Servitude and liberation of meaning
1. One can imagine with difficulty (thought can neither soar over it nor anticipate it) what labor it took, what long education of meaning and power over meaning, to produce the subtlety, complexity, and plasticity of the juridical, penal, biblical, and literary techniques of interpretation. Let us take, for example, biblical exegesis and philology, the high degree of elaboration of their processes, the critical apparatus of their distinctions, the techniques of the establishment of a text, and their intellectual customs. Only a structuralist and Marxist thought, chopped with an axe, could have made us forget for a moment the technical and human possibilities (which will one day study the personality of the hermeneutician, his spiritual habitudes, his capacity and incapacity à la intellectual cleanliness [propreté]) of these marvelous instruments of the traditional interpretation of texts (juridical, sacred, and literary).
It is true that one can only say that the dominant hermeneuticians knew how to serve or procure their best diet for them. To the contrary, they have only thought to place them more or less expressively in competition with the methods of exact sciences, or, at least, to give them an object of the same type, supposing the same mode of being, and only qualitatively distinct, than the objects taken from nature. Under pretext from theology, they have underappreciated [méconnu] this great chain of the political projects of meaning, the specific technologies of power-knowledge and the power of meaning, which traverses Western culture and is proven irreducible as much to “science” as to “ideology.” They are incapable of cutting this chain, of diversifying this network of the onto-theo-political, of inscribing [imprimer] in it the new mutations in which it has need to become that which it is. Taking it sometimes in the originary unity of an external telos, sometimes in the heteroclite of scattered goals, objects, and techniques, the hermeneuticians never know; in other words—but it is in fact already the art of hermeneutics—to produce in a recurrent manner its historical continuity by techniques that are sharpened and adjusted by cut and mutation, not knowing to revive it by new cleavages of their goals, re-cuttings [redécoupages] of their objects, adjusted to its futurenot knowing to invent a future from it.
Now that structuralism—among others—and a certain scientific infatuation, which supported it in existence, fades under our steps with our very march, now that a possible future, very different from the expected, undoubtedly because of its badly presented political determination through its past forms, extricates itself for it, we are more free to appreciate its past with a fresh eye, to evaluate in their positivity up to its theological temptations. In the strict measure where we are capable of inscribing it with mutations (let’s say non?Diltheyian, non?Heideggerian, non?Husserlian), we will remake a sparkling past for it, we will make its materiality rise to the surface of history. To render justice for its past attempts, not only for those of theoretical hermeneutics (more or less always in a posture of failure) but for all of the technologies which have worked, and with what success, for the institution of meaning, i.e. its education (the religious, judicial, academic, literary, political, and economic institutions as well), to cease from judging them in reference to the capital of our present values, and to perceive their positivity, when it would only be their presence in all of the social practices. It is necessary to conquer, with new means, in part already invented elsewhere and which can transform it, a resolutely minor hermeneutics; to invent a new power of interpretation in which minority can finally be positive.
2. Hermeneutics either does not yet exist or only exists too much. It is from the decline of its dominant forms, from the hermeneutic of the future, to know how to carefully distinguish a real recurrence of a masked teleology, which we can evaluate with justice its historical attempts [essais] and liberate them, at least partially, from the encumbering shadows of metaphysics, dogmatics, science, history, and linguistics (which have not ceased from veiling it since its birth). What contradiction would there be with what a materialist hermeneutics, delivered from its ancient molar and transcendent objects (Faith, Text, Existence), from its convened places of exercise (Institutions), from its techniques (still a little primitive and more adapted to land surveying [arpentage] than topology), and to place its positivity in its irreducibility, its non-dependency on Being, in its affirmative dependency on the Other? Can it be capable of not incriminating the merciless historical conditions that it will find in its birth, to not cry out against the universal repression exercised by disciplines for a long time constituted and more apt than it to survive in conditions that they have contributed in fashioning? It is by renouncing to the model of this pilot-disciplines [disciplines-pilots], by seeking in the power-to-interpret [pouvoir-d’interpréter] the immanent criteria of its minority and its intrinsically political meaning—a task which already assumes a materialist conception of the power-to-interpret—that it will make these disciplines appear in the duplicity (let’s not say duality) of their effects over the technologies of meaning.
It would be necessary to install a double reading of these effects (but we will not do it here). On the one hand, the history of a merciless but fecund education; and on the other hand, the history of a repression, of a crushing of meaning by inadequate technique, so that the sign of positivity could seem, each time, to be reversed when one will insist on the positivity, sometimes of the traditional techniques to form meaning, the sense of meaning [le sens du sens], and to draw from the sciences, metaphysics, and existing institutions (the mixture of dominant hermeneutics), and sometimes, on the contrary, of meaning as crushed, normalized, and coded under the somewhat uncouth kinds of signification. But this slippage [glissement] of the sign of positivity does not signify, in the second case, a negative evaluation of the dominant hermeneutics. It is because meaning is in progress of formation at the same time as intrinsically repressed, because it is par excellence positive from side to side (its materiality), and because the coded and preset forms of its production are positive in their manner. One can consider its process of production in its abstract internal functioning, the “process of labor” of meaning in some sort, or the inclusion in this process of social forms of its existence: religious, judicial, penal, political, and artistic through which it is exercised. One should always look with an eye of a symptomatologist, sensible to the lesser variations of hierarchy, the entirely relative fluctuations of relation, the face-to-face adjointment [ajointement],1 the end-to-end apposition of a coded form of its production, and a pure, abstract form of this very production, or a line of active resistance to the normalization of meaning under signification.
