Religion in Secular Modernity: Part 2 of 2

In the last post, we looked at one of the two ‘procedures’ by which the [DC:REL] crossing is actualised in the contemporary public space. What we’re doing here, then, is something like the following:

  • First of all, we’re acknowledging that the religious sensibility of the world around us—our world, the world of secular modernity, whatever our personal faith position might or might not be—is normatively subject to the grubby fingerprints of Modernity;
  • Next, we’re trying to understand how that operates in practice—to use the technical nomenclature of AIME, we’ve already seen that it functions via the [DC:REL] crossing;
  • Finally, and ideally, we’re then preparing ourselves for a moment in the future (or is it now?) when we will be able to dis-amalgamate this confusion in order to access the rationality of religion as it really is, the beatific vision of [REL] itself in all its glory.

The first procedure, as we mentioned before, was rationalization. The second, it turns out, is … ‘derationalization’.[1]

But hang on a minute: ‘derationalization’ sounds rather more promising: could this be in fact the promised land, the beginnings of a deconstruction of the false rationality that Modernity has sought to impose upon religion, a vista onto [REL] itself?

Alas no. Although (as their names suggest) these procedures move in different directions, they are in fact complementary expressions of the ‘category mistakes’ imposed upon religion by Modernity. They’re both crimes of [DC:REL].

So what on earth is this second procedure, then? Derationalization takes over wherever the informational trail described before, the one that characterises rationalization, begins to break down. Latour suggests that this is bound to happen sooner or later, for wherever rationalization has been attempted by the Moderns it has carried in its wake the niggling awareness that ‘in striving to make [religion] clearer, more reasonable, more ductile, more logical, it has only heaped up the false problems; [it has] multiplied the artefacts, without quite taking the paths of reference through to their conclusion, even so’ (Latour, Rejoicing, 2013 [2001], p.95; all page references to that book in what follows, unless otherwise stated). Where this break-down occurs, however, we don’t yet find [REL]. What we find instead is a substitute procedure in which [DC] intervenes in a new way. Here, then, is the phenomenon that we might call derationalization.

With this procedure, the Moderns sweep away with an Aegean gesture the rationalizations they had so carefully constructed before, disavow the idea that there can be any rational link between the original utterance and its meaningfulness in the present, and restrict religion instead to the realms of either the ‘inner soul’ or the ‘supernatural’. As Latour puts it, ‘suddenly, in mid course, faced with the scepticism provoked by all these whoppers in reasoners whose inclinations we’ve played to, we change our tune once more and admit that we’re dealing here with mysteries too deep for human understanding’ (Latour, Will Nonhumans be Saved?, 2009, p.470). Where the [DC] rationalization procedure entailed addition, the [DC] derationalization procedure entails by contrast elimination.

At first glance it might seem strange for Latour to describe religion’s appeal to the ‘inner soul’ or to the ‘supernatural’ as functions of [DC:REL]. After all, he has already defined [DC] operations as those which, aping the (putative) referential correspondence achieved by Science with a world-out-there, provide access to information. Surely these two realms, the ‘inner soul’ and the ‘supernatural’, are epistemological zones that have the most tenuous or problematic connections with the idea of referential informational correspondence?

But Latour does indeed make this connection. And once again this can be attributed to his subtle diagnostic apparatus. For whether the trajectory is towards interior quietism (where the veridiction of religion is located in a realm ‘within’) or towards metaphysical dogmatism (where the veridiction of religion is located in ‘another world beyond this one’, Rejoicing, p.30), access to religion’s regime of truth is asserted apart from the logistical operations that render such access possible, that is, apart from [NET:PRE]. Both cases ‘proceed as though religion were something like a ladder that allows access—but it is a ladder without rungs or rails’ (Latour, An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence, 2013, p.320). As a result, both derationalization procedures resort to [DC] operations.

