A Dark Precursor

Provisional Thoughts on Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Universities

Category: French Philosophy

Etienne Balibar – Laïcité or Identity – English Translation

Today in Liberation there appeared a short piece by Etienne Balibar devoted to the question of the principle of laïcité in contemporary French political life — most recently manifested in the ban imposed by several municipalities on the wearing of burkinis, which was overturned last week by the Council of State, which is the highest administrative court in France.

Balibar welcomes this ruling, but also argues that there is a more serious matter at stake, and worries that the principle of laïcité, historically vital to the preservation of civil and personal freedom in France, is — in the ‘identitarian’ version that is currently in the process of being articulated — coming more and more to serve exactly the opposite function. He traces a philosophical genealogy of the notion, and then shows how in the current conjuncture it is being deployed in a way that is profoundly dangerous and indeed both drifts in the direction of a legitimation of “States of exception” and tends to be drawn into what he calls a “mimetic rivalry with the totalitarian discourse against which, at the same time, French politics pretends to guard itself.”

Given the interest of this piece, and its short length, I took the liberty of translating it quickly for the benefit of non-French speaking readers. Below you can find my draft translation (corrections and suggestions are always welcome). Please note that I have left ‘laïcité’ and related terms untranslated, since the English equivalents ‘lay’ or ‘secular’ are either frequently awkward or confusing given Balibar’s use of ‘seculaire’ in several places in the article in a non-technical sense.

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Guattari, Institutions, and … Utopias?

I’ve been thinking about Guattari and institutions a lot. More specifically, I’ve been thinking that part of what is interesting about Guattari is that a large portion of his thought is devoted to questions not only about the ways in which subjects are constituted by and in relation to institutions, but also about how relations between subjects and institutions can be rearticulated in order to give rise to real and lasting transformations of both.

Such questions are eminently practical for Guattari, arising out of his political and his psychiatric practice, both of which involve institutional relations at very basic levels—he was a hospital psychiatrist and an activist whose political work was always carried out within a network of highly instituted contexts (Trotskyist militancy, the Youth Hostel movement, various periodical publishing collectives and research groups, etc.).

What all these institutions have in common is that they are at least potentially revolutionary—though in both the case of the hospital and the case of the party, there is also the constant risk of stagnation, blockage, or constraint. As a result, working within institutions requires constant attention. But given this attention, and a certain amount of institutional skill, Guattari also clearly believes that the institution, as such, can function both as a site and an enabling condition for the emergence of new and better forms of life. In the psychiatric context, for instance, the transversal relations that can be set up within the institution allow it to function as a rich and flexible diagnostic and therapeutic instrument.

Guattari is by no means unique among his contemporaries in seeing the creative power of institutions with respect to forms of life.  Foucault, of course, must be credited with a similar insight.  And the very early Deleuze also seemed to have been thinking in terms of institutions as mechanisms of satisfaction, rather than exploitation or constraint.  But Guattari frequently inflects the point differently, and especially optimistically.

In this respect, it seems worth asking what might be gained by reading Guattari in relation to the Utopian tradition.  Already in More we can find envisioned a manner of organization in which the institutions of society should be capable of producing, at least in most cases, a profound alteration in the affective constitution of subjectivity—such that, for example, the desires for property, luxury, or visible status should be purged from the citizens of his island.  Moreover, the organization of work and the distribution of tasks in Utopia is clearly aimed at fostering in each individual a continual process of development precisely on the basis of maximizing his or her opportunities for intellectual, scientific, and creative endeavors.

But it may be less to More’s canonical text and more to the experimental communities that were set up by many socialists in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and which may have to some extent been consciously or unconsciously repeated in the hostelage movement, that it may be profitable to compare the relatively closed, or at least deliberately circumscribed and programmatically organized (and reorganized) space of the clinic to which Guattari devotes so much of his early theoretical energy.

At very least, this seems worth following up.

François Laurelle — Le principe de minorité — Foreword [In English]

Introduction

Originally published in 1981, Le principe de minorité, the title of which can be translated as The Minority Principle, is the first in the series of works that Laurelle would eventually designate ‘Philosophy II.’

