Art and the Practice of Non-Philosophy

Presentation on Laruelle and the work of Pamela Rosenkranz, at Pavilion, Leeds, June 2012

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François Laruelle is a philosopher who has been working and publishing, in near-obscurity, in Paris, since the late 60, but whose work has recently become more well known in the UK and US. I would like to talk about his theoretical work in connection with the work of the young Swiss artist Pamela Rosenkranz. I don’t want to claim that Rosenkranz’s work is illustrative of Laruelle’s work; indeed if one were merely the image of the other there would be no interest in discussing their relation. What I will suggest is more of an overlap, a superposition or a kind of montage that allows us, in bringing certain aspects of these two practices together in parallel, to explore some new possibilities for thinking and for practice. What I would like to suggest is that there is a certain innovative logic in Laruelle’s work, a logic that makes him important to a contemporary movement in thought that has been called ‘Speculative Realism’, and that this logic is also operative in Rosenkranz’s artworks and the way in which they confront the context of art and aesthetics.

If we can agree that this connection is substantial and significant, then, since Laruelle calls his practice ‘non-philosophy’, perhaps we could, if not define, at least begin to discuss the possibility, of a practice of ‘non-art’. If you are not familiar with Laruelle’s work, let me reassure you that would not be about an anti-art, a destruction of art, or a negation of art. What Laruelle wants to do with his ‘non-philosophy’ is to ‘change the paradigm of thought’ in such a way that philosophy would not be destroyed or overcome, but would subsist as a field of thought that results from a particular decision, one that can no longer be regarded as necessary, as belonging necessarily to thought per se. Philosophy would be revealed to be a field of thought that is, in a certain way, the narcissistic image of the thinker. It would be one of the possibilities of conceptual thought, one that arises spontaneously and will always remain compelling for human thought, but for this reason must be carefully examined. Philpsophy, for Laruelle, does not constitute conceptual thought in its entirety. One of Laruelle’s favourite analogies to explain this has been by comparing his work, which he calls ‘non-philosophy’ to non-Euclidean geometry. Euclidean geometry, as we know, reigned for almost two thousand years, on the basis of its applicability to the world in which we live.

Euclid had based geometry on five postulates, one of which was the intuitive truth that two parallel lines, continued indefinitely, would never meet. When mathematicians found, two thousand years later, that it was in fact possible to create entirely consistent systems of geometry that did not obey Euclid’s parallel postulate—for example, the geometry of a curved surface, where all parallel lines eventually converge—it was not that Euclidean geometry was negated; rather, it became evident that it was merely one possibility among many others, one of many geometries, but one that happened to accordance with the normal appearance of the universe from our local point of view. The advent of non-euclidean geometry expanded the notion of space and measure, making possible the creation of an expanded field of mathematical thinking, which still contains the Euclidean system as one of its possibilities, but which, ultimately, would allow the conceptualisation of less intuitively-obvious systems of physics such as Einsteinian space-time. The geometry of our everyday, apparently Euclidean world became one of many mathematical possibilities, some of which described the universe far more precisely.

If non-philosophy seeks to perform this kind of operation on philosophical thought, in the same way, I want to suggest, a non-art might seek an expanded field within which what was formerly known as art, however all-encompassing it might seem to be now, would take its place as one among many possibilities. Now, of course, our knowledge of the history of modern and contemporary art might suggest that this ‘non-art’ is nothing, indeed can be nothing, other than another name for art itself: Like philosophy, art has continually operated a critique of its own forms, its own presuppositions, its presumptions, and has expanded its borders until it appears to encompass almost any possible act; this is precisely what modern and contemporary art mean to us. And yet, one might wonder—and I think this is the suspicion raised by Rosenkranz’s work—one might wonder whether, as Laruelle tells us is the case in philosophy, this process has never been consummated; whether art’s critique of itself, like philosophy’s, is merely a perpetuation by other means of certain fundamental assumptions that circumscribe artistic thought and practice, isolating it from a wider field in which the objects of art would appear under another aspect. Placing in parallel philosophy’s claim to be all-encompassing for thought, and the equally apparently limitless empire of contemporary art, at least, can serve as a pretext, however inexact, for posing the question.

Firstly let’s discuss Laruelle’s work in a little more detail—although this discussion will still be rather schematic and simplified. It’s extremely strange to read Laruelle. His writing seems very austere, often very formulaic or repetitious; it can seem almost like a kind of abstract poetry or a Beckettian performance. In fact, beneath this austere surface, where a handful of concepts are proposed, thought and reworked, honed and refined, there is an incredible richness, that digests concepts drawn from a broad range of thinkers, from Plotinus and the Gnostics, to Heidegger and Derrida, along with Husserl, Nietzsche, and many others. But Laruelle uses all of this to build a theoretical apparatus whose characteristic property is to refuse involvement in or elaboration of the ostensible themes of these thinkers, and has the one sole, insistent purpose of creating what Laruelle calls a ‘science of philosophy’, or ‘non-philosophy’

We can begin to understand the motives for this by making some observations about philosophy that even the beginner will recognise: Namely, philosophy is always doing the same thing, in a certain sense it never ‘progresses’. Not that any philosopher ever aimed to just keep on philosophising forever (except perhaps Derrida—but we will see why later): philosophy is always oriented toward a point at which it would achieve the knowledge it aims at, and yet this goal is never reached; we are quite aware that every system honed and perfected by one philosopher will be taken up and problematised by another. Since a part of what philosophy takes as its object includes the operations of philosophy itself, philosophy always seems to be, also, a philosophy of philosophy, and we remain always caught in its circle. This has become explicit to a greater and greater extent in the last few centuries, since Hegel, who introduced the history of philosophy into philosophy: philosophy has continually engaged in critiques of itself, culminating in Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics and Derrida’s deconstruction of Western thought. And yet, even in the latter, precisely what happens is not that one is able, at last, to have done with the illusory struggles of philosophical thought, and to resolve or put aside its questions; instead, one finds oneself face-to-face with the eternal motor of deferral and difference that will ensure that it goes on interminably.

So, Laruelle tells us, let’s admit that a philosophical critique of philosophy is only ever more philosophy. What we need is a science of philosophy that would allow us to see and to describe philosophy from the outside, from a position that is not philosophical.

This is linked to what one of Laruelle’s masters, Althusser, says about philosophy, in his important book Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists, when he extends a helping hand to scientists by reminding them that they are always already doing philosophy, without knowing it, and to do philosophy is to cut up reality, with what Althusser calls ‘lines of demarcation’; what is necessary, in order to distinguish between what is really scientific and what is ideological, is to draw a line of demarcation between philosophy’s lines, and those of science—then, according to Althusser, we would be doing actual, active philosophy rather than spontaneous philosophy. (Spontaneous philosophy ‘is spontaneous, because it is not’—it is ideological in the last instance).

