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QUANTUM HERMENEUTICS

INTRODUCTION

Post-truth blues. One of the biggest dangers to philosophically-informed thought


and to political decision-making today is the post-truth image of thought that one
may call “democratic relativism” (note: other, less objectionable, forms of the post-
truth image are possible, such as that proposed by Steve Fuller in his book POST-
TRUTH Knowledge as a Power Game). This is the popular idea, expressed both
in private and public discussions, and in varying degrees of intellectual articulation,
that every opinion is just as good as every other, that “all thoughts are equal”, that
“anything goes”.

Pluralist realism. The contemporary philosophical context is driven by the search


for a form of pluralism that does not fall back into mere post-truth relativism, where
the criterion of truth is replaced by the pseudo-criterion of performance (the idea
that an affirmation is true or acceptable just because I “say so”).

Criteria. This involves evaluating an ontology in terms of a set of criteria that can
be applied to discriminate between viable and non-viable metaphysical projects.
One can acknowledge and accept the necessity of such an evaluation, both to
avoid tautologous self-validation and to come to grips with the real. Many criteria
can be extracted from current discussions, but a common core shared by most, if
not all, rival systems of thought include immanence, pluralism, realism, and
testability.

Metaphysical research programmes. Such an ontological project can be treated


as a metaphysical research programme, in Karl Popper’s sense, and evaluated in
terms of its degree of satisfaction of these criteria, in isolation from any particular
problem-context. It can also be evaluated in context, in comparison with other, rival
or alternative, research programmes that themselves embody some or all of these
criteria. Within this rather general typology of pluralism versus relativism one can
find divergent images of thought that interact in complex ways with the criteria of
ontological felicity.

Thought-images. Thought does not only make use of images to give it concrete
illustrations or applications, but is also organised in terms of certain overarching
images that give form and plausibility to its exercise in a particular epoch.There are
two influential images of thought that have given rise to diverse contemporary
metaphysical research programmes in Continental Philosophy: the quantum image
and the performance image. These are articulated in opposition to the dominance
of the structuralist image.

Quantum and performance images. The most radical version of a philosophical


project that elaborates a quantum image of thought is to be found in Slavoj Zizek’s
recent work, while the most radical version of the performance image is given by
Bruno Latour’s AIME project. François Laruelle attempts to give a version of the
quantum image, and some of his followers have tried to develop a performance
image in his name. In both cases their thought is not radical enough, because they
are caught in un-criticized structuralist presuppositions.

Pluralism and relativism. Zizek and Latour are realist pluralists, their most recent
thought is devoted to providing a realist grounding for truths and for truth-saying
that respects the immanence of truths while avoiding relativism. Laruelle, on the
other hand, is a relativist: his thought is a fall back into the democratic relativism of
“all thoughts are equal”. In a word, testability is abandoned in favor of the reductive
application of the criterion of equality.

Vice and virtue. Laruelle elaborates a radical critique of philosophy based on his
own particular form of virtue epistemology. He identifies the vice of philosophical
“sufficiency” as invalidating the pretension of contemporary philosophy to come to
terms with immanence, but we shall see that he is himself unable to propose a
virtuous alternative.

Pseudo-science. In view of Laruelle’s repeated (and unsubstantiated) claims to


scientific status for his non-philosophy, and of his inability to respect his own criteria
(in this case “immanence”), we must conclude that his non-philosophy is pseudo-
science. There is almost no place for testability in his system, and in the rare cases
where it is testable (e.g. in his analysis of Badiou’s thought in ANTI-BADIOU), it
can easily be falsified.

Performance. The performance image of thought can generate its own criterion, in
order to give automatic and tautologous self-validation to its preferred metaphysical
research programme. In Laruelle’s case, the idealist criterion of performativity (or
something supposedly being so just because one declares it so) replaces the
scientific criterion of testability in his “non-philosophy” research programme.

Moralism. Without the criterion of testability, the philosophical struggle is reduced


to simplistic applications of moralistic terms: the battle between vicious sufficiency
and virtuous performativity. The evaluation of different systems of thought becomes
purely moral, based on the peremptory judgments pronounced by the one true non-
philosopher (Laruelle).

Performative hypothesis. The Laruellean hypothesis that performance can be a


criterion rejoins the Althusserian thesis of theory as theoretical practice. Althusser’s
metaphysical research programme was materialist and he rejected the absolute
autonomy (his term for Laruelle’s “sufficiency”) of philosophical practice. He
required a political evaluation of his and others’ theoretical performances.

Enunciative sufficiency. In this view, performance alone is not enough, and the
attempt to make it suffice is idealist. In contrast, Laruelle’s general procedure is to
denounce “sufficiency” at the level of content, but at the level of enunciative form he
and his followers proposes replacement criteria that they then try to make suffice.

Felicity. Another example of the performance image of thought is to be found in the


recent work of Bruno Latour, who argues that there exist different felicity conditions
for the diverse performances in the different modes of existence or of veridiction,
each of which has its different temporalities, and actualities. The problems of
evaluation and of testability cannot be avoided, mere performance by itself is not
enough. It requires criteria of felicity and infelicity, of success or failure.

Performativity can only be seen as a positive criterion when its use is non-
foundational. A foundational use of performativity is one that makes, or purports to
make, something true by the mere fact of its being enounced. This idealist appeal
to performativity is the principal vice of democratic relativism.

Such is the case for the scientism of Laruelle, which hesitates between the
sufficiency of reductive scientism (science legitimates his theses in the last
instance) and performative scientism (science legitimates his theses by the
declaration their scientificity).

