Thursday, March 18, 2010

Meillassoux’s Motivation and the Pure Space of Speculation

This is just a quick post regarding a problem that Mike raises of Meillassoux’s motivation and “what Meillassoux’s derailing has to do with politics.” I think the answer is that it has nothing to do with politics and I would go as far as to say that speculative realism is a thoroughly apolitical enterprise (and de-politicizing continental philosophy is, in a sense, the theme of post-continental philosophy).

As far as I can see Meillassoux is trying to get at the ‘real’ in the same way Badiou or Deleuze are trying to get at it. And his hopes rest with mathematics – always a kind of pure potential for philosophy since it is unencumbered by the various ‘mixtures’ we are supposed to be avoiding. If you run through Kant or Hegel or Husserl you will find the word ‘pure’ posited at any moment when one is said to be coming to the question proper. Heidegger even has a word for the non-pure: the ‘mere’ and he attaches it to anything he doesn’t like. Philosophy is at the point, in the post-continental form, of a kind of immanence or intra-philosophical discourse with itself although occasionally there are overtures to the natural or mathematical sciences (arguably one could say it has always been this way so I would add that we are in a particularly self-conscious state of this). I suppose we can even see post-continental thinking as trying to regain something of a ‘lost time’ when philosophy was committed to a rigour that perhaps lost its way sometime in the post-Heideggerian landscape (I would suggest that this is more a case of a deflation of rationalism and modernist goals and that the rigour was simply ‘different’). Having undergone a kind of wayward time philosophy is coming home to its relentless pursuit of ‘thinking’ and what exactly good thinking is – and looks like (looking, seeing and the visible are all themes to be found in Badiou and Henry for example, and it is all rather Platonic in tone). In another way it a reclamation of what is usually derived as ‘representationlist’ forms of thinking. The representation is being reintegrated into the philosophical project.

And the ancestral realm comes to be a kind of ‘pure’ space where representation is necessary in order for one to make sense. Even better it is understand vicariously with mathematical representation that brings the arche-fossil to its fullness as an indicator. The ancestral realm is a pure space of speculation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The first rejoinder

Paul was writing his last post at the same time as I was writing mine--what's even more interesting is we were almost writing about the same things: what motivates Meillassoux, ultimately, to redescribe or "revise" (as he says at one point) the history of philosophy. My allusion to Derrida, picking up off of Paul's, was to suggest that while for him (Derrida), this derailing of the consistency of correlationism would be in order to politicize the latter (in a philosophical/extra-philosophical act which is nothing less than tarrying with the aporias through which politics/history is inscribed in philosophy), it is still unclear to me what Meillassoux's derailing has to do with politics. Therefore, from the Derridian perspective (certainly an extreme one), it is an eminently philosophical act of rewriting the history of philosophy that we see here (and there's nothing wrong with that of course). But occasionally that only makes things more confusing, especially as Meillassoux certainly has some sort of "state of things" in mind that he is engaging, and which I think is certainly also political--as much as it is religious. This might simply mean that Meillassoux has a different conception of politics/history in general and its relation to philosophy (such that the history of philosophy doesn't always reappear primarily as a political or even historical issue), but I think what we're also recognizing here (and I think Evan registers it too) is that something seems very (intra-)philosophic about this attempt. That's not a fault at all (it has become even more easy to call philosophy into question by talking about it in this Derridian way--but I want to do here what it allows us, which is to really stick with what is weird about philosophic operations and that history which even the Deleuzian maneuver of calling it, precisely, "Oedipal," might dispense with too quickly). In fact Meillassoux's effort is puzzling precisely because he wants to bring back something of this properly philosophic character, and it is "the state of things" that actually isn't quite ready to accommodate it.

And yet that state of things precisely is ready to accommodate this, in certain ways, because the narrative he gives is so compelling and hits home what many feel to be problematic right now. But I think your sense, Paul, that this narrative has to almost return in spirit and in content to the tumultuous era immediately after Kant--and I'm actually quite inclined to agree with you (and I think many many people in the reviews of the book I am reading are registering something similar in talking about Meillassoux's "Hegelianism")--makes it clear that philosophy has been accommodating this state of things for some time. In short, if Meillassoux is confronting us with the "repressed" of recent philosophy, which is some manner has to involve proper philosophizing itself--and I think both our accounts verge on saying something like this (even though Heidegger wasn't quite fond of psychoanalysis, I take your comment saying there's something Heideggerian about the way things proceed to in fact gesture towards this repression)--then you are hinting that there is another repression (secondary repression--which Freud called, precisely, revision): repressed in the repression is also that this was philosophically problematic once before. I think this is a fascinating response to what is Meillassoux's general contention, it seems: that correlationism was "weak" when it was adopted, then proceeded to get "stronger," as I sketched last time. Wasn't it "strong" in some sense also when it was adopted? Not in the sense that it completely involved de-absolutizing the absolute, or absolutizing the correlation (the precise sense in which Meillassoux means "strong"), but in some other way we--or indeed the post-Kantians themselves--might articulate? And doesn't Meillassoux somewhat concede this point in saying that "every philosophy which disavows naive realism has become a variant of correlationism?" (5) What appears to be an expansive claim is also the recognition that, if we properly see that certain philosophies to not wholly "disavow" naive realism, they can be seen to at least be dealing with, if not escaping, correlationism? This of course with the caveat that a sort of general blase acceptance of naive realism can be fundamentally constitutive for many of the philosophies that assert the inaccessibility of the in-itself. As Meillassoux says, this is actually what is involved in the postmodern's indifference in the face of science, which is a sort of acceptance that actually makes thought recuse itself. What you might be saying, in some deep sense, is that pulling apart this sort of blase acceptance from a more significant, though seemingly inapparent, affirmation of naive realism (or simply realism), is what is precisely possible now: it is this that the postmodern situation, or the intensification of correlationism, provokes us to do.

But now I want to move on to my promised explication of that first correlationist "rejoinder" to the problem of the arche-fossil. It intrigues me because it treats of space--which is why Brassier will come to it in his (well articulated) criticisms of the problematization itself of the fossil and the ancestral--and for that reason I think it probably intrigues you, too, Paul. The argument proceeds by identifying the problem of the arche-fossil with what is indeed a variant of a "familiar and inconsequential anti-idealist argument" (18): the old one most easily applied to Berkeley, where if no one is around to see a tree, and esse est percipi, the tree ceases to exist unless we have some God that keeps it in being. In other words, the rejoinder would proceed by "trivializing the problem," reducing it to this one (18).

Now, remember what the arche-fossil is supposed to do: it is supposed to be a "material substrate" that indicates to scientists the existence of an ancestral reality, or one that is anterior to every recognized form of life on earth (10). What this is to open up--and the linkages between the two might become problematic--is that there is a being which is not just not given to thought, but also remains completely outside any way that it could be given to thought, though (and this is what is crucial) it still can be thought (precisely by thought going outside of itself). What this opens up is the truly dazzling (from the transcendental perspective, 27) possibility that science thinks not only these beings, but also the emergence of the givenness itself--in other words can account for both.

The rejoinder cuts off the latter question about emergence completely (or approaches it in a weird way) by saying that what is not given to thought is precisely what phenomenology accounts for. "The lacunary nature of the given has never been a problem for correlationism. One only has to think of Husserl's 'givenness-by-adumbrations:' a cube is never perceived according to all its faces at once; it always retains something non-given at the heart of its givenness" (19). being partial to phenomenology, of course, this is what I have always loved about it: I can't get enough of houses with five unperceived sides (or six if the roof is normal) towards which I nevertheless constantly orient myself. But the rejoinder can go even further: "Generally speaking, even the most elementary theory of perception will insist on the fact that the sensible apprehension of an object always occurs against the backdrop of the un-apprehended, whether it be with regard to the object's spatiality or its temporality" (19). What has happened, Meillassoux points out, is that we have confused the being-not-given of the fossil with something commensurable with not-givenness in precisely a correlationist sense: but what is not-given in an ancestral sense--in the case of the arche-fossil--is supposed to be different than the merely "lacunary" within the otherwise given. This is why the argument boils down to a rejection of a mere anti-idealist challenge, when the challenge brought by the fossil is actually much deeper: a conflation of the ancestral with the un-witnessed, which of course (the correlationist says) does not cease to be when it is not perceived. Perception itself (in a phenomenological account or even the most basic and sensible one) involves precisely accounting for the being of what is unwitnessed.

But then Meillassoux takes another step in his reasoning--the one that really interests me. So far, I've presented his account just in relation to the general givenness of a being: the conflation of the unwitnessed with the ancestral is with respect to the nature of the givenness in question. But Meillassoux goes on to say that this mistaken correlationist rejoinder involves some effort to correct what is seen as the privileging of "temporal seniority" in the challenge of the fossil (18). The conflation with the unwitnessed with the non-givenness of the fossil proceeds by asserting that "spatial distance would raise exactly the same difficulty… An event occurring in an immensely distant galaxy, beyond the reach of every possible observation, would in effect provide the spatial analogue for the event occurring prior to terrestrial life" (18). Supposedly, the conflation would then involve trying to argue from this distant event, saying that "'distance' and 'ancientness' are both vague" (18): "above all, we would immediately notice that the question of the relative proximity the object under consideration becomes irrelevant to the force of the argument once the scope of the latter has been extended to space" (19). We don't know where what is proximate begins and where what is distant ends, and the same can be said about the recent and the ancestral. The conflation proceeds, in other words, by seeing what is not-ancestral as relative to our position (thus the appearance of "recent," when the ancestral qua ancestral has no opposing term of this sort)--and this proceeds to make the problem for correlationism an intra-correlationist problem. But again, why this has to proceed so thoroughly via space is interesting. It seems to be because to think of the spatial event beyond our observation, this would mean conceding that givenness as such may be in existence, when the whole point of the fossil is to think beyond the given but the emergence of the given itself. The latter cannot be thought--Meillassoux says--if we can't think that it may occur while there is no givenness existing. Certainly this is correct, and it is what keeps Meillassoux away from any pseudo-idealist philosophy, but I just keep thinking about why time remains the way that we have to think this:

The reason why the traditional objection from the un-witnessed occurrence--it being a matter of indifference whether the latter is spatial or temporal--poses no danger to correlationism is because this objection bears upon an event occurring when there is already givenness. Indeed, this is precisely why the objection can be spatial as well as temporal. For when I speak of an event that is distant in space, this event cannot but be contemporaneous with the conscious presently envisaging it. Consequently, an objection bearing on something that is unperceived in space necessarily invokes an event and a consciousness which are considered as synchronic. This is why the event that is un-witnessed in space is essential recuperable as one mode of lacunary givenness among others--it is recuperable as an in-apparent given which does not endanger the logic of correlation. But the ancestral does not designate an absence in the given, and for givenness, but rather an absence of givenness as such. And this is precisely what the example of the spatially unperceived remains incapable of capturing--only a specific type of temporal reality is capable of capturing it (20-21).