This is also Laruelle’s struggle. But what he will disagree with is the claim that we are always already within philosophy. He takes from Althusser the idea of operating a kind of scientific surgery on philosophy; but he insists that this science would not be a part of philosophy, and affirms that it is possible to find a point outside philosophy that can support such a science.

So, Laruelle wants to tell us that we don’t even need to ‘escape’ from philosophy, because we were never in it to begin with. Philosophy is a way of knowing, but a limited and specific one. It is a way of relating to the real, but it has its ultimate basis is a prior relation to the real that is non-philosophical, and that each of us is able to accede to, if we adopt the new perspective he proposes to us. We need to realise that, in a certain sense, we—as real thinkers, before the ideological intervention of philosophy—never entered the circle of philosophy, but, once we believed that we had, we were doomed never to escape from it.

Why this inescapability? If philosophies can be said to seek after a common object, they seek after their other—after a real that philosophical thought would be able to grasp but which would not be the product of philosophy. So philosophy supposes that thought is, in principle, able to conceptually grasp a reality that is other than thought.

But that is to say that the model of philosophical knowledge always has to give itself, prior to thinking the real, the possibility of thought’s relation to the real, in a moment of immanent union that is presupposed, only to be divided. Philosophy always gives itself reality+thought as an object of thought.

Thus, philosophy is the practice that probes our claims to grasp reality in thought; but before this, it already presupposes itself capable of grasping a pre-existing field within which this will be achieved—a field within which thought and the real have already been unified by philosophy, before philosophy has even started. Philosophy in this way places itself both inside and outside its own field of enquiry, and it is this that gives rise to its infinite reflexivity.

Again: Philosophy wants to grasp a real that is not yet conditioned by its being thought. But in effect, it has already presupposed this supposedly unconditioned reality, and presupposed it as something already within thought, thus denatured it. Even if, as in critical philosophies, it is said that philosophical understanding is inherently finite, and cannot grasp the real in its entirety, this deficiency or limitation itself is inscribed within philosophy’s prior presumption, its prior decision: thought’s finitude is still an object for philosophical reason. Philosophy makes its own possibility into an object for itself, and thus infinitely, reflexively, problematises itself. It is this simultaneous unifiying and dividing, a folding of everything within philosophy, and a folding of philosophy onto itself—that Laruelle calls philosophical decision—and that prescribes the circular character of all philosophy: Decision means that philosophy presupposes an ultimate immanence of the real and thought, but presupposes it as, precisely, an object of thought.

Having thus set in motion a tension between the limitedness of thought’s access to the real, and its assumed right to think their immanence, all manner of philosophical complexities can be generated, and a whole range of positions are possible; but they will all fall within the limited borders of this decisional thought. And Laruelle insists that these borders are not, as philosophy would have us believe, synonymous with the possibilities of conceptual thought as such. Therefore non-philosophy, the science of philosophy, seeks to describe all these multifarious activities of philosophy as, certainly, real thinking, with real effects, but to describe them scientifically by refusing this initial operation, and thus without falling under its authority. It will describe them without succumbing to them, without falling prey to what Laruelle describes as a sort of perpetual harassment by the hallucinatory necessities of philosophy, its endless dualities and dialectical movements which only serve it as further nourishment. It is this description of philosophy from outside its own bounds, this shift in perception or change in the paradigm of thought, that Laruelle sometimes calls the non-philosophical ‘cloning’ of philosophy, or a ‘performation’, that is both a perforation and a performance, of philosophy from the non-philosophical outside. Non-philosophy wants to describe philosophy’s hallucinations as real objects, rather than critiquing its illusions philosophically, from within philosophy (yet again).

This is the place to mark the departure of Laruelle’s thought from the ‘philosophies of difference’ of the end of the twentieth century, which, precisely, in critiquing metaphysics and a thought based on identity, intuited that philosophy’s perennial aspiration to erect these stable structures was conditioned by a more infernal and interminable process at work in philosophy. Having isolated philosophy’s decision, its self-differentiation, into its purest form, difference, they nevertheless continued to affirm this difference as the necessary, if paradoxical, structure of thought as such. It’s worth remarking, on a biographical point, that Laruelle was very close to Derrida’s circle, and was the first person in France to write a monograph on Derrida. He was eventually ejected from this community and has been something of a lone thinker ever since.

Now, Derrida also sees philosophical thought as being invariably marked by a decision, by two terms that are separated or cut out from within thought, and then re-articulated, with one of them as the privileged term. Deconstruction seeks to understand the ways in which the ascendency of the privileged term is always contaminated or marked by its other and by their prior assumption as simultaneously posited, co-dependent terms of a system of valuation within conceptual thought. But where Laruelle departs from Derrida is that he refuses to conclude that the two terms are always already inextricably mixed, for it is this conclusion that means that, in interrogating their mutual contamination, deconstruction becomes an in-principle interminable, endlessly-deferred/differed work of textual production. As Derrida says in On Grammatology, to perceive this system of unity-in-duality, and to seek to problematise its hierarchical structure, doesn’t at all mean that we can escape it, for our entire thought, culture, language belongs to this articulation, this contaminated mixture. Derrida therefore continues to advocate what Laruelle calls the ‘mixture’, the decisional structure, of philosophy, as inescapable—in a sense, this is the very meaning of ‘différance’. Certainly, Derrida thematises it directly, rather than merely being its hapless dupe, like the metaphysicians who really believed they could perfect, complete, and close the system with its hierarchy of terms.

But Laruelle radicalises Derrida’s position further. As Derrida once said to him, following a famously tense seminar during which he describes Laruelle’s work as a ‘terrorism’: You took my own knife, and stabbed me in the back with it. Laruelle refuses to accept that we are always within the circle of philosophy, and thus, always within différance. For him, in the very depths of thought, let’s say, there is a moment before difference, before philosophy, upon which we can base a thought that does not find itself intricated in this web.

The upshot is that Laruelle’s theory will have to speak about philosophical decision itself as the product of something that itself is non-philosophisable; a real immanent with thought but that non-philosophy cannot make into an object of thought, because it cannot be thought as the other of thought (that would merely be philosophical decision all over again). In non-philosophy, then, we posit, axiomatically, that thought is non-different to what it thinks; that thought and the real are identical—and not that they are identical qua synthesised, articulated or differenced by thought, but that they are, simply, One. Now, this is an axiom—that is, it is posited without being deduced by reason, for that would place it back within philosophy.

So, in this sense, non-philosophy, as an axiomatic, is an experimental practice, an experiment in thought like non-Euclidean geometry was: what happens when we retract the apparatus of philosophical decision, and instead posit the axiom of thought’s immanent identity to the real that it thinks; what kind of space is opened up when thought is a thing, and no longer the originary field within which the relation between thought and the real appears as, itself, an artefact of thought?

