Take painting as an example. A painter makes paintings. Propped against his studio wall, their numbers multiply. At a given point, a creative threshold that causes him to hesitate, he might call in his dealer, if he is lucky enough to have one, to take some of them away so that he can make room for more. Once they leave his studio the paintings assume a life of their own. Sold, resold and speculated upon, they accumulate value and become a repository for money and social prestige. If the artist is famous enough, or already dead, you can visit them in museums and galleries, hang printed versions of them on your wall; you can Google them and they will appear in non-form, a ghost of what once was — fluidity, coagulation, concretion, solidity, substantiality; a living material manipulated by a hand, a body, a brain, a mind; ruminations in paint from a human immersed within an actual situation; communiques from the human in the flesh.
Once completed and sold, that act of painting, that hand, body, brain, mind, and situation is gone. A concept has replaced it — the material trace of an idea. For a short time an image hovered on the cusp of oblivion, precarious materialization of a ruminating brain and an unpredictable process; painted over, wiped out, retrieved, repainted, or, sometimes, just painted straight off and left at that. You might insist it is this painting, as brute object, that accumulates value. But perhaps something else materializes, much in the way that paint smeared across a canvas solidifies into the configurations that might confound you, bore you, or otherwise engage your imagination. The meanings, intuitions, forebodings, inarticulate hopes, intimations of happiness, joy, aesthetic pleasure — all of what is not conducive to communication through the word but which somehow materializes between you and the surface as you mull over the paintings enigmatic presence — all of that exists neither inside your head, or, in some mysterious way, beneath the surface of the painting; as if the artist could majestically deposit such meanings as his brush moved across the surface. No. Meaning is banked, let us say, somewhere between brute materiality — the painting — and the ideas generated inside our heads. That somewhere is an ideal realm as real as any existing object; it follows its own laws of development independently of our wishes or our individual control; it is the world that confronts us as the given into which we are interpellated from the moment of birth.This is the Philosopher’s thought-World, over which he presides as arbitrator, grand inquisitor, sage; from a proper distance he notes our doings, suffers our sins and our heresies. He would save us for our own good.
From this strange nowhere realm of ideality, this thought- world of culture, we extract ready made concepts about meaning. These concepts are plastic, malleable; they change shape as they filter down to popular level, interacting in complex ways to create all the general norms by which we live, including the formal and informal relations between people, the rules of behaviour and the generally accepted truths binding us to the state of the situation — to the given. Over this state of the given the Philosopher holds court; and he is serious about his work, despite the fact that the man in the street knows quite well that the king has no clothes; that the verbose philosopher is in fact furthest from the real, even if he cannot articulate why. Call it gut feeling. Strangely, it is the well being of the soul of this man in the street, this unwashed rabble, which is at issue for the Philosopher. It is a question of public order; of the State as such. The philosopher reserves his wrath for those who dare to deviate from his word as law, and thereby question his philosophical jurisdiction. At any rate the humble painting — mere object — implies all of this, conjures into existence all of this as an example of one form of the materialization of the concept, whether we know it or not.
Let’s say that, once sold, the painting assumes the form of a fetish; its qualities now have nothing in common with its immediately perceptible form; it functions as a site at which a World can appear. What accumulates value is not the brute object but a form of ideality, which has become perceptible through the medium of a material object — a nexus of ideas and social practices, of social relations, of determinations of value, acts of accumulation, greedy acquisitions, over-supply, scarcity; in short a commodity traded within the economy of art. The painting has become a conduit for the circulation and accumulation of the ultimate fetishised object — money. Among the millions of concepts swirling about our heads the concept of exchange value is a vortex into which many if not all of our concepts disappear. The ground from which they rise and to which they fall is economy. Our art concepts circulate in this way too, under the power of exchange value and the sub-economy of the art market. We tell ourselves something different, of course. We want to believe that painting is subversive, a subterranean process that could suddenly bloom as the beautiful but poisonous flower of art — the poem that speaks the real, the flesh.
