Margins and Limits of Metaphysics
François Laruelle, trans. Sylvia
from: Encyclopédie Philosophique Universelle, Vol 1: L'Univers Philosophique, 1989, pp. 71-80
I — Topography of the Critique of Metaphysics
The critique of metaphysics is a general title that covers heterogenous enterprises and distinct concepts of the critique of metaphysics. If the project that we examine merits being called “Margins and Limits of Metaphysics”, it is that it distinguishes itself, by its finalities and means, from previous projects of this type. It entails retrieving and defining the difference that specifies it, for example in relation to Kantian critique, but that also reinserts it within a tradition to which it belongs despite everything. Every philosopher without exception—we will see why—has their concepts and their practices of limits, if not of “margins” of metaphysics, but not all of them make it the center and destination of their activity as is the case here. Under the title in question, we understand in effect the principal or dominant activity (it does not exhaust the field of philosophy even if it occupies the most incisive and decisive thinkers of this time) of continental philosophy (there is an Anglo-Saxon critique of metaphysics, but it reposes on empirico-logical premises that are not those of the “margin” and the “limit”) around the milieu of this century (1927: Sein und Zeit, by Heidegger, but the historical roots of this “current” go back up to Kant and Nietzsche). There are the difficult problems of delimitation and neighborhood. The protagonists of what we describe as a historico-systematic formation are of several types: - 1) firstly the principal protagonists: Heidegger in Germany, then Derrida in France who completely renewed and even displaced, with unprecedented means, the Heideggerian project. It is to them in all rigor—and in a moreover very distinct manner—that the title that associates “margins” and “limits” fits. - 2) Next the two nebulae, sometimes with common limits, but not always, of those that cultivate the field for them. Heidegger and Derrida have created intellectual foyers of effervescence in the University, or in its margins for the second (for example the Collège International de Philosophie) in which they have found the necessary relays for relaunching, extending, indeed vulgarizing their oeuvre. - 3) Finally those that have equally carried out a systematic critique of metaphysics and representation, but without making it the center of their activity—an effect rather than this—, because they proceed from different presupposeds. While those that we examine in priority—Heidegger and Derrida—enlarge the Kantian opening of critique, by radicalizing and displacing the thesis of the “thing in itself” (we will later develop this hypothesis of the “thing in itself” as the origin of “finitude” and the de-limitation of metaphysics)—, it being founded on other principles and prolonging rather the “Spinozist” critique: Nietzsche firstly and he who, in his turn, renewed the Spinozist and Nietzschean critique of Representation: Deleuze. There are, in the critique of metaphysics, two heterogenous traditions. Only the first enters our topic [propos] directly, but we should also succinctly examine the second.
The program of a de-limitation, intended [voulue] as such, of metaphysics is therefore surrounded by concurrent projects, similar without being identical… It is itself historically de-limited, in a very different manner, upstream and downstream. Upstream there is this antecedent, this tradition rather of philosophy’s auto-critique: it belongs in any event to metaphysics to limit and critique itself. From Plato to Leibniz, no metaphysics has been established without proceeding to a critique of its anterior illusions, its lack of certainty, and its absence of scientificity and rigor. No project of delimitation, whatever be their new means, can be subtracted from what is a veritable invariant: the philosophical Decision always programs a critical operation on its most fundamental sector, ontology or metaphysics. To this continuous critique of itself, the formation that we examine still belongs, but as the nth power of a thing belongs to it. It has discovered in the Other and its modes—the Other of Being or of metaphysics—a hitherto unsuspected puissance, that Plato foresaw (The Sophist and Parmenides), the principle of which Kant updated, but to which he did not know how to give its most radical scope. That the authentic Real is not Being, but the Other of Being—Other of the being-object (Heidegger) or Other of the Logos (Derrida)—, that metaphysics’ famous equation: thinking = real; logos = being, is deformed into this one: thinking = Other, is what Kant updated by opening within philosophy an abyss that absolute Idealism could not close again, the abyss of the inaugural distinction of logic and existence, of “realitas” and effectivity, of the possible and the true real (as “Other”, said Kant). Heidegger and Derrida, each in his manner, will enlarge and reshuffle the fault and upset the landscape of its edges.
But another attempt, downstream if you will—it accompanies it rather as its mute shadow—pretends to “delimit” in its turn this project of the delimitation and propose a more radical critique of metaphysics. More radical: it is not content with modifying the metaphysical concept of critique and conceiving it only as the passage from an auto-critique to a “hetero-critique” (Derrida) of the logos as a function of the Other. It ceases rather—this is a necessary and fecund sacrifice—to make critique the fundamental operation of philosophy or subtracts it from “first philosophy”. It articulates it, as a simple secondary effect without doubt, onto a knowledge heterogenous to metaphysics: onto a science, not empirical of course, but transcendental, and that, takes the place of philosophy—or more exactly, downgrades or de-rives, secondarizes, rather than delimiting, which thus undergoes an originary and irreversible displacement much more puissant than a “critique”. Sketches of this attempt are discernable with authors as heterogenous as Maine de Biran, Marx, and Husserl, and with contemporaries like Michel Henry, among others. It is no longer about a critique of the philosophical type, but of a critique said “real” (Marx) and the proper problem of which is to know if, yes or no, or under which conditions, it can despite everything still be said to be “philosophical”. In any event, this critique—because it is the effect, on metaphysics, of a transcendental science rather than a philosophy—intends to be more radical than the previous one, to the point of putting it on the same plane as classical metaphysics and refusing as pertinent or sufficient the distinction of metaphysics and its critique, the distinction of Being and the Other of Being. The Other is not the most real and does not found a real critique of metaphysics but a mixed critique, semi-real and semi-philosophical, of it—here is its “critical” thesis of it. It does not therefore proceed with any of the means of what we will examine and what we will call, to be quick, “deconstructions” (Heidegger: Destruktion, then Abbau; Derrida: déconstruction, etc.); that is, with the Other and its modes (limits; margins; eccentricity; decentering—all these terms are not equivalent; there goes for example from Lacan’s difference: decentration of the subject by the signifying chain, to Derrida: margins of philosophy—and the second is irreducible to the first). On the contrary, and to hold to this negative indication, it firstly advances a concept of the real and of the science of the real that are no longer philosophical: neither Being nor the Other, but that have much more to do with a thought of the One liberated from Being.
