1) 1) A non-phenomenological conception of being-nothing.
2 2) A contestation with regards the characterization of ‘non-philosophy’.
Provisionally, Brassier seeks to demystify Laruelle’s extensive work by distancing it from deconstruction and obscurantism. With regards to the former, Laruelle pairs the Heideggerean/Derridean characterization of metaphysics as ontotheology into a more nebulous network which defines philosophy as ‘decision’, and The One within a series of names to determine and suspend philosophy. As for accusations of obscurantism, Brassier recognizes how easily Laruelle’s work lends itself to be interpreted as a messy and extravagant hodgepodge of the worst aspect of Derrida and Deleuze: the former’s sterile preoccupation with declaring itself outside metaphysics and the latter’s constructivist pomposity with respect to his excesses in language.
But even if Brassier reckons that Derrida and Deleuze remain pivotal in order to understand Laruelle’s work, insofar as the latter begins its conceptual deployment from a negation of philosophy, there is a distinctive philosophical import in his work. Specifically, in spite of his prescription to renounce philosophical ‘decision’, he proposes to find ‘equilibrium’ between (transcendental) critique and (metaphysical) construction. This is envisaged in Laruelle’s work in the prospect of a philosophical interpretation of non-philosophy. And Brassier’s philosophical interpretation will consist in denying that Laruelle achieves a suspension of non-philosophy, but rather “uncovered a non-dialectical logic of philosophical negation: viz., unilateralization.” [Pg: 120]
Brassier indicates six texts as providing the source for his reading of Laruelle, which we here list for the interested: The Philosophies of Difference (1986), Philosophy and Non-Philosophy (1989a), ‘The Transcendental Method’ (1989b), The Principles of Non-Philosophy (1996), Introduction to Non-Marxism (2000a), and ‘What Can Non-Philosophy Do?’ (2003).
5.2 The essence of philosophy
Non-philosophy is not anti-philosophy; it operates as an independent locus of theoretical production which studies philosophy as its own matter. For this, non-philosophy theorizes philosophical operations and opens unforeseen possibilities within it. For this, non-philosophy demands a suspension from the spontaneous deliverance to traditional problems, questions, methods and terminology implied by the philosophical practice; in order to open a domain inaccessible/irreducible to philosophical thought or, as he calls it, ‘decision’.
So non-philosophy is emphasized in its potentially emancipatory aspect, and opposed to philosophical repetition. Brassier’s own contention is that Laruelle conflates his criticism of certain kinds of philosophy as being a characterization of philosophy tout court, one which is underwritten by his insistence to find a trans-historical constant in philosophy which determines its ‘identity’. This vocation he presumably inherits from Heidegger’s attempts to provide a description of Western philosophy in the form of a historical critique of metaphysics, in which the history of the forgetting of the question of being was articulated.
Brassier describes this general motif, in Heidegger’s own project, as perhaps characterized by how certain interpretation / mode of being finally occludes others: substantial/representational Vorhandenheit (presence-at-hand) occludes pre-theoretical Zuhandenheit (readiness-to-hand) just as metaphysics of presence occludes being’s call in the open. So although Laruelle rejects this Heideggerean Destruktion or Derrida´s appropriation of deconstruction, as characteristic of philosophical ‘decision’, he maintains the notion that an overarching structural characterization of philosophy may be given. And he does this without attempting to provide a discursive thread by engaging the entire history of philosophy, but rather he does so in direct notional exchange with Heideggerean and Derridean thought. Furthermore, Laruelle conflates deconstruction to the ultimate result of the Greek epochal determinations; but unlike Heidegger’s attempt to determine these departing from the question of the Greek ‘essence’ which historically unfolds in its multiple periodizations (traceable in his exhaustive textual exegesis of the history of philosophy which forms his Seinsgeschichte) he simply assigns the latter to the constraints of the primitive philosophical ‘decision’. As should be noted, Brassier underlines that this move simply ‘evades evades the vexed issue of the relation between non-philosophy and its own determinate historical preconditions.” [Pg: 122] We must see, then, what are the specific parameters which constitute, according to Laruelle, the philosophical decision.
