Towards a Treatise of Speculative Music

Towards a Treatise of Speculative Music[1]
François Laruelle
In Tétralogos: un opéra de philosophies (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2018), p.593-607.

During my thesis defense, one juror, Clémence Ramnoux (a specialist in Greek philosophy including Heraclitus) said this premonitory statement: you wanted to make music with concepts. After forty years of wandering through contemporary authors and objects – I’m always in the contemporary, on the lookout for a philo-musical thought – that strike upon me by the same impossibility: to use a generic art (music), to make it the equivalent to a transcendental thought, and therefore to cross an uncrossable gap on the surface. However, this uncrossable gap was already crossed in the way that I judge unsatisfying by epistemology and aesthetics, not giving philosophy its at once human and universal genuine amplitude. Therefore, not epistemology or aesthetics, but to cross this uncrossable gap through another tripartite disposition of disciplines or topology that I will call in its vertical section “Remin-I-science,” a parody of Platonic Reminiscence, that affects philosophy or intensifies it through its conjugation with a more recent science like quantum physics which would de-worldify Copernican philosophy, and amplify philosophy in its historial meaning by fixing it to three new stages of existence: being-in-the-Earth, our new non-Platonic Cave; then, being-in-the-World divided historially into that of the Evil-World and Just-World, divided into struggle and utopia; and finally, being-for-and-through-the-Universe. Being-for-and-through-the-Universe contains the hinging or turning for both, firstly, from the ascending dialectic to the descending dialectic, the philosophical and musical hinge, that describe the first three books: the Earth and its symbols as Birth, the World as Evil-World and Just-World, and the Universe finally as the last instance; then, the descending dialectic that the fourth book describes still from the Universe towards the three previous stages of human existence. Spiteful minds will say that I make an astrology here basically like Plato and Plotinus.

With the little time to expose the ensemble of this project, “an opera of philosophies” or a “musical philo-fiction,” I will be brief, dense and allusive at risk of an inevitable incomprehension that I apologize immediately for and assume. Elsewhere, I only exposed the heart of this enterprise that combines several sciences, philosophy, and a continuous reference to music. This is what I call Remin-I-science, parodying Plato’s reminiscence.

Therefore, it is a matter of a cycle or a survey of four books that expose an assumed scenic and musical dramatic action whose initial paradox is that it belongs to a uniquely conceptual and language-based discourse and that music, the true or the sonorous, is absent from it. Obviously, you’ll think that I begin to make fun of the world, but I prefer to immediately confess my insufficiency, to face this object much later on. Music, an essential trait of this cycle beside the concept, is absent within its sonorous effectivity even though there were some means to remedy it by appealing to other forms of listening or inner singing, even a more silent imaginary. Besides, the final part of this cycle is called “The Insonorous Beauty,” a way of replacing music with its if not poetic, at least poematic dict. Why music? Even science invoked here remains an object of philosophical discourse and not orchestrated by some equation not more than any instrument. So, this is not a choir of philosophers and physicists, even mystics, for the music that I reclaim is the music of a philosopher’s chorus who sings with a half-voice. At bottom, I ask myself if philosophy does not have the same status as prayer which resolves itself in an entirely inner discourse, void of effectivity – if this is not the act of thought or prayer. Think to Descartes’ Metaphysical Meditations: we must begin with radical doubt as to listening to music in its philosophical tenor, even if it means amplifying this silence as the real though empirical condition of philosophical speech. I console myself by reminding myself of Clémence Ramnoux’s judgment during my thesis defense (“you wanted to make music with concepts”) and another judgment as premonitory though less encouraging (“Laruelle, you lack respect”). Thesis defenses are often great moments of laughter.

This cycle is therefore four books – a philosophical tetralogy, and here are the titles of these books.