Again, nothing wrong here, just curious about that last statement. It isn't that I can imagine any space that would be capable of capturing it: the spatially ungiven. Rather, what is odd is that the absence of givenness itself is actually not quite so temporal a thing, leading us to wonder why we have to go to such temporal lengths to capture it. For, as Meillassoux says,

Though ancestrality is a temporal notion, its definition does not invoke distance in time, but rather anteriority in time (20).

There's nothing wrong with this, again, since what we're doing is thinking through precisely how the fossil exists in space and time (as intra-worldly) so as to disrupt the correlation. But it just brings up the specificity of the fossil and what it is doing in the argument: it is supposed to call correlationism in question--to be something for which it cannot account. But, like Brassier (and like Harman, in a different way), we can then begin to wonder whether it is perhaps more than sufficient to do the job.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome to this correlationist house!

We turned to Meillassoux to get a better sense of what Harman will say, but also I think to place Latour--like Harman himself does. First and foremost, I think this means drawing out all the consequences of a more hard-hitting Latourian realism, which at first glance can look like (and Harman says this often) just old-fashioned realism pasted on to a weird logic of scientific practice. Latour does this himself, of course, in We Have Never Been Modern most clearly (developing a whole Constitution that must be overthrown, one of whose components is the Kantian point of view). But like Harman we have to bring this out a little more, and to show how indeed it furnishes the materials for a specific way out of Kantian problems that is different than other ways out--that is, we must see it as one way of overcoming Kant among others, and remains a particularly good one at that. This will allow us to see why Latour in general is so important for Harman in the first place, but again it will also allow us, with Harman, to draw out Latour's realism more than he himself does.

But in order to do that, we need something like a general narrative that shows why the Kantian problem is such a problem all of a sudden--one that could be brought into relation to Latour but which remains a little outside his own way of talking about his problem. This is what Meillassoux gives us, and does so compellingly.

This is why, even if you want to go on to prove your particular favorite philosopher is or is not a correlationist, you find the word "correlationist" handy. For it is one of the many crucial terms that gets put to use in the immense rewriting of the continental tradition that goes on here. In other words, not only does Meillassoux give us something specific designated by correlationism--he gives us a reason why the task for philosophies to come remains to overcome, or at least engage with, the latter (and I think I am agreeing here with what Paul has just said, though I wouldn't quite describe this derailing entirely as Derridian, nor what Hägglund would call Derrida's "politicizing" in that precise way). Because Latour does this, this is why we turn to him now. It is another way of accounting for what Harman remains incredulous about in Prince of Networks: that Latour's work was available in its sophisticated form since 1984: "In that year, Chernenko led the Soviet Union, Reagan was only half-finished in Washington, and ten nations of today’s European Union were either single-party police states or did not yet exist. 1984!" (Prince of Networks, 32). Though he will say this because his narrative is an object-oriented one, the outrage is similar: what the hell were we doing during all this time?

Parts of Meillassoux's narrative are suspicious, of course. Like Brassier and some others (perhaps with more extensive exposure to Latour's brand of science), I remain a little perplexed why science is primarily here as the mathematizer of the universe, though I also think this claim is important for Meillassoux and needs to be looked at (we'll get to it eventually). But we certainly get its drift, and that's what is essential.

The narrative goes like this: science gave us a way to talk about being without thought by mathematizing the former. Philosophy tried to register this. It did so, however, by precisely reacting against what was revolutionary in it, and holding that we could only talk about being insofar as it was bound up with thought. More specifically, philosophy was busy in talking about what is, trying to ignore the scientific achievement (or register it in the most benign ways for philosophy), when Kant came along and said this talk was in vain precisely because of science: what mattered was the way we related to what is. Then squabbles broke out over the form of this relation.

I'd characterize these struggles in the following way, since we're more familiar with this form of the narrative: Phenomenology came along, and developed to the extent that this relation was seen as nonrepresentational or less-than-representational (Heidegger--Harman will eventually take issue with this but we'll come back to it then). Then the relation was seen as antirepresentational, such that it actively disturbed and was disturbed by our attempts to grasp (represent) it. Out of this postmodern situation, we get philosophies that insist upon the possibility that ("always already") something might be beyond this grasp. But at no point was the move of Kant seriously questioned.

Now, this way of putting it isn't Meillassoux's, because ultimately we see that representation has nothing to do with the relation between thought and being insofar as these are seen as always bound up with each other (or correlated). It only has to do with a modification of the correlation:

the correlation between thought and being is not reducible to the correlation between subject and object. In other words, the fact that correlation dominates contemporary philosophy in no way implies the dominance of philosophies of representation. It is possible to criticize the latter in the name of a more originally correlation between thought and being (7-8).

My only point is that with slight modifications to this traditional narrative--setting it back in the framework that Meillassoux has given us, which questions the Kantian innovation (and indeed this is why he opens brilliantly with the precritical distinction of Locke: to set things here)--we can see the achievement of the postmodern (criticism of representation) to be precisely that reassertion of a more original correlation. Thus, Meillassoux goes on to say:

And in fact, critiques of representation have not signalled a break with correlation, i.e. a simple return to dogmatism (8).

The implication is that instead of a break, we're tied up more than ever.

But because representation has nothing to do with correlation, let's just underscore with Meillassoux that this exacerbation is not "simple." Indeed there could be a critique of representation--or critique of critique of representation (as the case may be)--that calls into question the correlation. Some might say Derrida fits precisely here (maybe, maybe). And I imagine you could fit others in too--like Heidegger himself. The person put to postmodern ends that you probably could never fit in here would be Foucault, who is antirepresentationalist first and foremost and wouldn't give a damn about the great outdoors even if he could.

The point however is that contemporary philosophies that base themselves on a critique of representation have, however, not signaled a break with correlation, despite the fact that they might. What is keeping them from doing this? Meanwhile, why the hell did we get into this situation to begin with?

We already see from the narrative that the second question is the answer to the first. What keeps us from breaking with correlation is inadequate understanding as to why it was adopted in the first place. Now, unlike Harman, Meillassoux will contend that understanding this also means seeing what the trajectory through correlationism gives us, rather than getting clear about what the alternatives were and could be: I'd say personally (but I think with Meillassoux in some sense) that it gives us a better understanding of representation, which is why I cast it in these terms, and opens up a thinking about aporias that might or might not be crucial to the project of thinking those alternatives (maybe, maybe). But Harman's object-oriented insistence (and we'll come to it and give it its due when we pick up that part of PoN) is also important, because it underscores what is Meillassoux's ultimate point: that breaking with correlationism is completely possible, provided that we begin to think about what postmodern thought tends to keep under wraps. This is, quite simply, the reason the correlation was adopted in the first place.

And so we come to the arche-fossil, for it is the sense of this that is avoided in the adoption and in some sense brings about the avoidance. But in fact I think I will come back to that in another post. Suffice it to say here that the arche-fossil is the material support ("support" is such a weird way to talk about it, and like Martin Hägglund I'm interested in this) that allows scientists to date ancestral reality--reality that is seemingly anterior to any possible human-world correlation. In the face of this object, thought adopts the correlation because what would be required--Meillassoux thinks--to make sense of this reality would be what it interprets as metaphysical. In other words, I think we can claim, using what Meillassoux says, that the most immediate reason for adopting the correlation is because we don't want to hypostatize the correlate (11). But this is actually not a real answer to anything (it is only the immediate reason) since this happens after we've already gone towards the correlate qua correlate. Why this is seen as a metaphysical assumption in the first place is the crucial issue, and if we can demonstrate that this isn't a correct assumption (or that it only remains an assumption), we can see there is no reason not to get thought outside itself and admit the "irremediably realist" sense of the statement about the arche-fossil. But because we have to go to the necessity of contingency and Hume's problem in order to see all that, let me instead just focus on one remaining thing.

I said the reason the correlation was adopted was kept under wraps by postmodern thought. But this is not because focusing upon representation bolsters correlation (though we might imagine some sort of feedback loop here). No: the "cover-up" corresponds to a process of absolutizing the correlation, characteristic of a move from "weak" to "strong" correlationism. Indeed, this does not have anything to do with representation, but is a statement about the capability of thought itself (which is why it is an absolutization). As Meillassoux says, quite powerfully, this involves a significant shift:

This shift, from the unknowability of the thing-in-itself to its unthinkability, indicates that thought has reached the stage where it legitimates by its own development the fact that being has become so opaque for it that thought supposes the latter to be capable of transgressing the most elementary principles of the logos (44).

