Symposium Introduction

What if philosophy is a problem? Not in some Heideggerian-inspired sense in which “problem” would come to mean that philosophy takes itself as its object of concern or some such (although this is certainly part of the problem identified in Kolozova’s work), but in the literal sense that it is something that we ought to resist because it is oppressive, exploitative, and destructive of human and animal life? What if philosophy was not alone in this perpetuation of horror? What if the problem of philosophy was synonymous with the alienation and exploitation of capitalism, both these systems driven by a violent, fetishistic logic that works to replace our real, material lives with abstractions, abstractions that alienate us from real life? What would it mean to not only resist this violent collusion between philosophical abstraction and capitalist fetishism, but to formulate a response to it, a real, emancipatory, metaphysics of social liberation? These are the central questions of Katerina Kolozova’s bold new book, Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism: Marx and Laruelle. More specifically, following the work of French philosopher François Laruelle, Kolozova argues that philosophy and capitalism are both governed by an essential logic of “abstraction,” insofar as they operate to constitute “a reality that establishes an amphibology with the real (acts in its stead, posturing as ‘more real than real’)” (2). What unites philosophical abstraction and capitalist fetishism is not only that they translate “material effects” into concepts or the commodity form (all representational or “transcendental” systems operate through translation or “cloning” to use Laruelle’s term), but, and this will be key, they insist that these abstractions are, in the last instance, actually more real than the real itself. It is this second claim, this “eclipsing” of the real by abstraction, the taking of the “translation” of the real as a “‘true real’ i.e., a real that is more real than the real itself” that is the fundamental problem shared by both philosophy and capitalism. For Kolozova, this is the essential insight of Laruelle’s and Marx’s work, identifying this alienating and violent logic of abstraction in philosophy and capitalism, respectively. Hence, Kolozova charts an essential affinity between non-philosophy and Marxism, an affinity on which she builds an account of concrete social realities aimed at the elimination of suffering and the cultivation of freedom and “well-being” (86–89). Now such a bold and wide-ranging argument not surprisingly raises certain questions: What is meant by “the real” or “life”? How does such a critique of abstraction avoid being simply another version of Marxist ideology critique? And, perhaps most pressingly, how does this help us formulate real resistance and social practices that concretely increase human and animal well-being? These questions will emerge in various ways in all the reviews below. However, it is also important to recognize, as all the reviewers do, the impressive scope of Kolozova’s intervention into the fields of non-philosophy, Marxism, and political theory.

Kolozova’s work provides, as Dominic Fox puts it, “perhaps the clearest indication so far of what a Laruellian politics might look like,” developing, in a fundamentally original way, Laruelle’s account of “non-marxism” into a full-blown political project. In so doing, Kolozova contributes an important and timely intervention into Laruelle’s thought, as well as putting it into conversation with other contemporary political positions, for example, accelerationism (44–45). Additionally, Kolozova’s text provides an introduction to the stakes of non-philosophy, the concretely political orientation of her work showing readers why it might be essential to engage with work as frankly difficult as Laruelle’s. Similarly, as Anthony Paul Smith comments, Kolozova’s text takes a definitive position in the long-standing debate over the oft-supposed split between Marx’s “young” and “mature” work, Kolozova arguing that there is no fundamental split in Marx’s thinking, as the concern for the abstracting logic of capitalism is central to his work from first to last. Hence, Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism is a work of interest to thinkers of Laruelle as well as Marx, as it carves out new ground in the scholarship on both these thinkers. However, it is also a text of radical political thought that unabashedly presents thinking as something that ought to help change the world.

As Miglena Nikolchina succinctly puts it, Kolozova’s work dares to takes on the post–Cold War “failure of visions for world transformation” and “forcefully addresses the theoretical vacuum opened up by contemporary civic unrest vis-à-vis blatant injustice, drastic inequality, and extreme suffering.” The test of any good political thought is its ability to illuminate political, social, and economic realities, and, for Kolozova, this means showing how her account helps to explain the 2008 banking crisis, the ramping up of austerity and capital speculation, as well as the Occupy movement, and, on her account, the failures of the post–Cold War “East European experiment.” Hence, Kolozova’s work is a piece of real political thinking, one that painstakingly argues its case, walking readers through the intricacies of Marx and Laruelle (no small task in itself), but without the vanity and safety of pretending that theory was ever only about texts, theories, or ideas.

Although it is beyond the scope of this introduction to detail the ins and outs of each review and response, all of which struggle in exemplary fashion with the central questions of Kolozova’s work, there are themes that emerge across all three reviews, and that may help a reader orient themselves in the session as a whole. The first of these has to do with the logic of abstraction that is at the heart of Kolozova’s argument. The insistence on abstraction as a problem to be “resisted” or “overcome” raises what Smith succinctly names, “the problem of inescapable ideology as such.” If abstraction is a metaphysical logic by which philosophy and capitalism replace the Real of the “human-in-human” or the “lived” (to use Laruelle’s terminology) with a supposedly “more real” idea of life as “subject” or “commodity,” then how can one be assured that one’s own metaphysics, one’s own notion of “the world” in which well-being, freedom, justice, and happiness are increased, is not itself merely another abstraction, merely another form of metaphysics in the bad sense? This question emerges in different ways in all the reviews: for Fox in the relationship or “proximity” between the individual and the group, for Nikolchina in the association of the machine and the animal, and for Smith in the figure of “the world.” What is at stake in these concerns is the degree to which the abandonment of abstraction leaves Kolozova, and by extension Laruelle and Marx, without the ground on which to formulate a positive project, the degree to which retaining “metaphysics” amounts to simply retaining the logic of abstraction, albeit in a changed form perhaps. Additionally, this question connects to concerns about the role of “humanism,” and mathematics in her analysis (Dominic’s review), the character of the Real (Smith’s review), and her relationship to the work of Michel Henry (Nikolchina’s review). However, it also raises the spectre of practical politics, and what Nikolchina argues is Kolozova’s foreclosure of “a discussion that would differentiate between what failed and what did not fail in the massive East European experiment” post Cold War, a foreclosure that perhaps risks at best reinventing certain aspects of the wheel of revolutionary possibilities, and at worse problematically reduces (or abstracts) a complex set of political possibilities to a single and dismissible logic. Similarly, given that the goal of Kolozova’s project is “that the world becomes a more just and happy place, one where persecution is minimized by virtue of the reversed hierarchy between philosophy and the real, where the former would succumb to the dictates of the later” (21), Smith wonders to what degree Kolozova’s goal of emancipation from abstraction need be characterized as fundamentally “socialist” at all? Is socialism perhaps an unnecessarily loaded or problematic term for a vision of the future whose emphasis on lived well-being does not require the name socialism. In fact, Fox suggests that it is perhaps more accurate to think of Kolozova’s project as “a rehabilitation of Lucifer,” the “restoration of alienated human capacities” appearing nothing short of demonic from the exploitative capitalist logic of abstraction. Hence, this symposium promises an exciting and wide-ranging discussion of interest to anyone who, as we all should I hope, remains insistent on the world-changing possibilities of real thinking.

Anthony Paul Smith


Abstraction and the World

It may come as a surprise to many readers of Katerina Kolozova’s Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism: Marx and Laruelle that what is shared by the work of Marx and Laruelle is an antagonistic stance towards abstraction. Such a claim is likely to be controversial for readers of Marx. Within Marxism there have been debates for decades over the importance of a distinction between the work of the young Marx and mature Marx of Capital. This has sometimes been described as a split between the humanist and anti-humanist periods of his work. Though undoubtedly, as Kolozova reminds us, the political economic programs of socialist states have treated human beings as abstractions in their own machinations to bring about a classless and stateless society. She throws cold water on certain fantasies of pure heroism in philosophy today when she bluntly states, “Abstraction has ruled Marxism, and Marxism has ruled through abstraction, for more than a century. Communist parties and states of the 20th century, in spite of their numerous difference, have had one thing in common—the real, material, and sensuous human life was the objectifiable material and means that served their greater political goal” (33–34).

