The value of remaining

I am worried about the escalation of rhetoric with regard to the British EU referendum.

In my humble opinion, this is very much a function of the discourse of ‘facts’ that has characterised the debate from the beginning. Give me facts, we say, then I can decide. And yes, there’s no doubt that fact-verification sites are available (some of them crowd-sourced, which are particularly useful).

However, as Latour has shown us, for all the good and important clamour for ‘facts’, the issue must be defined in terms of ‘values’. The argument for remaining is not easily quantified, as it is to do with nebulous benefits such as interconnectedness, global security and diplomatic generosity. In my opinion, Remain has allowed itself to be displaced onto the domain of facts alone. Since the facts are highly contested and difficult to determine, as is the case for everything that is future-orientated and therefore contingent, the debate is vulnerable to rhetoric and hegemonic appropriation. I hope Remain will be able to introduce the discourse of values soon, well before 23rd June. ‘What kind of future do we wish to have?’, must be our question. Instead, we have the awful spectacle of calculations that are framed in terms of the self: economic self-interest, political self-interest, geopolitical self-interest, trade self-interest, and so on. I am waiting for some articulation of the issue in terms of ‘non-self-interest’ from my own Christian constituency too: so far, it has done nothing but ape the same rhetoric, alas.

European union is the truly progressive position. For me, a decision to leave implies ‘withdrawal’, ‘protectivism’, ‘provincialism’ and even ‘nationalism’. It would be a return to the European globe, to the Onus Orbis Terrarum, and a denial of all that Sloterdijkian explicitation, world-building, has taught us. It’s no coincidence that Trump is weighing in on the Brexit side; the ideological impetus behind both is contiguous. On the contrary, a decision to remain implies ‘commitment’, ‘interconnectedness’,  and even ‘mutual submission’.

These are the values of [REL], an attempt to care for and nuture conditions in which pluralism can flourish. I am quite alarmed by the way in which the movement towards greater union with others is often demonised as ‘non-representative’, for me this is precisely the wrong way round. This seems of a piece with the strategic direction the CHANNEL and PREVENT strategies are taking, also.

Latour is right in that tweet: Britain must not choose a utopia. Utopias don’t exist.

Matters of fact are a poor proxy of experience and of experimentation and, I would add, a confusing bundle of polemics, of epistemology, of modernist politics that can in no way claim to represent what is requested by a realist attitude.
Latour, ‘Why has critique run out of steam?’, p.244.

Latour and the Religious Justification of Evolutionary Theory

Political theology A shows that rather than being secular, the Modern understanding of ‘the natural world’ is in fact Religious.

This is because the category of Nature subsumes ontological pluralism to transcendence; that is, it accounts for the agonistic interactions of the plural actors (human and nonhuman) themselves by a principle that is external to them, namely, Nature—‘a second level, floating above the first level, that of struggling and thriving organisms’.[1] The category of Nature enacts an ‘operation of scale’ upon these local and immanent interaction-events, shifting them up to a non-local, non-representative space-time, from which an explanation of their behaviour in terms of ‘cause-and-effect’ (in this case, the ‘laws of nature’) is consequently derived. McGee has aptly called this ‘natura ex machina’.[2]

This is the very basis of the Modern self-understanding of the world around them. And indeed, astonishingly, Latour claims that this enacts a bastardisation of the very discipline of biology itself:

Toutes les sciences naturelles […] sont hantées par le spectre de ‘l’organisme’ qui devient toujours, plus ou moins subrepticement, un super-organisme, c’est-à-dire un Dispatcher à qui est attribuée la tâche—ou plutôt le saint mystère—de réussir la coordination entre les parties.

All the natural sciences […] are haunted by the spectre of the ‘organism’ progressively turning, more or less explicitly, into a ‘super-organism’, that is to say, into a Dispatcher, to whom is assigned the task—or rather the sacred mystery—of bringing about the coordination of the parties.[3]

As its designation as a ‘saint mystère’ shows, the form that the Modern understanding of Nature takes is ultimately theomorphic. Nature is understood as both a creative (‘this Life is now written as if it were the agent lording over organisms much like the Spirit floating over the water’)[4] and a providential force,[5] and the allegiance to it that is performed by the Moderns is ‘cultic’.[6]

As an intriguing digression, we might note theomorphism as harrying the work of Darwin himself. Darwinian evolutionary theory, in both macro and micro forms, posits the differential survival and reproduction of individuals according to fitness. And yet this fitness is determined inside an environment (of course, in view here is not just the abiotic environment, but also the environment of the molecular biology of the cell). In trying to understand how organisms adapt to their environment a ‘cause’ is assumed towards which they work, that is, a teleology: ‘vous preniez, en bon darwinien, l’intérêt ou le profit comme la cause finale de chaque organisme en lutte pour sa survie’ (my trans. ‘as a good Darwinian, you end up taking interest or profit as the final cause of every organism that in conflict for its survival’).[7] For Latour, this teleology is Religious in orientation, and Darwin thus becomes prototype for the history of political theology A: ‘derrière la sélection naturelle, la main bienveillante du Créateur se reconnaît chez Darwin aussi bien que chez ses successeurs’ (my trans. ‘behind natural selection, the benevolent hand of the Creator can be identified in Darwin, just as much as in his successors’).[8] This teleological drift has been described by Ospovat.[9] And it is confirmed by the anecdotal detail of Alfred Russell Wallace’s epistolary warning to Darwin that the metaphor of ‘natural selection’ was not ‘best adapted’, since it threatened to connote nature as a forward-looking, intelligent designer that was shaping the evolutionary course of life:[10] Wallace, it seems, was right, given the argument advanced by Janet Browne that Darwin was fond of imagining nature as an ‘all-seeing farmer in the sky’ (her words), a benevolent overseer that selects, scrutinizes and rejects.[11]

crop-538599cc8101c-imgID3636752

References

[1]  Latour, Bruno, (2014), ‘Gaia: God of Totality’, p.13.

[2]  McGee, Kyle, (2014), Bruno Latour: The Normativity of Networks, p.1

[3]  Latour, Bruno, (2015), Face à Gaia, p.104.

[4]  Latour, Bruno, (2014),’Gaia: God of Totality’, p.6.

[5]  Ibid, (2014),’Gaia: God of Totality’, p.11.

[6]  Latour, Bruno, (2015),Face à Gaia, p.288.