And it is because this is the case that we get a narrative about the religionizing of reason where I put in, above, a narrative about representation. The different ways of conceiving the correlation involve developing more ways of strengthening it. But we can get into that in another post. This one can just add to the many reviews and summaries of the argument of After Finitude that are already out there (perhaps the most thorough is here), hopefully adding something by showing a little bit how the parts of the argument are connected (especially the long excursus on the necessity of contingency)--as well as relevant for those looking at Latour.

But let me just end all this by saying how unbelievably lucky I feel to read all this great stuff (and have so many people be interested in what we all have to say--even Harman himself, who has been so nice as to link to this blog a few times as we've been going through his work). Both Prince of Networks and After Finitude are amazing, amazing philosophical works, and the whole speculative realist enterprise in general that is taking them up (along with the work of Brassier and others we will read) is just full of so much energy and razor-sharp argumentation and hard-hitting rhetoric… these people are bringing a whole new form of philosophy into existence despite all the individual differences (and there are many), working extremely hard and pushing into really new territory unfazed… it's just really exciting to be reading it all.

Where does Meillassoux stand?

It is a rare work of continental philosophy that slaps you with a bunch of empirical statements as positive evidence. Nonetheless as a statement of thinking and After Finitude is something of a provisional text pointing to a system to come, it is difficult to ascertain what Meillassoux’s thematic or contextual position is. Where is it, one might ask, that Meillassoux stands? And following on from this...does it matter where he stands? Since in many ways speculative realism orbits around the ancestral argument as a kind of shared ‘example’ of what it means to be speculatively realist then I think it does – at least when we are discussing a revolution from within the continental tradition. And speculative realism is a revolution from within. In proper Deleuzian fashion [“the history of philosophy’s own version of the Oedipus complex” – Negotiations] speculative realism is out to slay some masters, and start anew. I think that After Finitude itself is a book that wants to slay the powerful effect of the ancestral argument (the argument that has made hairs stand on end!). And until we find out what lies in store it is hard to know just how provisional our statements about this provisional book are. We will have to wait, if we read French for the next book, or if you are like me you cannot read French, we must wait until Graham Harman’s book on Meillassoux which will, I think, contain a short excerpt from the new book. But this is to get excited about something to come. What can we say about Meillassoux right now – transitionally?

It seems as we enter the book that Meillassoux will be coming down on the side of science, or at least trying to show how correlationists ought to be honest about how their position undercuts some scientific statements, and perhaps even that mathematics will emerge as a kind of access point to the real but we must remember that we need this move only to access the ancestral real and even then just to make realist statements about the ancestral real! In my own reading of Meillassoux (to be raised at Dundee, but also in a paper to come and the first chapter of the book with zero) this promised engagement with science/the real quickly subsides and we find ourselves operating in the coordinates of German idealism (soft correlationism, subjectivist metaphysics, and strong correlationism). The entire undermining of strong correlationism comes about in a discussion revolving around Kant and contemporaneous reactions to Kant. Even the rescue of the absolute comes about via a discussion of the principle of sufficient reason albeit one that leads to a very important discussion of the fideism that contemporary correlationism has committed itself to. Like Critchley, in his short but important review of AF, I think the real target is phenomenology or post-Heideggerian hermeneutics/language obsession that brought continental thinking into disrepute with their anti-science bias leading to a very public mocking via Sokal that continental thinking is only now starting to emerge from.

I think it is fruitful if we think, for a moment, just what a scientist would make of something like the principle of unreason. Does it matter that scientists and we must remember that we are here trying to reach something like their territory, care about a problem that is only a problem if one is a phenomenologist or Kantian? Or is this just the game of acting out a kind of fantasy where philosophers engage in providing a ground for the sciences (even if it is a rather odd ground...)? This is the kind of thing I find problematic about Meillassoux but this is a very small problem since overall I think that, in strictly philosophical terms, Meillassoux holds a consistent set of beliefs and also knows how to reveal inconsistencies that are revealed at the assumptive level of correlationist thinking. Oddly many correlationist positions, and this holds in a lot of belief systems, are internally consistent. Internal consistency can be seen as a proper criterion with which to judge a philosophical system, but in an almost Heideggerian (!) way Meillassoux delves somewhat deeper than this to upset the apple cart. I’ve heard Derrida’s position described as derailing a train that is heading to its destination just a little too well and perhaps this is how we must see Meillassoux’s critique. Correlationism works just a little too well, a little too consistently, and so we ought to be correspondingly suspicious. Just where is correlationism headed and what kind of madman is in the driver’s seat?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where realism comes from

My philosophy cap is back on and I'm ready to delve into some Meillassoux and further comment upon Prince of Networks. But I just want to pause here--if I can pause before I go (certainly a philosophic question if there ever was one)--and suggest something I thought about as I was going through After Finitude: how different are the places from which Meillassoux's realism and Latour's realism come!

To put it a different way: A lot has been said about how the speculative realist turn has come out of the encounter--at long last--of the "philosophy of the continent" (or whatever you want to call something like this tradition) with science. But when you reflect upon just what about science provokes Latour and Meillassoux, you see that this gets complicated. For Latour the provocation is something like the underlying nature of the things that scientific practice and politics deals with--this is his way into realism. The general sector of science that this comes from is, we could say, the rapid growth (and funding) of biology, especially, alongside the increasing "technologizing" of lab work (I hope I cast a wide enough net here, emphasizing the growth of these areas and the attendant mutations they cause in the linkages between science and society, rather than biology or technology itself--whose intricacies could never keep Latour from moving on to other things). For Meillassoux, what provokes is something like the nature of the scientific statement. And this comes of course by radiation dating and more (astro-)physics-based research. If we look at other thinkers, we see certain realist work emerge out of systems theory or complex self-organization.

This registered, you begin to suspect that it is perhaps the expansion of "Science" into distinct areas able to be addressed in completely different ways--because different aspects of it are provoking different kinds of questions--which is perhaps just as important in facilitating these encounters. In other words, a differentiated "science" (what Latour is right to call "research") brings people differently to realism--while lumped up together it leads to quick dismissal or general ambivalence that Meillassoux is able to characterize so well. Perhaps involved also is the registration of a particular risk, too: the risk that--like in some American philosophy departments--this differentiation of science will produce a set of problems (bio-ethics, say--not to mention philosophers of science) only able to be addressed by specialists (and ignored by scientists). The recognition of the diversity of science by the realist stance would then be some way of countering this, by precisely using everything that spoke against the continental tradition (lots of old, imprecise, metaphysically-connected problems)... Among other things...

Sunday, February 28, 2010


We're taking a detour here. Anticipating the discussion of Meillassoux in Prince of Networks, we're going to focus now on After Finitude. There's still a LOT of the first part of Prince of Networks that we want to get to (I personally want to do several more posts like the one on the dissenter), so expect posts on that to pop up every once and a while in between Meillassoux posts. And we'll be coming back to part two of PoN at some point for a really extensive discussion. Hopefully, we'll then turn that into a launchpad and/or counterpoint to our next wave of reading, which will be all the various realist and speculative thinkers I mentioned a while ago.

Turning to Meillassoux, let me just say that there's a lot in this book I want to cover--not just the ancestrality problem. In that spirit, I'll go over the ancestrality problem soon, when I can be very clear about it all and talk about it in as basic a way as possible, but in my next post (not this one) I'll be turning to that first objection of the correlationist "semiotic character" on page 18-20, and Meillassoux's counterargument--which centers around the difference between the ancestral and the ancient or distant (something I didn't give enough attention in skimming through the book a while ago).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Latour at Princeton

So Latour is speaking in a couple hours at Princeton in our great department of Architecture. It's an event in a series that is basically an extension of Alejandro Zaera-Polo's really amazing-sounding seminar on the building-envelope (usually thought of as just the facade, but you can see how the hyphen broaches new questions that might be taken up by Latour and the other great architects he will be talking with), which is going on right now (and in which Latour is being read). The session today will be on "Attachments" (click here for the poster). Unfortunately, with the snow, I won't be able to get down to Betts Auditorium. It's okay though, since Evan saw Latour a few days ago at UCLA and will have an account of that soon. But it would have been great to see him on this topic, and especially here, since the visible spread of his work throughout the University can be shoved in the face of the IAS, just across Alexander Street, whose members denied him a position in 1990.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dissent and Tennis

To pick up and expand on Mike's excellent post about Latour's dissenter:

What makes the dissenter seem like a critic is that the doubts are so active that everything comes into question: everything and anything is in doubt, because the dissenter actually just wants to prove the Professor wrong no matter what. What's crucial is that this isn't the critical desire: at no point does he want to transcend reality. The dissenter calls into question because he genuinely believes something else is real--in fact that something like the whole state of things is different. But this "state" is finite, and can be wrapped around a specific space--the lab and each object we encounter in it. It is only because of this (or the fact that he has no allies and confronts only in this space--it is the same thing) that each of his doubts attains the status of an "effort at modification," and he can genuinely be a part of a trial of strength.

This is very well put and I agree with all of it except that I think you're wrong to suggest that criticism wants to "transcend reality": as Latour understands it (and I'm basing this in part on remarks he made at a lecture I attended at UCLA the other day, about which more later) criticism actually wants to expose transcendence, to bring us back to reality by unmasking or debunking whatever makes a false claim on the real. But you're exactly right about what the dissenter is doing, and how that's different from critique: rather than obliterating the other side, either by transcending it or accusing it of false transcendence, he's shifting everything around: moving the goalposts, as they say in the UK.