As for Laruelle, in the restricted and focused engagements with Laruelle’s work you will not find anything approaching a Laruellianism.1 But “abstract” might be one of the kinder words used to describe those books by unsuspecting readers curious about a possible new trend in Continental philosophy. Kolozova, however, does not mean difficult, intellectual, or even obscure by the term abstract. Abstraction has a particular definition in her work: “Abstraction is a philosophical procedure of creating an auto-referential ‘universe of meaning,’ which is detached from the real of human existence in order to objectify it, master it, and exploit it” (29).

Abstraction is then a particular kind of meaning-making for Kolozova, one that she attacks with unrelenting force. Abstraction is a general name for the powers of exploitation and harassment that human beings are subject to in their lives. “Transforming violence into a law, into a ‘making sense’ and the assumption of the position that accommodates the violence from one part of humanity over another, is what alienates one from suffering and joy. The function that enables the alienating operation of socio-economic repression is abstraction” (22). It is not simply the abstractions of the market that Kolozova means here, though perhaps following Engels she may see these economic abstractions as determining in the last instance all the others. Still, by connecting abstraction to meaning-making in general, Kolozova opens up a line of attack upon the ideological function of philosophy that acts in a way akin to a universal acid until it reaches the base property of the lived of the human-in-human or the Real itself (equivalent in Laruelle’s non-philosophy). I will unpack and explain below this non-philosophical formula of “the lived of the human-in-human,” but let us remain with the practice of abstraction and fill out what exactly is eaten away by the acid of her criticism.

Quite simply all forms of what would commonly be referred to as identity in political theory and practice today are eaten through by Kolozova’s criticism. Consider the differential systems of oppression that create identities in the world such that the system that creates the male and male supremacy operates through a number of abstractions carried out upon the one taken to be female so that the gender difference comes to make even this other self-referential for the male (self-referential being what we might idiomatically and less rigorously call “naturalizing”). An isomorphic relationship exists in Eurocentrism, such that the West’s supremacy is produced through the construction of some barbaric other that grounds the self-referential system of identity more generally. In each case, the meaning produced is extracted from the labor and bodies of others. Meaning comes to function generally as value and valued, debt and credit.

Such abstractions have a real basis. Following Laruelle, Kolozova names this real basis the Real itself. The Real is a name for what is not presentable, unrepresentable, foreclosed to thought, but also already-manifest. For Laruelle, this Real is the real identity of radical immanence.2 This conception of radical immanence is derived in part from Michel Henry who understood it through a particular kind of phenomenological subject. Laruelle’s mutation of the concept takes place through Spinoza, Marx, and Deleuze and effectively denies any form of separation between subject and object, refusing to subordinate one to the other, but rather to make both equivalent to the Real in it being foreclosed to them, thus escaping the subjectivism of phenomenology, even of the radical sort that Henry represents.

For me, this calls to mind Daniel Colucciello Barber’s description of immanence in his own deracination of rooted identities carried out in his On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity. There he writes that “immanence is properly nameless.”3 Barber’s conception of immanence helps us to understand the task in such a radical conception when he goes on to write, “Immanence, though it is properly nameless, must be named.”4 It would be too easy to accuse Kolozova and others of performative contradiction if they did not recognize that their conception of a Real still is a name. Non-Philosophy then becomes a certain practice of writing and thinking that names in such a way as to break the phantasy of security given in the meaning of those names. Barber says this well when he writes,

Every name given to immanence must be improper, for immanence is properly nameless, yet it is proper to name immanence. There is, in short, an improper propriety involved in the act of naming immanence. The consequent task is thus to name immanence, to give it an improper name, while simultaneously affirming its proper namelessness. . . . Signification is fictive because it cannot correspond to an immanence that is properly nameless, but the fiction thus set forth is nonetheless real.5

Barber’s text read alongside of Kolozova’s claims regarding identity allows us to understand how it is that she and other non(e)-philosophers can claim that the Real is foreclosed to abstraction or is properly nameless and yet still engage a kind of theoretical practice that makes use of abstraction. The theoretical work must undo meaning, must enter into the fictive act as if it were the fictive act it is by virtue of the Real itself. We see this operation at work even in the conceptualization of a person without identity as “the lived of the human-in-human.” This term is a kind of improper fiction, since it also does not represent the real of the lived (reality) of a human. Such presentation is under a seal of unsaying, a kind of (post-)secularized apophaticism. Laruelle and Kolozova following him use the term “the lived” as a name for the Real. The original French translated as lived in this instance is vécu, often translated as lived experience. Such a translation is more idiomatic than the awkward “lived,” but even one without any training in French will notice that “experience” as a concept is nowhere in the French word. It is quite simply the past participle of vivre and while in speech it may imply a kind of “living through” the term “experience” is philosophically loaded enough that it covers over the radical use of the term found in non-philosophy. The past participle designates that this is not a virtual or possible action, rather it is an actual and manifest one. There is no distance, no room for reference or meaning. It is, akin to something like the overwhelming anonymous horror of the Levinasian il y a. The human-in-human is a grapheme that performs the thinking of the human in the same actualist, manifest, and un-representable way. There is no distance in this conception of the human like the distance required by worldly identities of gender or nation discussed above.

This refusal to allow for distance and separation, fundamental to the philosophical act according to non-philosophy, is seen in the way that Kolozova translates Laruelle’s conception of “the lived” into Marx:

The unilateral, mute instance of the lived in Marx’s text is called suffering, regardless of whether it is the result of violence or a sensation of pleasure. . . . Suffering is self-enjoyment [following an argument made in Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844], not because of some vague masochistic inclination, but because it represents a surpassed alienation. Pain situates us in the real of ourselves. The real is the instance one inhabits prior to any “making sense of out of it”—in anteriority vis-à-vis language—it precedes any possibility of abstraction (including that of “abstract activity and a belly”). Laruelle’s “joui sans jouissance” is one of the “first names” of the real that we all are in the last instance. It is the enjoyed [another use of the past participle], without the idea of “enjoyment,” without conceptualization or a philosophy of enjoyment, without attaching it any sort of value. (16)

Against abstraction, against meaning, against value, Kolozova pits the lived (experience) of pain and pleasure without distance: “Enjoyment and suffering no longer establish opposition. They are both instances of the lived, of the sheer experience that takes place as ‘suffering,’ in the etymological sense of the Latin word passio” (15).

I am in fundamental agreement on these central aspects of Kolozova’s analysis of the world. Yet, it is here on the question of “world” that I want to push against her argument. She herself captures what I see as the problem through two quotations: “The permanent process of the democratic transformation of society, as envisaged by Marx, should be determined by real interests rather than by abstraction. The goal would be that the world [my emphasis] becomes a more just and happy place, one where persecution is minimalized [my emphasis] by virtue of the reversed hierarchy between philosophy and the real, where the former would succumb to the dictate of the latter” (21). Yet, “Laruelle would say that the world would always be made of philosophy, and that it would always already persecute the human in human (l’homme-en-homme)” (21). We are caught here in a particular problem, one that might be the problem of inescapable ideology as such. The world, even with its attendant forms of oppression and harassment for worldly subjects, is a kind of illusory fantasy, the very system of meaning that keeps us from confronting the Real that reveals our names as improper and—in one particular aestheticization of this encounter—traumatically destroys the very confidence we have in our identity as such.6 So are we not caught in a contradiction here between changing the world and living outside of abstraction?

It is on these points that I remain skeptical of some of the positive proposals put forth at the end of the text which assumedly arise from this metaphysics, many of which match up with the project of accelerationism and its attempts to brandish something radically socialist from the alienating effects of technology under capitalism. I understand the importance and inescapability of the question concerning technology for any radical politics today. But it seems to me that this question requires a much stronger investigation of the world such technologies require and even a critique aimed at the self-proclaimed left wing of an ideology that sees its powers growing amongst the so-called alt right, now rising in ascendency through the Trump administration.

