James Stanescu: “Meditations on Second Philosophies” (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

The author of this post is James Stanescu

What’s in a prefix? The non- of non-philosophy, as Anthony frequently reminds us, is the same as the non- of non-Euclidean geometry or the non- of non-standard physics. Indeed, Laruelle, it seems, has taken to referring to this as non-standard philosophy rather than simply non-philosophy. The non- is not, therefore, an anti- or an un-, it does not signify either an oppositional discourse, or a mark of being outside and other. In the same way that non-Euclidean geometry is still geometry, or that people working on non-standard physics still see themselves as physicists. What does the non- of non-Euclidean geometry and non-standard physics have in common? Well, both are moves that question the defining axioms of their respective fields. In both cases they argue that the axioms that geometry and physics use to describe the world are not always sufficient for the task. Furthermore, these non-s are not primarily critical projects. They simply indicate a field in which there exist several positive projects (such as hyperbolic geometry, or string theory and M-theory). The non-, then, is fundamentally a marker of an immanent relation. It does not come from outside as a master discourse to finally tell philosophy what it is, but rather comes from within philosophy (or physics, or geometry) in order to re-examine its fundamental axioms in order for its intellectual projects to continue. Or at least I think so. This is probably a good as time as any to point out that I don’t know anything about Laruelle (and I know roughly the same amount about theology), but here I am anyway. But, if non-standard philosophy wishes to change or adapt axioms or principles of philosophy, what axioms and principles are under consideration?

One of the principles, at least, is philosophy’s move to an hierarchy of thought, and an end to the war between disciplines and within philosophy. “[B]ecause under the current regime of thought we can only enter into an already declared and ongoing war between philosophy and theology and the various internal wars raging between philosophers and theologians. This war of opinion is endemic to philosophical and theological thought” (56). And, “Laruelle’s identification of a war within philosophy may be a stumbling block for those who want to engage with his work. However, even if we bar this word ‘war’ from our description of philosophy (and theology and ecology) there is undoubtedly still an antagonism between philosophers, theologians, and science. This is clear in each of the ecologies, philosophies, and theologies reviewed in the preceding chapter and it would seem that, aside from a few fits and starts here and there, neither side is serious about fostering peace, what Laruelle calls a democracy (of) thought and even a communism (of) thought, between their disciplines” (60). So, we have a situation where the relationship of thought to thought is one of war, or at least antagonism. But where does this antagonism come from? One place to look, at least within philosophy, is within the idea of first philosophy. First philosophy, as the name implies, is the philosophical domain that has to be understood first, before other domains of philosophy can make sense. So, for example, ontology is first philosophy, because how can you understand what anything else is, unless you first understand what it even means to be. Except, of course, epistemology is first philosophy, because how can you understand beings in the world, if you don’t first understand what we can even comprehend? But, necessarily politics is first philosophy, because how the questions of comprehension and being is never neutral, and always mediated by our social and political places. Although, ethics is first philosophy, because our relationship to other beings precedes our social and political understanding. However, rhetoric or aesthetics is first philosophy, because the distribution of the sensible is what first structures our relations to other beings. Etcetera. And while the debate over first philosophy might seem a little silly, the stakes are that whatever is first philosophy becomes the most important. It becomes a way of both overvaluing your own intellectual contributions, while also devaluing the intellectual contributions of others. And while we might not call this war, this is certainly the grounds for hostility. And this occurs not just within philosophy, but also, of course, between disciplines. So, one might, as Heidegger does, argue that science itself cannot think, and always requires philosophy to think for it. Or, on the other hand, as Stephen Hawking has argued, philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with science. So, what should we do with all of the competing claims about what is first philosophy (or first discipline)? Two moves need to be resisted. First, we must resist trying to determine who is ultimately right about first philosophy. Second, we must also resist the impulse to falsify the claims of first philosophy. Rather, we must admit that all the claims to first philosophy have merit. “The war is intractable because, by the criteria of intellectual labor, each form of thought operates or works. John Mullarkey discusses this in his own reading of Laruelle, showing how particular forms of thought that claim to be at odds with one another nevertheless all still have some level of success sufficient to allow them to believe these forms of thoughts should persist, that they are right and helpful. Yet, the respective metadiscourse, in our case the metaphilosophy or metatheology, ‘imply that only one should work—their own. Their claims to truth are mutually exclusive. […] And yet they still do both work’” (59). (This all has the feel of pragmatism to me, but that is an intellectual current missing from Anthony’s book, and I don’t know enough Laruelle to really comment). What emerges is a series of mutually exclusive intellectual claims that are all, at the same time, functional (or at least functional enough). Rather than first philosophy, then, we have what I have called second philosophies. We have a lattice of interconnected and entangled intellectual currents, which are still semi-discrete and unique. And this is the profound contribution of the work before us. Rather than proposing the thought of ecology, or the ecological thought, we are given an ecology of thinking. Each intellectual system is its own ecosystem. They all have their own resilience, they all have their own migrations, and they all interact and change each other. The rainforest and the desert, the prairie and the tundra, none are somehow a first ecosystem that you have to understand to understand the others. All of them, however, have claims on their importance and centrality. All of them work, and all of them break.

