On a superficial reading of non-philosophical texts, it might seem that it is possible to side-step the difficulties of philosophy — its complexity, proliferation, opposing camps, obscurantism, abstraction, specialization — what the ordinary man or woman calls its difficulty. It might seem that non-philosophy is a blow on behalf of this ordinary man against the impenetrable obfuscations of philosophical thought; a battering ram swung at the doors of the philosopher’s bastion — the academy. Well, it is, but not in any ordinary way.
A superficial reading might make you believe that an intuitive stab at non-philosophical thought will get you by. You will come across terms — the Real, the ordinary, the human-in-the-flesh, the minimally transcendent, vision-in-One, determination-in-the-last-instance — which might seem to imply a thought that is more accessible, nearer to the bone, stripped of its philosophical complications. But non-philosophical thought is not a simplified thought, a more accessible thought. It’s not a concession to those untrained in philosophy or a subversive tract as opposed to a philosophical tome, although unless it can function in a subversive way it fails in its purpose.
We could say that non-philosophy has an ancient subversive pedigree, if only as a potential unrealised within radical theory until Laruelle definitively established the idea of unilaterality — that the real of the human gives thought but is not given by it. At base this is a purposefully crude axiomatic materialism in which matter as living flesh enables thought while escaping its appropriating grasp. Crude because it insists on a unilateral determinacy that will not be qualified, in exactly the way Marx disapproved of in the thesis on Feuerbach; axiomatic because it refuses to validate a concept of the real, of the human-in-the-flesh, via the interminable iterations of philosophical decision.
The problem is not in knowing whether there are any immediate givens. The latter are transcendentales, are immanent, and draw from themselves their pertinence. In any case, it is more scientific and less vicious to admit immediate givens of this type, to install oneself in them from the start, than to postulate transcendently, in unitary fashion […]. (François Laruelle, “A Rigorous Science of Man”, p. 71)
Foreclosure is the conceptual corollary of an intuition expressed in the ordinary man’s determined resistance to capture; his resentful stubborn inability to acknowledge that his chains are naturally given; an elevation, as axiomatic first principle, of a common intuition that in one form or another has been around as long as socialised human beings, in obscure form and often subsumed under religion.
In this light we could say that philosophy betrays its aristocratic origin by refusing to countenance the persistent, if naive, belief in an innately free state beyond and in spite of enslavement, since from ancient times such a idea threatened to abolish the Philosopher’s power and status. The philosopher/aristocrat depended, after all, on the labourer for the creation of the surplus that made his class and his profession possible, while providing a foil against which to measure his superiority; or inversely to enable the reduction of the labourers body to something just above the status of dead matter. Against this less than human body the aristocratic/philosopher measured himself, in his capacity for refined feeling and learnedness, as almost more than human. In the spontaneous aristocratic disdain for the flesh we find the mirror image of the labourer’s resistance — the learned aristocrat/philosopher rightly surmised an indelicate reminder of the democratic nature of unilateral dependency; for this reason he must elevate brute instinct to refined feeling; refined feeling to a cognition; cognition to a system of philosophical postulates and from those lofty heights deduce the animality of his labouring chattels, or as good as. By this means he effected in thought the separation of his refined nature from the brutality of the flesh, a separation he had already accomplished in fact by the division of labour arbitrarily structured into the life of human beings by a decree from on high — by way of the statutes and laws laid down by the representative on earth of a power transcendent of the flesh — the king as rightful representative of God. A god who was, by a slight of hand not missed by the labourer, installed in his heaven by that very same aristocrat/philosopher who was also the labourer’s Worldly master. By this doubly transcendent institution the labourer became a workhorse in his masters fields and factories and a footnote to his learned treatises on Law and Philosophy; on the Philosophy of Law and Philosophy as Law. Which is why in his fury the labourer secretly designated the whole class of owners and their theological/philosophical apologists as bloodsuckers preying on the massed body of the people.
Among the oppressed there was a latent commonality of proto-revolutionary thought and practice. It has come down to us concreted in traditions of story telling, religious mythology, in the lyrics of the spoken and sung ballad, in the unbowed rhythms of popular music and dance, and even in the lullabies sung to children, although the ubiquitous processes of globalization are in danger of destroying our connection to traditions of this sort. In the immediacy and expressiveness of the musical voice and in the ecstatic gestalts of dance was expressed the undeniable knowledge of the unilateral givenness of the flesh, its irrecusable grace. In the experience of the commonality of work, the idea of the commonality of the human-in-the-flesh took shape. This unspoken communism and this idea of communism is as old as work; as old as song and dance.
