The Laruellean Clinamen: François Laruelle and French Atomism
According to François Laruelle, French thought has been unduly influenced by corpuscular or atomist thinking, yet Laruelle has himself employed key atomist terms—in particular, that of the clinamen or swerve—in framing his own style of thought. This essay looks at this tension between atomism and anti-atomism in Laruelle’s thought, taking the measure of his contribution to a larger stream of postwar French thinking about the relevance and stakes of ancient atomism. Its contention is that Laruelle subtly but really outlines a quantum theoretical resumption of ancient atomist philosophy—one that deserves closer attention and comparative study in the larger context of French philosophical interest in the atomists. A first section of the paper briefly describes Laruelle’s general project, along with his claim that he differs from his contemporaries because he uniquely escapes the dangers of what he calls corpuscular thought. A second section addresses the apparent tension between Laruelle’s claim to produce a non-corpuscular thinking and his consistent recent use of the atomist image of the clinamen, ultimately arguing that Laruelle sides with the clinamen against two forms of corpuscularity supposedly avoided by the clinamen itself but nonetheless usefully embodied in atomist thought. The final section of the paper draws up in preliminary terms a comparison between Laruelle’s understanding of his relationship to atomism and that of his contemporaries, focusing in particular on Alain Badiou.