Luka Stojanovic - The Fractality of Superposition: Towards Jonathan Fardy, Laruelle and Art: The Aesthetics of Non-Philosophy
Jonathan Fardy, Laruelle and Art: The Aesthetics of Non-Philosophy (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020)
Bionote: Luka Stojanovic (1996) holds an Honours BA with Specialization in Philosophy from the University of Ottawa (2018) and an MPhil in Film and Screen Studies from the University of Cambridge (2019). His research interests include environmental philosophy, non-philosophy, and political ecology.
Any commentator of François Laruelle’s non-philosophical thought must inevitably confront the question of how to explain non-philosophy without reducing it to the terms of standard philosophy. In other words, how can one introduce non-philosophy without one’s explanation rendering non-philosophy yet another form of “Philosophical Decision” that offers an authoritative conceptualization of the Real (49). In Laruelle and Art: The Aesthetics of Non-Philosophy, Jonathan Fardy navigates this challenging terrain by modelling his thought according to the “immanent ‘hypothes[es]’” of the numerous artistic works he considers, offering an accessible introduction to non-aesthetics as well as a performative posture of the practice of non-aesthetics (69).
Laruelle and Art is primarily concerned with examining the relation between art and philosophy, one in which philosophy has historically exerted its self-legislated dominance over the meaning of art (23). This entrenched prioritization stems from standard philosophy’s capacity to auto-position itself as the definitively authoritative form of thought, one that is sufficient to know and then decide the Real (11). Rather than simply accept that philosophy can access the Real and, in turn, is justified in subordinating art to philosophy, Laruellian non-aesthetics, which Fardy expounds and mutates throughout this work, performs an experiment wherein it considers all thought to be “clone[d]” “raw materials” which equally have no access to the Real (xvii, xiv). Within this radical “democracy of thought,” the traditional conception of philosophy dominating over art is replaced by an “art of philosophy” or “art-thought,” in which the immanent hypothesis of an artwork becomes a model from which the two disciplines are “superposed” to form a “matrixed” thought (108, xvi, xiii, xiv, xvii). Fardy’s work is not only impressive in its clear engagement with how artists, artworks, and philosophers perform a posture of non-aesthetics, but particularly through its own performance of non-aesthetics, that is, an oscillation between modes of thought which complicate and, at moments, even transcend the border assumed by the question of the relation between art and philosophy (37).
The opening section of Laruelle and Art offers an incredibly succinct and proficient introduction to numerous non-philosophical concepts (e.g., determination in/of the last instance or DLI, the One, Principle of Sufficient Philosophy, etc.), which serves as an excellent review for those already familiar with the thought of Laruelle, as well as a helpful introduction for those less familiar. Fardy makes it clear that the fundamental reason for the perpetual domination of art by philosophy stems from standard philosophy’s own self-prescribed sufficiency to legislate reality and institute the Real, ignoring that whatever it identifies as the Real (e.g., Alterity, Being, Difference, etc.) can only ever represent the Real as something else (23). To avoid generating yet another representationalist account of the Real and inciting its subsequent hierarchization of concepts, Fardy considers how non-philosophy performs an axiomatic posture which recognizes the Real as entirely “foreclosed to full epistemic access” (113). With all thought equally incapable of deciding the Real, thought becomes considered material that can be used to form new “combines” (a term cloned from Robert Rauschenberg) of non-aesthetic thought that correlate with the Real through “dualysis” (8, 137). These new “combines” of raw material perform a “theory-fiction” (a term cloned from Jean Baudrillard) which offers a discourse that is parallel to the discourse of standard philosophy (15). This parallel discourse involving art and philosophy does not seek to expound a “critical mimesis of the work of art, but rather to take art-making as a model for doing philosophy,” one that thinks according to the cloned “non-relationality” of the Real (24, 35). Throughout this entire section, Fardy’s choice of grammar, rhetoric, and syntax reveals an author fully aware of the importance of style as a fundamental theoretical question for the practice of non-philosophy. As Fardy notes, style is incredibly important for the strategy of “resistance to Philosophical Decision” (49). By cloning Rauschenberg’s “combines” or Baudrillard’s thought on theory, Fardy’s engagement avoids presenting or introducing Laruelle’s thought as an authoritative source about the Real, choosing instead to participate in thought alongside the Real (13).