And so we distinguish the artist from ordinary mortals using terms borrowed from the discourse on religion — a mixture of ideas about internal essences, creativity, self-realization; a cocktail of concepts extracted from the human potential movement, new age pseudo-spiritual discourses, and popular psychology; overused metaphors about inner journeys and creative/spiritual explorations. The artist is she who searches within to find inspiration on the basis that somewhere in the depths of her mind there are inexhaustible resources — energy for transforming mundane material into the gold of high art; an alchemy of the imagination making something precious out of a non-thing called the mind; the artist as shaman endowed with a vital power exercised on behalf of the collective.
The word endowed implies that the artist, in this popular conception at least, is the passive receiver of the impulse to create. What powers she is endowed with are reflections of a power transcendent of our egos, and one we would do well to appease. Searching within is a dangerous thing. Which is why many insist that when we peer into the depths, we will find not only god and his angels but also the devil and his monstrous children. Painters, and artists generally, are particularly afflicted in this regard, as any number of “tragic” biographies will attest. For the most extreme form of this romantic mythology, art is a marriage of madness and genius, an inner intoxication, a plunge into the ‘underworld’ which only the most gifted seer can hope to survive.
The impulse to make art, seen in this light, is the corollary of the idea of the religious impulse, a “natural” expression of human nature, transcending cultures and historical periods. Such a vision bestows on the person a sort of grandeur; if we search inside of ourselves, inspiration will percolate up from the unconscious, just as clear fresh water percolates up from a wellspring located deep underground in the mysterious reaches of the earth. Although we are not all artists and so privy to an inspired knowledge, we at least have the potential within us to be so. It’s no surprise that this vision of the unconscious origin of artistic inspiration began to predominate at the same time as we began to think of religion as an ineffable experience where we peered into the unfathomable reaches of the mind — a reified interior space into which one could peer just as easily as into the depths of a well. And everyone, luckily enough, was, is, the owner of his own well.
For many this conception of the mind is a refuge for the surviving vestiges of the human rescued from the assault of consumerism and predatory science. Who would not want to believe in such an existent, unsullied by the drive to consume and safe from the objectifying gaze of the human sciences, a gaze that would reduce the human to its social, psychological and anthropological predicates, or deliver it over to the exact sciences as a mass of evolved biological drives, machine-like cognitive mechanisms or reductive psychical processes. We would like art to deliver us from this fate by implying a mysterious ground, an inner nature or essence we possess by right and have free access to. Such a conception of art and the artist, composed of the remnants of a romantic idea long abandoned by the Philosopher, binds us nonetheless under his power. Although he has declared God’s death, he has not declared the Death of the Philosopher, in who’s image god was created. The Philosopher is content to have God’s ghost roam the world as his proxy, in the form of other equally transcendent Authorities; the law, the State, the policeman; regiments of policemen drilled to march to the mantra of all Authority — thou shalt not put any Gods before me.
But there are alternatives to retreat and a reactionary embrace of a concept of a transcendent human essence. We can escape Philosophy’s sacrificial demotion of the ordinary-of-the-human. It is this ordinary of the human that the man in the street instinctively defends, knowing quite well that his folk allegiance to a fundamental autonomy beyond the capture of the philosopher, as representative of the powers that be, is justified, even if, again, he can’t articulate exactly why.
The last man, the man of the street, of the crowds, of the masses, mass man – that is how THEY portrayed Bloom to us initially: as the sad product of the time of the multitudes, as the disastrous son of the industrial age and the end of every enchantment. But in these designations as well, there is the same shudder—THEY shudder before the infinite mystery of ordinary man. Behind the theater of his qualities, everyone senses a pure potentiality lurking there; a pure theory of bloom potentiality that we’re all expected to ignore. (Tiqqun, Theory of Bloom, p. 8.)
When philosophy presents us with the dilemma — an essence transcendent of matter, biology, and the social, or a reduction to matter, biology, and the social — this dilemma and its solution, on either count, just is the absolutising move, the mixture of the epistemological and the philosophical, of empirical investigation and philosophical generalizations; the proverbial poisoned chalice passed to us by the priest of philosophy. This is what the unlearned always and already know, even if such a statement is a red rag to a Philosopher.