Many other concurrent projects of deconstruction should be mentioned: the psychoanalytic critique of philosophy in general; analytic philosophy from Russell, the Vienna Circle, and Wittgenstein; the Bergsonian critique of Greek metaphysics, etc. We cannot inventory these historico-systematic neighborhoods, certain effects of which have moreover been reprised and relaunched by Derrida (above all the psychoanalytic critique and, very partially, the Anglo-Saxon one) who capitalized on them with those of Heidegger and sometimes those of Nietzsche, so well that he appears as the most accomplished figure of this critical and super-critical “epoch”, its bursar and manager, its intensifier at the same time as the most concerned with marking the metaphysical limits of this putting-in-the-margin of metaphysics. Nevertheless, it is not a question of studying the oeuvre of an author here. We will strive to describe the most general invariants—supposing that there are any—of this manner of thinking. From this point of view, Derrida’s systematic albeit disseminated elaboration of techniques of putting-in-the-margin would be more useful for us than those that render the topological putting-in-site (Er-örterung) possible that Heidegger has erased and effaced, but that exist and form at least the “half”—its technical and metaphysical surface—of the “thought of Being”.
II — The Concrete Field of Deconstructions
Before analyzing the internal mechanism of the deconstructive operation, we should describe the concrete dimensions of the project. It is to these that we owe the impression of a unity of the deconstructive field, a unity just as apparent as real. It hides a multiplicity of quasi-systems (“semi-systems”) or the concrete types of the deconstruction of metaphysics but expresses at the same time, despite everything a certain invariance.
These thoughts (Heidegger, Derrida, but also their neighbors: Nietzsche and Deleuze) gather exteriorly: - 1) through a double refusal: they are anti-Hegelian and anti-structuralist for the most recent ones; - 2) through the critical project of which we have spoken, both from metaphysics and against; cf. Nietzsche after Kant: “Every metaphysical system is overcome” (überwunden); - 3) finally, and positively, through the common recourse to a fundamental operative concept which Kant did not use: that of “Difference”.
Traditionally, Difference was only one of the five predicables inventoried by Porphyry. But contemporary philosophers have been seized by this secondary instrument and have torn it from its servitude under Identity, Contradiction, or Structure. They have given it a signification both of syntax or articulation of the real, and of “principle” or quasi-principle, i.e., of experience of the authentic or philosophical real. This glorious destiny of a, until now, modest “category” is explained for two reasons. The first is that it is the most adequate for describing the Greek commencement of thought. By its historico-systematic origins or usages, Difference is Heraclitan and pre-Socratic. A topological and limitrophic concept par excellence, it is what permits, by opposition, a metaphysical turn [virage] to irrupt from the tradition since Socrates and Plato and to remodel the concept of “thought”, i.e., of “pre-Socratic thought”. On this point, everything re-commences with Nietzsche and then Heidegger both of whom call to Difference—but to heterogenous experiences of it. One must in effect imbricate together the syntax of Difference and a certain experience of the real, and it is this that is heterogenous. Here is, precisely, the second reason for its emergence: if Difference comes from the Greeks and seems to precede the “metaphysical systems” or constitute the commencement (An-fang) in the beginning (Beginn) of metaphysics, it has been recently fecundated by the Other as experience of the real, an Other that has more contemporary origins. There is not only the anti-Hegelian context of positive sciences, thermodynamics, and phenomenology (that of science: Nietzsche; that of philosophy: Heidegger); it is all of the French context that lends itself to this re-marking of the positive alterity that implicitly contains Difference. We have come to discover the ethnological forms of the Other (against ethnocentrism, Lévi-Strauss), its cosmological forms (the decentering of the subject: from Koyré to Lacan), its psychoanalytic and linguistic forms (the Signifier). Whence a re-activation of Heidegger by Derrida and Nietzsche by Deleuze in the sense of a primacy of the Other over every form of identity or representation. Whence also a heterogeneity in the usage of Difference. Nietzsche in effect synthesizes the Pathos der Distanz with metaphysical and Spinozist auto-position become the auto-production of the will to power; Heidegger synthesizes ontological Difference with a finitude of which Kant gave the model with the “withdrawal” of the “thing in itself”; Derrida, finally, synthesizes it with a non-Greek experience of the finitude of Being, a Judaic experience rather of the Other that keeps him close to Levinas—very far from him as well since he inserts exactly this radical experience of the Other as Other-than-metaphysics (a quasi-Levinasian formula) within the Greek syntax of Difference (that Levinas indeed excludes, of course on his behalf): it is Differance, which is not a simple denegation of metaphysics, which rather has ambitions of a critique. The rigorous concept of the “margin” and the “limit” is therefore Difference. There are various concrete types of this, but it is this that permits a both non-metaphysical and still metaphysical overcoming (according to proportions to be evaluated) of metaphysics.
The realization of this project passes through empirical contents that are also modes both of metaphysics and of the instance of the Other. These empirical contents are necessary since the Other does not appear “in person” and in its nudity, if not in Levinas. But they are partially contingent, the Other cannot, by definition, identify with them: these are its supports or vehicles on the one hand, its masks on the other. They can be infinitely varied (Heidegger: the onto-theo-logical tradition, that is, principally and exteriorly the “history (Geschichte) of philosophy”; Derrida: texts of the philosophical, literary, semiologico-textual, psychoanalytic tradition; those of the critique of art; etc.; Deleuze: psychoanalysis, ethnology, power, economy, cinema, etc.). These are the French people who have extended this program towards discursivities that are not immediately philosophical, towards the human Sciences considered as dependencies of metaphysics. The apparatuses elaborated in view of the critique of metaphysics have been directed against the offensive of the Human sciences, particularly of linguistics and psychoanalysis that have had to undergo a reaction and, in their turn, an offensive from the side of philosophers better armed—with “Difference”—than the previous ones for this task (Deleuze, Derrida). The confrontation with metaphysics is prolonged by the de-limitation of what is understood to co-belong to it despite everything (not only psychoanalysis, but ethnology, semiology, textual theory, etc.). It is metaphysics each time—but a different concept of it—that is questioned again in the deconstruction of Lacanism for example (Derrida) or in the becoming-cinema of the World (Deleuze). Two precursors to this extension: partially Heidegger with the topological destruction of technics (but it remains deprived of every concrete examination of existent techniques); above all Foucault with his “epistemic” establishment of the “trihedron of the human Sciences”. This picture finally suffices to demonstrate that the expression “post-structuralist” under which we put Derrida’s enterprise and sometimes Deleuze’s, is absurd and only merits being mentioned for the havoc that it wreaks across the Atlantic. Derrida is something else than a critique of semiology and “French” structuralism.