At the height of the English Revolution communism was a rumour whispered between labourers in the field and in the gloom of the pre-industrial workshop; it was celebrated in ballad and enacted in ritual and dance; it materialized in the flesh as ancient figures of nascent collective revolt; it was a thought ruminated upon by peasants and workers already simmering with discontent, already well schooled in struggle. When only the sickle was honed and the hammer of true industry was still a latent possibility, these two classes had already gleaned the truth from brutal circumstance; the earth belonged to the labourer and the fruits thereof. So said the prophets of old.
Every tradesman shall fetch materials, as leather, wool, flax, corn and the like, from the public store-houses, to work upon without buying and selling; and when particular works are made, as cloth, shoes, hats and the like, the tradesmen shall bring these particular works to particular shops, as it is now in practice, without buying and selling. And every family as they want such things as they cannot make, they shall go to these shops and fetch without money, even as now they fetch with money, as hereafter is shewed how in order. (Gerrard Winstanley, “The Law of Freedom in a Platform”, 1652)
This law of freedom was propagated on the back of a new invention — the printing press. The new prophet was most likely the local printer; by dint of his work the politico/heretical tract had come of age. These tracts were passed from hand to hand and read by those who could read to those who could not. They were the poor mans answer to the leather bound tomes of his civil and religious masters.The tracts outrageous message was that masters should be made a thing of the past; that all distinctions should be levelled and a new ground of commonality established without distinction of birth, learning, or trade. There was nothing primitive about this great idea or the means by which it could be put into practice. And certainly nothing utopian; it was not a question of the establishment of heaven on earth at a date in the remote future but the establishment of the law of freedom in the here and now. None among the oppressed needed to be persuaded of this, only of the possibility of its implementation. The root of oppression had been discovered not by learned men but by those who suffered under it.
I am assured that if it be rightly searched into, the inward bondages of the minde, as covetousness, pride, hypocrisie, envy, sorrow, fears, desperation, and madness are all occasioned by the outward bondage that one sort of people lay upon another. (Winstanley, ibid.)
Such a thought is the generic of all radical thought, heresy only to the aristocrat and the theologian/philosopher. It arose out of the transparent commonality of the experience of the oppressed; an immanent thought of the unilateral determination of the flesh as that which gave life in the form of an ungiven-givenness. The persistence of this age old rumour about the primacy of the flesh was a corollary of the stubborn persistence of the labourer’s actual flesh in the face of a brutalising social system; it expressed his resilience in the face of relentless oppression; his sense that his own resilience was the natural expression of the condition all of the myriad life-forms he observed around him in his everyday interaction with other human beings and with animals and plants.
We can, hence, conclude in Foucauldian vein, that the Resistance against the Norm/ativity consists in resisting Disintegration. Resistance is about persisting as integral, as one, as the same. In other words, resistance is about survival. Survival or self-preservation is the origin of resistance and of critique, paradoxically, the revolutionary potential is provided by that fundamentally conservative stance of self-preservation. Persistence as (corporeal) unity is to be understood as the determination in the last instance of (the subject’s) resistance. That which survives the change incessantly imposed by the Order of Power, which perseveres, which persists — resists. (Katerina Kolozova, “The Lived Revolution”, p. 44, her emphasis)
Laruelle’s idea of the foreclosure of the human-in-the-flesh to capture by philosophical/ideological thought, conservative, revolutionary or otherwise, just is the great idea in its modern form; an idea spontaneously present to ordinary human experience as the truth of our imperviousness to reduction to a philosophically determined essence. This is a humanism in-the-last-instance without being a humanist ontology, since the human-in-the-flesh precedes any idea of the human as flesh. It is freedom as axiomatic first name, a determination that cannot be elevated as transcendence truth and subsequently deflected back onto the flesh as a form of philosophical, political, social, moral, or ethical harassment. Laruelle has retrieved the crux of the great idea for our use; his idea of unilaterality, arrived at by means of a sustained process of abstraction, makes him a leveller of the moderns, of the philosophical treatises of the moderns, of the machinery of oppression of the moderns and of the State as we know it.
