Seizure of Knowledge: Laruelle’s One Indivisibility

In one of his public lectures in United States, Francois Laruelle makes a statement that persuades me to think that his entire non-philosophical efforts seem to arise from this disjuncture. Knowledge is a burden. In his non-philosophical efforts, for him a decisive, speculative break from knowledge, he targets at Badiou. His criticisms range from a) Badiou encloses philosophy with forbidding delimitations. Instead of constructing a system immanent from within philosophy for its disclosedness, as Kant, Badiou subtracts from philosophy in order to purify it to an asphyxiating point. B) Badiou’s generic procedures, for this reason, are corporeal, instead of corpuscules.

Laruelle, therefore, considers himself a non-philosopher. He stands on, as he claims, the superposition of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Before we proceed to disentangle Laruelle’s self-imposed limitation, let’s take a detour to one thinker that had spent most of his life on the order of things.

In The Hermeneutics of the Subject, Foucault asks this question. Why is it in modern times, gnothi seauton (know yourself, the Delphic Oracle) seems to be the prevalent precept for the ultimate key to self? Foucault traces this to the advance of technology. In the information age, the self is dispersed at a lightening speed into its many divided representations. The act of knowing oneself is therefore a retrieval act that recollects self from its myriad dispersions. For Foucault, this retrieval act is not sufficient as a techne for the self. Recollecting one’s dispersed fragments back to self can hardly be counted as a true act of self-constitution. This reassembling act is still within the circuitry of knowledge. It’s a refraction, not a reflection. The problem lies in the schism between knowledge and humanity: a doctor coming down with flu prescribes himself the right medication to be rid of it. But a doctor who suffers from heartbreak cannot avail herself/himself to knowledge. The doctor, in other words, has to step through the stages of existence to reach a point, to an elevated plane of existence, at which s/he’s forever transformed. Here then are knowledge and humanity at their schizophrenic divide. Knowledge accrues knowledge in its circuitous specular movement while existence is a trajected topology marked with points to be physically stepped through. The procedures are in this way not anaphoric, but paradigmatic in its asymmetry.

For this reason, Foucault recites the stoics and reinstates epimelia heautou, the care of self, as the primary techne for the self. One should take good care of oneself before one can enable oneself.

Badiou’s project of purifying philosophy is exactly along this epimelia heautou line of thought. In his vigorous writings, Badiou has reiterated that for philosophy to be again the effective tool for the orientation of thought, it must first purify itself from the anti-philosophers, the naysayers of philosophy, of the analytic and linguistic turns, who have caused philosophy to be mired in calloused circuitry. He terms his philosophy materialist dialectics precisely because he believes there is language and body, the materiality. Except that, there is truth, materiality’s transcendence. If we were to borrow from Foucault, the point of convergence between the body, in its rigorous existence, and knowledge, the description, is the metamorphic event of truth: the forcing that deflects from the particularity of body and knowledge. This evental truth, Badiou stresses emphatically, is always outside of knowledge. It occurs in the generic procedures of the arts, the sciences, politics and love. Thus, in a way similar to Foucault’s different procedures in treating a flu, by knowledge, and the heartbreak, by the generic procedures, in this case of the generic procedure of Love.

