Biography of the Eye by François Laruelle
Originally published as “Biographie de l’oeil,” La Decision philosophique 9 (1989): 93-104.
for Adolfo Fernandez Zoila
“Man is this night, this empty nothingness that contains everything in its undivided simplicity…he is this night that one sees if one looks a man in the eyes.”
Supplement to Hegel’s judgment concerning man
A philosopher has never looked a man directly in the eyes. The philosopher is the man who turns his eyes away to look man in the eyes: he is a man with a distorted gaze. The philosopher misrecognizes the immediate for he himself is not immediate.
To look in the eyes: a maxim of philosophical curiosity, of its oblique indiscretion.
The philosopher is the man with an oblique gaze who lacks the straightforwardness of man.
To look in the eyes: this multiple sounds like a singular, like the penetration into the unique depths of the soul, if it isn’t simply a possibility of untruthfulness or contradiction between the eyes, quickly effaced.
The philosopher looks at man from outside: in the eyes, and he can only see the void and the night, a haze that thickens into nothingness or dissipates in the light of day.
The philosopher looks man in the eyes to dissolve the World into man and man into nothingness. The philosopher does not see man in man and sees the nothingness of the World.
Eyes can be felt, burnt, penetrated, caressed, but they are only eyes—eyes that see—if one can look into them. Like beasts attached to their cubs by filling them with their own breath, the philosopher believes to attach himself to man by throwing his own gaze onto the depths of man’s eyes. Thus he makes a new philosopher of him.
Rules of philosophical vision: 1. Man is a being who must be looked in the depths of the eyes; 2. Only another man can access the depths of man; 3. Being thus looked in the eyes makes him man, i.e. philosopher.
Looking in the eyes is the inversion of transcendence, its reversal and redoubling. Two gazes tie together into one and become reversible—abyssal desire where man spills over and is lost in the other, where both are brought together without ever attaining the ultimate reduction.
Penetrating the other through the eyes goes beyond indiscretion if it can touch his desire and unsettle his nothingness.
For the philosopher, the eye is convertible in the eye, reversible with another eye. The eye is a man for the eye, man is eye for man.
Man is an abyss for man, i.e. for the philosopher who looks at man.
The eye that is seen in the eye is infinite speculation. The eye is a speculative abyss for the eye, it is what the philosopher sees if he looks a man in the depths of his eyes.
The philosopher is this man to the eyes in a face-to-face, i.e. slowly turned away, this night and this nothingness that look at each other in the other; it is the philosopher that one sees in the eye who is mirrored in the other eye.
Lesson of the night
Man does not look in the eyes, but sees-in-One. A man is this night that looks into the night, with the exception of the All.
There is no eye that is not One (eye). The eye that contains the eye as an other is no more One (eye) than the Other-of-the-Other is One (Other).
The eyes do not contain everything. Or they contain everything with the exception of vision, hence the supplementary eyes of the philosopher. Or the eye contains itself in its undivided simplicity, with the exception of the All.
“To look in the eyes” is either the reflexive tautology of philosophical speculation, or the identity of the non-speculation that man brings with him.
If Being is the distorted eye and sees no more than the Other’s shadow in their vicinity, the One is the eye that sees the Other in person.
What man as seeing-in-man sees when he looks in man is this undivided simplicity, with the exception of the All.
Man is this undivided simplicity, this mystical night before nothingness, that looks in himself and contains nothing but himself and manifests himself as nothingness when he looks a man in the eyes.
Only man—neither God nor animals—can be looked in the depths of the eyes and more still from the depths of the eyes.
Man who looks in himself sees the night in-him, nothingness and the all outside-him.
The night in man is forever il-luminated and the nothingness forever a-nihilated.
To look in the eyes is either impossible because of obliqueness or means that the eye looks in the eye like the One in the One.
The gaze cast onto the depths of the eyes is the reflection of the seen-in-One.
Vision is foundational when it abandons perception and sees-in-the-night.
