abstraction, French Translation, Laruelle, non-Marxism, non-philosophy, Politics, power, Uncategorized, Untranslated Theory

Translation: Francois Laruelle’s Beyond the Power Principle

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The following is the preface from Francois Laruelle’s Beyond the Power Principle pp. 1-9 and is an original translation by Taylor Adkins 10/09/07.

Stylistic Caution

A: But if everyone knew this most would be harmed by it. You yourself call these opinions dangerous for those exposed to danger, and yet you express them in public?

B: I write in such a way that neither the mob, nor the populi, nor the parties of any kind want to read me. Consequently these opinions of mine will never become public.

A: But how do you write, then?

B: Neither usefully nor pleasantly–to the trio I have named.

–Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow, 71.

Flowing, multiple and simulated… Power is the only recent philosophical object which is becoming interesting: fictionalized, televised, cinematized, moralized, philosophized, psychoanalyzed… it tolerates all the treatments and survives them. So many transversals have made it acquire plasticity and the capacity for a synthesis which grounds the great fetishes: it joins together in its definition all the meanings and contrary uses, it concentrates in itself contradictory political and ideological ambitions. Like the older terms of Existence or Structure, but with more facility because it expresses fewer theoretical requirements (on this point, it has not been demonstrated until now as being very difficult, and on this point it is not the recent philosophy which will contradict us), it has conquered the grand capitalist style: as a concept, its practical value is virtually null, it is rather its exchange value, to which it is reduced, that makes its only possible usage.


Such a mutation in the history of philosophical concepts has precise material conditions. In particular it answers to a change of market. Any concept, through being bought and sold, must be escorted of its liking or by force to a market which is never single, which is always made of a principal market and resale markets. But the characteristic of the concept of power—I speak only about its circulation, not of its real production—is that it could not acquire an existence, i.e. become a fundamental concept of philosophy itself, beyond philosophy, which had however spoken about it constantly without, however, ever clearly raising the question of its sense, or, as certain philosophers say, the question of its “mode of being.” Let us not speak about a “change of terrain” for such a mutation, since it is no longer internal to philosophy, but has only happened essentially out of it. This will grant the change on the following fact: that the value of the concept of power is initially political and social, before being theoretical.

This fact is repugnant. But only by the excesses to which it gives place as do all grand new things; in particular by the affinity that everyone can apprehend between the same nature of power and its capacity to become what it is: a value rather than a concept, undoubtedly one of the rare philosophical objects able to tolerate at this point, and to perhaps appeal to, the methods that the ancient philosophical manner gave the name—close your eyes—of marketing, and that the new philosophical fashion, with an instinct of admirable surety, knew to make it necessary even to the existence of this object.

But, if this fact is repugnant, it should have nothing definitively graining about it, even for the most killjoy of thinkers. Let us suppose that philosophy, the grand provider of foundations, grounds and bases, ceases for a moment the real trade for which it is costumed and which through pretense agrees to be displaced. It will return sarabanding through the small door, mingling its voice with all those who speak about power, accepting the formation of a single chorus with the journalists and the novelists. All its art and its trickery will be made to turn around a little differently and to place well the wrong note which will suddenly reveal to the singers themselves how much, in the unanimous chorus of the schools, the living rooms, the newspapers, the media, everyone consciously sings falsely, drawn into their partition, relying on the virtues of the exchange to make of all these misunderstandings a pre-established harmony or a continuous miracle, and intending themselves to preserve it “make as if…” without which the capitalist market of philosophical values (and not only philosophical) could not function.

In this universal contraband where everyone speaks about power in general in so many various senses, but without believing in it less in the world, the “philosopher,” who at least will not be regarded as a miracle, but as a recipient, occupying a polemical and strategic position, raises only one question: who speaks about power? Who speaks “power,” i.e. the last of the universal languages?