Of course, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of a ‘pious’ intention behind these procedures: faced with the apparently reduced space for religion in the public space granted by secular modernity, it is easy to appreciate how it would have been deemed more rational to pursue retrenchment in realms that are supposedly secure from amalgamation or usurpation by the institutions of Modernity, in particular by the institution of Science. Indeed, Latour has frequently attempted a characterization of the so-called science versus religion debate as the amalgamation of two different mode-specific logistical operations, taking place at the crossing [REF:REL], from which religion itself has come off the worst, receding wherever the magisterial demarcations of science intrude. His diagnosis here follows Whitehead, who attributed the historical ‘decay’ of Christianity in the Western world to its confused and futile attempt to appropriate the ‘dialectical acuteness’ of science (Whitehead, Religion in the Making, 1926, p.129).

whitehead
However, Religion’s resort to the realm of the ‘inner soul’ or the ‘supernatural’ should not be taken as implying that it has secured for itself a safe epistemological zone that can be considered to be non-overlapping with science and self-coincident with theology’s descriptive competences. Rather, for Latour, these movements equate to a Religion that has squandered its regime of truth entirely. Hence his description of them as ‘de-rationalization’ procedures.

[1]  I should acknowledge here that these two terms aren’t quite synchronous with the terms that Latour himself uses in Rejoicing, where the argument is more subtle, breaking down into categories such as ‘symbolization’ and ‘mythologization’. I think, however, these two will do for now, for simplicity’s sake. Goodness knows we should grab at that life-raft wherever it is to be found.

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Religion in Secular Modernity: Part 1 of 2

We’re still on our journey through Latour’s differential diagnosis of the Religion of secular modernity, or ‘the Religion of the Moderns’ as I call it (we’ve not yet got to what he thinks the proper rationality of religious discourse actually is). We’ve seen that the Religion of the Moderns takes place at the [DC:REL] crossing. In this post, I’d like to explore one of the ‘procedures’ in which this crossing is actualised in the contemporary public space. Or, to put it another way, how does Religion actually operate in the world around us? (there are in fact two ‘procedures’: the second will follow in the next post).

The first procedure, I’m going to call ‘rationalization’. Radically redefined within the nomenclature of AIME, rationalization must be understood as the procedure by which Religion, in attempting to make sense of an original event or ‘utterance’ from its own tradition, charts a referential informational path from past to present. Hello again our old friend [DC]! The purpose of rationalization is not to explain away the original utterance (as might be implied by the pejorative connotations of the phrase ‘to be rationalized away’ in contemporary English usage), but rather to connect the original utterance to its meaningful reception in present by means of the apparently secure ‘handrail’ or ‘support’ provided by [DC]. We might say that rationalization is a well-meaning gesture offered by (so-called) ‘friends’ of religion. But with friends like these ….

So what is the damage that rationalization is causing to religion – even if it is being committed unwittingly? Latour is clear: the ‘rationalization’ of religion introduces a logic of direct causation between an original utterance and its meaning in the present. The point will not be difficult to predict for those of us who are familiar with Latour’s work in general. That logic might be appropriate for [REF], one of the other modes, but certainly not for [REL].

(In fact, this gives us an intimation of one of the key themes that we will need to address when it comes to [REL] – if the rationality of religious discourse does not come through a logic of direct causation between an original utterance and its meaning in the present, then what does it come through? The answer is: it comes through a twisting, a morphology, a creative re-appropriation of the old into the new. Latour calls this ‘reprise’. Hence the title of this blog: ‘reprising the political theology of Bruno Latour’).

Latour provides a number of examples of rationalization in Rejoicing, or the Torments of Religious Speech (in my opinion, his most important book, and one that we will frequently have recourse to on this blog).

rejoicing

A representative and at first glance somewhat whimsical example is given by biblical Flood narrative. Latour parodies the Modern exegete for applying an informational framework to this story (and others like it), addressing it with questions such as ‘how big was the ark?’, ‘what kind of wood was it made of’, ‘how many animals?’, and so on (p.88, all references that follow to the English edition of Rejoicing). This would be to practise the strange science of diluvial geology. The text itself, of course, cannot sustain this framework of address and therefore collapses into irrationality.