Laruelle’s work claims to give us a “science of philosophy”, but the only proof he
offers of this structuralist claim is performative: the repeated enunciation of the
scientific, or non-philosophical, character of the texts. This claim, in Laruelle’s use
of it, is not testable.

Laruelle’s use of this philosophical material is abstract, universal, self-validating,


and essentialist, whereas Alain Badiou’s use of it is in comparison concrete,
historical, and dialectical. Laruelle’s attempt at new performativity fails, it is
sufficient vice and not pluralist virtue.

Worse, Laruelle is incapable of recognizing a virtuous performativity when he


comes across it, for example in Badiou. Instead of citing Badiou in a democratic
pluralist spirit as a successful exemplar of his own goals, and hailing his non-
standard usages, Laruelle re-essentialises them.

Laruelle poses important questions, but his answers are useless. The questions
can be turned back on him with devastating consequences for the evaluation of his
adhesion to his own criteria.

His demand for new uses of conceptual material is inspiring, but he does not go
very far in that direction. Despite his promotion of the revisionary semantics of
quantum hermeneutics and the relativist pragmatics of performance his own
dramatizations are poor and graceless.

1) PERFORMATIVE PERFORMANCE

The form of Laruelle’s acts of enunciation is performative, while the form of their
enunciative content is one of performance, irrespective of the specific enunciated
content. I wish to briefly consider the performance image, before turning, in the
major part of this essay, to the quantum image.

The brunt of my argument against Laruelle’s performance image of thought is a


critique of the illegitimate formation and use of the performative-performance
mixture, and of the particular goals that this mixture may serve:

1) obscurantism – legitimation of Laruelle’s stylistic obscurity, said to be “syntaxic”


when it is in fact semantic (the use of undefined, poorly defined, and
idiosyncratically defined, conceptual vocabularies. This violates Laruelle’s criterion
of non-sufficiency. Laruelle’s obscurantist vocabularies impose a form of linguistic
sufficiency.

2) foundationalism – dogmatic tautologous self- validation of Laruelle’s conceptual


apparatus, making it the basis of all non-philosophical practice. This violates the
criterion of immanence.
3) monism – exclusion of other thoughts such as that of Deleuze and Guattari or of
Badiou, said to still “remain” in philosophy, and so to miss the real (the uniqueness
hypothesis: Laruelle as the only non-philosopher). This violates the criterion of
pluralism.
4) structuralism – worlds are treated as structurally isolated, incommensurable
and impermeable, except by traumatic encounter or quantum leakage. This
violates, to a large extent, the criterion of non-relativism. I say “to a large extent”
because relativism is avoided only by the adjunction of supplementary principles
(such as “determination in the last instance”) that are incoherent with the hard core
of Laruelle’s metaphysical research programme.
5) authoritarianism – inflation of the epistemic, artistic, religious, psychoanalytical,
and political authority of non-philosophy, attributed to its affection by immanence,
and so by the dictatorship of the real. This violates Laruelle’s criterion of democracy
of thought.
The theme of performativity-performance in this context typically implies the suture
of (non-)philosophy to language under the condition of its pragmatic effectivity. My
objection is not to the thesis that “saying is doing”, but to the illegitimate variant
6) infallibilism – “saying-as-doing, makes it so”. The automatic self-validation
entailed by this performative-performance composite violates the criterion of
testability.
I consider the mixture of performativity-performance only from this perspective, and
I have no necessary objections to other senses and uses of the term.

To sum up, a reading of Laruelle in terms of performativity is acceptable if


1) semantic obscurantism is avoided
2) no foundational use is made
3) the hermetic closure of mutually impermeable worlds only breachable by trauma
or leakage is abandoned
4) no exclusivity of viewpoint is implied
5) no undue authority is claimed
6) the conjectural, and thus testable, nature of all performance is acknowledged.
Freed from these obscurantist, foundationalist, structuralist (and relativist), monist
authoritarian, and infallibilist (untestable) elements, a performance thought-image is
potentially highly fecund, but this is not the case in Laruelle’s model. Similar defects
are to be found in his quantum model.

2) ENTER THE QUANTUM MATRIX


"You are entering a zone of "non-philosophy"… For you the philosopher this is a
knowledge-collider, for you the physicist it is a conceptual maze - you are in the
Matrix".

This is the first sentence of François Laruelle’s PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD


(page 7, my translation). The "Matrix" is Laruelle’s name for what Deleuze and
Guattari call the rhizome, a non-classical image of thought. In this thought-image,
both philosophy and science are freed of their respective sufficiency principles and
are made available as material for new encounters.

This manner of breaching the relativist enclosure by way of a “collider” is one


variant of the breach by trauma. This beginning statement is still expressed in
classical terms and Laruelle quickly passes from (classical) collision to (quantum)
leakage.

3) QUANTUM IN-DETERMINATION vs DETERMINATION IN THE LAST


INSTANCE
"the axioms of this work are often beyond immediate comprehension of its
utterances and force the reader – and the author, who here has few privileges - to
explain to himself what he has read or written, and which no doubt cannot always
be deduced from it, i.e. to extend it by a new invention" (PHILOSOPHIE NON-
STANDARD, 14).

The “axioms” of Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy give rise to new utterances


that are derived therefrom both deductively and non-deductively, giving rise to the
need to “explain to oneself” the utterances encountered and/or produced. These
explanations are part of the hermeneutic process of the book itself, which extends
both non-philosophy and its own content more freely than the deductive method of
classical or sufficient logic would allow. Such non-deductive chains are part of a
quantum hermeneutic rather than of a textual one. Hermeneutics is not reducible
to deductive conservation, but permits also heuristic extension.

