Aunty Badiou

Laruelle’s Anti-Badiou is at its most effective when developing its account of the “philosophical personality” of Badiou - the “Badiou who badiolises”, the producer of Badiou-effects whose radiant or even radioactive persona draws in impressionable young thinkers and makes badiolistes of them. It turns out that Laruelle does have something interesting to say - interesting in precisely the way that gossip is interesting - about how this “badiolism” operates; about its libidinal economy (although he doesn’t call it that), its characteristic postures, its enticements and rewards. Yes, we admit it: there is undeniably a piercing affective tenor to Badiou, a supersonic overtone of “terror and purification”, that certain of his followers find secretly thrilling, even as they scoff at the literal-mindedness and oversensitivity of those who loudly proclaim their horror at the master’s “unrepentant Maoism”. Laruelle takes pains to show this “personality” of Badiou in its full force, as one of the sources of his philosophical strength - although his ultimate aim is to argue for a “weak force” by which such strength may be tamed and converted to peaceful employment. It is not quite Charles Péguy calling for “Jaurès in a tumbril, and the roll of drums to cover his strong voice”, but the spirit of Anti-Badiou is one of anti-idolatry, if not of iconoclasm.

As a portrait of the Badiou-who-badiolises, whether flattering or unflattering (and Laruelle is perhaps most wounding in his flattery), Anti-Badiou has a certain charm and persuasiveness. There are even one or two good jokes, such as the identification of “the other secret of Badiouism” as “the Taoist enumeration, the three joys, the seven perfumes, the ten immortals, etc”. Laruelle’s claim is that Badiou preserves philosophy from contamination by the world of the doxa (“opinion”) and the media-intellectuals (amongst whom a badioliste spectre nevertheless stalks, glowering intimidatingly at all the other spectres) at the cost of a radical limitation of philosophical creativity. The path preferred by Laruelle, and by non-philosophy (“NP”, which is spoken of as an actor in its own right, a kind of personification of Laruelle’s approach), is to liberate philosophical creativity by liberating philosophy itself from its “self-sufficiency”, generating “philo-fictions” out of philosophical material exposed to non-philosophical transformation.

Like Derrida before him, Laruelle proposes a performative re-hearing and re-voicing* of philosophy; but unlike Derrida, Laruelle is not trying to show how the metaphysical kernel of philosophy (its proper truth-content, the truth which it posits as its own) is destabilised by the very philosophical means through which it is established. Rather, Laruelle wants to wrest metaphysical conceits out of the grasp of philosophy, to recirculate them, to place them in the service of a praxis no longer governed by philosophical proprieties. “Destabilisation” is something for philosophy to worry about, since self-stabilisation is one of philosophy’s proper goals. Non-philosophy is not governed by the same agon, and cannot therefore have “deconstruction” as its obsession. Indeed, non-philosophy in general is perhaps best thought of as a de-agonised or de-anxietised philosophy: the ethical claim here is that by withdrawing its concern from the agon of philosophical truth, non-philosophy is free to start caring again about, for example, people.

I find Laruelle’s description of his own project intriguing, but am largely disappointed by his attempts to practice what he preaches. Much of what Laruelle says about “NP” reads like a manifesto for a work that is never itself produced, and that perhaps cannot exist as advertised. There is a lot in Anti-Badiou about the “quantum”, about how “NP” differs from “OV” (“Ontology of the Void”) in its use of “quantum superposition” and “non-commutativity”. These terms do not mean here what they mean in quantum physics, so don’t worry: you don’t need to know a thing about Hilbert spaces or Hermitian operators in order to fathom what Laruelle is playing at. (I can’t give you the same reassurance when it comes to Badiou: you really do have to learn about Heyting algebras in order to understand Logics of Worlds). In fact, to the nearest approximation, Laruelle’s purloined gobbets of quantum-speak mean nothing at all. Their use in Anti-Badiou conjures up the fantasy of a non-philosophical “science” of philosophy, a “physics” even of thought in its “quantum superposition” with the Real; and I see Laruelle as extending an implicit invitation to the reader to join him in this fantasy, to imagine what it might be like if some such implausible theoretical discourse actually existed and did what he keeps telling us it can do.

Perhaps it is important that the fantasy should remain a fantasy, since only by remaining in the “fictional” milieu can the hideous strength of philosophical auto-position be held at bay. In that case, the fact that Laruelle’s quantum-speak sounds a lot like bullshit is tactically understandable: bullshit baffles brains, as they say in the army, and the last thing a good fantasy needs is badioliste militants swarming all over it trying to sharpen up concepts and lay out weapons for inspection. Personally, I find that bullshit simply makes me cross; I prefer my brains unbaffled, and am stubbornly undelighted by Laruelle’s organon of non-philosophical “invention”, inasmuch as his inventions appear to be Rube Goldberg machines of no discernible utility (they remind me, in fact, of my childhood efforts to construct a working space rocket by building a Lego model of a rocket and then putting the engine from one of my toy cars inside it. Perhaps if I had written “quantum!” on the side it would have worked for real). But I may be being too serious. The game of Mornington Crescent is delightfully amusing, in spite of the fact that it has no real rules: the aim of the game is to play it as if it had rules, to spoof game-playing and rule-making themselves. Non-philosophy may be another such meta-game, a fictive activity in which the appearance of philosophical sense is conjured and manipulated for extra-philosophical purposes, such as the pacification of metaphysical bugbears or the sheer pleasure of creativity. To insist on the coincidence of this appearance of sense with some verifiable surdity is perhaps to insist on the re-closing of the circle of philosophical self-sufficiency; certainly it seems to be the one sure-fire way of missing the point when it comes to Laruelle. But I am not ready - and neither, it would seem, is Badiou - to surrender the philosophical agon, the passion for truth, and I am not convinced by Laruelle that to do so would be the best - the least authoritarian, the most democratic - way to serve humankind.

* to put it phonocentrically.