It is important to register the tone of Latour’s parody here: contrary to what it might seem, the motivation of the Modern exegete in employing this [DC] operation is not to undermine the text’s credibility but, rather, to understand it, that is, to render its meaning present-to-himself. The spirit of rationalization is ultimately hermeneutical. But in employing a [DC] operation in order to do so, the rationalizing exegete ends up generating (what Latour calls) a category mistake in his/ her appropriation of the religious value incarnated in that text.

The resurrection accounts of the canonical Gospels furnish Latour with a second example. Here, the rationalization procedure is more complex because it pertains not only to the practice of the Modern exegete him or herself, but also to the various exegetes located in situ to the story itself. For Latour, the resurrection account begins with a simple proclamation: ‘he is risen’ (p.90). However, faced with the apparent absurdity of this claim, [DC] rationalization begins to intrude, attempting to construct an informational chain linking the original utterance by means of ‘connecting passages’ such that it can be rendered meaningful in the present. In this case, the informational chain stretches back to the spatio-temporal framework of the narrative itself, including the actors reported as performing within it. Thus, to the angel’s original message (‘he is risen’) is added the detail of the empty tomb; to the empty tomb is added the detail of the shroud on the floor; to the shroud on the floor is added the detail of the apostle’s public witness, and so on, each addition providing a posterior ‘layer’ of rationalization smoothing over the interruptive hiatus that came before. From there the procedure advances through the history of its reader reception right up to our own time where (just as was observed in the first example) the contemporary Modern exegete will see fit to add his/ her own rationalizations to the rest. This sets in motion a chain that has its own longitudinal forward momentum: Latour describes this as the ‘pruritus of rationalization’ (p.90), as if it were an itch that continually needs to be scratched by successive readers of the original utterance. And as this rationalization procedure advances a logic is retro-imposed upon the original utterance, such that what came first (the original utterance) is credited as being straightforwardly the ‘cause’ of what follows, in the same way as Nature is credited as being straightforwardly the ‘cause’ of matters of fact under the aegis of the Modern constitution.

The rationalization procedure applies [DC] logic at the [DC:REL] crossing. Thus, for Latour, it provides nothing but a bastardised, purified and ‘stage-managed’ (p.90) version of the associative logistics by which Religious veridiction actually functions. This is the recursive offence of any and every natural theology whose definition of ‘nature/ natural’ has not first been purged of its [DC] assumptions (this was precisely the theme of Latour’s 2013 Gifford Lectures by means of his penetrating study of Hume’s Dialogues).

However, the subtlety of Latour’s differential diagnosis is once again revealed at this point. Although they are counter-productive, ultimately obscuring its regime of truth, rationalization procedures are not generated by a motivation on the part of the Moderns to overcome, subsume or destroy religion (that is, to blast it out of the sky like the Death Star did to Alderaan). The methodology initiated by the Inquiry would suggest this to be a highly reductive, even primitive, understanding of the reception of religion within secular modernity. By contrast, rationalization procedures are (as the name suggests) attempts on behalf of the Moderns to render religion into a more, not a less, rational experience. Their aim is to restore a resonance to religion that is correctly identified as having been lost; thus, their intention can even be said to be ‘pious’ (p.90).

This subtle observation paves the way for the inversion of the Religion of the Moderns that is to be enacted in [REL]: although its specification has not yet been elaborated per se, it can now be seen that [REL] will take the form of a clarification of the rational basis of an original utterance, in contradistinction to the rationalization procedure that had previously been applied to it, in the form of an overlay, by the Religion of the Moderns:

If we need to attack such rationalization, this is not at all because it involves reason in domains where it has no business of being, but more because it claims to reserve the use of reason for conveying information alone (Latour, Rejoicing, 2013 [2001], p.88).