When science is left to itself, however, it produces open ensembles of knowledges, where the findings of the sciences interact while remaining distinct — to lie alongside each other instead of being gathered up by philosophy as its raw material.
[T]he experimental non-philosophical labour of scientific concepts 1) lets a particular scientific theory be in its own legitimacy without intervening in it as philosophy wants to, and 2) does not imprudently “apply” or generalize this particular theory for the benefit of philosophical authority . […] This labour produces open ensembles, a uni-verse of truly fractal knowledges that adequately “reflect” the One. Such a task is distinguished from the task of the philosopher-sage who, believing to hold the authority of transcendental approval, repeats the mixed espistemo-philosophical gesture of expropriation and reappropriation instead of using the sciences themselves under the conditions of a transcendental axiomatics. (François Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-philosophy, p. 70 f.)
Such open assemblages are the end product of autonomous practices free from appropriation by philosophy, which would use the art object for its own transcendent purposes. From this point of view there are artistic knowledges that can function beyond or before the legitimizing authority of philosophy. They can speak of the way Authorities, the worldly representatives of philosophy, demean and harass the flesh; of the way an insidious network of concepts and practices function to burden the mind and the spirit, and thwart action.
We can use the idea of the ‘fractal’ to express the way art practices function independently of each other but in relation, and ‘reflect’ knowledge of the Real in-the-last-instance. These practices and their knowledges — the sciences, the various art practices — are forms of human activity undertaken before the binding formulations of philosophy appropriate them as truth of philosophy. We can ask what the nature of the painting is as an experience of the object before philosophy formulates it as Truth — as dichotomy of form and content, material trace and cypher, material object and cultural expression and any one of an infinite number of synthesized unities.
The usage of non-aesthetics should be found instead within the specificity of the activity of the “non”, indeed in a specifically artistic concept, if not of the Real, at least that of “force (of) creation.” […]
In the end any artistic composition can be combined with any composition of thought without limit: this is the first axiomatic constant. From this point of view, it is necessary to rethink the currently used concept of the “avant-garde” in a non-historical context, since all linearity and circularity of history are excluded.
A second constant of axiomatic creativity reposes upon the fact that combinations can be assembled […] according to a principle of generalized relativity, forming like fractal-isles of thought on art, fractal-isles that can border on the works themselves, at best by constituting an equivalent poetics. Different particular non-aesthetics that then spring forth, spread out and combine to describe the most varied works — be they ancient or traditional, recent or futuristic. This is an activity to which no limits can be fixed. […]
But, third constant, everything must be able to be erased and return to the non-system of-the-last-instance. This constant keeps non-aesthetics from congealing into a system of sufficiency i.e. returning to a philosophical illusion. […] (François Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-Philosophie, p. 87 f., my emphasis.)
We could, if we made the effort to free ourselves from habitual trains of thought, lose the idea of art. We could become aware of the ambiguous nature of the practice of art which implicates both maker and viewer in a tradition, a discourse, a system of power relations, a process of commodification and ideological co-option. We could refuse art the validation of philosophical discourse, which would ground it according to the logic of the Philosopher. We could leave the painting as brute object; in its mute form it might speak itself.
But no. Philosophy, final arbitrator of the true, the good and the beautiful, must explicate meaning according to its dictates. We could resist such appropriation and proclaim the autonomy of art; its capacity to embody its own truths. We could insist, naively perhaps, that matter — paint, canvas, brush, hand, eye, flesh — precede sign, which is necessarily dependent upon it. Mute matter, unilaterally gives the sign, but is not given by it. Once created these signs are Janus faced. They look, on one side, to the shared social world created by the relations of words and their referents; and yet they are mute objects; first and foremost mute. Philosophy would have the mute speak, would put muteness to the rack and extract truth, which turns out to be the echo of its own words. This might seem an exaggerated charge until we discover our own essential muteness and find ourselves racked and forced to speak under the power of philosophy or it’s minions — ideology, morality, the state, political correctness, scientific fact, public opinion, gossip. Art might be a first line of resistance, rather than a retreat from the Philosopher and his State of the Situation, his Thought-Police and his Thought-World. The poisonous flower of art might bloom, even if it grows not in the subterranean recesses of the mind but in our collective garden, where we can pluck it in broad daylight.
