by François Laruelle
translated from the French by Jeremy R. Smith
this piece first appeared in Barricade: A Journal of Antifascism and Translation
A materialist politics of meaning1 [sens]
1. There are at least two means of making a politics of meaning. A dominant means, which proceeds by extension from the traditional criteria of social reproduction to its production, which is always by this fact its normalization, its identification to signification which falls back onto it, coding, specifying, and marshalling [canalise] it. And a minoritarian and revolutionary means, which draws, within the production of properly-called power, new criteria to determine the origin and the functions of meaning and to distinguish it from significations, representations, and images. For reasons which will appear later on, these criteria are not those of something like “structure,” which nevertheless would already imply one such distinction, but obviously a false distinction, since the structure would finally bring down meaning onto a duplication of denotation through a wholly provisional passage through connotation.
Everything is tied and transformed together: a new definition of meaning, a new definition of politics, a new definition of the classical operations of hermeneutics. These minoritarian mutations are what we will exhibit. But their statement suffices to suppress the appearance of that which we would voluntarily denounce as an overpoliticization of meaning. We define that which is “political” by the essence of power or by the objet (r),2 without ever proceeding in the inverse manner, and we therefore distinguish it from objects, goals, and the processes of bourgeois and Marxist politics. As for meaning: it is the set of complex relations of powers, the ones with the others, something like their functioning as identical to their formation, such, at least, that we have to determine it under the conditions of the objet (r) and the Class Struggle in its “machinic” concept.
Here is the thesis which concentrates some of the effects of these investigations: only a really minor thought is a really political thought, i.e. anti?political,3 too; only a minoritarian power-to-think [pouvoir-penser] renders the political field co-extensive with its internal limits, those of anti?power. As these limits are transcendental in their own way, without consisting in a subject, minoritarian thought is thus universal by dint of poverty, unavoidable by dint of being stray [sans feu ni lieu], and inalienable by dint of being shorn. There is no radical political evil: even the seventh circle of the hell of fascism, the only one to yet be inhabited, contains a rebellious postulation.
On the one hand, politics is the universal element of philosophy: the whole of Western ontology draws life, being, and movement from it, and one wonders by what aberration, distraction, or lack of thought that some philosophies were distinguished as “political.” However, power is only its universal element, and not only its object, considered in its essence: as anti?power and from the point of view of a rebel thought. Under this condition alone, metaphysics or first philosophy, as a dominant thought, can be defined as onto-theo-politics, i.e. as politics, cast back [revient] into the same: sometimes dualist, sometimes monist (Lord/Slave, Prince/Subject, God/Creature, Master/Rebel, Bourgeois/Proletariat, General Will/Particular Will), i.e. with a dominant and fascistic tendency. As for the definition of metaphysics as “onto-theo-logy,” it still participates in the vanity of its object, an infatuation of logos and the dominance of Being.
All is political [Tout est politique], but rightly there is no “all,” [il n’y a pas de «tout»] because the “Political Continent”4 forbids reconstituting politics into a universal of the first position and minoritarian thought into a political vision of the world. Our categories are with a double entente and make the object of a duplicitous usage: metaphysical or vulgar, it is all one, finally minoritarian, and which must decide alone, or almost alone, the meaning of the onto-theo-political. Thus, one will not see in this usage the undue extension of a concept beyond its restrictive, i.e. dominant, meaning, an extension of borders, all things equal otherwise, in the manner of gauchist mistakes. The invention of the Political Continent, i.e. of a radically fractional universal, is what rightly renders impossible every overpoliticization of the subject and thought. This category liquidates the dominant universals of these times (bourgeois economism, castration of psychoanalysis, and Marxist activism), substituting for them a specific Referential of the production of power, i.e. a plastic system of internal criteria which are confounded with the exposition of syntaxes and the materiality of the Continent. Without any doubt, it is a changing of borders of the category of “politics.” But, on the one hand, its extension or generalization is subordinated to its intensification, to a politico-libidinal usage of this category; and on the other hand, they are not its significations (Marxist, bourgeois, Platonic, Freudian) which are modified or extended, but especially its meaning. These two differences define a revolutionary usage of the old categories as minoritarian and no longer dominant generalities. Thus, we have to take up the category of “onto-theo-politics”: as an invention that the Rebel carries out [met au compte] from the technology specific to anti?powers.