All of this said, Kolozova is not pollyannaish about the historical instantiation of socialism nor does she practice a Žižek-esque ironic appropriation of that history or its future. The practice of non-philosophy resists such secular forms of theodicy. But she is caught up in a vision of socialism as a particular good name and I am not so certain that socialism carries this radical project forward anymore. At least not without an anti-worldly metaphysics. In contrast, the radical metaphysics of socialism appears to be a project of world making. Kolozova, as someone who lived through the experience of communism in Yugoslavia, understands the forms of harassment and oppression engendered in the various nationalist and nation-bound forms of socialism and she brings her critical skills to bear against those forms. It may simply be that we are condemned to the world and so socialism is the best possible way of being condemned, but if this is the case, then we should still be ruthless in our criticism of even the socialist world, which is fundamentally a metaphysical concept. So what relation then does Kolozova’s correct valorization of passio have with the world-making project of socialism? Does such a name ever hope to escape the practice of ideology that would return us to abstraction?

  1. Laruelle’s reception has been different than other recent French imports in Anglophone Continental philosophy. He has not gained the enthusiasm of readers like those of Badiou given his distaste and explicit antagonism towards philosophico-political heroism combined with the creation of a highly original and conceptually dense theoretical practice carried without recourse to glittering metaphors or examples. Laruelle’s early work, under the period referred to as Philosophy I in his own periodization, engaged with Derrida and the practice of deconstruction in wildly original ways. Yet, he proved too wild for even this avant-garde of French philosophy. (I discuss this in more detail in my Laruelle: A Stranger Thought (Cambridge: Polity, 2016), especially in the introduction and chapter 3.) Despite being too wild for even the deconstructionists, some in the English-speaking world did come across his work. For example, Leonard Lawlor, himself firmly within the mainstream of Anglophone Continental philosophy, credited Laruelle’s Philosophies of Difference as an inspiration for a part of his reading of Derrida. (See Leonard Lawlor, Derrida and Husserl: The Basic Problem of Phenomenology [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002], 262n4.) Yet owing to the vagaries of academic publishing and translation his work did not fit the early reception of Derrida as primarily important for literary criticism. Laruelle always engaged with Derrida as a philosopher and even a materialist one, a reading gaining traction now after the influence of Martin Hägglund’s polemically anti-religious reading in Radical Atheism. If there had been fertile soil for such a reading in the ’80s perhaps we would be subject to a “Laruelle industry” today. Thankfully—especially for those who find his work useful and freeing—we have been spared such a turn. Quite simply there is no “Laruelleanism,” but only various uses of Laruelle’s discovery of non-philosophy, of which Kolozova’s is one.

  2. For more detailed treatments of these concepts, see François Laruelle, Principles of Non-Philosophy, trans. Nicola Rubczak and Anthony Paul Smith (London: Bloomsbury, 2013) and François Laruelle, Introduction to Non-Marxism, trans. Anthony Paul Smith (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2015). See also my François Laruelle’s Principles of Non-Philosophy: A Critical Introduction and Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016) and Laruelle: A Stranger Thought (Cambridge: Polity, 2016). I will limit myself here to only impressionistic descriptions owing to space and the focus upon Kolozova’s work.

  3. Daniel Colucciello Barber, On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010), 7. Barber’s conception is useful to us here because of its clarity and the way it allows a certain resonance of Kolozova’s criticism to be heard. It will also be useful below when we turn to the questions such a universal critique of abstraction creates.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid., 7, 8.

  6. I am here thinking of the Lacanian ideology critique of Žižek’s early work, explicitly focused on nationalism (which he somehow does not extend to Eurocentrism in his most recent work) and the use Jared Sexton makes of it in thinking through the anti-blackness at the heart of multiracialism. See Jared Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 181–89.

  • Katerina Kolozova

    Katerina Kolozova


    Response to Smith

    To put it in metaphysical terms, the concept of the real I operate with in the book does not hold the status of substance (ousia) but rather that of modus (tropos). Thus the real is not the Real or the nameless real. Such real would be a mystification of a nameless substance determining in the last instance any other “secondary substance.” In other words, such vision would be theological and that is not the one I develop and pursue in the book. Quite to the contrary, both physical and abstract realities have the status of the real, insofar as they operate as the determining and nonnegotiable limit that conditions the reality of their experience. The monetary reality, for example, is an abstraction but, insofar as it conditions the lives of the human beings in a society, it acts as the real.

    The real I operate with in this book refers to the procedure of determination in the last instance used in the very same sense as in my previous works in which I also referred to it as generation of “radical concepts.” The latter is a method of establishing “an identity” in the Laruellian sense, namely of identifying the transcendental “clone” of an effect, an incidence or instantiation of the real. It is a real that can be and must be cloned into a proper name: labour force, proletariat, women in patriarchy, etc. Radicalization of the transcendental is about arriving at the specific “clone” (in the Laruellian sense) of a concrete reality, by way of removing the layers of philosophy hybridized with the real and arriving at the transcendental or linguistic minimum of naming an instance of the real. For example, radicalization or arriving at the determination in the last instance of the women’s condition in patriarchy is perhaps about doing away with the philosophisation of the condition as a matter of “identity politics” and arriving at the clone of the reality of subjugation and exploitation on the basis of sex (rather than sexuality). Thus, I propose to do away with the philosophisation of women’s condition by reducing it to identity politics and beginning to operate with Laruelle’s notion of identity as determining in the last instance.

    A Marxian radicalization or identification of the clone would also insist on the materiality of that condition. Let us note, however, that instead of materiality and materialism, Marx himself, in both his early and later works, uses the terms of “the real, reality, physical, physicality and sensuousness.” In other words, the old Marx remains faithful to the young Marx who has renounced the concept of “materialism” as essentially philosophical (in the Theses of Feuerbach but also elsewhere) and has resorted instead to the “real” (and physical as a synonym) for what the interpreters denote as “material.” Therefore, my use of the Laruellian real is hybridized with what I understand to be the Marxian understanding of the real. In one of my previous works, The Cut of the Real, I insisted that the real is not reducible to physicality and the way I used the concept was very close to that of the “real abstraction” as developed by Sohn-Rethel. In Toward the Transcendental Metaphysics of Socialism, I insist on the material or physical determination in the last instance of a reality as it seems that it is precisely the physicality and the linguistically incompetent instances of reality that are subject to the capitalist holocaust. As I attempt to radicalize Marx’s project by use of non-philosophy, the pursuit of materiality behind the reality of exploitation is required in order to arrive at the clone or determination in the last instance conditioned by the “real,” in the sense in which Marx uses the term and as explained previously. The reality of control of female sexuality in any form of patriarchy is both a real abstraction (the constraint itself) and real insofar as materiality or physicality. If we are to carry out a Marxian analysis, we would seek to identify the material reality of the subjugation that entails physical suffering (as, Marx insists, the “spiritual suffering” also comes down to the exploitation of “nerves and muscles”). Therefore, arriving at the identity of the problem of gendered inequality in the Laruellian and Marxian sense is about dismantling fully its philosophical constructions and permitting only the transcendentally minimal remainder, i.e., the clone, of the reality of women’s subjugation. There are variables underpinned by the realities of class, race, culture but the determination in the last instance is to be identified as control and exploitation on the basis of sexual difference that we shall term patriarchy, a constant intersecting the variables we just named.