Behind every attempt to provide a determination of philosophy as a whole, Brassier diagnoses the necessity to subsume the contingency intrinsic to the historical ruptures in philosophical thought by appeals to some ‘absolute’ underlying its historical variations. In the case of Laruelle, this absolute comes in the way of ‘radical immanence’, and a characterization of philosophy in conformity to it is properly outside philosophical speculation. Indeed, we can propose here that Laruelle seems to merely repeat the typical philosophical gesture of converting a presumed philosophical a priori to the empirical conditions for a determination of philosophy as a whole: just like metaphysics becomes the object of transcendental philosophy’s critique in Kant, and the latter becomes itself integrated into the network of ‘philosophy’ which precludes thinking proper in Heidegger. But Brassier contends that we can relegate the attempts to determine the essence of philosophy and rescue from Laruelle’s thought the suspension of a specific philosophical argumentative strategy and set of problems. We can thereby anticipate that the consequences of this suspension can be well taken even if ‘radical immanence’ is itself subject for philosophical critique.
5.3 Philosophical decision as transcendental deduction
For Laruelle, philosophical decision becomes articulated around three terms: immanence, transcendence, and the transcendental. In this triad, immanence occurs twice. First, have the giveness of an immanent empirical datum given through an a priori transcendent factum. Second, we need an immanent transcendence in order to unify the two as enveloping the entirety of ‘experience. It is thus simultaneously the empirical support for the transcendent and the guarantor for the transcendental synthesis of the two. The following diagram straightforwardly presents these relations:
1) An analytic inventory of the a priori - Based on empirical reality/experience in order to seek for their conditions of instantiation. For Kant these were the forms of time and space and the deduction of the categories for the forms of judgment, just as for Heidegger this was the ecstasies of temporal individuation in which Dasein’s temporal specificity was predetermined.
2) Unification of the categorical a-priori in the universal a priori – Effectuating the unification of all different regional a priori conditions to the singular transcendental a priori which articulates experience as a whole. This is the moment of Transcendental Immanence, which in Kant appears in the Transcendental Unity of Apperception. Through this unifying function it is possible to knit the a priori to the entirety of experience, and not merely relatively to some particular region/domain of experience. Laruelle insists in that this commits the philosopher into embracing some form of transcendent entity: like the Husserlian Ego or Kant’s ‘I think’. These compromises the purported absolute unconditioned nature of the transcendental immanence insofar as it remains bonded to a reified transcendent entity.
3) The unifying transcendence which exhibits the immanent co-dependence of the empirical and the a priori in its constitutive relation to experience – Since the immanent unity of the a priori and the empirical in experience conditions the a priori itself, the underlying immanence of the conditioned and conditioned are co-dependent: the unity of possible experience in Kant, or being-in-the-world as ‘care’ in Heidegger. This transcendental synthesis thus finally exhibits the bilateral unity of experience in the structural integrity of empirical and a priori.