We are, according to non-philosophy, a priori, the One, the Real — but as soon as we represent the One, even in its minimally transcendent form (shorn of philosophical transcendence), we involve ourselves in proliferation (thinking) and all that implies — abstraction, complexity — everything that the division of labour of thought (specialization) tries to overcome by parcelling out elements of the task of thinking among specialists — the academic practice of philosophy. Non-philosophical practice happens within this philosophical system of specializations and within the actual structures of the academy, for the most part, not outside it. The ‘outside’ posited by non-philosophy as the ‘Real’ is a state or condition prior to all thought of that state — but that prior state of the ‘Real’ is not spontaneously ‘reflected’ in thought. Mind, awareness, is not the passive mirroring of the Real, over and against philosophical thought as a labour of thought that tries to capture the Real. Non-philosophy is neither of these, and yet it does require the accumulated knowledge of philosophy to function, since it is a performative practice on the material of philosophy.
Non-Philosophy talks of the human of flesh and blood. But this human of flesh and blood is not exactly the human reduced to its historically determined immediacy — to you and me as flesh and blood persons in the particular social, physical and psychological state in which we find ourselves. Non-Philosophy does not directly address this person. It posits the a priori ‘real of the human’ foreclosed to thought and only referenced by non-philosophy as an axiomatic first name. In other words the non-philosophical human of flesh and blood feels no pain and doesn’t bleed, in fact it is without any qualities at all in relation to the appropriating philosophical gaze.
This is because non-philosophy has nothing whatsoever to say about the human as real. Non-philosophy is a work on the material of philosophy. It shows the purely decisional nature of the philosophic appropriation of the human real as this or that philosophically determined being. It frees the human that does feel pain and does bleed from the hegemonic denigration of philosophical capture, and establishes the human in the flesh as a determination in the last instance.
The human posited by non-philosophy is a thought pushed to a state of severe abstraction — a generic thought of the Real, and not a thought of the generic real. Such a thought (the generic real) is an impossibility, and is in fact the thought of the philosophical real as Being. As Laruelle uses the term, being denotes philosophy’s hallucination of the human — its use of the “raw material” of sociology, anthropology and psychology, in its project of capture. This hallucinated being is an admixture of the immanent in the form of the qualities identified by the human sciences as typically human (biological, social, psychological, etc.) and the synthesizing unity bestowed on these categories by philosophy as transcendent arbitrator of the Real. This is what it is to be human. So says Philosophy.
Laruelle arrives at the thought of human-in-the-flesh by way of a rigorous philosophical abstraction exclusive in its means (exclusive, for the most part, to the academy, or at least to the academic) and democratic in its outcome — a levelling of the ontological ‘value’ of forms of thought in relation to to each other against the horizon of the Real. From the Real, non-philosophy speaks of the Real as a thought-in-the-last-instance, a thought drained of the excess of transcendence. It rigorously abstracts to put an end to abstraction; to put an end to endless iterations of the human imposed on the living by Philosophy; non-philosophy levels at the root.
What we describe here are the structures of the ordinary man. Structures that are individual, invisible in the light of reason or intelligence. These are not ideal essences, but finite, inalienable (and consequently irrecusable) lived experiences. (François Laruelle, “From Decision to Heresy”, back cover.)
The upshot is that non-philosophical thought pushes beyond philosophical thought to a more rigorously abstract thought to arrive at a minimally transcendent thought, or a Vision-in-One of the Real. There is no escape from the rigors of philosophical thought, only from its presumptions to wholly capture the Real.
Strangely, perhaps, the very simplicity and directness of this mode of thinking which is ultimately for us here in the world necessitates stringent conceptual labours. At any rate by emphasizing at the start the unavoidably of technical and conceptual sophistication for elaborating non-philosophy’s relation to ordinary experience, we will avoid any possible equation of the real human ordinary with a vulgarism or an anti-philosophy. (Rocco Gangle, “Laruelle and Ordinary Live”, p. 62, my emphasis)
A technically and conceptually sophisticated text does indeed follow this quote, emphasizing the abstract nature of the non-philosophical project in the way the term ordinary life ends up referring not to our ordinary life but to the examination of two philosophical texts — Husserl’s “Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology” and Ryle’s “The Concept of the Mind”. You will need a solid grounding in contemporary philosophy, if not specialist training in phenomenology and linguistics, to understand these texts, which reference ordinary life only obliquely.