This approach is based on a quantum temporality which takes precedence over


the more familiar mechanical Marxist temporality of “determination in the last
instance”, which as future anterior is insufficiently futural - precisely because it
involves projecting a future “last instance” that is backward-looking (this is the
sense of the "future perfect").

The obsessive ritualistic repetition of the vocable “determination in the last


instance” (or of any other privileged vocable, and Laruelle’s texts are replete with
such repetitions) does not suffice to give it any existence as a concept, and even
less to give it intellectual plausibility.

Laruelle maintains that the author has “few privileges” (in French “sans beaucoup
de privilèges”, literally “without a lot of privileges”) compared to the reader. This is
an incoherent affirmation. He begins by the superposition of reader and author (in
accordance with his quantum image), but then concedes some privileges to the
“author” as determining the explanation of the book in the last instance (in
accordance with Laruelle’s version of the structuralist image).

Laruelle’s liberation of quantum-thinking from “mathematical sufficiency” means


giving primacy to in-determination over even such an attenuated, because pseudo-
futural, form of determination as determination in the last instance.

4) QUANTIZING VS RELIGIONIZING: THE QUANTUM CHRIST IS MORE


QUANTUM THAN CHRIST
We are in the matrix, we must explain the work by extending it, we read and think in
terms of a quantum hermeneutics based on indeterminacy. That is to say that the
borders of the text do not imprison us, they are porous to quantum leakage. We are
directly related to the outside.

A purely internal reading is based on a relativistic ontology of axiomatic, deductive,


and referential closure. In Laruelle’s text there is no primacy of determination nor of
determinism. There is no "boundary" determinate enough to stop our movements of
thought and its heuristic progress.

In the writing of this text,

“there was no question of a deterministic discursivity, of a linear chain of reasons,


or of analysis and synthesis for an experiment which is more of the order of a
wager or of a throw of the dice” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 8). Further,

“each titled paragraph is often a new throw of the dice and a new beginning, the
text as a whole can seem like a kaleidoscope of renewed fractal views of our
problem. This is to say that a certain degree of aleatory reading is possible (…)
even recommended” (8).

As in Deleuze and Guattari’s A THOUSAND PLATEAUS we are invited to place


one passage in relation with a more distant one, according to an axiom of aleatory
connection. Given the axiom of non-(en)closure, this more “distant” passage can
be taken from outside the text itself. Hence the later transition to ANTI-BADIOU
and to CHRISTO-FICTION.
The asymmetry between Badiou and Christ, in Laruelle's treatment of them, is not
an absolute given. Laruelle could have produced a more “charitable” reading of
Badiou by quantizing him, just as he could have given a less charitable reading of
Christ by religionizing him. This decision of producing sometimes a quantizing and
sometimes a religionizing reading can be traced back to the “privileges” of the
author. As readers who “extend” the text we may decide otherwise than Laruelle,
on the basis of the same axioms. A non-Laruellean non-philosophy is allowed for
theoretically in Laruelle’s text, even if it is not encouraged.

5) CONCEPTUAL COLLISION AS ESCAPE FROM THE HELL OF


PHILOSOPHY
Laruelle cites a maxim from René Daumal: “the human being is a superposition of
vicious circles” and gives a quantum acceptation to the term “superposition”. The
implication is that Laruelle does not consider quantum phenomena as necessarily
and automatically positive. In this case, the superposition of vicious circles delimits
a closed space, that Laruelle calls “Hell”, stating: “the human struggles in these
circles of Hell and strives to free himself” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 9).

It is interesting to note that the expression that I have translated as “struggles” is a


reflexive verb “se débat”, one could almost translate “the human debates (or
disputes) itself”. For Laruelle philosophy under the rule of the principle of sufficiency
is Hell, and part of this Hell is debate and self-debate.

Yet this infernal superposition is still quantum and cannot definitively delimit,
enclose, and contain any content. Quantum “leakage” can and does occur, even in
Hell. Similarly, one must remember that in Deleuze and Guattari’s expression
“ligne de fuite”, the word “fuite” means flight or escape, but also leakage. In other
words, despite Laruelle’s critique of Deleuze (a critique that Deleuze himself had
already made of his own work prior to his collaboration with Guattari) there is a
quantum communality between them.

Laruelle and Deleuze agree on the need to go outside, to escape from Hell, and
they also agree on the immanent means.

“There is only one way of getting outside the circles of Hell, and that is to
transform them by their collision into means of escape, not to climb up the
interior of a Platonic chimney but to cross the ford by leaping from one rock to
another” (ibid, 9).

The monist sufficiency of this declaration (“only one way”) is another case of
author’s privilege, as can be seen in Laruelle’s exclusion of escape by climbing
up a “Platonic chimney”. This is an ironic reference to Badiou’s method, which
climbs from the Hell of finitude by means of a Platonic hierarchy of transfinite
cardinals. This alternative means of escape from the circles of Hell is detailed in
Badiou’s recently published THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS (“L’Immanence
des vérités”, 2018). Laruelle excludes the Platonic chimney without any
argument, by fiat, as dictated by his privilege.

Thus, for Laruelle, quantum superposition is not enough, we need transformation


by experimental collision and escape by quantum leap. “We are searching for a
collider of concepts” (13). Superposition is still compatible with the structuralist
image. Philosophical worlds must be rendered porous.

6) QUANTUM THOUGHT: PLURALIST HEURISTIC vs CHRISTO-REDUCTION


Many of those who find Laruelle’s non-philosophy interesting would be willing to
espouse the in-determination and the quantum leap into non-standard philosophy if
it were not for the Christic obstacle, i.e. Laruelle's non-generic reformulation of
quantum insights in a privileged Christ-oriented language. However, it would be a
mistake to reject Laruelle’s “Christo-fiction”, which is far less religious than
reductive (religionist) readings of his texts would have us believe.

