The Defiance of Baselessness and Mutation: A Reply to Daniel Colucciello Barber (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

In our society there are individuals, found often amongst black youth, who are told that their dissatisfaction with the World is unreasonable and expressive of their defiance. Is it unsurprising that a group of people subjected to the long lingering effects of social death constitutive of the World would seek to defy that World? That they would seek to end it through the overburdening of its space and time with niche spaces that, to the World, look only like death but for the moment they can be sustained are experienced as a moment of the lived-without-life? I want to frame my response to Dan in reference to the singular suffering expressive of the primary antagonism of anti-black racism, in part because Dan has helped introduce to my a number of important authors on this problem and because Dan and I both share a sense that thought must respond to suffering. The problem of suffering–and do not let the coldness of this term lull you into thinking that the problem of suffering isn’t a crying out that we hear–is what I hear behind Dan’s question to me: “Is the “non” about the enactment of baselessness, which can also be enacted in the neighborhood philosophy claims to possess, or is the “non“ about finding a different use for philosophy?” This question, if it is to matter, must regard something more than a question regarding Laruelle or Meillassoux or debates in philosophy proper. This question, for it does matter, is one regarding what kind of weapon non-philosophy may be. Not just in the hands of Laruelle, and it is in a very serious way a weapon for him, but as a weapon that another may learn to use (albeit in some small way, but smallness matters in an ecology of thought) for the overturning of the World.

To get at an adequate answer to this deceptively simple question I have to wander. As has been my way in these posts, I will travel between a form of personal memoir and impersonal abstraction. There is a closeness I feel in Dan’s work to my own, an intimacy to our thinking together even when that thinking is not intentionally directed at the other. When I read him I feel as if I am reading myself with a difference, and that nonidentity between so often drives me to produce new thoughts, a desire to actualize this identity between us while knowing that such actualization is impossible (so a kind of secular prohibition against images exists in our friendship). We have traveled a similar intellectual path when it comes to the question of the World and the move from a primarily Deleuzian framework to something with that gives more attention to melancholy and pessimism, but for that is no less immanent or even creative of the future (if we can separate “creative” and “future” from the tyranny of communication and hope). When I first began to think about the question of nature and the challenge of ecology I thought it would be the philosophy of Deleuze (alone and with Guattari as well as some heavily mediated Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson) whose thought I would find a way to repeat. I tried this in my 2007 MA thesis on the philosophy of ecological restoration. A much trimmed-down version of this was published in a special issue of Substance on Deleuze and spiritual politics under the title “Believing in this World for the Making of Gods: On the Ecology of the Virtual and the Actual“. I was particularly in love with Bergson’s statement at the end of The Two Sources of Morality and Religion that this World was a machine for the making of gods and Deleuze’s statement in What Is Philosophy that we no longer believe in this World. As one could guess, the presentation of Deleuze here was indebted to a generally affirmationist reading of his philosophy where the inherent inauthenticity of nature was an expression of its infinite creativity. In a certain sense I still affirm that through the thesis of nature’s perversity, but naming it as perversity allows, at least in the register of language, for a bit more defiance.

At some point, though, I could no longer fight against my own lived gnosticism. There was something about the never ending demands of desire and positivity that was, frankly, depressing and grinding; that couldn’t be matched up with or account for an experience of the World as harassment. An ever growing acceptance that I am who I am and that is not some blond beast riding the waves of my desire without regard for the destruction being wrought on others and my milieu. Instead, I feel out of sync, out of place, as if I take up too much room, without a mandate or right to my existence. I could not reconcile the suffering caused by the World with a belief in the World. My belief in the World for the making of gods gave way to a kind of hatred of the World for the protection of creatures (and ultimately I agree in the book for a separation of nature and the World). But Spinoza’s lessons regarding affects still strikes me as true from the experience of hate. Hate, even when it is righteous and true and good (perhaps especially then), can still be a kind of autoimmunity. It fights against the body of the one who hates and so, in addition to the harassment of the World, one’s own hateful response can become an ally of that harassment. The point, then, is to find a way for negativity and for its manifestation as hate to become a means rather than a master (I hasten to point out that am not emphasizing hate here at the expense of love, but because there is a line of thinkers waiting their turn to speak in praise of love, I must speak up a little for the much maligned affect of hate).