2. Let us distinguish between two extreme types of concepts or, rather, categories, i.e. generalities: the dominant (generic but also specific) generalities, material in their fashion, but such that their determined character is secondary in relation to their empirical extension and their comprehension of the concept and signification; and the minor or fractional generalities which subordinate them to their determination, or, in Marxist terms, the unity of contraries to the contradiction (but here, determined as objet (r)). These two kinds of generalities are both material, i.e. in any way determined and individuated: matter is also co-extensive with generic categories. And they both comport, even the second, an element of ideality, which is thus not confounded with the a priori. It is why it is necessary to abandon the denomination of “ideological” for the first and “materialist” for the second, and to substitute with this qualitative-empirical distinction, which in fact supposes the confusion of the real and thought, a political distinction (dominant/minoritarian) which implies between both the pertinent differences in the degree of efficacy or materiality, in materialist and determinant value, and differences in the mode of existence and the form of ideality which belongs to both.
It is necessary to cease from opposing materiality and ideality. This opposition only has meaning with the confusion of the real order and the thought order. It is only their co-belonging in both kinds of generality which is distributed otherwise. Hence, the relation of transversal causality, and in both meanings, between phenomena that dominant materialism, i.e. Marxist, classes into Infrastructure or Superstructure. The univocity, at once of matter and ideality for all of the degrees of determination or the Productive Force, renders necessary the reversibility of the causality between facts of “infrastructure” and “ideological” facts. “Machinic Materialism” only deals with generalities or individuated or materialized categories which are ideal-material multiplicities; it does not know facts opposed to “ideas.” The whole of its critical labor consists in selecting the minor generalities (anti?powers or F.O.P.5 with theoretical effects) and to destroy the dominant generalities (powers) and, among them, even the specific generalities of the most conscious Marxism on these problems. “Matter,” for example, is also a category: sometimes generic, sometimes specific, sometimes trans-specific, i.e. materialized under conditions at once infra- and supra-specific and forming an ideal-material multiplicity. A category like that of “matter” is not solely “materialist” in the banal and facile sense in which Marxism is so often content with, but susceptible to a usage that is itself material (it is necessary to subordinate the materialist moment to the material moment, or the ontological to the ontic). This material determination of materialist categories considered as process will be opposed to the concept of matter produced by abstraction. It is not because matter is not determined in a sensible quality or an intellectual form which is an undetermined category: as the internal and transcendental determination of ideality = generality = unity of contraries, matter is “without” form or figure; it is a “function” but all the more determined as it is determinant.
3. Then, what is the category in a minor hermeneutics if it does not leave itself to be defined by signification and no longer by the signifier, through a process of signifiance?6 It is a knot of significations and signifiers tied by abstract syntaxes or fractional schema: machinic syntaxes of the Relations of Power. This dispositive of the category is profoundly complex, its unity problematic, so that “Politics” becomes a category or an ambiguous generality like “anti?politics” or “onto-theo-politics.” One would comprehend nothing from this attempt at “political” hermeneutics if one would suppose with common sense that these “terms” are concepts or signifieds: one would confound the statements and the hermeneutical categories, which comprehend each other by a revolutionary enunciation (Class Struggle as the cleaving Resistance of the subject) with discourse, the phrase, the process of signification, with connotation or denotation—all of which we have to eliminate in the following of this labor. They are not concepts, they are categories: they especially have meaning, and not only significations; rather, against which their meaning is produced. Thus, “politics” will designate as well, in the whole of this text, the objective reflection of the overdetermined but statist [statistique] unity of dominant politics and anti?politics under dominant power. A fetishist unity of a duplicity and a unity of simulacra is the category in a “politics” (anti?political . . . ) of meaning, a unity as little imaginary and fictive as possible, the overdetermined product of a condensation, and which holds face to face, or in an absolutely im-mediate body, both power and un?power, meaning, and signification, and even other “contraries” . . . Under the unity of the term “politics” (of meaning), a term with a dominant tendency since it still affirms the primacy of the unity of contraries over their difference, and which functions a little like an abbreviation of the relation of complex forces which is a category, is also an “anti?politics”: each time, it is to interpret by seeking the powers of dissimulated resistance which articulate the dominant powers (significations).