To level at Badiou as imposing this enclosing burden of knowledge, as Laruelle does, is akin to blaming the guide who has shown the travelers a never-seen-before sight for monopolizing the knowledge of the route. Or worse, Laruelle seems to blame not only the guide, but also the map drawn up by the guide. The map is so perfectly drawn up it makes any effort at map-making in the future completely futile. It’s not hard to see where Laruelle has been led astray by his own self-limiting configuration: that truth and knowledge are One. The never-seen-before sight is discovered not by the guide’s mastery of local knowledge but by the event of chance presented to the guide in the fidelity to the generic procedure called pursuit of the never-seen-before-sight. For Badiou, truth reifies outside of knowledge in a chance event. The drawn up map is the recollection of the traversed traces leading back to the event, the retracing, for instance, to the site of the first discovery of a certain plant that hints at the projection of a path to the never-seen-before sight. For one who so easily quotes Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Laruelle should perhaps explore further this difference between seen, corporeal in his term, and unseen, corpuscules. The seen are of course particles, the unseen, waves. Now, in Quantum Physics, there’s a minimum of measurement by which what can and cannot be seen that Laruelle should take into consideration: that is the Planck’s constant, the minimum possible measurement of spacetime within 10 to the factors of 35 m. Planck’s length is for now the unshakeable foundation of knowledge for Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. It’s precisely on this length that Badiou intends to purify philosophy from the anti-philosophers, those against mathematics and of the linguistic turns. To state that he, Laruelle, thinks of himself as much of the “corpuscles” is a blatant violation of the law of Quantum Mechanics. One should add as well a blatant misunderstanding of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Because Laruelle can’t be corpuscles, the waves. He is seen, fixed by sight, like any one of us, particles. Also, he can’t be in the position of flux to make an observation. And, here’s the crux of the matter, for the apparatus to measure the position and momentum of entangled particles, Laruelle will have to make use of Planck’s Length measurement, which is the tool, quantum physics, specialized knowledge. One wonders then from what ‘superposition’ he reckons he’ll be standing on to look at philosophy, if not from a specialized knowledge? Granted that as he claims, he stands on the side of humanity, not on any qualified philosophical systems, one still wonders if it isn’t a nattering question of terms he’s arguing at. True that philosophy, unlike psychology, is a humanistic science. Anyone who can ask a question about life or nature is a philosopher. If he refuses to engage philosophy, as most of these great thinkers over centuries have done, he can of course be just like Serres, a troubadour. He would hardly be bothered with any systematic thought, much less writing a whole book against Badiou. One also should remind him that Blanchot, Popper and a whole slew of anti-philosophers have gone where he’s headed. Difference is most of these didn’t enlist quantum physics, which is Badiou’s territory. Which makes it all the more peculiar that he is anti-Badiou. For doesn’t the apparatus they both use, mathematics, allow them to orient at thought unhindered by differences of stance and more importantly shouldn’t he be aware that mathematics can’t be enclosed, lest of course one is inept at it?

Laruelle then can be said to have misunderstood Badiou by confusing logy for onto in ontology. The world of appearances for Badiou is topological, thus it is logical, knowledge-based, calculated by category theory. To dispute with those thinkers who dismiss the unseen or mystify it, Badiou delves into the unseen and claims there is a scientific methodology to access it, because it is of crucial importance for the contours of the topology of appearance. One simple example Badiou gives is this: a book of 365 pages doesn’t start with page one and ends at 365. It starts with zero, for the possibility of the beginning page one, and it continues on to 366 for the stability of the totality of 365. Thus for Badiou, there are worlds, not a world. What appears by necessity is in this sense a multiple and what can’t appear, including those inanimate objects that appear but can’t count themselves, are multiples of multiples. And these multiples of multiples can be accessed by mathematics, the axioms of set theory.

Laruelle’s decisive break from philosophy into something he considers photo-fiction or non-philosophy is perhaps for Badiou an act more in the reactionary hermeneutic mode rather than a suture. For a suture necessitates an event of truth, i.e a migration to a transformed world that eclipses the world as is known previously, as perhaps illustrated by Guth’s theory of inflation, the birthing of a new galaxy out of the bubble of the existing one. A revolution of this magnitude is what Badiou has done for philosophy by breaking from the world of philosophical maligners, of the post modern ilk etc. Laruelle’s non-philosophy, even by its very term, suggests a fold back to philosophy, albeit by its sheer denial, or rather insouciant snub. Laruelle’s decision to break with philosophy is in the binary mode of straddling with a foot inside while dangling the other outside. Better understanding of Badiou’s philosophy would perhaps inform Laruelle that an event takes place by sheer chance and projects a path that is not thrown up for the tribunal of yes or no, but in which a subject is forced with his or her back against the wall. To take a step forward, in the fidelity to the event, courage is required, at this acephalous stage. Denying the event by saying no is reserved for reactionaries. There’s no question of yes, because the name of event can only be affirmed retroactively by each single step. For Badiou, then, there is no decision. The trajectory of a path is opened by an event, which chance brings about on a ground.

