Aesthetics, Inaesthetics, Non-Standard Aesthetics

This is the text of a talk I gave at the Goldsmiths Conference on Deleuze and Transdisciplinarity Feb 2012:

The question of the relation between philosophy and art engenders the definition of many other relations, such as those with politics and truth, or thought and sensation. In ‘What is Philosophy?’ Deleuze and Guattari borrow the term non-philosophy from Francois Laruelle, and use it to elucidate what for them is the egalitarian transdisciplinary space of interference where these relationships are continually redefined, albeit within the strict remits that they lay down for each discipline in its specificity. However, while they praise Laruelle for the ‘interesting’ nature of his work on non-philosophy and the connection he establishes between this and the pre-Socratic concept of the One-All, they find it ‘odd’ that he should denote this non-philosophical project as science, when for them it is philosophy that draws up or presupposes the non-philosophical plane of immanence. That is, for D+G philosophy and non-philosophy are in a relationship of reciprocal co-constitution. And herein lies an important conflict, since for Laruelle D+G remain ‘immersed in philosophy’ and precisely because of this they are unable to accord science and art with an autonomous capacity for conceptualisation and theorisation. As a result they have misunderstood the implications of non-philosophy and the radically immanent nature of what Laruelle variously calls the One, the One-in-one or the One-without-All. I want to run through a few formulations of these philosophical positions in order to explain more clearly what a non-philosophical aesthetics might be according to Laruelle. These will necessarily be highly compressed but my aim here is not to exhaustively describe any one of these projects, but to trace a trajectory through them in order to sonify the vector of non-standard philosophy.

So passing over a multitude of interesting early thinkers, we can perhaps say that philosophy as a discipline is concretized with Plato’s exclusion of rhetoric and of the mimetic arts from the pursuit of knowledge. While Plato answered the question ‘how did music come to be in the world?’ by a kind of logical inversion whereby it is the world that comes to be through a ‘music of the spheres’, he also disparages artistic expression as mimesis – a non-discursive production of truths whose finite immediacy is the empty charm of pure appearance. To this he counters the arduous process of the dialectical search for truth in the endless mediating detour of philosophy – a working out of or towards infinity through a boundless labour of love. The question of art is subsumed under that of the origins and ends of images. Rancière calls this the ‘ethical regime’ of the arts, Badiou the ‘didactic schema’, likening the relationship of philosophy and art to Lacan’s ‘Master and Hysteric’.

Aristotle provides the template for a different conceptualisation of art by arguing that the mimetic function makes no claims to truth, that it is merely representative, allowing philosophical thought free reign to interpret the underlying truth that it symbolizes. The emotional responses that tragedy elicits are dehystericized, and no longer considered a dangerous proliferation of truths, but instead allow for a cathartic revelation of the gap between thought and thing – a chasm that only philosophy, or aesthetic theory can cross. Art has a therapeutic function, but the philosopher still holds the master discourse concerning its truth or meaning. Correspondingly Rancière terms this the ‘representative regime’ of aesthetics, and Badiou the ‘classical’.

We then have to wait a long time for the next regime change, which is initiated by the Romantics and German Idealism, such as Schiller’s seminal text on the ‘Aesthetic Education of Man’. This inverts the classical order whereby art is derivative to the world or to experience, and makes art the creator of truths that philosophy can only poorly imitate. Nevertheless this is manifestly a philosophical gesture, one that exalts the truth of art only to place itself one higher for recognising and acting as guardian to this truth. Rancière calls this the aesthetic regime, extending its influence through the modernist and post-modernist epochs and beyond, while Badiou is content to label it romantic, and argues that the avant-garde and post-structuralist philosophies tend to vascillate or equivocate between a didactic and a romantic conceptualisation of art.

We can see this quite clearly in the Deleuzian conception of aesthetics, and his treatment of transdisciplinary interference reflects this. That is, art is conceived as the laying out of a plane of composition where pragmatic modes of engagement with material forces enables the capture of affects and percepts that are both constituted by a chaos that exceeds them, and constitutive of a chaosmos that finds its imperative in a political or ethical intervention. The former process being the romantic side, and the negation of arts arboreal origins, the latter being the didactic side, albeit without teleology. The representative regime is thus overcome, once and for all, by the redoubled affirmation of a romantic affectivity or immanent truth of art and a didactic micropolitics of desire, which entail each other in a closed loop. Art functions by warding off the destructive tendency of the exclusive disjunction through the assemblage of a negentropic machine capable of maintaining itself out of balance in the interstices of a series of dyads – chaos and order, territorialization and deterritorialization, coding and decoding etc. The metastable pivot that distributes this double series or series of redoublings is the paradoxical instance, the aleatory point, or the inclusive disjunction. While art is accorded the capacity to think, as is science (contra Heidegger), and has an autonomous relationship with truth, it is only philosophy that is capable of travelling at the infinite speeds necessary to conceptualise these truths, and of laying out the non-philosophical plane of immanence that is presupposed by them.