III — The Specificity of Deconstructions in the Critique of Metaphysics
What is the specific difference of the contemporary critique of metaphysics in relation to its older forms, the Kantian ones for example? If this project is re-inscribed within a critical tradition just as long as that of metaphysics and the Kantian “criticism” of which was a major turning, it has made it cross a new threshold. The inventory of aspects of this difference prepares the internal description of the new manner of thinking:
1. Margins, they have always, in a sense, been there in metaphysics, that have never formed, if not exactly by illusion, a closed and master field of itself as of the real. Indeterminate or foreign zones “in the margins” of ontology have always been recognized. But they were the object of a double operation that was unrecognized as such: denounced, excluded, denied on the one hand; re-interiorized within the philosophical field and submitted to its authority on the other. The deconstructions record [enregistrent] and denounce this double metaphysical operation. They enterprise to systematically “re-mark” (Derrida) these margins as such and therefore to simply show this necessary co-belonging of metaphysical centrality and its remainders, residues, waste, avatars of exteriority, etc. To put two things in a balance, in a unique equilibrium where metaphysics only saw one and refused this balance: representation and its margins. More exactly, since every originality of the project is held in this miniscule precision: representation and its non-representative margins [des marges]. Metaphysics no longer possesses “its” margins: it has them without having them, it is affected by them without affecting them. Whence the motives of hetero-critique, of the opening and absolute risks that solicit a will that ceases to master its own critique (Derrida); of the hearing of Being’s response or dict [dit] to which the question and its residue of metaphysical will are submitted (Heidegger). Whence also a capital problem of internal coherence: we will examine it.
2. Limits, there have been many in metaphysics and especially in its Kantian critique. Kant thematizes delimitation as such, distinguishes bounds and limits, censure and critique; he does the fundamental and preliminary operation in view of the foundation of a new, more rigorous metaphysics. He defines the critical enterprise as scientific (“criticism”) but he founds it within an inaugural distinction: that of logic and the real, of logic and existence, that straight away gives him a real or transcendental sense. This prodigious synthesis of a critique both scientific and transcendental, articulated on the rock of the distinction of phenomena and the noumenon, opens a new way that Heidegger and Derrida will borrow, but for enlarging and radicalizing it. This discovery remains in effect restrained and does not draw, with Kant, all of its consequences. For four reasons at least:
a. The metaphysical illusion is defined there in a restrictive manner, it is limited to Reason and to dogmatic and skeptical metaphysics. We will generalize it a contrario to all of Greco-Occidental thought, to “presence” (Parousia, Anwesen, Vorstellen) and to “logocentrism” (Derrida), therefore to Kant as well and beyond, but by accentuating its positivity and necessity (“errancy”, Heidegger).
b. These new categories (presence, logocentrism, etc.) are henceforth historico-metaphysical experiences rather than alleged facts of “the history of philosophy” or only rational facts in Kant’s manner. Deconstruction or the pathway [le cheminement] are thus interminable tasks where thought endures its failure in rendering itself the master of itself. It is that the critical operation is no longer scientific but simply technical. Moreover, it is itself transfixed by a historicity that expresses both an attempt at the subversion of the Kantian distinction, judged too radical, of metaphysics and science (physics) and the avowal—non-Kantian—of a certain all-puissance despite everything of metaphysics, Being, and the Logos as the unavoidable element of every thought. Deconstructions—Heidegger’s affirms it and then attempts to efface it—have it in common with hermeneutics of recognizing the infinite circularity of metaphysics with which one must reckon and “in-the-milieu-of” which one must work.
c. The critical line of demarcation (the concept of illusion as well) remain in Kant massively impregnated with negativity despite its positive side and its function of gathering [rassemblement], the Greek side of the limit as power-of-gathering. This is still a metaphysical limitation, representative (precisely exclusive-interiorizing) and transcendent. If the operation of limitation, indeed of auto-limitation, belongs to the most traditional concept of metaphysics or Being, then there will be a non-metaphysical limitation of limitation. Hence a positive—but conservative—destruction of the Kantian motives of critique (Heidegger: phenomenologico-existential re-interpretation, in a “positive” sense, of the “phenomenon” in general and of Husserlian and Kantian phenomenology; Derrida: hetero-critique and “critical” deconstruction of the critical operation, of its mastery and its will, of the critical subject, etc.). Kantian critique can only be relayed and relaunched by a generalization that partially leaves it in metaphysical concatenation or destiny thus enlarged. This hetero-critical generalization of Kantism should be analyzed to other concepts (appearance, illusion, resistance, experience, analytic and dialectic, etc.).
d. More profoundly, Kantism disowns its discovery or “recoils” (Heidegger) before it: it gives an ideal or idealist sense to its discovery of the heterogeneity of the real (of the real or transcendental condition of possibility) to logic and ideality. It transforms the “thing in itself” into a noumenon and idealizes finitude: Reason is made (still) finite or is posed as such in lieu of undergoing a finitude that does not come from it. Against this idealist re-appropriation of critique, that submits finitude to the infinity of a principle of auto-limitation (the principle of the Unity of experience) and therefore still of auto-position in the metaphysical manner, Heidegger’s masterstroke is to lead two complementary operations that displace the critical distinction of ideality and reality (the “thing in itself”). On the one hand, he generalizes critique to all of Reason and Kantism, so that he can then re-inscribe it— “critique” included—within the history of Being. On the other hand, he tears from the grip of Reason “its” finitude [la finitude « de » celle-ci]. He is constrained to re-mark it outside-Being or outside-ideality to better affect Being; to displace the “thing in itself” definitively outside of every noumenal and auto-positional re-appropriation; to extract from the “thing in itself” its real content that is what he will firstly call, to then renounce it, the “finitude” of Being, relaying it through the “withdrawal” and “forgetting” essential to the essence of Being and the positive phenomenal givens of which he describes as what is “concealed prima facie”. We call Other, in a general manner and to be thrifty [pour faire économique], this instance of a finitude re-marked as such.