Too often they are disappointed or conquered spirits: maybe by philosophy and its abstraction (journalists or various “intellectuals” seized by the mission of having to state the sense of history; “I am philosopher: see my extent of thought, my horizons, my insinuations”); maybe through real politics or what they imagine as such (philosophers exhausted by their own abstraction, envious of journalism, obsessed with its average techniques and slightly, why not, of its capacity “to be diffused”; “I am journalist: see my sense of the concrete”). One imagines the pact that these two categories will conclude for a common revenge against “theory,” an alliance that all the half-paid debts of theory and of practice—I want to say the “intellectuals”—can contract and upon which they fixate as in an objective confusion, skillfully maintained, between the traditional philosophical mastery, that which is necessary to cut down in effect, and what a certain silliness, always too modest, denounces as “speculation.”

It may be that spite and the spirit of revenge are bad advisers to reach an object such as power. The thesis of this book is that one does not know what one speaks when one thinks power starting from a scale: the Large or the Small, or of their mixture, when one evokes it as the unlimited reason of our misfortunes, or as the infinitely small element of our constraint and our hopes. Political reflection generally oscillates between two extreme poles that one proposes to avoid: the “power-comedy”, i.e. seen from the side of those who lose it and take it again with the liking of the Prince, the People or the Surveys, the small power for unused ministers. But what makes us nourish this trace: doesn’t any “microphysical” or “molecular” model of power continue to reflect, raise, and give theoretical form to this prejudice of the conception and the politicizing practice, the pettiness, the infinitesimal character of power? Doesn’t it risk, in spite of it all, simply to reverse the scale of the traditional political objects which were either too generic (political philosophy “middle-class”), or too specific (Marxism)? Isn’t it forced sometimes to practice the contrary design, sometimes to oppose itself violently to it (a symptom that hardly misleads), to be made in both cases the accomplice of the other idea of power: the “power-tragedy”, i.e. seen from the side of those who believe to suffer from it (those who really suffer from it do not make of it a tragedy), who represent it and set it up in a universal Despot, as the eternal metamorphosis (if one can say) of Leviathan or Medusa-the Grand Power for philosopher deputies, paid-off advisers to the Marxist tyrant or advisers in place of the Freudian tyrant (they are sometimes the same ones)?

Everything here is to make understood that power returns neither in the category of the Large which controlled traditional political philosophy; nor in that of the Small, the new myth into which modern thought was thrown with a suspect precipitation and which is only the renewal, in other forms, of the same error of optics, which consists in wanting to subject power to an optics or a representation, i.e. to a prospect “from the bottom to the top.”

Power is a fluent matter, continuous, unlimited, i.e. also infinitely divisible. If it thwarts all the forms of representation and even the scales of size, it is because it is in affinity with an order which does not result from the mixture (dialectical or not) of Large and Small, but which explains the possibility of these mixtures. This order, it should well be named-here, will be called the “fractional” or the “machinic.” It has a certain characteristic to impose an unfolding, a lengthwise cleavage, a duplicity rather than a duality, between power (fractional also) and its essence, i.e. the internal condition of its production and its “deterioration”. Hence the division of power between its Principle and the Beyond of this principle. This is the Beyond that explains at the same time the need for the existence and the coercive character of all powers, and the need for their “decline.”

This book introduces thus with “political Materialism,” i.e. with the fundamental concepts of a discipline of power and bodies politic. It formulates in these problems the recent or traditional concepts of political struggle (Dissidence; Resistance; Class struggle; Masses, Classes, and Party). This is done only to withdraw them from their medium of origin and to think them from the point of the Beyond of power, therefore within a non-Marxist framework.

And as it starts with the question of the sense of power, it operates a turning (Kehre) towards that of the power of sense, i.e. the whole of technologies which the Occident has always understood without the name of “interpretation.” It thus presents the broad outlines of a re-evaluated “hermeneutics,” completely distinct from the old: politically minor or minority; materialist in its processes and its “operations;” and bearing on the modes of the political existence of the subject. This project is perhaps a challenge, if one knows what the old hermeneutics was. However, under this name of “minor,” one will not understand a new theoretical form of hermeneutics, but a certain power of interpretation, its techniques, its objects, its rules, its effects, which exert themselves on the whole surface of cultural and social experience, in the fortune telling of politics as well as the class struggle in psychoanalysis. As there is a power to punish or a power to work, there is a power to interpret of which description and criticism require means very distant from those of a Marxism insensitive to its grain, and which entangles, in a fabric of tightened mesh, the sense of power and the power of sense.