Second procedure to follow very soon!

Where do we even Start? [DC:REL] and the Hijacking of Religion

My intentions on this blog are to exegete, clarify and test the political theology of Bruno Latour. The positive, logistical formulation of religion as a mode of existence, [REL], must therefore be constantly in view. The point will be to present [REL] —and then, having done so, to put it through the grinder of empirical experience (hopefully with your help) to see whether the new housing Latour proposes for it better reflects the value that needs instituting (‘experience’, ‘value’, ‘instituted’ – these are all terms that will need nudging into a slightly altered lexical position as time goes by).

So that’s the constructive task that lies ahead. And yet, one of the strengths of Latour’s work on religion is that first of all it resources us for (to employ a medical term) a ‘differential’ diagnostic of the situation of contemporary religion. And so, before moving on to [REL] per se, I think it’s worth thinking further about what religion is when it is ‘instituted’ by the Moderns. What have they done to it? Where have they gone wrong? The next few posts will be on this theme.

For Latour, contemporary religious sensibility has been hijacked by the epistemological regime he calls [DC]. The contemporary situation of the religion of the Moderns, then, exists in the following amalgamated form: [DC:REL].

In the Inquiry, [DC] refers metonymically to the ‘double-click’ operation of a mouse button by which the user of a computer is able to generate immediate access to a unit of data. The connotations of this operation within the context of Inquiry are entirely negative: it signifies the promise of access to information without cost, without mediation and without transformation, ‘through simple obvious likeness between the copy and the original’ (Latour, Reassembling the Social, 2005, p.22).[1] As Latour puts it, [DC] ‘wants us to believe that it is feasible to transport, without any deformation whatsoever, some accurate information about states of affairs which are not presently here’ (Latour, ‘Thou Shalt Not Freeze-Frame‘, 2005, p.32). [DC] therefore describes an epistemological operation that bypasses [NET:PRE] associativity, and therefore ontological pluralism, entirely.

The point here is that Latour simply will not concede that such an operation exists. For him, rationality only arises through logistical operations that partake of the [NET:PRE] crossing. And so the claim made by [DC] to provide absolute referential informational correspondence with reality is nothing but a chimera.

Although [DC] is indeed a chimera, it nevertheless represents the default epistemological operation of those living under the aegis of the Modern constitution. At its most basic level, it is encoded in ordinary language: ‘it is what people have in mind when they ask ‘is this true?’ or ‘does this correspond to a state of affairs?’’ (Latour, ‘Thou Shalt Not Freeze-Frame‘, 2005, p.32). At a more sophisticated level, it is encoded in the privileged status granted to the institution of Science, understood as that which provides direct access to a world-out-there without the intervention or mediation of component agencies.

And yet, although the assumption of referential informational correspondence is rarely questioned—indeed, it is usually taken as commonsensical—Latour demonstrates how this assumption in fact conceals the complex logistical operation of actor-networks. This is true in the practice of science, whose regime of truth is not secured via referential informational correspondence, but rather by the maintenance of ‘chains of reference’ that have been carefully constructed in laboratory or metrological environments, [REF]. But it is also true for all other regimes of truth. Thus he writes: ‘if you make the absence of any mediation, leap, or hiatus the one and only test of truth, then everyone, scientists, engineers, priests, sages, artists, businessmen, cooks, not to mention politicians, judges, or moralists, you all become manipulators and cheaters, because your hands are dirtied by the operations you have carried out to maintain in working order the networks that give direction to your practices’ (Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, 2013, p.94). Within the technical infrastructure of the Inquiry, [DC] therefore represents a kind of ‘quasi-mode’ which Latour sometimes calls the ‘Cartesian evil genius’ on account of the way in which it attempts to short-circuit [NET:PRE] associativity and override all the other modes of existence in a hegemonic fashion.