All of Laruelle’s thought is an attempt to allow us to see things like this—in what he calls the ‘vision-in-One’. And this is the basis of the important concept of ‘unilaterality’: the real’s relation to thought is unilateral, not reciprocal and reflexive; this is what ‘blocks’ non-philosophy from becoming philosophy again.

Unilaterality, then, is the idea that thought is caused, in the last instance, by the real, without any reciprocity whatsoever: it truly is a contingent product of a real that remains indifferent to it and is not affected by it.

Laruelle accepts that man thinks ‘humanly’ as condition of his access to the world. Our access to reality is indeed limited. But he maintains also that man is affected by the world in a way that is contingent for man (that does not belong to his essence)—man does not, originarily, belong to the world. What philosophy invariably does is to deduce the conditions of thought’s access to the real illegitimately from our contingent relation to the world.

So, as Heidegger tells us, man is indeed ‘thrown’ into the world. But this does not imply a primal co-belonging between man and world, such as would generate a tragic condition (man is ill at ease, but this is his essential destiny, etc.). There is indeed a duality, between our contingent position of thought and the real. Heidegger does not stand by this discovery. He presents us with one way to resolve the duality back into a unity, by positing being as an essential co-belonging of man and his world. Another way of doing the same thing is the religious way: That is, if we are thrown by God, then the world is also thrown at the same time, so that the co-belonging is again established. Philosophy, according to Laruelle, always takes one of these paths.

But, whereas non-philosophy acknowledges that this thrownness is part of the human situation—that man is thrown into a place that is not chosen, that there is a certain facticity to his being in the world, and there is no necessary relation between thought and the real—at the same time it maintains that, if we can think the unilateral nature of this relation, we thereby have the power to refuse and to transform the world (the being-ill-at-ease goes along with the transformative possibility).

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I would like to suggest that the place we could first begin to connect this thought with art is in the sublime. Because the sublime is the encounter of the human imagination with something that is, precisely, indifferent to it, something it is unable to bind, to capture.

Non-philosophy seems to posit that thought can accede to a real that is indifferent to thought; it would therefore be a real that endures before, after, and without the human, a reality also gestured toward by the ‘sublime’ encounter with powers that exceed the capacity of the imagination. But what is interesting is that the sublime has, even so, always been thought of as the sublime for or of the subject.

I would say, I am certainly not the first to say this, that the sublime has the structure of a trauma. Recall that Freud, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, speaks of trauma as an inundation of an interior space by an outside with which it is ultimately continuous, but which it is its organic function to differentiate itself from. The organism, unable to ‘bind’ this exorbitant excitation, that is to say unable to immediately subordinate it to its organic functions, sacrifices a part of itself to the inorganic in an attempt to shield itself—according to Freud there is a sort of parallelism here between the animal cell and the psychic apparatus, between the formation of the organism and the formation of the psyche. Of course, Freud tells us that, just as the organism develops a hard, insensitive membrane to protect itself, so the psyche continues to try to ‘bind’ the traumatic event by repeating it, turning a part of itself into a kind of lifeless machine—the death drive.

Now, in the classic romantic tradition of the sublime, beginning with Burke and Kant, the thinking of this traumatic encounter is subordinated to an organic economy in the same way: the imagination opens to its own extinction, only as much as it can afford to; subsequently to yield a measure of ‘delight’ (Burke) or to reassure itself of the sovereignty of Reason (Kant).

Classic concepts of the sublime therefore remain concentrated on the side of the organic utility, which draws a benefit from its failure to bind a real whose power exceeds and overwhelms its own. They therefore seem to be an artefact of conflicting organic tendencies: the will to inundation and the resistance against incorporation; the will to retain interiority and the entropic tendency to exteriority; narcissism and dispersion, the pleasure principle and the death drive. What is presented in the sublime, therefore, as described by Burke and Kant, is not the reality of the traumatic encounter, but rather the binding repetition, the will to master the trauma by repeating it.

My point is that, when the subject presumes him or herself as the authorial voice qualified to give an account of what he will call the sublime, when the sublime is voiced in a language of exorbitance in relation to the subject, what is really being spoken about is not the real, but the index of the real from the point of view of the subject’s economy; that is, the symptom, in which experience and its real cause are mixed, and not the cause, which is unilateral with respect to the experience.

The sublime is therefore the name for a mixture, which I would tentatively align with the structure of philosophical decision in Laruelle: In the latter, thought is posited as having a limited grasp on the real, but the excess of the real over thought is presupposed to be something that can be articulated in the field of thought. In other words, the exteriority of the real to thought is always described, by philosophy, from the point of view of the interiority of thought. If we follow this line of reasoning, non-philosophy would consist in the wager that, speaking in terms of Freud’s parallelism, it is possible to access the immanence of the organism and its exorbitant outside without binding it within the organic functions of interiority—to let the outside in, or to acknowledge that, from the point of view of the real, we never actually entered into the safe circle of interiority.

This would of course be the opposite of Kant’s account of the sublime, in which the limitations of the imagination revealed by the sublime experience only lead us to recognise the superiority of reason to be able to think, to bind, what is not intuitable.

For Laruelle, then, the axiomatic positing of the One allows us to put thought on a footing that prevents it from always interpreting the trauma of its contingency in terms of its own proclivities.

To make this more concrete, we can observe this ambivalence at work in the typical modern paintings of the sublime. In re-articulating the notion of the sublime during a period of theological uncertainty, scientific discovery and economic expansion, nineteenth century artists brushed up against an irrevocably weird ‘outside’ that disrupts the integrity of the subject: the contingency of death, the indifference of secularised nature, and the empty aeons of earth-history in which humanity itself is a contingent and vanishingly small episode. (See the Urbanomic project The Real Thing)

During this period, the new affect of the sublime does indeed seem to lead the artist, together with the scientist, towards an irrevocably weird ‘outside’ that cannot be harnessed for organic integrity, and equally for the ‘good’ of painting—of classical beauty, that is: empty aeons of earth-history, deadly elements, and beyond them, dehumanised cosmic time and space, in which the history of consciousness itself is a vanishingly small episode. The fascination for geology, physics, the dynamics of energy evident in these paintings anticipates a transition, in painting, from a familiar treasury of ‘acts of god’ and biblical setpieces to work that is highly informed by the revelation of a contingent history of the earth, a history that does not belong to the human.

But there is unmistakeable also a rearguard action, so that often that these intimations of a new, indifferent and inhuman world are as if ventriloquised by forms of classical historical painting: Homeric landscapes, biblical events. The romantic artist manipulates the exteriority he has discovered in the name of ‘nature’, dissimulating the deterritorializing forces that manufactured his landscapes; or he employs them to yield sublime moments of moral insight.

What could be done in order to prise the sublime from this mixed, economic deployment, which ultimately tells us nothing about the real, but only about the internal indices of trauma and the subject’s reactionary responses to it and attempts to draw some edification from it?