Man as what is seen in-him or in-One is the real content of every theory of vision.
For the philosopher, man is the reflection of the nothingness of the World or the All. For man, the World or the All is the reflection of the night of man.
Man’s undivided simplicity is the only one that does not contain everything and which sees that it does not contain everything because it sees the All in a nothingness outside itself.
The vision-in-One sees the eye-in-One. But the eye-in-One is either simply the One-in-One or is the vision of the eye in the nothingness beyond the One.
Philosophers have divided the undivided simplicity of nothingness and the all, but human eyes have never divided the unique night.
Man is this undivided simplicity that sees the night when he looks in the indivisible night; nothingness when he looks in the indivisible nothingness; the all when he looks in the indivisible all.
The vision-in-the-night is the identity of vision and night, of the eyes and the depths of the eyes, of the window and the crossing of the window.
Man is a lesson of the night.
Vengeance and the community of gazes
The philosopher advances under the protection of the horizon there where man is to be discovered in his undivided simplicity. The philosopher watches over the gaze of man and waits for it.
The philosopher looks man in the eyes to grasp the nakedness of his depths and finds nothing but his own desire.
In the cavern of the eye, as in its approach, fulgurates that which illuminates the night and enshrouds the day.
The philosophical eye wishes to see the nothing in the eye of man rather than see nothing. The philosopher wishes to look the nothingness of man in the eye rather than be a nothingness of vision.
The philosopher cannot orient himself in the black night of the eye because he does not even know that this night is prior to the eye.
The eye was “in” the eye, and the World did not see. Vision was “in” the eye, and the eye did not see.
Philosophy is this speculation or this theory-of-vision that does not see the vision-in-One.
To look in the eyes is at best an objectification sans object, a reflection sans mirror—the pure medium of speculative optics.
Speculation requires man as this void where it is mirrored and through which it gives consistency to its own nothingness.
Man is this mid-place of day and night, mid-place of nothingness and all that one sees if one looks Oedipus in his third eye.
Man is this night, this nothingness that the philosopher hallucinates when he looks man in the eyes. I call hallucinating—a common feminine noun—every thought or vision which believes to see the real when it only sees the all; which believes to see the One when it sees Being. It is a hallucinating of the type: I think, therefore I am…
One cannot look a man in the eyes as one looks through a window. Man is the only being to look at a window.
The speculative eye is the already divided One, Being whose essence is double vision, the vision-in-One reflected facing its instrument and turned into an optics.
Philosophy remains an optics. Transcendental no doubt, but specular: thus intuitivity is its unavoidable structure. The eye is first external empirical sense; then it is divided and doubled, the introduction of the other gaze constituting an optical or a priori specular field; then the gazes tie together, form a chiasmus, and constitute a transcendental speculative field. But the multiplication of the eye en abîme does not abolish it, for the eye is the intuition that now gives the other eye; the gaze that opens upon the other gaze—is the nucleus of every transcendental aesthetic. From external sense, it becomes external and internal sense, its reflexive and speculative power increases, but it is not really abolished by philosophy, which is instead its development. It definitively belongs to philosophy to be an intuition and an intuition of empirical intuition or transcendental vision—never a pure thought, never an internal transcendental experience prior to every optics and prior to the disjunction of the eye that founds optics.
The philosopher is a double blind: naïve consciousness is open to experience and blind to sense; philosophical consciousness is blind to experience and open to sense. Philosophy is this system of thought that tries to compose a single vision or provide vision with two blindnesses.
Man sees in-blind in the truth itself.
Man is this blind that contains undivided simplicity in himself with the exception of the All. He is this night that perceives this blind if he looks a man in the eyes.
Man is this medium between night and nothingness. Less than this medium: nothingness which is nothing but nothingness; night which is nothing but night. More than their medium: this identity (of) nothingness, (of) the night, which is neither night nor nothingness.
The philosopher: “we the seeing.” Man: “we the blind,” we see everything from the depths of things. We see prior to the eye.