This attitude of resistance continues in the next section wherein the more abstract, theoretical dimensions of non-aesthetics discussed previously are placed in dialogue with para-philosophical materials with the intention of considering how they reveal their own modes of resistance to Philosophical Decision. In an attempt to temper what some consider the apparent strangeness of Laruelle’s thought, this chapter places non-aesthetics within the constellation of the writings of Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Derrida, whose work, Fardy suggests, parallels Laruelle’s non-aesthetic project through their emphasis on the importance of considering “the theoretical content of art itself” (23). Within this section, Fardy examines how Adorno’s atonal, discontinuous, and irresolute style parallels the antagonistic struggle against “capital’s imperative of easy consumption” displayed by the non-representational, autonomous modern art Adorno studied (52). Fardy also examines how Benjamin’s prose “clones the aesthetics of surrealism,” experimenting with time and events to produce “quasi-filmic space and time,” that is, to create a surrealistic philosophy rather than a philosophy of surrealism (55, 54). Then, finally, in what is perhaps the most compelling section of the entire book, Fardy engages with Derrida’s essay “Cartouches,” a piece written for an exhibition on the work of Gérard Titus-Carmel. Instead of quoting, paraphrasing, or framing Titus-Carmel’s work in a way that would merely reinforce a representationalist reading of its content, Fardy suggests that Derrida chose to model the syntax and structure of this essay on the principle of line-work characteristic of the artist’s works (57). The “fits, starts, [and] sketchiness” of Derrida’s essay clones the immanent hypothesis of Titus-Carmel’s art of line-drawing (57). Refusing to offer a definitive confirmation of “the artist’s statement, biography, or conventional philosophical aesthetics,” Derrida’s critical act performs a posture wherein art becomes recognized as the model for thought and not merely the subject of study (70).
For Fardy, while the work of Adorno, Benjamin, and Derrida parallel a non-aesthetic posture through their conviction in the importance of the “theoretical content of art itself,” Laruelle’s non-aesthetic thought is distinct from the thought of these authors through its refusal to actually explicate that content (23). Non-aesthetics’ commitment to follow the immanent hypotheses of artworks rather than to explain or judge them according to something else, marks, for Fardy, the political and ethical potential of non-aesthetics to open a “Third Space” (to clone Homi K. Bhabha’s term) without the imposition of philosophy’s self-legislated dominance (76).
The Third Space or matrix of art and philosophy performed by non-philosophical thought is generated through superposition, a term from quantum physics that is cloned by Laruelle to describe the conjugation of different modes of thought to produce another, distinct knowledge (88). To examine the incredibly productive potential of this concept further, Fardy dedicates a significant portion of the third section to consider an articulation of “quantum ethics,” that is, a superposition of art, ethics, philosophy, and science alongside a study of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen (86). Frayn’s play, which centres on Werner Heisenberg’s trip to Copenhagen in 1941 to visit Nils Bohr, is structurally modelled according to a particle experiment wherein numerous experiments are run to determine Heisenberg’s motivation for undertaking this dangerous trip (84). Without making any claims about quantum physics or the events of the Bohr-Heisenberg meeting, Fardy suggests these various elements within the play are treated as raw material that are “conjugated” to form an “aesthetic vision” at the centre of which questions about “the politics of friendship, ethical responsibility, the precarity of memory, [and] the contingencies of history” are posed without making any definitive claim on or about them (127, 89, 86). Once again, Fardy’s engagement with a para-philosophical text does not simply explain how it ought to be interpreted according to a particular conception of aesthetics, but instead models its own thought on the work’s immanent hypothesis. Through the superposition of numerous considerations of quantum physics, “photo-fiction,” and “non-Marxism” within this section, Fardy experiments with conjugating Frayn’s Copenhagen as an art-thought, one which is not reducible to art, philosophy, or science (92, 95).