Here’s an example of the difficulty we face, from Laruelle’s preface to the “Dictionary of Non-Philosophy”:
Non-philosophy’s vocabulary is mainly that of philosophy, but each term is constantly reworked in its sense, in its figure and sometimes in its signifier. This language is taken from anywhere in the tradition […]. Non-philosophy is not bound up to a particular tradition, for it is a theory and a pragmatics of every philosophy, whether actual or possible, past or to come. Hence the effect of overdetermination, a wide variety of languages required and a fluidity of “language games” […]. (François Laruelle, “Dictionary of Non-Philosophy”, p. 20, my emphasis)
Are we, then, necessarily beholden to the Philosopher and to the Academy? The answer seems to be yes, but this needs to be supplemented by the famous declaration:
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it. (Karl Marx, XIth Thesis on Feuerbach).
or as Winstanley put it long before Marx.
[…] Yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in me that words and writings were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing. (Winstanley, ibid.)
Thought is a form of warfare waged by the oppressor against the oppressed; it is also a shield against such attack. When, finally, it is a matter of the oppressed going over to the attack, in thought as much as in the flesh, it is always a matter of thinking and speaking some form of the great idea; of thinking and speaking the most subversive idea, the idea most feared by the ruling class — the earth belongs to the labourer and the fruits thereof! This is most true of the spontaneous forms of thought (what might be called local or indigenous thought) arising out of particular concentrations of social humanity, for example, the concentration of workers in large factory spaces. Here the form of the great idea concerns the price of labour and working conditions, and an underlying discontent with the lack of power the labourer has over his own life, over his very body, its uses and its future.This concern is not a matter of the passive contemplation of the world as object, but a question prompted by the necessity of defending the food in one’s mouth. It is a practical question in which thought and practice are experienced as an immersion in life in which a continuum of events follow one another is succession — thoughts, perceptions, abstractions, plans, fears, hopes, dreams, calculations, actions; what Marx called, sensuous human activity, practice, in an effort to distinguish it from purely Philosophical thought. (cv. thesis I, ibid.).
The academy’s historical colonization of the thought of the culture of the factory space is as real as its colonization of the cultures and geographical spaces of Africa, the Americas or Asia.
This priestly caste, as it founds the church of modernity, is instantly and integrally involved in founding a broader colonial division of labour. These new priests conjure up the traditional/modern divide by the use of history — differentiating old and new European Western societies — and by the use of anthropology (later, sociology too), by differentiating the colonized from the colonized. The living knowledge traditions of the colonized are pronounced dead on arrival in the present. And their cosmologies, philosophies, social practices — are entombed into opaque “cultures” the contents of which can only be clearly illuminated by the keepers of the flame. (Robbie Shilliam, “Living Knowledge Traditions and the Priestly Caste of the Western Academy”)
This is exactly the subjugation Laruelle has in his sights (he calls it denigration) when he describes how non-philosophy opposes “the ordinary man” as first name :
[…] [T]o the philosophical android or anthropoid–that is to say the homo ex machina, a part of the philosophical machine, of Being, of Desire, of the State, of Language, etc. Man, in his real essence, is not visible within the horizon of these presuppositions […]. (Francois Laruelle, “A Rigorous Science of Man”, p.44)
Its worth quoting Shilliam at length to get a flavour of how the academy goes about its work of intellectual appropriation and subjugation:
But the priestly caste prefers to fuels its flame by utilizing an epistemic division between knowledge production and knowledge cultivation. […] Using the Latin roots of these words, we could say that to produce knowledge is to lengthen, prolong or extend, whereas to cultivate knowledge is to till, to turn matter around and fold back on itself so as to encourage growth. Knowledge production is less a creative endeavour and more a process of accumulation and imperial extension disguised as “knowledge for knowledge’s sake”. […] In this colonial division of knowledge, the priestly caste, as knowers, allow themselves to cultivate their own living traditions and extend them productively into the future. Hence, as the knowers, they gift themselves the privilege of being cultivators (to themselves) and producers (for all others), just as they are also traditional and modern. The priestly caste projects its knowledge tradition across historical and spatial trajectories away from a European genus in the form of a straight line. Recipients are not considered co-creative or self-determining in this intellectual process. They must merely receive and consume produced ideas, and extend them. The colonized and their descendants, as the known, must always be catching up with someone else’s production line. (Robbie Shilliam, ibid.)