3. Overcoming, there is also a lot of it in metaphysics and, in particular, in that of absolute Subjectivity (Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche). If therefore overcoming (the Nietzschean Uberwindung) and the other concepts of this type (the Kantian and Hegelian Aufhebung) belong to metaphysics, the deconstructions will limit, inhibit (Derrida) or make fail (Heidegger) the metaphysical attempts at auto-overcoming. It is no more about “overcoming” metaphysics, of “exiting” representation, but rather, we say by provocation and in a, in its turn, excessive manner, “returning” [« rentrer »] to it or, at least, of “returning” [« rentrer »] within its essence. Hence Heidegger’s and Derrida’s extreme prudence to evoke any overcoming whatsoever when it entails a balance or a holding-together (dis-ference, differance) of gathering and withdrawal or dissemination.
IV — The Mechanism of Deconstructions
Let us try to formalize—in their greatest generality—the fundamental operations of the practice of “deconstruction” and the “double band” (Derrida), of Destruktion and Abbau (Heidegger). What Derrida calls “Reversal” and “Displacement”, Heidegger “Turning” or Verwindung, designating precise operations that form the inevitable quasi-technological side of every thought. The description of this aspect permits limiting their usage as “banner” or “slogan”.
The most general presupposed of deconstructions (cf. the following section), is that: - 1) philosophy-as-metaphysics exists in the sense of the authentic real or even in the anti-thetic sense of its illusion, real in its manner; it forms under these two modes the ground, the unavoidable fundament of every possible thought (even of literature that permits in return deconstructing it); - 2) this real possibility of every thought in the most general form of a unified duality, of a conflictual and violent hierarchy (Derrida, but also Heidegger), i.e., of a difference. The deconstructions also admit that essence of thought is the unity of contraries. This is the Greek experience par excellence of metaphysics as the violent domination of one contrary over the other. It subtends every philosophical Decision and not only the (Hegelian) “Dialectic”, the deconstructions make it undergo a specific labor and agencement, but they traditionally find their material in these couples of contraries or these contrasted pairs. In principle, one can deconstruct whichever coupling—there is perhaps an infinity of them—, but by reducing them sooner or later to a principal or invariant pair, that probably closes the deconstructive field in a metaphysical manner. These couples: Being and beings or “ontological Difference” in Heidegger; the signified and the signifier in Derrida. But these terms will be deformed by their insertion within a difference.
The internal mechanism of Difference, of its becoming, thus passes through two states that are continuously enchained:
1. Difference as a priori. We can always call “difference” whichever coupling conveyed by language. But we go from this natural and/or metaphysical usage to the metaphysical usage as such of this term, by universalizing this coupling under the form of an apriori. The first operation—necessary to every “overcoming”—consists in disengaging the apriori or the meta-physical as such of metaphysics or whichever of its modes or hierarchies. We will call “ontological Difference” this first idealization as such that reduces every metaphysical coupling (itself already idealized and universal but misunderstood as such) to a coupling that is apriori and posed as universal: that of Being and beings. We will call “Arche-writing” this other idealization that disengages, from hierarchies in the signified/signifier mode, their a priori. The call to ontological Difference or Arche-writing firstly has this function: assuring the following operation an a priori or essential material, alone worthy of philosophy, that is, a possible or a possibility (Heidegger: an “ability-to-be”; Derrida: “textual forces”) that liberate thought from its empirical contingency and its unmanageable diversity. This operation receives its truth from the following one which is recurrent, but itself corresponds to the sense of experience.
What is the operation concealed in this passage to the a priori? Against the metaphysical forgetting of the essence of Being or the essence of writing, the first gesture is of transcendence: a supplement of transcendence that will awaken what is hidden within the metaphysical usage (identificative, centered, reified) of metaphysics (in its auto-position, auto-reflection, etc.). This transcendence—the Other—is in effect already internal to metaphysics which denies it by the means of representation, i.e., of hierarchies where the Other is dominated, for example like the signifier by the signified. It therefore takes a supplement of alterity so that this Other ceases to be obsessed and becomes what it also is: namely external. The passage to the apriori, that is, to the universality of ontological Difference or Arche-writing, is effectuated thus, paradoxically, by a metaphysical type of reversal of the hierarchy: since the Other makes a part—we know this—of the invariant matrix of the givens of the question of metaphysics, an a priori that is valid [vaut] for the relation of metaphysics to the Other should necessarily be disengaged by a reversal of hierarchy, which is the index of an intervention of transcendence as such.
This reversal necessarily exists with Heidegger as well, where it is not clearly thematized. For example, in the passage from the relation of man-to-Being to the relation of Being-to-man (a relation itself “sent” by Being). It is included, concealed within the Ver-windung or the Kehre: a step of Turning or Reversion without a preliminary inversion, insufficient but necessary. It is finally supposed in ontico-ontological Difference. Here reign the greatest misunderstandings: we give in general an idealist and metaphysical interpretation of Heidegger without wanting to (he encouraged it at length before renouncing it) by saying that he reverses the domination of beings [l'étant] over Being [l'Être] into the domination of Being over beings. This is an idealist project and falsification: he rather does the inverse. This operation is only intelligible if one knows that the name of “beings” is ambiguous and amphibological. When one says that beings dominates Being and conceals it, it entails under the name of “beings” in reality being-object [l'étant-objet], of the being-beings [l'étre-étant] that metaphysically dominate the essence of Being rather the Being of which metaphysics speaks. By affirming as such this coupling of Being with beings within ontico-ontological Difference, he reverses the idealist hierarchy of Being over beings, of reality over the real, and affirms ontic (and not ontological) finitude that, from its essence, affects Being. In the new hierarchy, beings—but “in itself”, not as “object”—then dominate the being-object or Being by reversal. This hierarchy is more universal—since it is its apriori—than the inverse hierarchy that corresponded to the auto-interpretation of metaphysics. This universal of an arche-ontic structure, if one can say, is the authentic sense of Difference, its real anti-idealist signification. It is also what prepares the correct comprehension of “finitude” as radicalization of the resistance of the “thing in itself” to every ideal of Reason or Being. Heidegger—it must be repeated—is only the thinker of Being because he thinks the Other as the essence of Being or, at least, as the real ingredient of this essence.