Laruelle explicitly condemns the natural attitude of sufficiency that is associated


with the reductive constitution of simple classical universes, giving rise not only to
scientism but also to the equally reductionist primacy given to politics, to religion or
to aesthetics. In this sense, "sufficiency" is very close to Badiou's notion of "suture".

Thus, we can speak of the dangers not only of scientism, but also of politicism,
religionism and aestheticism:

“The conditions of intellectual experiment are here no longer the classical ones,
where the subject was naturally plunged into the relatively simple universes, after
all, of philosophy, science, religion, and art” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 8).

One must bear in mind that the author of INTRODUCTION TO NON-MARXISM,


with its classical notion of “determination in the last instance” as the solution to the
relativity of philosophical worlds), did not stop there, but went on to write a quantum
trilogy, comprising PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, ANTI-BADIOU, and
CHRISTO-FICTION.

The books in this trilogy contain Laruelle's analysis, from a “non-standard” point of
view, of the various reductive "principles of sufficiency" (according to an extended
understanding, sufficiency is not only philosophical and mathematical, but also
artistic, theological, and political). He identifies them as the source of the normative
evaluations associated with the various reductionisms.

Outside such an arbitrary normative principle of sufficiency there can be no more


obligation to adopt Quantum or Christic or Democratic thinking, than to adopt
their inverse. However, to attain the quantum it is best to also get the relativity
correct, which is something that I do not think that Laruelle, much less his
disciples, always succeeds in doing. In particular, the religionist reduction of
Laruelle’s thought in Anglophone philosophy and theology has been a hindrance
to its possible understanding and wider reception.

7) QUANTUM THOUGHT SUSPENDS THE BARRIERS BETWEEN REGIONAL


ONTOLOGIES

In his search for a quantum thought Laruelle wants to free the quantum mode of
thinking from its mathematical expression, that he finds reductive. In physics, fully
formalized mathematical expressions such as Schrödinger’s equation are not
present at the moment of paradigmatic invention. Rather, they come from a post-
revolutionary moment of return to order (which of course is necessary and
desirable).

In contrast the physicist Niels Bohr often used a more intuitive strategy of thought
(influenced by Kierkegaard), declaring that an exclusively mathematical approach
would be too limiting and premature. Similarly, I think that Laruelle is trying to
capture the quantum heuristic behind its mathematical formulation.

Laruelle explains that non-philosophy does not try to comment on or to influence


quantum theory as a regional ontology.

“Given its very special object, it [i.e. non-philosophy] will have to bend itself to a
difficult exercise, one scandalous both for the physicists: using quantum schemas
without mathematical sufficiency, and for the philosophers: using philosophical
schemas without their sufficiency” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 13).

In his escape from simple classical universes, Laruelle’s quantum thought is in


part an answer to Badiou’s declaration that we are at the end of the age of the
poets: not so for Laruelle. Science and poetry (and also religion) can be freed of
their sufficiency and made to collide in the particle accelerator of non-standard
philosophy.

8) "DETERMINATION IN THE LAST INSTANCE" IS NEITHER DETERMINATE,


NOR LAST, NOR AN INSTANCE

Determination in the last instance must not be understood philosophically as some


sort of ultimate deterministic foundation. It is an under-determination, what Laruelle
calls an “under-foundation”. The “under” here does not mean a deeper even more
foundational level, but that the determination in the last instance is less determinate
and more generic than any foundation. As it is “generic” it is not in fact an instance,
nor does it come “after” anything at all, so it is not “last” in any temporal or even
logical sense. In quantum terms it is to be translated as “indetermination in the pre-
prior genericity”.

9) THE LAST INSTANCE IS "BEFORE-THE-FIRST"


"The Last Instance is a pre-priority, a before-first instance but which conserves its
priority, become determinate, to philosophy" (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD,
79).

The determining Last Instance can only be understood in terms of genericity and of
quanticity, i.e. in terms of under-determination and of in-determination. Strictly, the
"last" instance is first, or pre-primary. It is only in closed, simple, classical universes
that “determination in the last instance” takes on the meaning of determinism by an
ultimate foundational level. In contrast, Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy applies
to open, complex, non-classical universes. It is a democratic thought, in which
freedom has (pre-)primacy. This is the lesson of his “quantum deconstruction”.

10) QUANTUM DECONSTRUCTION HAS PRIMACY


Laruelle talks of quantum deconstruction as opposed to relativistic textual
deconstruction, which he assigns to the more sophisticated versions of the
macroscopic apprehension of classical universes. Thus, he talks about philosophy
as light, founded on transparence or vision without interaction, which corresponds
to such a macroscopic apprehension of light.

In his talk about the “conciliation between science and philosophy under generic
conditions” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 72) Laruelle maintains a certain
ambiguity about primacy, as he wants both to keep a scientific reference and to
de-mathematicize scientific notions such as the quantum, in order to turn them into
stylistic approaches, rather than retaining them as substantial functions. So, there
is a transfer of meaning here, but Laruelle claims that this is not a metaphor.
One way of explaining Laruelle’s seemingly paradoxical position would be to say
that it is rather the mathematization that is metaphorical, as the style of thought
came first. This would be to claim that science in the making (or generic science)
has primacy (or what he calls “pre-priority”) whereas the function (whether it is
mathematically expressed or not) belongs to determinate sciences, or to science
made.