[7]  Ibid, (2015), Face à Gaia, p.108.

[8]  Ibid, (2015), Face à Gaia, p.112, fn. 238.

[9]  Ospovat, Dov, (1995), The Development of Darwin’s Theory: Natural History, Natural Theology, and Natural Selection, 1838–1859.

[10]  Letter of Alfred Russell Wallace to Charles Darwin, 2 July 1866, The Darwin Correspondence Project, DCP-LETT-5140, available at darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/dcp-lett-5140 (accessed 10 May, 2016).

[11]  Browne, Janet, (2003), Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Volume 2), p.59.

La religion comme un élément structurel du système philosophique de Latour

Que devons-nous faire de la religion de Bruno Latour?

Il me semble que la question est actuellement particulièrement confuse. En realité, peut-être devrais-je m’exprimer en des termes plus fermes encore: il me semble que cette question est si confuse qu’elle a fini par produire un angle mort dans notre appréciation du système philosophique de Latour comme un tout. C’est cet angle mort que je souhaiterais clarifier dans ce qui suit.

La confusion apparaît lorsque nous approchons cette question par le biais de la religion personnelle de Latour. C’est malheureusement exactement ce que la littérature critique a tendance à faire. Littérature critique qui, en conséquence, diagnostique une contradiction. L’argument peut être présenté comme il suit: (A) dans le système philosophique de Latour, le refus constant des explications non-locales du monde n’est-il pas ce que nous célébrons par-dessus tout? (B) mais, hélas, qu’est-ce donc que nous trouvons dans le chapitre 11 de l’Enquête ?—le dieu transcendant, le plus non-local des acteurs réapparaît soudainement et réclame son introduction au sein d’un monde qui se portait très bien sans lui! Il semble qu’il ne puisse y avoir qu’un seule explication (pense-t-on): la piété catholique résiduelle de Latour a très tardivement refait surface, comme une vieille habitude avec laquelle il ne pourrait rompre. Et c’est ainsi la religion nous revient ‘par la petite porte’ dans son système. En procédant ainsi, peut-être la conscience religieuse de Latour s’en trouve-t-elle apaisée. Mais il le paie au prix fort car cette introduction nuit à la cohésion du tout: si [REL] se fonde sur un engagement axiologique a priori, alors il ne peut se justifier par une méthodologie empirique par ailleurs appliquée à tous les autres modes d’existence. Loin d’être alors terrestre [en anglais: earthbound], c’est au contraire comme si [REL] était parachuté depuis le ciel. Il est pré-orienté, régressif et réactionnaire. Il est celui qui fait bande à part parmi les modes d’existence. Et il menace de contaminer l’ensemble du projet.

C’est ainsi que la critique se présente. Je souhaiterai cependant mettre cela en question dans cette présentation. Pour procéder ainsi, nous devons, un instant, mettre entre parenthèses la question de la religion personnelle de Latour (sur laquelle nous pourrons revenir à la fin). Nous devons plutôt considérer la religion comme un élément structurel du système philosophique de Latour considéré comme un tout. C’est dans cet ordre qu’il convient, selon moi, de procéder.

C’est quoi que je veux dire par là? Commençons par considérer l’expression que Latour a adopté de plus en plus pour décrire son travail, à savoir “la théologie politique”. Nous devons diviser cette expression en ses deux éléments: premièrement, “politique; et deuxièmement, “théologie”

Premièrement, le “politique”. Clarifions ici l’enjeu. Nous ne nous référons pas au mode d’existence [POL], qui renvoie exclusivement à l’organisation de la société humaine. “Politique” est ici compris dans un sens bien plus vaste. Il renvoie à la procédure logistique universelle par laquelle une multitude d’agents, humains et non humains s’interpolent ou s’enchevêtrent en réseaux afin de produire du sens rationnel dans le monde. Je n’ai pas besoin de dire à ce public distingué, quoi que ce soit de plus à ce sujet: “politique” est tout simplement un autre nom pour le fonctionnement de l’agency que Latour identifie dès le début de sa carrière, depuis son premier travail dans le laboratoire de Roger Guillemin, Laboratory Life, etc. Pour utiliser le langage de l’Enquête, ce qui est en jeu, ici, c’est le croisement [RES·PRE]. C’est la manière dont toute chose a une signification dans le monde. Et le point crucial, pour la compréhension de le “politique” par Latour, c’est que c’est complètement immanent, c’est-à-dire qu’il ne doit pas être rapporté à un principe métaphysique qui serait situé en dehors de la sphère de son propre fonctionnement.

Qu’en est-il alors de l’autre élément constitutif de l’expression, en l’occurence: la “théologie”?

Nous avons ici deux possibilités.

Ce rôle pourraît être, d’une part, rempli par la “Religion” (notez la lettre majuscule!). Il s’agit de la “mauvaise” forme de religion, comme Latour l’appelle. C’est une religion qui s’est séparée du croisement [RES·PRE], et qui ne tente pas de vérifier sa rationnalité dans et à travers le monde commun. Elle est en conséquence soutenue par une transcendance. Et, ainsi que Latour le montre pour tous domaines, la transcendance est toujours une fonction du pouvoir. La Religion, comme tout autre chose, est exercée par les Modernes au service de leur propre hégémonie idéologique et culturelle sur les autres peuples (de là, le concept de Dieu barré, hors-jeu, ainsi que nous le trouvons dans Nous n’avons jamais été modernes).

Mais il existe une autre façon d’aborder le problème, par laquelle l’expression “théologie politique” peut alors faire sens. Car, d’autre part, la partie “théologie” de l’expression pourrait être prise en charge non pas par la “Religion”, mais par la “religion en tant que mode d’existence”. De quoi s’agit-il ? Il s’agit d’une forme de religion en accord avec l’immanence. Nous ne disposons pas ici d’assez de temps pour entrer dans les détails. Il me suffit de dire que, puisque le mode [REL] de Latour est une forme de religion qui ne se sépare jamais du croisement [RES·PRE], qu’elle  ne recourt jamais à un principe de transcendance qui ne puisse être justifié dans le monde commun, et qui fonctionne toujours par le moyens de procédures locales.

Permettez-moi de synthétiser tout cela. Nous pouvons désormais observer qu’à l’intérieur du système de Latour, l’expression composite de “théologie politique” fonctionne comme un site contesté selon la manière dont il est constitué.

