Reviewed by Anthony Paul Smith, La Salle University "No philosopher has ever expended so much talent, energy and knowledge in celebrating the void purified of all things, except perhaps Socrates -- does [Badiou] not deserve an Aristophanes? Undertaking a philosophical project in the genre of polemic is always dangerous. Amongst contemporary French philosophers, Alain Badiou is a master polemicist. Most of his targets, however, have not been philosophers of talent equal to his own, and so he has rarely risked as much as Laruelle does here. The text begins with a short preface followed by an introduction that together lay out a summary of the text that follows and clearly delineate its purpose.
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Reviewed by Anthony Paul Smith, La Salle University "No philosopher has ever expended so much talent, energy and knowledge in celebrating the void purified of all things, except perhaps Socrates -- does [Badiou] not deserve an Aristophanes? Undertaking a philosophical project in the genre of polemic is always dangerous.
Amongst contemporary French philosophers, Alain Badiou is a master polemicist. Most of his targets, however, have not been philosophers of talent equal to his own, and so he has rarely risked as much as Laruelle does here. The text begins with a short preface followed by an introduction that together lay out a summary of the text that follows and clearly delineate its purpose.
From here the book takes a break in its polemic to step back and present the parallels and differences between Laruelle and Badiou in "A Brief Synoptic Parallel".
In short, there is a certain similarity between their ideas concerning the relationship of philosophy and other disciplines or forms of knowledge. This surface similarity can be summarized as the claim that philosophy is not sufficient in itself to do its work, but always requires some extra-philosophical material for its own function.
Laruelle then undertakes a more careful examination of those differences in order to spell out where his own project differs and does so, in his view, for the better. Certain key parallels and differences are then expanded in the chapters that follow. From this very programmatic chapter he then moves to two chapters that make up the primary polemic of the book.
Here the target is Badiou the Philosopher. As a polemicist Laruelle is entertaining, often times using self-deprecation as a weapon, such as when he writes, "we need only consider Badiou in himself to see that he is a technically irreproachable philosopher, and an intelligence in excess of us in every way" xxxix.
If the risk of a polemic is that the polemicist falls flat in his own writing, Laruelle quite deftly does not try to meet Badiou punch for punch. He refuses, as he says, to make this book a dialogue because the master will always win. For Laruelle, philosophy must be "mutated" by its engagement with another discipline, and he has set up, in other texts, the theoretical framework for what that change -- in terms of the division of labor between philosophy and extra-philosophical domains -- would look like.
The four truth-conditions, or privileged domains, that philosophy must interact with are science mathematics , politics communism, namely in its Maoist variant for much of his work , love which has as its science psychoanalysis , and art here Badiou has vacillated between poetry and film as the vanguard of the truth in art.
Laruelle gently mocks the notion that there are four -- just these four -- truth-conditions, and he points out he is not the first or only one to do so.
In short, philosophy appears as a helicopter parent, always speaking for the ignorant child who does not know what is good for it and never will. Moving out of this polemic Laruelle turns again to the comparative task for the next two chapters.
In "Matrices and Principles" he develops the differences in what could be called meta-philosophy for the two thinkers. This chapter, along with a later one entitled "Ontology and Materiality", present a summary of non-philosophy and explain its general shape and style as it currently stands.
In short, what Laruelle means by non-philosophy or non-standard philosophy is the generalization of philosophy much in the same way that non-Euclidean geometry generalized the Euclidean model. By locating the possible plural nature of philosophy as such -- in the same way, once again, that we have more than one model for geometry operating without any contradiction or negation at work between these models -- Laruelle is able to treat philosophy as just another material thing with the potential to be used by human beings.
In part this casting of philosophy as material is what Laruelle means by "disempowering" what is also translated by Mackay as depotentializing and elsewhere, in relation to ecological concerns, the "degrowth of" philosophy.
More precisely, the disempowerment is a disempowerment of the self-image philosophy so often projects of itself. Once this disempowerment is carried out, then philosophy may be combined with other domains or disciplines in order to experiment and potentially create new responses to problems. While Laruelle has developed his project over a number of decades, he has always attempted to engage with new material in order to challenge and deepen the project. In its current iteration he has attempted to "conjugate" philosophy with quantum physics.
Since engagement with quantum physics by those who are not physicists is too often the purview of philosophical crackpots, this move may make the reader incredulous and is likely to make others uncomfortable at the very least. Laruelle does not try to form any kind of empirical claims in his engagement with quantum physics, and he does not make the claim that the field of quantum physics needs philosophy to make sense of itself.
The book ends with "Philo-fiction," where Laruelle continues his presentation of his own project and gives us his own manifesto for an inventive philosophy that comes together with other disciplines in a less authoritarian and more democratic fashion.
But what we also see in this final chapter is the scope of non-philosophy, a scope that moves from what we would normally refer to as meta-philosophy, to epistemology, then to philosophy of religion, and finally to ethics and political philosophy. The scope then, for Laruelle, merely exists because each of these domains is another bit of material that can be used. So non-philosophy too has a politics and ethics, though Laruelle demands that any theoretical engagement in these areas cease using the victim, and the human being in general, as a philosophical weapon that allows philosophers to advance on opponents in debates.
This is really the desire that Laruelle has for his project: that it may take discourses that so often play their role in subjugating human beings and, through a focused disempowerment of those discourses, transform them into something that may be used by those same human beings.
Anti-Badiou: The Introduction of Maoism Into Philosophy