Some thoughts on secularity-without-secularism and non-philosophy more generally (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Rather than offering an overall perspective on A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature in this post, I wanted to highlight several moments that I found particularly insightful to think and wrestle with.

1. The most viscerally powerful moment for me in the book was the image it offered for the possibility of what a generic secular might look like. Anthony recounts a dual act of solidarity that occurred between the Muslim Community and the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt. The first was the act of solidarity by Egyptian Muslims who, in the wake of a suicide bombing against the Coptic community, encircled a Coptic Christian Church to provide the worshippers a human shield that would allow them to safely celebrate Christmas. The second image is likewise an encircling of protection. During the Tahir square occupations, a number of protestors carried out their religious duty and prayed during the calls for prayer, and in so doing, left themselves vulnerable to police harassment and brutality. This time it was the Coptic Christians who encircled the Muslims, constructing a human shield and allowing prayer to continue free of harassment and intimidation.

Anthony recounts these image as an instantiation of a secularity-without-secularism, a form of secularity that accepts and doesn’t shy away from critiques of secularism as a post-Christian configuration of power relations such as has been articulated by Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, and others. As he describes it, “In sharp distinction to this form of the secular (secularism), which is always a form of philosophical decision, a form separating out what falls within the realm of ‘proper’ and what is ‘foreign,’ the generic secular is an operation of entering into any form of religious thought and practice whatsoever in order to mutate it, to perform an operation of ‘generic forcing’ that unleashes what is most true within that thought, which is to say most immanent, most in-person, or most generic.” 107

At one level I am drawn to this image because I myself have been occupied with articulating forms of secularity that would cut across the divide (and reject both sides of the opposition) between secularism and theological critiques of secularism (of the neo-Catholic and Radical Orthodox variety), usually by rethinking various mystical and philosophical articulations of immanence that trouble the very conceptual ordering of both secularism and conservative post-secularism. Instead of seeing secularism as that which supplants Christianity (and thus also ‘religion’ tout court), this form of secularity, then, would be able to mutate and find traces of secularity within history of religious practices and theology itself. It would then no longer prioritize a division between the religious and secularist organizations of power, but be able to find traces of the generic within any given configuration. (In broad strokes, it is reminiscent of the Deleuze’s remark in his late Spinoza’s lectures that some of the most radical forms of atheism are to found within the theological traditions themselves, and not simply in opposition to them.) One could say that the choice is not between an authoritarian formation of the secular and an authoritarian formation of the religious, but rather between the most generic lived moments in each and any form of authority (whether theoretical or practical, whether secular or religious). It is worth noting that the reciprocal image of the Muslim and Coptic communities is specifically apt for a Laruellian perspective. As Laruelle makes most clear in his recent Théorie Générale des Victimes, the in-person, the generic human is at the very same time victim (capable of being persecuted, being murdered) and in struggle (capable of resistance, of uprising). The image that Anthony recounts embodies this logic perfectly, the coincidence at once of the vulnerability and the capacity for resistance that is the central trait of the generic human (or as Laruelle puts it, the Man-in-person or even Victim-in-person).

Given the tragic continuation of the events in Egypt – and given the various formations currently operative throughout Europe – one can easily say that the nefarious secularism formations are alive and well. And it is. But I think therein lies one possible need for theoretical thought, to  recover or keep active such images of generic secularity that stand at odds, in struggle and opposition with dominant forms of secularism. For the power of such images (and I think the task might be to multiply them as much as one can) is to insist on the actuality of their occurrence and thus also to radically expand the field of the possible by constantly disturbing the narratives and conceptual grammars that underlie the dominant secularist discourses, which seek to cleanly assert and enforce the boundary between the secularism and its religious others. For only in this way can we make visible vectors of thought and lived practices that are no longer easily divisible between a robust secularism of whatever sort and an (equally authoritarian) nostalgic critique of secularism, instead insisting on the generic dimension that precedes and subverts this very division. (NB: I was surprised to learn, as I would think a number of others would be, that the part of the stress on the term ‘generic’ in recent French philosophy, including that of Laruelle, is partially explained by the French translation of the Feuerbachian Gattungswesen as l’être generique, which is completely rendered invisible in its English translation as species being.) In this, it resonates with me with what Dan Barber proposes in his recent Deleuze and the Naming of God under the conceptual name of the icons of immanence. What I take to be at stake in both is a kind of articulation of immanence that resists both authority (of tradition, but not only), and the Powers that be, while embodying a certain insurrectional impetus – as well as a general appreciation that such moments cannot be just asserted theoretically, but must be figured, retrieved, made visible.