For Badiou, philosophy is a transcendental recording apparatus with relative fidelity to scientific, artistic, political and amorous events that constitute conceptual ruptures and institute new modes of subjectivity. He proposes a fourth paradigm for aesthetics, which he calls inaesthetics, that attests to art’s autonomy from philosophy, as one of its procedural conditions rather than as that which is conditioned by philosophy. This corresponds with his conception of metapolitics as the autonomy of political occurrences from political philosophy. However, despite the capacity of art or politics to unbind social bonds, or in Ranciere’s terms to redistribute the sensible and the intelligible, Badiou maintains a residual dependency on philosophy to record these truths and make them manifest in formal theoretical schema. As Laruelle argues, ‘it is precisely at the point when the philosopher seems to acknowledge the autonomy of science and of art that he most subtly denies it.’

Laruelle’s treatment of aesthetics is different from all these positions, precisely because non-standard philosophy takes philosophy as the material for a scientific analysis. Although non-philosophy is in this sense radically materialist, it is not material reductionism and resists all efforts to formalisation, so that traditional materialism is conceived as a philosophical Decision that accords thought the capacity to reduce the real to the causal relations of material interaction – this is a materiological mode of thought. Non-standard philosophy instead subjects all philosophical Decisions to a procedure of cloning whereby amphibological structures are unilateralised or determined in-the-last-instance according to the One-without-All. Where Deleuze distinguishes between scientific variables, artistic varieties, and philosophical variations, Laruelle makes of philosophy a simple variable. This is not to subject philosophy to science or the reverse, let alone a reversibility, but to flatten them onto a generic matrix whose idempotency functions as an occasional cause-in-the-last-instance.

Idempotency is a computer term that refers to a section of code that remains unchanged by the addition of functions, the generic matrix is thus that non-commutative Identity which persists across variations, but not through any transendence. The antimony between Deleuzian differential calculus and Badiousian axiomatics is irrevocably exceeded by the force-of-thought of generic man – that is the ordinary person as fractal part of the real, enacting its immanence. This is a performative and affirmative theory, but without the reversibility or redoubling that would usually accompany these concepts, that is its performativity is not defined in opposition to something extra-performative, and its affirmative quality does not require affirmation or reaffirmation. Laruelle proposes a unified theory of science that is not defined according the stringent criteria that Deleuze imposes on it; that is, as the creation of functions on a plane of reference, but rather as the generic production of hypotheses thought according to the radical immanence of the real. This definition of science is opposed to every form of philosophic or scientific consistency – that is systems that achieve a complete understanding of a situation. It thus encompasses science, art and non-standard philosophy inasmuch as their object is radically inconsistent and does not proceed according to a philosophical Decision that makes Difference its transcendental condition. Difference here being the philosophical postulation of relationships of reciprocal co-constitution between dyads or doublets such as transcendental and empirical, actual and virtual, or difference and repetition.

Despite identifiable tropes of irreversibility and asymmetry in the work of Deleuze, and notwithstanding his re-affirmation of pure immanence, we find everywhere in Deleuze a reversibility that is entirely consistent with what Laruelle identifies as philosophy’s pathological compulsion to reinsert transcendence into immanence, even if this is pushed to its limit. Indeed Laruelle argues that the Deleuzian concepts of the fold, the doublet, or of survey (overflight) are the ultimate forms of transcendence. Non-standard philosophy proceeds instead through the global suspension of all reciprocity. In contrast to the Deleuzian position of the reversible co-constitution of the One and the Multiple, for Laruelle the radical immanence of the One has no need for the All and is not alienated in it, and the transcendence of the All or Being as inconsistent multiple or void (which is the object of science) is irreducible to the One and caused by it only in-the-last-instance or occasionally. While Deleuze’s restricted non-philosophy conflates immanence and transcendence in the auto-position of a topological continuity in the form of a mobius strip, Laruelle’s generalized non-philosophy presupposes an absolute irreversibility without philosophical position.

