Draft Translation of an Interview with François Laruelle from Actu Philosophia

I was having a bit of writer’s bloc the other day and in an attempt to break it I decided to translate a recent interview conducted with François Laruelle by Florian Forestier for Actu Philososphia. I have posted that draft translation for you below and have compiled this as a PDF for those who prefer to read the interview that way. This is a once through translation, so some rough patches and bits I may have missed, but generally I like translating Laruelle’s interviews as I feel less constrained to retain the syntax of his writing for which there are good theoretical reasons but often frustrating English formulations. Anyway, I would not use this for citation purposes, but feel free to share.

Interview with François Laruelle: Author of Christo-Fiction

By Florian Forestier

Saturday, January 17th 2015


Draft translation by Anthony Paul Smith

Longtime professor at the University of Paris-X Nanterre, François Laruelle is behind a difficult and abundant oeuvre, boasting more than twenty books, amongst which Le Principe de minorité, Une biographie de l’homme ordinaire, Philosophies of Difference, En tant qu’Un. La « non-philosophie » expliquée aux philosophes, Principles of Non-Philosophy, Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy, Introduction aux sciences génériques, Philosophie non-standard: générique, quantique, philo-fiction, and more recently Christo-fiction, a book we will explore in detail. His recognition internationally grows strongly, as shown by the colloquium La philosophie non-standard de François Laruelle held at Cerisy in September 2014 and bringing together researchers coming from different disciplines and different countries, form Russia to the United States and as far as Taiwan

If this recent rediscovery of François Laruelle’s work is in particular due to the vitality of what is commonly called speculative realism (regardless of the precision of this term), the perspectives and preoccupations of which François Laruelle is indirectly associated, it is necessary nevertheless to examine his thought in its particularity, a thought which, with the risky term non-philosophy, attempts to set up a new use for philosophy and a new use for what Laruelle characterizes as philosophical material. In an article published in 2003, Ray Brassier described François Laruelle as the most important unknown European philosophy, in that he develops not an original thesis on this or that classical object of philosophy, but a way of thinking and appropriating philosophy.

According to the formulation offered in the Cerisy colloquium announcement, non-philosophy or “non-standard philosophy” develops a new theory and new practice of the philosophical act, outside of its traditional norms of self-modeling. It puts variables that can be conjugated to work together, a traditional philosophical structure like the transcendental structure and a kernel of thought extracted from quantum physics. It is not, however, concerned with a philosophy of science but rather with an association in equal parts of philosophy and current [actuelle] science.

My thanks to François Laruelle for his receptiveness and generosity during the interview he granted me.

Actu-Philosophia: I doubt that I will surprise anyone by saying that you are a very difficult author. To be precise, it seems to me that your work combines two difficulties. The first—the most immediate—is its terminology and the way that thought is deployed. The second—which is perhaps still more important—is one of comprehending what non-philosophy implies in terms of posture, disposition towards what it calls the suspension of philosophy.

François Laruelle: I, of course, recognize the difficulty in reading it, because of the terminology, the conceptual density, because of a kind of discursivity that is often too quick, burning through certain stages. I also recognize the difficulty of the axiomatic, particularly at the start of my research, since I am a long way from this form. I accept this difficulty, but it comes from the richness of the material that is treated, meaning that it comes from the multiplicity of underlying philosophies, of silent references. Because I make few academic references, as if I had no philosophical culture even as I move within this culture. But I do not move within its object the themes of which are fixed and normalized. Take an image that comes from physics, the movement of the wave as it moves through water, but it is not necessarily the movement of the water. It’s the same thing, my way of thinking is rather like [de l’ordre] the flux, I move through the classical objects of philosophy without fixing myself on them. What interests me is the movement of thought, the arrow or vector. These objects serve as local and provisional props [supports], which makes the style difficult at every level. There are some big themes in my evolution, but traversed by a unique oscillating flux. In the past I divided my production into stages (I, II, III, IV, V), but I have given up on that because I would maybe be on the eighth perhaps and this succession would no longer mean anything. I have given it up, and I would at present say that there are instead waves that overlap one another. Waves that find their way towards the same problem and move through (are made though) a heterogeneous material. This makes whatever is thought difficult for every academic kind of approach.