Laruelle could, of course, have walked on the path of Bruno Latour or better still that of Michel Serres. Pressed by Harman to complete his Actor Network Theory by instilling in it the thing-in-itself, Latour dismisses it by saying his serial re-description methodology, a term favored by philosophers not by him, is not philosophy, but a tool he uses for his socio-anthropological work. He keeps a coy distance from philosophy. We know of course he flirts with philosophers of Harman ilk, tickled enthusiastically by their interest in his system. Alternatively, Laruelle could have also adopted Michel Serres’ position. Serres refuses to critique philosophy. He writes almost Zen-like books filled with apparatus cobbled from sundry differentiated disciplines. His principle is clear: when trapped in a ship with a porthole looking out to the world, one would scramble for anything to break open the porthole and escape. Neither Serres nor Latour would, therefore, write a book titled, Anti-Badiou. They know, too well, how Badiou would answer to a title like that. In the Rebirth of History, Badiou observes that the demonstrators on Tahrir Square never once shouted, Down with Mubarak. They chanted: Away! Be Gone! They never used terms such as anti-democracy and so on, because such terms only connote folding back to the said regime they vow to break away from.

The irony of it all is that Badiou might find something of a radical spirit in Laruelle’s cri de coeur. Which is the spirit of all true radicals resistant to domination and repression. And the fact that Laruelle is persistent on standing on the superposition of quantum physics might even draw him nearer to Badiou. At least, they are both into mathematics. But Badiou would certainly be confounded to be consigned the role of a traffic-directing Platonic figure. Badiou’s project is very clear: to rebuild the roads of philosophy with clear traffic signs so that they can now be traversed again with ease, unclogged by anti-philosophers that have made traffic impossible. We seriously wonder though where Laruelle is taking his non-philosophy. In a workshop held by a professor steeped in Laruelle’s system, he opens the class by saying something quite ludicrous. He says, Laruelle wouldn’t like it if he saw them discussing philosophy. Thus, he maintains, he calls the session Non-Workshop. It’s non-philosophy all right, when a group of thinkers should worry about from under what label their discussion must be considered rather than the contents of the discussion they’ll be laboring their thought on. Such term as philosophy and non-philosophy is of insignificance because thinking is not a term. It’s constructing a term.

We wonder what is the materiality of Laruelle’s non-philosophy. For by annexing himself to quantum mechanics will qualify neither his distance nor his position in philosophy. Unless one knows how to subtract from quantum physics for the true suture of philosophy. A known physicist, Sean Carroll has warned philosophers of Laruelle ilk that the microcosmic and macrocosmic worlds don’t function in a similar way. The same explanations cannot be applied for both worlds. Thus, there’s the classic physics, Einstein’s relativity where spacetime is still measurable, and quantum physics where spacetime is quirkily one. Badiou is fully aware of this, thus his philosophical system carefully divides the two, Being and Event for ontology (set-theoretical) and Logics of Worlds, (category theory) as the name suggests.

However, for the sake of inquiry, let’s pursue a little the materiality of Laruelle’s non-philosophy. He considers Deleuze’s immanence of univocity as positively absolutizing philosophy, whereas Michel Henri’s is externally, negatively absolutizing it: thus, simplification is the radicality of his immanence. His radical immanence is always postponed and can only be arrived through a superposition of specular dualysis. He claims that his One is not but approximating Parmenedian, but One that is the privileged form from both philosophy and science without being absolutized in either. It’s clear then the mathematical reference, albeit he is never quite specific about it, is along non-standard analysis, as first developed by Abraham Robinson. The key is in the transfer principle. There are two general axioms as posited by non-standard analysis: Axiom of Comprehension and Non-Comprehension. We’ll not discuss Axiom of Non-comprehension because it leads to Russell’s Liar’s Paradox. Laruelle, I suppose, aims at this: Given a set A, there is a set B such that, given any set C, C is a member of B if and only if C is a member of A and P holds for C. This axiom is often referred to as axiom schema. It basically means that every subclass of a set that is defined by a predicate is itself a set. This then is Laruelle’s One Indivisibility. That the predicated is closed off from both ends so that he can shore up to both science and philosophy incompletely and yet solidly anchored on the generic ground. This concept of incompleteness is again borrowed from Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem, which holds that any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. Therefore, the second theorem: for any formal effectively generated theory T including basic arithmetical truths and also certain truths about formal provability, if T incudes a statement of its own consistency then T is inconsistent.

