Experiments in Unliving: Biomorphism and the Insufficiency of Philosophy

This is the third, possibly the last, of an informal series of posts considering the relationship between unbound posthumanism and the Non-Philosophy of François Laruelle. Here, rather than vaingloriously attempting to criticize Laruelle’s work, I simply attempt to note some contrasts and affinities. To summarise: the positions or projects are akin insofar as they question the capacity of philosophical vocabularies to articulate their domain. The differences are methodological – unbinding does not proceed axiomatically but epistemologically, by philosophically questioning constraints on the future. It is also formal. Whereas NP withdraws from philosophy by proposing a radically empty unity (the ‘One’/’Real’) the analogous operator in unbound posthumanism – disconnection – is relational and multiple.

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If posthumanism is a kind of practice (Roden 2018) how can we theorize this process without slipping back into humanism: using received ideas of agency, thought and action? The short answer is that we cannot because we lack epistemological grounds for such generalization. Instead, this lack forces us to withdraw from the game of dividing up the field of agency and thought.

My strategy for withdrawal draws some inspiration from François Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy, though its points of departure and motives are distinct as we shall see. For Laruelle, Philosophy is defined by methodological closure which he refers to as the principle of ‘philosophical sufficiency’. PSP guarantees that whatever scheme for carving up the world philosophers adopt, the right of philosophical thought to decide its status – to retain or revise it – remains unchallenged.

Rocco Gangle puts this in terms more familiar to philosophers working in the analytical traditions: philosophical vocabularies articulate philosophical practices; while those practices enable philosophers to use philosophical vocabularies (Gangle 2014, 50-51).[1] Thus philosophical vocabulary maps onto itself without reserve. Whatever philosophers say, they can say what they are doing when they are saying it (Gangle 2014, 50). Thus there are no blind spots in philosophy, only self-sufficiency, closure.

Non-philosophy, like deconstruction before it, is an attempt to interrogate and depart from this closure. Laruelle seeks to withdrawal from the presupposition that philosophical saying and philosophical doing are always adequate to one another. This cannot be done merely through saying – ‘I withdraw’. It must be acted, effected. There must be a philosophical doing that cannot be said. Laruelle’s strategy and hope is to exacerbate the conception of the universe, of reality, as one: posing a unity so radical that it becomes empty and without distinction – thus unavailable to thought or experience. He introduces this radical unity with terms like ‘The One’ or ‘The Real’ – or the ‘Human in One’. The Real/One is without distinction, utterly undifferentiated. It cannot be objectified or pinned down. Yet it leaves its traces by performing, interrupting the relation by which philosophical practices are constantly recuperated in philosophical talk (metavocabulary).

Thus, for Laruelle and his followers, we grasp the NP Real only through this effect of indetermination.  Laruelle sometimes refers to this as ‘the force-(of)-thought’ (force de penser); indicating that its performance is not the act of an thinking human subject but an ‘unobjectifiable cause’ of thought (Laruelle 2013, 180; O’Maoilearca 2015, Loc 3267). On the one hand it is you or me, the human, that effectuates the One or Real. But not in our capacity as philosopher or subject. This is not the thought of or about the Real, but from the Real.

Laruelle’s notion of performance offers a way to respond to the predicament of unbinding. For this likewise precludes a handy philosophical interpretation of disconnection or wide-descent. It coheres with a claim about the epistemology of interpretation that I first raised in Posthuman Life, but which is developed in Roden 2017 in the light of Brandom’s work. This acknowledges the pragmatists claim we can regard subjects as entities who can opt into a social game of ‘giving and asking for reasons.’ Describing this capacity, though, requires a fungible account of how some behaviours qualify as moves within the game. Not all events or behaviours are interpretable, texts.

I’ve suggested that the most plausible account is that they are moves or texts where a competent interpreter would judge them to be so.  However, this doubles subjectivity in such a way as to unbind it – rendering its scope void. We have a subject1 defined by it’s ability to participate in social practices. We have an interpreter subject2, presupposed but not explained by that first account. This leaves undefined just what counts as an interpretable behaviour or practice. (Roden 2014, 111; Roden 2017; 111-112). Thus the relation between vocabulary and practice is once more interrupted. The rational subject of discourse is not in a position to say or think what it does when it is saying or thinking.

Laruelle’s concept of the force-(of)-thought challenges us to consider whether the actions of subject2 can be delimited by reasons, rather than as the effects of an unobjectifiable Real: performance not as an act but as an effect of the real as human; as body or matter without distinction, as John O’Maoilearca suggests:

If the non-philosophical ambition is to see all philosophy through its “style,” “allure,” or “gesture” (as Laruelle puts it), and therewith to purge philosophy “of its transcendent models (science, logic, perception, right, etc. . . .),” then this means that humans too will be “taken ‘in-body’ in their generic materiality” rather than as a defined species of thoughtful (inner) animals. Behavior integrates everyone into the Real equally (Ó Maoilearca 2015, 3526-3532).

So Laruelle’s thought does not issue in an anti-humanism, but a non-humanism. The Human-in-one or Inhuman (as Katarina Kolozova phrases it) the human as unjudged, unmeasured (Kolozova 2018).

hannibal trou normand totem

The Wide Human of SP is akin to the non-philosophical human. I do not attempt to define a human essence (Roden 2014, 113-5). There may be no description that applies necessarily to all members of the human species. It may just be an undefinable historical particular. Still, humans have novel collective powers that have transformed the planet since the emergence of agriculture and are doing so yet more radically in the period we term ‘the Anthropocene’.