Brassier notes the underlying Heideggerean resonance whereby Laruelle reverts the multitude of transcendent a prioris to empirical immanence via the immanence of the primal indivisible synthetic unity, thereby delimiting the intrinsic conditions of transcendental speculation to the limits of experience itself. This thus simultaneously determines the specificity of the empirical according to the a priori, but the former’s (conditioned) deduction folds back to limit the latter’s (condition) real possibility:
“Through deduction, the movement from the metaphysically transcendent categorial manifold to the transcendental unity which makes that a priori manifold possible is turned back towards empirical experience in the form of a transcendental synthesis binding the a priori to the a posteriori, the logical syntax of the ideal to the contingent empirical congruencies of the real. In this way, deduction simultaneously circumscribes the empirical insofar as it is concerned with its a priori condition, and delimits the transcendent by folding the a priori back within the bounds of empirical sense and forbidding metaphysical attempts to loosen it from its moorings as defined according to the limits of possible experience.” [Pg: 125]
Laruelle reckons the decisive import of this ‘bilaterality’ in the synthetic a priori, without thereby ascribing to its reification in pure apperception, detecting in the dyadic poles of mutual presupposition (ideal and real, logos and physis…) a characteristic facet of philosophical decision. It is the force of this de-objectifying, pre-subjective priority of ‘unity-in-difference’ which is the consummating moment of philosophical decision, and which gives the figure of ‘the One’ [Ibid]:
“The telos of the transcendental is fulfilled by deduction and this constitutes the real: not in any empirical or contingent sense, but in the superior or specifically philosophical sense which is that of the concrete synthetic unity of the empirically real and of a priori or ideal possibility.” (Laruelle 1989b: 697)
We can now understand what Laruelle means when he says that decision co-constitutes the real: it is the simultaneous delimitation of the empirical by the a priori and of the latter by the former in the transcendental synthesis which exhibits their mutual implication. This necessarily unified decision is thus isomorphic to the unity of experience, simultaneously de-subjectifying the operation (since it is constrained by the empirical real) as de-objectifying it (since it is constrained by the transcendental conditions of instantiation). It is only in the decision to affirm the opposite poles of the immanent empirical real as possibility with the immanent transcendental conditions within the differentiating unity as the One-of-the-dyad and its circular, doubling structure. Here, the philosopher inscribes his own activity in the ambiguous combinatory of the ontic-empirical and ontological-transcendental. The philosophical decision can thus be described within the abovementioned tripartite structure:
1) Empirical event – The decision always situates itself within the structure to be explained: so the structure of experience synthesized transcendentally/ontologically includes its own positing within the field of empirical facts which obeys to the structure it explains. However, in order to think of itself as empirical event, it also thinks itself as conditioned by structure which opens the possibility. For example in Heidegger, the possibility of fundamental ontology is given within the structure of fundamental ontology itself as a thought from being’s opening.
2) Thought of being as event – Being’s opening is thought as the form of 'the event' under which the decision is situated. It sees itself thus conditioned by being’s evental opening. In Heidegger, however, given by being’s opening givenness as Dasein’s own being-towards-death as preconditioning the care of beings and the actual empirical existence of fundamental ontology qua empirical event in the world.
3) Being of thought as event of being – Finally it is thought itself which is correlate to the event of being, in which the empirical ‘situatedness’ of the decision is thus concomitant to the decision to being’s opening given synthetically as also being of thought. Finally, it is Dasein’s immersion in the world thrown-ahead-of-itself towards its own past in the threefold temporal esctasis which unifies fundamental ontology’s giveness as datum and as factum for the transcendental opening to beings: thought reveals itself both as the mutual implication between conditioning and condition. As a radicalization of Kantian finitude it shows ontic specificity as determining also the metaphysical condition qua the exposure to being in the open from Dasein’s outmost possibility (for death).
In a sense Laruelle credits Heidegger for giving the basic schema for philosophical decision, but simultaneously requires the additional shift to non-philosophy as a suspension of decision altogether. This might seem provisionally again not dissimilar from the later Heidegger’s call for a posture of Gelassenheit, however. One should anticipate that for Laruelle, however, non-philosophical suspension of the decision is rather active, and not the simple negative suspension from philosophy. For this, he proposes to radicalize Heidegger’s thought of Dasein’s (or Ereignis) transcendent non-objectifiable being as not of ontico-ontological transcendence in thought’s delivery to the event of being, but of a radical, non-ontological, unobjectifiable immanence. Brassier credits this move to Michel Henry’s phenomenological critique of Heidegger, allowing the delimitation of philosophy tout court as involving the necessity of transcendence. This way the tripartite structure of decision is made to supervene on unobjectifiable immanence which for Laruelle is kernel of ‘the real’.