AP: May I just quickly interrupt with a small question of clarification regarding this idea of material, of treating or processing philosophies, in the classical sense, as materials for non-standard philosophy. Your project, you write, is “… not to destroy philosophy, but to change our relationship to it and to multiply its usages: to prepare a non-philosophical pragmatic of philosophy (En tant qu’Un, p. 29)”. Is it possible for you to go back to what you mean by this reappropriation (even if the term reappropriation is undoubtedly not adequate)?

FL: I largely practice the same kind of gesture, modeling with different materials. The goal is to gain access [mise en accès]. I want to say: I do not try to explain in detail philosophical material, but to think that material otherwise. One could say, taking up an expression from Deleuze and Foucault, to accept that philosophy is a vast theatre is no longer accessible for me except through certain usages—through their gesture even. For me it is always the gesture and posture that is interesting. Obviously, I have missed [je suis passé] a number of different materials, but the important thing was to just go [passer]—to ensure movement [passage]. Hence a certain reduction of material to the state of a symptom, the root of which remains more or less secret, even if it may be revealed by a whole set of material forms. Science or mysticism are as much symptoms or effects that return in various ways to the gestures of thought. So the thought that I have developed varies in the same way, because the materials through which it unfolds, in varying, make it vary. There is no essence of non-philosophy that would be absolutely and definitively definable, if it is not just as undulatory, its materials retroact on the formulation of the act of thinking that it puts forward each time.

AP: Just to come back again to this idea of gaining access to philosophical, which seems to me essential to understanding your work: it seems to me that this is what precludes any confusion of non-philosophy with a radicalized deconstruction. While deconstruction interrogates and dismantles the elements of syntax through which philosophy is deployed, non-philosophy opens that syntax up to new uses. It firstly has a performative value. It concerns, if I understand you correctly, the suspension of the philosophical disposition, or something of the philosophical disposition, that you call its sufficiency. No longer being caught within philosophy is finally to understand differently how to philosophize it.

FL: Philosophy is a relatively stable structure but liable [objet] to one or multiple uses. There is no philosophical truth absolutely in itself. The way that I treat it presupposes a structure, a multiplicity of relations to it, validating the usage that I make of it. Philosophy generally has a tendency to refuse the use we make of it. It does not exactly want to be a posture or a disposition. I call this attitude the Principle of Philosophical Sufficiency: its way of auto-giving itself an authority that blocks the access to the usage of its own discourse. It is about, in some sense, concentrating the “bad” or “insufficiency” of philosophy within its sufficiency. In particular, by refusing what it takes as an immutable truth.

Philosophy does not posit truth, even if the truth forms part of its objects. There is a complex pragmatic relation to its practice that we have to take into account. This relation is structured by a background that is already philosophical but also scientific, for example Aristotelian or even Newtonian, for which I substitute a formalization that is now quantum. It is a matter of developing another more innovative usage, dismantling these relations, these structures through which it constitutes itself as a norm and paradigm for existence. The transformation of the usages of philosophy must not take place only within the interior of philosophy as this is still the tradition, even within the “critique” that does not shake off sufficiently the apparatus of the past, but the that transformation must be undertaken in a way closely linked with science and its innovative and “promising” categories. I have a quasi-messianic vision but mitigated by science, in particular physics. Only the conjugation of the scientific and philosophical postures allows us to lose philosophical sufficiency. This is why I back the criticisms of philosophy produced by it at its heart and against its circular sterility or petition. Philosophy produces lots of new categories like the Other (rather than Being) in order to deconstruct itself all while having a use that remains encircled by philosophy. To maintain that, philosophy can by itself delimit itself through its objects and its effects, like it may also auto-engender itself, this is surely still sufficiency. Modernity is an auto-critical version of the auto-engendering. One such delimitation requires the “occasional” participation [concours] of a non-philosophical exteriority like that of science—not science alone and not that it matters which, that would be positivism and when all is said and done that would again be classically philosophy. Instead it is a matter of developing a way of conjugating science with philosophy so as to give access to what remains, but only in the last instance, still a philosophy. In a certain way, non-philosophy is still philosophy: but a philosophy that no longer looks to auto-engender itself, to make itself sacred. A philosophy which we must as a result make use of.