This trauma must itself be seen, not as an object of thought, but as immanent to the real: that is, we would have to ‘clone’ the sublime, to describe it from a position outside the affective experience of it. And in order to do so, we would have to posit the non-philosophical axiom: the sublime experience is non-different, indifferent, and simultaneous to the real that traumatises it; they are identical – and they are not identified qua synthesised, articulated or differenced on the basis of the sublime experience – they are to be seen in-One.

We would need to resist the organic-economic subordination of trauma and affirm the violating reality to the extent of suggesting not only that the sublime qua human experience bears the mark of an alien intrusion into human culture, but that human culture is already immanent to this alien reality.
As in Freud’s model of the organism, the reality that threatens the possibility of imagination and conception is the same reality that produces life and thought from an unconscious and ‘dead’ substrate.

Trauma thereby becomes more than a game of chicken played by the subject, it becomes immanent fact. It is not that we afford reality the opportunity to delight us with its sublimity; rather, the real intrudes upon us, forcing thought to behold its own contingency in ever more precise and appallingly unimaginable ways. Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi adds something important to Freud’s account here: he says that, rather than the psyche merely using the traumatic stimulus as the grounds for a reinforcement or its interiority, in fact this stimulus is internalised but sequestered, like a sort of foreign body, an alien insider. We harbour within ourselves elements of the inorganic, indifferent real—in fact, ultimately, this is all we are, the compounded result of a series of traumas.

Again, this could be called an experimental practice in thought: What happens when we retract the economic schema of the subjective experience of trauma, and instead posit the axiom of this experience’s immanent identity to the real; what kind of space is opened up?

I use this as a way to introduce Pamela Rosenkranz’s work, which I think attempts to address the inherited objects of aesthetics not by symptomatically repeating their gestures, but also not by simply refusing them; her work seems to introduce another way of thinking them, by placing aesthetic experience on the same plane as the objects it aestheticizes.

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So, I’d like to turn now to a body of work created by Rosenkranz during a residency in Venice in 2009–10.

This work was developed in response to the classic aesthetics of sunlight and water, and explores the human ‘domestication’ of these elements, venerated equally in religion, art, and the holiday brochure.
Needless to say, sunlight and water are the predominant motifs of art in and about Venice: the sun on water, the dazzling reflections, and so on. And of course the sun and the ocean are classic motifs of the sublime.

Now, Rosenkranz seems to have asked herself how she could address this heritage, somehow create a performance or a clone of it, without participating in it.

The theme of trauma is evident throughout the work: A motif of enclosing and protective membranes acknowledges that sun and water, indispensable elements of life, are also exorbitant, potentially deadly powers; but also media of capitalist accumulation. This is particularly apt in Venice, the sinking city, which stands as a sort of synecdoche for ecological catastrophe, but which is also a synonym for capitalist accumulation, a city gilded by the riches that its position on the water brought it.

Now, In Freud, the survival and individuality of an organic lifeform, biological, psychic or cultural, is based on the repression of an originary trauma in which it encountered, in all its naked power, the source of energy that would also be its death. Lifeforms are lagoons, repressed pockets of forgetting, temporarily protecting themselves against the outside that created them and will destroy them.

Thus we can say that all forms of life are solutions to the same problem; all their multiform characteristics are but methods of managing the excoriating excess of solar energy which will eventually consume them in death. As modes of life become more complex and more numerous, their dependence upon the excessive power source only grows stronger; there is therefore a mutually-reinforcing symmetry between the plurality of life and the monism of death. Another way to put this is that, from the point of view of the securitised individuated lifeform closed up against its traumatic encounter with solar excess, the sun inevitably becomes the single and absolute horizon or vanishing point for all life. It becomes sublime at the same time as, and to the extent that it is, domesticated and multiplied into endless forms of consumption.

In regard to both life and capitalism, water acts as a kind of relay; it is the sun’s representative on earth, the angelic secondary medium through which the solar economics of life is manifested. Although ultimately everything and everyone is destined for annihilation by the sun, trapped here on the planetary surface, the circuitous extravagances of life and capitalism are determined by following where the water is. It is to this affinity with water that capitalism owes its quasi-natural status and its potency as a new ‘force of nature’ churning and reterritorialising the planet. Water is that which allows the creation of the great human settlements, but it is also that which allows the commodity to travel, and thus accrue value in differentiation. The purest form being, of course, tourism, in which wealth is created through movement alone.

Capitalism’s unbridled consumption of energy manifests itself culturally in an ever-increasing complexification and elaboration of multiple ‘ways of life’ and supposedly infinite possibilities and differentiation.

Capitalism, therefore, relays into the cultural sphere a model according to which there are multiple forms of life but all are conducted by water and pledged to the singular fate of the solar abyss. All the diversity of life-under-capital, like the diversity of organic life, only corresponds to the fact that the relation between earth and sun unilaterally determines the model of life and thought.

Rosencranz’s interrogation thus knits together, under the sign of Venice, this dialectic of sun and water, their complicity and their connection with life, capital and thought. The celebrated aesthetic phenomenon of sunlight and water now appears as a kind of seductive sensory propaganda for this planetary conspiracy between capital, water, and the sun. This conspiracy also has a parallelism with philosophy that is far from accidental, for philosophy has always considered the sun as the ultimate source of enlightenment…. Let’s suppose that the ultimate significance of our visual fascination for the sun lies in the rediscovery of an originary trauma; the sun is the abyss towards which we are impelled to return, but which we must close ourselves up against. What better thing, then, than to see it reflected, in water … As in Plato, where one of the intermediate steps leading to the communion with the sun, the ultimate idea, is to contemplate ‘likenesses or reflections in water …’

That is to say, then, that the unilateral relation between earth and sun—for there is no reflexive relation whatsoever between them, the sun does not acknowledge the earth—is dissimulated by capitalism’s multiform ways of reflecting, and reflecting upon, the sun. Capitalism is nothing other than the sublime, in this sense; but by taking this unilateral perspective on it, we are enabled a kind of non-participation.

The shimmering surfaces of Rosenkranz’s work thus become a kind of clone or performation of sublime aesthetics, as symptoms both in art and in capitalism.

The ingenuity of Rosencranz’s use of emergency blanket foil in Bow Human and Stretch Nothing is that it renders these reflective, dazzling surfaces, and the whole aesthetic tradition dedicated to them, inextricable from the fundamental ambivalence of life towards the sun: the return of light to the eye, beyond its shimmering sensory appeal, speaks of a protective role—protection against an immense energy that cannot be afforded by any form of life; at the same time, the material suggests the accumulation through which capitalism desperately tries to forestall the inevitable, to harness and store a tiny part of this excess energy, to bury sunlight in gold—from the scintillating gold of the Basilica with its threefold glorification of the Christian god, the sun god and the money god, to its millions of cheap imitators hawked by the surrounding tourist stalls.

In other words, the work presents a concept, which unilateralises aesthetic phenomena and their meaning and retracts their symptomatic, reflexive or mixed nature.