The necessity and implications of this “nodal” syntax of the hermeneutic category should be understood. In this specific and exemplary case (but its exemplarity is rightly an objective appearance to interpret and destroy), the unity of the condensation of opposites under one of two terms, which is always, by definition, the dominant term, signifies that “politics” (in the dominant sense of a dominant politics) is the indestructible guise of anti?politics, that power as the Master never will make room for the anti?power which resists it. Never will signification, the guise of meaning, be levied as enchantment by a philosophical method, i.e. a political practice. The hour of the objet (r) or the revolutionary enunciation will never ring; never will they appear in person to the subject, in a last unveiling and an ultimate truth, for it is still very beautiful to say that truth comes out of the well only halfway . . . The whole problem is of understanding how this “half” responds to a calculation or operation which always comports a remainder.
Since there was never any chance for any pure anti?politics, for any absolute liberation, and even for any possible wager for a deposition of Mastery, it is important to not speak of anti?politics as pure and abstract, like a massive levy of mastery. No empirical reason, however obvious, can exhaust it or suffice to explicate it. No empirical reason can, for example, explicate why some “ideological” discourses of liberation make a vicious circle with repression. The true reasons lie in the quad(r)uplicity of anti?politics: History as unique and split. Anti?power, as a process or correlation of Resistance and Revolution, is the transcendental-material element immanent to dominant power: it is that which renders actively possible, and impossible, in the last instance Mastery itself, for it is Mastery’s determinant cause. Duplicity signifies inseparability without mediation. It is necessary to speak of the objet (r) as an immanent limit of destruction and transvaluation of the dominant forms of the hermeneutic; anti?power cannot be abstracted from power or soar over it, etc., otherwise it would be transcendent and not at all transcendental (inseparable from the empirical). The objet (r) resolves the paradox of a “beyond” of power and explicates why there is a question of an inconceivable antinomy for classical onto-theo-politics, in particular for the anti-Marxist dualism of the moderns. “Anti?power” is like the “death instinct”: a contradiction in terms.
If no external empirical reason can contain this impossibility here, it is because there are only reasons of syntax, this syntax which adds under the same yoke of duplicity, and not of duality, power and unpower, and renders equally impossible, in the same gesture, pure, a priori, and eternal Mastery and pure, a priori, and eternal Rebellion. But how can a syntax alone identify the im-mediate opposites without the help of a mediating generality, under a unity which is only condensation, overdetermined and second? The solution results from the difference of this syntax to the objet (r), in which one will otherwise see that it is necessary to determine it progressively and each time anticipatively. The objet (r) is more than this syntax of difference and the immediate condensation of opposites; it is also the material cause of this syntax which articulates the powers and their beyond, thus the material cause of meaning which is produced, in an immanent manner, in the Field of Power. The political determination of meaning ends when its definition as a Relation of Powers between then is completed by its materialist determination. The two operations are “founded” in the complex unity of the objet (r) and make from it the determination in the last instance, immanent and divided, of the material production of meaning.
The last section of this essay develops the implications of this political and materialist theory of meaning. Meaning as the process of resistance against signification undoubtedly results from an intensification or potentialization of the dominant forms of ideality; but here, intensification does not designate accumulation or capitalist outbidding, the capitalization of significations, or the signifiers of culture, but the destruction of these dominant forms: meaning as the limit of destruction and reproduction, or transvaluation, hermeneutics. Transvaluation is a word from Nietzsche, but it has nothing to do with values in the spiritualist sense; it is a category to interpret: rather, it designates a materialist process, the effective production of new values, i.e. the potentials of the determination of the Relations of Power, here of meaning and signification.