When [DC] operations are applied to religion the [DC:REL] crossing ensues: this is the locus of the Religion of the Moderns. [DC:REL] can therefore be defined as the process by which [DC] operations hijack religion in order to perpetuate the illusion that religious experience can be attained by referential informational correspondence. In doing so, religion finds itself divorced from its own logistics and confused in its veridiction. Latour describes the outcome of this amalgamation by the word ‘belief’, a word which he wrenches from its positive connotations of ‘faith’ and employs instead to describe a pernicious form of fideism, that is, ‘a demand for access that has been stripped of its practical means of acceding to anything at all’ (Latour, Reassembling the Social, 2005, p.29). Whatever the function of religion is, then, it will not have anything to do with ‘belief’: in fact, ‘belief’ is taken as the polar opposite to [REL].

We’ll need to come on to what [REL] is then, if it is not ‘belief’. But the next post will continue this diagnosis of the Religion of the Moderns by way of preliminary.

[1] It should be noted that Latour has recently suggested that this metaphor is inadequate. This is because the double-click access provided by a computer in fact requires a large number of mediations to be functioning ‘below the bonnet’ in order to achieve the apparent effect of immediate access to information, not least of which is the physical capacity of large server facilities stored underground and away from our sight. In a strange, Anthropocenic twist, these facilities are themselves coming under scrutiny for their huge use of water for cooling. There is no [DC] without huge and hybrid relations of human and nonhuman, it seems!

google

Are you Saying Something to us, Earth? Translation of Latour’s Piece on ‘Laudato Si’

Stephen Muecke, an experienced translator of the work of Bruno Latour, has done us a useful service with his translation of Latour’s recent opinion piece on the papal encyclical, Laudato Si.

Latour wrote this in French a couple of months ago under the title La grande clameur relayée par le Pape François. It’s a short article and worth a read: in fact, it corresponds to analysis in chapter 8 of Face à Gaïa (2015) on the role and function of this encyclical in the political theology Latour believes is necessary (and indeed inevitable) in the age of the Anthropocene.

I will post some thoughts on the encyclical, and Latour’s use of it, soon: my own feeling is that it does not quite render the service that Latour believes it has. I’m going to withhold that post for now, however, as I’m attending a study-day in Oxford on Saturday where the encyclical will be discussed amongst theologians: I hope that input will enrich my own reflections.

The encyclical itself is well worth an hour of your time.

pope

The Crossed-Out God of Modernity

If you were to ask the ‘man-on-the-street’ for his or her sound-bite understanding of the religious thought of Bruno Latour (Lord, have mercy!), there’s a chance that you’d hear (if nothing else) the phrase ‘the crossed-out God’.

It’s important to understand that this is a description not of the God of [REL], but of the god of the Moderns.

As we know from We Have Never Been Modern, the Modern constitution functions by means of the purification of a properly pluralist ontology into the artificial and non-representative epistemological categories of Nature/ Society. By means of this purification, the Moderns accrue to themselves power vis-à-vis other collectives in the world: this power is rendered by the way they can now leverage the forces of both transcendence and immanence in one and the same movement, even though this movement is in fact mutually and internally contradictory. This subterfuge back-and-forth movement allows the Moderns to evade [NET:PRE] by claiming sometimes that agency is curtailed by forces outside their control (the transcendent lock), whilst at other times that it is generated by their own meaning-making activity (the immanent lock). Latour’s particular contribution, of course, which is in accord with his Nietzschean/ Deleuzian inheritance of ‘epistemologies of force(s)’, is to diagnose this as a ‘political’ tool in the hands of the Moderns: by restricting rational definition to one or other of these locks, the Moderns are simultaneously able to denounce other (entirely legitimate) collective arrangements by which a regime of truth might be conceived to arise. (This denunciation might target human collectives, for which cf. On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods, or nonhuman collectives, for which cf. Politics of Nature – it really is an all-encompassing power).