    The struggle cannot take place elsewhere but in the world and cannot be for anything else but the metaphysical re-vision of the world. The universe of philosophy or the world remains determined by the real. The only difference between a properly philosophical and a properly non-philosophical worldview is whether the radical dyad constituted by the real and thought is erased by healing the split through a decision to settle for either abstraction or for the real or whether the dyad is affirmed through the procedure of dualysis. The latter is a method, epistemological, metaphysical, and scientific operation, of unilateral positioning of thought vis-à-vis the real whereby the real remains affirmed and serves as its determination in the last instance of thought while remaining radically foreclosed to it. Thus, the real as such escapes meaning yet it conditions it if thought subjects to its determination in the last instance. The only difference between philosophical and non-philosophical treatment of the world and the reality of inequalities it produces is the identification of the determination in the last instance of those inequalities. The question is whether it remains philosophical or whether it is determined by the real in the form of a conceptual clone that precedes philosophisation (while, of course, still being an instance of language and cognition). The struggle is essentially metaphysical as the main operation of capitalism seems to consist in a metaphysical operation par excellence, i.e., in the secondary legislative movement of transcendental recreation of reality that seeks to erase the founding estrangement produced by the irreconcilable dyad. The hyper-production of signification characteristic of capitalist and philosophical abstraction seeks to carry out precisely the task of erasing the embarrassing truth of the radical dyad and the founding “abstraction” (or estrangement). I contend, with Anthony Paul Smith, that the struggle against the capitalo-philosophical universe does not necessarily have to be a socialist one, although I believe that currently we do not have a better proposal than the one given by Marx and non-philosophically developed by Laruelle.

Dominic Fox


Under Pressure

Marx, Metaphysics and the Cunning of Abstraction

Katerina Kolozova’s Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism: Marx and Laruelle provides perhaps the clearest indication so far of what a Laruellian politics might look like. It does so by setting to work a pair of analogies: between capitalist abstraction and conceptual abstraction, and between capitalist forms of social domination and the presumptions of philosophical or “decisional” conceptual organisation. “Philosophy,” “the World,” and the global financial system are aligned on one side of the argument, with “non-philosophy,” the “generic victim,” and the labour force of living human beings aligned on the opposite side. The conflict between the two sides is asymmetrical in character: on the one side, a dominating, occupying, arrogating force seeks to establish itself in a position of command over reality; on the other, reality itself acts and suffers according to a “syntax” that is irreconcilable with that of its would-be masters: the “syntax of the Real.”

The phrase “syntax of the Real” is both suggestive and difficult to accept. A “syntax”—suntaxis—is a way of arranging things together, most commonly the units of a language. At root, Laruelle’s argument—and Kolozova’s—is that there is an incompatibility at the level of syntax, or basic organisation, between “philosophy” and “non-philosophy”: there is also, analogously, an incompatibility of this kind between capitalist domination and the lived experience of the dominated. These incompatibilities are entirely one-sided, or “unilateral.” The lived experience of the dominated is amongst other things an experience of capitalist domination; and non-philosophical practice is amongst other things a practice of repeating philosophy in an impoverished register, depriving it of its pretensions and self-awarded titles, dragging it through a hedge backwards. The non-philosopher must know her philosophy, as the workers must know the bosses; but the bosses will always be somewhat obtuse when it comes to the workers, resorting to indiscriminate coercion when all else fails.

It is not hard to make the negative claim, that the syntax of conceptual abstraction is not the syntax of the real, or that the organisation of the global financial system is far removed from that of human life on earth, even as it is, finally, wholly embedded within it. Laruelle’s positive claim, to have found in non-philosophy a manner of speaking “according to” the syntax of the Real, is much more difficult to defend, or even understand. At base, it is a question of praxis: how do we think and act as if the negative claim were true, as if the Real were not finally answerable to the syntax, the organisational stance, of conceptual abstraction—as if things were really the other way around?

In order to do so consistently, we must refrain from encapsulating the whole affair within a new conceptual scheme, or producing a new philosophical thesis, which states what the syntax of the Real really is. A persistent oddity of Laruelle’s own texts is the appearance of terms such as “prior-without-Priority” which try to say how the Real “comes first” without reinscribing it within a hierarchical order or a causal sequence. We have here a praxis that must systematically deprive itself of conceptual means, or commit itself to using them only once they have been decommissioned, impoverished, or rendered “generic.”

The political stakes of Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism are those of a non-philosophical humanism. As Kolozova writes at the start of the final chapter:

In its commitment, Marx’s humanism is not philosophical. The anthropocentric human of philosophy or theology is transcendentally impoverished and reduced to a determination in the last instance that is fundamentally material—the human is determined by the real of its “species being”…Similarly, Laruelle reduces the human-in-human to its real, to its mere experience of the lived, while all philosophical constructs of “meaning of human existence” are suspended. (91)

Two varieties of “not philosophical” humanism are conjugated together here. The first, which takes its initiative from Marx’s famous injunction to “give up your abstraction,” turns aside from the philosophical goal of forming a global or complete concept of what humanity is, and instead aims to give a practical account of the historical development of human life as the life of a “species,” determined not by a common essence but by a common way of being in the world. The second, derived from Laruelle’s treatment of the “human-in-human” as “generic victim,” frames the relationship between abstraction and lived experience as one of violent occlusion, and pictures the human as a persecuted heretic in permanent revolt against the system of the world.

These two “reductions” are not altogether the same. In the first place, “species being” is a term which addresses humanity collectively, as a being to which it belongs to be social, to have its sensuous and material life in relationship, and to have from the outset a certain experience of structure, i.e. “relations of production.” Laruelle’s “human-in-human,” a phrase which indicates something like the residual designation of the name “human” once all of its metaphysical determinations have been “suspended,” is somewhat more solitary: an “instance” of the real, whose identity is subtracted from all relationship. For Kolozova, the “mere experience of the lived” resolves to a singular vulnerability to suffering, a singular locus of experience:

Suffering is self-enjoyment, not because of some vague masochistic inclination, but because it represents a surpassed alienation. Pain situates us in the real of ourselves. The real is the instance one inhabits prior to any “making sense out of it”—in anteriority vis-à-vis language—it precedes any possibility of abstraction. . . . Laruelle’s “joui sans jouissance” is one of the “first names” of the real that we all are in the last instance. It is the enjoyed, without the idea of “enjoyment,” without conceptualization or a philosophy of enjoyment, without attaching it any sort of value. (16)

The philosopher Daniel Dennett once identified one of the basic operating principles of any animal consciousness as “When There’s a Pain, It’s Yours!”1 What I want to draw attention to here is the condensation of two functions, one of localisation and one of propriation. Pain “situates us” in a real we “inhabit”: it puts us in our place. At the same time, it puts us in our place: the real it returns us to is that of “ourselves,” and this “represents a surpassed alienation.” In spite of all the caveats about the non-thetic, non-conceptualised character of this placement-in-ourselves, it clearly targets an individual—even if this is an individuality without any address in any conceptual scheme of things. The “self” of suffering qua “self-enjoyment” is the solitary being whose suffering it is.

This, I believe, represents a very different final determination of the human to that of Marx’s “species being,” and leads to a non-philosophical humanism where the accent is very strongly placed on the victimised individual in confrontation with a hostile system that oppresses them by virtue of its very systematicity. Here is where the analogy between capitalist domination and philosophical “decision” swings into play. For if we can imagine that in a communist society modified “relations of production” might obtain that would enable humanity, in its species being, to flourish collectively, we cannot, following Laruelle’s rubric, imagine any structured relationality whatsoever that would not reproduce the original error of philosophical decision. “Species being” is already too philosophical for Laruelle, since “Being” is already the philosophical capture of the Real, its determination by conceptual means.

According to Laruelle, the fundamental posit of philosophical decision is that the Real, qua “Being,” has some infrastructure, and, hence, a potential relationship to thought, which can discern and reflect that infrastructure in its own organisation: the syntax of Being can be aligned with the syntax of thought, and it is the goal of philosophical thinking to accomplish that alignment. What Laruelle calls philosophical “auto-position” is the gesture through which philosophy sets itself this goal, and represents itself as fully capable of realising it—this is the “principle of sufficient philosophy.” Because, for Laruelle, it is axiomatic that the syntax of the Real cannot be aligned with the syntax of thought, it follows that his determination of the human must eschew any sense that human life has an inherently social or relational quality. Only the anguish of private experience adequately preserves the “foreclosure” of the Real to thought, by withdrawing from all relationality and folding itself up into a self-enjoyment which can never be unfolded. The result is a “non-marxism” that is arguably a good deal more Stirnerian than it is Marxist.