11) LARUELLE'S DELEUZIAN UNDULATION: DELEUZE DOES NOT EXIST


(AS A PARTICLE)

"There is only one way to escape from the circles of Hell, and that is to
transform them by their collision into means of escape" (PHILOSOPHIE NON-
STANDARD, 11).

When Laruelle does not talk about Deleuze’s philosophy directly this allows it to
permeate all of his work as a Deleuzian undulation. When Laruelle does refer to
Deleuze’s thought explicitly it is transformed into a particle and rejected.
In this quote from the first introduction to NON-STANDARD PHILOSOPHY we can
see the Deleuzian tenor of Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy, Laruelle’s “Hell” by
superposition of closed circles is the equivalent of Deleuze and Guattari’s “Black
Hole”, itself a construct of superposition. There is the same desire, in both
philosophies, to escape from such enclosure and the same means are employed:
transformation by collision and undulation (Laruelle), transformation by encounter
and variation (Deleuze and Guattari).

Laruelle accuses Deleuze of employing a method of “lazy, scholastic, and


academic trampling of the past” as a “technique for leading philosophy to the
nostalgia of its end” (9), the very thing that Deleuze constantly denounced and
fought against. He presents as his own method the “procedure of the continuous
transformation of problems” (9), the exact same method that Deleuze advocated
and practiced.

Over and over we see Laruelle’s massive indebtedness to Deleuze combined with
a fierce and damning critique. Laruelle famously said in an interview “Laruelle does
not exist”, to refute accusations of solipsistic mastery. The conclusion that we may
draw is that Deleuze too does not exist.

However, even this affirmation was borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari’s
RHIZOME, where they declare that their own existence is not a determinate state of
affairs: “Not a matter of reaching the point where one no longer says I, but the point
where saying I or not no longer has any importance”.

12) AGAINST THE PHANTASM OF DIFFICULTY: THE "PARADOX


OF NON-PHILOSOPHY"

Overturning Plato’s elitist “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here”, Laruelle
democratically declares “Anyone who is ignorant of geometry can enter here”
(10) but warns that they must “be ready to grapple with a formalism that is
conceptual rather than mathematical”. Such a “conceptual formalism” is to be
met without fear, and we are invited to “let go at the very heart of the work" (10,
italics in the original) and to "stop fantasizing over the difficulties".

One of the supposedly phantasmatic difficulties or hindrances to understanding


Laruelle's texts comes from

“the more or less new use of traditional vocabularies” (9).

These vocabularies have been divested of the organizing principle of philosophical


sufficiency and have thus been made available for new uses. The guiding principle
for their "non-standard" interpretation and use is that of radical immanence, which
is pedagogically elucidated by means of an inventive, democratic and probabilistic
(but de-mathematised or de-geometrized) thinking in terms of waves rather than by
means of a nostalgic, aristocratic and mechanistic thinking in terms of particles and
points.

This is what Laruelle calls the “paradox of non-philosophy”. The aim is the
simplicity of lived openness, but in order to combat closed thinking and living a
certain degree of semantic complexity is necessary:
"In order to rid itself of philosophical sufficiency … it must mobilize a whole
complex ... apparatus, make its operations visible by a type of precision entirely
other than the phenomenological" (10).

We cannot, Laruelle warns us, dissolve our problems easily and quickly by mere
contemplation, we need to arrange conceptual collisions, but only by letting go and
"floating".

13) LARUELLE'S QUANTUM HERMENEUTICS

Can the principle of sufficiency that reigns over a discipline be overcome from
within that discipline itself? Laruelle's critique of the principle of philosophical
sufficiency, as expressed in his non-philosophy, seemed to come from a position
outside philosophy. Only retroactively did he come to understand that he was not
situated in some radical other to philosophy, but rather that he was operating on
the basis of a “non-standard” philosophy. “Non-” is not the same as “exo-“, nor
“ex-“.

Laruelle calls Badiou “philo-rigid”. (Note: This epithet echoes the recurrent critique
of various public figures, most famously of the socialist candidate Lionel Jospin
before the Presidential elections of 2002, as “psycho-rigid”). He contrasts Badiou’s
set theoreticism with his own quantum approach. Once again Laruelle is arguing
from privilege. He privileges physics over mathematics, quantum mechanics over
set theory, and his own quantizing over Badiou’s infinitizing.

Further, this privileging limits his critique to the Badiou of BEING AND EVENT, the
first volume of his speculative saga. The Badiou of LOGICS OF WORLDS makes
use of category theory, and so he too has “quantized” himself. Sometimes Badiou
still appeals to set theory as a unique foundational level of thought. But this is not
always the case. This set theoretical exceptionalism and foundationalism is less
and less a trait of his pronouncements as Badiou deepens and extends his
reflection.

If Laruelle’s quantum hermeneutics means that he can “quantize” Christ, he should


also be willing to quantize Deleuze, rather than continuing to reduce his thought to
philosophical sufficiency, despite his own debt to Deleuze’s thought.
The same applies to Laruelle’s treatment of Badiou, where he contrasts Badiou’s
set theoreticism and his own quantum thought. Laruelle should also be willing to
search the qualitative, or even "quantum", aspects of Badiou’s thought. This is a
very serious failing in Laruelle’s application of his own ideas.

For example, de-objectifying sets, as Badiou does in LOGICS OF WORLDS, by


rendering them local, is a step towards greater genericity. Laruelle is himself
“philo-rigid” in his readings of potential rivals, such as Deleuze and Badiou.
Laruelle’s auto-critique of his previous scientism is in effect an acknowledgment of
his own continuing philo-rigidity.

