Laruelle First Impressions

May 02 2021

I have now read some Laruelle on philosophy of Difference. I find the obscurantism of his writing particularly daunting. I am not sure he knows what he is talking about or whether he is just lost in his own private language. There are some good ideas there but difficult to isolate from the overall mis-mash of allusions to the philosophies of others that it is not clear that he understands. When one reads Zizek and he elucidates other philosophers more likely than not he will shed some light on their thought and help you understand it in a new light. Laruelle does not seem to be engaged in that sort of elucidation. Rather he makes unverifiable statements about the work of others that renders them more incomprehensible. Despite this he has some interesting ideas as part of the overall architecture of his thought that seem worth while. But it is hard to get a handle on what those ideas really are and what they mean due to the embeddedness within an overall philosophical structure that is difficult to comprehend. I really wonder if it is worth the effort to actually attempt to pull out the ideas that I think are good from the morass of other concepts that seem artificial and utterly unhelpful. I do not think that Laruelle himself is going to give us any more insight into the philosophies of Badiou, Zizek, Deleuze and Derrida.

It is interesting to compare him with Lacan. Lacan is utterly untrustworthy because he has the idea of Psychoanalytical Theory as Surrealism with a perverse twist that is ultimately very Narcissistic. Lacan is trying to confuse you and mislead you on purpose. This is why we need Zizek’s interpretation to stabilize the ideas and put them in a context that makes them interesting and useful in philosophy through the comparison to Hegel and Schelling.

Laruelle on the other hand seems to have developed an architecture of ideas that is interesting globally, but when he tries to explain that with reference to other philosophers he does not offer us any help.

I do not get the idea that Laruelle is fundamentally dishonest and a trickster like Lacan. Rather I get the idea that he has produced his own private language and has gotten lost in it himself. And he just carries on without trying to find his way back out of his own confusion. My impression is that he has the idea of applying Bataille’s General Economy to Philosophy itself seeing it as a restricted economy. And this would be very useful if he had not made some very bad choices along the way as to how to portray the relation between the general and restricted economies of philosophy in relation to all thought. He appears to be taking randomly from other philosophers ideas and attempting to reconcile the without fully understanding them. Because if he cannot explain them to us so we understand them then there is something wrong. Other Continental Philosophers when they explain philosophers that they target or borrow from usually make them clearer and more interesting rather than making them more obscure to the point of unrecognizability. It is unclear whether what is interesting in Laruelle’s architectonic could be extracted to build up a real alternative exploring the meta-system of philosophy in a way that is helpful rather than merely getting us more lost like Laruelle himself appears to be. I think a reset is needed. We need to go back to the original insight that Philosophy is a System (restricted economy) and that all other thought is a Meta-system (general economy) and start over. This much is a much needed and interesting approach to philosophy. It allows him to treat philosophies of Difference generically. It should allow him to see patterns across philosophy that otherwise would be obscured.

He has the idea that you can take the philosophies of difference and contrast them to a philosophy of One beyond Being as Plotinus says is a kind of reversal of the dominant trend. That could have been interesting. But then he connects that One to the Real which is an Aspect of Being and opts of Immanence. So he makes choices that may not be globally wise in the end and it seems that when he tries to defend these choices and contrast them with the philosophies of Difference that is when he starts to get lost. He seems to have gone whole hog into non-sense with his unchecked private language and what he says does not bear much resemblance to what those philosophers actually stood for and said. He stays a generic level when talking about them and does not explain in detail the difference between his ideas and theirs sufficiently.

One thing I really liked was the idea that Philosophy was like Euclidean Geometry and he was trying to develop the non-Euclidean geometry counterpart to Philosophy, i.e. its General Economy in relation to Philosophy’s Restricted Economy. But that would lead to us wondering what the difference between Hyperbolic and Elliptical geometry would be. And I think there is an answer to that. The Elliptical is the assumption of the One and the Hyperbolic would be the use of Finitude. If he stuck to that I think it would have been interesting, but he seems to diverge from that insight.

But reading his text on the Philosophy of Difference made me think about in the context of Schelling’s Potentiates. If we interpreted Indifference of A3 as in-difference, i.e. of the Real-One, i.e. absolute then we could perhaps interpret the other potencies along these same lines. He distinguishes the (non)-One from the Real-One and sees that as a kind of affirmation. And then it further devolves into a Thermalized Transcendence which is contrast to Immanence. We could see A2 as the affirmation, and A1 as that thermalized Transcendence. This would make Schelling a proto-Laruellian. This would probably deepen our appreciation of what Schelling might have been doing. And it might give some basis for making other choices in the construction of the Laruellian architectonic of the General Economy of thought beyond philosophy.