Although Kolozova moves back and forth between Marx and Laruelle, and between the two non-philosophical humanisms at play in her text, she is drawn towards the Laruellian pole, in part by her own interest in developing an ethics of (human and non-human animal) solidarity grounded in suffering,2 and in part by her own mistrust of any systematic abstraction above the most local scale. In what follows, I will try to argue that the latter is unfounded, and is based on an entirely arbitrary choice of cut-off point; I will also try to show that what is really at stake, for both Kolozova and Laruelle, is a premature decision to reduce mathematics to a kind of indifferent “transcendental material,” without grasping what it is about the nature of thought, and the possibilities of cognitive “syntax,” that mathematics exemplifies.

There are two kinds of “metaphysics” in Kolozova’s account, a good kind and a bad kind. The good metaphysics is the “radical metaphysics” of the title, the spontaneous metaphysics of human beings forced into self-estrangement by their involvement with language. When sensuous, material humanity brings its immanent reality to bear on processes of signification, the result is what Kolozova, following Laruelle, calls the Stranger. The Stranger is not an articulated selfhood, a subject speaking of itself in language, but rather something that has already started to happen in language before that loop of self-reference is closed. It is what speaks when I am speaking, but it is not simply the referent of the “I” that I speak: its identity is in itself, not in its pronouns. “Radical metaphysics” is the metaphysics that springs from the primary uprooting that produces the Stranger, a kind of first metaphorics, akin to the Romantic conception of poetic language.

Something like the conventional opposition between “spirituality” and “organised religion” obtains between the good metaphysics of the Stranger, and the bad “metaphysics of finance capital,” the deracinated metaphysics of deregulated financial instruments. The latter holds a conception of the human as homo economicus, as a type of agent fitted to its purposes, in the name of which the real, sensuous humanity, which comes to language as the Stranger, is subjected to a kind of systematic misrecognition. We might compare this with Althusser’s “interpellation,” another sort of bruising encounter with the symbolic order. We are always under pressure to conform to a system of meaning so assured of its own sufficiency that even our nonconformity is taken from us and turned into a typology of disorders to be labelled, monitored, punished, and reformed.

One of the practices of non-philosophy is to reverse the direction of pressure, to subject philosophical concepts, techniques, and models to a “pressure from below” coming from the material and lived reality that they profess to organise. The Stranger is the figure through which the pre-subjective human real appears as pressing up against language, branching out into it, insisting within it as its immanent cause. By “immanent cause,” I mean a cause which is not strictly separable from its effect: a swirling wind vortex is the immanent cause, in this sense, of the “dust bunny” whipping across the empty parking lot. Kolozova’s name for this (via Lacan) is tuché (“accident” or “encounter”): as she explains, “the real ‘takes place’ only in the form of a thrust into and a disruption of the signifying chain” (67).

“Radical metaphysics,” then, is a metaphysics close to the root, a metaphysics at most one step―or a single thrust―away from the Real. It is the primordial accident, or encounter, of the human Real entering into signification: the inarticulate articulation of trauma. The metaphysics of finance capital is a metaphysics far from the root: detached, and able to reverse its own orientation so that instead of being a disruptive thrust of the Real into the signifying chain, it is an established signifying system with its own syntax, organised around its own master signifiers, and exerting its own violent force in the direction of the real.

One way to frame this distinction might be by analogy with the theological distinction between creaturely and Luciferan autonomy. The creature is created as autonomous―as separate from, although determined-in-the-last-instance by, its Creator. Its autonomy is a factor in its creation. Humans are given to self-estrangement in language, such that each of us is produced in language as the Stranger, a radical metaphysician, bringing our sensuous and material reality to bear on the symbolic world through which our common ideas and concepts (“transcendental material”) are articulated. In theological terms, this means that we have “free will,” in that language does not wholly determine how we speak it, and access to the symbolic grants us a certain power of negation. In Christianity, the creature magnifies the glory of the Creator by being able to pray, praise, bless and be blessed, recognise and appropriate grace, and so on; but access to the symbolic also makes it possible to blaspheme, bear false witness, worship Moloch, deny Christ three times before the cock crows, backbite (“the tongue is a fire”) and generally go one’s own wicked way. The Stranger that we are is an intrinsically perverse creature.

Lucifer, in rebellion against his Creator, declares that he is his own creation, and declares it better to reign in hell than serve in heaven―is not this an exemplary figure of philosophical auto-position/Decision? But Lucifer’s rebellion is possible precisely because of his creaturely self-estrangement, his access to the symbolic which enables him to “say the thing which is not” (his own self-creation) and proceed as if the philosophical syntax of mastery and Decision were the syntax of creation (i.e., of the Real).

Seen in these terms, the project of Kolozova’s “radical metaphysics of socialism” might be described as a rehabilitation of Lucifer, a restoration of alienated human capacities, which have become Luciferan, to their creaturely or Strangerly status as connected directly with human sensuous and material needs and interests. The far-off must be brought home, and “pressure from above” (the reign of abstraction) must be replaced with “pressure from below” (the encounter with the Real). At the same time, or in the same gesture, the de-materialised must be made material once more, restored to its concrete thickness.

The materialism of contemporary capitalist society is deprived of a sense of realness, since the real is replaced by operations of abstraction which is made of the meanings that we have assigned to the real and materiality. Both capitalist and modern philosophy’s materialism is about the unstoppable tendency—since it is an immanent tendency—to transpose “sensuous matter” into the meanings that can be attached and thereof be reduced from it. Perversely, its materialism is without matter. The ruse of abstraction has mathematized matter and body, transforming economy into finances and sensations into psychological phenomena subject to biopolitical control. To speculate with resources, with lives, has brought about the rule of absolute speculation: management of realities and financial speculation as economy. (34)

It is hard to reconcile the language of de-realisation and de-materialisation here―“deprived of a sense of realness”―with the Laruellian conviction that everything is already, immanently and inalienably, Real. An “immanent tendency” is nevertheless somehow able to transform matter into meaning, which is immaterial (no more “transcendental material” here): something is evidently being spirited away, but where does it go? The mood of this is certainly Marxian: all that is solid melts into air. Just as Marx identified bourgeois “calculation” as the operator of disintegration, so Kolozova blames the “mathematization” of “matter and body” for the abduction of materiality. The Black-Scholes equations have stolen our sensations away from us.

I am skeptical about the distinction Kolozova wants to draw between “radical” and “decisional” metaphysics, because it seems to me to conflate two conditions. The first has to do with proximity: radical metaphysics is close to the Real, because it is articulated in the first thrust of the encounter, of tuché touching on the signifying chain; the metaphysics of finance capital is far from the Real, so far that it has forgotten its origins and behaves as if it were self-originating. Between this proximity and this distance yawns a chasm. How are we to account for the leap from the local to the remote?

The second condition has to do with “syntax.” Tuché has no syntax of its own, but manifests as a disruption of syntax, disorganisation introduced into a pattern of organisation. By contrast, the metaphysics of finance capital is almost nothing but syntax: the organisation of organisation, the movement of tokens referring to tokens, valuations of valuations. Once again, between these two conditions lies an unaccounted-for sequence of transitions. How does the “immanent tendency” of syntax to become self-reinforcing, self-referential, endlessly structurally ramified, arise from the immediacy of trauma, the primality of the Stranger’s self-estrangement in utterance?

It is clearly the fault of “the ruse of abstraction,” which makes use of mathematics to pivot away from the immediate. But I want to suggest that the ruse of abstraction is always already engaged in human “species being,” inasmuch as the latter is always already social, and gives itself the task of tracking complex relationships and commitments: the social realm has, immanently and intrinsically, a spatial and temporal “syntax” inconceivable solely on the basis of the body in pain which has been forcibly separated from those attachments.3 Mathematics itself is the formal proliferation of an already ramified social cognitive apparatus: there can be no meaningful opposition between an immediate human Real and a mathematized simulacrum, unless the human Real is mutilated in order to excise its own innate powers of simulation. It is unwarranted to conflate proximity to the Real with primality of syntax, and so it is also unwarranted to frame the task of socialism as the domestication of abstraction, or its re-subordination to serve above all the needs of suffering bodies.