5.4 Naming the real
Laruelle identifies radical immanence with man, in spite of all his precautions, as that which remains forever foreclosed to philosophy. He thereby subscribes to the essence of man in the One as nothing-but-subject or absolute-as-subject as finitude [Laruelle 1985: 15]. This reveals his adherence to post-Kantian delimitation of man as finite and the Heideggerean radicalization ‘pathos of finitude’, assigning the One unilaterally on the side of the subject and not of the object (not to mention this rather obscure reference to the term ‘essence’ which would seem to fall precisely within the motifs of philosophical decision).
According to Brassier, this betrays Laruelle’s own axiomatic. For radical immanence is presumably not given within the decisional synthesis, but outside of it as a non-constituted real, which should lie outside the event being just as much as outside its transcendent correlate as event of thought. The real is thus axiomatically defined as a presupposition, already constituted, given prior to any operation of transcendental synthesis which would require thought’s positing as the sway of beings in the open. Brassier then offers six definitions adapted from Laruelle’s Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, which we cite here in full [Pg: 128]:
“1) The real is the phenomenon-in-itself, the phenomenon as already given or given-without-givenness, rather than constituted as given via the transcendental synthesis of empirical and a priori, given and givenness.
2) The real is the phenomenon as already-manifest or manifest-without manifestation, the phenomenon-without-phenomenality, rather than the phenomenon which is posited and presupposed as manifest in accordance with the transcendental synthesis of manifest and manifestation.
3) The real is that in and through which we have been already-gripped rather than any originary factum or datum by which we suppose ourselves to be gripped.
4) The real is already-acquired prior to all cognitive or intuitive acquisition, rather than that which is merely posited and presupposed as acquired through the a priori forms of cognition or intuition.
5) The real is already-inherent prior to all the substantialist forcings of inherence, conditioning all those supposedly inherent models of identity, be they analytic, synthetic, or differential.
6) The real is already-undivided rather than the transcendent unity which is posited and presupposed as undivided and deployed in order to effect the transcendental synthesis of the empirical and the metaphysical. (Laruelle 1989a: 41–5)”
We should understand the words ‘already’ and ‘without’ as indexing the axiomatic character of the real qua immanent background as autonomous, necessary and unconditioned. To move away from the circularity of the decision’s trajectory from the empirical to the transcendental and back, one must refuse the necessity of the decisional parameters, and so for thought to have always been outside decision. But Brassier reminds us that this idea of ‘standing outside the circle’ through the invocation of non-conceptual alterity is symptomatic in all post-Critical philosophy: from Heidegger (thinking, not philosophy or metaphysics), to Adorno (thought’s wager against metaphysical instrumental reason), to Levinas (the absolutely Other); all of them share the aspiration by locating some radical non-conceptual transcendence outside philosophy.
However, as we saw in Meillassoux’s critique of correlationism, it is the very assumption that reality must be given as the transcendental synthesis of thought with its object that becomes a naïve and obstinate impediment for realism, which renders the former a perpetual variant of idealism. It is transcendental synthesis as locus for the real’s unity-in-difference which Laruelle seeks to call into question. It thus situates the real outside empirical giveness or transcendental constitution, fixing radical immanence prefiguring axiomatically as the unconditioned ‘real’ which stands outside the circular movement of transcendental synthesis, ‘always already’ outside of it. It places a determined before all thought of conditions of determination, a hard kernel not prone to the circularity of appropriation by the dyad of thought/being and thus immune to determination, immaterial, and so without ontological specification.
“Determination is not an auto-positional act, a Kantian-Critical operation involving the primacy of determination over the determinate […] It is the determinate, the real as matter-without-determination, which effects the determination. If radical immanence has the character of the given, it is not in any specifically empirical sense – as is the case with Bestand [standing reserve]. Rather, it entails the primacy of the given over givenness, of the determined over determination.” (Laruelle 2000a: 45)
This undetermined, undivided real is the precondition for all binding, thereby all decision, subsisting outside all transcendental synthesis, phenomenological notion of givenness or operator for manifestation, finally “…a non synthetic disjunction between the real and its intellection”, since no description subsumes it or gives it to bonding or to ‘being’s’ transcendence. There is room for metaphysical positing of its empirical given, or the latter’s presupposition of its metaphysical condition through the synthesis of condition and conditioned: it is “non auto-positional” or as auto-donation.