D’un côté, le “politique” pourrait être associé avec la “Religion” (dans son premier sens). Nous pourrions appelé cela la “théologie politique A”. Cela nous donne une opération d’immanence ( “politique”) associée à une principe de transcendance (la “Religion”). Ce qui est contradictoire. Mais c’est précisément la manière dont la Modernité fonctionne.

De l’autre, le “politique” pourrait être associé avec la “religion” en son second sens, qui est le mode d’existence [REL], que nous pourrions alors appelé la “théologie politique B”. Cela nous donne une opération d’immanence ( “politique”) associée au principe correspondant d’immanence (“[REL]”). Ceci est la non-modernité. C’est ici que Latour souhaite nous conduire. C’est sa prescription positive pour le monde.

Nous pouvons représenter ces combinaisons de façon schématique comme il suit:

Quelle forme d’existence voulons-nous pour nous-mêmes ?

Option 1 Option 2
Politique

(immanence)

Politique

(immanence)

+ +
Religion

(transcendant)

[REL]

(immanent)

Théologie politique A

Théologie politique B

Voyez-vous où je veux en venir? “Si nous n’avons jamais été modernes”, demande Latour, “alors de quelle histoire devons-nous hériter ?” La réponse qu’il fournit est: “la théologie politique B”.

Je voudrais, à partir de cette analyse structurelle de la religion de chez Latour, avancer trois brèves conclusions.

Premièrement, nous avons vu que, pour ce qui concerne Latour, il n’existe pas d’échapatoire quant à la religion comme force structurante dans l’existence. Nous vivons une théologie politique A (nous sommes Modernes) ou nous vivons une théologie politique B (nous sommes non-modernes). Dans tous les cas, il faut compter sur la religion. La seule question qui importe est alors: sur quelle/quelle religion devons nous prendre en compte ? Ou, pour le dire autrement, la théologie politique constitue le moyen par lequel Latour nous dit qu’il n’existe pas de “séculier”. Ceci résonne évidemment avec la situation française contemporaine – celle du débat sur la laïcité, débat auquel Latour a fortement contribué. Mais je voudrais également suggérer que Latour se retrouve lui-même, avec cette argumentation, à la pointe d’une recherche théologique actuellement en vigueur dans le monde anglo-saxon, et particulièrement avec le travail qui est associé au projet d’ “orthodoxie radicale” (en anglais: ‘Radical Orthodoxy’) de John Milbank et Graham Ward, ou encore avec celui de Charles Taylor. De mes discussions personnelles avec Latour, je ne pense pas qu’il en ait lui-même conscience! L’un de mes propres objectifs consiste alors à relier davantage Latour au discours théologique proprement dit. Ce devrait être une connexion des plus fructueuses.

On peut résumer la seconde conclusion en quelques mot. En considérant la religion comme un principe structurant dans le système philosophique de Latour, nous pouvons éviter de supposer que la religion a été tardivement introduite dans son travail. La religion a constitué un argument dominant dès les premières étapes de son aventure intellectuelle. Elle a structuré depuis le début tout son corpus. En réalité, j’ai eu le privilège de lire sa thèse de troisième cycle, intitulée Exégèse et ontologie: une analyse des textes de resurrection. Il s’agit là d’un travail qui préfigure avec une précision remarquable ce à quoi nous sommes confrontés aujourd’hui, en 2016 (Je prépare en ce moment-même un article sur ce travail, à paraître plus tardivement dans l’année; pour autant que je sache, personne d’autre n’a eu encore accès à ce document).

Enfin, et troisièmement, qu’est-ce que cela signifie pour la religion personnelle de Latour elle-même, son orthodoxie ou hétérodoxie, et ainsi de suite ? Il apparaît clairement que [REL] est sur le point de définir un certain nombre de topoi de la théologie chrétienne (“révélation”, “souveraineté divine”, “incarnation”, “eschatologie”, et ainsi de suite). J’ai beaucoup à dire à ce sujet, comme vous pouvez l’imaginer ! Mais cela doit attendre. Pour le moment, j’espère avoir montré qu’il ne s’agit pas – au moins, dans cette phase préliminaire – de la bonne question à sonder. Car si nous commençons par l’hypothèse que la religion est réintroduite par Latour dans son système des modes d’existence en raison de son engagement religieux personnel, nous risquons alors de ne pas la comprendre. Ce faisant, nous risquerions alors de perdre son grand potentiel de description et de critique de la situation de modernité séculière dans laquelle bon nombre soutiennent que nous vivons et prospérons. Il s’agit précisément là de l’angle mort que Latour peut nous aider à surmonter. J’espère que cela peut contribuer à l’avenir aux efforts de ceux d’entre nous qui, à commencer par moi-même, souhaite mettre en pratique sa pensée en de multiples directions ou en expansion continue.

With thanks to the wonderful Christophe Leclerq.

Religion as a structural component of Latour’s system

What are we to do with Bruno Latour’s religion?

It seems to me that the issue is confused at the moment. In fact, perhaps I might express myself in even stronger terms: it seems to me that that the issue is so confused at the moment that it has generated a blind-spot for our appreciation of Latour’s philosophical system as a whole. It is this blind-spot I’d like to attempt to clarify in what follows.

The confusion arises when we approach the issue by way of Latour’s personal religion. Unfortunately, this is precisely what the critical literature has a mind to do. As a consequence, it diagnoses a contradiction. The argument might proceed as follows: (A) what do we most celebrate about Latour’s philosophical system if not its steadfast refusal of non-local explanations of the world?; (B) but, alas, what is this we find in chapter 11 of the Inquiry?—suddenly the transcendent God, that most non-local of actors, is making a re-appearance and demanding inclusion in a world that was doing perfectly well without him! It seems there can only be one explanation (so the argument goes). Very late in the day Latour’s residual Catholic piety has resurfaced, like an old habit that he can’t quite break. And so religion is shoehorned back into his system. In doing so, perhaps Latour’s religious conscience is assuaged. But he pays a heavy price. For its inclusion damages the cohesion of the whole: if [REL] is premised on an a priori axiological commitment, then it cannot be justified by the empirical methodology that is applied to all the other modes of existence. Far from being earthbound, then, it is as if [REL] is airdropped from the sky. It is pre-orientated, regressive and reactionary. It is the odd-man-out amongst the modes of existence. And it threatens to poison the whole project.