  1. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown, 1991), 427.

  2. See Kolozova, The Lived Revolution: Solidarity with the Body in Pain as the New Political Universal (Skopje: Euro Balkan, 2010).

  3. On this, see E. Scarry, The Body in Pain (London: Oxford University Press, 1987).

  • Katerina Kolozova

    Katerina Kolozova


    Response to Fox

    Let us start with the problem of the “syntax of the Real.” I agree with Dominic’s intervention demonstrating that the formulation itself is something rather difficult to accept and that the very idea of it is highly problematic. Not only in linguistics, structuralist philosophy, and psychoanalysis, but also in Laruellian non-philosophy syntax belongs inherently to language that establishes a unilateral relation with the real. As for the real, it is always already unilateral or non-relational. It is a formulation Laruelle himself hardly ever uses and one that is closer to a metaphor as, of example, his procedure of “cloning” or the figure of the “Stranger.” In fact, this is a metaphor directly linked to that of cloning and can be explained via a metaphor we find in Meillassoux’s After Finitude called the arche-fossil. The real operates according to a certain “logic” or a set of predictable rules and in doing so it leaves traces, proto-signification, it produces imprints, a certain quasi-syntax. This is something sciences always already presuppose and, as a consequence, their ambitions are always realist. What they do not aspire to do is explain “the real in itself.” Such aspiration would conform to the pretentions of “abstract reason,” as Marx would put it, or the “principle of sufficiency,” which is according to Laruelle the determination in the last instance of philosophy. Sciences explain the ways in which realities operate without the pretension to conquer, subjugate, and control the real itself (which is something different from the technological desire to subjugate, control, and exploit). The desire to penetrate “the real in itself” is very similar to the obsession of the masculine neurotic subject to access and possess (or “understand,” “sexually enjoy,” or “be in a relationship”) “the feminine.” Non-philosophy and Marxist scientific thought are defined by the same ambitions and admission of the same limitations as those defining science.

    Philosophy is determined by a self-sufficiency resting on its founding concept—“the being,” an amphibology of the real and thought whereby the latter seeks to incorporate the former in order to establish a “true real,” i.e., a real that is more real than the real itself. Such pretentions erase the “arche-fossil” or “the syntax” of the real postulating an entirely self-sufficient universe of signification forced upon the real. They become autistically forgetful of the effects of the real and dictatorial attempt to act as if they have never been there. That is the signification out of joint that is characteristic of the automation of surplus value production in the finance industry of the twenty-first century or the accompanying philosophically naïve idea of “digital subjectivity.” The exploitative and political nature of the status of “abstraction” (in Marx’s parlance) or of “the principle of philosophical sufficiency” (in Laruelle’s parlance) is what the equation between philosophy and capitalism consists in. “The Being,” the philosophical notion par excellence, is perfectly analogous to the notion of surplus value and its hierarchical status in the reality and, more specifically, its relation to and treatment of the “use value” or the raw materiality of the object of “use value.” In this type of dialectics, the real is not necessarily physical but it is always material (without philosophical materialism): the empty defaulted houses as opposed to the financial bubble are the product and the symptom of the pathological detachment of “philosophy” or capitalist auto-referential signification from the real I am addressing in the book. This is both a political and metaphysical problem—a syntax that overwrites and deletes the traces of the “syntax of the real” (for lack of a better term). That is why socialist or Marxist metaphysics would be one “of the root”: it acknowledges the metaphysical questions that petition philosophy and rids them of philosophy rather than ridding philosophy of metaphysics.

    I admit occasional references to “mathematization” of capitalist reason in the book might sound problematic and, I would add, they are misleading due to the fact they lack sufficient specification. Namely, what I criticize there is the status assigned to “mathematization” in finance economy and in capitalism of the twenty-first century by philosophical or capitalist reason, which is the product of an essentially philosophical dream about the role of mathematics in fulfilling an ideal of “exactitude” or truthfulness. It is assigned the status of a philosophical truth, which should act as a real that is more real than the real itself, the “true real” or the real transformed in its “meaning” (transposition into signification). Such postulation of the real is no different from the archaic and still defining concept of philosophy—“the Being” or to on. The real is not only pain, not only suffering or joy as suffering, as these are categories relevant only for the questions of subjectivity. The real is also unruly, meaningless, devoid of essence and purpose and of underlying logic participating in some all-encompassing design. Also, its “syntax” is rather rudimentary. Mathematics is in fact one of the arche-fossils and is one of the languages in which philosophy without philosophical sufficiency or the sciences of Marxism should be translatable. So, this response provides an opportune moment to confess that I will be very curious to explore mathematical or algorithmic translatability of “impoverished philosophical material,” i.e., of transcendental material stripped of philosophical sufficiency. Such a hypothetical project would seek to establish the necessary minimum of a syntax in the proper sense of the word (not as in “the syntax of the real” whose use is explained above).

    I love the remark about rehabilitation of Lucifer. I was surprised by it, it felt somehow right and accurate yet something of which I had been unaware. I am still not sure I have grasped it but it does raise questions I will be revisiting in the time to come. I wonder if this implies that Anidjar is right when he says that “civilization” and Western rationality are unavoidably Christian and that, by consequence, unknowingly we pose questions that religion has already posed for us, or whether it means that universalism is possible and that there are categories and quandaries that underpin philosophy, science, and religion/s (not only Christianity) leaving them unilaterally positioned.

    • Miglena Nikolchina

      Miglena Nikolchina


      In Defense of Fox

      I have known Katerina for many years and I have to say that I know few people with whom my intuitions about what is wrong, or what action it would be proper to take, in this or that particular instance, coincide. Hence, in my (forthcoming) commentary I focus on those inferences of her “radical metaphysics” that, I believe, go against the grain of those intuitions, hers, as well as mine. I am quite happy, therefore, that Dominic Fox has taken the discussion to the conceptual level that it warrants, and I am surprised that in her response Kolozova seems to ignore what I believe to be Fox’s major points. So I will simply try to enumerate them here. First, there is the subtraction of the human from all relationship, i.e. the evaporation of the social from the make-up of the human. Second, it is the reduction thereof of the human to a solitary suffering body. Third, it is the unavoidability of abstraction if we need to make the leap from the suffering body to “the task of tracking complex relationships and commitments” (Fox). This task involves, I would add, taking into consideration historicity (the five human senses are a product of history, Marx said, but also, in Mamardashvili’s stronger version, the human is the creature whose organ is history) and futurity, an abstraction without which even the simplest organism would not survive.

      All this would of course summon questions that I would rather skip at this point: the vexed “problem of inescapable ideology as such” (Smith), the question whether “world” is reducible to ideological interpellation, whether it is possible, or impossible, to go “behind” those illusory objects to see what they hide, and how does pointing towards the unnameable Real (and why not the chora, the Tao, Deus Absconditus, etc.) help to unravel such questions.

Miglena Nikolchina


Immanence and Revolt in the Age of AI

Katerina Kolozova’s Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism: Marx and Laruelle is presented as a reading of Laruelle’s “non-Marxist” reading of Marx. The title, nevertheless, positions Marx and Laruelle evenly on the same plane, and Kolozova unfolds her reflections also as a (young) Marxian non-Laruellian reading of Laruelle with Michel Henry, although barely referred to, looming almost as large. Rather than ponder what is faithful or not to the thinkers involved in her (non) readings, I will address Kolozova’s book in terms of her own passionate approach to a burning contemporary issue, an issue that assumed a rather urgent character after the end of the Cold War, namely, the failure of visions for world transformation. This failure took two distinct articulations: on the one hand, as failure with respect to the communist project (opening the way to economic and civilizational arguments that it was applied in the wrong places), and, on the other hand, as a failure of projects per se. Both options foreclose a discussion that would differentiate between what failed and what did not in the massive East European experiment: perhaps, there were aspects of it that worked or, even more importantly, that produced, precisely, novel projects and visions that have been now lost?