To complete the picture, however, another lock must be added. This is provided by the Moderns’ concept of ‘god’. It is no surprise to discover that the divinity of the Moderns is subject to exactly the same manhandling between the poles of transcendence and immanence: sometimes the Moderns situate (H)im according to the transcendent lock, thus vouchsafing their own privileged access to a regime of truth which they claim is guaranteed by (H)is transcendence; at other times they situate (h)im according to the immanent lock, thus preserving their own role as masters and determiners of a regime of truth which they claim is always the result of their own agency and nothing more. The result is a ‘God’ who serves as nothing but a functionary of the Modern constitution, available to the Moderns at any moment of their choosing as a resource to protect their own situation:

His transcendence distanced Him infinitely, so that He disturbed neither the free play of nature nor that of society, but the right was nevertheless reserved to appeal to that transcendence in case of conflict between the laws of Nature and those of Society. (Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, 1993 [1991], p.33)

Just like the first two locks, this quasi-divinity provides a means by which the Moderns can denounce regimes of truth claimed by other collectives. (I’ve simplified the system of ‘locks’ a little bit here).

Latour describes this divinity of the Moderns by means of the intriguing phrase: ‘the crossed-out God, relegated to the side-lines’. Strangely enough, although he advances this description prominently in We Have Never Been Modern (cf. pp.32–35, 39, 127–128, 138–139, 142), which is an early text dating from 1991, it hardly recurs in his subsequent corpus. Notwithstanding, the concept is highly germane to an understanding of Latour’s positive formulation of [REL] that is to follow.

Three observations about ‘the crossed-out God, relegated to the side-lines’ will be ventured here.

First, H/he is a function of the severely truncated epistemology through which the Moderns institute their own religious experience. Situated away from the logistics of [NET:PRE], the crossed-out God cannot be encountered as an entity within the common world. This being the case, whatever the piety of the Moderns (and Latour thinks they really are pious, whatever it might seem), there are quite literally no means by which a truth-claim might be made about this divinity: H/he has been denied the right to exert agency by means of an actor-network and therefore H/he cannot be conceived as an object of veridiction. The divinity of the Moderns, and the huge industry of critique that has followed in H/his wake, is chimerical. And so in making this diagnosis, Latour brilliantly bypasses vast swathes of rationalistic critique of religion. The divinity critiqued by all that has quite literally deconstructed itself. In fact, we might say the majority religion of secular modernity – the Religion of the Moderns, we might say – is characterised by a religious sensibility that has been thwarted by its own religious epistemology:

Moderns [are those who are engaged in] on the one hand a search for a substance and a God not made by human hands, a search they have made the origin of all virtue; and, on the other hand, a practice that obliges them not to take that project into account. (Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, 2013, p.275)

By contrast, Latour’s intellectual project requires experience to be open to encounter with a dramatically expanded range of agencies operating outside the locks applied by the Modern constitution. ‘All [entities] ask to exist’, Latour writes, ‘and none is caught in the choice—viewed (by Moderns) as a matter of good sense—between construction and reality’ (On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods, p.56). Religious experience is no exception: the specification of divine being to be provided by [REL], whatever this may turn out to be (remember, we haven’t got to that yet), must be justified by the performance of that entity in the common world. The God of [REL] (whose being, to repeat, has not yet been justified) will therefore be open to rational consideration in a way that was foreclosed under the aegis of the Modern constitution.