There is a lot of mileage to be gotten out of the paradox of being against critique, but I think sometimes the whole opposition to critique and criticism comes off as a mere impatience with being detained or delayed. We want to make our points, elaborate our arguments, enter them in the register of posterity, and then maybe sit back and wait for them to be critiqued, or modified, or Aufhebung. It's a kind of back-projection of the history of ideas, or philosophy: if philosophy is a grand succession of important ideas, then we want to take our place in that history, and we'll accept being critiqued as the price of membership. But Latour's early work shows us once and for all that even in science, supposedly the most positive, accumulative, successive intellectual enterprise of them all, this never happens: our precious projects are scrutinized, criticized, picked apart, shoved around, manhandled at every turn!

One of the cherished beliefs of critique, especially immanent critique, is that it can fully grasp its opponent's or predecessor's positions prior to negating them. Let's call this the tennis match view of philosophy: you serve, I return. But the kinds of criticisms Latour sees as really mattering — and it's probably better to call them skepticisms or dissensions than criticisms — all happen prior to the moment of something like a definite position becoming established, as if we had people asking, Why are you putting the net there? or Why use that kind of ball? or Why play tennis in the first place? These seemingly irrelevant and counterproductive questions detour, redirect what we're doing, make us have to say it in another way; and we have to make this adjustment, or modification, in order to continue talking about something real. What Latour dislikes about criticism is not that (like skepticism or dissension) it disrupts things: that's good! What he hates about "criticism" specifically is that it thinks it destroys things, or "overcomes" them, that it magically eliminates its enemy and reveals a real world, as if the thing it redirected never existed, or doesn't continue to exist. That won't get anyone (except maybe a few impressionable and demoralized graduate students) to play their chosen game differently, let alone to play a different game entirely.

This is why I think (as I think Mike does too?) that the dissenter is sort of a hero for Latour (although a quixotic one), and an obvious analogue for the science studies researcher in the laboratory. It's also why I'm coming to think that Latour, whatever he and Harman say, should not really be considered a philosopher, or at least not one philosopher among others. (I'll try to expand on this intuition in a future post, which I promise I'll get to eventually, on Latour's UCLA lecture, "The Compositionist Manifesto.")

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It is a boring but great book

‘’(you'll remember, Paul, you and I recently agreed the first volume of Being and Event is a bit boring, and I'm increasingly interested in what we agreed about).’’

I just wanted to add some words since I really do feel like I have not been blogging here enough.

I suppose in the same way that Latour is both entertaining and a good thinker Badiou is both a bad writer and a good thinker. I guess the real problem would be to encounter a bad thinker who writes well. Philosophy, I think, tends to operate somewhere around the limits of boredom. Sometimes philosophers buck the trend. I suspect very few people are bored when reading Harman’s books (except when he has to talk about Heidegger but we can safely blame Heidegger for this). I do suspect that many people find reading through Being and Event a kind of chore – that is many readers will feel that they must read Badiou to keep up [one read’s Badiou after all…] even if, and here philosophy is a rather odd discipline, one finds the entire process terribly mundane. And all this for a discipline where you might not even get a proper grasp on what is happening in a text until you re-read it [that is re-read something you already know is boring!]. And then there is the math. Math! So what I think we agreed on was something more than that it is ‘merely’ boring, to link us up with Heidegger, since to call a book of philosophy boring is never enough to dismiss it - which is why Harman does not end PoN once he has convinced us that Latour is entertaining and the heavy lifting comes in showing Latour's metaphysical bona fides.

I remember coming across Hegel’s section on death and the negative (in the PofS) for the first time [the famous tarrying with the negative section]. I will never be able to articulate just how intense that moment of reading was for me, but not 3 minutes before coming across this section I was probably yawning and thinking about my next cup of coffee.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Dissenter

I had actually forgotten about the incident of the Professor and his dissenter in the crucial pages on trials of strength in Science in Action. I was happy to see Harman reconstruct it (interestingly, Harman capitalizes "dissenter," perhaps to make it a more interesting fight between him and the Professor--unless in the French it is capitalized--while Latour refers to him alternately as "the dissenter" and provocatively as "his dissenter"--meaning the Professor's). He does so for two reasons. First, he wants to give us some flavor of Latour, which is, indeed, something that is hard to convey without ending up sounding like you are describing yet another "French intellectual" (and perhaps Bourdieu's analysis conveys this, in a different way--I'd have to look at it). Harman does this throughout the book by pointing to his "wit," but he here accomplishes it, interestingly, by saying that, in these pages, Latour is not at all "boring" (PoN, 43). The more I think about it, this is a fascinating way to categorize philosophical work, and we use it probably more than we think (you'll remember, Paul, you and I recently agreed the first volume of Being and Event is a bit boring, and I'm increasingly interested in what we agreed about). But Latour isn't just entertaining or not boring: in fact, "there have always been too many boring philosophers, and we are fortunate that Latour is not among them" (43, my italics). That's even more fascinating, if we give this judgment the weight I want to give it (we don't have to bring in Heidegger's extensive--and a bit boring, now that I think about it--analysis of boredom, but it couldn't hurt). Then again, it could be just a matter of personal taste: I assume from his remarks in Guerrilla Metaphysics about Derrida (to the effect of "this isn't a good way to write and moreover I don't get why people salivate over this overwrought language"--the latter being a sentiment I share) that Harman thinks much of recent continental philosophy too could have been much more entertaining than it actually is and was, and, well, I'm betting that puts him in a small group (when so many seem to move towards it because they see this boring stuff as the incarnation of energetic, entertaining philosophy). Then again, he could be referring to lots of Anglo- philosophy, which he criticizes for its repetitiveness later in the book (I'll look at that when we get there). Here too though this sentiment or preference seems to animate Harman's work and even his positions (philosophy has this wonderful way of being author-centered, such that even personal opinions can seem to perform the philosophy if they are taken seriously enough--something Harman himself is attuned to if we look at his presentation of Latour's background early in PoN and his emphasis on moments of personal inspiration, p. 13), so while I don't want to wade in something so personal as taste, I do think it could be relevant to this issue of boredom and we should note it.

The other reason Harman gives us such a long reconstruction of this section of Science in Action is that he wants "to do some justice to the meticulous detail of Latour’s empirical accounts of laboratory life, which must otherwise be excluded from a metaphysical book like this one" (PoN, 37). He particularly wants to show how Latour can actually reconstruct every single thing the Professor does in his lab in order to combat the suspicions of his dissenter, and how Latour can show how at each point the forces are changing, amassing against the dissenter with the recruitment of more and more allies: "What the story shows is that the Dissenter can continue to dispute ad infinitum, but only at the cost of growing isolation and perhaps even mental illness (and here I do not jest)" (PoN, 37). Now, there's an interesting thing here in this figure. After the dissenter exits the lab Latour remarks:

This exit is not the same as the semiotic character [the figure Latour brilliantly isolates as the made-up or semi-made-up "contrary position" in a scientific paper, who comes to pose a counterargument that you have anticipated and refute]. This time it is for good. The dissenter tried to disassociate the Professor from his endorphin, and he failed. Why did he fail? Because the endorphin constructed in the Professor's lab resisted all his efforts at modification (Science in Action, 77).

Harman cues us to this fact: in Latour, reality is what resists. This is what makes the incident more determinative or final ("this time it is for good") than in the lab paper where the semiotic character is defeated. More reality is generated here, set in place. But what is also fascinating is the last sentence--to which Harman's great emphasis on the length of this account of Latour's brought me (I wouldn't have noticed it, or would have only accounted for it abstractly): the fact that the skeptical efforts of the Professor's dissenter are also "efforts at modification." I know what is at stake in a trial of strength is reality, but I guess I never thought that this would be the way that even the skeptic or cynic could be accounted for from the Latourian point of view. Perhaps this is because (weirdly) I feel we could insist that the dissenter is a critical figure, trying to transcend reality, though neither Latour nor Harman says this. The reason they don't say this is because the dissenter precisely isn't a critic: it is the reality of each thing that is at issue. As Harman says, "The Dissenter may be a loathsome pest, but he does have a point: anything can be challenged" (44). What is important to realize is that this is all there is to his point--or perhaps that this is only his point. Remember he was "an extreme case" of the radical 1% that actually would get into the lab and challenge a claim: "as one of the estimated 1% of readers who actively doubt this claim, the Dissenter appears at the laboratory to speak with the Professor in person" (39)

What makes the dissenter seem like a critic is that the doubts are so active that everything comes into question: everything and anything is in doubt, because the dissenter actually just wants to prove the Professor wrong no matter what. What's crucial is that this isn't the critical desire: at no point does he want to transcend reality. The dissenter calls into question because he genuinely believes something else is real--in fact that something like the whole state of things is different. But this "state" is finite, and can be wrapped around a specific space--the lab and each object we encounter in it. It is only because of this (or the fact that he has no allies and confronts only in this space--it is the same thing) that each of his doubts attains the status of an "effort at modification," and he can genuinely be a part of a trial of strength. My takeaway is that this is important to note when we jump from something like the dissenter or skeptic to the critic quite quickly. Latour in his essay on criticism realizes that for the latter position, something else is at stake than just reality in the here and now, as it were.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Immanence again

I've been talking a lot about Latour and immanence here, but now I'd just like to heed the remark of Harman at the beginning of Prince of Networks:

It would certainly be fruitful to consider Latour’s similarities and differences with fellow non-analytic/non-continental (i.e., basically non-Kantian) thinkers such as Alfred North Whitehead, Henri Bergson, William James, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Serres, Gilbert Simondon, Gabriel Tarde, Etienne Souriau, and Latour’s own friend Isabelle Stengers. But when this emerging ‘School X’ is promoted under such misleading titles as ‘process philosophy’ or ‘philosophy of immanence,’ the result is a false sense of beatnik brotherhood (PoN, 6).

Why is it false?