The principal or keystone book is Book II, “The Theory of Reminiscience,” a parody or substitute extended to Platonic reminiscence for we are all perverted Platonists, improved by the integration of modern science upon the ancient edifice of philosophy. For my part, I will combine the philosophical memory – the act of transcendence or the transcendental – with one science that philosophy (which is often dualist) divides: on the one hand, genericity as science of experience  (as phenomenology, as Hegel would say), and, on the other hand, the physics that we call “quantum” that overdetermines the generic. They are the supports of philosophy on either side and keep it upright, regardless of its vocation, but what enroots it in a double real (the real of the object of generic experience, and the real in-itself of science). Therefore, it is a tripartite topology that requires a labour of delimitation of the field of exercise of this project, of its field of manoeuvring acquired by a system of exclusions bearing on science and philosophy in general or past and outdated philosophies to draw them from their generality, therefore bearing on this classical doublet of their duality and not bearing on one of them alone. Said otherwise, I seek a new nonclassical distribution of science and philosophy, a conjugation but not to the benefit of science like positivism or not to the benefit of philosophy like idealizing epistemology. To exclude these two inverse models and bring them to a higher use than usual, I use a third term, the contribution of music not without aiming at art also in its generality but music as art which, through its proximity to philosophy and to mathematical and thermodynamic science (and even to the signifier), allows for a synthesis that would be the keystone of a new building organized or “presided” by music, governed by philosophy, and overdetermined by the quantum. This is a new topology called musical philo-fiction, an opera of philosophies, the building that is at once ordered or governed by and for what we see and hear of music. It is therefore an opera show, an opera house whose structure or build is the keystone called “Reminiscience.” The conjugation or coupling of philosophy and science in Philo-Fiction (this time redoubled as nonpositivist fiction) allows us to avoid exclusive or unilateral choices. This is not a quasi-epistemology of music or a scientism of philosophy. Philosophy as much as music inscribes each other and above all inscribe their subjects, humans, in the Universe rather than in the being-in-the-world whose reminiscience takes over and has been the object of an often narrow or restrained philosophy despite its phenomenological extension. We pass through Kant and therefore divide philosophy or the transcendental between, on the one hand, its immediate object where it is invested and legislates on: human or generic experience (rather than Newtonian space and time), and through the real of the quantum or the Universe that overdetermines philosophy in the place of the Kantian “thing in-itself.” The amplitude of traditional or “sufficient” philosophy is the opening of the being-in-the-World. The amplitude of “forced” philosophy by the quantum is being-in-the-Universe. I evidently distinguish between world and universe qua theoretical and scientific conditions, and under this strict condition.

In general, philosophy is developed through dualities and triads: this is its greatest amplitude. Here, the triad is transformed and broadened by new scientific instances (genericity and quantum) that replace the old ones. These auxiliary sciences are, on the one hand, the now-duality of philosophy that is split into the a priori of genericity that structures experience and, therefore, the a priori for experience, and, on the other hand, within the science of the real, in some sort if I compile within the quantum of the “thing in-itself” that overdetermines. Under this form, the quantum overdetermines philosophy itself which is a relatively autonomous act of transcendence towards the destination of the real, and therefore a transcendental act. Then what remains of philosophy if it loses its a priori power towards experience? What remains is its transcendental power as Unity, but unity of what here? The specifically philosophical unity, the transcendental unity, of experience, for which it presents itself as a priori, and finally their synthesis as music and philosophy, as the musical transcendental, music making up the unity of the philosophical and the musical, its power of opening and conditioning of experience though which is, at the same time, a musical conditioning of human experience.

Art or the duality of the generic, here the musical, as the third term, is mixed with philosophical transcendence.

To be quick, I will now only give the thematic content, and not the explanation of these themes, of each of the four books that therefore form a cycle of musical philo-fiction (proven as a work of language by the only discourse, therefore musically understood and approached).

How is all of this organized? One of our starting points is the specific companionship of philosophy and music, for their relationship is readable in two inverted meanings: either the birth of philosophy in the spirit of music (Nietzsche) or the birth of music in the spirit of philosophy (perhaps Socrates). Nietzsche supports the first thesis and benefits by drawing philosophy from the side of music, criticizing the residue of theoreticism within Socrates himself and in philosophy. The double reading of the invert relationships of the genealogy between philosophy and music must not remain a unilateral choice delimited by superlative formulae: philosophy as the most beautiful of music or, inversely and reciprocally, music as the most beautiful of philosophies. Socrates’ choice in favour of the criterion of beauty and the more specific criterion of music must be decomposed, not between equal competitors but between and according to the distinction between the transcendental and the a priori. Music will take the place of the a priori, therefore eliminating the very narrow Nietzschean and aesthetic critique of relative or absolute beauty to the benefit henceforth of genericity which will replace this critique in our topology. As to the quantum real, it will take the place of the forced determination of the philosophical transcendental. Therefore, we have introduced music within the old science/philosophy epistemology, displacing the Socratic construction and completing the genealogical inversions that were possible on the basis of the Socratic statement through a new instance which is, this time, the unity or synthesis of philosophy and music, replacing Socrates’ superlative but utterly vague formulae. The problem is the problem of the real content of this always transcendental synthesis that is now overdetermined by the quantum. The point is to substitute Socrates’ philosophy or its dualities with the real or quantum content of the transcendental or philosophical thus renewed, what I have called Remin-I-science. The I of this science,  which represents both the generic I [Pure Imaginary Unity] and the quantum I, makes all the difference (rather than the A of Différ-A-nce illustrated by Derrida with deconstruction).