AP: Who is not immunized against its use… Just to pick up again on this question of science, where does your frequent appeal, especially in  the first works, to the thought experiment [expérience de pensée] of the scientific—to adopt its own point of view and no longer that of philosophy the two in a complex relation of competition regulated and structured by an immanent formalization. In Philosophy and Non-Philosophy you speak of science as an “opaque” thought, “unreflected/thoughtless” [irréfléchie]—“a kind of theoretical comportment”. Science, you say, does not need a philosophical foundation, as positivism and scientism, which are still ultimately philosophical doctrines, do not take the same path if they want to copy themselves on science without living it. Science, finally, is not the solution to the question of the real, but the best tool the best spiritual exercise or “thought experiment” to extricate oneself, in actuality, from the philosophical disposition.

FL: I had the tendency to think at one time that science has a way of approaching the real that is more direct than philosophy. So I insisted on the opacity of scientific thought: on its pragmatic and formal dimension, relatively independent from reflexivity. I had settled in advance, as you say, its aspect of theoretical comportment. Now, I would be more nuanced about this idea, which we would have to be precise about and refine, but I keep the notion of an unreflected/thoughtless philosopheme.

AP: One could say that science puts into play another form of distance, not reflexive, but strategic.

FL: Not only that, but it would be that too. Hence my non-positivist reference to quantum mechanics, but I assume that we will have the opportunity to come back to that.

AP: Now that the general frame is set up, maybe we can move to your itinerary or your journey. And maybe, grappling with the problems of the time and with the legacy of the history of philosophy, first in a way that you have been conveying with the non-philosophical gesture. We may also recall the relationships or debates that you may have had with other contemporary authors, with Deleuze and Derrida in particular.

FL: Basically I had begun with a large work on contemporary philosophers, of a quadrangle: Nietzsche/Deleuze, Heidegger/Derrida. We can add Levinas to these four names, who I have worked on less directly, but who has had a very great influence on me by giving me the example of a possibility of breaking way from the authority of the philosophical logos.

By studying the different tensions of the quadrangle, I realized that something was lacking in philosophy: it lacked a specific thought of the One. The issue then was the tension between a thought of Being and a thought of the Other. It was still necessary to carry out a true meditation on the One, to invest in the problem of the One, that’s what I began to do with Le principe de minorité and above all with Une Biographie de l’homme ordinaire: to question the problem of the One and its position.

AP: Exactly on this subject. You are confronting this question in a singular way, different for authors like Michel Henry, for example. You do not look to develop a henology, you do not look to uncover or describe the structure of the One, your thought is not a thinking “of” the One, an apprehension by thinking the unthinkability of the One and not even unthinkability as a mark [sign] or openness towards the One, but rather what you call a thought “according to” the One. In your interview with Jean-Didier Wagneur, in En tant qu’Un, you say that your project has been to “… reach the most radical individuality, the most ultimate, by making use of the traditional means of philosophy (Nietzsche)”, of “thinking the individual”, but in your Biographie de l’homme ordinaire, of “… assuming the individual already given, and not looking for it.”

FL: Yes, I had precisely such an exchange on the subject with Michel Henry in the 80s. I tried to tell him: you are fighting with the One. Let’s assume on the contrary that I do not fight with the One but that I pull consequences form it: let’s accept the One, what does that imply for thought, and for philosophy in particular?

AP: There is maybe in the way this thought takes shape at least, a certain family likeness with classical German philosophy, Fichte in particular. How the absolute is no longer something it is necessary to understand or penetrate: but a function within the economy of the deployment of a system. What calls upon me to posit the absolute—what requires that my thought assume the absoluteness of the absolute?

FL: Yes. I have elsewhere sketched a discussion with Fichte, in Principles of Non-Philosophy. I am a big reader of Philonenko’s thesis on Fichte (La liberté humaine dans la philosophie de Fichte).

AP: Moreover, in Fichte, there is always this rewriting of a new doctrine of science. Philosophy does not fulfill itself and overcomes itself like in Hegel. At the very most it masters its own usage. I cannot help but think of the importance Fichte has for an author who I have done a lot of work on, Marc Richir, and the way that he constructs his own phenomenology in a zigzagging way, where the different dimensions are freed from one another, in the gesture of thought that distinguishes them and poses them so as to think from them. I find that there is a certain common way to use philosophical conceptuality. All the more so because Marc Richir was first a physicist, and so he also invokes the approach of quantum mechanics—in particular, the way that he plays with virtual quantities—as an inspiration for his philosophy.

