The Principle of Difference
This brief post comes as a continuance or post-script of my previous conclusion (see here) on the question of the Ultimatum of Truth, in relation to the theme of the crowning of Schelling, the head of KETHER and the depths of Hell, conjoined with the principle of the Life-force.
The task at hand is simple: Provided that water (or oxygen since in any case the question is about fluidity) is as essential to life as is salt, so why not then choose water as the “metaphoric” (see here) principle surrounding the Life-force rather than salt? While it was seen how the salt-mine has a certain “bitterness” to it that the Heidegerrian Black Forest coal-mine did not, the question of water in relation to life was neglected entirely. Water does carry a sense of refreshment and renewal, far from bitterness. Moreover, to the extent that many late post-modern thinkers are considered with pure difference (Wittgenstein, Derrida, Deleuze, Badiou, etc.), water may prove useful insofar as it flows endlessly, i.e. it” takes the shape of its container” as one is commonly taught.
Laruelle’s Philosophies of Differences points out the need to sustain some kind of integrative identity kept in balance with the tendency towards differentiation. This notion of balance — one which is not exactly antinomical in a Kantian sense nor wholly dialectical in the Hegelian one — takes the form of a careful, non-acrobatic (see here) mediation informed by the presence of dialogue. This removes the impulse for self-overcoming, or otherwise overcomes it, in such a way so as to avoid walking alone on a dangerous tight-rope. Though that is surely an option some may choose in certain cases, however risky, it is not one which we in the salt mine are willing to take qua general principle. Instead, to re-tell the mythic tale, we used our rope to descend humbly into the abyss itself, safely reaching the luminous ground (see here).
For Laruelle, this new kind of balancing in any event turns us towards the question of the “generic”, the “generic victim”, the Stranger, and similarly related identities. These formulations have a certain specificity to them insofar as it can eliminate or otherwise repress unwanted meanings. At the same time, they can still maintain a certain flexible ability so as to be able to have its meaning change and become new in an entirely different instance, all the while keeping the general principle of a non-philosophical stance in place.
The question of identity in this post-postmodern or otherwise after post-modern phase is most definitely a difficult one. Latour, for instance, through his conversations with Gaia, seems to be grappling with similar questions of a positive identity in a post-religious setting. Although dealing primarily with the domains of anthropology, Latour defaults at a kind of “generic” identity in the same way as Laruelle. One of the primary contrasts between the two is perhaps that while Laruelle’s formulations seem to have implications which give rise to an auto-position on questions of politics and justice, Latour’s new identity takes on a “global”or otherwise “cosmic” underlying motivation which may be better suited to address important questions of ecology and cross-cultural affairs generally. I leave it an open question as to whether or not it either of these can be claimed by individuals as personally meaningful or significant, or if they are still too “out there” to do any work.
In my own “journey”, there came a time where the word “Wilderness” grew increasingly to hold the status of, as Wittgenstein would say, a “liberatory word” due in large part to a series of powerful Synchronicities. Therefore, I developed a hypothetical Wilderness theology (see here), and fleshed out the family-resemblances accordingly. Hence, the myth took on the form of “the place of crisis”, and the generic identity that was in-focus became that of the archetypal “wanderer”. Like these other two “generic” identities, the term “wanderer” does the same sort of work, though in this case it has or otherwise had a certain significance for me personally given my “crisis of faith”. The possible undertones of “being lost”, or “traveling” in thought, all swirled around in the mist which resonated strongly with my experience. Yet, I wonder if this generic identity could ever take on the same or a similar kind of significance for anybody who wasn’t a “preacher’s kid”, another identity to which I have remained anchored. The idea of “revelatory anchoring” (see here) would not have occurred to me, for instance, without my “religious” upbringing and limited knowledge of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics generally.
How then are we to come up with open-ended, non-exclusionary identities?
This is of course one question worth exploring, and it seems that there are many of them which can and do take hold, each with a certain ethos to it which does certain things — whether revolutionary or reactionary. Such is plurality of thought, and its possible risks and benefits. But as they are being developed, how are we to proceed? What kinds of concepts are ameliorative (see here)? How do we distinguish between them? I have dealt with the question of “incommensurability” and have found it to be largely uninteresting in way of principles after spending a long time with the late Wittgenstein, responding to the all too common objections of “incommensurability” levied perhaps unfairly against his work. The question is not so much one of taking “commensurability/incommensurability” between these identities as a principle, but instead let us have in mind a question of the principles and values themselves.