The following short foreword, subtitled “The Immediate Givens of Multiplicities,” lays out the general plan of the work and announces its major aims. The first of these is a critique and of the major theoretical treatments of “the contemporary problem of Difference, that is to say of continuous and relative multiplicities that it still inscribes in the hypostasis of Being, or of minorities that it still implants in the body of the State—hypostases that it only causes to stretch without daring to break them.” Evidently, the text anticipates important elements of the extended critique that Laruelle would level against Nietzsche, Deleuze, Derrida, and Heidegger in Philosophies of Difference—though here his announced targets are Nietzsche, Bergson, and Heidegger.

But Laruelle also aims to present an alternative to these inadequate approaches, which he figures under the sign of a type of multiplicity that he distinguishes from two others: the ‘discrete or arithmetic’ type and the ‘continuous’ type, which he associates with the philosophers of difference. The third type, which Laruelle proposes here, are  “dispersive, Unary Multiplicities or Minorities, which” he goes on to say, “are the absolute concept or the essence of multiplicities.” It is this notion which sets him over and against the traditional global categories that are typically held to encompass differences of various sorts: “Being, the Idea, the State, History, etc.” Against these, he argues for “the absolute, non-relative autonomy of parts, differences, minorities, beings [étant], events, singularities, etc.” And from here, he will proceed to argue that in treating these dispersed elements as absolutes, as ‘immediate givens,’ we shall be led to reconcile “a thought of the multiple and of becoming [. . . ] and a thought of the absolute, but of the Absolute as such, a thought of the One, but of the One without unity, beyond the Idea, Logos, Being itself [l’Etre même].” It is in this ‘One without unity,’ this absolute One beyond Being, that, Laruelle contends, we shall find the genuinely “immediate givens” to which the philosophies of Difference ultimately failed to keep its promises at both a theoretical and a political level. And again, readers familiar with the general outlines of Laruelle’s oeuvre will see in all of this an early formulation of themes that remain central to his more recent thought, including texts like Future Christ and its companion, Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains.

Textual Notes and Acknowledgements

This translation is a draft. It has not been reviewed by Laruelle. Please do not publish it without permission. I would also appreciate prior notice if you intend to quote from it or cite it.

I have generally hewed fairly closely to Laruelle’s syntax, and left the original French in brackets where it seemed to me that his meaning might be subject to various readings, or where the original French terms had resonances that were difficult to render adequately in English. Two sentences, especially, proved very difficult to translate and I have supplied the original French in footnotes, which readers are invited to consult.

Finally, this translation has benefitted enormously from a careful review by Tyler Harper. He made a number of excellent suggestions for revisions, many of which I have incorporated in what follows. All mistakes and infelicities are, of course, my own.

The translation follows after the break, or can be downloaded in .pdf form here.

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François Laruelle – Phénomène et Différence – Introduction [in English]

François Laruelle’s first book, Phénomène et Différence. Essai sur l’ontologie de Ravaisson, appeared in 1971. As he notes in the final paragraph below, the text was his thesis for the doctorat de troisième cycle. Laruelle acknowledges this academic origin, regretting that the work as it stood did not take account of some of the theoretical developments in very contemporary French thought which related to its subject matter—or that it only did so around the margins. This qualification must be added because, when Laruelle prepared Phénomène et Différence for publication, he added the introductory text which is translated here in order to position what was already, by his own characterization, a “free essay” on Ravaisson in relation to the contemporary problem of difference.

As matters now stand, that Introduction can be seen as a remarkable first statement of a number of themes that have endured in Laruelle’s thought. Indeed, in the correspondence wherein he graciously gave me permission to post this translation, Laruelle himself observed that “these three pages . . . announce a constant tendency in my thought.”

Accordingly, I am glad to be able to present the following translation. The Introduction begins in page 9 of the French edition, and I have marked the page transitions in that edition as they occur. Also, given the likelihood that many readers will have difficulty obtaining a copy of Phénomène et Différence, I have been quite free about supplying the original French in brackets where it seemed useful for clarity or where the sense of Laruelle’s text might be open to variant readings in English. Several readers, including Laruelle himself have seen this text, but none of them have checked it carefully against the French. Therefore, while I am fairly confident in its accuracy, this should be treated as an uncorrected draft translation, which may contain errors and infelicities — for which I take full responsibility and of which I invite discussion in the comments.

