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  • Writer's pictureChristine Skolnik

Symbolic Bonfires and Academic Condemnations

This post features an excerpt from a translation of an interview with François Laruelle conducted by Philippe Petit and published in Philosophie Magazine in February of 2015, but begins with a few paragraphs about Laruelle as a topic of academic discourse.

Laruelle has become a perennially controversial figure, but I take most of the common controversy with a grain of salt, partly because Laruelle has been accused of a multitude of sins from all sides–by various competing philosophical and political factions–and partly because much of the criticism seems to take his work out of context. With this in mind, I must state that this post represents the views of the author and not the blog as a collaborative enterprise.

As a reader of Laruelle, I believe the most common controversies stem from his (secular) messianic courage and honesty. His language is not always careful, but I think more often it is misinterpreted (outside of its disciplinary and historical context). Whatever Laruelle says about Christ and the “God of Israel,” in the excerpt below, for example, must be understood within the context of academic philosophy (if not his work), which has almost nothing to do with normative Christianity or Judaism. In my opinion, the normative “discourses” of Christianity and Judaism (to which I have been a party for many years, as a practicing Christian and subsequently a practicing Jew) have almost no bearing on Laruelle’s thought, and vice versa. There are almost no points of intersection. They exist in different spheres.

It is perhaps an occupational hazard of philosophy and new thought that it will be taken out of context. Believing this, I hesitate to post these passages, but I also challenge casual Laruelle critics to read or reread his work. Anyone not stunned, moved, and inspired by it, has either not understood it, or read it through a distorting lens.

I would like to add that I do not have comprehensive knowledge of Laruelle, and so I am not defending his work categorically. This might seem a cowardly reversal, but my goal is not to take sides, except against hasty non-productive criticism. I believe that Laruelle is often misunderstood because of his dated cultural sensibility (and language) in the name of a sensibility that may not stand up to its own standards of scrutiny in the years to come. This is not an apology for anything, but an appeal to what Judith Butler has identified as an ethic based on our understanding of our opacity to ourselves and our own cultural milieu (Giving an Account of Oneself).


The translation by Timothy Lavenz was posted on fragilekeys, on December 10, 2017. Below are Lavenz’s introductory comments followed by an excerpt on topics pertinent to this blog. I welcome civil disagreement but will not respond to any variety of hostile discourse which has characterized disagreements on this topic (in the past), and which illustrates precisely the type of blind spot I have alluded to above. In other words, I hope (in a small way) to help usher in an era where this type of discourse no longer holds sway in academia or is mistaken for dialogue.


The following is my [Lavenz's] translation of an interview with Francois Laruelle published in February 2015 by Philosophie Magazine, “Je suis un collisionneur de concepts, pas un dialecticien”: “I am a collider of concepts, not a dialectician.” The French transcript can be accessed at the blog Non-Musicology.

What is left of the three main concepts of metaphysics: God, soul, world?

The first thought that comes to me is, “God is a useless and dangerous invention for humans.” Less crimes are committed against his name than in his name. I oppose to him the Christ – see Future Christ, A Lesson in Heresy and Christo-fiction, In the Ruins of Athens and Jerusalem. If there is salvation for God, he will be difficult to save. And yet, there must be a non-theology! I therefore undo and dismantle the doublet of God and Christ, to preserve the Christ at whom I suffer the least outrage. Christ is a Greco-Judaic collision who makes history explode. His message is an event that destroys Christianity as a religion, making the promise, the future and salvation desirable to us.

What does the soul become?

It’s a projection: a little god in man, a Greek affair. The soul? I only consider it through its lived mystical experience [son vécu mystique]. Belief? I prefer faith. Theory? I turn it into a lay messianity. Non-philosophical writing is my way of mystical practice and messianic fidelity.

And what does the world become?

The world is the big place, more or less immanent but at the same time open, in which we trudge and get stuck. In the Bible, it’s sin. For the Gnostics I appreciate, it’s hell. They don’t love the world and the God who created it very much. For some mystics, it’s the place where something sometimes called the soul, a little light, got thrown. The whole problem is to recover this spark, to make it come back into itself, to save itself. For Heidegger it is facticity that keeps us prisoners to being-in-the-world. For Levinas it’s what attaches us to biology. In short, I prefer the universe…

You said earlier that the soul was an illusion and now it’s thrown into an incoherent world and must be saved.

On the question of the soul, I draw upon the mystical register of Meister Eckhart and the Russians, the “Glorifiers of the Name.” The soul resides in a place that is called the “reduced.” It’s a matter of a spark or, according to the Gnostics, of a pearl of man who was thrown into a world after a dirty trick of the divine. You want my confession of faith?

A new paradox?

Messianic passion is with terrestrial love my “non-Christian” Gospel. It rests on two tables, the no and the yes. For the first: I apply certain forces of resistance, Marxism, Gnosis, heresy, anti-philosophy. I am a Gnostic in the rebellion, a heretical expert of symbolic bonfires and academic condemnations, a schismatic in reason’s honor, a non-philosopher in paradoxical and unconditional love with philosophy, a believer [fidèle] in compassion for victims who are always n+1, finally, a man of faith in the genre “non-believer.”

The second table contains what you expect, the axiomatic and problematic aspect of non-standard philosophy, not just the clouds, waves and music, but the antidote to philosophical sufficiency, messianity as the principle of all these fights. I define man himself as “ordinary” or “generic” through a coefficient of messianity that cannot be evaluated by only philosophy or only religion separated.

What then? My response is extraordinarily poor [mince]. In this rigorous messianism, with a rigor different than that of the God of Israel, before whom I am an atheist, I have searched like always for the mathematical formula that paradoxically counterbalances [balance] the deadly excess of philosophy by “lowering” philosophy or under-determining it. This coefficient of messianity is for all, not just for “great thinkers.” It is a complex number, it fits in a mathematical symbol “the square root of -1…” So many promises with such small means, one would think it’s like Leibniz! But one must know how to develop motif musically: fidelity through creation, faith through invention, messianity through discovery.

Note: The translation by Timothy Lavenz was posted on fragilekeys, on December 10, 2017.

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