In the Stretch Nothing series, vaguely human forms are reduced to a thin layer of skin smeared across this reflective foil, and trapped under glass, as in a greenhouse. Like these paintings, Bow Human can be understood as positing the human form in relation to this solar economy, whether we understand it as the victim of some geographical catastrophe, one of the female beggars who bow over their collection tins by the Venice canals, or a devotee of some ancient cult prostrating themselves before the sun.
In ‘Bow Human’, an reflective foil emergency blanket covers a figure who could equally be praying to a sun-god, begging, or sheltering from environmental catastrophe; Its scintillating surfaces recall the luxuriant gold of St Mark’s Basilica which glorifies both God and Mammon.

‘Firm Being’ presents the ‘diversity of human life’ celebrated by capitalism as a series of commodified water-containers—as found in the hands of every tourist in Venice.

The relaying of the economic model from the biological to the capitalistic is then poetically distilled in the unsettling correspondence Rosencranz sets up between what is apparently the most triumphant demonstration of the infinite absurdity of commodity-logic—branded, bottled water—and the human diversity and individualism celebrated by capitalist culture. Impeccably-packaged but viscerally unsettling, Firm Being recalls George Orwell’s reminder, at once ghoulish and irrefutable, that ‘a human being is primarily a bag for putting food in’. Food and water … The organism—let’s repeat the banal fact that our bodies, far from ‘firm being’, are in fact seventy percent water—uncannily anticipates the commodity, and the commodity perfects the trauma-driven encapsulation of sunlight in a bio-degradable membrane, with a sell-by date—‘the surface being merely a thin film separating from an abyss’.

What is interesting to me in relation to the sublime, is that Rosenkranz’s work seems to address the forces of cosmic exteriority that the sublime hinted at, but without reenacting the affect-driven violence that the romantic sublime harbors, and which seems to have an epidemic dimension: Ever since the first modern commentaries on Longinus and the development of the modern theories of the sublime, writers have been remarked on the epidemic quality of the sublime: that you can hardly write about the sublime without yourself succumbing to hyperbole, superlatives, in the attempt to evoke the other party’s evocations.

In unilateralizing the violence of that cosmic exteriority inflicts upon human reason, and presenting its symptoms as a part of the same real as their cause, rather than articulating the cause through the symptoms, Rosenkranz presents a new opportunity of artistic inquiry into the depths of the real as a weird ‘outside’.

That is to say, she presents an account of the sublime, an account of the hegemony of certain affects in art—she connects them both to a certain traumatism, and to capitalist commodification and aesthetic meaning, as it these were further aftershocks of trauma – but without simply relaying them once again,
Thus, what I suspect is at work in Rosenkranz’s work are strategies for breaking this circuit, for dealing with the aesthetic tropes without participating in spreading the infection or ‘affect-driven violence’ that are symptoms of the artistic decision. And this in the same way (as you will have guessed) as Laruelle attempts to place himself outside the interminable auto-production of philosophical discourse.

The point is to cease being the hapless victims of our own affect by continually transforming the ‘real qua irrevocably weird outside’ into a palatable but highly-contagious organic analogue.

Of course, conceptual art and abstraction had already ripped art away from its compulsive relation to the aesthetic; however rarely does it deal with the aesthetic. In this sense the turn to the conceptual does little unless we produce concepts that deal with our continuing enthrallment to the aesthetic – if not in art, then—as Rosenkranz seems to tell us—certainly as it is mobilised in other fields of commercial affect.

I’d suggest here returning to a word suggested by the philosopher Reza Negarestani: Complicity. Because it is complicity that presents the mysterious or exorbitant elements of the outside as common or more precisely disenchanted chemical elements (oil, dust, water and other cognizable entities) in reaction with each other. Yet at the same time it is complicity as the independent calculus of the real that consistently dispossesses the victim of its authorial voice to narrate the reality of trauma.
That is—and here is the parallel with Laruelle—the artist can no longer assume as originary right, her right to speak about the relation between her affect and the real, even if this relation is a limited and conditioned one (as in the sublime). The artist and her affect are ‘built in’ to the work, not reflexively, but as the product of a unilateral real that owes nothing to the work, and that is ‘lodged’ in the work as a kind of alien insider. A real that we try to domesticate by imposing meaning upon it, even the meaning of the sublime. But these meanings themselves are just the aftershocks of the traumatic real.

You will no doubt say that it is strangely anachronistic to attempt to perform a kind of critique of artistic tropes, of aesthetic forms that have already been worked over, gone beyond, and discarded by modern art history. But my point is this: In this rereading of classic tropes, does Rosenkranz assume the position of a critique or a deconstruction? In my view, she does not, she does something different, and closer to Laruelle’s non-philosophical operation. And, like the latter, it achieves something in relation to these aesthetic tropes that had not been achieved before.

This is a kind of cloning or performance which proceeds on the basis of an axiom of immanence: what it refuses is the prior positing of art’s relation to the real.

On a surface level, what is interesting to me is that this work shares a certain affect with Laruelle’s writing, and I have seen it exert similar effects: people say that it is not art, they find it unaffecting, it has a certain neutrality: this is precisely because, as with Laruelle’s work, in changing the paradigm, it fails to satisfy reflex desires. For Laruelle. philosophy’s downfall is that ultimately, despite all its claims to rigour and objectivity, it takes up a completely different stance to science, because it does not describe, but is instead driven by an obscure desire.

And indeed what is interesting is that in Pamela’s work, even though it could be called ‘nihilist’, nihilism itself is subjected to the same kind of blocking treatment: it is not nihilistic in the sense that it conveys an experience of meaninglessness as an emotional experience of loss: here, the affect of nihilism is blank and multifarious: What is actually very interesting is that her work does not end up as an austere conceptualism, but produces new concepts and new symbols, but ones that in a certain sense are neutralised. As in the relation between the sun and the earth, the blackness of annihilation opens up into a spectrum of residual colours.

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She uses this position as a way in which one can treat artistic practice—and the artist herself—as ‘materials’ in a similar way to that in which Laruelle wants to make philosophy into a ‘material’ for his non-philosophy.

Let’s look at one more, more recent work:

The static blue screen of Rosenkranz’s video work Death of Yves Klein (2011) also presents a concept, a blue-as-concept (a re-presentation of International Klein Blue) that cannot be said straightforwardly to ‘belong’ to art (more here). It cannot be said to belong to art precisely because it indicates a real that maintains a unilateral relation to art, that is the cause in the last instance of art but that art cannot assume is there ‘for’ it, in the way that Klein, ultimately, wanted his blue to be both a cosmic gift, and ‘signed by the artist’.

