Laruelle: Against the Digital
by Alexander R. Galloway
The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 2014
280 pp., illus. 10 b/w. Trade, $62.50; paper, $27.50
ISBN: ISBN 978-0-8166-9212-5 ; ISBN: 978-0-8166-9213-2.
Reviewed by Gabriela Galati
Alexander Galloway's Laruelle: Against the Digital is the first in-depth study in English language of the work of French philosopher François Laruelle. The book is divided in two parts: in the first, Galloway explains the main concepts of Laruelle thought and his relation with the digital, locating him as a philosopher of immanence; whilst the second part approaches a methodology to withdraw from the "standard model". Though the title may be misleading and make the reader believe that the book will address subjects related to new media, software and computers, it does not, as Galloway briefly explains in the introduction, and then develops further at the end of the book.
Galloway takes as a point of departure Laruelle's methodology to escape the standard method and embrace immanence-which, according to Laruelle, other philosophers of difference like Gilles Deleuze and Alain Badiou haven't attained. In this sense, according to Laruelle, the best response to philosophy is to cease doing it (p. xvii), Laruelle's main aim is to think philosophy unphilosophically. In the first place, to do non-philosophy means for Laruelle to "abstain from the philosophical decision", that is to say, to reject the idea that anything in the world can be subject of philosophical reflection, "non-philosophy declines to reflect on things" (p.xxiv). In doing this, one is able to enter the terrain of "science" in which the theoretical validity is given by the possibility of elaborating axioms. In turn, this allows to take philosophy as the "raw material" of non-philosophy, namely, to do non-philosophy is to use philosophy as the object of study of non-philosophy. After clearly explaining that digitality is the basic distinction, not so much between zeros and ones but between one and two, Galloway advances his own goals: to demonstrate that digitality and philosophy are the same because they are both are based on "distinction", and therefore that in withdrawing from philosophy Laurelle was also withdrawing from the digital (p. xviii-xix). In opposition to the digital, the analogue means to bring heterogeneous elements together as one. In this context, in Galloway's insight digitality is not in any way related to computers or new media, but is considered as a strictly theoretical concept.
Galloway pedagogically exposes all these principles in the introduction, which he will of course deepen all along the book whilst at the same time building on his own principles, and explaining at the very end of the book the usefulness of the whole operation for the understanding and for analyzing digital media. In Chapter I, "The One Divides in Two", Galloway explains multiplicity, univocity, and immanence, beginning with Deleuze, but eventually discussing other philosophers that couldn't escape transcendence; and then advances his own first three theses. Chapter II is dedicated to "The Standard Model" and in putting into relation immanence, transcendence, the difference, the multiple, integration, analogicity, distinction and digitality. Chapter III is dedicated to "The Digital", and Chapter V to "Computers", both are among the most interesting in the book thanks to detailed and acute analysis Galloway does of Deleuze's philosophy, but exactly because of it, these are also the chapters in which it is possibly most evident that Laruelle's theoretical building doesn't add much to what Deleuze already did.
In fact, the main problem the book has is not so much Galloway's, but Laruelle's: his neologisms and conceptual operations often sound as a solipsistic exercise. Though certain concepts like "cloning" or the "prevent" are undoubtedly attractive, one cannot avoid asking about their theoretical relevance and consistency; and one has often the impression that Laruelle, when not inventing new words, is using the concepts of philosophy to do non-philosophy.
Having said this, the book is not only exhaustive in explaining Laruelle's theoretical construction on philosophy, but it is also extremely clear in the analysis of other philosophers, mainly Deleuze and Badiou. Galloway concludes his work by giving a synthetic and lucid summary of the whole book presenting his fourteen Theses based on the previous analysis of Laruelle's oeuvre, persuasively arguing on the importance of his own philosophical development for further thinking on digital media theory.