FL: I find the reference to physics more fertile than the reference to mathematics. Mathematics has always been seen with philosophical authority, while physics refers back to strategies for thought, to gestures of interpretation like the quantum does. This distances me from someone like Alain Badiou, his mathematical fundamentalism goes along with a philosophical fundamentalism. Mathematics is in the service of a strategy of domination, of a reconquest of mastery by philosophy. All things considered, in Badiou, philosophy is totally re-instituted—re-instituted with new objects, with unchanged usage and functions. This provides a very beautiful edifice, but it is not truly a philosophy that we can use, it is too inspired by the will to domination.

AP: You have brought up Michel Henry, you just spoke about Alain Badiou, regarding whom you have dedicated a book (Anti-Badiou: On the Introduction of Maoism into Philosophy). Would it be possible to return to your debates with the philosophies and philosophers of difference—with Deleuze and Derrida in particular?

FL: The One, I had basically set it against difference and against the philosophies of difference, particularly that of Deleuze and Derrida—difference would become a new philosophical absolute substituted for Being. I should make clear that I nevertheless knew Deleuze well and I always had a great deal of admiration for him. He was truly an admirable philosophical genius, particularly a genius of formula, of density and of… dance. Still, I knew Derrida better, and also Levinas a little when I was the young colleague and I dedicated an edited volume to him, Textes pour Emmanuel Levinas, which was comprised of texts by Derrida, Lyotard, Ricoeur, Dufrenne, Jabès, Blanchot. As I said earlier, Levinas is not a philosopher of the Other. The philosophy of the Other, that’s Derrida. Levinas spoke of others, and even more than Derrida he challenged philosophical authority.

AP: Was it possible to start a dialogue with Deleuze and Derrida?

FL: Deleuze devoted two footnotes in What Is Philosophy?, which are mistaken, Deleuze in his brilliant way had twisted the references, he read my endeavor as a return to the Spinozism of the One-God.

In Le déclin de l’écriture (Pairs: Flammarion, 1977), I made myself clear with Derrida. The book is followed by interviews with him and with Jean-Luc Nancy, Sarah Kofman, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, interviews that are hard enough as always with disciples. The dialogue with Derrida was generally difficult and strained. During a confrontational meeting at the Collège international de philosophie, he accused me of being polemos-striken. As I was trying to show what was still too philosophical for my taste in deconstruction, Derrida said to me: “it’s almost like in Chicago, you grabbed my gun and used it against me.” Meaning that turning a revolver against its owner, it takes some presence of mind and undeniable skill…

AP: And Lacan? Maybe—I do not know if you will agree with this, but where I see the most kinship with your thought, it’s in Lacan, in the way that he uses philosophy by symptomizing it. And what matters to me is that through Lacan I have the impression of understanding you, but it is maybe also because of the work of Didier Moulinier and his book De la psychanalyse a la non-philosophie : Lacan et Laruelle (Kimé, 1998).

FL: Lacan, yes, but it is a more indirect influence. There are a certain number of theses or ways that Lacanians take a position that have influenced me. However, I am not at all a systematic reader of Lacan. This “influence” is more diffuse.

AP: There is the way of broaching the “question” of the real, or maybe for philosophy of being inevitably being led to “clone” the real.

FL: Cloning, yes. I have proposed a whole theory of what I call transcendental cloning in Principles of Non-Philosophy. But I do not have an only negative or subtractive thought of the real. We could also say that what I have tried to think is the given-without-givenness.

AP: May I simply interrupt to add here that certain philosophers refuse this terminology of the given. For Jocelyn Benoist, the real is then what we have, that which which we have to make and struggle with, not what we will be given and what we should have access to.

An important dimension of your work has been to point out the importance of the dualities that structure philosophy, and even the logic that underlies it. You have explained this often enough (already in the 1990 interview with Jean-Didier Wagneur, published in En tant qu’Un, where you have an extremely thorough and illuminating response concerning it). I will not ask you to rehash all your explanations concerning this theme…

FL: It is an essential theme. I wanted to analyze philosophy as the utilization of and disengagement from dualities. For example, the duality of transcendental philosophy, duality of experience or the a priori. Or even the dualities of psychoanalysis and, with Deleuze, the attempt to think psychoanalysis in a non-oedipal way. Each time, my thesis is that philosophy needs three terms to articulate its dualities. Philosophy is a three-storied house, the third may serve as an independent observation deck or not. We have a ground floor, a first floor and a observation deck that provides the point of view of the unification and totality of the landscape. Since Kant, this observation deck is the transcendental, the panopticon through which its being spread out is concentrated. I contrast this logic with a logic inspired by quantum mechanics, functioning with superpositions rather than syntheses. In quantum mechanics two states can be superposed, what engenders a new state of the same type. Superposition plays a role as a transcendental spreading out that continually reabsorbs its transcendence and takes it to a new state—to an immanence, not an new instance of synthesis.