The principle of mathematical sufficiency that Laruelle invokes as a form of


reductionism lets us envision two ways of overcoming sufficiency:

1) an external overcoming from some outside to philosophy, as Laruelle formerly


hinted was his own path for overcoming philosophical sufficiency, and

2) an internal overcoming, from the inside of philosophy (even if the nature of this
inside undergoes substantive revision) as Laruelle maintains now with his non-
standard philosophy.

The same twofold path can be found in mathematics, where sufficiency may be
overcome externally by metaphoric extension and extrapolation, which is Laruelle’s
path, or by internal relativization and extension, in the constitution for example of
non-standard mathematical theories.

Laruelle must now decide between clinging to his former “philo-rigid” style, based
on his privilege in the last instance, which is still prevalent in his non-philosophy,
and embracing a new “philo-undulatory” style, as is called for by his more recent
"non-standard" philosophy. This second option would force him to abandon or to
transform a lot of his former certainties. In particular, his readings of Deleuze and
Badiou, which are brilliant in their polemical reductions, are philo-rigid and need
to be complemented by a more undulatory hermeneutics.

14) ZIZEK'S QUANTUM HERMENEUTICS

It is a disappointing feature of much of the discussion in Continental Philosophy


that it is dominated by the vocal supporters of one or another master thinker.
The Deleuzians mock Badiou and condemn Zizek, the Zizekians dismiss
Latour, the Laruellleans condescend to everyone else. The audience is
summoned to take sides in a battle for hegemony rather than to participate in
an open dialogue. Many choose to keep silent for fear of being held up to
ridicule, patronized, or simply ignored.

This refusal of dialogue is not only ethically reprehensible and inhumane, it is


also an epistemic vice that harms intellectual progress. My ambition on this
blog is to restore dialogue, at least between ideas, even if their proponents and
defenders avoid exchange. Something is lost if we do not envision alternatives,
our ideas become emptied of sense, meaningless war cries or signs of
membership in the right club.

I read Zizek’s texts with Laruelle's non-philosophy in mind, even though neither
discusses the other. Each adds something to the understanding of the other. In
particular, Laruelle's emphasis on the far-reaching consequences of his "quantum
thought" allows us to see that Zizek's repeated use of quantum physics is not just
one example amongst many others, but is of central importance. The different
interpretative options that each adopts allow us to see more clearly what is at
stake in each option and their possible coherence or conflict.
Zizek, like Laruelle, is a non-standard philosopher. In particular, like Laruelle, he
turns to quantum physics for a model of non-standard thinking. However, Zizek's
use of quantum physics is very different from Laruelle's, in that Zizek’s thought
privileges the disparatous pluralist aspects of quantum theory, whereas Laruelle
privileges quantum uniformity, called by him "unilaterality". Laruelle's thought is
one of ultimate convergence (a form of monism), resumed under the name of
"determination in the last instance". In contrast, Zizek's thought favours disparity,
divergence and "over-determination".
Slavoj Zizek makes use of quantum physics as model, but he does not maintain
that it is the only valid model. He acknowledges that Badiou's use of set theory
and category theory achieves similar goals.

Laruelle is not a pluralist about the choice of models. In his book ANTI-BADIOU
he requires us to choose between quantum and set theory. This is in accord with
the uniqueness hypothesis, or rather the two axioms of uniqueness that subtend
Laruelle's thought, namely:
Axiom 1: there is only one way out of the sufficiency of philosophy: Laruelle’s
non-philosophy,

Axiom 2: there is only one non-standard philosophy and Laruelle is its thinker.

Zizek does not discuss Laruelle’s thought explicitly, but he constantly rejects
“standard” solutions, and he describes his own ideas as “non-standard”. He
outlines a critical analysis of the use that Ray Brassier makes of Laruelle's key
concept of "determination in the last instance". For Zizek the big problem with
Laruelle, Brassier, and their epigones is scientism and what he calls "direct
naturalization".

Zizek rejects naturalism as a project based on the "full naturalization" of Being


and the "total naturalization of humanity". He argues that this naturalist project
is one of total de-subjectivation, and that subject is based on denaturalization.
Another problem is that Laruelle's and Brassier's scientism leads to the
uniformization of thought and to the denial of incommensurability and
divergence in favor of uniformity and convergence.

A related point is the denial of ontological difference. In effect, Laruelle's non-


philosophy falls under the same aporia as Graham Harman's object-oriented
philosophy (OOP): it asserts the existence of an impermeable apophatic veil
but then, in contradiction with this, proceeds to specify what lies behind the
veil (Harman's real objects, Laruelle's One) and its mode of relation (Harman's
withdrawal, Laruelle's unilaterality). Brassier's naturalization of Laruelle's One,
like Levi Bryant's naturalization of Harman's objects, is an attempt to resolve
this aporia by simply dropping the apophatic aspect.

Perhaps behind the explicit alliance of Zizek and Badiou mentioned above there
is an implicit rivalry founded on a divergence of interpretative style. Zizek is to
Niels Bohr (qualitative approach) as Badiou is to Paul Dirac (formalist approach).

Dirac contributed a useful formalism to quantum mechanics, which was shown to


be mathematically equivalent to the others. However, his underlying philosophical
interpretation of the formalism was not equivalent. Dirac was more deterministic
than Bohr and seems to have rejected Bohr's ontological interpretation of the
uncertainty principle. Laruelle leaves Dirac (formalism) behind but doesn't quite
get to Bohr because his non-philosophy leads him to subordinate complementarity
to unilaterality.