Being given this duplicity of power, there are only two possible methods, that which starts from power, and that which starts from its essence or “beyond.” The first is an interminable description of its plays, its strategies, and the historical forms of its techniques, with the manner of what it would be necessary to call an “archeology of power.” Toilsome, laborious, indispensable method. But in addition to this it deposits positive description into the positivist conception of power, and also deposits this movement towards its “microphysical” conception and finishes too often—less from the theoretical plane—by simply being opposed to the traditional and Marxist concept. Thus, what could seem as a deviation, is actually a double normalization of power: by the primacy from the “positive” point of view and “historicizing” fact over its criticism or its declines; by the primacy following from the microphysical scale over the fractional essence of power; in both cases by the primacy of the “Principle of power” over its “Beyond.”

The other method reverses—and makes more than a reversal—this primacy in that “Beyond” of the principle of power over power itself. It does not exclude “description” by any means, even in modifying the concept of it and making a more critical usage of it. But before being an “archeology,” which tolerates certain Marxist references as constituent (for example with the techno-economic apparatus of production), it is a “political Materialism” which differently poses and solves the problems of “historical Materialism.” It goes from the essence of power to the power. For it, the most urgent task is to put an end to higher, by producing internal genetic definitions of its objects (classes, revolution, technopolitics, resistance, subject, etc). It is thus not positivist, but materialist; it does not describe power from its previous history or presents, it thinks it from its future and its decline: the “revolution” also, and “thought” as well. To take again a sufficient Nietzschean distinction, the first method “interprets” the Relations of power, the second “evaluates” them; the first is basically descriptive, the second is “legislative” and leads to a minority ethics of struggle, “political” or not.

One will thus find here none of those historicizing, picturesque descriptions which give the modern reader so easily the feeling that he or she thinks, and which are being so well adapted with their hertzian and cathodic transmission…. Rather the outline of a materialist critique of political reason. There are so many of these mixtures of philosophy and social sciences, philosophy and the history of institutions, so many, as of now, mixtures of philosophy and morals, that it has appeared useless for us to add to the encumbrance and variegation of the market of culture. One is satisfied to proceed with an immanent description, genealogical and critical, of power, by the means of a method which it would be necessary to call a materialist eidetic, and for the severity of which one would be slightly tempted to excuse oneself. As for the “abstract” character—thus it is said—of this text, it would have to be understood also—but that is an ideal which one does not pretend to reach—with the sense in which one speaks in mathematics about “abstract theory.” Because here the “abstraction,” if it can be possibly felt like a defect, is initially a positive character intrinsic to the theory of power, whose purity could only be darkened by “examples.” To tell the truth an example does not exist any more than a dream: let one show me an example of an example, and I will disavow this book. All the concepts worked out and produced in this text are at most designs to make function, not in alleged “feats of power,” but for a new cutting, primarily mobile and critical, historical experience as the production of power. These designs, this general writing of power, if one holds to denounce their insufficiency, can be defined as virtual rather than as “abstract,” in the sense that they have existence only in their effects (of “theoretical” power) which they are likely to produce. One usually believes to be precise by referring a concept with empirically taken phenomena and without trying hard to construct the design of the concept, the syntax to some extent of the division of phenomena, without having defined its capacity to effectuate itself not in, but as the experience. This theoretical indetermination combined with “concrete” references is what allows for the flowering of contradictory discourses on power.

To take a point of reference which makes it possible to measure to what degree of forfeiture philosophical theory is fallen—in France and perhaps all of Europe—in that common and vulgarized discourse that has failed a little more than out of habit, if we recall the double tradition which shared in the production of philosophy at the end of the 17th century: on the one hand that of the popular essay, illustrated by the English, the alleged “French philosophers” of the 18th century, and some German professors—on the other hand another part of the “system” renovated under the impulse of Kant, and who, only after him, is identified by his virtues of analysis and theoretical construction, with a “science” or, more rigorously, to a “doctrine of science.” Such an opposition, which regained with this double manner the old tradition of exoteric and esoteric sayings, can no longer apply to us such as it is, including its presupposed changes. In particular we no longer conceive in the same manner the sense of theory and its autonomy. But it makes it possible to measure the path traversed in the loss of the flavor of philosophical style (mainly in France, where the philosophers are obsessed with literature, history and politics and neglect, except some, the invention of a method to think, to give all their care to the “contents”) and how much structuralism, on this point, has constituted nothing but a feeble barrage against this decline and this vulgarization. If it is thought that a genre of writing like this one, however abstract and tight, would have likely been arranged among the books that Fichte, for example, indicated as “popular,” including some of his own among them, it will be estimated that the “intellectuals” (France always had far too many “intellectuals” and not enough inventors of methods) should not delude themselves too much about their capacity of being nothing other than agitators of ideas.