Kolozova answers the challenge of these dire political straits by elaborating the metaphysical grounding for an “immanent revolt against the world” (21) qua Laruellian “struggle without a goal” (22). This immanent revolt is only possible “in the non-abstract,” so its prerequisite is eliminating abstraction by overcoming the alienation of human labour. The reversal of alienation is to be achieved by a return to use-value determined by the needs of the “human-in-human” as a sensuous being with its “lived” experience stemming from the capacity to suffer and feel joy. Abstraction, hence, has to be cut out at its root where money and philosophy spring as a conjoint product and producer of alienation: an operation that takes us back to Aristotle’s observation in Nicomachean Ethics on the import of coinage and abstract value for the emergence of abstract thought. Speculation is the merger where capitalist economy, currency, and the philosophical worlding of the world coincide; it would seem, then, that getting rid of philosophy (which the neoliberal market seems to be quite intent on doing) would rid us of those other evils. In line with these ideas, Kolozova elaborates her radical metaphysics of socialism as a theoretical validation of “revolting against concrete occurrences of subjugation and violence, rather than in the name of abstraction and in visions of world transformation, [of] political action affected by immanence” (21). She grounds her arguments in an analysis of the recent crises of the bank system with speculative capital run amok; and connects her agenda to the praxis of the Occupy movement. She thus forcefully addresses the theoretical vacuum opened up by contemporary civic unrest vis-à-vis blatant injustice, drastic inequality, and extreme suffering.

“Radical” is a notion that tends to be abused these days, but it certainly fits a metaphysics that proposes the elimination of abstraction per se as “the function that enables the alienating operation of socio-economic repression” (22). Although sparingly, Kolozova connects her fight with abstraction explicitly to the former East European communist regimes as having produced an even deeper alienation than the bourgeois state due to the derivation of their state apparatus “according to the philosophical authority of the party doctrine” and to turning the idea of the proletariat into an abstraction which “requires philosophical competence in order to be interpreted” (72). Her claim that “abstraction or self-subjugation by philosophy is the only means through which we can become accomplices in our own subjugation from others” (16) may raise a number of questions (one of them regarding Laruelle’s concept of philosophy, which I will not raise here), but it surely does capture a major aspect of what made the communist regimes possible. These regimes involved, nevertheless, a paradox that I find crucial and that places my understanding as far as can be from Kolozova’s. The communist regimes were eroded by the teaching through which they tried to implement themselves. It is a self-defeating idea to turn a philosophy into the one truth as they tried to do. Extracting dogma from visions of transformation and critique: here is a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later such an idea will work—that is, think—against itself. The thinking that the regimes paradoxically encouraged through the birthmark of their philosophical origin inevitably turned against the limitations on thinking that they were attempting to impose.

I am fully aware that the difference between Kolozova’s take on those regimes and mine is the product of more fundamental differences: the role of philosophy for projective thinking, in spite of its risks, is one of them. I am aware, furthermore, that Kolozova’s ardent call against abstraction and for immediacy and immanence answers the spirit and praxis of the prevailing contemporary forms of protest. On the one hand, it provides a theoretical boost to their optimism that concrete causes may, with the help of new communication technologies. spontaneously mobilize the multitudes for ad hoc actions that need no overarching agendas. There is suffering, there are grievances, there are concrete cases of subjugation and violence and then there is the lived of revolt, the experience of revolt, void of philosophy, preceding language: “The protestors of Istanbul in the summer of 2013 were faced with the challenge to formulate their political goals and convey the philosophical (or political) decision which determined their struggle, whereas the only truth they knew was ‘what took place’ at Gezi park and the massive solidarity that it sparked” (22).

On the other hand, Kolozova’s radical metaphysics is synergetic with the vision shared by various strands of contemporary movements for wage-less production of use-value that would place exchange outside the realm of fiscal equivalence (however it is formed) and into some other mode of human sociality. I cannot help but observe the irony of certain aspects of this vision that take us to bucolic dreams of an ecology of petty farming and look like a belated historical revenge on Lenin’s dismissal of peasantry and on his verdict that “small-scale production gives birth to capitalism and the bourgeoisie constantly, daily, hourly, with elemental force, and in vast proportions.”1 Surely, things have changed and the matrix for the visions of wage-less immediacy of global ownership exists via information sharing made possible once again by new technologies. Kolozova’s example in this case is Wikipedia and “the reality that it is owned by everyone who desires to participate in its ownership . . . enabled by the actual sense that he or she can claim it as their own, along with billions of other people on the planet” (73).

Last but not least, Kolozova’s position is consonant with trends in animal studies, which, once again, inserts her reflections into the epicentre of contemporary debate. Various aspects of Kolozova’s manifesto raise serious issues for discussion, ontologically, politically, and strategically—Erdogan has since provided us with an exemplary show of how multitudes can be spontaneously mobilized through communal sharing (of a religion), the stimulus of a concrete injustice (real or a set-up, imminently it is not clear), and the use of new forms of communication—but I will focus on the question of the human qua animal as possibly embracing them all. I said I would not deal with the faithfulness of interpretation—the explicit insertions of “non” in both Laruelle and Kolozova making such an undertaking rather tricky. Still, I need to note that when Marx speaks of the degradation of the working class brought about by brutal labour he compares the human thus wrecked to both a machine and to an animal. In fact, the effect of alienation is that “man (the worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions—eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal.”2 Kolozova takes Marx’s pejorative comparison of the worker to a machine seriously—although the repetitive mechanical machine which Marx had in mind and to which Charlie Chaplin gave an unforgettable image in Modern Times has little to do with what we have to handle today—but she ignores the manner in which animality becomes for Marx a sign of deprivation. Instead, she refers repeatedly to the insistence in Marx on the physicality and sensuousness of the human being. The “real interests” of which Marx speaks, the physicality and sensuousness, relate in her interpretation to the fact that humans, like other animals, can feel joy and pain. Removing abstractions in order to make way for the immediacy of those interests will ensure (as Marx put it) the “reintegration or return of man to himself, the transcendence of human self-estrangement” (63, 72, etc.). Kolozova’s reading of this dictum of the “young” Marx is that

the human species can transcend alienation—hence, oppression—only by radically grounding itself in its material or real humanity, one that precedes philosophy, and ultimately, language. The human can come to its fullest realization by succumbing to the immanence of human animality (the human without humanism), through following the syntax of the real that it dictates in the processes of cognition and metaphysics it prompts. (30–31)

Now Marx’s anthropology and the “return of man to himself” has of course been the big dividing line in the interpretation of his work. Is there a split between the early and the mature Marx, or not? Althusser’s antihumanism saw the return to Marx’s early writing as the sign of a

bungled destalinisation, a right-wing destalinisation, which instead of analyses offered us only incantations; which instead of Marxist concepts had available only the poverty of bourgeois ideology. My target was therefore clear: these humanist ravings, these feeble dissertations on liberty, labour or alienation.3