This is what I understand by the term mutation in my references, picked up from Laruelle, to a mutation of thought. For this to make some sense it is important for readers to know that in Laruelle’s formulation philosophy=the World. If we follow this then we can see that the non in non-philosophy is about the baselessness of its claim, but it is a baselessness that defies philosophy by entering into theology and making it monstrous, horrific, a kind of valorization not of the whole and beautiful body of philosophy, but of the mutant, deformed body of a human philosophy. Not because philosophy needs to be redeemed, I don’t take this mutation or different use of philosophy enacted by non-philosophy as a redeeming of philosophy, but because philosophy is there, in its failure, and though those who want to redeem philosophy (Derrida and Badiou are here strange bedfellows) refuse to enter that failure enter their thought, to think philosophy as failure. I take the use of philosophy by non-philosophy to be 1) completely and utterly baseless and 2) a valorization of philosophy as material, a milieu, rather than a program of (self-)mastery. The first because philosophy does not have to be used and is only used because it is material ready-to-hand, at times more amenable to some work than other materials, and at other times just a bit of fucking around with some stuff. The second is a response in part to Dan’s separation of philosophy and what it claims to possess. Laruelle’s recasting of philosophy (and the World) is that, despite its claims, it possesses nothing, but instead is something to grasp hold of. One may either use it or not, but there is no value inherent in using or not using it.

I haven’t really spoken about the difference between the name of Laruelle, as the one who discovers this practice, and the use of non-philosophy one may make without Laruelle’s authorization. In part because, while I have spent a great deal of time writing on Laruelle’s system, what I always found liberating about his work was that it does not demand one labor under the name of the father and so one doesn’t have to kill the father either. There are issues with his work, just as there will be issues with me own, but that failure can be attended to, it is allowed to enter into the thought of thought. Much of what I am trying to sketch here fits with Dan’s own remarks in Deleuze and the Naming of God:

“Rather than break with the world, we must break with the preset by believing in the world — especially when it is so bleak. The point, then, is not to break with a bleak world but to make the event of the world’s bleakness enter thought. The present makes the world bleak, but to hate the world in the name of such bleakness is to increase bleakness. It is to make depression more depressing. The world may be bleak, but the world is not the present — so to believe in the world is not to bless the given state of affairs, it is to link thought to something unthought by the present. Belief in the world thus breaks down thought by way of non-thought. Metaphilosophy’s invocation of an immanent belief opens a non-philosophical terrain (182).”

Now, terminology here is plastic and so there will be subtle differences between his use of the term “world” and my own following Laruelle’s gnostic register. It is also important to understand that here Dan’s term “metaphilosophy” is closer to what Laruelle means by non-philosophy than Dan’s use of the term nonphilosophy (and he notes that he isn’t engaging with Laruelle’s term here, but Deleuze’s). So metaphilosophy names the exceeding of thought past philosophy that allows for one to think philosophy’s failure while nonphilosophy is the utopian name of the excess itself. But what Dan describes here is a mutation of the World. One akin to what you find in the culture of Zef valorized by Die Antwoord. Here the bleakness of neoliberal South Africa is not affirmed or denied, but given attention and in giving it attention transforming the bleakness into something unthought before. When mutants and human trash dance without shame, it may bring out the shame in those who refuse to give attention in this way. Or, to hint at another manifestation, it is the mutation present in Kanye West’s reediting of classic black blues and poetry (“Strange Fruit” turned into “Blood on the Leaves” and the anti-hippie anthem “Comment #2” by Gil-Scott Heron turned into a more complex statement about the shame of being a human). So, to finally answer Dan’s question after much wandering, the practice of non-philosophy is defiant and out of that defiance we find its baselessness (just as nature is) and its mutation of or “fucked around with” philosophy. This mutation of philosophy arises out of that baselessness and so a different use of philosophy, of the World, just because, without a why, and without redemption, but “down for the night”.