In the final section, Fardy considers how certain philosophical concepts are challenged by the “force (of) thought” operative in artworks themselves (117). In particular, Fardy focuses on how the work of Anish Kapoor, Dan Flavin, and James Turrell complicate philosophical concepts of “reflection,” “history,” and “truth and illusion,” respectively (121). Fardy suggests that within Kapoor’s “post-minimalist economy of expression,” the concept of reflection frequently offers Kapoor an anchor for exploring the complexity of questions surrounding displacement, place, transition, and translation within the contemporary moment (ibid.). Engaging with the various refractions of reflection instigated by Kapoor’s work, Fardy considers how Homi K. Bhabha’s commentary on Kapoor’s work parallels the works’ sovereignty against Philosophical Decision (123). Instead of reading Kapoor’s work as a study on the ontology of art, Bhabha models his commentary on the works’ immanent hypotheses, thereby reflecting “these concepts back by putting them to work on issues that extend far beyond the narrow confines of the ontology of art,” such as on “their shared postcolonial memory of the Bombay cultural scene of the 1960s and 1970s” (ibid). The concept of reflection is not only refracted through Fardy’s consideration of the criticism on Kapoor’s work, but also through consideration of Kapoor’s artworks “on (and of) reflection” (124). Fardy focuses on the London installation of Sky Mirror, a work which enacts a “displacement of the angle of vision” (to clone Benjamin) and “materially ‘reflects’ on reflection immanently” (125). While much more could be said on the section about Kapoor, Fardy offers equally fascinating commentary on Flavin’s Light and Space works, most importantly about how Flavin’s works beat criticism to the punch in terms of articulating “a historico-theoretical critique of Minimalism’s depoliticized aesthetics” (135). Fardy suggests that through this gesture, Flavin’s works reduce critical response to a clone of the artwork itself (ibid.). Finally, Fardy also considers how the “supposition of two-dimensional and three-dimensional perception” in Turrell’s work forces a critical return to “think according to perception” rather than being a work that “think[s] about perception” itself (137, 139). In an ethical gesture to challenge the auto-legislated authority of philosophy, all of these engagements of non-philosophical aesthetics provide the possibility of conceiving a radical democratization of thought in which the authority of the artwork, not the values of standard philosophical aesthetics and concepts, is taken as the starting-point of thought.
Fardy concludes by acknowledging two interconnected endeavours that are necessary to further develop and expand the scope of non-philosophical thought. The first of these is the need to further examine the mechanics and structure of Philosophical Decision itself. The second is to explore the potential of different modes of non-philosophical practice (157). Fardy’s work is exemplary in its ability to offer novel and thought-provoking engagements with both of these aspects, providing a succinct examination of the decisional structure of standard aesthetics while consistently displaying an innovative approach which seeks not to decide on a specific reading of art, but rather to decide “how not to read the relation between art and thought” (151). Fardy’s work does not offer a blueprint for non-aesthetics, but rather performs a posture informed by the immanent hypotheses within the works considered.
Laruelle and Art will undoubtedly prove to be an invaluable resource for the development of non-aesthetics and non-philosophy, generally. This work could only have benefited from further development in certain areas, such as Fardy’s imperative to “show the ethical and political dimensions immanent” to non-aesthetic practice (xv). Let us consider, for example, Fardy’s engagement with non-Marxism. This thought-provoking section considers the parallel between the emancipation of raw materials from philosophical domination and the possibility of the emancipation of art from standard aesthetics which is itself dominated, hierarchized, and organized according to “standard axioms of beauty, aesthetic pleasure, [and] the history of styles and techniques” (56). The “labour of art,” that is, “its sensuous and intellectual work,” considered within the intersection of non-Marxism and non-aesthetics, would no longer be exploited as a subject of philosophical enquiry once it is removed from the “ideology of exchange” that is entrenched in standard philosophy (95, 97). While this discussion is undeniably a high-point in Laruelle and Art, one wishes that the political implications of a non-Marxist aesthetics would be explored further, offering, perhaps, an engagement alongside a specific work or group of artists to fully unpack its intricacies. Even in moments where Fardy indicates the potential of considering, for example, Flavin’s work “as raw material for a non-aesthetic critique of standard philosophy qua‘thought-capital,’” this remains only a “speculative and suggestive” start that is, unfortunately, never developed (139). Despite these remarks, Laruelle and Art is an essential text within Laruellian scholarship and a forceful example of the possibility of non-aesthetics to question the relation between art and philosophy determined by Philosophical Decision.
Published on: December 31, 2020