It would have been necessary to be able to show—it is not the place here—that philosophy cannot find a new form of autonomy (it is certainly not the only one…), of new critical and revolutionary resources, unless it can conceive its relations with other disciplines, more generally the relations of the abstract and concrete, of thought and reality, to take again these slightly ineffective terms, such as a continuous transition, a continuous passage, topologically without tear, of one of these opposites to the other. Supposing that philosophy still has a future, it will conduct itself against the period which has consummated itself, characterized by its vicious mixtures of opposites, mixtures for example, of philosophy with the social sciences, linguistics and psychoanalysis, with history and literature. But also against the period which started from a supplementary baseness: mixtures of philosophy with the moral essay, the biography, journalism. If philosophy cannot occur, not only from raw material, but from external models of intelligibility, if it cannot form mixtures with them, on the one hand it may find it beneficial to attend to the exact sciences rather than the journalistico-fashion mongers who were recently illustrated in the commercial circulation of philosophy; and in addition it will preserve its rigor and its critical power only if it can cut sharply into its own flesh and make pass a pitiless line of demarcation through these necessary mixtures, i.e. between itself and itself: a thought without cruelty is a guard dog.

Because of all our efforts to destroy the traditional philosophical mastery, far from reaching also the humanities, literature, etc., philosophy has contributed also indirectly to deliver philosophy in order to worsen it, since they exceeded their goal thus by producing impossible effects for this mastery, it is perhaps time to assert with much prudence the dignity of the thinking thought, and again a certain autonomy of the philosophical discourse, established on new bases, integrating the maximum of the means by which we “arrange” in order to limit the return of this mastery, while preventing the resentment of the disciplines traditionally ousted by the great philosophical style and which currently try to build their revenge.

 

All our hopes, which go against this time, rest on the invention of a new Form of theoretical order, and not only theoretical. The current collapse (provisional besides) of Marxist theory, but also of all who had believed, in psychoanalysis or elsewhere, power to bind their fate to the structural form of order, is not at all the collapse of “the” theory. The “theory” is less surpassed than those who believe to have surpassed it. Because they had raised the theoretical ideal too high, they shout at the end of the world when their theoretical small world crumbles. The philosophical field was always partially occupied with guides and amateurs, now invaded here saboteurs and the nostalgic ones of the past who have known to elevate their vacuity of thought, their resentment, their lack of theoretical technology, to the height of a vision of the world and soon, perhaps, of an international market of philosophy.

Thus, we will not avoid the appearance here—but appearances are quite real in their own way—of a “reaction” against the economic situation. Like what Nietzsche says of art, the economic situation forces us to say to philosophy: there are necessary reactions, recurrences which are progress. Philosophy must be a necessary reaction against this time, in the name of the future and to keep it unnamed.

Continue to the six definitions from Laruelle’s dictionary

Continue to the definition of Vision-in-One

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13 thoughts on “Translation: Francois Laruelle’s Beyond the Power Principle

  1. Taylor, this is awesome work! A really fascinating piece. I think that Laruelle is certainly right that “the value of the concept of power is initially political and social, before being theoretical.” When he insists upon the repugnance of this fact to our taste, he seems to imply it does or ought to make us uncomfortable. Why? I think because it means something more general — that the power of an idea is how much it can be sold for, it’s “marketability”. He says the philosopher raises a single question, which causes the entire marketplace to recognize its own inauthenticity, its duplicity, how consciously false all its values and moods and exchanges. So the philosophers asks is: whose speech is power, who speaks power? Here Laruelle asks us to consider whether we are speaking from a position beyond power, or whether we are speaking according to the principle of power….

