A Strange Subject
Are you interested in discourse that takes as its theme notions such as “liberation,” “enlightenment,” “awakening,” and “wisdom”? If so, you will be happy to learn about a contemporary thinker named François Laruelle (born 1937). In this workshop, we will explore concepts such as radical immanence, unilateral duality, the real, decision, the principle of sufficient X [fill in virtually any system of thought], the axiomatic, and the stranger subject. More importantly, participants will take elements from their own beloved worldview or ideology, and will work with, will do things with, these concepts. In the end, Laruelle offers not a system of knowledge, but a form of experiential practice.
There is a problem, though: Laruelle is exceedingly difficult to understand. Starting with the enigmatic name for his project, “non-philosophy,” Laruelle’s thought “sticks out, like an unwanted tangled root or an unmovable stone waiting for philosophers and theorists to trip up on,” as his translator Anthony Paul Smith puts it. Laruelle’s general strangeness is a stump well enough for such a tumble. If that doesn’t get you, his audacious experimentation in formal and methodological invention and conceptual innovation probably will.
But what trips readers up without fail is the unclassifiable nature of his thought— unclassifiable, that is, “within the now familiar and moribund debates” (Smith). Laruelle is not interested in dethroning prior philosophical systems and installing his own superior version. He is not maneuvering to outflank the generals of philosophy arrayed on the battlefield of contested thought. Neither is he a guru, enrapturing us with gnomic utterances on the meaning of life or compassionately pointing out the mysterious presence of primordial consciousness. That he engages in none of this is disorienting because the normal procedure for figures like Laruelle—ostensible paragons of Wisdom— is precisely to do these kinds of things. Yet, somehow, Laruelle still manages to be exceptionally insightful and, pardon the pun, inciteful. Certainly, for anyone struggling to defuse the hidden munitions ticking within authoritative systems of thought, his work proves to be a toolbox of surgical ordnance.
In this seminar, we will tinker with loaded Laruellen weaponry.
Reading: A Reader with excerpts from Laruelle’s Principles of Non-Philosophy, and “A Summary of Non-Philosophy” will be provided.
Facilitator: Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University. He is the author of several books, including Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice and Basic Teachings of the Buddha as well as numerous articles, chapters, and essays on various aspects of Buddhism per se and Western Buddhism in contemporary society. His most recent work, A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real, employs the “non-philosophical” methods of François Laruelle. Wallis has taught at Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the University of Georgia. He is the founder of the blog Speculative Non-Buddhism.