Photo-fiction and non-standard aesthetics

Francois Laruelle describes photo-fiction as a non-standard object of philosophy,1 its standard form being aesthetics.2 According to Laruelle, philosophy through the entire tradition of representationalism3 takes for granted (to its radical fault) its non-philosophical background, reducing this background to a mere setting of  ‘objects’ for speculation. But inasmuch as “[everything] thinks, not just philosophy,”4 here ‘everything’ pertains to the background into which philosophy should melt and dissipate, that is to say, as a discipline, 5 it is time that the mereness of this background enjoys an equiprimodial status as a ‘force of thought.’ The ‘background’ in question here is the place of the non-philosophical but which according to its standard use in philosophy is made to serve as a ground (background or surface) so that its sufficiency as a philosophical figure may stand out. In the context of a figure-ground perspective, philosophy may be identified with photography, much in the sense of the correlation between the concept (figure) and the object of representation (ground) occupying opposite poles. Laruelle argues:

          Instead of treating the photo and the concept of the photo as two given and describable physical, intellectual objects or representations, we treat them as completely differently than given objects closed in on themselves. This level of reality which is no longer empirico-ideal, that liberates itself from the philosophical coupling of opposites, must render possible a new ontology and genre or genetic that is obtained in declaring that the photo and its Idea cease to place themselves at the extremes of reality, that at a certain point, they must identify with each other.

          According to Laruelle, when a photo is “capable of photographing the artistic photo itself” the result is a photo-fiction, both concept and object, material and incorporeal in the sense of what is sought by the photo (photo-fiction).7 He describes how this photo-fiction can be done, according to non-standard aesthetics:

          The style of photo-fiction is taking a photo with one’s eyes closed, on the condition that one admits they are closed, which is to say they had been open and more precisely, they are half-closed, the beatings of the eyelid by which we take excessive measure of the world and through which we master the intensity of its hallucinatory aspect: neither wide open nor automatically closing themselves as with a camera or robotic photographer.

          The question is how a photo can photograph itself while (the photo) may already be a photographed version of itself. Ideally, according to Laruelle, this should be the case but standard photo-centrism (inspired by philosophical traditions) conceals the immanent structure of the photo by projecting a real transmission when in fact any photo can only be taken with one’s eyes closed, that is to say, the Real (of the photo) is foreclosed to any form of representation. Any given artistic photo, standard or photo-fiction, is a mystic photo in the sense that despite “being open to the world, it can only imagine photography with one’s eyes closed.”

          According to Laruelle, unable to cite an example of a non-photo, the fractal artist Edward Berko comes close to a non-photographer insofar as the artist attempts at a non-philosophical conception of his art. Laruelle quotes Berko’s words about the fractalization of painting, emphasizing the irregularity and the self-same dynamics of reality: “Caught in this circular scrambling, we postulate that nothing is original.”10

          What makes Berko’s art illustrative of the kind of non-philosophy/non-photography that Laruelle endorses is his arguably “fractal practice of philosophy” and his “de-intuitivation of philosophy” through fractal painting the overall connotation of which becomes clear: the Real is foreclosed to any form of representation inasmuch as all representations are either hallucinatory or mystical.


Edward Berko (Cobalt Yellow)

Accessed from:

            In standard photography the eyes are imagined to be always open to the world, in the sense that cognition is always already in the world, open to interrogating its own presuppositions, its supposed non-fictional assumptions about the world in general, but this world does not of its own making give itself to cognizability and/or photography, rather the reverse follows: cognition or photography structuring the world as photo. Cognition can achieve this by deciding in its favor (in general, the decisionist structure of philosophy) at the expense of the ground. Arguably, insofar as philosophy (since Kant) thinks that the world has to be first given to cognition, philosophy betrays its false sense of perception – its hallucinatory form of transmuting objects into cognizability.

          In exposing the hallucinatory character of philosophical decision, non-philosophy clones philosophy in the immanentism of its self-portraiture, as a photo of its own figure. Taking this task as immanent to its nature in the sense that it is parasitic to philosophy, non-philosophy “[plays] the dummy so that it can re-enact the speech of philosophy.”11 Non-philosophy clones the immanent radicality of philosophy in the hope that philosophy will reveal its hallucinatory nature, or rather its decisionistic structure – the structure of its pathology. Unfortunately, in the same manner that non-philosophy must persist as the ground of philosophy, philosophy must be consistently hallucinatory. Arguably, a picture of absolute correlationism comes up.

          In photo-fiction, the background cognizes better than philosophy’s photograph or image of itself insofar as background-ing compared to figure-ing is less mystical but also more proximate to the real by virtue of its being cognizant of its dummy-ness as a photo-fiction, a humility that philosophy through its standard photography professes but does not practice, does not actually photograph itself. What can photograph philosophy is non-philosophy but the latter’s way of photographing the photo or the self-image of philosophy is reduced to imagining a photo-fiction of philosophy on behalf of philosophy that cannot actually photograph itself. The Real, meanwhile, is said to be indifferent to all these mystic adventures. In this sense, non-photography can only endure the mysticism of the non-photo by accommodating the untouched photo that is always rhetorically sought by photo-fiction.

         But can’t we have a conception of the Real as active, rather than absolutely indifferent? The Real is outside of thought, yet impinges on sensibility which temporally or historically demands of thought to align its principles with the Real’s actual manifestation. If it is thinkable for thought to think of the Real external to it, that which also antedates its emergence, thought owes its thinkability to sensibility that provides the clearing for an encounter (with the Real) and the thought’s self-realization of the encounter. Here, it is necessary to return to pre-Kantian concepts like Leibniz’s monads provided that we also think of monads as sensibility. We are thinking of a modified version of monads as those which touch one another yielding a network of affectations. They are blind but they are sensible. But it is not for sensibility to develop the principles of construction and organization. The rationalization of construction and organization requires complex cooperative and participatory processes between and among the bodily elements. Rationalization is therefore a democratic process that culminates in thinking.

1 See Francois Laruelle, Photo-fiction, A Non-standard Aesthetics, trans. Drew S. Burk (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012).

2 Ibid., 13.

3 John Mullarkey and Anthony Paul Smith, “Introduction: The Non-Philosophical Inversion: Laruelle’s Knowledge Without Domination,” in John Mullarkey and Anthony Paul Smith, Laruelle and Non-Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 4.

4  Ibid., 5.

5  Ibid.

6  Laruelle, Photo-Fiction, 13-4.

7  Ibid., 14.

8  Ibid., 35.

9  Ibid.

10 Francois Laruelle, The Concept of Non-Photography, trans. Robin Mackay (United Kingdom: Urbanomic, 2012), 134, footnote 5.

11 Mullarkey and Smith, Laruelle and Non-philosophy, 5.

12 In Seduction, Baudrillard argued about photography arriving at the same view. See Jean Baudrillard, Seductions, trans. Brian Singer (Montreal, Canada: New World Perspectives, 1990).

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