The second observation concerns the terminology itself: I wonder (and I’d very much like to hear opinions on this if possible) if the very phrase ‘the crossed-out God, relegated to the side-lines’ is subtly constructed by Latour in such a way as to undermine itself, thereby pointing forward ultimately to its own negation, the very negation that he thinks has already taken place via its espousal by the Moderns. Unfortunately this subtlety has been somewhat obscured by the standard English translation. The French that lies behind the phrase ‘the crossed-out God, relegated to the side-lines’ is ‘le Dieu barré, hors jeu’. The second part of this phrase (hors jeu) is alluding to the notion of ‘being called offside’ in sporting competition. With this new translation, a crucial nuance to the Religion of the Moderns comes into view: although its divinity is indeed ‘offside’, that is, outside the play of logistics determined by [NET:PRE], this is only because of a law that has been imposed upon the game by the Moderns themselves and which, in theory at least, could be retracted in an alternative epistemological regime. What would result, were this alternative regime somehow to be realised (enter: AIME), would be a God who is brought back onside, in such a way that His impact within the common world could be detected. The capital letters ‘G’ and ‘H’ in that previous sentence would be re-instated as markers of divine being, rather than as markers of the false transcendences imposed by Modernity (just as the capitals are used in ‘Nature’, ‘Society’, ‘Economy’, etc).

If my footballing analogy holds, then, the formula le Dieu barré, hors jeu can be taken as encoding (in a hidden, but nascent, way – like a potential tectonic force) a shift from the logic of Modernity to the logistical operations of ontological pluralism. This is precisely the movement that will be tracked by the regime of truth given by [REL].

football

Briefly, a third and final observation. In We Have Never Been Modern, a connection is proposed between the concept of le Dieu barré, hors jeu and a particular heritage in Christian theology: Latour suggests that it was in fact ‘a reinterpretation of ancient Christian theological themes [that] made it possible to bring God’s transcendence and his immanence into play simultaneously’ (We Have Never Been Modern, p.33). This hint, although it is hardly developed further in that text, points forward to something that will need to be carefully considered, namely, what is the relationship of this bastardised religious expression, both in order and priority, with Christian theology? This is a question that is imposing itself with increasing intensity in Latour’s recent work and that embodies a creative tension upon his understanding of religion as a mode of existence [REL]. it will surely have to be the subject of a great deal of our attention in what is to come …

Love as the Empirical Site of Religion: Bruno Latour and Alain Badiou

In drawing on the lexicon of amatory speech as empirical site for [REL], Bruno Latour seems to be inserting himself into a particular context of twentieth-century French thought that might be characterised as reflecting on the philosophical implications of love whilst at the same time engaging in a subterranean conversation with the theological (Christian) tradition that has appropriated it from Augustine onwards.[1] One important (albeit non-avowed) interlocutor in this regard is Alain Badiou.

Both Badiou and Latour begin with an empirical description of love before ‘shifting up’ to a new plane of philosophical institution. The basic dynamic of that shifting up is as follows: the empirical description serves as an ethnographic or anthropological enquête sur terrain that is capable (when gently tapped by the philosopher’s hammer) of yielding the universal value that is properly housed in the institution. However, they shift up in different ways. A brief comparison of these two might therefore provide a useful context for drawing out what is particular to Latour’s concept of [REL].

To begin, then, what is Badiou’s understanding of the phenomenon of ‘love’ itself? In his wonderful little dialogue, In Praise of Love (2012), Badiou argues that the contemporary situation of love is characterised by existential conservatism (the reluctance to enter into a love relationship until it is ‘safe’ to do so) and regulated pleasure (the withdrawal of the commitment of the whole self from a love relationship once it has begun for fear of damage or rejection).[2]

Badiou

Contra this pernicious drift, Badiou argues that contemporary love must be re-invented. He seeks to do this by positing love as a fundamental truth procedure furnishing a universal ground by which (sexual) difference—what it means to be two and not one—can be thought:

I mean truth in relation to something quite precise: what kind of world does one see when one experiences it from the point of view of two and not one? What is the world like when it is experienced, developed and lived from the point of view of difference and not identity? (Badiou, In Praise of Love, 2012 [2009], p.22)

For Badiou, then, before the encounter that inaugurates the amorous procedure, there would be nothing in the world but ‘monads’ or ‘ones’, each enclosed in its own narcissistic sphere. A declaration of love is a declaration that such solipsistic or narcissistic experience has been irruptively fractured. The unity that results, however, is not wholly or reductively fusional: Badiou describes it as a ‘scene of the Two’ that is affirming of two individuals who were and remain discrete (Badiou, Conditions, 2008 [1992], p.181).