The night is human down to the depths of the eyes. The philosopher is human down to the surfaces of the eyes.
“To look in the eyes” also means: “The Same is the eye and the eye”—the matrix of speculation.
Philosophy is the division of the eye—its doubling and redoubling. It is the division of the night that dwells in the One-depths of the eye in an internal night and an external night; a night through the absence of light, a night through the excess of light.
Philosophies—speculative dialectic or not—are particular distributions, economies regulated by the exchange of gazes between men and a general forgetting of the vision-in-One as the real cause that determines the exchange of gazes in the last instance.
Every philosophical speculation is communication, and communication is always speculative. Their maxims: 1. to see through myself by seeing in the place of the other; 2. eye-for-an-eye.
“Eye-for-an-eye”: formula of the metaphysics of vengeance and metaphysical vengeance, from which only the vision-in-One can save us. It can receive two senses: as eye for itself or the speculative subjective; as Eye-for-the-Other, as hostage-of-the-Other-eye. In both cases, vengeance is not warded off.
Eye-for-an-eye: exchange and reversibility of gazes that oscillate between vengeance and desire; vengeance and desire that oscillate between reversibility and exchange.
The division of the eye-for-an-eye regulates the inhuman economy of transcendence. To look in the eyes: the speculative community of gazes founds humanity on nothingness and vengeance—on speculation.
…man—this night that contains everything in himself and thus does not contain this night—man who contains everything in himself and thus does not contain man—this nothingness that contains everything in itself and thus does not contain this nothingness—man who contains everything in himself and thus does not contain man—this simplicity that contains everything in itself and thus does not contain this simplicity—man…
For us non-seeing non-philosophers
…man is indifferently this speculative eye this phenomenological eye their resolved contradiction for us philosophers identically what the speculative eye sees when it looks in the phenomenological eye identically the seeing the becoming of the seeing in the seeing that one sees non-speculatively by speculatively looking a non-seeing in the eyes indifferently this empty night this full night their resolved contradiction identically what the empty night sees when it looks in the full night identically the night the becoming of the night in the night that one sees non-speculatively by speculatively looking a contradiction in the eyes indifferently this white nothingness this black nothingness their resolved contradiction identically what the white nothingness sees when it looks in the black nothingness identically the nothingness the becoming of the nothingness in the nothingness that one sees non-speculatively by speculatively looking Being in the eyes indifferently this complex indivision this simple indivision their resolved contradiction identically what this simple indivision sees when it looks in this complex indivision identically the indivision the becoming of the indivision in the indivision that one sees non-speculatively by speculatively looking the One in the eyes man is this night that contains everything with the exception of the night this nothingness that contains everything with the exception of nothingness this simplicity that contains everything with the exception of simplicity this everything that contains everything with the exception of everything he is this indivision of everything the exception of every exception that one sees if we non-seeing non-philosophers look a man in the eyes…
The night is a human
The night is this humanity, the empty nothingness is this subjectivity, the undivided simplicity is this interiority, which are all contained in themselves with the exception of the All. It is facing this humanity that man sees the Other man in the eyes of humanity.
The night is this interiority, the empty nothingness is this humanity, the undivided simplicity is this subjectivity, which are all contained in themselves with the exception of the All. It is facing this subjectivity that man sees the Other man in the eyes of subjectivity.
The night is this human, this woman in the eyes of nothingness, this nothingness that one perceives if one looks a woman in the eyes.
The night is this human that contains everything in its undivided simplicity with the exception of the All. It is this night that one perceives if one looks the undivided night in itself.
The simplicity is this human that contains everything in its undivided nothingness with the exception of the All. It is this simplicity that one perceives if one looks the undivided nothingness in itself.
Woman is this human who contains everything in her undivided gaze with the exception of the All. It is this woman that one perceives if one looks a gaze in itself.
The night is this human that sees nothingness and the all facing its own depths in the occasion of the eye, that sees the eye facing its own depths in the occasion of nothingness and the all; that determines nothingness and the all in their undivided simplicity.