This cycle of philo-fiction centered on Reminiscience holds onto Science-Fiction [SF] but excludes it as a unique model, and holds onto isolated Philosophy. This is a generic philo-fiction, obviously not an empirical one, integrating science as a means to dynamize these couplings without making the epistemology of philosophy or music but puts each to the service for the other in their conjugation. Therefore, through this organization, I reject the division of science between philosophy or epistemology and, elsewhere, SF as imaginary. I repeat: this is a musical philo-fiction or a musical philosophy as a fiction, or again philosophical music as fiction, the latter here being an inevitable consequence of the globally “philosophical” constitution of discourse.

This is not a triangle or a triad as classical philosophy up to Foucault has done. Rather, it is the perspective of its apparent or surface disciplinary composition, a quadrangle of two dualities, one through its origin and its theoretical infra-structural role for philosophy and science but now renewed within their concept: the one as genericity-for-experience and the other as the quantum overdetermining philosophy that occupies their milieu as forced; the one as the ideal or empirico-real superstructure taken from philosophy, and the other as quantum. Because there are only three terms for the instances composing this quadrangle, one must be divided – science – between empirico-formal genericity and the quantum physics of the real. The other, philosophy identified with music, is located between this genericity or thought of human experience within the world and its real determination.

Therefore, this is an attempt at the re-organization of these entirely ambiguous concepts within their provenance and their traditionally philosophical use. They are now reduced or shorn of their old sufficiency. This is an attempt of their conciliation, this time, of the non-imaginary order of “theoretical” fiction by science and assumed or conducted by the intervention of music. This reorganization is my true goal within this cycle, even if it is the necessity of making a decisive place for music through its double proximity to science, philosophy and quite simply life in the world. This latter point is my own and entails a remodeling of the ensemble of the philosophical apparatus. Hence the title of the fourth book, the Insonorous Beauty, formerly called in a way that has become a bit stupid, by defect of a science of the Universe, the Music of the Spheres.

What was missing in Socrates was neither philosophy nor its guide (music). It was science as divided in its object as empirico-formal genericity and as real or fundamental. It is neither the principal causality nor its investment within experience, both assured by philosophy. It is the fundamental causality or a divided concept of science between the generic and the quantum, the two buttresses that help philosophy in standing up or re-enforcing its transcendence, both as the a priori invested in the conduct of experience and aspirated or erected as transcendental by the real Universe that prevents it from sinking either into sophistic use or in epistemological use. Thus is explained the necessity of the double meaning of the transcendental orientation in the tradition itself: as an ascending dialectic on the basis of the a priori, from experience towards the Universe, but which must be inverted as a descending dialectic from the Universe towards human experience qua non-empirical. Hence, the two aspects of our enterprise with, in its middle, the hinge, the three first books for the ascending dialectic, or for the first three stages of human existence, and which, at the same time, the cosmological and existential turning that re-turns us or is returned to us as the quantum overdetermination of existence, completing the cycle of this quasi-opera or quasi-drama – human life.

It is philosophy, not as alone but associated with the fundamental, quantum science, and associated with human experience where it is invested, that becomes for a new time the fiction that would already accompany science for the first time. The Socratic passing game or the ball game (Althusser) is therefore very unsettled and amplified. In Socrates, philosophy and music play distinct roles: philosophy is the most beautiful of music, but Socrates does not say that music is the most beautiful of philosophies, remaining the boss [patron] of philosophers who set their floor or level to music, not the boss or the model of musicians because Socrates does not say that music is philosophy’s point of excellence.