There are many connections here with Latour. Both Badiou and Latour envisage love as a sublimatory movement that shifts up from a situation of difference to a situation of unicity and universality. Both stipulate that this movement constitutes a claim to ‘truth’ (‘truth procedure’ in the case of Badiou; ‘regime of truth’ in the case of Latour). However, two key differences are also apparent—these provide a useful entry point by which to consider Latour’s particular approach.

The first concerns the means by which the love relationship is triggered and maintained. For Badiou, this occurs at (what he calls) ‘points’. A point is a particular spatio-temporal moment around which the truth procedure establishes itself and from which it is renewed. The example Badiou offers is that of the birth of a child, which represents a ‘point’ around which the couple (ideally) re-declare their commitment to the original event of their love. For Latour, however, amatory speech shifts up to a regime of truth in a quite different way: for him, a love relationship is not maintained by means of punctuated re-declarations, but rather by means of the creative taking-up of an original event by means of (what he will call) ‘reprise’ (more posts on this most crucial of concepts to follow).

The second difference is a consequence of the first. For Badiou, love can be shifted up to become a truth-procedure. Religion, by contrast, cannot. This is because religion, notwithstanding its rich (Augustinian) appropriation of the lexicon of love vis-à-vis the believer’s participation in divine being, ends up skewing and distorting love as a truth-procedure when it directs it towards the ‘Great Other of transcendence’. Ultimately, for Badiou, religion does not comprehend and cannot handle love because it will inevitably seek to leverage its intensity towards a non-pluralistic end, directing it ‘towards faith and the Church and encouraging this subjective state to accept the sovereignty of God’ (Badiou, In Praise of Love, 2012 [2009], p.66). Badiou calibrates religion instead as a ‘general’ or ‘generic’ conception of truth. Here again is a crucial difference with Latour, for whom amatory speech and religion have a much more organic connection: for him, the empirical situation of amatory speech, when shifted up, provides a very precise calibration of the regime of truth given by [REL]. For Badiou, religion tends towards hegemony: he is wary of it acceding as an overarching and englobing meta-mode. By contrast, for Latour, religion can be justified as a mode of existence with a veridiction that is universal, and yet idiosyncratic to itself.

[1] For a survey of this particularly French tradition cf. Lancelin, Aude, and Lemonnier, Marie, (2008), Les philosophes et l’amour: aimer de Socrate à Simone de Beauvoir (Paris: Plon); for a sample of such works cf. Breton, André (1937); Barthes, Roland (1977); Nancy, Jean-Luc (2010).

[2] It should be noted that Badiou’s description is also in critical dialogue with Lacan’s theorization (Seminar XX: On Feminine Sexuality) of jouissance as lust for some part or trait of the other in order to possess it, thus determined by the phallic function, in relation to which there can only be ‘supplementary desire’ on the part of the woman. In fact, Badiou’s commitment to a rigidly ‘empirical’ definition of the phenomenon is markedly less than that of Latour.

Groan … another new blog on Latour?

No lengthy explanations (or justifications) here. This blog is simply a space for me to record thoughts and comments on the political theology of Bruno Latour, especially as mediated through his concept of ‘religion as a mode of existence’ [REL]. It’s really an overflow from my twitter account @AIMETim, where I’ve been doing the same for about a year now – but which was bursting the bounds of the aphoristic form that is properly required by that medium. To be honest, I’m not sure even how much I’ll commit to this space (especially as I’m currently on paternity leave and so don’t have the time to write much). But let’s see how it goes …

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