After essaying this brief experimental parallel, it’s time to now remark on some differences: Ultimately, Rosenkranz’s work is not non-philosophical in Laruelle’s sense. Laruelle stakes his position on the possibility of an experience of the radical immanenence of thought and the real.That is, his thinking of the real remains rooted in thought, albeit a thought stripped of many of the fundamental reflexes we attribute to it. Philosophically, Pamela is more interested in eliminative materialism, that is the branch of philosophy that holds that it is the sciences that reveal to us a real that is indifferent to us. She says: ‘my work is about the implications of science for contemporary art: the manifest image doesnt get erased, rather it gets contrasted with our spontaneous self-image’. Pamela is concerned with the ‘absolute real’, in the sense Ray Brassier presents it in his book Nihil Unbound. Brassier seeks to construct a philosophical position that takes account of the way in which human thinking, which always thinks the real in relation to itself and as conditioned by that relation, is thought by science (cognitive science in particular) as being, itself, a contingent phenomena that can be accounted for without any transcendence; in effect, scientific reason erodes its own claims to transcendence over that which it speaks of. It seems to me that Pamela’s work tries to operate a similar procedure on art, to explore the consequences when we understand art, and the artist, as being immanent to the contingent materiality of the world.

We have to remark that Laruelle’s theoretical creation is subordinated to the mission of saving ‘man’ (albeit ‘generic man’). Laruelle is still, in a certain sense, a phenomenologist, and is not interested in a thought that would liquidate the human subject.

In this sense, I do not wish to that Pamela is a ‘Laruellian’ artist or that her work somehow illustrates Laruelle’s work. I only want to concentrate on what I would call attempts at blockage or refusal, on the fact that she handles art a lot like Laruelle handles philosophy—as if she were working with one of those cabinets that scientists use to handle radioactive material (with the big gloves). And that this is done in an attempt to move beyond the potentially endless recycling of the same discourse (through all its apparently radical deformations, deconstructions and destructions) which has always, from the start, decided (on) the real—so as to access new possibilities that may lie outside.

Thought, which always spontaneously thinks the real in relation to itself and as conditioned by that relation, is thought by science (cognitive science in particular) as being, itself, a contingent phenomena that can be accounted for without any transcendence; in effect, scientific reason erodes its own claims to transcendence over that which it speaks of. It seems to me that Pamela’s work tries to operate a similar procedure on art, to explore the consequences that follow when we understand art, and the artist, as being immanent to the contingent materiality of the world.

And even if she is more interested in eliminative materialism than in non-philosophy, nevertheless there is a certain logic at work which links them together: Non-philosophy renders immanent the reality of thought and the thinking of reality. Eliminative materialism tries to carry out the same operation, but on the basis of a materialist reduction of the brain rather than a non-philosophical reduction of philosophy.

What I would say, therefore, is that in Pamela’s work there is an attempt to create art that presents concepts as blockages designed to prevent the work from participating wholeheartedly in certain artistic tropes, and in particular in perpetuating (a) the priority of meaning over materiality and (b) the concept of either artist or viewer as author/authority over the material of the work, which has remained constant despite the reductions and disruptions of modern art. In the same way that Laruelle wants to create a thought that is not ‘anti-’ or ‘post-’ philosophy, but which operates on philosophy as a material, Pamela takes the very basic presumptions and notions of art as her material and, by refusing to involve herself in them, produces something else. What is very interesting to me is that her work does not end up as an austere conceptualism, but produces new concepts and new symbols, but ones that in a certain sense are neutralised. This I believe is the reason why, despite the fact that it deals with colour, the body, etc., her work has a peculiar non-affective quality.

Finally, at something of a tangent, I’d like to share something with you that bears upon this question of Laruelle’s relation to eliminative materialism, but also on the relation between non-philosophy and art.
Not many people realise that in the 90s Laruelle wrote a series of experimental texts…And when I interviewed him last year, for a forthcoming collection of his essays in translation, speaking about these experimental texts, he said that really they constituted the ultimate aim of his work:

I am not a materialist… I think this form of materialism is a philosophical thesis. Cognitivism may be the object of a science, and this science may be seen as one that is conquering with relation to mind. But the problem for me is of introducing a way of thinking this science into philosophy. My aim is in particular, how to treat philosophy as a material, and thus also as a materiality – without preocuppying oneself with the aims of philosophy, with its dignity, its quasi-theological ends, with philosophical virtues, wisdom etc., that doesn’t interest me. What interests me is philosophy as the material for an art, at the limit, an art. My idea, which has been growing for some years, and may last a little longer, is to make art with philosophy, how to introduce or make a poetry of thought, not necessarily a poetry made of concepts, a poetry that would put forward some philosophical thesis, but make something poetic with concepts. Thus, that could come to destroy in a certain way the classical usage of philosophy. Obviously, in the books I published I still respect the dignity of philosophical work – at least I hope so. I still make those books for philosophers. But my experimental texts, I don’t know who those are written for. I don’t know. And that bothers me enormously. Often, when I have [echo] favourable for these texts, I say, yes, but myself, I don’t know how to evaluate them, I have no judgment on them. They are a sort of non-sense, even for me. [Interview and experimental texts are published in From Decision to Heresy]

What’s interesting in what he says is that, where Pamela’s work indicates to me a new turn for art through adopting the perspective of unilaterality, Laruelle wants to create use the material of philosophy as a form of art. In either case, though, it is a question of the use made of art, or of philosophy. As Laruelle wants to make a non-philosophical use of philosophy as a material, that would be art, could we think of a non-artistic use of art as a material—and would that be art or…something else?

* * *

Answers to a series of questions from Anna Reid (Pavilion).

The movement or structural shift that you have described is one that takes place across ‘speculative realism’. As we are honing in particularly on Francois Laruelle here, can you tell us what would distinguish this phenomenon as non-philosophical, if we were to read it that way?

‘Speculative Realism’ is a very broad term that is gradually falling apart, because it was originally a label of convenience for a single event, the conference of 2007. I have doubts about its ongoing utility. Laruelle himself certainly wouldn’t group himself with any of those thinkers, because, for him, they all take up what are still philosophical positions, whether pragmatist, idealist or materialist. The closest of the group to him, and the person who has done the most to bring Laruelle’s ideas to an English-speaking public, is Ray Brassier. However, as I mentioned, Ray’s work is not ‘Laruellian’: what he does—and this is also what I’ve done—is to extract a certain logic from Laruelle’s work and redeploy it phenomenology). So, I would say that what Laruelle provides us with—and in this sense he is the original speculative realist, he provided the logic decades before we began to feel this urgent need for it, the need that has translated into SR becoming such a buzzword—what he provides us with is the logic of unilaterality that enables us to answer the central question of SR: How is it possible for thought to grasp a real that is not dependent upon thought for its existence? In critical, that is to say post-Kantian philosophy, this very question is regarded as mistaken or paradoxical in some respect, whether in what Meillassoux calls ‘weak correlationism’ (Kant: our knowledge is knowledge of something other than thought, but we cannot know anything of this ‘other’) or ‘strong correlationism’ (Hegel: all reality is bound up with the dialectical progression of thought and is never ‘external’ as such).