So goes the criticism. But it can be addressed. We must bracket for a moment the question of Latour’s personal religion (we can revisit it right at the end). Instead, we must first consider religion as a structural component of Latour’s philosophical system taken as a whole. In my opinion this is the correct order of approach.

What do I mean? Let’s begin by considering the phrase Latour has increasingly adopted to describe his work, namely, ‘political theology’. We must break this phrase into its constituent components: first, ‘political’; second, ‘theology’

First, the ‘political’. Let’s be clear what is in view here: not the mode of existence of [POL], but a broader definition. It refers to the universal logistical procedure by which manifold agents, both human and nonhuman, interpolate upon each other in networks so as to generate rational meaning in the world. ‘Politics’ is quite simply another name for the operation of agency that Latour identified right at the beginning of his career, from his earliest work in Guillemin’s laboratory. To use the language of the Inquiry, what is in view here is [NET:PRE]. It is how everything has meaning in the world. And the crucial point about Latour’s understanding of ‘politics’ is that it is entirely immanent, that is, it must not defer to a metaphysical principle that is located outside the sphere of its own operation.

So what then about the other constituent term in the phrase: ‘theology’?

Here, we have two options. On the one hand, this role might be filled by ‘Religion’ (note the capital letter!). This is the ‘bad’ form of religion, as Latour calls it. The Religion of the Moderns. It is religion that has divorced itself from [NET:PRE] and that makes no attempt to verify its rationality in and through the common world. It is therefore undergirded by transcendence. And, as Latour shows for every domain, transcendence is always a function of power. Religion, like anything else, is wielded by the Moderns in service of their own cultural and ideological hegemony over other people (hence, the concept of le Dieu barré, hors-jeu as we find it in Nous n’avons jamais été modernes).

But there is another way in which the phrase ‘political theology’ can be constituted. For, on the other hand, the ‘theology’ part of ‘political theology’ might be supplied not by ‘Religion’, but by ‘religion as a mode of existence’. What is this? It’s a form of religion that is in harmony with immanence. It’s a form of religion that never divorces itself from [NET:PRE], that never has recourse to a principle of transcendence that cannot be justified in the common world, and that always functions by means of local procedures.

Let’s bring all this together. We can now see that within Latour’s system the composite phrase ‘political theology’ functions as a contested site according to how it is constituted.

On the one hand, ‘politics’ could be matched with ‘Religion’ (in the first sense). We could call this ‘political theology A’. What this gives us is an operation of immanence (‘politics’) coupled with a principle of transcendence (‘Religion’). This is contradictory. But it is precisely how Modernity functions.

On the other hand, ‘politics’ could be matched with ‘religion’ in the second sense, that is [REL]. We could designate this ‘political theology B’. What this gives us is an operation of immanence (‘politics’) coupled with a corresponding principle of immanence (‘REL’). This is nonmodernity. This is where Latour wants to take us. It is his positive prescription for the world.

We can represent these combinations in the following diagrammatic form:

What kind of existence do we want for ourselves ?

Option 1 Option 2
Politics
(immanent)
Politics
(immanent)
+ +
Religion
(transcendent)
[REL]
(immanent)
= =
Political Theology A Political Theology B

‘If we have never been modern’, Latour asks, ‘then what history are we supposed to inherit?’ The answer he provides is ‘political theology B’.

I’d like to draw three brief conclusions from this structural analysis of Latour’s religion, all of which might serve as ‘thought-provokers’ for further discussion.

First, we’ve seen that, as far as Latour is concerned, there is no escaping religion as a structuring force in existence. We either inhabit political theology A (we are Modern) or we inhabit political theology B (we are nonmodern). Either way, religion must be reckoned with. The only question is—what kind of religion will we reckon with? Or, to put it another way, political theology is Latour’s way of saying that there is no ‘secular’. The resonances with the contemporary French situation of laïcité are obvious. Latour has got much to contribute to that debate. But I’d also like to suggest that in making this argument Latour finds himself at the forefront of some of the most cutting-edge theological work in the English-speaking world at the moment, particularly that which is associated with the ‘Radical Orthodoxy’ project of John Milbank and Graham Ward, and also the work of Charles Taylor. From personal discussions I’ve had with him, I don’t think Latour even realises this relevance himself! One of my own aims, then, is to bring Latour into greater connection with theological discourse per se. It will be a fruitful connection.

The second conclusion can be stated more briefly. In understanding religion as a structuring principle of Latour’s entire philosophical system, we can avoid supposing that religion is a late-comer to his work. Religion has been a controlling motif from the earliest states of his intellectual journey, including his 1975 thèse de troisième cycle which is entitled Exégèse et ontologie: une analyse des textes de resurrection. This is a work that prefigures in astonishing detail what we are grappling with now in 2016.

Third and finally, what does this mean for Latour’s personal religion itself, its orthodoxy or heterodoxy, and so on? Clearly, [REL] is going to be recalibrating numerous Christian theological topoi (‘revelation’, ‘divine sovereignty’, ‘incarnation’, ‘eschatology’, and so on). I’ll post more on that! But let it wait for now. At this point, I hope I’ve shown that at least as a preliminary this is not the right question to be probing. For if we start with the assumption that religion is retrofitted by Latour into his system of modes of existence on account of a personal faith commitment on his own part, then we are in danger of misunderstanding it. And to misunderstand it is to risk losing its great potential for describing, and critiquing, the situation of secular modernity that so many of assume we inhabit and flourish in. This is precisely the blind-spot that Latour can help us overcome.

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 3)

Lecture Three: Gaïa, figure (enfin profane) de la nature

Remember, these are just some notes on the book. They are provisional and unedited. No responsibility claimed: take them or leave them!

face

Galileo

Galileo’s discovery was that the Earth is a planet like any other.

  • Thus, he was prompted to conceive of homogenous, universal space in which all material bodies could be housed: ‘l’espace indifférencié pouvait désormais s’étendre partout’. As Latour puts it later in the chapter, he was bound to ‘étendre l’espace à tout pour y placer chaque acteur à l’intérieur, partes extra partes’.
  • This actually required Galileo to ignore (ne pas prendre en compte) certain geohistorical traits that later Lovelock would discover and prioritize.
  • In doing this, Galileo was aided by his prior knowledge of perspective drawing.

Galileo and the origin of the Modern Constitution

Galileo facilitated (or perhaps initiated?) the Modern Constitution. In fact, Latour goes as far as to say Modernity (again, the year 1610 is relevant here) bears his name: ‘ce schéma est lui-même, en large partie, un héritier de la découverte qu’on peut nommer, pour simplifier, galiléenne’.