2. One of the main axiomatic positions of Laruelle’s non-philosophy or non-standard thought is that one must think not towards the real, as though thought could encompass the real, but to think from or perhaps out of the real itself. We do not think the real, but think from and according to it. Anthony shows the stakes of such a division quite powerfully in relation to ecological thinking throughout the book. The question that I want to pose – not in response, but as a continuation of this vectorial thought is simply this: We know the whence (the real), but what about the whiter. We cannot simply think towards an outside, because nothing is fully outside the Real, except in modes of self-hallucination, within entrapments of self-sufficient discourses like philosophy. Even if we admit there is no direction qua telos, the question remains as to how exactly to conceive of the directionality of thought that comes from the real. Simply, where is thought heading? Even there is not a destination or a motivation, how does one chart (or even simply imagine) the directionality of thought that comes from the real, and cannot be going anywhere beyond the real? Is this the point of stressing fiction and fabulation, a kind of articulation of new capacities or modes of escape from hallucination? Certainly, part of the point is that thought is granted a certain relative autonomy, being under- but never fully determined by the real. Moreover, non-philosophical mutation of material is certainly an attempt to liberate the generic human, the ‘Man-in-person’, from harassment, and this fact provides a certain compass for thought. These considerations are relevant, but to my mind don’t provide the full answer. I cannot but think of a thought without a why (an affirmation of baselessness as Dan stressed in his post), on the model of a life without a why of the medieval mystics – and yet that doesn’t seem to me to fully settle the question either.

3. A related key element of Laruelle’s philosophy (one which Anthony recounts and redeploys) is the diagnosis of the decisional structure of philosophy. The diagnosis argues for the way philosophy approaches the real, and becomes self-sufficient onto itself by breaking up and resynthesizing the Real. This is presented as a generalized structure that is enacted at various levels and within different vocabularies in all major philosophies from Hegel to Heidegger to Deleuze. Although, I think it is highly useful as a tool to undermine the pretensions of philosophy, it does seem that this wholesale diagnosis of philosophy stands at the heart of the various polemics that Laruellian thought repeatedly seems to find itself embroiled in. This observation is not new – yet what interests me is a moment in A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature where such polemics are momentarily allowed to be suspended, and a connection between philosophical and non-philosophical discourse is made, however tentatively. It is a moment when Anthony, I think absolutely correctly, suggests that that there might be a convergence of Laruelle’s theory of the lived (vécu) and Deleuze’s generic life “a life” (une vie). As Anthony explains, “Life is determined by the lived, and it is only from the perspective of a transcendental understanding of life that the lived is another thing. Thus, within non-philosophy it is the indeterminate that is primary. Not the indeterminate as what is sometimes referred to as ‘postmodern flux,’ but the indeterminate as that which escapes any determination, that remains relatively autonomous and equal before the Real. It is the indeterminate of the “un/e” carried in the French as the indefinite article. Thus, there is a certain similarity between Deleuze’s focus on a life as the name for immanence in his last essay and Laruelle’s obsession with the philo-fiction of the One.” (77)

