The Stranger as Void, Law, and Multitudo Transcendentalis

he Stranger as Void, Law, and Multitudo Transcendentalis: On the Concept of “Human Multitudes”
François Laruelle
In Théorie des étrangers: science des hommes, démocratie, non-psychanalyse (Paris: Kimé, 1995), p.159-163.[1]

1) A democratic or universal conception of the body as the very dimension of the Stranger can only void the Stranger of their empirical and regional, in general ontic givens. This conception identifies the Stranger as an abstract dimension, but not obtained through abstraction from the empirical. The void, above all the void that is the body, however, has nothing to do (we will say it again) and cannot be confused with a metaphysical and “Eastern” void. It is the specificity of the Stranger to bring the void where they are, to institute the void around them, to invalidate the empirical norms and constraints, to “sterilize” the conditions of social, political, and psychological conditions, even if it means to then retrieve them, but otherwise so. The point is to not say like philosophy that the Stranger inhabits a prior void and that they exceed the void, or even (with rigor) coextensive with the void – the void of margins, dysfunctions, vacuities, and illegalities, etc. – but rather that it is the Stranger, as the non-positional and non-donational body (of) oneself, who instantiates, from the Ego to the World, a no-man’s land.[2] This no-man’s land is not at all a margin, a gap, a differ(a)nce for a peripheral or interstitial minority, but the full and positive void, an abstract dimension which has never been the insistent remainder of a triumphant plenitude.

Therefore, it is not the Stranger who enters by breaking into a centered and closed World; it is the World which is from the outset reduced to the state of simple occasional cause for the givenness of the Stranger. It is not the State or politics which forms a body relevant to a physics or a biology encompassing the Stranger and integrating them with more or less force and success; it is the Stranger who since always has displaced and as unilateralized the State, reduced to “resisting,” from their void. It is not the body which occupies a physical or social void; it is the body which makes their non-autopositional void the measure of all things. The Stranger is index sui – undoubtedly less than the Ego – and the measure of the State as the Stranger is the measure of universal democratic discourse and, thereby even, of political discourse. Rather than a “marginal” conception of the Stranger, what matters is an “occasionalist” conception of Society, the City, and the State. Rather than a sought democracy which exalts the crushed yet resistant Minorities, what matters is a positive democracy which utilizes secondarized Authorities.

2) The Stranger not only brings a void of reality and a void of objects but a void of the Ego on the one hand (a void that is so in-the-last-instance alone), and a void of the political and social object on the other hand, that the Stranger simplifies or dis-auto-positionalizes. This void possesses a specific content without ever ceasing from being void; the void is precisely so for the objectivity, universality and necessity specific to the Stranger – non-autopositional and non-donational. A universal democracy cannot make the Stranger a risk, an exception, or a difference; rather, it must make the Stranger the “norm.” More exactly, since this dimension is equally void of norms like any transcendent object, the Stranger is the very element of the law; the Stranger is not the power or the habit to obey laws, the doublet of the law-of-the-law, but the very body of the law as non-autopositional body (or law), the essence (of) the law of the law, its ultimate identity. Let the Stranger be the identity (of) the law, namely the very law in flesh and bone, the humanity of the law: this statement makes no philosophical or political sense, but it has a scientific pertinence and constitutes the sole solid basis of democracy. There is no (philosophical) law of the law, there is no political metalanguage of the law. Man-as-Stranger brings the law with them. The power of the Stranger is to dissolve the amphibology of the essence of the law and the empirically constituted laws and to comprehend the essence of the law as the essence (of) the law of laws; the Stranger’s power is to distinguish the objectivity of democracy and its political or other objects, the being formal or the being politically indifferent of the law and its conditions of social, economic and political conditions. The Stranger brings with their existence this unilateralizing rift which passes through all of the objects of “political science” and does not let themselves be identified by these objects.

The dimension of the Stranger is particularly rigorous: the Stranger is the emergence and existence of transcendence itself, and nevertheless, the Stranger is a transcendence without secret nor withdrawal, without auto-position nor auto-justification, and consequently without model nor paradigm. The Stranger is the law without being its own cause, the pure form of the law but which does not pose itself. It is impossible to treat the Stranger (if not through a circle) as an idealization of the phenomena of exteriority and marginality, as their “markedness” [remarquage] and emphasis [accentuation] at the limits of the social and political body. It is impossible to subsume the Stranger under the State, to include/exclude them from pre-existent ensembles. The Stranger is not a simple de-limitation of onto-socio-centrism, onto-polito-centrism or ego-xeno-centrism and requisitioned for these ends. If the Stranger is the essence and the transcendental structure of humanity rather than an exception or a case, the Stranger forbids there being a “center,” if not at the subaltern level of their phenomena of existence and their auto-interpretation. The Stranger is the universal democratic element, the identity of the democratic, and cannot give rise to a simple political strategy. There exists the equivalent of a categorial intuition of the Stranger, a non-political and non-ethnological intuition since it is grounded in-the-last-instance within the vision-in-man. This intuition is what uses – in the “non-political” science of humans – idealizations and strategies of integration of exclusion of “Strangers,” these men who just suffer because they are only half-Strangers, still too “national” and too “integrated” otherwise.