5.5 Ventriloquizing Philosophy
For Laruelle, it is not actually Heidegger, but Hegel who provides the blueprint for philosophical auto-positing: its self sufficiency of a cogito bloated to the size of the world, thought as the limit of all philosophy [Laruelle 2004: 30]. The ‘I think’ formalizes the world, positioning everything inside the possibilities of philosophical speculation. Philosophy becomes tantamount to the totalization of auto-affecting thought, while the thought of the identity of this movement of totalization which is the concern of non-philosophy proper, since it is the philosophical essence to be auto-positional.
But Brassier notes that this points to Laruelle’s non-philosophical germ as a negative determination of philosophical decision as such, becoming incapable to capture the immense specificity of themes and formations which transpire within philosophy, due to non-philosophy’s almost pristine generality. So the non-philosophical treatment of philosophical themes seems lacking in detail and cursory in comparison to even orthodox philosophy. Everything seems to support the refining of non-philosophy while philosophy seems relegated to a mere tool dealt with as mere support material. Laruelle has no option but to fix uniformly all philosophical conceptualization to the rubric of the essential decision, to yield a set of all-too formulaic non-philosophical theses. But these appear so uniform that their putative differences are made to disappear and what is drawn from them cannot but appear as limited.
So we are in a position to ask: why try to characterize philosophical essence; where Brassier proposes to acknowledge philosophy in its varied material formations, and it is left for Heidegger and the like to inflate philosophy by way of a purported deployment of its inner-truth in the epochal unfolding of its latent essence. In the end, clinging to this idea of a characterization of philosophy as a whole in its auto-affecting seems to reinstate the very bloated Hegelian gesture by totalizing philosophy as the aspiration to totalize. So Laruelle seems to face the disquieting disjunction between asserting all philosophers are Hegelians or relegate those outside this trajectory (Hume, Churchland…) outside philosophy altogether, in which case description of philosophical decision starts to seem more like a characterization of correlationism than of philosophy tout court. Brassier thus writes: “It then becomes possible to re-interpret the term ‘decision’ in Laruelle’s work as a synonym for transcendental synthesis, or more generally, as a cipher for correlationism. By the same token, Laruelle’s account of decision can be seen to provide us with something like correlationism’s genetic code.” [Pg: 134]. This way one can rewrite Laruelle’s contribution as having provided a framework for a philosophical thought not constraint by intellectual intuition or correlationist doxas, rather than effecting non-philosophy as such. This way Brassier proposes to read Laruelle as making possible to think of realism and an answer to Hegelianism in all its forms, by deploying a non-dialectical logic of negation rather than a sterilization of philosophy as a whole.
5.6 The evacuation of the real
Kant delimits metaphysics making reason depend on sensibility; Laruelle makes philosophical decision and with it the autonomy of ontological transcendence or ‘being’ dependent upon unobjectifiable immanence. Unlike Heidegger, who in Laruelle’s reading identifies Dasein’s finite transcendence (facticity) and ‘mineness’ (Jameinigkeit) as the unobjectifiable determinant of objectification in the immanence of the human which auto-affects, Laruelle’s real supported by radical immanence remains non-ontological. He thereby seeks to exorcise the immanent from all phenomenological residues. In Henry’s own proposal, it is precisely this phenomenological adherence to a separation between pathos and concept in passive auto-affection that he was incapable of proving the necessity for the externalization in intentional consciousness or ekstatic being-in-the-world. Laruelle notices Henry introduces the necessity for conceptual in thought, which is what he strived to defer. Here Henry faces two equally problematic possibilities [Pg: 136]:
1) Conceptual transcendence is external to pathic immanence – In which case the autonomy of transcendence becomes determined by the necessity to repulse away as extraneous conceptuality, rendering the latter both presupposed but unintelligible.