The connection is tentative, and Anthony suggests it without exploring it much further, but for me it brings a much broader question to mind. Precisely because, despite the difference in terminology I find the convergence on this point between Laruelle’s vécu and Deleuze’s une vie quite compelling, I wonder whether such convergences, connections, linkages cannot be found elsewhere through history of philosophy. Can such an example open to the possibility of finding moments in various canons (in philosophical or literary cannons as much as the heretical and Gnostic ones) that already participate in an immanent thought from the One. Such a suggestion is perhaps partially motivated my own non-polemical associative strand of reading and thinking (one that wants to for example read Laruelle alongside Deleuze, Spinoza or Bataille), but one of its results might be precisely useful for suspending some of the polemics that surround the interaction between philosophy and non-philosophy. To be clear, my point is not at all to somehow undermine non-philosophy’s innovative power as a practice (which Anthony’s book demonstrates quite powerfully) or somehow surreptitiously to undermine the diagnosis of the decisional structure of philosophy. Rather it is to suggest that if such a connection on the lived and generic life can be pointed to, why couldn’t a set of such convergences also be traced and made visible at specific singular points in the history of thought. Such a practice could have the result of reducing the polemical exchange with philosophy (while still combating philosophy’s self-sufficiency) and thus perhaps help non-philosophy in its stated goal of a democracy or communism (of) thought. Perhaps this suggestion – to affirm fragments, singular quasi-concepts or formulations, within any given discourse, including philosophical, that would be revealed as already, at least partially, thinking from the real – can itself be seen as an instantiation of the perpetual heresy that non-philosophy seeks to instigate. Hopefully, though, this suggestion is not too heretical, or, perhaps one should say, is heretical enough.


4. Something that has already been expressed beautifully by Marika, but something that I wanted to stress again: One of the opening theoretical affirmations of the book is, by its straightforward declarative nature, incredibly powerful and enlightening: “For what is, is natural. There is simply no other test for it.” (1) The point is not what is not is not natural, as if to say only that which exists is natural. Rather it to say there is nothing that can claim self-subsistence, pure autonomy and transcendence, in excess of the natural. The technological, the human, the abstract – all remain, in a fundamental sense within what is. As Anthony explains, this is so if we make out of nature a first name of the Real from which to think and not an ideality it has been in the philosophical and theological discourses. If to inverse the natural from being the normative and the ideal (which would make it another way to divide the proper from the improper/foreign) to being a proliferation of creatures containing the trait of messianity that rejects the fate and predictability of givenness, as well as to being  a perversity that always points to a generativity in excess of all pre-established frameworks — if this inversal can be credited to a non-philosophical mutation of ecology, then I think Anthony’s book more than any other to date has demonstrated (whatever the polemical critics might imagine) the powerful practical capacities implicit in the discourse of non-philosophy.

One thought on “Some thoughts on secularity-without-secularism and non-philosophy more generally (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

  1. Alex, thanks for this — there’s a bunch going on, and while i’m not gonna be adequate to all of it, just wanted to say a couple things. First, that for me icons are very much caught up with the kind of spatial or “prepositional” question you’re getting at in (2). In other words, how to think or imagine from / according to, such that there is no teleology, but at the same time to figure something in that moment or meantime. Don’t know that icons of immanence are much of an answer, but that’s the problem, i think, that they’re responding to.

    Or: how to think non-, with all of its negativity, as a figure, which all thought seems bound to be. Along similar lines, am agreed with the connection between the lived, or at least with the non-, and Deleuze’s “a life.” One of the things that i think Laruelle misses but that Deleuze points to (even as Laruelle evades a lot of the “philosophical” constitution of Deleuze) is the spatiality or exteriority-to-the-thinking of immanence. Dumbly put, there’s physics, or some kind of chaotic topology, in Deleuze, whereas Laruelle’s non- (or immanence) tends to get channeled through the subject (which i think has to do with Henry). In other words, if you’re talking about a life, or about icons, then you’re talking about a figure, which by its very nature is transversal w/r/t bodies (or ecological) — whereas with Laruelle’s non-, there’s a sense of exceptionality, still, in the sense of non- versus world.

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