One would doubt this line of resistance is identical at once to the second term of the “contradiction,” to the process of immanent production, and to the im-mediate border, with which it is confounded with “two” terms. What active resistance is: meaning is (anti?)political, it is thus not a term, it is confounded with its relation of repulsion to signification; it is a displaced limit of resistance to the extension of sedimented cultural forms. It is always necessary to follow the displacement of this false border of disjunction or disjointment [disjointement], and a-jointment [a-jointement], to adjust, according to the conjuncture, the evaluation of its techniques—to follow this border of apposition which follows, à la the trace, the objet (r) and unifies movement and ubiquity.
This duplicitous conception of production and repression signifies that both pass through the same cultural organs, the same techniques, the same institutional places, but that they are always invested twice, or by two material types of powers, that they are the seat of two politico-libidinal processes with opposite tendencies. The duplicity of the operation, the enormous cultural effort to liberate meaning, to form it, to give it its suppleness, all by making the fluxes of power pass through determined institutional canals, implies that meaning, not more than sexuality, was not primordially or “originally” repressed. We begin to know—the conjuncture having changed, other perspectives have traversed it, which overdetermine it otherwise and tie the thread of production and the thread of repression, the revolutionary and fascistic tendencies otherwise—that repression is an external limit of every production, but attached in an internal manner to this very production, that it refers to its internal social conditions, that every production includes an instance of reproduction with a regime that is always transcendent in its commencement and in which the reduction (Revolution as process) is the guiding thread, if one wants, of history, but cut, zigzagged, and especially does not reconstitute any goal under the form of a Revolution-entity. It is why, as hermeneuticians or symptomatologists, we must each time, before whatever theoretical or practical technique of meaning, treat it as a process produced by overdetermination, that is to say as: a) the disjunction or reciprocal displacement of a production and a repression of meaning, of a rebellion and mastery of meaning: its “revolutionary” side (in the sense of a process); b) the fusion and crosschecking [recoupement] of a rebel and master production: its dominant, reproductive, and conservative side.
3. “Overdetermination,” more generally, is the only “method.” Not the only strategy adjusted to the political duplicity of the history of meaning. It is a complex technology, in affinity with this fundamental phenomenon of hermeneutics: its capacity to be colonized by linguistics, analysis, by the techniques of rhetoric, philology, and etymology; its plasticity, its indetermination, and its incompleteness, its character as a supple, re-utilizable, and re-activated technology—in short, its underdetermination—permits an over-determination. This political weapon of overdetermination permits the renouncing of molar, monist, or dualist conceptions of the history of meaning, to denounce them as dominant: abstract and complicit: a) the denunciation of a position of universal mastery over meaning; b) the position of a massive liberation and an abstract materialization of meaning which goes as far as its negation, its confusion with signification, and the refusal of identifying it as “functioning” comprised as production or formation. We should not identify meaning and signification to reject them together as idealist: nothing is ever definitively idealist. There is always the risk that there will be in particular a much too negative exclusively libidinal materialism of meaning: it would lack, for it, the possibility of a political analysis of meaning, of an analytic of the “historical” projects of meaning and their technologies. The pure and simple identification of power, for example, with drive makes the drive, in turn, identified very quickly with desire: power fall backs onto libido, meaning onto power. We must avoid posing meaning as an irreducible entity, the object of technical mastery, or as identical, in fact, to signification and susceptible from being excluded to the benefit of material “functionings.”
The revolutionary question is solely that of a decline of meaning: it deracinates the paralogism which is at the basis of the refusal of elaborating new hermeneutic forms or of possibilizing = intensifying the ancients. The confusion of the symptom (dominant hermeneutics), articulated in the machinic syntax, with the interpretation directly, or in an internal manner, sets these syntaxes into play. It is through the recognition that every libidinal materiality passes through the Relations of Power and undergoes the law of an always dominant political strategy that is never susceptible to being massively levied, that one will avoid from splitting in an external manner the conditions of production or the reality of meaning and the conditions of its subjugation, the necessity for every Politico-Libidinal Formation of passing through cultural organs, the practical or social institutional instances to which, however, it is not reduced. Thus, there is indeed a politics of meaning, its birth and decline: it is the “Prätention” (but certainly not the telos) of attempts of theoretical hermeneutics and its practices co-extensive with the Social Body. It is why we do not at all think that hermeneutics is destroyed because both decide so. That which is destroyed and to be destroyed are its dominant forms.