Thus, by minor hermeneutics, we intend the reversion from the onto-theo-politics of meaning to its anti?politics, the invention of a technology of meaning which is finally subordinated, with its products, to fractional agents or processes of resistance: against classical hermeneutics, which was always serving dominant powers (perhaps it was also a mask, a ruse, it was in any way its “positivity”—to produce the technology of meaning specific to minoritarian processes.
- Whilst the typical translation of «sens» can either be “meaning” or “sense,” I have opted for “meaning” for reasons that will become apparent in the note at the end of the translation. As will be seen below in one sentence, I will only note wherever “sense” and “meaning” appear almost interchangeably to clarify.
- The objet (r) is, prima facie, a parody of Lacan’s objet a. Laruelle’s conceptualization of the objet (r) is detailed at length in the original text. In the first section, “Introduction to Political Materialism,” Laruelle writes that the objet (r) is designated as “‘resistance’ and as ‘revolution,’ as a minoritarian power, as anti?power, as un?power” (19). The objet (r) is, furthermore, distinguished from the principle of power, which is “at once the ‘reality’ and ‘theory’ of dominant-fascistic power,” with the objet (r) having its own “reality” and “theory” in the form of the Beyond of the power principle (30).
- The use of the question mark, in place of the hyphen between prefix and the root word so familiar in Laruelle’s later writings, is a Deleuzian residue peculiar to this period of his writing. See Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press 1994), 64. This period of writing, Philosophy I, is noted by Laruelle as an early implementation of the mature themes played out in his later writings though under the authority of the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy. See François Laruelle, Principles of Non-Philosophy, trans. Nicola Rubczak and Anthony Paul Smith (London: Bloomsbury 2013), 33. Taylor Adkins, in a footnote to one of his translations, notes that “Laruelle’s use of the question mark indicates the variable and unstable status of the orientation of what binds the ‘non(-)’ to the ‘philosophical,’ including the different ways in which the ‘non(-)’ is understood depending on the particular philosophy considered.” (Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, trans. Taylor Adkins, Minneapolis: Univocal Press 2013 118n15). Because this period of Laruelle’s thought is under the authority of philosophical sufficiency, one must simultaneously not confound the spontaneous unitary thought of Philosophy I with that of Philosophy II and the other periods’ real critique of philosophical faith and reckon that these immature formations of Laruelle’s thought are consistent, not teleological, and practical with the other periods.
- The Political Continent is another term from Philosophy I–era writings. Althusser once remarked in his interview for L’Unità in 1968, translated as “Philosophy as a Revolutionary Weapon” for New Left Review in 1971, that Marx had discovered the “third continent of scientific knowledge” with History. Laruelle remarks both in this text as well as a previous work, Nietzsche Contre Heidegger (Paris: Payot 1976), that Nietzsche had discovered the continent of Politics. In Nietzsche Contre Heidegger, Laruelle writes: “Under pretext that Nietzsche had still recognized better than Lenin the extension of imperialism and its becoming-fascist, one confounds the critique of this object with the love of this object necessary for its critique, or yet: the Political Continent and its revolutionary margins with fascization co-extensive with this new continent and necessarily discovered with it” (26, my translation). In Beyond, the Political Continent is determined in the last instance by the objet (r), for which both become the components of political materialism. See the following translator’s note at the end of the translation for more details.
- F.O.P. stands for “fractional organs of power.” When concerning the material production of power, power becomes a Body (perhaps without-organs) “only if it is first really produced and not assumed given under the form of a class, institution, or a State” (47). These fractional organs of power are one of the three “forms” the Beyond of the Power Principle takes, and make up the “machinic” aspect that is impossible for classes, institutions, and the State to be able to determine; instead, the F.O.P. determine them in the last instance without a reciprocal or mediating relation.
- The choice of “signifiance” for «signifiance» is directed from Brian Massumi’s decision in his translation of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1987). An alternative to Massumi’s translation would also be Alphonso Lingis’ translation of Emmanuel Levinas’ Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1981) where «signifiance» is rendered as “signifyingness.”