For Deleuze science, art and philosophy are clamped in a double-bind or exclusive disjunction with regard to the destructive poles of chaos and order, and must continuously invent schizophrenic solutions to creatively break free from this triangulation – this negentropic metastability takes the form of the inclusive disjunction, the paradoxical instance, or aleatory point. There is ample space for a Deleuzian interpretation of the work of Ryo Ikeshiro; one could talk about the asymmetrical relationship between the actual and virtual that it demonstrates, or about the relation of heautonomy between the auditory and optical domains. It is certainly worth mentioning the manner in which the Lorenz attractor distributes sonic and visual intensities across irreducible polarities such as chaos and order or difference and repetition, and how this passage crosses thresholds leading to the formation of strange attractors where there is a continuous variation or asymptotic orbit in the fractal dimension. One could also talk about the creation of a chaosmos or chaoid form of art that maintains itself in these interstices.

However, despite the overcoming of representation that Deleuze announces, this is achieved only in the name of an affectivity that is always the correlate of experience, even if it is transversal or cosmic. The ostensibly fractal or chaoid nature of this hyperstitial aesthetic theory circumscribes art within the amphibological structure of Decision and puts it in the service of philosophy. Laruelle denounces this kind of ‘unitary’ aesthetics and replaces it with a ‘unified’ theory that no longer treats art as the capture of affect and percept, but as an autonomous theoretical order – a scientific hypothesis thought according to the radical immanence of the real, and effectuating a non-aesthetics. What Laruelle says about the fractality of the photo is just as applicable to a discussion of radical computer music. In contrast with the restricted fractality thought according to the generalized simulacrum that Deleuze posits, and nullifying his insistence on the consistency of artistic composition, Laruelle’s generalized or non-Mandelbrotian fractality is a pure exteriority, a non-consistent chaos of identities, a radically unfolded plane of immanence without survey. That is, it generates an integral and depthless un-objectivating objectivity that is the most concrete mode of Abstraction, obliterating the empirico-transcendental doublet by its distanceless adequation.

Like the photo, the radically flattened space of object-oriented programming languages such as Max MSP or supercollider attest to the dissolution of ontological Difference, a non-specular manifestation of Identity that has nothing to do with the supposedly immersive properties of sound, producing a pre-analogical semblance that resembles nothing and is without reference to the World. The irreflective and automatic processing of variables by variables is a fractal proliferation of models without survey, or immanent computations. Rather than reducing digital audio production to a transindividually constituted prosthetic extension with reversible intentionality, Laruelle calls for a radically abstract theoretical practice of art that is absolutely non-worldly and ultra-perceptual.

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4 thoughts on “Aesthetics, Inaesthetics, Non-Standard Aesthetics

  1. Thank you for this very interesting post – Laruelle’s work strikes me as particularly fruitful in generating a non-representational thought “of” music… (and instilling the temptation to parenthesize and hyphenate everything – thought-(of)-music?…). I am still in the early stages of investigating this, so your post here has given me some useful avenues to explore.

    As regards Deleuze, what remains to be set out for me (in terms of this particular debate, anyway) is the real status of unity in his work. Of course Badiou is deliberately polemical in portraying Deleuze as a thinker of the One; nevertheless I find his claims fundamentally dubious, as I do any that prioritize Deleuze’s ontological claims at the expense of his (anti-)methodological ones.

    For instance, the unity which pertains to the Idea (or the concept, in WiP?) is said only of the multiple (emphasis on ‘said’), and indeed is only a modal claim regarding the manner of this saying (the famously excised second-half of his statement in ‘The Logic of Sense’ that philosophy is ontology – but an ontology of sense).

    Having said that, I am (already) broadly on side with the potential claim that Laruelle was able to “go further” in this direction that Deleuze, in terms of not merely a willingness to step outside philosophy but to affirm that we were never in it in the first place – whereas Deleuze, of course, disavows any such necessity. But perhaps what is at stake there is this issue of the “logical” – Deleuze proclaims, more and more strongly as his work progresses, the need for the invention of new logics (non-rational ones), whereas Laruelle, it seems to me, considers the -logical as one claw of the philosophical double-articulation…

    Anyway, just some disordered thoughts which occurred to me reading your piece.

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