3) The specific content of this void can be described a bit more precisely: the Stranger is the multiple by definition. Already within “Intersubjectivity” and political philosophy, the singularity extreme and the multiplicity extreme speak of the Stranger, it’s true, under a still circular or mixed form; yet man does not appear in their radical multiplicity except when they are considered as Stranger and no longer solely as Ego. The Ego alone is the condition of reality or immanence that we must pose, as a first term or even as a hypothesis, to explain and critique the anthropo-logical representations and elaborate knowledges adequate to human essence. The Stranger is but the very existence of man and this existence is de jure multiple: this existence is the real phenomenal content of the old concept multitudo transcendentalis. On the one hand, if the Ego is the Real itself, the Stranger is the transcendental which enroots themselves in the Real, being valid for any social or political phenomenon. On the other hand, this transcendental defines humanity as a de jure multiple. Why? It is for the same reasons that the Ego is said as One, the Stranger is said of Multiple, but neither in the one case nor in the other does a quantitative or quantifiable determination matter; a phenomenal or qualitative determination matters. The transcendental multiplicities are inconsistent, but more radically than the mathematical and set-theoretical concept of the multiple which is content with grounding inconsistency on the simple repression of the set-form [form-ensemble] that it continues to depend on. The pure transcendental concept of the multiple excludes (a priori and without remainder) the “set” as much as the more meta-physical forms of unity. Finally, a third determination, which matters for humans and not things (atoms, parts, elements, etc.): it would be better to speak of multitudes rather than multiplicities. The Stranger is in the state of transcendental multitudes.

With human multitudes, it therefore cannot be a matter of a multiple under “Unity”; it cannot be a matter of the restrictive conception of the multiple which is in fact a degradation of Unity. Further, it cannot be a matter of the philosophical inversion of this hierarchy: to invert the hierarchy One/Multiple to the benefit either of one thesis like Multiple/One, or an affirmation of Multiplicities as what passes between the One and the Multiple, is to not leave things as they are but to still conserve the anti-democratic spirit of hierarchy, primacy or domination – that of philosophy. To invert is to again reflect the conditions of the political existence of the Stranger in the essence of the Stranger and to re-insert human multitudes by force into an authoritarian or pre-existent body, or under a unitary horizon, into an onto-polito-logical teleology. Precisely because their multiplicity is transcendental, but in-the-last-instance seen-in-man and therefore radical, the Stranger excludes their multiplicity from interiorizing empirical rifts (nation/people, nation/race, group/individual, state/civil society, subject/sovereign, proletariat/capitalist, etc.). None of these distinctions can by definition undermine the identity (of-the-last-instance) of multitudes as the formal being of the Stranger or as a way in which humans are “in-bodied” [en-corps].[3] This is to say that humans are not the result of any partition, that their type of multiple is not obtained by division of a prior identity, but that humans qua Strangers de jure exist-(as)-multiple [existent-multiples] in full positivity. Humans do not inhabit too great a space for them and consequently void by excess, but they are immediately, as multiple, this void. Humans refuse to interiorize transcendent models of the multiple (mathematical, physical, ontological, and sociological); they are not multiples by accident or by history, but by radical reality. This state of things means that they condemn to de jure inexistence the political or other forms-of-unity which would claim to be constituent; the forms of binding and synthesis. There is no original social relation in the unitary or reciprocal sense at least, binding separated terms. More exactly, perhaps, the Stranger implies that man exists except as absolutely relational, not as a semi-relation or a semi-term, a relation which is already a semi-unity or semi-unified by its terms, a term which is already a semi-distance. Man is the phenomenal identity of any relation (the unilateral duality) and the phenomenon of the multiple (multitudes). Only in this sense is the multiple absolutely relation and ceases from being semi-relational as the relation is so in the varying philosophical senses of the word. The phenomenon of relation is the unilateral duality rather than bilateral duality. Consequently, the problem of a relation to establish and conserve, of a social bond, indeed a contract to maintain and affirm among individuals assumed as atoms, parts or elements, and eventually of a “communicational” structure made to function to assure the constitution and reproduction of the social body, is a problem with no human theoretical meaning and is but a philosophical “question,” namely a problem proper to the State. If human multitudes are de jure multiple, solitary but not solipsistic, and if they ignore (in their essence at least) the exigency of the social bond, the problem of their original communication is already ruled by their very essence as Strangers. The only “bond” is the Multitude and only existing as non-social (save to redefine the social through this level of reality), and in this science, we will learn to dissociate the amphibologies of the multiple and the forms of unity, of humans and the social body, and of the being-man-as-multitude-of-Strangers and Robinson. There is no Robinsonade of the multiple, no anarchism in these concepts which have a theoretical validity; the Robinsonade of the multitude and anarchism instead have a politico-metaphysical validity. To the contrary, if man exists only in the state of multitude, the undivided reign of the aporias of political philosophy is ended.

[1] Any and all errors and notes are my own. – Trans.

[2] In English in original. – Trans.

[3] Drawing from Scott Davidson’s approach to translating Michel Henry’s bodily language corps-proprié and corpspropriation as “bodily-ownness” in Barbarism (London: Continuum, 2012), I rendered this term not as “embodied” but “in-bodied” to signify something immanent (to) the body rather than as personification or epitomizing a form. – Trans.

translated by Jeremy R. Smith

taken from here

foto: Sylvia John

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