Our project is not of analyzing such and such technology of interpretation and its historical configuration, for example, that which is immanent to the power to punish, the power to speak, or to the power to believe; but of recognizing the possibility, the terrain, the general theoretical and technological resources of a minor hermeneutic, i.e. a political and materialist analysis of the power-to-interpret, by marking each time, as much as possible, the duplicity of a face-off [mise front contre front], without mediation, of the “will” of meaning which roams the constitution of Western knowledge, and its limits placed on this will in the very act of exercising, “external” limits, but to think in their co-belonging internal to the production of this “will.” Attention to this double process must go so far as to recognize this paradox, that the attempts at linguistic, judicative, or other reductions of meaning, are still a manner of prolonging, in a dissimulating and masking mode, the incoercible tendency of production, i.e. the education of meaning—as a last recognition, carried back to its limits, of its sovereignty.
Translator’s note: Published in 1978, parodying Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Laruelle’s text comes at the tail end of the period known as Philosophie I, prior to what he would consider his “break” from the principle of sufficient philosophy. Due to a lack of attention, both academic and translational, this period has been somewhat forgotten: either because the academics (predominately Anglo-American), with their vested interest in non-philosophy as another grand theory in the marketplace of theories, have sought to find some “ethical” kernel that can help thought and action in a world wrought by travesty; or (somewhat similarly) because non-philosophy has “broken” from philosophical sufficiency, these interpretations and translations see no use-value for anyone simply because they are untranslated, somewhat impenetrable, and unavailable to a broader audience. The overall problem, to situate this text in the grand scheme of the vicious ritornello of fascism, is not so much about finding an ethics which only repeats the world, nor is it about inventing a new politics (Badiou), but that of what Laruelle calls, in Tétralogos, a “politics of invention.” Because of this, and despite undeservedly authoritative accounts to stamp non-philosophy as part of the “ethical turn,” ultimately defanging the serpentine line, it is necessary to not reduce non-philosophy as political, but to reconsider these accounts in a new light, to follow the serpentine line right back to its phangs (philosophy + fang).
Beyond the Power Principle has five sections with an overview of the two types of materialisms that Laruelle develops in this early period: machinic materialism and political materialism. Beyond (alongside Nietzsche contre Heidegger, Le déclin d’écriture, and Machines textuelles) produces a type of post-Marxist and Nietzschean fusion of both deconstruction and libidinal economy where both materialisms, prior to the break with philosophy and its sufficiency, seek to break new grounds in the philosophy of that time period, predominantly post-structuralist thought. Machinic materialism and political materialism are both considered to be the “completion” of dialectical materialism and historical materialism, respectively. Whereas with dialectical materialism, which implies a reciprocal relationship between one and the other, machinic materialism implies a unilateral relationship (much like the unilateral causality later on) where resistance, revolution, rebellion, and other forms of the objet (r) determine Mastery and Authority in the last instance. Whereas with historical materialism, which implies the ever-changing historical conditions between the oppressed and oppressing classes summed up in the phrase “life determines consciousness,” political materialism, inflected with Nietzschean transvaluation, is akin to, but distinct from, Foucault’s discourse and power-knowledge: it starts from the dominant and empirical meanings of “power” (juridical or theological, for instance) to that of the universally and radically immanent power of “meaning.” To Laruelle, all hitherto forms of politics (bourgeois, aristocratic, and even Marxist or Freudian) belong to the prehistory of politics, and that meaning, if it is this oblique and opaque human black box, is to be freed from the shackles of its worldly significations, to develop new human politics from out of the ruins of the old.
The stalemate that is the ethical turn has for far too long been dictated by worldly desires of salvation from within the seventh circle of the hell of fascism; the point is to find new weapons against it.
FRANÇOIS LARUELLE is professor emeritus of University of Paris X: Nanterre, the founder of Organisation Non-Philosophique Internationale (ONPhI), and the progenitor behind non-philosophy and non-standard philosophy.
JEREMY R. SMITH is a doctoral candidate at Western University at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism. His work investigates the theoretical in(ter)vention, scholarly reception, and practical application of François Laruelle’s concept of non-philosophy.
- At the time of translation, there are no English equivalents to the French word «ajointement» though it appears in a separate text, with reference to Beda Allemann’s Hölderlin und Heidegger (Zürich: Atlantis Verlag 1954). See Luce Fontaine-De Visscher, “La pensée du langage chez Heidegger,” in Revue Philosophique de Louvain, vol.64, no.82 (1966): 224-262. According to Godefroy’s Lexicon of the Old French, «ajointement» is an adverb that implies “in a tightly bound manner,” which, with an educated approximation, can be linked to some degree to Heidegger’s notion of das Gefüge. In his study on the Presocratic influence in Heidegger’s thought, W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz notes that das Gefüge can be rendered in English as “the ensemble,” “the structure,” or “the conjunction.” See W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, The Presocratics in the Thought of Martin Heidegger (Frankfurt: Peter Lang Editions 2017), 126.