Our sheaf theory/the logic of superposition is sufficient enough for thought, but it arguably is not for meaningful action. If our theory is one of the sheaves (superposition) so to speak, then our ”generic” practice is one of after-the-harvest (e.g. we are “gleaners”), and so the “the facts” at-hand to be resisted are the many unique violences to the Body at the scene of the harvest: that is, we are speaking primarily of starvation itself.
The “victim” and each of these generics are all pointing to certain instances of violence, but they do not make thematic or otherwise generate an ethos which resists it as such. These and similarly related identities are not themselves sufficient, for they do not, in virtue of their genericity, add any essential positivity to the scene. It is with the unique lived-experience, an experience embodied and shared, that the Life-force moves to heal.
Standard and Non-standard Violence:
I have in jest called this the Principle of Sufficient Principles and Principalities (see here).
This is not a Principle of Sufficient Non-Philosophy, which would I agree would be misguided, but instead a variable suspension of the need for sufficiency in order to act. It is sometimes a suspension of suspensions, and sometimes it is not. That is, of course “philosophy” is not in itself sufficient, and not everything is philosophizable. This much by now should be obvious to us. My interest is rather: What is it that allows Laruelle to raise the non-objection of Sufficiency? He is, or he seems to be, as in Derridean deconstruction, operating on a Principle which is continually re-applied and repeated ad infinitum, and therefore which may itself be suspended. Does he have the capacity to stop suspending, or is he a re-fashioned Derridean deconstructive machine? Put otherwise, what is it that works beneath each of these “generic” identities, as an unconditioned ground? What comes before the “generic” can even be said? Or, are we too fixated on “generics” that we forget the “unique”?
As I see it, even the most non-standard practices of violence much be resisted. When Laruelle speaks of the non-standard, he speaks of a performativity in radical immanence, so it is not a matter of abstractly twisting and conceptually over-turning the meaning of “violence” as Zizek may prefer. He is quite clear with his referent. He means victim when he says “victim”, just as Frantz Fanon means concrete violence when he says “violence”.
It is thus appropriate that Alexander Galloway writes the following in his recent review (see .pdf here):
Laruelle’s newest book to appear in French, Théorie générale des victimes [A General Theory of the Victim] addresses the question of victims and victimhood, from slavery to the holocaust, from the persecution of Christ to modern genocides and crimes against humanity. In the book Laruelle elaborates a general theory of the victim, rooting it in a generic humanity, with the ultimate goal of freeing the victim from a received dogma that fetters victims with never-ending persecution. While admittedly dissimilar in both its method and outcomes, Laruelle’s book treads the same terrain encountered in Hegel’s famous discussion of the master-slave dialectic, or even Frantz Fanon’s treatment of alterity and violence in The Wretched of the Earth. The central question is crime and punishment, winners and losers, the powerful and the powerless, violence and victimization.
My question for Laruelle and is quite simply when will we take violence and trauma as the central question worthy of our emphasis as unique intellectuals, instead of skirting around both before and after the facts themselves as generic ones.
Though the non-selection of “salt” over “water” is clearly not one of either/or given the complexity of Life, but rather that “salt” seems to point to an often-forgotten line of flight that should be brought out when dealing with a “principle of Life” itself, and specifically Life on this Earth (i.e. given by the phrase “salt of the earth”). It is forgotten in the same way that philosophers and non-philosophers alike have historically skirted around the difficult questions of “violence” and “trauma” as such, beginning their thinking only moments before or after the facts themselves. Laruelle only gets so far as to think what I would call a “principle of the conditions of life, of the possibility of life” but not Life itself, never Life itself.
Given our vision of the Body (see here), my suggestion is that there is a “unique self” which is lost in thinking through of generic identities or principles. Though at times these “generic” identities or principles may prove useful, it is important not to forget, as perhaps Badiou did in the Logic of Worlds (see here), the question of uniqueness in addition to the proof of existence. When it comes to Badiou’s faithful “subject to the Event”, another such markedly generic formulation, it does not matter who the subject is, what their personal history is like, and so forth. That “she is a victim” does not tell us much about the kind of situation at hand, nor what she is experiencing as victim, and the other complex details of the case. Moreover, I’d suspect that “she” does not want to be represented as “the victim” in the last instance.