2. Difference as transcendental. Nevertheless, this operation is insufficient. It disengages an a priori, i.e., meta-physics as such (where the meta- is already worth the Other and exceeds its auto-interpretation, for example as the transcendence of the certain subjectivity of itself). But meta-physics threatened by definition to “fall back” into a still metaphysical interpretation of experience, within a “logocentric” version of the Other, as the a priori in general is watched by empirical contingency. And, in any case, this supplement of transcendence or of Other, which produces a reversal, is necessarily a technical operation and expresses a metaphysical will. Likewise, the reversal of the primacy of the signified into a primacy of the signifier—the extension of the concept of the signifier within the a priori of arche-writing—, arises from a deconstructive will and remains taken within the logocentric type of hierarchy that it reverses.
A second “operation”—if it is still one—is therefore required to found transcendence itself outside of itself and to assure its type of “autonomy” specific to deconstruction, the autonomy of a “Withdrawal” (Heidegger) or of a “thought-in-the-margin” (Derrida) which is like the autonomy of a heteronomy. Rather than an operation, it is now about an experience: that of the transcendental Unity or immanence. This is the real ingredient par excellence of essence: we go from the possible or the apriori to the reality of possibility, that is, to the “transcendental condition” or to the real essence of deconstruction. What is “operated” here is the unity of transcendence (the Other) and immanence (Unity) without its authority. This superior synthesis—where Difference passes from its a priori state to its transcendental truth—receives, we will see, a specific form in the deconstructions like, earlier, the a priori which is extended from the Other. But it is necessary to every philosophical Decision as the first operation was previously. Hence the fundamental and ultimate motives that express the experience of Unity: the Same, Difference or Difference as Same, i.e., the transcendental synthesis of transcendence and immanence which includes the destruction of the identifying primacy of Being or the Logos; destruction as affirmation or, rather, as Reaffirmation (Nietzsche, Deleuze—and also Derrida: re-affirming Difference in Difference or Zarathustra’s “unlimited Yes”); or indeed as “serenity” and “softness” (the Heideggerian conciliation of “rigor” and “softness”); the Turning (Heidegger: Kehre; Derrida: the turn [virage], the unity-of-simulacrum; Nietzsche: the Eternal Return of the Same; Deleuze: the Reversion and, of course, Re-affirmation). This is not an operation, it is an experience that includes an operation. This summit is the ultimate mystical element (cf. Heidegger) or the reality of thought that “overcomes” metaphysics. It is also the veritas transcendentalis of this operation, an itself sobered—at least partially—truth of metaphysics. It is finally the passage from Difference as relative (a priori) to Difference as absolute.
Nevertheless, what, here, specifies the deconstructions and distinguishes them from “metaphysical” usages of Difference? A fundamental nuance must be made, which distinguishes Heidegger from Nietzsche, or Derrida from Deleuze. In Nietzsche and Deleuze, transcendence or the Other is somehow simple; it is that of the object and it is not redoubled within that of the “thing in itself” or “finitude” which is straightaway reduced or suspended; it is then disengaged from the gregarious-identical object under the form of the distance of Objectivity or presence and included in this capacity within the immanence of the transcendental Unity which is, here, the only authentic reality. Hence the final subordination of transcendence to immanence, of the Other to Unity, and the concept of immanent multiplicities: the re-affirmation of the “Distanz” (Nietzsche) prevails over it or, in a pinch, equilibrates with it in an infinite reversibility. In Heidegger and Derrida, the experience of the real is something else: it is that of finitude or transcendence rather than of immanence. There is then a double transcendence: that of objectivity or presence, which is to be deconstructed; that of finitude or of the withdrawal which is an “absolute transcending” and which exceeds the first. It is this disengaged as the real a priori that is valid for objectivity itself; then it becomes absolute by its unity with the transcendental Unity. Otherwise said: in the first solution, Unity prevails over transcending, it is Unity-as-difference, the One-as-scission (positive, affirmative); in the second, transcendence prevails over Unity and puts it at its service, it is differe(a)nce-as-Unity or as absolute, scission-as-One. It is then the Withdrawal or “Forgetting” that “turns” in an absolute manner; it is transcending which is absolute or transcendental and which assures the ultimate reality of deconstructions, i.e., their internal unity.
How, nevertheless, can a transcending be real and not already suppose a Unity whose reality it should receive? There is, we suggest it here before taking it up again, a profound cause of unintelligibility, of quasi-dualism (between the Other that wants to be absolute and the One, absolute by definition) and a risk of dislocation of the philosophical Decision, a risk of which we can ask if it has been carefully evaluated by the supporters of deconstruction since it is a risk of incoherence affecting the fundament and the possibility of deconstructions themselves and in no way a simple effect of these on the unity of the metaphysical type which is that of most philosophical decisions.