[T]here is a major family quarrel underway on this list over a highly classical problem: the isolation and interbleeding of individual things. On one side are figures like Bergson and Deleuze, for whom a generalized becoming precedes any crystallization into specific entities. On the other side we find authors such as Whitehead and Latour, for whom entities are so highly definite that they vanish instantly with the slightest change in their properties. For the first group, substance is too determinate to be real; for the second, it is too indeterminate to be real (PoN, 6).

That last sentence especially is like breath of fresh air: suddenly, just by reappearing, substance is freed from its conflation with so many operative terms that we find in post-Heideggerian France. In all that talk about identity, difference, and sameness, substance is smuggled in or rather subordinated to the play of those other terms (I'd add, especially in Deleuze). And as we get clear and a bit "classical" about all this, then, what comes out of this are objects and a question about whether certain stances vis-a-vis substance either help or hinder the emergence of objects (though that is not the only way one can see whether a philosophical position is object-oriented).

And at the same time, immanence gets complicated and we have to bracket the term--or really start to find out what we mean by it. I intend to do the latter here as we go through all this, but for now I just wanted to quote this nice bit, which also serves as a sort of setup for PoN--something like the most immediate area or debate that Harman sees his work plopping down into.

One more comment on what Harman seems to be doing with Latour versus what Latour, in "Coming Out" seems to be saying about himself--which will reply a bit to what you were saying, Evan, last time. I don't think there is a conflict or anything (and you're not saying that), but there are interesting sorts of considerations that emerge whenever we take philosophically a thinker who might be doing something else than philosophy. Or, rather, doing say 10 different things besides philosophy--as is the case with Latour and actually with many many people that philosophers are willing to consider having philosophical import: taking someone philosophically involves stating whatever they are doing in philosophical terms first and foremost, or reading into what they say something like a clear position on either established or emerging philosophical issues, and this means massively excluding the other direction in which their work goes. Deleuze was a master of this, and also tried in a sort of unprecedented way to keep the exclusion to a minimum--in what amounted to an effort (and this was the effort of critical theory as well) to expand the extremely, extremely, extremely small canon of philosophical texts. But my point is that this exclusionary operation is also an operation involved in all such philosophical consideration (broadly considered, philosophy that interprets/takes up thinkers), and it justifies itself by pointing to the increasing specificity about the problems it reveals to have always been rumbling underneath (or, as the philosopher might claim, at the heart of) whatever the thinker is saying and wherever he or she is going.

In Harman, this move has the added benefit (remember, exclusion isn't always wrong) of revealing a problem to be there where we didn't even think it was--as I've said above. The ultimate interpretive question for us would be whether we want to then take this as a (I was going to say mere, though I don't wish to demean--as should be clear from all this, I want to instead produce a healthy ambivalence not reducible to skepticism... I'll just say local) contribution to philosophy, or as something that really has all sorts of wide-ranging effects upon how we or anybody else considers Latour. Obviously we don't have to choose, but something like this choice informs our reading a bit, when we suddenly see even Latour's more philosophical statements put in a more metaphysical language, like this:

Unlike a substance, an actant is not distinct from its qualities, since for Latour this would imply an indefensible featureless lump lying beneath its tangible properties (PoN, 17).

It's a great statement--but how did it come to be? Part of the answer is that this is just of the genre metaphysics: it is doubtful that Latour would actually be bothered if what he did "implied" such a lump, though he metaphysician might be (and Harman is--rightly so--whenever Latour does something that indeed implies this). But now the question is--what constitutes that genre? What produces it? What allows it to transcode the work of Latour in this way, such that it attributes a properly metaphysical consequence (to be avoided) to a proposition Latour, even at his most explicit ("I use 'actor,' 'agent,' or 'actant,' without making any assumptions about who they may be or what properties they are endowed with" Pasteurization, note 11), only can somewhat hazily imply in this way (not because the proposition isn't philosophical in precisely this way, but because the proposition would also have to do at least 10 more things besides this)?  (By the way, you'd be mistaken--though again you'd be extremely philosophical--to draw from this some notion that we are considering Harman's statements as mere "discourse." What is in question is not the "status" of Harman's work in that sense: I can discuss metaphysics as a genre without implying it is therefore a discourse or even a text--though some years ago we might have argued explicitly that. But we're beyond that point: sorry literature- and theory-bashers.) This is just to say that we have to weigh the import of the resurgence of metaphysics that we find in Harman's work--or actually just ask how it is revived or even whether it is a revival (what were we doing before?)--in order to understand a bit what we're doing to Latour when we begin to take him (or watch him take himself) in this philosophical way.

Then again all this might not be as much fun to weigh as the other resurgence (or first appearance?) in Harman, which is that of the object. But it seems to me we can focus this question by also asking to what extent we need metaphysics (and not just an object-friendly thinker like Latour, who we can interpret metaphysically) to make the object appear. This is a bit backwards, I know, and is symptomatic of a reader who is more confident in talking about what philosophy does than actually doing philosophy, but hey, that's me--and besides I think it really does open up a sort of weird and interesting view on all this, where we do possibly have something to contribute.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Philosophers trying to give retrospective accounts of their careers usually do one of two things: either they claim it's all been one big project all along, motivated by one basic idea or set of ideas; or they mark off phases of development where they got interested in something new. But Latour does neither! Instead he tells a story sort of like Descartes' in Discourse on Method, of doggedly trying to follow a single method (which, he reminds us in Reassembling the Social, means "travel") and the sorts of people he's encountered by using this method, and the ways he's pissed them off, forcing him to explain himself. In other words, he says that he has been trying to do one thing all along, but he has been continually waylaid by people confused by his method. The thing he's been trying to do, apparently, is "philosophy." And "Coming Out as a Philosopher," as I read it, is his explanation of everything he's found it necessary to accomplish before beginning to do philosophy.

To summarize quickly for those who haven't read it: in "Coming Out as a Philosopher," Latour claims to have adapted his method of following chains of translations from the Biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann. He then started using this method, originally developed for exegesis of scripture, on the inscriptions of science and technology. The intention behind this wasn't to debunk or refute science — it just endeavored to show how science constructed itself as real through a long process of trasnlation, with the hope of being able to use the method to show how regimes of enunciation other than science do the same (and thus ultimately refute positivism or naturalism: there's nothing special about science or nature's reality; it's knitted together very well, but so are other modes of existence). This, on Latour's account, is what he was doing in Laboratory Life and Science in Action.

The plan, apparently, was to do this first for science and technology, and then move on to other modes of enunciation (law, religion, etc.). Science, as I understand it, really has no priority for Latour: he's not a philosopher of science, he's a philosopher with an intense interest in scientific method (again like Descartes). But, before he could keep traveling along his merry methodical way... lots of people objected! The science wars broke out! Scientists assumed he was using "society" in order to debunk science/nature (in other words, they accused me of being a social constructionist/anti-realist). So he had to prove he wasn't, not by genuflecting to science and reassuring everyone that it actually is real after all, but by showing "sociology" and "society" to be as ad hoc and constructed as science and nature are. (Fast-forward a little to Reassembling the Social; but this is also what he's doing in early articles like "Unscrewing the Big Leviathan.") And this move, of course, pissed off sociologists (Bourdieu, among others) — although thus far Latour doesn't seem to care too much about that.

OK, well and good. But, at the same time, even as Latour engaged in what are basically high-level methodological debates with scientists (both social and natural), he got an idea for a second project, one which would help explain why everyone got so angry at him to begin with. This is his "anthropology of the moderns" — initiated with We Have Never Been Modern and ultimately including stuff like Iconoclash and some chapters of Pandora's Hope. This is not Latour arguing with anybody (despite the rhetorical pointedness of his style) but rather providing narratives of why there are so many people around who want to argue with him. (And if he engages with philosophers in WHNBM, it's probably because philosophers are the champion arguers in our societies and they influence intellectuals more generally, not because he's really trying to intervene in philosophy.) As opposed to stuff like Science in Action and Reassembling the Social, which are both basically how-to books for social scientists and say nothing about what exists but just about how existence is constructed, We Have Never Been Modern is, if not an anthropology or an ontology, at least a proposal for one. It's asking: how did we get to a place where we think that "science" and "society" are the only things that are real?

In "Coming Out as a Philosopher," all of this previous work — We Have Never Been Modern included, which one might have thought was his "coming out" party back in 1991 — appears as just so much ground-clearing, or preparatory work, for what Latour has in fact really wanted to do all along: use this method of following the actors and so on to describe other regimes of enunciation besides "science" and "society," and thus reveal those other modes of existence that the scientists and the sociologists have claimed don't really exist. And that's what he is now promising to do. We move, as it were, from method to modes: all this time Latour's basically been arguing that a single method can be applied to everything that exists, but he has applied it only to "science" and "society"; now he's finally doing the more properly philosophical work of saying what there is that methods can be applied to.

So, to sum up, as Latour sees it he's had three major intellectual projects going more or less simultaneously:

1. A methodology for "following" the construction of truth via chains of translations
2. An anthropology of the moderns (or, Why does everybody insist on arguing with me?)

3. A secret philosophical system, which he's going to unveil in his next book
(An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence)

I'm going to stop there, though I want to talk about how Harman sees what Latour is doing; that will involve looking a little bit at his essay on "The Importance of Bruno Latour for Philosophy" and Prince of Networks. Harman makes the rather different claim that Latour has been doing philosophy all along. My rather broad question is: does it make a difference to how we read Latour — and in particular to how we read him vis-à-vis speculative realism — if we see all the work published up to this point as preliminary to philosophy, versus reading it as philosophy? Or does this not really make a difference at all?

On the active voice in philosophy

Can I just jump in here real quick and say holy shit, how wonderful is it to actually encounter philosophers who use the active voice?

