I have been behind the curve on this one due to an incapacitating illness that has left me unable to do much of anything, but I am pleased to announce Taylor Adkins’ translation of Laruelle’s Dictionary of Non-Philosophy. This marks the first full translation of one of Laruelle’s books in English. Let us hope that more are to come. One of the thoughts that occurred to me through my nausea induced fog over the last couple of weeks is that if something like a materialist object-oriented philosophy is to be formulated, the concept of matter must paradoxically be left undefined. Or perhaps, put differently, matter must be treated as a non-concept. Ontological materialism would differ from other ontologies in that it would not begin from a concept of matter and then proceed to work through its implications, but rather the being of matter is itself an object of lively investigation outside of philosophy. Simply put, the materialist does not begin by knowing what matter is. We see why this must be the case in both the history of philosophy and the history of science. In the history of philosophy there are few positions more reviled than that of materialism (at least, symptomatically, among Continentalists). Few moves could be more cliche than renunciations of materialism, and often materialism is treated as a position so lacking in viability that it need not even be addressed or engaged. Indeed, one often gets the sense that philosophers take it as small beans to reject materialism.
My thanks go to Taylor for his diligent work. I hope he continues!
However, generally when we look at the details of these denunciations of materialism we discover that matter is treated as something absurd like Aristotle’s “un-form-atted” matter of Husserl’s hyle, such that one can quickly reject the notion of a matter without form as an absurdity, or archaic notions of matter are adopted such as Lucretius’ version of the atom where matter is conceived as impenetrable points coming in an infinity of different shapes, governed only by mechanical interactions. Yet one need only open any elementary physics textbook to see 1) how nowhere and at no time is the claim made that matter is un-form-atted, and 2) just how mysterious and open to investigation to concept of matter remains. With respect to the first point, if it should turn out that strings exist– still a highly speculative thesis –we find form and structure at all levels of matter, from the smallest unit of existence all the way to it more complex assemblages or societies. Matter, it turns out, is far more interesting and astonishing than was ever dreamt by Aristotle or Lucretius. Of course, to be fair, Lucretius managed to find a high degree worthy of wonder in his humble atoms, introducing us to a world where everything save the atoms themselves are constantly changing, where qualities are emergent, where all objects contain void, etc. He also has the distinct honor of having proposed the first workable scientific model of the universe. With respect to the second point, some 80% of the matter in the entire universe still remains unaccounted for, necessitating the need for new forms of matter and energy such as the mysterious dark matter. In short, the question of just what matter is remains very much open and is not the beginning point of an ontology, but rather something to be worked toward.
The question then becomes one of how to articulate an ontology without a concept of being. Can such a project even be conceived? Murmurs have been heard here and there. Heidegger had his question of being and his ontological difference. While certainly not a materialist by any stretch of the imagination, he does provide resources for at least posing questions of ontology without beginning from a presupposition of what being is. Likewise, in Deleuze we have the concept of difference, where we are to begin without a foundational identity in the form of a concept. Likewise in the case of Badiou with his undefined sets (and here it’s worthwhile to add that no ontology or philosophy can be adequate to our age, or to thought since the 17th century, without thinking actual infinity, the true discovery of the Enlightenment and the horror of all the obscurantism that followed the Enlightenment in the reactionary philosophies of German Idealism and its descendants). Finally, Laruelle, with his non-philosophy, with his non-concept of the real, provides a rich resource for thinking a materialism without a concept of matter.