Althusser responded to what took place in the highest echelons of the Soviet communist party. Meanwhile, for open-minded East European intellectuals, the young Marx promised humanism as a methodology for removing “the poison from the poisoned, socially determined and alienated consciousness.”4 One interesting question would be to follow trends which then took the critique of alienation to nationalist or national-exoticist ideas (this happened in Bulgaria), to ideas about primeval (Balkan, Thracian, Orphic, etc.) uniqueness and spontaneity in close communion with the earth and nature, etc. Other trends, however, took into consideration that, while Marx speaks of the sensuousness and physicality of man, he also notes in an important passage that “the forming of the five [human] senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present.”5 The emphasis then came on the idea of man as a historical and unfinished creature, a creature that constantly creates itself “on the second step,” as Merab Mamardashvili would put it, and whose “organ is history.” The human being qua human, i.e., in ensemble with human society, is an open-ended process of the unpredictable creation of the new; the human is created through the objects that they produce, in which “nature has lost its mere utility.”6Such objects are not reducible to the category of the fetish as a “self-standing, auto-referential, and self-sufficient abstraction” (98): their human reality includes what Mamardasvhili called “noogenic machines,” symbolic devices, producing the human as novelty, change, and the rupture of event. In short, not only noogenic machines (as human objects irreducible to natural utility) have a past as sedimented history; they are also constitutively oriented to a lack which summons the envisioning, but also the rhetorical invention, of the future as, to put it in Badiou’s words, “a useful and even necessary thing, in politics and art as well as in love.”7

Kolozova’s argument does rely on a solution of the early/mature Marx debate, the one offered by Michel Henry’s emphasis on “life” in Marx’s writing. Now, here goes a hefty abstraction, one that embraces anything from the amoeba and Uexküll’s tick to the recently engineered lab-made bacteria. Vitalism has its own history, with its curious ups and downs. What seems to be bringing it into a widespread prominence again today emerges in Kolozova’s reflections when she points out that “machines are more efficient in production and processes of information than animals (including the human animals)” (98). Well, for the time being they are not, at least not in every kind of information. It is the fear that they could, however, the fear that intellectually we may be left behind, that the definition of the human through reason and spirit is crumbling, a fact that drives contemporary discourses of various strands to seek shelter for the human in its animality, in a brotherhood with the tick. “But what are the purposes of that?”—Kolozova goes on to ask regarding those efficient information-processing machines. Her feminist concerns then take her to the conjecture that technology might play a role in the democratization of society and that this role needs a discussion of its social and political aspects. With this, however, we have veered considerably from the immediacy of imminent revolt, struggles with no goals, and visions of pre-philosophical and pre-linguistic happiness.

  1. “Mелкое производство рождает капитализм и буржуазию постоянно, ежедневно, ежечасно, стихийно и в массовом масштабе.” Lenin, V.I. Polnoe sobranie, vol. 41, Moskva: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoj literatury, 1981.Т.41 с.6.

  2. Karl Marx, “First Manuscript,” in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress, 1959), 30. Available at

  3. Louis Althusser, “Les communistes et la philosophie,” L’Humanité, 5 July 1975; quoted in Gregory Elliott, Althusser: The Detour of Theory (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 1.

  4. Merab Mamardashvili, “Mysl’ pod zapretom (Besedy s A. Èpel’buèn)” [Thinking under a ban: Interviews with Annie Epelboin] Voprosy filosofii 5 (1992) 102.

  5. Karl Marx, “Third Manuscript,” 46.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Alain Badiou, The Century, translated by Alberto Toscano (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007), 139.

  • Katerina Kolozova

    Katerina Kolozova


    Response to Nikolchina

    I have learned a lot from Miglena’s reading of my book. The questions she raises and the aspects of the questions she points out that I have myself failed to address brought me to the realization that maintaining the entire construction of the argument I set out is a task I will never be able to complete, but it is one that I should certainly try to contribute to as much as possible. My response with regard to our differences will be, therefore, more of a clarification than debate.

    I do not see my appeal to “immanence” and “physicality” as a call to a return to animal immediacy or any immediacy for that matter. Quite to the contrary, I attempt to demonstrate in the book that the human animal is an animal of metaphysics—the grounding alienation of the human subject, which includes incorporation of founding trauma is the determination in the last instance of the non-human. Similarly to Haraway’s cyborg, the non-human is a radical construct or a radical dyad composed of activities and products of signification and the real of physicality that is always already effectuated as trauma. Thus, the non-human is a non-philosophical construct. In other words, it is composed with philosophical material but does not produce a coherent philosophical whole. Technology and the animal, the philosophical and the real, the rational and the meaningless are not reconciled dialectically or otherwise in one outcome, one truth, one sense (or any sense whatsoever) of humanity. What I call an essentially capitalist and philosophical grounding movement is the second gesture of estrangement—the attempt to reinstitute the human self as pure representation, meaning, a philosophical truth. By contrast, socialist metaphysics is a realist—rather than materialist, as materialism is essentially philosophical—positioning with respect to the founding trauma of alienation that is the irreconcilable dyad of unilaterally co-relating real and signification. Far from being an animal—and far from the animal being an animal according to the old humanist dream of its purity and immediacy—the human is inhuman, non-human, it is a monstrosity of the dyad that ultimately does not make any sense.

    Marx’s use of the machine as a metaphor for the brutal reduction that wage labor produces in the same sense or for the sake of the same argument as the reference to the animal. It is precisely one of his major points I am endorsing and trying to further develop in the book. The split between the two is produced by abstraction, it is conceptual, it is a philosophical point that postures as the real. Philosophy has been defined by one single pretension since its Greek origins—to perfect the real by inventing truth and “the Being” as a real that is more real than the real itself. The senseless real, the real that does not possess, express, and constitute a truth is not real, philosophy has been trying to convince us since time immemorial. Conversely, non-philosophy argues that the real is indifferent to the philosophical pretensions, that it remains stubbornly outside its enclosure of “making sense.” Yet again, it is what our cognitive activities, what our production of signification is always already determined by, and this determination in the last instance should be acknowledged. In short, non-philosophical thought subjects to the real rather than to philosophy as its authority in the last instance. The real is not the same as the physical. Quite to the contrary, it is what constitutes the radical dyad and the unsurmountable hybridity we call the non-human and Donna Haraway has called the inhuman and, before that, the cyborg.

    The appeal to liberation and emancipation of the physical from exploitation is an appeal to doing away with the hierarchy established between it and signification, between the animal and technology inside the dyad called the non-human or the inhuman. The non-human consists in the radical dyad itself, and it is determined by what makes no sense or the real of that very constructedness. Automated signifying production is both essentially capitalist and an essentially philosophical mythos of reason or of truth production. Mental activity or a thought that explains reality is not automated, as it is more than information and data accumulation, and it is always already spoiled by the imperfection of the real, of the grounding absence of sense and the embarrassing traces of physicality at the core of it.

    Reference to Michel Henry came only later on in the process of writing this book, as I was not sufficiently familiar with his work on Marx while developing my own project. I am not certain my understanding of Marx is so close to Henry. The greatest benefit I have had from his impressive work on Marx is the immense body of evidence aiming to demonstrate that the classical codification of Marx’s writing into two stages—that of the “young Marx” and “the old Marx”—is a false one. It is an exegetic creation of philosophical interpreters and a close reading of Marx’s own text seems to refute this classification. That is why I strove to consistently invoke quotes and bring forth references from both the “early” and “the later Marx,” trying to demonstrate that Marx’s commitment to certain themes is lifelong and his definition of the communist project has remained essentially unchanged throughout. I claim, and here I concur with Henry, there has never been an “epistemic break” in Marx. The nervous system of his entire project is essentially non-philosophical or post-philosophical and humanist in a non-humanist sense.

    The falsity of the idea about the immediacy of the Occupy-style revolts is a criticism I agree with. Actually, they seem to have been over-mediated, produced with careful PR considerations and, in fact, too devoid of their original motivation and political substance. That is why many of them failed ultimately. Immediacy of trauma, singularity of a traumatic event can set the stage for a more general project of the reversal of values and fundamental change of the system. However because the immediacy had been fetishized, the larger projects and political ambitions that were triggered with the initial acting out of revolt simply lost ground and sense of direction in most of the occupy type of projects. Ultimately, their failure is the result of the fixation on and fetishization of revolt, mourning and immediacy and, finally, absence of program. To this I would also add a critique of the fetish of horizontality and the substantialization of (the otherwise empty notion) of activism. It is a discussion initiated very convincingly by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in their Inventing the Future that should be further expanded.