The reason Galileo is associated with this origin is that he dis-incarnated man from his local situation, fostering in its place a new metaphysics based on primary qualities (movement and extension) as opposed to secondary qualities (the local agency of actors). In particular, this was the ‘view from nowhere’: ‘l’idée d’un point de vue de nulle part qui permettait à des esprits désincarnés et interchangeables d’écrire les lois applicables à tout le cosmos’.

Galileo’s metaphysics was celebrated and welcomed by the Moderns as a way of dignifying their (since previously they had been relegated to the sub-lunar): ‘ceux qui l’ont vécue se soient sentis libérés de leurs liens, après avoir si longtemps souffert d’être relégués dans un cul de basse fosse’. This was taken to be their ‘emancipation’ and thus becomes the foundation of the Modern Constitution.

Latour cites Brecht’s play for celebrating this crucial moment of bifurcation, in particular for the way in which it recognises Galileo as a turning-point: ‘the old has gone, the new has come’.

64410.jpg

Lovelock

Contra Galileo, Lovelock’s discovery was that the Earth is in fact a planet unlike any other, that is, a ‘hapax’.

Why is the earth unique? Because of its disequilibrium, its messiness, its non-completedness and provisionality. None of these things are features of any other space in the universe:

  • elle détient—seule?—le privilège d’être en déséquilibre, ce qui veut aussi dire qu’elle possède une certaine façon d’être corruptible—ou, pour employer les termes de la conférence précédente, d’être, sous une forme ou sous une autre, animée’.
  • ‘sa couleur, son odeur, sa surface, son toucher, sa genèse, son vieillissement, peut-être sa mort, cette mince pellicule à l’intérieur de laquelle nous vivons, bref son comportement, en plus de son mouvement’.

What can explain the uniqueness of the Earth?

  1. There must be a ‘force agencée’ such as to maintain the Earth in equilibrium (habitability) contra the various shocks that are continually assailing its stability.
  2. But this should not be too quickly identified as any one thing situated ‘above’ the rest: ‘comment parler de la Terre sans la prendre pour un tout déjà composé, sans lui ajouter une cohérence qu’elle n’a pas, et pourtant, sans la désanimer en faisant des organismes qui maintiennent en vie la fine pellicule des zones critiques de simples passagers inertes et passifs d’un système physico-chimique’. Latour equates such a thing with the figure of an ‘General Engineer’: ‘un Ingénieur Général, déguisement bien maladroit de la Providence, capable d’agencer tous ces acteurs pour le plus grand bien de tous’.
  3. Rather, the equilibrium (habitability) of the Earth is in fact maintained by the agents themselves, on a 1-level system, and nothing else: ‘les organismes multicellulaires producteurs d’oxygène et les humains émetteurs de dioxyde de carbone se multiplieront ou pas selon leur succès et gagneront exactement la dimension qu’ils sont capables de prendre. Pas plus, pas moins’.

The Earth now has a history

By moving to a model of agency as given above, Lovelock provides the Earth (for the first time, as it were) with a history, which Latour begins to call ‘geohistory’:

[…] la Planète Bleue apparaît soudain comme une longue suite d’évènements historiques, hasardeux, spécifiques et contingents, comme si elle était le résultat provisoire et fragile d’une géohistoire.

This new model of agency is called Gaia

Gaia is ‘le nom proposé pour toutes les conséquences entremêlées et imprévisibles des puissances d’agir dont chacune poursuit son propre intérêt en manipulant son propre environnement’. Thus: ‘Gaïa, la hors-la-loi, c’est l’anti-Système’.

The mythological figure

Gaia as a mythical figure has the following features:

  • She prompts internecine disruption in order to ensure there is never a settled state.
  • She has never secured much human cultic devotion!

The mythological etymology can be useful: ‘ce qui est vrai du personnage mythologique, l’est aussi de la théorie qui porte son nom’.

Gaia as secular

If Gaia is the name of the model of agency described above, in which determining agency is rejected, then it follows that:

  • Gaia is revealed as fully secular.
  • Nature (by contrast) is revealed as religious.

Comme nous allons nous en apercevoir, malgré les nombreux tâtonnements de la prose de Lovelock, Gaïa joue un rôle bien moins religieux, bien moins politique, bien moins moral que la conception de la ‘nature’ telle qu’elle émerge à l’époque de Galilée.

Thus, Latour’s definition of ‘secular’ is ‘arising of this world, mundane’: ‘si l’adjectif séculier signifie qui n’implique aucune cause extérieure ni fondement spirituel et donc pleinement de ce monde, alors l’intuition de Lovelock peut être appelée entièrement séculière’.

Gaia and Pasteur

What Gaia forces us to do is just what Pasteur did in his own way, namely, to progressively compose the common world: ‘se retrouver dans la Gaïa de Lovelock, c’est apprendre à redessiner les lignes de front entre amis et ennemis’.

  • Both refused to prematurely unify the phenomenon they were considering: ‘il est tellement important de ne jamais stabiliser une fois pour toutes l’animation dont on dote les puissances d’agir’.
  • This enabled a new agent (one that better explained the phenomenon) to come to light: ‘à faire émerger à travers une série d’épreuves les personnages insolites qui composent le collectif’.

Latour specifically calls this activity of progressively composing the common world a *‘metaphysics’.

Lovelock’s method, again

At this point, Latour returns to Lovelock’s specific points, re-examining them:

  • As we have seen, there must be an agent that prevents the earth from collapsing into non-equilibrium. Latour notes the katechon connotation of this postulate and points forward to Lecture 7 in this book to take this further.
  • As we have seen, this agency is not a global determiner, but the proliferation of various human and nonhuman entities operating together, whose agency combined impacts the Earth (= a definition of earth-systems science): ‘l’incessante action des organismes parvient à mettre en mouvement l’air, l’eau, le sol et, de proche en proche, tout le climat’.
  • Thus, as we have seen, contrary to the impression his prose sometimes seems to give off, there is no concept of a ‘Totality’ in Lovelock: there is no ‘niveau supérieur, celui de la totalité’. Rather, there are only local agencies:‘obtenir des effets de connexions entre des puissances d’agir sans pour autant s’en remettre à une conception intenable de la totalité’.