We can no longer be content with this simple Socratic inversion to the benefit of philosophy on the basis of music and we must reconsider philosophy’s relations with music such that music will no longer be the only point of comparison or criterion of judgment even if it were the judgment of excellence or the norm. We have developed a more complete dialectic of their relationships by dividing the dialectic as it must be so not to benefit one or the other, but to benefit their synthesis thanks to a less simpler use of the dialectic that is the philosophical movement sundered by science and elevated to the state of philosophical music (hence this title, a treatise of “not only philosophical but also speculative music”).

We introduce the spirit of fiction into philosophy but without it being a philo of SF. Rather, it is the concept of Philo-Fiction that is otherwise synthetic or another combination and so that the philo would already be a perspective of science reducible to fiction. What then is the effective change? Is it a change of the episteme of philosophy as in Foucault, which already presupposes philosophy?

This new coupling is Philo-Fiction redoubled as philosophy and the scientific, without being one or the other, but under the sign of music, which is not either a scientific aesthetics or, on the contrary, philosophical aesthetics. I refuse any epistemology of music.

This critical weaving of judgment and non-scientism is more than a simple parallelism, but a conjugation with equal parts, therefore with an ascending and descending dialectic according to the primacy or departure within philosophy towards its unity with music or then according to the departure within music towards philosophy renewed. It is to seek out the highest point as the synthesis of the two without being philo nor science.

It is the traditional project of the critique of judgment but renewed by music. And there, too, is neither Nietzsche (or the philosophy of music) nor the positivist philosophy of music or the episteme of music.

The point of synthesis is music or art and therefore also humanity, which is traditional because humanity is the true subject of this coupling interpreted wrongly either as philosophical or as scientific, two solutions overwhelmed by music. We must change the subject matter as the principal duality science/philo and conceive the new synthesis as the labour of music-philosophy over and against the domination of each over the other. Music, even more than art in general, is what explains or justifies this synthetic duality of the epistemo-logical that is specially displaced by music and not by art in general, because music also explains or grounds the affinity (of struggle) of philosophy and science and at the same time comes to limit or displace it by refusing the philosophy of science and the science of philosophy, both of which are too short attempts like those of two adversaries too close together by the similar ambition. It is a displacement of this classical couple by another (again?) couple, the couple of philosophy and music. The music-philosophy synthesis if more effective than the synthesis of science and philosophy. We have shown this thanks to music of a new degree within this synthesis whose advantage is to no longer be divided by a duality of disciplines but to be the transcendental summit though quantized and overdetermined as and by the Universe, rather than the World of philo-science or epistemology which Reminiscience succeeds, taking support within the Universe rather than in the scientifico-Newtonian World. It is an excess of the transcendental quantized over epistemology and still worldly philosophy through their objects and not only their styles, and which will remain just a basis for and as the keystone. Hence, the limitation of philosophy between genericity for experience and the quantum for its foundation, the declassing of a certain philosophy as the philosophy of the world in and through its terrestrial attachment. It is the abasement of philosophy and its super-elevation or its superseding [dépassement] more than its intensification and yet otherwise than its deconstruction for differe/ance is too weak and happens in the classical world of philosophy and not yet in the sphere of philosophy as universal and quantum or pushed by the quantum, which has changed not only science but the object of the highest science, no longer the Greek and philosophical cosmos. Therefore, everything has changed: the overdetermined immediate object of philosophy that is the experience of the world as genericity and not being-in-the-world or existence, the quantum overdetermination or the overdetermination in its base of philosophy, and finally the place of philosophy, the place of the central pillar of this cathedral or this point, and also the place of man in the universe as the subjective correlate of the universe.

Therefore, we reshuffle the cards of the tradition and advance a new topology in accordance not with Being but with the universe and generic experience in the world as the correlate of the subject, who has a correlate as the terrain of exercise and is themselves a deductible correlate of the universe, unless we are the base of the transcendental pillar. Is this a new topology of the man-earth relationship? The world-universe relationship is a question for the sciences.

Concerning the traditional relationships between the macro- and the micro-, it is the quantum of or within the human body that is no longer the image of the Universe but the Universe itself. Therefore, it is also the inverse: the human body is the microscopic model of the macrocosm all by also being macroscopic through their generic role.