Zizek argues that the recourse to quantum physics is necessary to avoid


presupposing a stratification and hierarchization of Nature, rising from the
supposed completeness and presentiality of inanimate nature to the
incompleteness and absentiality of human nature. For Zizek such a theory of
emergence is a form of dualism and explains nothing.

Zizek lists four features that according to him characterize both the quantum
universe and the symbolic universe: the actuality of the possible, knowledge in the
real, the delay of registration, and retro-activity. The key feature for the discussion
here is Zizek's use of the concept of non-causal "retro-activity", which is in direct
contradiction with Laruelle's idiosyncratic notion of unilaterality, that he imports
arbitrarily into his deployment of quantum thought.

Zizek also differs from Laruelle in that he separates the notions of over-
determination and determination in the last instance. He assigns superposition/
coherence to the side of over-determination and disparity and collapse/de-
coherence to that of determination in the last instance.

Paradoxically Zizek's use of quantum theory is a gesture of pluralism and anti-


scientism. It functions as a key part of his argument against the scientistic vision
that theories of emergence tend to reinforce, a vision of a unified science
corresponding to the stratified hierarchized whole of a unified nature. In contrast,
Laruelle's use of quantum theory is both monistic and scientistic, so it can easily
be recuperated by a monist naturalism.
Zizek's analysis shows us that science itself, in the form of quantum physics,
furnishes us with some of the best arguments against scientism. In other words,
scientism is itself a testable scientific hypothesis, and has been falsified

(15) ZIZEK'S QUANTUM GENESIS

In section five of Chapter 1 of DISPARITIES, "Biology or quantum physics?",


Zizek takes on an impossible task, that of justifying "the priority of quantum
physics" (page 39) in the explanation of emergent properties, in particular of the
emergence of subjectivity in the human organism. Of course, he fails. Any such
primacy is forbidden by the principles of his basic research programme.
However, in the course of this failed mission Zizek gives a very interesting
account of his entangled engagement with quantum physics.
This section takes the form of Zizek's reply to Adrian Johnston's objections to the
primacy of the quantum model in the materialist account of the genesis of free
subjects. Johnston's theoretical strategy is pluralist and pragmatic, arguing that
Zizek's reliance on quantum physics is neither necessary nor feasible:

1) reliance on quantum model is not necessary, as other theoretical models that


break with the naive materialist presupposition of a fully constituted, complete,
determinate and deterministic nature are available (Johnston cites
"emergentism, neuroplasticity, and epigenetics") - this is his pluralist point.

2) it is not feasible, as the distance between the sub-microscopic quantum level


and the macroscopic level of human subjectivity is too great for the quantum
model to have any real explanatory power. The parallel between the quantum
level and the human level is thus more formal than explanatory - this is his
pragmatic point.
In his reply to Johnston, Zizek does not consider this second point. He responds
to a more general version of the first point, i.e. to the pluralist objection that the
primacy he accords to the quantum model amounts to an illegitimate ontological
privileging. This primacy amounts to conflating the universal ontological level and
a particular ontic level, thus effacing the very ontological difference that he claims
to defend.
Zizek's argument attempts to complexify this overly simple dualist vision of
ontological difference. He argues that between non-manifest Being and the
various manifest realities or ontic domains there is a third term, that of an
ontologically incomplete "proto-reality", a de-substantialized "embodiment of
nothing". This is the level that is, according to Zizek, best described by
quantum physics.
Quantum physics is necessary because the "triumphant triad of evolutionary
biology, biogenetics, and brain sciences" is not enough. It is not paradoxical
enough to account for the emergence of human subjectivity and of the
paradoxes inherent in the symbolic order. He concludes that "something
stronger is needed" (48).
The quantum model provides this "something stronger", not because it is
reductively more primary, but because it is closer to human subjectivity. Zizek's
argument is after all a pragmatic one. He refuses what one could call Johnston's
"argument from distance" as being too epistemological. On pragmatic grounds
Zizek can say quantum physics is closer than the biocognitivist triad to human
subjectivity, as it has an "uncanny resemblance to what we consider specifically
human".

(16) QUANTUM DECONSTRUCTION AND FORMAL CAUSALITY

In the previous section I am basically reporting on, but also reconstructing,


Zizek's position. As I report, Zizek does not reply explicitly to Johnston's feasibility
objection, but on my reconstruction there is an answer to be found in the text.
Johnston argues that Zizek's use of quantum mechanics to explain the
emergence of free subjectivity starts at a level that is too far from the
phenomenon that
it is trying to explain and would require a long series of "bridge" theories before
getting to the level of the human subject. It is thus more economical to begin with
biology and brain science, which occupy levels just adjacent to the human
subject, and which equally premise an ontological incompleteness of nature.
The feasibility objection depends on what I call "the argument from distance",
which itself depends on the stratification of levels of emergence (or of reduction,
depending on which direction you take, up or down the levels). This is what has
been called the "layer cake" model of explanation and reduction. Zizek's idea is
that on the layer cake model the quantum level is "distant" from the human level,
with many other intervening levels, but that from a formal view they are quite
close. This means that for him the layer cake model is not always the best or
most useful way to envisage the relation between different ontic domains.
The quantum model, for Zizek, deconstructs the stratification of levels:

here quantum physics enters: what makes it so ‘spooky’ is not its radical
heterogeneity with regard to our common sense, but rather its uncanny
resemblance to what we consider specifically human – here, effectively, one is
tempted to say that quantum physics ‘deconstructs’ the standard binary opposition
of nature and culture (DISPARITIES, 48-49).