What I would suggest is, firstly, that not all ‘Speculative Realism’ subscribes to this logic of unilaterality: particularly, ‘Object-Oriented Ontology’ accepts and generalises correlation in a certain fashion, and ends up affirming a mysterious reality outside of correlation, but which we can never really grasp (the ‘withdrawing’ object). And secondly, I would say that we now face various ways of deploying this thought of unilaterality. In Laruelle’s own work, the real, or identity, is ultimately based in an experience of radical immanence. He wants to disencumber the phenomenological image of man from everything philosophical that makes it a contaminated ‘mixture’, and rediscover a moment of absolute immanence in which thought is not separate from the real, a moment that philosophy has to presuppose but which it betrays. He believes that it is this moment upon which he can base a transcendental science—in this way, he follows and radicalises Husserl’s original aspirations for phenomenology: to create a science that proceeds from the ultimate conditions of knowledge, stripped of the instrumental structures that we apply to it in order to carry out philosophical enquiry.

What Ray Brassier does is to invert the terms, and say that it is science that reveals to us this immanence of thought and the real, and that to think it is to dispossess ourselves entirely of our phenomenological self-image. It is this inversion of Laruelle’s thought that Pamela perhaps draws upon. Nevertheless I would say that Laruelle’s contribution is to have elaborated a logic of unilaterality that is, to my mind, the only way we have thus far of rigorously thinking what SR wants to be able to think. (With the exception of Meillassoux, who, however, relies upon ‘reason’ as a given. But that’s another story….)


Whilst the perspective taken up by Rosenkranz is utterly at a remove and strictly non-participatory, can we say that this detached, blunt, deadpan perspective has, by default, a critical function? Do Rosenkranz’s notations of the mechanisms of the sublime in art release us onto other alternate sublime(s)?

On one level it would be easy to say that, since Rosenkranz still participates in the art market, still produces things that are recognizable as objects, and so on, she takes a retrograde step in regard to a great deal of what is thought of in art discourse as ‘critical’. Perhaps in this way her work raises the question that a lot of people ask about Speculative Realism: Where is the politics in this discourse? Isn’t there, in the apparent ‘neutrality’ of this question of an indifferent real, some kind of concealed reactionary politics? Now, for Laruelle, the enterprise of non-philosophy is very much political: it is a process of emancipating a generic figure of man from the ‘mixtures’ in which he is implicated, and from the authority of philosophy. It’s an explicitly Marxist agenda, really. About Pamela’s work, I would say that the political implications lie in the way in which she reveals how the uninterrogated assumptions of art are continued into the discourses of marketing and commercial suggestion. She, too, wants to recover the human from its ideological admixtures, from all the supposedly ‘self-evident’ aspects of what we know of ourselves, and she uses resources like neuroscience and evolutionary biology as a lever to do this. These spontaneous self-evidences inhabit art as much as advertising:

Marketing speaks to us, and produces us as subjects, using a garbled amalgam of discursive resources adopted from any tradition that is useful to it. Its promises of enhanced performance and well-being appropriate at leisure from the registers of evolutionary biology, neurochemistry, and nutritionism, but also those of spiritual epiphany and self-realization. The optimization of the self becomes both the object of intense research and development (“the science bit”) and the subject of aspirational identity (“because I’m worth it”). So that the human as absorber and reflector of symbols is coupled with the human as opaque object to be dosed, modulated, and detoxed. (No Core Dump)

Pamela’s work operates in the common space of that core self that we are invited to discover through identification with consumer objects, and the transcendence claimed by certain modes of artistic subjectivity—her practice brings together the symbolic resources of both. That is to say, her conceptual works exist in the space where the transparency of meaning and the transcendence of self meet in a supposed blind spot. The materials—colour, texture, symbolic suggestion—that are customarily refined, purified, and smoothed out so as to render their symbolic function transparent are forced to announce their contingency, appearing as so much dead matter clustered around an empty center. So that the self that appears in their mirror is revealed by the artist as a generic patchwork of abstract signifiers clinging to the same void. Thus, the con of the concepts presented by Rosenkranz—that which holds them together—is a symbolic absence or an absence-in-symbol, just as the con of the concept as such, that with which we think, is a void for sense.

This reveals a certain political stake in Speculative Realism: if we don’t think rigorously the relation between our spontaneous self image and the reality that science reveals to us, then we will be experimented on and exploited by powers that are happy to use both indiscriminately.

Now, does this produce a new sublime? In the artists that I have worked with—and, to be honest, this is more a function of coincidence and the functioning of social networks than anything else—I have been criticised before on this score: Why should ‘Speculative Realist’ art have this tone of apocalypticism, why is it somehow gothic, and doesn’t it end up precisely reproducing a gesturing towards a sublime unthinkable? I think it’s a valid point to explore. To my mind, Pamela’s work more than any other manages to avoid this, a lot of it has a neutrality and lack of bombast. And again the key concept here is that of unilaterality: the aim is to create concepts that capture a real that is not the real ‘of’ a particular mode of thought or way of seeing the world, a real that, in a certain sense, has nothing to say to us. And yet, in doing so, one must accept that something new is produced, on the level of affect as well: just as Laruelle accepts that philosophy happens, has effects, and is real.

What is the character of the implied relation between art and viewer or writing and reader in this scenario? What is the implied pedagogical model? Utterly disinterested? By extension, how might we think a non-philosophical (non) community of practices?

I can only answer this from my own experience of the work, which is an experience mediated by the philosophy, albeit the same writers that Pamela herself is drawing on in her practice. My feeling is that she presents concepts to us, and what is a concept? It is a ‘thinking together’, the presentation of set of things that cohere. I believe that in bringing together a certain philosophical perspective with a reading of both inherited artistic and popular culture, she presents us with new concepts. In the Yves Klein piece, for instance, a new concept of blue is presented, it uses resources drawn from previous artworks, but it is a concept that ‘blocks’ their trajectory and the paradigm under which they were previously presented—so, this is a thinking-together of things that is no longer a detained within the paradigm of thought in which they were originally presented. It allows us to think that paradigm itself as something produced alongside, and on the same level as, its materials. It’s a kind of flattening.