2) Pathic immanence preconditions conceptual thought – Then the disjunction between unobjectifiable pathos and objectifying thought is reversible in a transcendental function, as are the disjunctions between real-ideal, immanence-transcendence.
To avoid the synthetic idealization of immanence he de-phenomenologizes it and renders it operationally in axiomatic abstraction. Thereby radical immanence in the human is devoid of essence, its real identity inconsists and resists all appropriation in the symbol. Mistaking the symbol for the real is the deviation of all idealism in philosophy: immanence in itself as the indivisible and hence absolutely simple. Laruelle is here striking:
“Once it has been rigorously defined rather than given over to the realm of unitary, metaphysical or anthropological generality; once it has been axiomatically determined rather than presupposed through vague theses or statements, what we are calling ‘man’ as identity is so in-consistent, so devoid of essence as to constitute a hole in nothingness itself, not just in being. […] Real identity is impoverished, impoverished to an extent that is unimaginable for philosophy, but it is not impoverished because all alterity has been abstracted from it or because it has been stripped bare through a process of alienation. It is indeed articulated through a symbol, and its effects are in turn articulated through a play of symbols, but to confuse the real with its symbol is precisely the mistake of theoreticist idealism and the root of all philosophical illusion. […] The expression ‘One-in-One’ or ‘vision-in-One’ indicates the absence of any operation that would define the latter; the fact that it is not inscribed within an operational space or more powerful structure; its immanence in itself rather than to anything else; its naked simplicity as never either exceeding or lacking, because it is the only measure required, but one that is never a self-measurement, one that measures nothing so long as there is nothing to measure.” (Laruelle 2003: 175–6)
But for Brassier, identifying the real with the human expressly re-ontologizes it; since this immanence cannot be equated with myself unless I repeat the Heideggerean move of identifying Dasein as ‘in each case mine’. So to privilege the name-of-man over any other nomination effects the equivocation of the real with the symbol and imposes a ‘rigid designator’ to fix in a decisional manner the essence or locus of the real. It is impossible to reconcile the being-human of the real with its inconsistency, since any pre-ontological understanding of the human is to derive back to the Heideggerean hermeneutics of Dasein. Of course, here we should point that Brassier carelessly introduces the term understanding where in all likelihood Laruelle would simply point to the indiscernibility of the immanent, indeterminate real with the human: it is not given to the understanding in any pre-theoretical form as the realm of Zuhandenheit is, for example, given to Dasein’s transcendence; nor does it appear within the constraints of Dasein’s finite transcendence. Nevertheless, to equate the human with the real puts Laruelle in the difficult position of having to explain its ‘un-determination’ as it repels the compulsion of philosophical decision, in such a way that seems to repeat Henry’s irreconcilable partition of pathic immanence and conceptuality, or as Brassier dubs ‘his own pathetic egology’. Worse still, it risks a transcendental individualism where decision is finally a human determination of philosophy as a whole, which reeks all too much of Fichtean solipsism.
Rather, the real needs to be thought of as the being-nothing which Badiou sought. Less than nothing, , the real is the degree-zero of being, without even the minimal consistency generated within ontological presentation for Badiou, which severs the presentation of inconsistency from the consistency of world, and demands the metaontological intervention of thought, reinstating the idealism it sought to ward off. Brassier thus concludes the section with these powerful words:
“The real is not the negation of being, since this would be to re-constitute it in opposition to something, but rather its degree-zero. What is given ‘without-givenness’, or ‘non-auto-decisionally’, suspending the entwinement of givenness and given, neither withdraws from presence nor subtracts itself from presentation; for it is precisely in doing so that it becomes transcendently co-constituted by the relation to its own contrary. Rather, it is immanently given as ‘being-nothing’.” [Pg: 138]