I think we've been loving this about Latour's more philosophical ramblings and in part talking about it as his mojo (it's really why I love Irreductions). But if we don't get explicit about the things that bring about this mojo, we're just going to be talking in general about mojos everywhere. There's a lot to mojo, yes--I mean we're talking about style, basically, which is never reducible to mere grammar. But the wonderful thing about style (at least for us, who know how to talk about it) is that you can build it up out of these elements, as much as you might also try to capture it all at once with rhetorical terms (I feel mojo for us means something like the old rhetorical term energia--but taken technically that term also doesn't quite do).

So now that we're heading into Harman, another thinker with mojo, I just want to actually state that the active voice contributes to the charm.

There are other thinkers who use it too, of course. Deleuze comes to mind. But the passive voice dominates a lot of recent philosophy.

Part of this is Heidegger's fault--though it is probably not good to assign blame in this way, since no one person can cause any real change in the use of grammar (and I'll qualify things in a second). I don't mind Heidegger's jargon so much as the structure of sentences like these:

Yet that which is last in the order of the way things are connected in their foundations existentially and ontologically, is regarded ontically and factically as that which is first and closest to us (B&T, ¶44, p.268 in M&R translation).

I did indeed just pick this at random, by the way--I basically opened a book of Heidegger and there it was. You can open up to a page of Heidegger, though, and most of the thing will be in the passive voice:

[In] what does the humanness of man consist? In lies in his essence. But whence and how is the essence of man determined? Marx demands that the "human man" be recognized and acknowledged. This he finds in the "community." "Communal" man is, for him, "natural" man. In the "community" the "nature" of man, that is, all of his "natural needs" (food, clothing, reproduction, economic subsistence) are equably guaranteed. Christians see the humanness of man, the humanity of homo, in his delimitation from deity. He is a Christian man as "God's child," who in Christ  hears and accepts the claim of the Father on him. Man is not of this world, inasmuch as "world," thought theoretically and platonically, is only a passing passage on to the beyond (Letter on Humanism).

Now, to be fair, Heidegger is never wholly passive--I imagine only really hardcore Heideggerians or maybe Derrida can actually pull that off. And his whole general project restores transitivity to the even passive uses of "is"--as Levinas once nicely put it. And on top of that, there are some really striking moments (the tool-analysis is one of them) where we get Heidegger's active voice:

The kind of being which belongs to such concernful dealings is not one into which we need to put ourselves first. This is the way in which everyday Dasein always is: when I open the door, for instance, I use the latch. The achieving of phenomenological access to the entities which we encounter, consists rather in thrusting aside our interpretive tendencies, which keep thrusting themselves upon us and running along with us... (B&T, ¶15, p. 96)

That's still not quite as active as it could be--and it is built up in such an unbelievable way (as in the later work, where jugs are jugging etc.) that we might still have recourse to Adorno's jargon book. But then again anything with Heidegger and his language is fraught.

What's more important is that I also be fair in general by qualifying all this scorn for the passive.  I'd actually go so far in the opposite direction as to say--and I think I've said this to you on occasion, Evan, as I say it to everybody--precise use of the passive voice (not lazy use, as you'll find in this post) can be invaluable at times, especially in philosophy. Here it often becomes a very essential tool for writing, as it keeps the verb's metaphoricity to a minimum (not to mention its ability to imply causality). The sentence then relates concepts quite clearly.

But, of course, if you start to use the active voice, you quickly understand concepts get even clearer when you are concrete, when you risk causal implications and make something in the sentence do something rather than be assigned something (this is also why Hegel is, at times, amazing to read). Of course, teachers of writing often prohibit the passive voice for this reason: you actually have to think hard about the structure of the sentence with the active voice.

And Latour, who establishes or reestablishes that unbelievable link between rhetoric and realism, seems to understand precisely this. Harman too. I'm making my way towards intimating that the active voice has something to do intrinsically with OOP, of course, where clarity is suddenly defined precisely in terms of the ability to convey that concreteness.

Everybody knows this already though. What they're mistaken in thinking is that this might be something different than what was done long ago in the "language-centered" era of "critique." We can't just rest content with the notion that a philosophy's use of language reflects that philosophy--that the connection I'm drawing here is fully explainable in terms of what the philosophy says even about rhetoric itself. Talking about the active voice (or using rhetorical terms to try and get at it) shows other reasons can validly explain the thing.

This is important to underscore when a certain type of current continental philosophy doesn't claim to care anymore about a dream of some continental (mostly French) philosophy in the middle to late part of the 20th century: that you could change the general form and structure of philosophy by trying to talk about something other than what "there is." The strain I'm referring to interprets precisely this dream to be a statement about the nature of reality, about what there is and how what there is is there. Now, this isn't so much a misinterpretation (as partisans of the older schools would say) as a judgment--and a complex and nuanced one at that. It states that not only were the dreams impractical--if it just said that it would be missing the point--but also the whole effort of dreaming to produce practical effects was weird in the first place. And the judgment is correct, in some sense: what is constantly being bashed as the "language-centered" aspect of a certain continental philosophy of the past is actuality its incredible hope that by merely changing the way we speak, by being wary of "there is," the whole manner of philosophy would change in turn. To believe this, you have to believe that style mattered, that it had practical effects on the ground, over and above believing what Heidegger said about being and the the structure of "there is." Now, for a whole host of reasons, I think it's actually important to remember how the situation would support such a weird position. And it's important not to forget that Deleuze, who is currently being championed as a realist against the "language-centered" philosophies of old, held this position most tenaciously and extremely.

My only point here is that if we are willing to recognize a certain active-voiced turn in philosophy--if I've not so much convinced you of that as restated something that you want to believe about the relation of what the philosophy says to the way it says that--well then we have to ask whether something similar to the "language-centered" era is going on here. This doesn't invalidate anything or undercut anything about the philosophies in question--it just makes us wonder a bit about how philosophy works, how it constitutes its relationship to expression, how it continues to dream.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Part of the weirdness of Latour, it seems to me, is that he can get away with saying something like this, in "Coming Out as a Philosopher" (his Unseld-Prize acceptance speech):

I have carefully hidden my big project under a screen of apparently disparate types of studies. [...] I have not dispersed myself at all: it is just that, throughout my career, I have simply rather disingenuously [simply rather disingenuously!!-mj] hidden [disingenuously hidden!!-mj] my real intentions.

And then the next moment he can say something like this, about his notion of irreduction as it was featured in the "immutable mobiles" of his work on the Salk institute:

The great surprise came when I had to learn, quite bitterly, that what I had taken as a rather innocent method to study the truth condition of science (exactly as I had taken positively the exegetic method to study the different truth conditions of religious enunciation), was immediately taken by my readers as a debunking of the claims of scientific reason to objectivity.

One moment he's constructing a big system underneath all his microvariations (finding different modes) and then in the next he's coming up with those very microvariations and finding himself assaulted by all sorts of people thinking they have figured that big system out. So its not so much a conflict between what Latour thought he was doing and what he was being accused of, and at the same time it isn't a conflict between what Latour thought he was doing and what he actually was doing (philosophy):

This complete disconnect between what I thought I was doing (a realist description of the scientific networks’ ability to produce objectivity) and what I was accused of doing (a debunking of science’s claim to reach the natural objective world of matters of fact), soon became for me, instead of the irritating misunderstanding it was at first, a fantastic opportunity to study what in the meantime I had defined as a “symmetric anthropology of the moderns.”

The conflict, or conflicting element, is in the fact that others are somehow responsible for misinterpreting him (even if they are here pardoned) when what he was doing was indeed something different than what he thought it was.

Obviously, anyone of Latour's stature interested in sociology has to be fascinated at how this happens--how even when he's not knowing what he's up to he stumbles into conflicts. And all autobiographical accounts wonder at this sort of phenomenon. But my point here is that I'd pay serious money for a Bourdieuvian account of all this, which I think would be just so much clearer. Latour seems never to quite gather things around him in a definite way--and not in a way that backs up what his philosophy is all about. Everything seems like a murky sort of self-reflexivity, one that doesn't even create a real good mess. Even though we're really intensely conscious of how and where we're being perceived:

Please, don’t tell any one, especially in England, or the United States, that such is my overall life project and that I am in effect, a philosopher,--worst of all a philosopher with a system —and now, thanks to you, a philosopher with laurels around his head!

It is a joke, yes, haha, but there are other passages here which say the same thing more seriously (like the passage on Aramis not being translated in German that I just quoted in my last post--and other small little phrases). Maybe I'm not loving the flux as much as I should, or giving enough credit to Latour for writing an intellectual genealogy in only a few pages, to be given in a short acceptance speech. And I don't mean to read the philosopher against his own philosophy--Deleuze was great at showing how dumb this was (see the knockdown "Letter to a Harsh Critic," in Negotiations). But it's only my intention to show that Latour seems to do this himself, and comes up with a weird "coming out" project that probably should strike us as involving a certain type of self-reflexivity that might pale in comparison to the "critical" one.

I don't mean for that to be a final judgment or anything: I mean mostly to provoke some discussion of the role of reflexivity in Latour as compared with Bourdieu (as a way of replying to your amazing Bourdieu posts, but also harking back to some of my earlier comments about Latour being even more praxis oriented than the theorizer of practice). Obviously, with correlationism at least challenged here, things change a bit. And again, it's not really clear how much we should read Latour's conclusions into every one of his statements--that's a particularly philosophical (I wouldn't say "critical," like the philosophers are doing) thing to do (assuming you always have to be consistent, even in your inconsistency, and somehow perform your system), and we shouldn't put so much weight upon it. But Latour's small work still makes us wonder what his autobiography would look like, and wonder if Bourdieu's Sketch of a Self-Analysis does this better.

Actually, let me just add I'd probably, really, want nothing so extreme as either of these thinkers as far as autobiographies go...