V — The Deconstructions as Philosophical Decision
The Other is therefore the means of this putting-in-the-margin of metaphysics. No more than this, there is no homogenous concept of the Other; there are, in contrast, certain invariant functions that its coupling with Being makes it play. Therefore, this coupling, this articulation that is the lone absolute and real syntax and where, each time, an author settles down [s’installe] without being able to give it a sufficient reason superior to their own system. What distinguishes the deconstructions, their experience of the Other, from anterior forms of philosophy, it is at the level of this coupling that it must be sought: another syntax articulating metaphysics and its Other, another experience of reality understood under this and in the name of which one deconstructs the metaphysical illusion comprehended as repression [refoulement] of this Other. Thence the functional variations of two terms present in the interior the equation that governs them (thinking = Other; thought and the Other are the same—not the identical, of course, which is rather metaphysics, or the representative deconstructed in the interior this equation). If this equation is the lone invariant, to each new definition of the adversary, representative identity, or metaphysical centrality would functionally correspond another definition of the Other:
1. Metaphysics: - a) Heidegger: Representation or Presence (Parousia) (this is an “existential” or historico-systematic structure, not a fact nor even a category); - b) Derrida: Representation or Presence as “transcendental signified”, as logocentrism with its values of closure, centrality, exclusion, interiorization, etc. (a metaphysical and signifying-language-related [langagière-signifiante] specification of Presence); - c) Nietzsche and Deleuze (a “neighborhood” of deconstructions): Representation as an Identity susceptible—at least apparently and first of all—to being specified by the same values as previously.
In reality, these concepts of metaphysics are unintelligible, and their heterogeneity remains unnoticed [inaperçue] if one separates them from the experience of the Other:
2. The Other: - a) Heidegger: Dis-ference or the dis-port (Aus-trag) as finitude, then “forgetting”, “withdrawal”, and “step-below” [« pas-en-deçà »]; as Verwindung and Kehre rather than Aufhebung, etc. Greco-Occidental Representation is an effect or a way [guise] of this experience; - b) Derrida: Differance and Dissemination as fracture, solicitation, allergy, “both neither… nor…”, etc. of the center, of interiority, of identity; - c) Nietzsche and Deleuze: Difference as multiplicities, multiplicities as what de-gregarizes Identity.
It suffices to know that dissemination (Derrida) is a transcendent multiplicity or a multiplicity through transcendence and Deleuzian multiplicities are multiplicities through immanence to see that neither attack the same concept of Representation, that for example Deleuzian multiplicities are a form of representation-presence, a “transcendental signified” that should be deconstructed; that many Heideggerian values (the voice of Being; silence; the veil and unveiling) are embarked upon by Derrida as well. Everything is heterogenous at the level of “terms”, and on these terms themselves weigh the gravest ambiguities with ideological effects: they are unintelligible, except metaphysics by appearance; only the coupling or articulation, the invariant matrix or mechanism of deconstruction is “intelligible”. And even that is saying too much: only the circular movement, but ceaselessly open-displaced, of this mechanism is intelligible. The deconstructions are only a machine and an operation [fonctionnement] through one of their two faces; through the other, they are a test [épreuve] or endurance of the Other. Here is what is real: this mis-matched [dé-pareillé] mechanism, this rickety operation [fonctionnement], this mismatched [mal assortie] equation where 1 does not become 2, nor does 2 become 1, but they become it simultaneously.
The conditions of the problem are apparently easy to define: finding an instance of alterity sufficiently strong and irreducible, sufficiently non-negotiable to exceed even experiences of overflow and multiplicity, of overcoming and critique that metaphysics has tolerated; defining the reality of a non-mastery that may affect the philosophical Decision in a sufficiently heteronomous manner. But it suffices to state the conditions such that a circle appears: to know what this instance of metaphysics’ Other would be, one must preliminarily possess its concept. It belongs, in any case, to the concept of the philosophical Decision of not being able to be extra-territorialized, flown-over [survol], dominated in a meta-(meta)physics that would decide the achieved essence of philosophy… and its Other. And the deconstructions recognize metaphysics’ reality and all-puissance, its circle as inevitable constraint, even when it is opened and loosened by the Other; they never give up the element of philosophical mastery, even when they couple it with a finitude. Hence two consequences:
1. For lack of being able to decide metaphysics and its Other, this project each time straight away establishes itself each within a certain articulation of present adversaries, within a mode of this invariant. It chooses, but arbitrarily and in a contingent manner, this matrix in general and its modality (such and such concept of metaphysics or representation, such and such complementary concept of the Other). But this matrix itself is contingent and without fundament: the project of auto-foundation, that of its philosophical critique as well, are themselves without radical and originary fundament; or indeed they confound it with its research. There is an incurable naivety of every philosophical Decision, a naivety and a violence. Not only is metaphysics without a why more radical than its relative (absolute) reasons, but so are its deconstructions. The exemplary attempts to undo or delimit mastery and auto-position continue to belong to the ultimate structure of the philosophical Decision which is this articulation, contingent in itself [en elle-même], from the logos-to-the-Other, of metaphysics-in-the-margin, etc.; they continue to participate in the violence and petition of principle which is that of philosophical mastery, and onto which they cannot come back. They soften, differ, displace the philosophical Decision, but they record it and confirm it in itself more subtly.
2. The Other is both interior and exterior to the philosophical circle: it is possible to re-mark it as exterior or heteronomous by a supplement of intervention. A litigant of metaphysical authority, it is non-metaphysical at the same time. It can neither be integrally included within the circle nor exceed it radically, it is like a circle if we can say. What can this discourse signify, this enigma of the “both neither… nor…”, of the “sometimes… sometimes…” (Derrida), of the difference that makes—without synthesis, and through simple transcendence—Being and beings (co-)belong (Heidegger)? What is thus announced in the omnipresent motif of Difference, of the Differenz als Differenz or the Austrag (Heidegger), of Differance (Derrida) is the attempt to bear the philosophical Decision to its maxima point of dis-location or dehiscence but that would not suppress it as decision. Heidegger and Derrida experiment with a new type of “catastrophe” or discontinuity. But it remains limited by the strophic movement or the immanence of the Turning (Kehre, Heidegger). Such a type of catastrophe that remains interior to the philosophical Decision and which is content baring the tenuous thread or the transcendental Unity of metaphysics and the Other is therefore more problematic than it seems. It can only acquire reality through an indeterminable labor or journey, it postulates the reality of the infinity of time to become real. It is that this catastrophe is only distraught putting in motion of what, from another point of view, is an amphibology or an impossible synthesis, the Greco-Occidental amphibology of ideality (of Being or Logos) and reality (the Other). The deconstructions are protected by a double refusal: the first emanates from a shameful dualism that refuses to go to the end of its logic; the second emanates from a unity despite everything, that refuses to be assured through or within the metaphysical circle but is still done with it. This ultimate link, apparently eroded of every logos, this transcendental dug out by the Other but that still adjoins it with logocentrism or representation, signifies the most prodigious effort ever accomplished by the philosophical Decision to approach its point of rupture, i.e.: conserving itself despite the Other and through it. These highly strategic attempts are those of risk or peril, of a danger greater than philosophy can support to conserve itself. “Representation” or “logocentrism” designate—in a recurrent manner, these are not facts—effects of this labor, what is eliminated from the Decision, all or almost all of its voluntary part. In contrast, what remains or resists is not solely the Other, it is the link of unity of metaphysics and the Other: the real possibility of an enterprise such as deconstruction. Philosophy has never had, in a period of danger, better defenders, strategists more subtle than Heidegger and Derrida: especially when they close it by opening it to an absolute risk (Derrida) or to a “recommencement” of thought (Heidegger). Such is the real content, the invariant of these attempts, both their resemblance despite everything and their reality: they are the test—and the militant triumph—of philosophy.
