Reading and pondering the critics of two of my favorite thinkers, Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze, I noticed some interesting similarities between Wyndham Lewis, a painter and critic of the early 20th century who wrote a long book “Time and Western Man” ranting against the “time philosophers”, especially Bergson; and Francois Laruelle, a contemporary philosopher who has spent decades trying to outdo all previous philosophy, especially Deleuze.
Lewis, as a painter resents the emphasis on time so common in philosophy, and he advocates a kind of battle against time as the central task of the artist, who should attempt to render some kind of permanence in form through the artist’s own strong singular subjectivity and creativity. I told my friend Lewis’ concern with opposition made him seem dialectical; which my friend thought was not a good fit, understandably, since the dialectic is all about change and transformation.
But after reading some of Laruelle recently, I couldn’t help but apply some of Laruelle’s ideas discussed by Alexander Galloway in his book “Laruelle: Against the Digital”. Galloway attempts to reduce all the essential prejudices of thinking down to four attitudes: the first: differential being, the “one two”, as Galloway describes it:
“Under the modal condition of the One Two, being goes outside of itself into difference. The state of rivenness is not elided or ignored. Neither is it fueled and accelerated. It is ossified as it is. Rivenness is not given over as a force vector or “line of flight,” nor is it resolved through synthesis. One could think of this as a fetishization of digitization, in the Marxian sense, to the extent that it seizes upon the relationality of digitization and injects a type of illusory value into the basic fact of distinction.”
Lewis would definitely fit somewhat here, since he wants to protect the representational nature of visual art and the distinctions that are natural to it. But any look at his art will not see some simple realism. He resented time being incorporated into the space of visual art as most people were doing in his era, but he does not eschew abstraction. His realism is platonic, an incorporation of the idea into the physical object, and this makes him a type of idealist, one who valorizes artistic method and oppositional struggle to secure this fusion of the idea and thing, which cannot help but smack of Hegel’s dialectic.
A brief look at the Lewis scholarship confirms my suspicion:here :
“It is the influence of Nietzsche and of Schopenhauer that Lewis readily admits of importance in his early years; these were thinkers who were, he felt, ‘more imiediately accessible to a Western mind than the other Germans,whose barbarous jargon was a great barrier… , and although he is not named in this context, Kant was found equally accessible and continued to exert a powerful and active influence on aspects of Lewis’s thought after both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer had been denounced as precursors of the time-philosophy. Lewis stressed that he had never read Hegel, for the above reason, and had found him to be among the most obscure of German philosophers, but he nevertheless had explicitly acknowledged the Inspiration of a Hegelian dialectical method in the meditation on systems of government in The Art of Being Ruled. Although such a method is not employed in Time and Western Man, it is evident that the dialectical process, which aims to preserve the rational propositions of theses by cancelling out the irrational, and progressing accordingly towards synthesis, would have been attractive to Lewis, especially in view of the stress on the superiority of the workings of the intellect in the engagement with Bergsonism. The deterministic implications of Hegel’s ‘political backwash’ were exceedingly distasteful to Lewis , but in matters of aesthetics, Hegel’s view that thought culminates in art, religion and philosophy – that it is not just a sensuous means of expressing or evoking feelings, but a fundamental way of apprehending reality – must have been applauded. The view that art may operate in such a way is expressed variously and with different forms of emphasis by prominent philosophical minds, but It remains an important feature of many diverse systems, most notably in Schopenhauer, and including Nietzsche, Kant, and Bergson”
So Lewis has some affinity here with Galloway/Laruelle’s 2nd category of prejudice: the “not-one” of dialectical being. Again, here is Galloway explaining:
“Dialectical being forever establishes relationships of antagonism, be they logical or political, in which entities or groups are formed and pitted against other entities or groups. And although such antagonisms can and will be resolved locally and historically, the essential architecture of antagonism itself persists eternally within dialectical being….”
“At root, dialectical entities are not particles but points. Unlike differential being they do not establish a local field bound by terminal transitions into and out of other states. Rather they occupy a point within space, defined exclusively by coordinates without extension or volume. They are a point within a field, measured against another location in the field”.
Lewis could not help but reflect some of that restless energy towards the universal and abstract that he so hated in Bergson and most of his contemporaries. But indeed Bergson and Deleuze were “against” the dialectic, were coming from a desire to undo the transcendental structure of both the transcendent affirmation of the “one two” of classical metaphysical thinking and representation, as well as the transcendental negation of the “not one” of dialectics. They fit well with Laruelle/ Galloway’s third category: the “one-as-multiple” of continuous being, no longer transcendent, but an immanent affirmation of everything. Galloway again:
“So now leave the realm of the transcendental and enter the realm of
immanence. The One-as-Multiple achieves immanence by way of multiplicity and continuity. It is best understood as a “natural” immanence, or an “immanence of everything.” Shunning the repressive laws of difference, continuous being affirms any and all entities as participants and
grants them an open invitation to the multiplicity of the world.”
“Is it new age mysticism, a weird twist on neoplatonism, or simply garden variety vitalism? Regardless of the answer, continuous being will tend toward a sacred, enchanted, if not entirely theological explanation for things. These ‘jets of singularities’ that surge and shoot, these counter-Platonic non-essences, are pure events. Continuous being is, in this sense, the converse of dialectical being. They both locate the event at the core of things, making events the very building blocks of all existence. Yet although the dialectic proceeds through a chain of negation, formulating dynamic oppositions in series, continuous being proceeds immanently via inductive, emergent affirmation.”
The fourth and final category in this scheme is the “One-and-the-same” of Generic Being:
“At the intersection of both immanence and negativity, generic being operates through a subtractive logic. If dialectical being deploys the negative in the service of transcendental transformation (the persistence of the party through struggle, the persistence of spirit through actualization, and so on), generic being deploys the negative as a kind of pure bunker for thought. The One-and-the-Same hunkers down within immanence; its negativity is not that of negation, resistance, or opposition, but of solitude, absence, peace, and love. If the dialectic is an instance of provisional negation, the generic is an instance of pure negation.”
Galloway fits Badiou here, but claims Laruelle passes through this “immanent negativity” only to arrive at a position not outside the four models, but immanent to all of them by way of treating them all as the basic structural data of the universe that one takes no position on. My attitude would be pragmatically using any of them as needed, which would be the most immanent affirmation to all, but Laruelle, I think, is rather grounded in the immanent negation. He likes photography a lot, and like Lewis there is a need to counter the restless dynamism of the immanent affirmation with some stability in the common sensual and immediate aesthetic beholding of reality, without the conceit of endless interpretation so favored by intellectuals.
Lewis’s preference for stability ends up in the two transcendental modes of dialectical and differential being, though I think he would have liked Laruelle’s affinity for the solitary resistance of the generic one to the onslaught of the world of time and its endless relations and transformations.
And though this solitude and detachment may seem nihilistic, some affirmation of this mode may be the key component of any true political transformation that doesn’t get lost in what Badiou called in his critique of Deleuze (from a line of Deleuze’s) “the clamor of being”. Both sides of immanence may be necessary to avoid the endless cycles of pseudo-transcendence discussed in my essay, “Sacrifice and Repetition.”