Producing philosophy

So, we're going even slower than promised. But bear with us. I'm going to give very basic narrative of what happens in Latour's acceptance speech for the Unseld prize, "Coming Out as a Philosopher," and what Harman is up to in the short piece "The Importance of Bruno Latour for Philosophy." Let's see what happens.

Basically, we get the sense that Latour realized early on his mode of approach required us to go past its mere application to draw some weird philosophical conclusions. What's interesting is that, reading his works, you would think he would draw these conclusions in order to stay true to the method--that's what "empirical metaphysics" means to us, no? But now, with this essay, something is different: we get the sense that the method was indeed one sort of way of drawing these conclusions--and that it was constructed on the basis of the philosophical axioms rather than the other way around.

But we're also understanding that this allows us to be more precise about what we were trying to stay true to in the method, the approach. These are the modes, which seem to well up in the different ways the method or way of approach is applied.

What I think Harman would say, on the basis of his essay (which doesn't respond directly to this shift in Latour's work), is that these modes are grounded in something else that happens by way of the method, which is that a focus is turned upon objects. What we're true to in the way we're approaching, investigating, constructing networks, messing things up, is staying true to objects, not giving a damn for Kant.

Eventurally, Harman can make sense of Latour's modes. I wonder whether Latour though can actually make sense of OOP in its current form.

Meanwhile, what happened to the method? Once it crystallizes into ANT, is it then a little more disposable? Or does it become more necessary than ever? I particularly liked the sense that we were staying true to a method and what the latter produced in going beyond it and seeing what metaphysics it implied. Now, what happens to the method? I feel a little bit like Latour himself:

I have to mention here, as a parenthesis, that I am somewhat disappointed that none of my fieldwork books are translated into German, especially ARAMIS, OR THE LOVE OF TECHNOLOGY, my favourite work to this day, which might give German readers the idea of me as a philosopher writing essays, thus very French!, but not of what I also wish to be, that is, an empirical philosopher treating philosophical questions through precise ethnographic inquiries— the same is true of my work LA FABRIQUE DU DROIT a study of one of the French supreme courts I take as my most elaborate field work.

Now, of course I know the fieldwork is still there--but I am trying to interpret in a strong way what exactly it means to come out as a philosopher or really begin to emphasize the philosophical aspects in what Latour is doing. In some way, I think this also means that Latour just can't be what he wants to be. He's too good at what he does, which is that fieldwork--at least that's my sense of him. I'd rather have Harman talk about Latour, in other words, than Latour himself.

And this is what is interesting about Harman--he seems to understand how you can really get more out of Latour if you read him with a knowledge of philosophy (even better, with a knowledge of metaphysics). I just want to pause a moment and show how that might be something completely different than what Latour himself does, which is try and make his work produce philosophy, or be philosophy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Update 2

Allright, everyone--here's a quick update. Evan's finished traveling, Mike's finished doing some stuff that needed to be done, and Paul is at the ready. We'll be a little slower, probably, than last year though: everyone's got a lot of work to do, and we'll be fitting in the reading more and more in our spare time. Thanks to everyone who has commented on the blog though so far, or even seen this and thought we were up to something good--I (Mike, though I know I speak for Evan too) can't tell you how great it feels to know at least something you're doing might be helpful, intriguing, or just comment- or even note-worthy.

The next couple weeks we'll be finishing up Latour, reflecting on Latour coming out as a philosopher and moving into Harman's cases for the relevance of Latour for philosophy.

Then it's Prince of Networks. We originally were going to do the whole of Harman, and I had the sweet idea of reading Harman backwards--something I always wanted to do with an interesting thinker, as it sort of is an easy way to destabilize the increasingly arrowlike (thinking of Husserl's diagram) shape that intellectual development is perceived as taking, and blast things into constellations and regions of uneven development (which is great with Harman anyway, since he is much more honest than others about the discontinuity, the jumpstarts and lightning strikes involved in philosophic thinking, as much as he also--as I've emphasized on my own little blog--attempts to historicize his own thought and provide narratives for it). But we don't have time--we want to get to Brassier someday, so we're just going to stick with PoN, and perhaps make some references to the Harman we've already read independently.

Then we'll be jumping headlong into SR (or whatever the people involved care at this point to call this general area of work) with Meillassoux and After Finitude. Some Badiou might pop up as well.

After that, we're revisiting ANT with John Law's After Method (so many afters! you can see the pressures to push things past [post?] the post- or postal [as Derrida might quip] generation preceding [post-ceding?]).

Then we're Nihil Unbound.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Beneath contempt, beyond critique: Bourdieu on Latour

Having given a couple of posts over to Latour's critiques of Bourdieu, it's now time to do the reverse. (This actually means going backward in time, since Bourdieu's discussion of his junior took place in his final course of lectures at the Collége de France in 2001, while Latour, as far as I can tell, was mostly silent on the subject of Bourdieu until the publication of Reassembling the Social in 2005, three years after Bourdieu's death.)

Bourdieu devotes one of his last works to the sociology of science because, as he explains in a foreword, he believes that "the world of science is threatened by a serious regression." In Bourdieu's view, the historically acquired autonomy of science is being encroached upon by neoliberal political and economic forces, a state of affairs leading him to this portentuous pronouncement: "in short, science is in danger, and for that reason it is becoming dangerous" (vii). Science is thus more in need than ever of the critical reflexivity provided by the social sciences, in order to help prevent the gains in autonomy that are the legacy of the past several centuries of modernization from being pushed back or erased.

Perhaps all of this is true, perhaps not, but either way, how does science studies fit into this ominous master narrative? Sadly Bourdieu is not entirely clear on this matter (though other critical sociologists, like Steve Fuller, are ready with a number of suggestions). The rhetorical purpose of Science of Science and Reflexivity, then, like that of so many of Bourdieu's later works, is concretely political, an attack on the neoliberal establishment's erosion of the field's autonomy more than a disinterested contribution to the field itself. But he does take the opportunity to express his opinions on science studies and related trends, and those opinions — while not coherently connected to his larger point about the "danger" of the scientific field as currently constituted — are far from favorable.

The first serious invocation of Latour in the book is in the introduction, where Bourdieu borrows the rhetoric of science studies in an oddly ambiguous way: in opposing the "logicism" of philosophers of science, he writes that "[i]t seems to me to be an exemplary manifestation of the typically scholastic tendency to describe not science being done, science in the making, but science already done, a finished product from which one extracts the laws according to which it is supposedly done" (2-3). And then: "Sociologists have, to varying degrees, opened up the Pandora's box of the laboratory" (3). In the space of two pages, Bourdieu has invoked two of Latour's titles, Science in Action and Pandora's Hope (published in 1999, right before Bourdieu's lectures were delivered, though otherwise unmentioned in the text). Thus one would be forgiven for thinking, on the basis of this introduction, that Bourdieu was largely sympathetic to science studies. As we'll soon see, this is not really the case, but as long as we keep things vague we can hold on to the feeling of mutual agreement for a little longer: "The realistic and often disenchanted vision that sociologists have … formed of the realities of the scientific world has led them to put forward relativistic, even nihilistic theories which are the very opposite of the official representation. There is nothing inevitable about this conclusion, and one can, in my view, combine a realistic vision of the scientific world with a realist theory of knowledge" (3). A "realistic vision" and a "realist theory" — this is sounding an awful lot like Latour, isn't it?

But the illusion of Bourdieu's amenability to science studies is quickly dispelled by his hostile remarks on Latour in "The state of the question," his first lecture, which runs down what he considers to be the tenable positions in the sociology of science (with a little typical grousing about the perpetuation of "false problems" by those who insist on taking positions other than the three logically possible ones). These positions include a Mertonian structural-functionalism (which studies citations, "reward systems," and other purely "social" aspects of the world of science), a Kuhnian "discontinuist" history of scientific paradigms, and the "strong programme" of the Edinburgh and Bath schools. Bourdieu specifies, somewhat confusingly, that there are only "three positions" (6), and then follows his discussions of the aforementioned three with a fourth section, headed "A well-kept open secret," which considers the work of Karin Knorr-Cetina, G. Nigel Gilbert and Michael Mulkay, and Latour and Woolgar. Here Bourdieu's curious, and uncharacteristic, coyness about the status of science studies continues: does the work considered here constitute a "real" position? Does an empirical investigation of the laboratory (a methodological trend which, as far as I can tell, Bourdieu is wholly in support of) really lead to a new perspective on "science in the making," distinct from Merton's, Kuhn's and David Bloor's? If it's not even a coherent position, can it still be critiqued, or does it just have to be dismissed out of hand? Bourdieu, for once, seems hesitant, not quite comfortable doing either (although he ultimately comes a lot closer to the latter option, as we shall see). As a matter of fact, Bourdieu seems to miss a lot of the real issues surrounding the sociology of science, forgetting about realism and objects and so on and assimilating all would-be occupiers of this mysterious fourth position to the terms of his own problematic, that is, the determination of motivations:

One would therefore be tempted to ratify the — it seems to me, fairly indisputable — conclusion reached by Gilbert and Mulkay, or Peter Medawar, if it were not most often associated with a philosophy of action (and a cynical vision of practice) which is fully developed in most of the writings devoted to "laboratory life" … The simultaneously scientific and social "strategies" of the scientific habitus are envisaged and treated as conscious, not to say cynical, stratagems, oriented towards the glory of the researcher. (25)

What is that strange sensation — déjà vu, or is it irony? Bourdieu accuses Knorr-Cetina, in particular, of cynicism, using much the same terms that have been leveled at his own demonstrations of the "logic of practice." (The difference which makes the difference, for Bourdieu, is that between "conscious" and "unconscious": for Bourdieu, strategy can be used to account for individual decisions provided it is assumed to be mostly unconscious and incorporated, the product of an interaction between a habitus and a field. But from the perspective of scientific realism, of course, this distinction is pretty much moot: either we're saying that scientists' decisions are cynically motivated or they're unknowingly cynically motivated; either way we're rejecting the idea that they're motivated by the search for truth.)