Laruelle’s generic set is founded on Peano’s one-dimension linearity, of the N+1 variety, which suits his non-system. His Vision-In-One as propounded by him is a sort of specular dualysis for which he can utilize, albeit incompletely from and to both philosophy and science. The key is not to be absolutized in either directions, but to remain dissimulated. His criticism of Badiou’s philosophy is that Badiou has subtracted ontology from philosophy and in his attempt to approximate to science submitted it there.

This argument is, to say the least, a flimsy excuse from Laruelle who refuses to look deeply into Badiou’s system. In fact, in Anti-Badiou he openly admits that he’s read only Badiou’s Being and Event and the Manifestos. He claims he’s got writing to do, so why bother spending so much time on another’s writing, etc. Which of course is legitimate, because in his introduction he has set it down clearly that by the nature of incompleteness within the Non-Philosophy, he accepts that he has inevitably to sacrifice the full knowledge of both philosophies and sciences. Even so, one is certainly allowed to do a specular dualysis back to Laruelle and tell him that the reason why Badiou subtracts ontology from philosophy and submits it to mathematics is precisely because the generic set is undecidable. The ZFC, axiom of choice, is used by Badiou for specific reasons: one, so that at the delimit of the generic there’s a functor, Axiom of Choice, for which he can mark the evental site of chance. Two, Paul Cohen’s Forcing Principle is important for Badiou for its transitive function, which allows for the generic to be constructed in the stability of the topology.

While Laruelle claims that the specular doublet of his derivations from both science and philosophy can only be properly deduced from the superposition of radical immanence, one can only surmise that he means by superposition the photographic plate of Maxwell’s famed experiment on which the un-observed photons form the wave-like oscillations. Which is a clever take of quantum mechanics, except of course he disregards completely the ‘undecidability’ of the nature of the photons, by affirming them as only generic materiality in their appearances on the photographic plate. Which leads us to suspect if Laruelle is not leaning dangerously toward naïve theory, the second axiom schema, unrestricted Comprehension, which states that There exists a set B whose members are precisely those objects that satisfy the predicate P, Rusell’s Liar’s Paradox: P(C) to be (C is not in C).

The non-standard motor in Laruelle’s principle is without doubt leaning toward non-standard analysis, whose transfer principle we now know has been improved to include the superstructure approach and Internal Set Theory, mostly used for analysis of the invariants in subspace. In other words, Laruelle’s induction and deduction logics will lead to an algebraic topology.

Like the non-standard analysis, Laruelle’s non-philosophy restricts transcendence to examine the internal variants of the topology of both science and philosophy. While it still lies ahead to see what Laruelle can do with his principle, foremost at this juncture we’d like to pose a specular doublet to the premise of his quest: in what sense can science or philosophy set a delimit? Most of the breakthroughs in mathematical science and philosophy have been gained by funneling through the density of each field. Ken Ono of Emory University has recently discovered a Mod 5 pattern of partition numbers through the works of Ramanujan. Yitang Zhang of University of New Hampshire discovered that twin primes, primes with difference of two, are discoverable within the count of 70 millions, reducible in the future to 16. In philosophy, Catherine Malabou resurrected Derrida’s system by implanting the neuronal plasticity. In a different way, but also in Derrida’s system, Martin Hagglund replaced Derrida’s text with time.

Fractal, weak force, Superposition are terms that Laruelle toss around for his non-philosophy. In each case, he disregards its true function: i.e Mandelbrot’s fractal was discovered, as with Ken Ono’s Mod 5 partition numbers, so as to see a pattern, not circular in its own calloused circuitry per se, but so that an axiom of truth can be constructed. Weak force, as he so often describes his non-philosophy, has W Boson and Z Boson. Their being in the universe is not by isolation, even the non-charge Z Boson, but by the sheer fact of their interactive and transformative functions, decay, that existence comes into being. For instance, a count of the Proton and Neutron charges comes to 1 and 0: Proton, two up quarks, charge +2/3, one down quark, -1/3: total charge 1, Neutron: two down and one up quarks, charge 2/3-1/3-1/3: 0 charge. How’s there a vision in Laruelle’s Vision in the One without accounting for 0? Laruelle’s own specular self-similarity? In which case, there’s no point in dissecting non-philosophy. Neither a construction, nor a topology can be projected, because Laruelle’s non-system is a non-teleological question posed by him for himself, much like a dog chasing his own tail, except that there’s no complete dog, so no tail.

August 2013

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