That has all been described above. Thus, we can say that Lovelock’s method is to animate the world without over-animating into a whole: ‘comment suivre les connexions sans être holiste pour autant’.

Lovelock and Darwin

In the same way, Lovelock holds his theory against a mainstream (albeit mistaken) understanding of Darwinism, which we might call a faux-Darwinism:

  • In trying to understand how organisms adapt to their environment this faux-Darwinism ends up positing a final cause (*a teleology) towards which all organisms work (survival, interest, propagation of the species, etc): ‘vous preniez, en bon darwinien, l’intérêt ou le profit comme la cause finale de chaque organisme en lutte pour sa survie’.
  • This equates to Providence: ‘s’il y a un reste de Providence, c’est plutôt chez les Darwiniens qu’on risque de le trouver’; ‘derrière la sélection naturelle, la main bienveillante du Créateur se reconnaît chez Darwin aussi bien que chez ses successeurs’. Cf. Dov Ospovat, (1995), The Development of Darwin’s Theory.

By contrast, Lovelock is one who can protect Darwinism from such ‘friends’, maintaining its integrity as a 1-level system:

  • Gaia stipulates that the environment adapts with/ around organisms: ‘le concept de Gaïa capture l’intentionnalité distribuée de tous les agents dont chacun modifie son entourage à sa convenance’.
  • In itself this would not be particularly contested by Darwinists, but what is perhaps radical about Gaia theory is that all beings (not just human or animal organisms) do this: ‘la capacité des humains à tout réarranger autour d’eux est une propriété générale des vivants’.
  • Thus, even if we might agree with the faux-Darwinists that organsisms are indeed striving for their survival, interest, propagation of the species, etc, when we introduce the panoply of other agencies the ituation is rendered so much more complex that faux-Darwinism is left behind: ‘les intérêts et les profits de chaque acteur seront contrecarrés par de nombreux autres programmes’.

The difference between faux-Darwinism and Gaia, then, is the difference between identifying wave patterns from a single stone thrown in a pond or from a band of cormorants diving in and out of the water all at once.

Figuration

This represents a useful nuance to our definition of ‘figuration’: we must always be careful to understand figuration (here described in terms of ‘waves’) as that which describes the complex interactions between agents, rather than the agents themselves:

Ces ondes qui se chevauchent sont les vrais acteurs qui devraient être suivis tout du long, quel que soit le lieu où elles mènent, sans coller à la frontière interne d’un agent isolé considéré comme un individu à l’intérieur d’un environnement auquel il s’adapterait.

Operations of scale

Lovelock’s thought allows us to understand operations of scale, whereby something global is engendered by local agency:

Le point crucial, c’est que l’échelle n’intervient pas en passant d’un niveau local à un point de vue supérieur […] L’échelle est ce qui a été engendré par le succès des formes vivantes.

The Earth is an operation of scale

By extension, Lovelock allows us to understand is that the earth we inhabit is an operation of scale, since it is dependent on local agents: ‘le climat est le résultat historique de connections réciproques, qui interfèrent les unes avec les autres, parmi toutes les créatures en cours de croissance. Il se répand, il diminue ou il meurt avec elles’.

If the Earth does change (‘emergence’), this will as a result of the thrusting agency of some opportunistic individual agent: ‘tous les effets d’échelle sont le résultat de l’expansion d’un agent particulièrement opportuniste saisissant sur-le-champ des occasions de se développer’.

The Earth is determined in time

If the Earth is dependent on operations of scale, it cannot be formatted as a space of res extensa; rather, it must be formatted as a space coupled with agency-in-time:

  • The earth does not exist in res extensa: ‘ce n’est pas parce qu’il existe une res extensa à l’intérieur de laquelle toutes les créatures résideraient passivement.’.
  • The earth must be the ‘child of time’: ‘l’espace n’est pas un cadre, pas même un contexte: l’espace est l’enfant du temps’.

In fact, we could go even further as say that Gaia is in some way the definition of history: ‘ce qui veut dire qu’elle ressemble beaucoup à ce que nous avons fini par considérer comme l’histoire elle-même’.

Critical zone

The space of the Earth described above is the space of a ‘critical zone’: it persists only as long as the actors determine it: ‘il s’étend aussi loin que nous ; nous durons autant que ceux qui nous font respirer’.

 

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 2)

Lecture Two: Comment ne pas (dés)animer la nature

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Humans as a new historical force

 The long history of the planet must be juxtaposed with the short, but very influential, history of humans. Humans have interpolated themselves onto geological history in an unprecedented way:

  • Humans are now ‘une puissance géologique sans précédent’.
  • Humans have now become a ‘giant Atlas’.

This contrasts with the vision of history given to us by the Modern Constitution: ‘le grand paradoxe de la ‘vision scientifique du monde’ est d’avoir réussi à retirer l’historicité du monde aussi bien pour la science que pour la politique et la religion’.

Geohistory

Thus, there is a new track of ‘history’ that we must understand as being situated inside the previous track of deep history. This new track has a different calibration of humans and Earth, or Nature and Society, than the one that has been assumed previously.

This new track can be called ‘geohistory’ and contrasts with ‘history’: ‘le rythme de l’histoire et celui de la géohistoire’.

The error played out by the ecological movement

The ecological movement wants to make use of the available science to prompt humans to do something about the threat of climate change.

However, they are misinterpreting what the science itself is telling them, namely, that the answer is not as simple as humans acting:

La question devient par conséquent celle-ci: pourquoi ceux qui décrivent les actions de la Terre affirment-ils tantôt qu’il ne s’y passe rien de plus que le déroulement de ‘strictes chaines de causalité’, tantôt qu’il s’y passe infiniment plus? Ce qui revient à se demander pourquoi, si la Terre est animée de mille formes d’agents, a-t-on voulu la penser comme essentiellement inerte et inanimée.

In a long section Latour takes three examples of how humans and nonhumans are now acting equally, such that there is no more Nature and no more Society: Tolstoy, the Mississippi and CRF.

On account of this error:

  • The ecological movement re-introduces the concept of ‘Nature’ and therefore de-animates matter: ‘les écologistes ont trop souvent repeint en vert cette même Nature grise qui avait été conçue au 17ème siècle’.
  • In doing so, the movement ends up doing nothing but parodying the old religious settlement, that is, Religion One (the concept given by the Gifford Lectures): the ‘Dieu-qui-voit-tout-et-qui-englobe-tout des temps anciens’. This is not a programme of action but of dis-inhibition.