    “Philosophy must be a necessary reaction against its time, in the name of the future and to keep it unnamed.” Theory then, has two dangers: becoming too generic and indistinguishable (i.e., Capitalism) or too historically specific and reactionary (Marxist). The philosophers asks: are we thinking the powerful starting from a given reference frame already imbued with power, or from the beyond of power? Do we think of power as already containing implicit distinctions, injunctions, abstractions? Laruelle cautions that “[o]ne does not know what one speaks when one thinks power starting from a scale: the Large or the Small, or of their mixture, when one evokes it as the unlimited reason of our misfortunes, or as the infinitely small element of our constraint and our hopes.” There is another method of power critique. Here Laruelles’ political materialism would seem to be close to Guattari’s abstract-machinic, molecular project of social transversality — but in fact he writes what seems to amount to a critique of Anti-Oedipus: “doesn’t any “microphysical” or “molecular” model of power continue to reflect, raise, and give theoretical form to this prejudice of the conception and the politicizing practice, the pettiness, the infinitesimal character of power? Doesn’t it risk, in spite of it of all, simply to reverse the scale of the traditional political objects which were either too generic (political philosophy “middle-class”), or too specific (Marxism)? Isn’t it forced sometimes to practice the contrary design, sometimes to oppose itself violently to it (a symptom that hardly misleads), to be made in both cases the accomplice of the other idea of power: the “power-tragedy”, i.e. seen from the side of those who believe to suffer from it (those who really suffer from it do not make of it a tragedy), who represent it and set it up in a universal Despot, as the eternal metamorphosis (if one can say) of Leviathan or Medusa-the Grand Power for philosopher deputies, paid-off advisers to the Marxist tyrant or advisers in place of the Freudian tyrant (they are sometimes the same ones)?” However, later he writes that philosophy can only preserve its critical power if it is able to “cut sharply into its own flesh and make pass a pitiless line of demarcation through these necessary mixtures”; furthermore, “a thought without cruelty is a guard dog.” Why? I think because it serves to uphold existing arrangements of domination, of enslavement. Philosophy struggles against its time in order to preserve a future for itself; but if thought has a future, it must remain unnamed, unsignified, unspoken. The future of thought is not secret but unspeakable — is the principle of progress lurking behind…?

  2. Twitch of the death nerve says:

    I would change the title to “Beyond the Power Principle” since I think that he is playing with “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”.

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  11. Laura says:

    Hi Taylor, thanks for this fantastic job. I am currently reading Au-delà du Principe de Pouvoir, and was wondering whether you could help me with some translation issues… I haven’t read Laruelle in French before, and I have troubles with the concept of “économie general”. Would you read the “general” in terms of Laruelle’s concept of the “generic” or this is something different? Same issue with his doctoral thesis, Economie Generale des Effets d’Etre – would you translate “general” with generic? Thanks heaps in advance!

    • Hi Laura!

      Just a general (no pun intended) reply for now–which we can extend according to your reply–I have two basic responses, and we can both look into it more and discuss.

      ‘General economy of the effects of being’ refers back to Hegel specifically, then also to Bataille, and this terminology can be best addressed (at least from my reading knowledge) in Derrida’s book ‘Writing and Difference’, where he actually has an essay on the subject of Bataille’s reading of Hegel (here’s a quick summary on a wordpress post: https://tastetowaste.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/jacques-derrida-from-restricted-to-general-economy-a-hegelianism-without-reserve-in-writing-and-difference-1967/)–I didn’t scan this post yet, but this essay, along with most of Derrida’s work (to be sure) has been written on fairly extensively, and so there’s plenty for us to peruse while we chat!

      So, this language of ‘general economy’ or ‘general economy of effects of being’ is derived from Hegel…As far as I have read, Laruelle doesn’t write much about Bataille, but I’m sure he’s familiar with Derrida’s seminal works, which would include his 1967 publications…and of course Laruelle is familiar with Hegel extensively…in any case, he is a close reader of Derrida, so he is probably following this terminology.

