The inhuman-in-human

One of Laruelle’s signature moves is the substitution for some concept X (for example, “human”) of a real instance, the X-in-X (for example, “the human-in-human”), which stands for the real material addressed by or assembled behind the concept. The human-in-human is the occasion of the “human” as a transcendental term (that is, as something thought). This is, to a first approximation, Laruelle’s version of the deconstructive practice of “writing under erasure”, where the term which denotes some concept is written struck-through, visibly cancelled, like so: human. The struck-through term is then the trace of this cancellation, a kind of epitaph for the concept which continues to refer, without the concept’s authority, to that which the concept indicated, the evidence or occasion on which it rested.

So, for example, we might say that in the light of the theory of evolution, any philosophy which posits a metaphysical distinction between human beings and all other animals no longer holds up; thus, any humanism based on the notion that there exists some exceptional human essence which divides human beings from “nature” in general is no longer tenable. Yet there are still real human beings, and these – the human-in-human – were in the last instance what gave rise to the philosopher’s “human”. What’s more – and here is where Laruelle seems more forgiving, in a sense, than Derrida – once we detach the philosopher’s “human” from the system – metaphysical humanism – in which it was implicated, treating it as manipulable, re-mixable “transcendental material” (roughly, a bundle of thought-stuff), we can see that it still responds to or resonates with the real in some ways. Man may not be the Rational Animal, but human beings do reason; we may not be uniquely capable of divining and responding to the Moral Law, but our lives are affected, and can be powerfully moved, by moral impulses. We do not have to efface the philosophical image of Man (as Foucault famously suggested, proposing a wager that “Man will be erased like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea”): the non-philosophical Vision-in-One enables us to reframe it as responding to the real, only without possessing the power to insist that the real in turn respond to it.

I am largely going by Katerina Kolozova’s account of Laruelle’s non-philosophical humanism in the fourth chapter of Cut of the Real here. On the basis of that account, I think it makes sense to describe Laruelle as a humanist, and as a humanist “in theory” (according to a non-philosophical understanding of the scope and powers of theoria) as well as “in practice”. That is, if we see Althusser’s formulation, “theoretical anti-humanism, practical humanism”, as taking a cancelling, erasing, eliminationist stance towards the philosopher’s image of the human, then we can also see Laruelle as recovering and repurposing that image in a novel, non-dogmatic practice of theory. Nothing that has belonged to human thought is ever lost, abolished, torn down or destroyed in Laruelle’s theoretical practice: that practice is radically accommodating, on condition that thought divest itself of dogmatism, of “pretension”, of the will-to-sufficiency.

My principal objection to Laruelle (which I know I’ve made before) is that in treating chôra, “transcendental material”, as endlessly manipulable and re-mixable, as material-for-fiction or metaphor-for-poetry that is tractable in any way one chooses, he ultimately de-realises it. This is especially, and in my view egregiously, true in the case of Laruelle’s handling of mathematics, in particular the mathematics of fractals and of quantum theory. Thought has its own real, which is the self-limiting integrity of formal structure; this integrity is the way in which thought insists in the real. To say this is not to say that the real has the structure of thought, or that the real is structured in such a way that structures of thought can mesh with this structure and obtain some guaranteed purchase on it. It is to only to say that there are (some) real structures, and that the formal-structuredness of mathematical proofs is as real in and for them as, for example, the lived experience of suffering and victimhood is for human beings. Formal-structuredness is intrinsic to thought: it is what persists of thought over time, resisting dissolution or decomposition into indifferently-recomposable material. It is the manner in which what can be thought according to this or that formal rubric is limited thereby, and the manner in which this limitation gives rise to invention.

It seems to me that there is an ethico-political pre-decision at work in Laruelle, a decision in favour of that which resembles suffering and victimhood – the ululating formlessness of the human cry – over that which resembles the bright, sharp world of geometric forms, of abstractions that persist without travail. The former belongs, immediately and in the depths of its solitude, to the human-in-human: it is real without question, as close as can be to the “last instance” by which all else is unilaterally determined. The latter is ultimately treated as an imposture, as unreal on its own terms: there is no violence towards anything that matters in pulling it to pieces. This pre-decision is deeply consonant with Laruelle’s “heretical” stance in defence of the human-in-human against predatory abstractions and philosophical finger-traps, but it is not justified – or, I think, justifiable – in terms of his own thought as it is essayed. For if we suspend this decision, which is not philosophical, then we are neither obliged to privilege the suffering creature as the site of a special access to the real – throbbing along with the pulse of the universe, as it were – nor licensed to treat quantum mechanics as a plaything. We may begin to take seriously the inhuman-in-human; that is, the admixture within the real of the warm, care-giving and cared-about, vulnerable and ethically demanding victim-creature with the glacial and impervious immortality of Euclid’s axioms and Gödel’s theorems.