The Digital: Staccato and Harmonic

The “One Two” of Differential Being

In the opening pages of Principles of Non-Philosophy, Laruelle defines the philosophical decision in terms of what he calls a “2/3 matrix.” In such a matrix two terms come together to form a third synthetic term. For this reason philosophy is fundamentally “in a state of lack with itself,” because it must come face to face with something else that exists in opposition or counterdistinction to it. Self and world make 2, establishing a relation of solicitude or orientation, which in turn is synonymous with the philosophical decision as 3. Or in an equivalent but inverted sense, philosophy will also tend to adopt a 3/2 matrix, because of its own irrepressible vanity, wherein philosophy begins “in excess of itself ” as 3, and thus insinuates relationships of representation (the 2) into every nook and cranny.

Such is the classic definition of metaphysics, not simply any old investigation into first principles, but a very specific stance on the construction of the universe in which the cleaving of the one is reorganized around an essential twoness rooted in difference. This is true just as much for Plato as it is for Heidegger, Derrida, or Badiou. The twoness of difference might be as simple as adjudicating the authentic and the inauthentic life. It might refer to the difference between self and world, or self and other.

In this way, metaphysics leads to a kind of staccato being in that it differentiates and detaches God from humanity, creation from the created, life from the living, and the sacred from the profane. The specific form of staccato being is the binarism; the generic form of staccato being is digitality (shared too by dialectical being, as we shall see in a moment). The specific form differentiates and detaches all from nothing, one from zero, man from woman. The generic form describes the basic conditions of possibility for making distinctions as such, and therefore the possibility of difference and differentiation.

Important passwords for differential being are particle, sphere, binarism, detachment, digitality, and difference. 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.

Rooted in difference and representation, the One Two of differential being is at home in the company of the transcendental. It is quite comfortable with the metaphysical relation. It is, in fact, the philosophical stage par excellence. Aesthetics is also typically found here -- although not exclusively. Likewise the One Two of differential being is the domain in which morality best flourishes, for having been endowed with the possibility of discrimination, the One Two considers all events in terms of the morality of the law. This is why metaphysicians can speak of the difference between essence and instance in terms of morality. Under this framework, the moral entity is defined as the entity that conforms most closely with its essence.

The “Not-One” of Dialectical Being

If the One Two is a kind of positive dialectics or a dialectics of positivity, the Not-One of dialectical being is best understood as negative difference and hence truly a dialectics of negation.

“In the Dialectical stage,” Hegel writes in the lesser Logic, “finite characterizations or formulae supersede themselves, and pass into their opposites.” In similar fashion Marx describes a number of different dialectical relationships, including the union of use-value and exchange-value within the commodity and the relationship between concrete and abstract labor. Dialectical being functions through direct and continual negation in the form of opposition or critique. If in the previous mode twoness was fetishized for its own sake, here twoness is understood not as a positivity of two but as a negativity of not one. The one and the not one form a new twin. So while previously the binarism held sway (man/woman, self/other), now the binarism has been profaned. It still exists as two, only it has lost its effervescence as an abstract, incorruptible binary. The dialectic pays homage to no one. There are no permanent categories, no grand narratives to sculpt the formation of the two.

The Not-One is thus a form of disenchanted being in which entities emerge and disappear through structures of contingency and metamorphosis. Malabou’s plasticity is, in this sense, following Hegel, the consummate organon of dialectical being. The same is true for stasis in the work of Tiqqun. 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.

The passwords of dialectical being are point and position, thesis, argument, resistance, critique, faction and factionalization, struggle, counterpoint, and opposition. Dialectical being requires an intransigent immiscibility, but also mutual corruption and synthesis.

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. In this way, the rivenness of the dialectic leads to a harmonic being, a tone entity that resonates only in counterpoint to another tone. Under the modal condition of the Not-One, being is a semi-entity within a procession of translation and reconfiguration across an expanding field of time and space.

As a transcendental mode of the law, dialectical being is the realm of the workaday event. It is the normal way in which things happen, subsequent to the changes precipitated by action, reaction, stress, and force. The Not-One is not the only way to be political, but certainly it’s one of the most common and prevalent political mechanics. Through position and negation, dialectical being mobilizes the law as political. Thus, just as the law provides a legal infrastructure for the management of bodies and behaviors, dialectical being manages the appearance, disappearance, and transmutation of entities.

(Excerpted from Laruelle: Against the Digital [University of Minnesota Press: 2014], pp. 34-37.)