By removing the understanding of first philosophy, we remove the ground upon which we traditionally work. Laruelle understands this elementally. “Philosophy, Laruelle says, thinks in the posture of an element. It privileges thinking then from the dirt (called earth usually) or sometimes as fire, and this is reflected in its “corpuscular” posture tied to old forms of physics. Non-standard philosophy thinks according to the undulatory character of the waves and so the sea […] becomes an interesting metaphor-element to think from […]. Instead of being tied to a corpuscular earth, secure in our foundations, or burning ourselves up in a divine fire, the non-philosopher sets out with wild abandon on the sea. This wild abandon renounces any claim to foundation, to the idea that the philosopher owns some bit of the earth, but instead that they are in-the-water without property rights, without ideational security” (120-121). I want to gesture to two ways to extend this thought. The first is to look toward Luce Irigaray’s The Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche and Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodies. In both cases, fluidity and the element of water being excluded from philosophy is tied with a certain phobia of women. The second way I want to gesture is to Carl Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth. In it, Schmitt points out that the sea represented a challenge for international jurisprudence that had been based on territory. In particular, the sea was seen as res omnium and/or res nullius. The sea belonged to everyone, and it belonged to no one. Or, it belongs to everyone because it belongs to no one. And is there a better image of the democracy or communism of thought? And perhaps in our more romantic moments, we are all earth liberationists (in both senses of that phrase), or pirates of the high seas of philosophy, hoisting the black flag. Indeed, alongside Deleuze’s mediators, and Stengers’ and Latour’s diplomats, we should add the pirate. And in our more interdisciplinary moments, we should perhaps understand the prefix of the non- in another way, as that of the non-regular combatant, the pirate who all the territories of thinking cannot fully internalize.


4 thoughts on “James Stanescu: “Meditations on Second Philosophies” (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

  1. So, here are some comments that are random and scattered, and did not fit into the original post.

    (1) The critique of Latour in the book is fairly underdeveloped. However, it seems that Latour’s work on the need to declare war in order to achieve peace is fairly essential to the advocacy of developing peace within philosophy and between disciplines.

    (2) I recognize that the pirate is not a figure of peace. I am rather confused how to get to peace, actually. Even if step one is understand that there is a war going on, that does not mean we get to peace. Indeed, telling me that thinking works like ecosystems does not fill me with confidence that we are safe. The figures of the mediators or diplomats are obvious attempts to get from war to peace. At the same time, I really do think we might need more than figures that seem to come from understanding the basis of war as being fundamentally a misunderstanding. So, I am at least a little serious with my push of the extra-territorial pirate, and I am certainly even more serious about the figure of the earth liberationist.

    (3) I know I suggested the Irigaray and the Grosz, but I do so with some serious hesitation. Grosz, bizarrely, uses the notion of fluidity as the ground (pun/metaphor intentional) in order to exclude the trans* body in Volatile Bodies. And while Irigaray does not do so in the book I suggested (if I am remembering correctly), she does frequently engage in cisnormativity. Perhaps one can take those as moments of earth/territory arising in the thoughts of Grosz and Irigaray, I’m not sure. However, I take seriously their appeal to fluidity against a certain phallocentrism (and further recognize that serious engagement with women thinkers is an odd lacuna in Anthony’s text). But despite taking that seriously, I cannot overemphasis enough that I think their cisnormativity is bunk, and not at all in line with their arguments about fluidity.

    (4) It seems (and again, I don’t really know Laruelle, so someone please correct me if I am wrong) that another way that non-standard philosophy is related to non-standard physics is that they both desire a grand unified theory of everything. That is a telos to thinking that I share no truck with.

    (5) This goes back to to understanding thinking as ecosystems. There are, of course, ecological philosophers that believe it is almost unquestioned that the environment is fundamentally holistic/monistic. I think it will surprise exactly no one that I disagree, and take a stand towards environmental pluralism. I am suspicious of any communism of thought, or democracy of thought, that seeks to bring all thinking into a monism. I know that D&G sought after the “magic formula” of “PLURALISM=MONISM,” and that Anthony also raises the formula of “pluralism=(dualism=monism)” (ATP 20, NPToN 136), but these formulas are rooted into answering the question of the one and the many. But, for me, I think there is only many manys.

  2. As I’m struggling to respond through a head cold to Marika’s post and finding another excellent set of reflections here, I hope you forgive some lateness. I appreciate some of the suspicions you have about some of the moves in the book, but I think I can respond to your questions here pretty quickly.

    1) Can you say more about how the critique is underdeveloped? I should point out that the section in which Latour appears alongside of Morton was an attempt to look at some people who have done similar work to that which I am attempting here. My true focus there is on the ways in which he talks about ecology and comes to master it in a way that I find deeply problematic. The parliament of things to me is a brutal peace built on complicity. It’s the peace of a man comfortable sitting on top of a wine fortune and remains fundamentally unchallenged in its form of thinking by that which it claims to think with.