However, despite this convergence there are differences. The first is methodological. Unbinding does not begin axiomatically from the undisclosed void of the posthuman future – it begins within philosophy as epistemological arguments and thought experiments which imply our limited grip on that future.

Secondly, whereas the NP operators are both radically empty and unary, the posthumanist equivalent – disconnection – is binary (Laruelle 2013, 129 ff). It is a line of alteration – a morphism to borrow the terminology of Category Theory – extended from the anthropological bios (the ‘we’, ‘our’ practices of sense making) to something determinable only outside philosophy by that morphism (the posthuman); a line to something that may be our extinction, or may not be alive, or may not conform to any of our fragile concepts of life, thought or agency.

Posthuman bodies are consequently deformations or proformations of the human: bio-morphisms. Biomorphs are speculative or ‘critical bodies’, experiments in unliving. Posthumanism, unbound, provides a speculative deployment of life without limiting it with any vitalist distinction between life and matter or mechanism. It is a conceptual abattoir.

Perhaps, some will remark that my use of ‘speculation’ here is disturbingly reminiscent of its financial sense. Perhaps ‘unbinding’ concedes too much to the ways Capitalism is terraforming the Earth? Rosi Braidotti and Francesca Ferrando distinguish the ‘perverse’ post-anthropocentrism of advanced capitalism – with its constant disruption of boundaries and species – from the ‘good’ posthumanism that recognizes the distinctive existence of all life (Roden 2014, 184-5; Braidotti 2013, 60-1; Ferrando forthcoming). However, I argue that the posthuman is perverse to its core. It does not give us an ethical purchase. Its notion of life is so generic, empty and anti-teleological (counter final) that it cannot tell us either what life is or what we (that is, any living collective) should become. It makes no philosophical decisions, including ethical ones. It biomorphizes ethics by making forms of existence: whether through capitalist or non-capitalist means. In this sense, perhaps, posthumanism is an expression of the technological logic of modernity, including capitalist modernity, as a variant of non-philosophy.

[1] Even philosophies of difference and radical alterity like deconstruction fail to challenge the PSP since the conceptual distinction between immanence and transcendence, or same and different, supports their articulation. Thus, ‘trace’ and différance in Derrida’s oeuvre are articulated in terms of their relation to this ideal of adequate expression; complicating the picture of sufficiency through a kind of internal conflict that, for Laruelle, is a perennial feature of philosophy’s practical-discursive closure (Laruelle 2011, 14; 2013, 53-4; See also Gangle 2014, 52-54).

References:

Braidotti, R. 2013. The Posthuman, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Ferrando, Francesca (Forthcoming). Philosophical Posthumanism. Bloomsbury.

Gangle, R., 2014. ‘The Theoretical Pragmatics of Non-Philosophy: explicating Laruelle’s suspension of the principle of sufficient philosophy with Brandom’s meaning-use diagrams’. Angelaki, 19(2), pp.45-57.

Laruelle, François. 2013. Principles of Non-Philosophy. Bloomsbury Academic

Kolozova, Katerina. 2018. ‘Philosophical and Speculative Economies of the Vanishing Body’. Frontiers of Sociology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fsoc.2018.00026 (Accessed 8th September 2018)

Maoilearca, J.Ó., 2015. All thoughts are equal: Laruelle and nonhuman philosophy.

Roden, David. 2014. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. London: Routledge.

Roden, David. 2017. ‘On Reason and Spectral Machines: Robert Brandom and Bounded Posthumanism’, in Philosophy After Nature edited by Rosie Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn, London: Roman and Littlefield, pp. 99-119.University of Minnesota Press.

Roden, D., 2018. ‘Disconnection at the limit: posthumanism, deconstruction and non-philosophy’, Symposia Melitensia, 14, pp.19-34.

 

 

3 thoughts on “Experiments in Unliving: Biomorphism and the Insufficiency of Philosophy

  1. “Posthuman bodies are consequently deformations or proformations of the human: bio-morphisms. Biomorphs are speculative or ‘critical bodies’, experiments in unliving. Posthumanism, unbound, provides a speculative deployment of life without limiting it with any vitalist distinction between life and matter or mechanism. It is a conceptual abattoir.”

    Love it.

  2. I can appreciate your argument.
    Thanks for the Follow; it is good to be hearing of NP type things that are current.

    I think I only have issue with L in his figuring of what is Real. But it is more a use of terms that I see as not sufficient to his NP situation: it is a philosophical inconsistency by placing it as a non-philosophical definition; basically, a contradiction I see, which I then move to correct in some way…

    I would offer that “there are no illusions”. But the. Further that the post-human might be understood as not an exceptional case, but indeed A case of philosophy and as such putting forth of NP Presense: it is difficult to try and think how ninephilosophy did not affect these various kinds of posts humane trans human kind of things. And the thing is is that people will use non-philosophy in various ways to substantiate their kind of accelerationism post Humana and things like that kind of ideas. So that’s why I say that NP actually caused a crack in the façade of philosophy even though people of been talking about non-Phil things for a long time; it is Laruelle that actually spoke in a very specific and particular manner very precisely about what the situation is. And due to what a human being is what it dies psychologically because a crack because of the philosophical sufficiency into its own reason to see something wrong with something that is inherently solute. That’s why really I don’t often say too much about Latuelle so far as to make arguments about what he saying because I see what he is saying is indeed the case. And so then I go back to kind of my Wittgenstein kind of understanding and really see Laruelle as putting a finger on the situation (sticking his finger into the wound that philosophy is perpetually trying to heal) that I there by passover in silence, but in so much is that silence is indeed everything that is informing the whole situation of my activity, which we might say is the performativity .

    Thx

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