Finally, the deconstructions have pursued and attacked the ontological and logocentric presupposeds, deformed and displaced the sphere of philosophy, but conserving it as a sphere, reposing, in their turn, on premises that they cannot deconstruct since they condition the very project of a deconstruction and re-inscribe it within the most general matrix of philosophical Decision. These premises make a system, they mark the extreme limits of the philosophical type of critique:
1. One supposes a certain syntax articulating metaphysics and “its” Other, and an experience corresponding to the withdrawal (of) the Other: their coupling is given as the ultimate and unavoidable element of every possible thought. Here is the matrix of a philosophical decision enlarged to the Other or to the undecidable, but that remains a decision within which each thinker settles down decidedly and without fundament, by a petition of principle that no longer defines metaphysics “alone” but also indeed its deconstruction. This contingency and this ultimate voluntarism contaminates every notion in deconstruction’s interior: not elucidated in their ultimate truth, they are partly requisitioned and functionalized, their truth still partially folded over their sense, their sense folded over their function. Of course, this radical contingency of deconstructions and every philosophical Decision in general is not perceptible from these that repose on a preliminary and inexplicable identification to this matrix, but from another experience that we have mentioned and onto which we will come back, a “scientific” experience but in the transcendental mode, of thought and its essence.
2. The second premise consists in supposing, beyond every questioning, not only that philosophy exists, but that it is the real par excellence, at least the co-determinant essence of the real. Here still there is an identification or an amphibology of philosophy and reality that belongs to the essence of every philosophical Decision. It can also only be denounced by another thought, autonomous in relation to philosophy and that would have a sufficiently radical access to the real to unveil a transcendental Illusion, thus extended from metaphysics (Kant) to its critiques and its deconstructions, in the pretention of the philosophical Decision.
3. The third premise reduces the real to the Other or to a transcending received as absolute. It is useless to want to demonstrate how much this premise, to permit the deconstruction of “onto-theo-logy”, is itself profoundly religious (this is not at all the same thing, cf. Levinas): here is a rather evident thesis that we must expect to see denied. The deconstructions could only exceed Greco-Occidental metaphysics (from Heraclitus to Nietzsche) by importing a non-philosophical experience of the real in thought. Everything suggests that, far from being its liberative and rigorous experience such as science postulates it for example, it is a very purified residue of its religious experience, laicized and transformed into an operative process against metaphysics, a re-marking of its onto-theo-logical dimension sufficiently re-elaborated to be able to be turned against its most apparent origins.
From these three premises, the first two show the deconstructions’ ultimate belonging to the philosophical Decision that they are content with soliciting without destroying it; the third, their belonging to a Judaic (Derrida) or Judeo-Christian (Heidegger) religious fund. The only possible “critique” of deconstructions consists in showing that they are the hesitant synthesis of these two sources. Only a thought of the scientific—not empirical, of course—type can do it and is capable of elaborating a rigorous theory of the philosophical Decision.
VI — For a Science of Philosophy: A Generalized Kantism
On the side of auto-critique, of the hetero-critique itself of metaphysics, another attempt, perhaps less apparent because of its radicality, has been sketched, founded on premises still different than those of the deconstructions: on premises that straight away allege to be non-philosophical, without being for all that, of course, modes or expressions of the Other. Elements of this new posture are found in Maine de Biran, Marx, the neo-Kantians, Husserl, Michel Henry, etc. We propose to describe it schematically all while founding it, to somehow terminate a curve sketched here and there.
A critique, whatever it be, of meta-physics and its illusions (transcendental appearance; ideology; representation; logocentrism, etc.), always pretends to be “real” (Marx) and to be done in the name of the authentic experience of reality or the absolute. The question is simple: does philosophy keep, as it inevitably pretends beyond its meta-physical illusions, a sufficient authority despite everything to still legislate on this reality? Can the philosophical Decision co-determine or co-produce the experience that we have of the Absolute, sort of achieving it by replacing itself within this Absolute that would only be realized through its mediation? We will call “philo-centrism” the “natural” and necessary belief of every philosophical Decision, if not of being every reality, at least and in any case, be it for a miniscule part, of contributing to determining it and make it come-to-pass. In lieu of prolonging the auto-critique into hetero-critique, of relaying for example the “thing in itself” through the “finitude” of Being then the “withdrawal”, etc., a more positive solution permits making the deconstructions themselves fall within the metaphysical Illusion: it is to extend this from dogmatic and skeptical metaphysics to every philosophical Decision whatever it be, provided that it be defined by this invariant: the belief that it determines—at least for a part, if not in full (idealism)—reality.
But this enlargement or “generalization” of Kantism, of course, has a rigorous condition: it is necessary to have available an experience of reality straight away absolute in itself [en elle-même] and that is not acquired by the means of the philosophical operation, not even as the object of a “originary acquisition” (Kant) in the manner of the apriori.