Ecological science

By contrast, the ecological movement should be thinking in terms of a science which understands its implication in politics, that is, Nature Two.

The ‘data’ provided by the science of Nature Two (or, better, we might call this its ‘sublata’, which implies its generation via [REF] will not take the form of an ‘énoncé constatif’ (that is, a raw statement of fact, what Latour calls ‘matters of fact’). Rather, it will take the form of an ‘énoncé performatif’, demanding political assimilation and action.

Thus, whenever there is true science, that is Nature Two, we will find a link between ‘being moved’ (émouvoir) and ‘moving in response’ (mettre en mouvement). True science will prompt compositional action in the ones receiving it.

Serres

Michel Serres is the first proclaimer of the earth as a ‘fully-fledged actor’ and therefore of Nature Two.

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He is prescient of the absurdity of the Modern bifurcation of Nature and Culture, object and subject.

This is exhibited in the comparison of Galileo (Nature One) and Serres (Nature Two):

  • Galileo pronounces ‘and yet it moves’ (et pourtant la Terre se meut): he thus reveals himself as a representative of Nature One and therefore of Modernity. This is because, for him, the world moves but does not act: ‘elle avait un mouvement, mais pas un comportement’.
  • Serres pronounces ‘and yet it is moved’ (et pourtant la Terre s’émeut): he thus reveals himself as representative of Nature Two, that is nature mingled with human activity and therefore of nonmodernity. This is because, for him, both the world and humans move and act all the time: ‘c’est cette même subversion des positions respectives du sujet et de l’objet’.

Serres model of agency here is given by his grand concept of ‘translation’: ‘le moyen de comprendre par quoi nous sommes attachés et de qui nous dépendons’.

Quasi-objects and quasi-subjects

Serres thus presents us with a model in which ‘object’/ ‘subject’ (as predefined and required by the epistemological structure given by Nature/ Society) become instead ‘quasi-object’/ ‘quasi-subject’:

Impossible désormais de jouer à opposer dialectiquement les sujets et les objets. Le ressort qui faisait marcher Kant, Hegel, Marx, est maintenant tout à fait distendu: il n’y a plus assez d’objet pour s’opposer aux humains, plus assez de sujet pour s’opposer aux objets. Tout se passe comme si, derrière la fantasmagorie de la dialectique, la zone métamorphique redevenait visible.

Gaia

In describing Nature Two, Serres thus prefigures Latour’s concept of ‘Gaia’, which can now be described as:

  • une enveloppe active, locale, limitée, sensible, fragile, tremblante et aisément irritée’.
  • une Terre qui rétroagirait à nos actions’.

Of course the concept of Gaia is not banal hylozoism, but an acknowledgment of the way we must ‘comprehend’ or even ‘appréhend’ the ‘retentissement’ (impact, force) of the Earth itself.

What links Nature One and Religion One?

The idea of causality that lies behind the concept of ‘Nature’ looks curiously similar to the idea of causality that lies behind creationist Religion: ‘chose étrange, sur laquelle je reviendrai plus tard, cette forme de récit causaliste ressemble beaucoup aux récits créationnistes par lesquels on attribue à une cause première, à une création dite ex nihilo toute la série de ce qui suit’.

Thus the ideas of ‘Causality’ and ‘Creator’ are both metaphysical impositions, not given by ontological pluralism: ‘peu importe alors qu’on le nomme Créateur tout puissant ou Causalité toute puissante’.

What is the programme for theology?

Two important consequences for theology follow:

  • We can dispense with the idea of inherent conflict between science/ religion: ‘même si l’on s’est habitué depuis la Révolution Scientifique à opposer la science et la religion, l’idée de matière—car c’est d’abord une idée—participe des deux domaines.
  • We have a positive programme for theology: ‘c’est pourquoi, en cherchant à nous défaire de l’idée de ‘nature’, il faudra aussi se défaire de la théologie qui s’y trouve accrochée—sans oublier la politique qu’on y a mêlée!’.

Political theology

In fact, given that the old certainties of the human position in nature are now gone, what’s needed are new mechanisms of composition, which Latour here calls ‘political’: ‘il faut se préparer à refaire de la politique’.

Total war

The disruption caused by the collapse of the Modern bifurcation does not promise to be peaceful or easily-handled. Rather, in a very important phrase, Latour suggests it will provide: ‘un état de guerre généralisé’, the non-state deterioration of politics that Schmitt suggested came about following the end of the nomos in the twentieth-century.

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 1)

Lecture One: Sur l’instabilité de la (notion de) nature

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From crisis to mutation

If action had been immediately forthcoming on our part in relation to the warning signals of climate change, we might have been able to have acted so as to restore some kind of peace with the earth.

Instead, we have failed to act, such that:

  • We can no longer consider ourselves merely to be in a ‘crise’ (connotations = temporary, management, resolution possible).
  • Rather, we have to face the fact that we are in a situation of ‘mutation’ (connotations = change in the very relationship we have with the earth, tipping point, apocalypse).

Future generations

By dint of the inheritance of the Modernity, future generations will not be bequeathed the means of handling the radical change demanded of humanity in the Anthropocene.

Thus, it is as if we are condemning future generations to proceed along a trajectory that has been pre-determined for them and that cannot be interrupted: ‘alors que nous nous préparons très mollement à nous intéresser au sort des générations futures, tout aurait déjà été commis par les générations passées’ (my trans. ‘whilst we prepare ourselves rather nonchalantly to consider the fate of future generations, everything will already have been been committed/ put into motion by the past generations’).

We, the Moderns, are therefore imposing a space and a time upon our own (unborn) children, a time and a space that will not allow them freedom of action.

Dis-inhibition

The passage from crisis to mutation can be explained by our tendency to ‘dis-inhibition’.

The term comes from Jean-Baptiste Fressoz: ‘dis-inhibition’ is where an initial reflexive response to an alert (in this case, the warning of climate change given by scientists) passes over in our theory and praxis to a state of normalization, ‘disregard or over-ride’ (passer-outre). In fact, for Fressoz, dis-inhibition is the primary characteristic of Modernity: ‘la modernité fut un processus de désinhibition réflexive’ (my trans. ‘Modernity consists of a process of reflexive dis-inhibition).