In general I think Laruelle had the right idea describing the field of philosophies of difference as a general economy and philosophy itself as a restricted economy. But I think the philosophy he built up is all wrong in its choices of how to picture that alternative approach which he eventually calls non-standard philosophy rather than non-philosophy. Definitely Philosophy is a restricted economy and philosophies of Difference live within that restricted economy based on some sort of decision like he says. But how they live together and what is the general economic field in which they live is completely different than Laruelle suggests as far as I can see given this reading of just one of his books on philosophies of difference. What he treats as generically the same across these philosophies does not appear to hold and it makes you wonder if he really understand them and their incommensurability very well. Much better is Forms in the Abyss by Steve Martinot. This is a much better approach in my opinion. Martinot’s translation actually works while Laruelle’s approach leaves a lot lost in translation it appears on first glance.

I am not sure it is worth while reading Laruelle’s work in a reading group setting. People are having a hard time understanding the standard post-moderns. Pushing up to a non-meta-level that is merely confused would not help them at all in my opinion. What we need is Laruelle’s intervention done right. That would be very helpful. We cannot be responsible for saving Laruelle if he cannot save himself from his own confusion. It is hard enough to save ourselves from confusion given the difficulty of the texts we are reading.

We cannot trust Laruelle for different reasons than Lacan. Lacan is actively trying to trick us an to obscure his own tracks so we cannot follow him. So we have to verify everything he tells us in order to separate grain from chaff. There are some brilliant things he comes up with, some pearls among the garbage. Laruelle instead is confused himself but acting as if he knew what he is talking about. So we have to separate out his confusions from the occasional brilliant insight. Most of those insights have to do with the basic idea of applying Bataille to philosophy as a restricted economy. This is something we would like to see worked out in a way that makes sense. Unfortunately Laruelle seems to have tried to work it out but got lost in his own private thoughts and ideas that do not connect in any clear way to the philosophers he is critiquing. Lacan’s good ideas are local and not global. Laruelle’s good ideas seem to be global and not local. So it is easier to correct Laruelle’s architectonic and start over placing it on a new footing. Unfortunately, most of what he says in detail would have to be rejected. Lacan on the other hand has these nuggets that are brilliant like Anamorphic objects but the overall system he produces is merely a surrealistic mess. Zizek does most of the salvage work for us. What we need is someone to rebuild Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy with some deeper understanding of the tradition that is being critiqued.

A major problem is picking the Real aspect and privileging it and identifying that with the One. Real is just one aspect out of four. They are all the content of Being. We could follow Plotinus and see the One as outside of Being. But if it is outside of Being it should not be identified with the Real. This I think is the source of the confusions of Laruelle. It is a category mistake he has made which keeps compounding.

Another choice needs to be made. Also valorizing Immanence like Deleuze over transcendence is also an error. Real-One is identified with Transcendence. And it is contrast with the Immanent realm of Difference. This is also a category mistake in my opinion.

These category mistakes just keep ramifying until everything is confused.

But the first idea that philosophy is a restricted economy and that it needs to be contrast to a general economy of thought and likening that to non-Euclidean geometry in relation to geometry. That is an excellent thought. We need that. We need to consider the field of Continental/Analytical Philosophy as a System and compare and contrast it to its meta-system. All the various philosophers we study in recent continental philosophy fit into that field and that field does define the world we live in. If we could characterize that field in general we would be a lot better off.

We can think of Laruelle as attempting to simulate Jasper’s philosophy starting with the Transcendent rather than either Kierkegaard or Nietzsche based on Bataille’s ideas of the General Economy in relation to the restricted economy. He wants to reverse the idea of Difference prevalent in more recent continental philosophy by going back to the One of Plotinus. But connecting that with the Real which is an aspect of Being is the problem. This category mistake throws the whole architecture of his thought off. Also seeing the One in terms of Identity compounds that problem. If One is separate from Being as Plotinus says then it cannot have the aspects of Being as its content. It must be something else. But assuming that the meta-system has the One as its background is probably not the only solution, should we just reverse the obsession with Difference? Mere reversal as Heidegger says is usually a mistake.

What we really need is a non-Laruellian treatment of non-standard philosophy.

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