Yet, the exclamation that “can’t you see, she is the victim here!”, presented as new information, does much work in re-routing the due emphasis given in a scenario, possibly to ameliorative outcomes. While the generic identity may prove the existence of something when their very presence is otherwise doubted, called into question, or when their voice is not heard, it clearly is not in itself sufficient until the “victim” may be free to be otherwise than “victim”, i.e. until “she” has a positive agency of their own. Hence, my variable suspension of Laruelle’s non-demand for sufficiency. It is not enough to be Anti-Badiou or Anti-Oppression, one must affirm “something else”, something positive in addition, namely: “one’s sense of oneself as a unique, individuated person” (269, VI). There is a positivity here which is lost in the playful performance which rejects the Master of Suture, which suspends the domain of Philosophy in the name of its insufficiency.
Moreover, via “non-Marxism”, Laruelle weakens though still maintains a troubling “retributive” character, a certain “will to mastery” (see here), while also rejecting the key dialogical component as vigorously as Badiou and Maoists do in their pursuit of mastery! In other words, I would call not for universal access to water, nor universal access to food, but universal access to salt, to table-salt even, whose undertones of crystalline structure and materiality do work against the flow. Salt allows additionally rather than neutrally or subtractively for the preservation of food, the sustainability of sustainability should it be obtained.
This Ultimatum of Truth both is and is not to be taken literally. It is not so much a matter of the actual placement of table-salt on the dinner table that I am seeking, but moreover it is a concern with what might possibly arise from that calling itself. If the “accelerationists” (left or otherwise) are moving too quickly, it is because they are striving to build propellants and high purity silica-fiber tiles for space exploration with salt-compounds all the while lacking the salt to do so.
Uniqueness of Self and Life
This positivity of a unique rather than generic identity is the prime subject of Linda Alcoff’s Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and Self (as mentioned above), as well as an important avenue into the difficult questions of “violence” and “trauma” by looking at Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks [Peau noir]. It was Fanon of all the “major” thinkers in the history of Continental philosophy who perhaps came the closest to thinking non-violence.
And he did so only by thinking through lived-experience, of which encounters with violence and trauma are indisputable. Due to their concreteness, these “Real” concepts resist almost entirely a philosopher’s attempt at abstraction and generalization. As such, they ought to be the central focus of any and all “non-philosophy”. That said, it is time to start taking Gandhi seriously as a (non-)philosopher, rather than merely a Great Man.
Accordingly, the connection with salt and non-violence is made through the Salt Satyagraha. To rephrase our original question, we may ask why did Gandhi choose “salt” rather than “water”? It was due of course to a certain “taxing”, like the toll the emphasis on the generic has taken on our thought and action. It is thus only natural for me to head like him towards the water, but to stop just before the Generic Sea, so as to work there and resist upon the unique shore. The selection of “salt” over “water” as metaphor is for me decisive insofar as it is a matter of a Wisdom which is concerned with the Form of the container itself. Once the container is formed, only then can the “genericity” of Water of Sustainability and Sufficiency fill it, and fill it optimally.
With “salt” being intertwined with a concern for Form (e.g. “form of Life”), with the potentially fleeting idea of a principle of sufficient principles and tacit axiology (see here) generally, it wins out in my eyes because it points at not merely sufficiency or sustainability side of Life-force as would be the case with water, but with agency itself. As an alchemical symbol, the synthesis by way of “salt” directs us to the possibility of a principle of principles, to the Gandhian truth-force, and the possible making of a Philosopher’s Stone (“elixir of Life”). It has the capability, furthermore, to address the crisis of the “generic” through Jung’s formulation at the beginning of Mysterium Coniunctionis, Volume 14: “solve et coagula, dissolve and coagulate”. So too it is with identity, with the unique self as a union of opposites.
The “bitterness” aspect, now partially demystified, is none other than the HEBEL (הָ֑בֶל) character of Life itself, as in the phrase of Wisdom literature: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” Thus whenever one encounters salt, so one is given to pause, think, and enact satyagraha in their unique place, in their unique capacity. The generic is brought down from its heights and powers, and it is welcomed with an “sacred” hospitality to meet us together, in healing conversations of our unique experience of Life.