Zizek gives primacy to the quantum model not because it is the most
fundamental level following the descending line of reductions and of efficient
causality, but because it is the most "deconstructed" model, and thus formally
closer to human subjectivity. The sort of causality that Zizek is emphasizing
here is a formal causality, where the "highest" (or most distant) abstractions are
inscribed in the real itself. In other words, Zizek is arguing for a realist
interpretation of quantum concepts.
This formal analogy between quantum physics and subjectivity means that the
formal causality is operative not only at the "base" or sub-microscopic level but
equally at every succeeding level. Real emergence from one level to another, that
cannot be explained by reduction to lower levels, is only possible because of the
ontological incompleteness that is best described by quantum mechanics (at the
present moment).
Zizek does not fetishize quantum mechanics the way Laruelle does. He remarks
that the question of which theory best describes the transition from the
paradoxical incomplete "proto-reality" to constituted manifest reality is an
empirical question:
"Therein resides the strength of decoherence theory: it endeavors to articulate the
purely immanent way a quantum process engenders the mechanism of its
‘observation’ (registration). Does it succeed? It is up to the science itself to
provide an answer" (DISPARITIES, 53).

In contrast, Laruelle’s fetishization of quantum theory amounts to removing it from


the empirical field and elevating it to the status of an untestable principle, thus
violating the criterion of testability.

17) APPENDIX AGAINST POST-MODERN PHILO-BABBLE: REPLY TO


CRITICS

Objections. Some readers have expressed stylistic and pragmatic objections to


previous versions of this essay and to some of my other work on contemporary
Continental Philosophy. They protest against their style and question their utility,
treating them as exhibiting an acute case of shared post-modern psycho-babble
(Laruelle’s, Zizek’s, my own). Here is the outline of a reply:

Obscurantism. "Psycho-babble"? No, definitely not. Maybe, taking a lesson from


Laruelle’s notion of “philo-fiction”, the term "philo-babble" would be an appropriate
descriptor. “Philo-”, yes, of course, but the “babble” is not mine. I have no wish to
be obscurantist. I transform dogmatic principles into argumentative hypotheses,
and I contextualize undefined jargon by widening the semantic field.

Philo-anti-babble. My goal in this text is to review some of Laruelle’s and Zizek's


recent work in a way that takes their ideas, their formulations, and their underlying
thought-images, seriously both in themselves and in relation to a broader context
of thinkers. In short, I try to explicate the underlying logic of Laruelle’s and Zizek's
thought in order to show that it is not just pure "babble" as their detractors think,
nor is it the unprecedented theory of everything philosophical that many of their
admirers believe it to be.

Meta-hermeneutics. Laruelle’s and Zizek's books can read as a conceptual


mess, but I think that I have made some parts of it clearer, even though the use
of some jargon is necessary if one wants to be faithful to the letter of his texts.
Of course, as I integrate their vocabulary into a larger context I transform its
scope.

Polemics. There is a polemical intent to my text. I compare Zizek's philosophy to


that of François Laruelle to show that Zizek gives us a far better, more satisfying,
and more comprehensible account of quantum thought. If you want to see really
hard-core philo-babble just take a look at Laruelle's writings. Zizek's style, though
not exempt from (Hegelian and Lacanian) jargon is both clearer, and much more
entertaining.

Jargon-laden versus theory-laden. Continental Philosophy as it is most often


practiced is too self-absorbed (“sufficient”) and jargon-laden. and so uninterested
in and incapable of relating its ideas to a more general discussion. By using Karl
Popper's idea of metaphysical research programmes we can set up and deploy a
set of criteria for comparing and evaluating rival schools of thought that habitually
ignore each other and that actively discourage (pretentiousness!) and obfuscate
(jargon!) comparison, discussion, informed critique and evaluation.

Meta-ontology. These meta-ontological criteria are proposed in the spirit of


heuristic aids. They constitute an open list of considerations to help us get our
bearings in the rather obscure common problem-situation, made obscurer by the
fact that its participants are indifferent to or ignorant of the wider context of
shared values, and to the possible points of comparison.

Open exchange. Laruelle and the Laruelleans are the most hostile to such open
discussion, and they maintain a near impenetrable wall of jargon based on
Laruelle's idiosyncratic and obfuscatory definitions of terms. To these disciples
the idea that Laruelle's thought could usefully be considered a "metaphysical"
research programme comparable with that of Latour or Zizek is unthinkable,
because they define "metaphysics" in a way that suits their grandiose claims of
being the only ones to get outside metaphysics.

Jargon. Here I have been obliged to use Popper's jargon in order to let us see
through Laruelle's jargon and to take it down a peg. Sometimes one is forced to
fight jargon with jargon. I would never try to give an account of a text that replaces
the original and exempts one from reading it. However, my hypothesis is that if
you are reading these texts and you have difficulty understanding them, or if you
find them problematic in ways that are difficult to articulate, this sort of analysis
will help you out.

Post-modern non-relativism. As to being "post-modern", I plead guilty on the


noble acceptation of that term articulated by Jean-François Lyotard: incredulity
towards meta-narratives of legitimation. This incredulity is an anti-dogmatic and
anti-authoritarian stance that must not be confused with the unfortunately more
widespread acceptation of postmodernism as democratic relativism. There is no
problem with meta-narratives, only with their dogmatic or authoritarian uses as
ultimate instances of legitimation.

Bibliography

NIHIL UNBOUND, Ray Brassier, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

ADVENTURES IN TRANSCENDENTAL MATERIALISM: Dialogues with


Contemporary Thinkers, Adrian Johnston, Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, François Laruelle, Editions Kimé, 2010.

ANTI-BADIOU, François Laruelle, Editions Kimé, 2011.

DISPARITIES, Slavoj Zizek, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.