Can we think an earth and a human such that they would be only what they are—nothing but earth and human — and such that they would be none of the various horizons often harbored under these names, none of the “perspectives” or “views” in view of which we have disfigured humans [les hommes] and driven them to despair? — Jean-Luc Nancy
One despairs of philosophy as anything other than the abasement of humans.
So says Laruelle, responding, tongue in cheek, to the nihilists and their “philosophies of despair”. Laruelle utilises the power of “abasement” to counteract the “surpassing” potential of philosophy. What must be abased is the illusion of philosophy’s self-transcending power which, in declaring the death of god and the transvalutation of values, presumes to capture the essence of the human in “drives” or the “will to power”.
Philosophy always stays within itself even as it claims to transcend the circle of it’s own limits. This is true even of Nietzsche’s thought which, despite it’s passionate wildness, has been corralled, tamed and domesticated under the regime of academia.
Much as any particular number can surpass itself by it’s own power, remaining in number as such (2 by the power of 3 = 8), philosophy seeks to surpass itself by it’s own self-surpassing power, which turns out to be it’s sufficiency.
Confident – in that it continually affirms itself in itself – philosophy fears no annihilation or negation. All negation is, for philosophy, only a doubling back on itself. Like number, philosophy can perform its own surpassing in negative register (-2 by the power…) ; like number, philosophy, in negating this or that philosophical system, never negates itself; like number, philosophy surpasses itself to infinity. Or so it believes.
Woe unto the humans who find themselves folded into this surpassing, transformed from mere lived material into the ideality of the philosophers, inscribed into and proscribed by their transcendent pronouncements; until, that is, philosophy once more transcends itself, hence the never-ending disputes of the philosophers and the never ending re-inscription of the finite lived into the more-than-lived infinities.
“Concretely, this mechanism signifies that the more philosophy critiques itself, the more it affirms itself or at least seeks its salvation in this attitude. Is this not the case with critiques and deconstructions?”
What is this mechanism if not the exercise of a transcendent power, in which the merely lived is taken up and transformed, so that her essence is shown as equal to the pronouncements of the philosophical seer and put under his authority.
If it was once God or his theological/priestly agents who saw into the heart of the human, so that one was raised up or debased consequent on Godly power, such a mechanism is no less destructive by virtue of it’s secularisation; one has merely replaced the chains of religious bondage with secular chains, bondage no less.
If the philosophers of the secular republics overthrew God and his kingly and priestly ministers, they in turn must be overthrown; but not by their own power, which turned from the very beginning on Godly power secularised. Such was and is the general ground of all Authorities.
How to abase Philosophic Authorities without at the same time abasing the lived?
This is the question Laruelle set himself.
Not by power of philosophy which, in surpassing it’s own periodically self-critiqued failure to live up to an adequate idea of the human, only succeeds in abasing the human.
One must assume that the human has never entered into the circle of philosophical sufficiency in the first place, a circle made vicious by philosophy’s own shadow; in jumping over itself it finds itself confronted once more by its own inadequacy, even if, by power of dialectics, it seems to have raised itself to a higher plane, a secular if not a theological illusion.
One must abase philosophy by insisting on the humanity of the philosopher, his always already accomplished immanence. Such a state can never be shown or re-presented
“There is its (philosophy’s) great find, its force and its weakness. It has not ceased to critique its roughest and most empirical forms of representation by supposing that in this way it critiques itself and liberates itself from its own representation.”
Philosophy thus feeds itself on hope and poisons itself on despair, even if philosophy’s despair is “existential” or “nihilist”, that is despair at one remove or doubled. What is philosophical nihilism if not philosophy caught in a hall of mirrors of it’s own making, one in which the nugget of epistemological certitude turns out to be now gold, now lead.
The despair of the lived, on the other hand, has no mirror in which to confound itself.
“Nowadays one talks about philosophy in terms of life, death, and survival, but all of this falls under a mediatized and commercial conception… Concretely, this mechanism signifies that the more philosophy critiques itself, the more it affirms itself or at least seeks its salvation in this attitude. Is this not the case with critiques and deconstructions? Inversely, but still logically, must one conclude that the more it wants to be itself the more it destroys itself? The more it is affirmed as Idea, the more it cracks, empties itself of all substance and reduces itself to a stellar flicker?”
The result, for the philosopher or anyone foolish enough to be caught by its allure, (always at one remove from the charism of the seer) is despair at one remove, the hall mark of this or that form of philosophical pessimism.
“…what is the despair of philosophy, even the wisest and most ancient, this activity without hope except in theological glory or these days mediatized glory, if not to have replaced the “generic self,” if one can say so, that makes humans, that is, to have given the self an undue, royal place that ceaselessly celebrates a community running from the professionals of the promise to the happy swallowers of life who listen to them, seduced by the mediation of its intellectual acrobats”.
This would be funny if philosophy was no more than idle speculation, that is if it was other than the World-Author and the Worldly-Authority it has always been, that ground – ontological , epistemological, moral, political, practical – put between the lived and the earth, that prior-to-true ground we have lost in Ideality.
Philosophy’s ground is given at the behest of the philosopher, given and taken away on the whim of a transcendent power. We fall only to be raised up (secularised pseudo resurrection or “mediatised glory”) into the endless philosophical circles – of being and non-being, existence, non-existence and becoming. Only the poet, intuiting the true cost, asks of her all too human protagonist the (im)mortal question – to be or not to be? A question fraught with real angst.
The philosopher, on the other hand, shamelessly pronounces. Authoritarian explication is his invention. We introject his power as innocently as the babe at it’s mothers breast and just as early, for the world and our place in it was prepared for us by philosophy which is as old as power itself and it’s twin.
The philosophers pronounce, the law makers legislate, the bureaucrats administer, the soldiers inflict, the politicians aspire. Such is the round of Authorities, a self-perpetuating circle which begins and ends with the Philosopher.
Philosophers will protest, of course, claiming a merely human and humanely speculative turn of thought; as if philosophy’s power (it is loathe to declare itself powerless) has been unjustly usurped. But it is the very question of power which is at stake in philosophy’s necessary abasement.
“The abasement of double transcendence, passing from its doublet-form to its simple form, is distinguished from every excess of transcendence; it is a depotentialization…To transcend for the first time, to be removed from itself without separating from itself, to no longer practice the Platonic jump as is done with each new philosophy, there must be an emergent drive [pulsion] of its own proper passivity. Such is the rigorous definition, without duplicity nor mixture, of generic immanence: that where every complex or over-done transcendence lays down roots without stemming from it and where it must fall again. This is also the definition of the passivity of the Last Instance and of its proper action”.
Let philosophy subordinate itself, then, to a freely chosen (for the sake of humans) axiom that makes the philosopher’s pronouncements unilaterally given on the lived, that prior generic humanity of the philosopher. Only in this way will the transcendent pronouncements of the philosophers become ordinary human material laid down alongside the myriad cultural artefacts for our common use and enjoyment.
Only in this way can we fashion a truly liberatory political discourse that does not replicate what it seeks to dispute, reinstalling the overthrown in a new form.
All quotes are from François Laruelle’s “The despair of Philosophy”, translated by Timothy Lavenz. Available here
A very readable entry into Laruelle’s thought is this interview, again translated by Lavenz. Available here