A painter, if he dared, could work at the cusp of a void — like a man lost in a marsh who, with each tentative footfall, must risk being sucked into a bottomless chasm, but who has no option but to take the next step. A painter could be one who seeks to inhabit that precarious place in which the basic ungroundedness of experience is vividly present to awareness; a point where the flimsy covering stretched across the void gives way underfoot, exposing one to the moment when knowledge of the absolute contingency of one’s existence becomes a matter of certainty. At that point one is apt to experience the failure of words, and a primal sense of abandonment. One’s life appears as a glitch in a vast phantasmagoria of self-generated anonymous processes.
From this vantage point, standing alongside the artist, as it were, with the void at our backs, we could examine the constructed nature of our conceptualizations, sorting them on the basis of usefulness rather than a delusional insistence on one or other of them embodying a transcendent truth. We could deny Philosophy its power to harass the human-in-the-flesh; we could insist on the incommensurability of the finite individual and the transcendent correlates that would bind her to an all-encompassing truth.
We could risk meaninglessness. We could, as a matter of course, refuse proscribed meaning or the fetishisation of the art object as bearer of truth or, worse, holder of exchange value. We could make art, the making of art and the use of art, not a matter of production or consumption of truth, but of sensitivity to the raw data of life; to ‘lived experiences‘:
The text of this science [of man] is thus no longer the cogito and its membra disjecta distributed across the Human Sciences. It is the irreducible kernel one must extract from the cogito in which it is still enveloped and masked. But this extraction cannot be conceived in turn as a philosophical operation, since it is rather an immediate given to which we are here content to ‘sensitize’ ourselves. (Francois Laruelle: From Decision to Heresy, p. 49.)
Sensitization could be a practice, a way of resistance which rejects the confining systematization of thought; a practice in which we can return to that immediate given :
I am a sufficient Solitude, far too short of ‘solipsism’ to have to disabuse myself of it. I am not a cogito, a relation to a Site or to an Other. I am out-(of)-the question: not the question of man, but the ontical or the ontological primacy of the question of man. I do not find my essence in my existence or my questions, I feel my subjective essence before these questions arise. I am the beginning of my life and my thought. (Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy, p. 48.)
Of course, philosophy will insist on its jurisdiction over lived experience, pointing to the way such experience is filtered through the symbolic system as already and always given by that system. But we do not have to take at face value the dichotomy between ‘raw’ experience and “symbolic” representation. We could posit dualities as lying alongside each other, and resist a resolution that would involve a synthesizing move. We could propose axiomatic terms in place of the circular process of a shattered unity that would set up a new unity under the auspices of Philosophy. We could see that raw experience and symbolic representation are certainly related, but on the one plane, as it were, lying alongside each other as terms standing in for, or cloning, the real, and not as terms within a dialectical process — a unity shattered and re-established according to the dictates of philosophical thought
We could make rigorous analysis and a determination to sensitize ourselves to the primacy of the given a collective practice. In this we would be, as individuals, necessarily alone. There are no Gurus of the real and no seeker who would be subject to such an enlightenment. It seems clear that in cultivating this practice it is not a matter of simplistically dispensing with thought, or of making a fetish of a state of no-thought; or of elevating visceral felt meaning to the level of a cognition.
What we describe here are the structures of this ordinary man. Structures that are individual, invisible in the light of Reason and Intelligence. These are not ideal essences, but finite, inalienable (and consequently irrecusable) lived experiences. The individual structures of ordinary man are describable outside of any anthropological prejudice — that is to say outside of all Greek philosophical rationality. (François Laruelle, From Decision to Heresy, p. 49.)
What then does Laruelle mean by the term sensitize, and the statement:
I feel my subjective essence before these questions arises. I am the beginning of my life and my thought.