I would also add something in a more general way, that my experience of working as a philosopher with artists. I developed a model of what I call an ‘interrupted relay’. This is a model that is itself borrowed from artists, in this case Jake and Dinos Chapman. As you know the Chapman brothers works are invariably ‘signed’ by both of them. But Jake once told me that, when they work on, say, a drawing together, what actually happens is that he will work on it, leave it on the desk, and then Dinos will come in the following morning and scribble on it, then leave it, and then Jake will come back and add something more to it. This seemed to me like the perfect model for how philosophers and artists work together: in my experience, I look at an artist’s work and associate it with certain concepts, which I write about. The artist will take these concepts and attach them to objects or other concepts, and produce something unrecognisable to me, which I will then take away again and be able to think about in terms of yet other concepts. There is, in a sense, no ‘communication’ or ‘collaboration’, there are two people working in different milieus, who are each able to give something to each other, but this is only possible when they both agree not to be respectful and considerate of the ‘proper’ way of using each others’ work. It’s something that happens ‘in-between’ and in the end doesn’t belong to either of the parties involved, which is why it’s quite a delightful and exciting thing to be involved in. I’m working on a book right now that I can honestly say is not ‘by me’ any more than it is ‘by’ the artists I have worked with over the past few years, who have taken what were sometimes frustratingly abstract and dry concepts and processed them through a milieu that brings together other practices and materials. It’s great for me that they, also, report that their work is enriched by my running it through my own ‘thought-machine’.

Laruelle’s thought has been described as of the look, an optical thought. Can you respond to this by giving us a sense of how?

We can talk about this through Laruelle’s book on photography, and in particular by comparing it to another important text, Flusser’s Philosophy of Photography. Flusser tells us we have to learn to read photographs: read, because photographs are not images but a type of writing. Photographs are not what they seem to be, faithful and accurate images of a world. The reign of photograph seems to belong to a resurgence of the image—images are everywhere. But in fact it belongs to an historical dialectic between magical consciousness and historical consciousness, between imagination and conceptualization.
Magical consciousness is associated with images, which are symbolical. Whereas historical consciousness begins with writing and with a critique—albeit an unconscious critique—of the image.

For Flusser, photographic images are texts, or ‘meta-codes of texts’ The black box of the camera is a coding machinery, it is a kind of mechanically-congealed complex of inscriptive practices. In historical consciousness, we think the world through concepts. But the photographic image corresponds to a sort of automation of concepts: in the photographic apparatus we think the world through concepts pre-packed into an apparatus, through a sort of technical magic, without even realizing it. ‘The function of technical images is to emancipate their receivers from the need to think conceptually, by substituting an imagination of the second degree for conceptualization.’ And for Flusser, the danger of images is that we should fail to adopt a critical attitude to this type of writing.

We find a similar theoretical manoeuvre in Laruelle towards philosophy as in Flusser towards photography. Because for Laruelle, philosophy presents the same kind of invisible mediation: philosophy claims to present us with reality, and go on to analyse it in various ways. But in fact, the ‘world’ that philosophy presents is always already philosophy’s image of the world, the image produced through philoosphical decision.

Philosophy is driven by desire, whereas science is driven by knowledge. But photography corresponds to a sort of ‘blind thought’.

He connects this with the notion of science (literally ‘seeing’), as found in Husserl’s phenomenology. For Husserl, the scientific stance is achieved through a reduction, or a bracketing out of the cognitive reflexes that lead us to spontaneously structure the world in terms of objects.

Now, Husserl’s ‘reduction’ is always couched in terms of vision, which ‘gives free rein to the seeing eye and bracket[s] the references which go beyond the “seeing” and are entangled with the seeing, along with the entities which are supposedly given and thought along with the “seeing.”’ So science, which is seeing, ‘is also a blindness towards the world.’

If we understand the photographic act properly, we can see that it too involves this act of ‘reduction’, that in the act of photography one no longer inhabits ‘the world’—which, let us remember, is an invention of philosophy—that is, according to Laruelle, there is a moment in photography when one is imposed upon by a real that has not yet been processed and manufactured by us.

To make it clear, Laruelle is trying to radicalize what is called Husserl’s ‘eidetic reduction’ into a reduction of philosophy, to create a theoretical practice that can speak of a real or identity that is not already cut up and distributed by philosophical decision.

And what he sees in photography is a kind of avatar of this theoretical practice.

The question remains whether this is still held in the grip of the authority which vision and its metaphors has always had over philosophical thought. I think Laruelle tries to escape this in The Concept of Non-Photography.

Hypothesis: A non-philosophical art community is flourishing. What does this mean for art? What do we make of a non-affective art?

A couple of points: firstly, the relation between philosophers or theorists and artists is not straightforward. It would be a mistake to think that artists merely took theories and ‘embodied’ them in a work. There are all sorts of twists that take place between reading and using that reading in a practice. I wouldn’t expect any artist to simply declare ‘I am now making non-philosophical art’, and if they did, I wouldn’t expect that work to be particularly interesting.

Secondly, would non-philosophical art necessarily mean non-affective? I have tried to suggest not. What I would espouse as a step forward, into a new territory, is not a practice that tries to create work that produces nothing on the level of affect—an enterporise that would, after all, be futile—we only have to honestly observe our reaction to, say, the conceptual art of the seventies, to see that all those typwritten instructions and so on carry a certain affect, one which, moreover, changes with the historical circumstances. The question is whether one can create work whose enquiry sets out from the point of view of a ‘vision-in-One’ in which affect is not produced by the work as something separate from the work, but is pre-emptively read from a position outside its own sovereignty.

The non-philosophical shift in certain practices is constitutively not a criticism of art or a shift that supersedes. Yet how can art practice continue unabashed in the light of such a shift if it has absorbed it? In this case, how could practice after Rosenkranz participate in the Sublime? If it has been let in on ‘the secret’.

Certainly, irregardless of the intervention or not of non-philosophy, isn’t there already something absurd, from our point of view, about someone who paints a landscape in order to try and evoke the sublime feeling of being on the Yorkshire Moors? Such works subsist only as relics, since these modes of practice have been decoded and overanalysed long ago; and it would indeed be naive, in the face of this, to simply continue with them. On the other hand what does it mean to have ‘got over’ the sublime, to have ‘moved on’ from classical ideas of beauty? What does it mean, if we still subscribe to the notion of an artist-self or a collective ‘us’ that is somehow in control of this progression, that we can choose to cast aside such naiveties? In particular, if we reflect that this supposedly autonomous and critical self is programmed everyday by the employment of sophisticated and not so sophisticated versions of these old aesthetic modes, in advertising and marketing?

In fact, by thinking ourselves to be ‘critical’, all we do is to create a dualism between the aesthetic. and the artwork as cosa mentale, as a purely mental thing. Duchamp and Klein’s disgust for retinalism and the manual labour of painting, etc.

Artists took apart painting by thematising the mechanism of seeing, from of the point of view of its materiality – Seurat made himself a kind of human camera—but has any conceptual artist yet completed this process, taking apart conceptual art by thematising the process of thinking and practice, and the fact that one still perceives oneself as an artist-self capable of making such decisions? The contingency of the forms of art—painting and sculpture—have been brought into the arena of art practice, but perhaps not yet the contingency of the artist—which is what I think Pamela is doing. In which case, like Laruelle’s work, this could be seen equally as a consummation of the process of critique, or as something that finally exits from the cycle of critique, which always presumes the sovereign subject of critique, able to operate the decision of critique…