But it's obvious that Bourdieu's principal target in his hedged polemic against science studies is Latour:

…I must now turn, to conclude, to a branch of the socio-philosophy of science that has developed mainly in France, but which has enjoyed some success on the campuses of English-speaking universities: I mean the works of Latour and Woolgar and, in particular, Laboratory Life, which gives an enlarged image of all the aberrations of the new sociology of science … This current is very strongly marked by the historical conditions, so that I fear I shall find it difficult to distinguish, as I have for the previous currents, the analysis of the theses in question from the analysis of their social conditions of production. (26)

In other words, Latour — and let's note, with one eye on the ambiguous remarks from the book's introduction cited above, the early Latour, the Latour of Laboratory Life — is taken as symptomatic of a historical moment. His popularity is inseparable, in Bourdieu's analysis, from trends in postmodern philosophy of the 70s and 80s (a short excursus mentions Derrida and Foucault) and their miraculous success on American and British campuses. And Bourdieu's critique — or rather, refusal to critique — of his theory is tied to his (Bourdieu's) principled disapproval of "socio-philosophy," of the liminal, interdisciplinary space that Latour occupies. (In this respect, it's very close to Bourdieu's charges against Derrida in the postscript to Distinction.)

Bourdieu later refers to "the sociology of science occupies a very special position in sociology, on the ill-defined border between sociology and philosophy, so that it is possible there to avoid a real break with philosophy and with all the social profits associated with being able to call oneself a philosopher in certain markets … Socially constituted dispositions towards audacity and facile radicalism which, in scientific fields more capable of imposing their controls and censorship, would have had to be tempered and sublimated, have found there a terrain on which they can express themselves without any mask or constraint" (31). This all points back to Bourdieu's complicated personal history with the discipline of philosophy (summarized in the 1985 interview "'Fieldwork in Philosophy'") more than it does forward to Latour and science studies, although it's undeniable that, from the strict disciplinary perspective Bourdieu ostensibly espouses, Latour is guilty of playing the philosopher to sociologists and the sociologist to philosophers.

None of it, however amounts to an actual critique of Latour, or science studies, or really anything (except maybe interdisciplinarity as an academic phenomenon). I would like to ascribe it to the pedagogical imperatives of the lecture format, or the fact that this text was composed quite late in a heroically busy working life, but in "A well-kept open secret" Bourdieu is mostly content to summarize and describe Latour's work and then sit back with an air of satisfaction, as if the enterprise were so patently absurd he doesn't even need to poke holes in it. If there is a charge, it's of semiotic bias, or "textism," based on the fact that (again, in early work like Laboratory Life and The Pasteurization of France ) Latour reduces all scientific practice and phenomena to inscriptions and texts: "The semiological vision of the world which induces them to emphasize the traces and signs leads them to that paradigmatic form of the scholastic bias, textism, which constitutes social reality as text … Science is then just a discourse or a fiction among others, but one capable of exerting a 'truth effect' produced, like all other literary effects, through textual characteristics such as the tense of verbs, the structure of utterances, modalities, etc." (28). This is not a particularly sophisticated accusation: it sounds, indeed, like nothing so much as the angry voices of reactionary anti-deconstructionists circa the early 1970s. (A little more constructively, Bourdieu also takes Latour to task for neglecting prosopography, a useful word I had to look up: it means the collective biography of historical groups or populations.) Again, Bourdieu performs a sort of drive-by execution of The Pasteurization of France, accusing it, like Knorr-Cetina's work, of advancing "a naively Machiavellian view of scientists' strategies" (28) — very odd, since it seems to me that the portrait of Pasteur in that book comes closer to glorifying him as a selfless savoir of mankind than demonizing him as a Machiavellian schemer. And, again opening up his own Pandora's box of déjà vu, Bourdieu claims that "Latour treats Pasteur as a kind of semiological entity who acts historically, and who acts as any capitalist would act" (29) — what, meaning he's motivated by a quest for acquisition of symbolic capital? Sound like anyone (or everyone) else we know?

The last shot fired across Bourdieu's bow is the weakest and least directed. Again it amounts to little more than a brisk summary — this time of "Where are the Missing Masses?" — followed by an incredulous sneer. This was particularly disappointing for me, because I really think a good-faith Bourdieuvian critique of Latour's proposal to treat nonhuman objects sociologically would be valuable, and would perhaps help supply a lot of what many critical sociologists (Fuller, for example) consider a missing normative dimension in ANT. But Bourdieu reads the essay only as an empty gesture of audacity ("He proposes to do nothing less than challenge the distinction between human agents (or forces) and non-human agents"; "the most astonishing example is that of the door and the automatic door closer…", 29 — sacre bleu!), a fake radicalism designed only to capture the academic public's attention: Latour is only, as Bourdieu puts it a little earlier, "playing on words or letting words play … mov[ing] to apparently radical propositions (calculated to make big waves, especially on American campuses dominated by the logical-positivist vision)" (26). "Radical propositions … calculated to make big waves" — isn't Bourdieu reducing Latour the same way he claims Latour reduced Pasteur? And where is the scholarly "principle of charity" that Bourdieu elsewhere invokes so piously?

Anyway, it's quite true that Latour is trying to get our attention — and why not? What remains of Bourdieu's objection to science studies if we give up the strict academic corporatism (a place for every discipline and every discipline in its place) that underpins it? Ultimately Bourdieu's remarks on science studies reflect his distrust of Latour's publicity much more than they do a real opposition to his theory. I think this is truly unfortunate, and might well have changed had Science of Science and Reflexivity not been one of its author's last works. (Bourdieu was sometimes slow to engage with intellectual trends, and quick to attack or explain them away, that later had significant impact on his thought: I believe this to be the case with feminism and psychoanalysis, for instance.) As it stands, the text of "A well-kept open secret" amounts to a decent preliminary introduction to the (early) work of science studies for those oriented toward critical sociology, but little more — certainly not a serious critique.

So I'm not even sure why Bourdieu feels he has to apologize for it, as he oddly — and again, very uncharacteristically — does in a final parenthetical postscript:

I cannot help feeling some unease at what I have just done. On the one hand, I would not want to give this work [i.e. Latour's, not sociology of science as a whole] the importance it gives itself and even risk helping to give it value by pushing the critical analysis beyond what this kind of text deserves … But, on the other hand, I have in mind a very fine article by Jane Tompkins (1988), who describes the logic of "righteous wrath," the "sentiment of supreme righteousness" of the hero of a Western who, having been "unduly victimized," may be led to "do the villains things which a short while ago only the villains did"… (30)
This meditation would be a bit more convincing if Bourdieu had just subjected Latour to a devastating critique (which of course he is capable of: I want to emphasize, for the benefit of anybody who might be reading this who's not familiar with the rest of Bourdieu's work, that this lecture is him in diminished form — he's really much more interesting and intelligent a critic when he's on top of his game, and the general Latourian/Harmanian animus against critique shouldn't lead us to forget the value of truly incisive, stringent critique). As I hope I've made clear above, Bourdieu barely touches the substance of Latour's arguments: he takes them either to be depressingly familiar (just more postmodern "textism"/deconstruction) or patently absurd (door closers! come on!). But the "unease" Bourdieu describes here gets a little more interesting as it goes on:

…And Jane Tompkins points out that this legitimate fury may lead one to feel justified in attacking not only the faults and failings of a text but the most personal properties of the person. Nor will I conceal the fact that behind the "discourse of importance" (an essential part of which is devoted to asserting the importance of the discourse — I'm referring to the analysis I made of the rhetoric of Althusser and Balibar …), its incantatory and self-legimitating formulae (one is "radical," "counterintuitive," "new"), its peremptory tone (designed to overwhelm), I was pointing to the dispositions statistically associated with a particular social origin (it is certain that dispositions toward arrogance, bluff, even imposture, the quest for the effect of radicality, etc., are not equally distributed among researchers depending on their social origin, their sex, or more precisely their sex and their social origin). (31)

Again, this is odd because Bourdieu has not attacked any of Latour's (or anyone else's) "personal properties"; he is exculpating himself from a crime he doesn't seem to have actually committed. But he quite slyly manages to commit it, at least by imputation, here: he's saying that Latour's social origin is the key explanatory factor for the development of his sociological theory, the way to account for its otherwise inexplicable "arrogance," "imposture," "radicality" and overall sense of "importance." (The citation of the article on Althusser — which I haven't read — is also interesting, as in a certain sense Bourdieu himself stands to Althusser as Latour does to Bourdieu.) This line of thinking is, of course, totally consistent with Bourdieu's own standards of what constitutes a good sociological explanation: one must always take into account the class position and disposition of agents in a given field, of course — he's been saying this tirelessly since Distinction. And while his offhand and oblique references to Latour's heritage don't amount to a full-fledged sociological analysis, of course (any more than his "sketch for a self-analysis," included at the end of the book and later published in expanded form as a volume in its own right), it does at least suggest what might emerge from a Bourdieuvian perspective on the propositions of actor-network theory, one that might, by doing more than simply dismissing and denouncing, actually constitute a real critique. Could there, for instance, be a sort of "social capital" of objects? Mightn't objects too be said to have a variety of "social origins" — some are artisanally crafted rather than mass-produced, say, or extensively safety-tested rather than rushed on to the market — which endow them with properties that function as a kind of habitus, a predetermined power to act, while the various markets in which they circulate and human uses to which they are put could be likened to fields? This is only the vaguest of gestures towards reconciling Bourdieu's conceptual vocabulary with Latour's, but my point is I think it absolutely could be done, with potentially amazing results: and it would happen only when one side or another began to really critique, rather than criticize, the other.