There's a new issue of Parrhesia. It's one of the most interesting journals active today and I encourage you to take a peek if you haven't already. In browsing through the issue I was struck by a few things. First, Laruelle's fingerprints are all over this issue. This is evident more in the reviews than the articles two of which are by or about Bernard Stiegler -- although it's interesting to note that Stiegler has credited Laruelle with "having introduced me to the work of Gilbert Simondon." In addition to the review of Laruelle's Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, I know that Daniel Barber, Alex Dubilet, Anthony Smith, and Ian James are all interested in Laruelle or working on him in some way or another.
The second thing that occurs to me is how important immanence remains in contemporary debates. Immanence has always occupied an odd place in the history of philosophy, often appearing as a counter-orthodoxy or heresy that tears the fabric of metaphysical representation. Theories of immanence resist describing things "as" they are. Rather immanence identifies things "in" whatever they are.
But before exploring the how of immanence, let's revisit the why. Why should we care about theories of immanence? Is immanence a good thing? If so, why?
For many in my generation, immanence entered the conversation in the 1990s with the dissemination and popularization of the work of Gilles Deleuze. The transcendental had taken a beating during the heyday of structuralism and poststructuralism. So-called transcendental categories like the sovereign, the father, or the human had been unmasked as oppressive ideological forces. In Marxist theory, the transcendental, when understood as abstraction or spirit, was quite literally the greatest formal problem in society. The overthrow of transcendental philosophy would be a catalyst for the overthrow of class relations.
Spinoza experienced something of a renaissance in France during the 1960s and '70s. For Spinoza, the immanence of nature provided a way to think about both God and materiality without reverting to the classic metaphysical segregation between planes of existence (heaven and Earth, the realm of spirit and the realm of matter, etc.). As one of the main champions of Spinoza during that period, Deleuze's work focused on an ontology of pure immanence. In immanence, Deleuze saw a way to move beyond dialectical and representational structures, particularly the negation and alterity required by them.
Deleuze helped solidify a growing trend across structuralist and poststructuralist thinkers in many disciplines, from anthropology and sociology, to semiotics and cinema studies: the transcendental is reactionary and bourgeois, while immanence is progressive and radical.
Still, not everyone agrees on this version of events. Within intellectual history, even someone like Hegel--Deleuze's chief nemesis--is sometimes categorized as a thinker of immanence. The core motto of Hegelianism is that something must go outside itself in order to realize itself. All things endure through a structural process of analysis or splitting, and synthesis or merging. (Hence Hegel's principle is, in essence, whatever given is riven.) Yet "immanentist" Hegelians, i.e. those who view Hegel as a philosopher of immanence, stress that such rivenness is ultimately subsumed by the immanent whole: whatever outside returns. Badiou sums it up nicely: “All of Hegel can be found in the following: the ‘still-more’ is immanent to the ‘already’; everything that is, is already ‘still-more.’”
Although cognizant of this alternate tradition, I think it necessary to differentiate between, shall we say, weak and strong theories of immanence. Philosophies of weak immanence (here Hegel) give allowance to excess or supplement, corralling the “still more” back into the essence of what “already” is. By contrast, strong theories of immanence (Deleuze or Laruelle) give no quarter to the “still more.” The “still more” is by definition ecstatic; it must step beyond and exceed the entity whatsoever it is. Within a more radical conception of immanence—“radical” in Laruelle’s lexicon meaning roughly “more fully determined”—nothing ever has to go outside itself in order to realize itself. Since that is the core motto of Hegelianism, I think it unfitting to label Hegel a thinker of immanence, at least in the stronger or more radical variety espoused by Deleuze or Laruelle.
So now consider the how of immanence... We are at a turning point in the philosophy of immanence, a turning point with two possible futures:
(1) Immanence-as-difference: Following Spinoza, the Deleuzian move is to shift from metaphysical difference to material difference. In other words, Deleuze succeeded in flattening a formerly transcendental nature. Yet in so doing, Deleuze proliferated difference across the endless plane of the world. The Deleuzian compromise was to “democratize” the metaphysical structure by replicating it and reduplicating it across all mundane actors. Difference was no longer up and down, heaven and Earth, but rather distributed across a tessellated landscape of differential intensities.
Still, the Deleuzian mantra of “pure multiplicity across the plane of immanence” is simply non-sensical within Laruelle's non-standard method. For Laruelle, difference and immanence are quite simply incompatible, and thus can never combine into a successful theoretical system. (A philosophical system, perhaps, but not a theoretical one.)
(2) Immanence-as-generic: In the wake of Deleuze, Laruelle's move is to think immanence as such, not to think immanence through the lens of difference. For Laruelle immanence means commonality not difference. Immanence requires a rigorous (i.e. fully determined) theory of identity, not a democratization of difference. Immanence requires a reevaluation of the very categories of thinking, taking what Kant called the transcendental categories and rewriting them according to the principles of immanent identity, not metaphysical difference.
Laruelle’s immanence is thus an immanence within methodology—a rather startling and unprecedented undertaking to be sure—not simply an immanence of nature (Spinoza, Deleuze) or an immanence of the self (Fichte, Henry).