AP: It does seem that the reference to quantum mechanics truly marks an evolution in the way that you envisage and present non-philosophy. In the first case, the choice of a qualified transcendental axiomatic exposition made use of a dimension of formalism, which already fascinated Lacan: formalism forces thought and leads us to think without understanding. The axiomatic cuts short reflexivity. With the idea of non-standard philosophy, it seems that we have passed from the phase of symptomization to that of the development of new usages.

FL: I had developed non-philosophy at first in an axiomatic way, which is as you suggested an anti-hermeneutic model. The axiom forces thought—the question of what forces thought is very important in Deleuze, and also for Derrida or Lacan. Now, my model is quantum but simplified and qualitative: we are inside conceptuality, this is no longer the axiom but the superposition and non-commutativity. We have to first posit an undetermined state constituted by potentialities and virtualities. After a selection by a system of disjunctions and splits, we arrive at the concentration of one of the potentialities and its aleatory realization.

AP: There the importance of the fictional dimension plays a part. To open philosophy up to new uses is to make it capable of inventing—of inventing something from its practice. The theme of fiction has been present for a longtime in your work.

FL: I have been interested in fiction as a vector of truth for a long time. For a longtime I have spoken about fiction, but in a more recent way, I speak of the modeling or even the fiction-making [fictionnante] posture. I am looking for ways to resist appropriation by philosophical sufficiency which, I forgot to mention it since for me it is obvious, extends beyond what is exactly meant by “philosophy”.

AP: We have come to the last set of questions concerning your final reflections dedicated to the question of messianity and messianism. It would seem that after a period of formal criticism—what we could call being disenchanted—you have come back to something, if not a confidence in philosophy at least an expectation [espérance].

FL: An expectation, maybe. I dare not say an expectation-fiction! I have not been a Christian for a longtime let alone what one might call a believer, strictly speaking a “Christian thinker” bothers me less because Christianity and its postures of resistance that resonate with me have always constituted a kind of background, a set of variations from which I have taken to build my thought. Particularly, the question of messianism has been active for a longtime, a little like a kind of music, as a leitmotif. Messianism is the definition even of man. What I have called ordinary man is the man stripped of his philosophical attributes, for which, if there is something like an essence, it is then messianity. Every man is a Christic event with his potential for inversions and disruptions.

AP: You know that the theme of messianism is very present in contemporary philosophy, particularly in Derrida. How would you position yourself in relation to deconstructive messianism?

FL: In Derrida, it seems to me that the messianic structure is very Jewish, we could say very abstract. It is a messianism of form: can something happen [advenir]?

AP: The formula used by John Caputo during a debate between Derrida and Marion to qualify the Derridean messianism was: When will you come? You come to this theme in Christo-Fiction.

FL: My understanding of messianism is oriented towards the invention and discovery within which they have something generically human, not only towards the coming of the Other man. We are all Christs, this messianism is neither the emptiness [vide] of Jewish waiting nor the full effectivity or “real presence” of Christianity, it is a messianism for which waiting and expectation must accept the ignorance that weaves the aleatory. We are certain, humans, there is to be the coming of the messiah for the first time while ignoring the day and hour of this first.

AP: You nearly rediscover the inner circle of French metaphysics, of Bergson in particular.

FL: I am interested in a messianism for which creation is the object of waiting and waiting itself as a work. Non-Philosophy is becoming more positive, like Nietzsche’s thought which had to pass from the very critical phase of Human, All-Too-Human, which is truly a total reduction of philosophy by way of physics and physiology, an frontal attack against religion. We cannot do without philosophical acts, even if they “lag behind”. The important thing is to set philosophy “to work” [à l’œuvre] rather than “implement” it [en œuvre].