The human body as lived (in the World and grappling with the World) is the philosophical or transcendental dimension, not in Michel Henry’s radical sense who cut it off from the World, but in the more complex sense of Reminiscience which contains the new relationships of the quantum as the micro- and the generic as the macro-. We make the hypothesis that the Henry’s theory of affectivity is an abstraction of traditional philosophical origin (deriving from the problematic of the soul and body that it modifies but without admitting the beneficial impact of science). Above all, it is valid for birth itself if the child, who is not yet born, is already confronted by the interior world of the mother’s body but without yet breathing having taken the path of direct relation with the World. Birth is an ecstasy of immanence in the World through which the new-born must be associated with the two sides of Reminiscience, the decoherent genericity of experience and the coherent quantum real. For us, it is no more a question of the solution of the body as a radically immanent ego or flesh. It is a hypothesis which is only valid for the presupposed birth and which can only be a retrospective hypothesis about birth insofar as it is apprehended from the World in which the new-born settles down by breathing.

In this situation of birth, the child is able and entitled to breathe. We could say that the air or the oxygen is the transcendental or the equivalent of the philosophical such that we understand it here as that which will circulate in two inverse directions. The child both inhales or rises up (transcendental induction or breathing in…air) and exhales their breath towards the world or experience. This is the transcendent that makes itself transcendental, the Universe that makes itself the generic human, as the deduction and lived comprehension of experience as it makes itself in-the-last-instance as the quantum or the Universe. The human inhales the ascending transcendental dimension and exhales this transcendental as deduction; the ensemble of the two movements of the transcendental in its ambiguity constitutes the most complete act of man who thus realizes their common essence with the Universe when, precisely, they inhale and exhale in a coupled or correlated way like the mediation or entre-deux of the Earth and Sky.

Affectivity (within the site of the World) must be understood beyond the affect that remains within Henry. Affectivity is the seizure of a mixture of admiration that elevates us as inhalation, and respect that bases [abaisse] us to our finitude as an exhalation (generic withdrawal or collapsing). This is the very composition of the super-basing [sur-baissement] in its developed sense. A mixed and composed affectivity, super/based [sur/baissée], therefore lowered [abaisée] and raised [surhaussée] at the same time, which crushes or finitizes us as exhalation and elevates us as inhalation, its unity is the unity of basing which puts us in the inevitable conditions of elevation. Finitude is the condition of an expansion or admiration through which one is elevated. Philosophy has this double structure of complex affect within the subject. It is the oscillation of the soul, the affect of a joyous finitude or a jouissance in finitude. The duality of scientific supports of the transcendental feels like this composed affect that is the super-transcendental or super-philosophical and generic, and whose unity is the unity of a double becoming of contrary meanings. The subject finds within their finitude the source of an exaltation for what finitizes them, but they are components distinct from Kant’s which are psycho-rational, while these components are absolutely philosophical and have no cause in the World. This is the typical affect of birth and joy that succeed finitude if we are capable of identifying it. Neither consent nor assent, it is more than a consent in their own finitude. It is an amplification or a tempered dialectic, an (ir)reversible oscillation of the soul. It seems we need to analyze this affect as both particle and wave, an affect that is therefore physical and is valid for the ending stage of the human epopee or the musical messianity. Messianity as the final stage of existence that retrospects existence is both of the order of the mark that finitizes and the flow that does not aim for the Universe but, rather, is a component of the Universe itself. Our affects have the finitude and isolation of the particles and flowing of the Universe. They are the image of the Universe even in the subject as the image or part of the Universe. We are the permanent exchange of the microcosm and the macrocosm on either side of the transcendental that is therefore in we-humans. We are not only the image of the macroscopic, but its microscopic constitution. This would otherwise be a theological and restrictive vision which would be grounded on the all-apparent comprehension of our situation in the Universe as non-quantum physics can give it. This non-quantum physics is grounded in reality on an extension of the generic role of humans and their effects alone.


[1] Full title of the coda, “Towards a Treatise of Speculative Music (Therefore, Without-Effective-Music but Not Without Ideally Philosophical Musicality)” [Pour un traité de musique spéculative (donc sans-musique effective mais non sans musicalité idéalement philosophique]. – Trans.

translated by Jeremy R. Smith

taken from here

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