The translation follows after the break, or can be downloaded in .pdf form here.

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Badiou’s “The Racism of the Intellectuals”

Alain Badiou published the following short article in Le Monde on Saturday, the eve of the French election that brought an end to the Sarkozy government. Entitled “The Racism of the Intellectuals,” it insists that primary responsibility for the current climate of racism, xenophobia, and ‘rampant fascism’ in France must be laid at the door of a set of politicians — left and right-wing — and intellectuals who have over the past several decades been willing to cultivate and exploit such sentiments.  It also powerfully calls into question the position of the incoming Socialist government of François Hollande on many of these points, and resists the tendency to identify these attitudes only with the far right. I offer here my own rough translation in order to make the piece more accessible to non-Francophone readers, who may find that many of Badiou’s criticisms of the French intelligensia and the French political establishment can be transposed into other contexts with rather startling ease.

Full text below (and in pdf here)—and as usual, comments, corrections or suggestions for the translation are welcome.  Read the rest of this entry »

March 19, 1969: Jacques Nassif presents on Deleuze in Lacan’s Seminar

Early in the research that eventually led to my dissertation, I discovered that Deleuze had been taken up on at least two distinct occasions in Lacan’s seminar, first in 1967 (Seminar XIV) after the publication of Coldness and Cruelty, and then again in 1969 (Seminar XVI) after the appearance of The Logic of Sense. Intrigued, I went to the typescripts of these seminars — the official edition of Seminar XVI had not yet appeared — and discovered not only that Lacan had praised Deleuze warmly on both occasions, but indeed that he had been so taken by The Logic of Sense as to request, on March 12, 1969, that one of his students put together a presentation on it. This request was taken up the next week by Jacques Nassif, whose presentation was preserved in the typescript of the seminar.

Thrilled, I dutifully set to work translating the presentation. Originally, I had also intended to write up an introduction to it, and possibly an analysis of the entire episode, which is quite interesting in many of its nuances — not least among them Lacan’s rather explicit attempts to claim what Deleuze is doing as an effect of his own project, while also rebuking Deleuze for relying too much on Jean Laplanche’s portions of his and Serge Leclaire’s famous presentation on “The Unconscious” at the Bonneval colloquium in 1960, a text which was central to the break between Lacan and Laplanche. The project stalled, having too many moving parts, many of which were drawing me further and further from the central issue (at the time) of Deleuze’s own relationship to psychoanalysis.

In the mean time, I had the translation sitting around. When the official edition of the seminar appeared in French, Nassif’s text was not included. There is thus no more ‘official’ edition than the one in the typescripts, nor is one likely to be forthcoming. From the point of view of Lacan scholarship, this is reasonable; and indeed given that what is at issue is a rough presentation that was composed in the course of a week, it is hardly surprising that the editors — and quite probably Nassif himself — saw fit to let it lie.  For several years, I have done the same.

Nevertheless — especially given Lacan’s rather pointed ‘introduction’ of The Logic of Sense to his seminar the week before — it seems to me that the text retains some considerable interest to those trying to understand the relationship between Deleuze and Lacan.  Indeed, it provides a very rare example of how Deleuze, more or less with Lacan’s authorization, could be read by Lacanians prior to what Monique David-Ménard rather pointedly calls “the altercation” of the 1970s.

Accordingly, I present here a revision of my translation of Nassif’s presentation, with the original French text from the typescript linked above en face.

J Nassif on Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, Presented to Lacan’s Seminar, 3-19-1969

Comments on or corrections to the translation are, of course, welcome. There are several passages that are tricky and awkward, especially given the emendations in the text. Also, as the opportunity presents itself, I hope to work on translating the relevant sections of the two meetings of the seminar before and after March 19th, where Lacan introduces The Logic of Sense and makes a few comments in the aftermath of Nassif’s presentation. I will update this post with links to those materials, as appropriate. Perhaps someday I’ll even finish writing up my discussion of the various ‘moving parts’ animating the episode.