    2) This peace thing is going to take me a minute to respond to. Something Marika also took me towards and apparently I didn’t develop it sufficiently in the book since it keeps coming up. But certainly thinking like an ecosystem has nothing to do with safety or security.

    3) I can only say yes to this and then point you to the recent work of Kolozova (Cut of the Real) and Michael O’Rourke (in the recent Identities) as well as Laruelle’s preface to Kolozova’s book on the figure of the queer as more generic than gender duality.

    4) No, it’s more complicated than a “grand unified theory”. Despite the rhetoric I am aware of the dangers of Laruelle’s engagement with quantum physics and in a certain regard my own thinking with ecology was to show that other scientific practices are ripe for the kind of “unified theory” he argues for. But that unified theory is far from a unitary theory or the only theory or anything like that. It is an attempt to think different regions of thought together without destroying them. It’s very much a kind of pluralism rather than a mastery of all knowledges.

    5) Responding to this question would require a lot more time than I currently have and so I will try to do so in my response. At the risk of being “that guy”, I do think I make the case in the section you quote from for how this isn’t a question of the one and the many, but rather of a kind of question of identity (and Laruelle’s identity is far closer to Adorno’s nonidentity than to Hegelian identity). An identity is one, in so far as it is radically immanent, but that radical immanence is not a monism nor a dualism, but beyond both of them. My worry with pluralism taken as a kind of metadiscourse is that it loses the perspective that sees how it can be reversible with the monism. But it’s true that the tradition of pluralism and pragmatism are missing from the book.

  3. Thanks, Anthony, for the responses. I wouldn’t really call the comments suspicions of moves in the book. 1-3 are basically glorified footnotes to what I wrote, and 4-5 are more like questions about what is going on with Laruelle. Also, I hope you feel better. I’ve been one sort of sick or another for about a week and a half now. It’s awful. Okay, with that said:

    (1) I don’t think the critique being underdeveloped is that controversial. A book cannot be everything, and choosing not to more fully develop the differences between Laruelle and Latour is a fine choice to make. But it does mean that I hear a lot of the discussion between science and philosophy, war and peace, and I hear that in registers of Latour. That doesn’t particularly bother me, but I get the feeling it might bother you. Though if in the future you write an article on Latour and Laruelle, I would love to read it.

    (2) Yeah, this is was mostly just a comment on my pirate figure. I didn’t really expect you to have a map of how to get to peace.

    (3) Ditto, just basically a footnote to my use of Irigaray and Grosz. Also, I need to get around to reading Cut of the Real.

    (4) Last night, as I was trying to fall asleep, I had one of those half dreams, half waking thoughts, about quantum mechanics. I was thinking of entanglements, coherence and decoherence, perspectivism and quantum states. I do think there is a lot there I like, and find interesting and potentially useful. But the question of a theory of everything and pluralism is interesting.

    (5) No, it is fine to clarify what is going on in your book. And you are right, the formula of D&G is about the one and the many, which isn’t what is going on when you raise your own formula. But I don’t follow this sentence, “My worry with pluralism taken as a kind of metadiscourse is that it loses the perspective that sees how it can be reversible with the monism.” Could you say more, or clarify? This isn’t a critique, I just honestly am not sure what you are saying.

    Alright, thanks again for responding. And if you don’t have time to respond for a while, that is totally fine. Hope you feel better!

  4. Feeling a little better… so hoping to get caught up with all this soon!

    1) It certainly is not controversial! I agree with you and such limitedness is part and parcel of the ecological way of thinking I put forward in the book. In part, and this was perhaps something I should have thought through more, this isn’t a book on Laruelle as such. Laruelle’s work is deployed in the book as the methodology and this ultimately is why I don’t fully compare him with any other thinker. The engagement with Latour is there not because I think one French L is better than the other, but because he also puts forward an ecological way of thinking built off a methodology that seeks to overcome the usual figure of the border guard. I think that ultimately Laruelle’s method gives us a way of opening those borders without it being a form of ideational colonialism than Latour does, but I don’t have any problem with you hearing Latour resonating. Despite my negative appraisal of his, and Morton’s, work on ecology, I find his work more interesting than others do.

    4) I don’t know if I am correct here at all, so I am curious to hear what you’ll have to say, but it seems that as a philosophy pluralism always runs the risk of a kind of autoimmunity (another way to speak of reversibility perhaps). That is, it may set itself up as the single unitary philosophy at the level of structure, if not form. A way of tolerating the other and thereby shutting him or her down, rather than entering into relation with the other. I am totally on shaky ground here though. But, and you may have written about this in some form already so feel free to link me, but how would you handle the conflict between what claims to be indigenous culture and animal suffering in the current “sealfie” controversy? Laruelle tries to address this a bit in his thinking through a positive sense of the victim as what must be thought from rather than pitied or thought of. Something a bit close, though I don’t know if he realizes it, to liberation theology’s “preferential option for the poor”. This is still a kind of pluralism of liveds, but through a kind of dualism=monism (unilateral duality of the victim and victor). I am not sure that will be any more understandable though… I feel very comfortable in these terms and what they do, but realize they can be opaque to others.

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