      More interestingly, and something to follow up on and extend our conversations, the translation here of the title of Derrida’s essay (‘From Restricted to General Economy’) actually needs some parsing. ‘Restricted’ here and ‘general’ are actually also resonating with the French ways of translating ‘general’ and ‘special’ relativity (since in French, special relativity is ‘relativite restreint’). This is really interesting because Laruelle will use the terms ‘general’ and ‘restrained’ to qualify, for example (but not only), aspects of non-philosophy (for example, off the top of my head, this comes into play clearly in his Response to Deleuze, where he characterizes Deleuze and Guattari’s version of ‘non-philosophy’ as restrained–or special–juxtaposed to his general non-philosophy).

      So, in that sense, the non-Euclidean metaphor (dominant especially in philosophie II, especially in Philosophie et non-philosophie, translated by yours truly ^_^) also mirrors a non-Einsteinian aspect via the theme or metaphor of the general and the restrained/restricted/special (although, this is one word in French, of course).

      Now, even in Derrida’s time, this phrasing would have been prevalent, and so it would be interesting to interrogate that essay to see if Einstein comes up (if I recall, it’s not apparent, but it could be indirectly thematic in his essay). In any case, Derrida would not be ignorant of the fact that this phrasing would resonate with Einstein’s two theories. However, I do not know the extent to which Bataille writing on Hegel would be wary of any connections, conceivably because his writings, I believe, predate the terminology in French, if not the Einsteinian theories themselves (I’d have to check on that). Furthermore…it would be interesting to see if restrained/general comes into play in Bataille’s writings at all, and if so, what specifically they mirror in Hegelian language.

      So, I said all that to give some context and some further reading for us. But the short answer to your specific question is that, no, the generic and the ‘general’ here are not coincident but distinct terminological entities. In many ways, Hegel’s dialectic is at home opposing the specific/particular, the general and the singular, etc. etc., as I’m sure you’re aware. On the other hand, the generic (while not being opposed–haha!–to this) does not allow itself to be caught up in this play of aufhebung/opposition/identification…

      Another short answer is that the theme of the generic in Laruelle’s writing specifically does not come into play (at least terminologically speaking) until philosophie IV…I would suggest checking out my blog speculativeheresy.wordpress.com for some more of my translations and one of my posts on his book Introduction aux sciences generiques, where the generic is taken in specifically (you can find it here: https://speculativeheresy.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/notes-to-laruelles-introduction-to-the-generic-sciences/).

      Just to give a taste, my notes start with a paraphrasing of his definition of what generic ‘means’ for him in the context of his work:

      “This work calls “generic” a type of sciences or knowledges [connaissances] sufficiently neutral and devoid of particularity in order to be added to others more determined and co-operate with them, transforming them without destroying them or denying their scientific nature. They are capable of being added to others acquired in a more “classical” way without unsettling what the latter take from their domain of object and legality, i.e. capable of transforming knowledge without philosophically destroying it.”

      So, in reality, the wonder of Laruelle’s ‘non-‘ (specifically non-philosophy, but definitely not limited to this) is that it does not work via negation (non-philosophy is obviously not the negation of philosophy) but via transformation, via what Laruelle will call under- or sub-determination (rather than overdetermination, a la Hegel, etc.).

      I would love for you to visit speculativeheresy.wordpress.com for more of my translations (which are original and ‘unpublished’, i.e. in draft form). One translation in particular that highlights the process of what he then called (during the 90s in Philosophy II-III) ‘generalization’, which in many ways resembles aspects of the generic and paves a strong bond between those two terms. This essay is the one on ‘non-analysis or generalized analysis’. To be sure, here ‘generalized’ and ‘generalization’ are quite distinct from your question about the difference between ‘general’ and ‘generic’, but it helps to provide more context.

      Now, to end, I will tell you up front that I have not been able to track down a copy of his dissertation yet, and I realize now that perhaps what I said about about him taking this concept from Derrida may be a crude assumption on my part, so if I am mistaken and wrong in this connection, then I highly apologize. I will have to look into this more and try to find out what I can. Do you have a copy of it in pdf? I know that’s a lot to ask, but that’d be pretty cool! If not, no worries…but I cannot answer from direct reading knowledge about this, albeit I’m sure if I looked through Brassier’s dissertation, we’d get some basic outlines of what goes on in Laruelle’s usage of the term.

      I look forward to hearing back to you, and I hope that this helps!

      Date: Mon, 4 May 2015 13:50:51 +0000 To: tadkins613@hotmail.com

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