Do we have such an experience, necessarily unconstitutable and unconstituted, susceptible to being described with philosophical terms without doubt, but the usage of which would no longer itself be philosophical, i.e., categorial and, essentially, objectivating? Is there an experience such that, of itself and in a more immanent manner, its postulates: - 1) the radical precession of its “object”, of the real, over its description: therefore as not constituted by this or absolute before its cognition; - 2) the possibility of a non-philosophical usage of philosophy, of a non-categorial usage of “categories” as the process of this description? This experience, the irreversible source of every philosophy that cannot be thought and determined in return by it, can therefore neither be demonstrated nor “posed” under penalty of falling back under the legislation of the philosophical Decision. Rather than the object of an acquisition by the means of an operation of transcendence, it must be the test [épreuve] (of) itself, be given straight away as nothing-but-oneself [rien-que-soi-même], without overcoming, exceeding, gouging [se creuser], and transcending itself: without being affected by, in a general manner, nothingness, annihilation, or alterity, etc.
The essence of the Absolute thus excludes that it be what philosophy wants it to be: relative(-absolute). It could be that the Absolute has always seemed difficultly accessible because philosophy was not made to think and experience it, but to denigrate it, divide it, throw it within exteriority and transcendence, and thus multiply obstacles where there are not any. Thought is liberated from its naïve adherence to philocentrism and renounces the prism deforming transcendence to the strict extent that its knows (itself) identical to this Absolute and that it knows this Absolute as the nothing-but-immanent identity (that no longer uses transcendence) of thought (and) the real. This experience is invisible within the sphere of Greek presupposeds of Being or the Logos and the Judaizing presupposed of the Other. It is only manifest, if one can say, by this invisibility that must be apprehended as a positive essence rather than as a forgetting, a withdrawal, a “hiding-itself” of the phenomeno-logical type that would not miss rejecting it within a transcendence.
It is possible to describe it under two titles: under the title of the One rather than that of Being, under that of science rather than that of philosophy. The essence of the One has been “forgotten” by philosophy in the name of this metaphysical “One”, always transcendent through some part of itself, that it has requisitioned and put in the service of the safeguarding of Being. The essence of science has been “forgotten” or denigrated by philosophy that has confounded it with its own operations, with the project or the objectivation, wrongly assigning it the task of the cognition of the object, accusing it of lacking the problem of the origin of the object, and achieving to relegate outside the experience of the authentic real under the pretext, become inevitable, of naivety, technicism, of manipulative and blind thought, etc. Science’s naivety is indeed real, but it is essential [d’essence] and positive: it is that of the transcendental unreflected or non-thetic experience (of) itself (without transcendence, alienation, or positionality). Science “thinks” but does not think on the philosophical mode of transcendence or position: it has no ob-ject.
Here then is the first real time of the generalization of Kantism: the instance of truth, that which permits the delimitation of the philosophical Illusion, is not science under its philosophico-mathematical figure, it is science in its essence, that must be recognized as being straight away—and by its own forces—transcendental. That science be the authentic transcendental subject—as certain neo-Kantians hypothesize—is only possible if transcendental experience is finally recognized as real and not as illusory and distinguished, for all that, from every “intellectual intuition”. But this is only possible one finally succeeds at really expelling every transcendence and conserving within the One’s non-thetic essence (of) itself the least “parcel of the world” (Husserl). More than the transcendental Ego, which needs operations of reduction, the One replenishes this exigency as long as it is the non-positional experience (of) itself.
Through its essence, science is absolute and could not suppose or tolerate a supplementary “condition of possibility”, a philosophical requisite. This discovery inverts the order of thoughts and thwarts the philosophical objections: it is science that is the criteria, and a transcendental or immanent criteria, of philosophy. A finally radical critique of the philosophical Decision becomes possible when the critical operation itself becomes secondary and founded upon the recognition of the positivity—but transcendental—of science and upon the rock of real Identity that was never—as Fichte objected to metaphysics—firstly formal or logical, to then be “realized”, but straight away recognized as transcendental, real, and “a-logical”.
This scientific critique of philosophy as such, beyond its metaphysical forms, comprises three moments that discharge from premises that we have just systematized and founded:
1. The invalidation of the pretention of philosophy to cognize the in itself or the real; the demonstration of its amphibologies. There are two: - a) the confusion of science with “objectivity” and the reduction of science to a mode of the ontological project; - b) the confusion of the One with Being, a founding confusion of the philosophical Decision itself.
2. The possibility, finally acquired, of a specific science of philosophy. Rather than attempting to give to this, in still using its resources, the form of that and to render philosophy scientific under its own authority and through the development of an intimate telos (Husserl, but also Descartes, Kant, Hegel, etc.), we will constitute the philosophical Decision into the object of a specific science, evidently transcendental, but that would no longer use processes linked to transcendence. This science, no longer being thetic of its object, could not fall under the objection of pretentions to be a meta-language or meta-philosophy.
3. The extension of the fictional character recognized in metaphysics by Kant and Fichte, practiced in its manner by one of the forms of deconstruction (Derrida), to the totality of philosophy. This is possibly only because it is “isolated”: if not objectivated, at least suspended in the indifference that it is impressed with by the One, i.e., science considered in its non-thetic essence or “posture” with regard to the real in general. The real, non-philosophical, critique of philosophy is thus achieved in a fictional usage of it. Spontaneous philosophy—it is just as naïve as science, but on an auto-denying mode—is a naïve fiction, that denies itself as such; its positive critique, beyond its deconstructions that attempt only to inhibit it rather than liberate it, opens up a new career for it: “philosophy-fiction”.
(We retain only philosophical works, not studies on the critical motif)
Gilles Deleuze: Difference and Repetition (1994, trans. Paul Patton); Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983, trans. Hugh Tomlinson).
Jacques Derrida: Of Grammatology (1976, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak); Margins of Philosophy (1982, trans. Alan Bass); Positions (1981, trans. Alan Bass).
Johann Fichte: Outline of the Doctrine of Knowledge, Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre
Martin Heidegger: Being and Time; Introduction to Metaphysics .
Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason; Response to Eberhard.
F Laruelle: Le Principe de minorité (1982), see: en-demic for translations of some sections by Jeremy R. Smith as well as The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter, trans. Ray Brassier; Philosophies of Difference (2010, trans. Rocco Gangle).
F Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil; The Twilight of the Idols.