruelle’s science of philosophy isn’t concerned with the “decline of philosophy”, his method isn’t genealogical, it doesn’t aim to locate the moment when it all went wrong. The identification of philosophy’s invariant structure isn’t set within any kind of narrative, it simply is a location of philosophy’s identity as such, for Laruelle. In that way he isn’t saying that “it all went wrong with Kant”, but that Kant’s philosophy is structured philosophically in such a way that it throws up hallucinatory ideas about the Real and, when taken as simple material, provides material for thought to work with under a different non-philosophical structure. The games that Milbank and Laruelle are playing are completely different. Milbank’s is an ideational ontology of violence, Laruelle’s is one of peace.

  8. As someone who is relatively unfamiliar with Laruelle, I really found this a helpful introduction, and the roundtable was genuinely intriguing, but I agree: Milbank’s questions about historicity and the gnostic flavor of Laruelle’s work were not fully fleshed out, as there seemed to be a genuine miscommunication between Laruelle and Milbank, perhaps related to their entirely different starting points, but also because so much time was spent having to precisely articulate the translation from English to French to English, which led to a lot of awkward pauses – and Milbank constantly jumping in to explain himself – and that in turn (at least it appeared so from the audio) led to a rushed conclusion that left me wanting more. Perhaps a published dialogue between Laruelle and Milbank (a la Monstrosity…) is under consideration?

  9. I think the question could have been formulated with more respect for the audience and Laruelle, who sometimes would respond but the translation would be cut off. It’s all fine, I guess, but really not a very respectful way to act when the audience is having trouble following.

  10. Anthony, I imagine I could probably get a better idea of all this through actually reading/listening to your intro, and coming to your paper next week.

    But still… how does the idea of there being a non-varient structure to philosophy not assume that there is some kind of essence of philosophy? (I’m assuming that this would be a bad thing, and that Laruelle would think it was a bad thing – I don’t know why exactly.)

    I guess this links to my other discomfort about the way he spoke about ethics – which is that the act of describing what it would be like if you had a ‘generic ethics’ (still not sure what this means, I have to admit) seems to involve primarily philosophical mode of thinking – or very abstract thinking, anyway. In other words, you still have to be good at philosophy to do a non-philosophy of ethics.

    Whereas, actually practicing a generic ethics with regard to a particular means (whether turned towards the agent, or the end) would require… what kind of thinking? In other words, once you’ve finished describing how ethics could work when freed from certain philosophical assumptions, by practicing non-philosophy, do you just sort of uncover a way of thinking ethically? Or is non-philosophy itself the key to thinking ethically?

    (“Read more stuff” is a perfectly acceptable answer, I should add).

  11. Stu,

    There is an invariant structure to the varying philosophies and that is something like an essence (he would say “identity” since essence is a philosophical term) to philosophy. But philosophy here means that thing that has been developed from its Greek sources, though the Jewish challenge (Levinas) is also philosophical in that it ends up becoming Greek-Jew (following Derrida’s critique). So, I’m not sure why you think that is a bad thing or why you think Laruelle would think it is a bad thing. It’s what he’s doing.

    Yes, Laruelle said that the non-philosopher has to be both very rich and very poor, they have to begin each time as if they know nothing while knowing quite a bit about their subject. It is very abstract in some sense, in so far as he wasn’t saying “alright, so now what does this say about the war in Iraq”. But his focus is on these abstract questions of thought itself. You would have to say more about the discomfort this caused you for me to respond adequately though. As it stands I don’t see why there is a problem with the abstract when thinking about ethics.

    Yes, non-philosophy is an attempt at ethical thinking if the meaning of ethics is denuded of its philosophical determination and “put under” the scientific condition. He essentially was arguing away from ethical “problems” (the relationship of means and ends) to a discussion of actualities (there is no such thing as a mean or an end separate from one another, there is no closed end that isn’t itself a mean, this is the unilateral duality).

  12. Yes, but there’s substance and there’s substance, isn’t there? If I look under the fridge, there is what might rightly pass for ‘substance’.

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