- Laruelle: Against the Digital by Alexander R. Galloway
Alexander R. Galloway is a professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University who specializes in continental philosophy, and in this case deals with what the back cover describes as “the idiosyncratic French thinker, François Laruelle.” I was shocked to realize I had never heard of Laruelle. Anxious to fill in any gaps in what has been the dominance of French philosophical thought in humanities, I plunged into what began as an almost impenetrable exposition of a philosopher who extolls the One, derides its distinction into Two and what is called “the standard model” of philosophy—identified by the author as the digital—and who (Laruelle) advocates non-philosophy.
After a few pages, three prior philosophical experiences began to show relevance: First, early in my own graduate education I was fascinated with the Presocratics. Parmenides, after all, was the philosopher of the One, revived here in a more post-Heideggerian tone by Laruelle. Second, I was fortunate enough to twice live in Paris, first during the monumental years 1967–68, and later again in 1984, precisely times when French philosophy was in its heyday both in the universities and the streets. But was I missing something? Reading Laruelle I realized that there was another French philosophical strand not that of the dominant philosophies of the “Events of May.” And third, a very different philosophical strand related first to a fascination with Zen Buddhism while in theological school and later while working on my first forays into auditory phenomenology. Could we “think” non-linguistically? Or is thinking in a language—inner speech—a persistent feature of human experience? Is the One necessarily without language?
Today one can recognize that unlike the dominant university/street talk of 1968, phenomenology—(Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur), hermeneutics (Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Martin Heidegger), critical theory (Jürgen Habermas, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse—Louis Althusser in France), structuralism (Claude Lévi-Strauss, Ferdinand de Saussure) post-structuralism (Jacques Derrida), postmodernism (Jean-François Lyotard)—there had begun what later is called “speculative [End Page 708] realism,” which one can associate with Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, and Laruelle. This strand, already present in 1968 with Deleuze, blooms later, closer to and after 1984. It is this strand which holds Galloway’s attention. Of the principals, Deleuze is probably the best known and Galloway claims, “We are all Deleuzians today” (p. 96). Laruelle places close to Deleuze, but even closer to Badiou. Yet all three are nostalgically Presocratics, I would say via a strand from Heidegger. Heidegger tried to return philosophy to the singular question of Being, in Presocratic language a variant on the One. Speculative realists, still following the strange blend of quasi-mythical but also highly abstract language, return to precisely these meditations. And they reinsert various “Platonic” strands of mathematical idealism.
But Galloway’s target, captured in the subtitle, is the digital, which in the above renewed Presocratic conversation is the Two, the many, the multiple, the Digital. The standard model, academic philosophy, follows the Two, the Digital, and thus in the most concrete chapters of part II, withdrawing from the Standard Model, there is discussion of computers, capitalism, the black universe, etc. It is clear that digital technologies, in a capitalist network, are the enemies of “reality” of this Laruellean sort. This is an understandable reading and it reconnects with much of what also was the spirit of 1968—a revival of Marxism in its French mode (including Althusser, Deleuze, Badiou, and Laruelle), and a study of the theme of “autonomous technology,” a technology run away and on its own, now re-emergent as globalization. Laruelle, most radical of the group, wants to “unify philosophy and capitalism together as a single term” (p. 120). And finally, as Galloway reaches toward his conclusion, he claims, “All thought is essentially pre-Socratic” (p. 190). Included here should be the ultimate rejection of the digital and its technological incarnations (although he admits Laruelle says little about technologies as such...