This night is this human that looks man in the eyes, the nothingness is this human that looks woman in the eyes. Man is this night sans horizon that only contains its undivided simplicity; this nothingness sans light that only contains its undivided interiority; this simple sans simplicity that contains nothing but its undivided humanity.
The night is this human that does not speculate about man. Who am I, who am? I am neither this reason nor this intelligibility; neither this question nor this speculation. I am this night, this transcendental woman who sees in man who I am, what I am with the exception of All.
The night is this human sans horizon. The horizon has never known the eye, it is a wall raised against the eye. The eye lets the night traverse the horizon. The night is this humanity which is nothing but night.
The night which is in the night and the Other night
The Other man is not another man; the Other woman is not another woman; the Other night is not another night. It is what one sees if one looks another man, another woman, another night—in the eyes.
The Eye-in-One is not the flesh, it sees the Other himself. The eye is the oracle of the Other.
To look a man in the eyes is to see him twice. Once as he is seen in-himself or in-One; once as one sees the Other: identically “in-man” and “in transparency.”
It is still the eye that one sees in the depths of the Other eye; still the night in the depths of the Other night. But the Other night is what the night sees when it looks in the Other man. THE night is this human that sees the Other night when it looks in itself.
The night which is in the night sees the undivided night which is in the Other man. The night which is in the state of the night sees in it the night which is in the state of the Other. The eyes which are in the eyes see the unique nothingness which is in the Other man.
The Other man is this whole night, this whole nothingness that contains itself in their undivided simplicity; and this whole Other night, this Other nothingness that contains itself completely with the exception of their undivided simplicity.
The Other man is this point-blank night, this gaze that has not seen any gaze, this simplicity which has not given any division that one perceives when one looks a man in the eyes. The Other man is what one sees without looking in the gaze of the Other man.
The Other man is this night identical (to) nothingness, this nothingness identical (to) this simplicity, this simplicity identical (to) the night, which identically contain themselves with the exception of the Other. This is what one sees if one looks another man in his identity.
The Other night is this human night forever non-posed in the night. The Other nothingness is this human nothingness forever non-opened upon nothingness. The Other simplicity is this human simplicity forever non-closed upon simplicity. It is what one sees if one looks the Other man in the eyes.
The Other woman is this simple night that is not enveloped in the night, this simple nothingness that is not doubled by nothingness, this simplicity that is not bound with simplicity. It is what one sees if one looks another woman in her simplicity.
The Other woman is this transcendental field of the night, devoid of dawn and dusk; this opening of nothingness, devoid of the horizon of being; this indivision of the simple, devoid of retreat. It is what one sees if one looks another man in the indivision of his void.
The Other woman is this night non-illuminating (of) itself, this nothingness non-annihilating (of) itself, this simplicity non-simplifying (of) itself that contains this All non-totalizing (of) itself. It is what one sees if one looks another woman in her eyes non-seeing (of) herself.
The night is this human that contains the Other-night through its undivided simplicity with the exception of the Other. It is this Other-night that one sees if one looks the Other man in the eyes.
The night is this human that contains the Other-all through its undivided simplicity with the exception of the Other. It is this Other-all that one sees if one looks the Other man in the eyes.
The night is this human that contains the Other-nothingness through is undivided simplicity with the exception of the Other. It is this Other-nothingness that one sees if one looks the Other man in the eyes.
Man is this human night that contains the Other-night, this human nothingness that contains the Other-nothingness, this human-simplicity that contains the Other-simplicity—with the exception of themselves. It is this Other-night, this Other-nothingness, this Other-simplicity that one sees if one looks the Other man in the eyes.
Translated by Taylor Adkins 3/2009.
Holy shit, I can’t wait to read the second comment.
“Philosophy remains an optics.” Certainly. This article remembering us of the importance of vision for philosophy. Beginning with Plato’s analogy of the cavern and the importance of camera obscura för Decartes and Locke.
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