The academy’s project of colonisation traverses time as well as geographical space. One such colonisation is the conquest of earlier liberative moments by means of a crude historicism. The designation primitive communism is an example of a process of reduction in which a complex human moment, a moment-in-the-flesh, becomes nothing more than a precursor for a social project only later realised in its full potential as an aspect of modernism. The derisive use of the term Utopian socialism is another such attempt at appropriation, in which the future in its specificity becomes an already determined outcome available only as the philosopher’s oracular pronouncement, while all other thought about the collective future is dismissed as unscientific “folk” imaginings. This amounts to a colonisation in which the philosopher expropriates the commons as it is laid out across time, and uses the resulting thought as material for the capture of the past and future of the oppressed so as to precipitate outcomes according to the Philosopher’s dictates.
Are we, then, unavoidably in thrall to a division of intellectual and physical labour imposed on us by the mode of social relations of capitalism, a mode of relations conditioned on economic structures of exclusion, ownership and power — the state as guarantor of existing relations? We are certainly in the presence of a paradox. Non-philosophy’s project to arrive at the thought of the Human Real as inalienable must proceed by way of a torturous abstraction of thought that, in its exclusivity, rests upon a division of labour — the academy — and its products — the material of philosophy — whose primary function is to replicate oppressive social relations of ownership, power, and inequality.
What is to be done? Well, we can start, as Laruelle insists we must, by establishing ourselves in the givens of the human as finite lived essence foreclosed to capture by philosophizing thought. As always it is a matter of thinking and of producing texts in order to establish the possibilities of change, although our attitude to the text must differentiate between the philosophical tome, and the text as weapon and tool. This is thought integrated into life rather than a procedure that dispenses thought from on high in a spurious “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” academic exercise that ends up being a form of irrelevant scholasticism.
So in this phase there are still books, to be sure, but they are only there to host the corrosive action of TEXTUAL VIRUSES. The textual virus exposes the principle of incompleteness, the basic deficiency underlying the published object. It lodges itself in the most explicit notices, the plainest practical information – address, contact, etc. – with a view to precipitating the community that it lacks, the still virtual community of its genuine readers. It thus places the reader in a position where his/her withdrawal is no longer tenable, or in any case can no longer be neutral. (Tiqqun,”Introductory Letter”)
How do we precipitate such a community?
Shilliam has a practical suggestion:
[…] [Y]ou would need to commit apostasy, disavow the colonial episteme, extinguish the flame of modern revelation, shake free the thin line of the white West’s (co-opted) prophets and (even if just occasionally) stand at the crossroads rather than sit in the agora. You would have to find your other community or communities once again, take part in their redemption, and cash in your privilege wisely. You would have to publically affirm that impossible and ungovernable communities exist, as do their living knowledge traditions, and that the problematique of representation is a deferral strategy for a democratization of dialogue with these communities. If you did this – if we did this as a critical mass – it would precipitate the end of the Western Academy. Our job specs would change, perhaps for the better. (Robbie Shilliam, ibid.)
That would be a good start indeed!
Rocco Gangle, “Laruelle and ordinary life” in “Laruelle and non-philosophy”, 60-79, ed. by John Mullarkey and Anthony Paul Smith, 2012.
Katerina Kolozova, “The Lived Revolution“, p. 44, 2010
François Laruelle, “A Rigorous Science of Man” in “From Decision to Heresy”, 33-73, 2012.
François Laruelle, “Dictionary of Non-Philosophy”, 2013.
Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”, 1888.
Robbie Shilliam, “Living Knowledge Traditions and the Priestly Caste“, web, 2013, retrieved 5/2/2014
Tiqqun, “Introductory Letter” in “Theory of Bloom”, 2012.
Gerrard Winstanley, “The Law of Freedom in a Platform“,web, 1652, retrieved 2/3/2015.