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Reasons for dis-inhibition

Dis-inhibition can be traced to two motivations, both of which are summed up as forms of quasi-religious ‘madness’:

  • Under-action (disproportionate trust in the intervention of a ‘God’ from beyond, to rectify the situation).
  • Over-action (disproportionate trust in the technological intervention of humans, to rectify the situation).

Both are functions of Modernity. For motivation (2), cf. any number of Latour’s writings. Of primary interest to this book, then, is motivation (1).

The quasi-religious origins of dis-inhibition

Dis-inhibition form (1), the tendency to do nothing but to trust in the intervention of something, comes in two types:

  • In the form of ‘fanaticism’ [une forme
forcenée].
  • In the  form of ‘quietism’ [quiétiste].

Both forms display an inalienable trust in ‘God’ to sort out the mess, buttressed as it were by the promise of Genesis 8-9.

Progress

If dis-inhibition is to be avoided and shunned, the very concept of ‘progress’ needs to be recast (cf. the forward/ back dance movements of Ganichaud).

  • We must reformulate the very idea of moving forward: ‘revenir sur l’idée de progrès, à rétrogresser’.
  • We must reformulate the idea of hope (espoir) that was driving forward that movement.

Progress is hampered by the Modern bifurcation, which continues to advocate the separation of humans from the natural, thereby rendering a solution to the challenges of the Anthropocene unlikely.

Representational art

The imposition of the Modern bifurcation, with its attendant dis-inhibition, has been revealed by a genre of writing that has recently come to the fore, namely, studies in techniques of artistic representation (since the 15th century).

One particular focus of some of this writing has the arrangement of known objects in view by a knowing spectator.

Art premised on a knowing subject (= painter) and known object (= paining) enacts a ‘régime scopique’ (cf. the Freudian/ Lacanian idea of schaulust or pleasure in looking).[1]

  • (in the case of a still-life) How absurd it would be to take the fruit, or whatever object was in view, as inhabiting the realm of ‘Nature’: on the contrary, it has been arranged first by a human hand in order to be painted.
  • (in the case of the artist) How absurd it would be to understand the artist himself/ herself as inhabiting the realm of ‘Society’: on the contrary, the artist intended and arranged himself/ herself over and against the object he/ she is painting.

A ‘régime scopique’ necessarily implies ‘un opérateur, une opération, qui répartit objet et sujet’.

In art, the opérateur is the frame of the painting itself:

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The opérateur is here ‘distributing’ both knowing subject (the eye of the picture-taker) and known object (causing it to say ‘cheese’, as it were).

The Modern Constitution has basically operated under a Cartesian system with God as opérateur: ‘Descartes imagine le monde comme projeté sur la toile d’une nature morte dont Dieu serait l’agenceur’ (my trans. ‘Descartes conceives of the world as projected on the canvas of a ‘still life’, with  God as the ‘operator’).

Examples of an  ‘operator’ in action 

  • Human ‘nature’.
  • ‘Natural law’ or ‘natural rights’.
  • Food stuffs claiming to be 100% ‘natural’.
  • The ‘natural world’; this is the hardest case, for it lies closest to (as normatively conceived) science, matters of fact, cause-and-effect, etc. Whenever ‘it is just how it is’ is invoked, values follow in the wake (cf. Nietzsche in The Gay Science, where morals underline the objectivity of the scientist): ‘une formidable charge prescriptive véhiculée par ce qui ne doit pas posséder de dimension prescriptive’.

Climato-scepticism seeks to preserve the bifurcation of Nature/ Society

 This lobby takes the cunning strategy of hiding behind the MC:

  • It requires of science some ‘facts’ (= Nature).
  • These ‘facts’ of course do not exist; for truth about facts (that is, referential truth) comes via [REF], not via ‘Nature’.
  • Climate-scepticism therefore arraigns science for its intermingling of facts and values, especially wherever its warnings become impassioned pleas for conscious action.

In this way, climato-scepticism forecloses a politics of the common world: it has ‘compris qu’on ne pourrait jamais plus maintenir la description des faits à l’écart de l’attribution morale—et bientôt de la mise en œuvre d’une politique’.

But in doing so, the climate-sceptics unwittingly involve themselves in politics

Although they don’t avow it, to engage in climate-scepticism is itself to form a political grouping, even we might say a war footing, against another group: ‘ils rassemblent eux aussi un groupe, pour lesquels ils ont défini des tests d’entrée, dessiné des frontières, en répartissant autrement les qualités de la matière’.

This is their ‘cosmogram’ (taken from John Tresch, this is the nomos/ theos/ demos arrangement for those familiar with the Giffords, further explained in lecture 5 below).

Gaia: Global Circus

The interruption of climate-scepticism is dramatized in the intervention of the character ‘Ted’ against the speech of the scientist ‘Valerie’ in the play Gaia: Global Circus:

  • Valerie is conscious of the need to engage in a politics of coalition in order to tackle the problems faced by climate change.
  • She acknowledges that the facts are secured by delicate chains of reference = [REF].
  • She does this in spite of being tempted to regress to a ‘just because science says so’ attitude (which she actually does in her screech against Ted as he is led out of the room, which is a moment of weakness on her part).

Composing the common world

Valerie, then, is one who acknowledges [REF] and therefore makes explicit the ground on which she is arguing her position. That is, she grounds her argument in the common world.[2] Or, to put it another way, she declares her politics.

For Latour, this is what all good scientists should do: ‘vous reconnaissiez que vous aussi vous essayez bel et bien d’assembler un autre corps politique et de vivre dans un cosmos cohérent autrement composé’.

A new bifurcation

For Latour, understanding the common world requires a new bifurcation:

  • This time not between Nature and Culture.
  • But between (A) a multiplicity of existents, housed neither in Nature or Culture; (B) a multiplicity of ways of their existing: ‘ce qui ouvre à la multiplicité des existants d’une part et, d’autre part, à la multiplicité des façons qu’ils ont d’exister’.

Latour proposes calling this an opening out to a ‘monde’ or ‘faire monde’, or, to use Haraway’s term, ‘worlding’.Or perhaps, the ‘multiverse’.

References

[1]   Latour cites: Descola, La fabrique des images (2010, catalogue at musée-branly); also literature by Panofsky, and also the recent work by Galison and Daston, Objectivity (2012).

[2]   Cf. the concept of ‘connaissance située’ in Haraway, Donna, (2007), Le Manifeste Cyborg.

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Introduction)

Latour’s Face à Gaïa: huit conférences sur le nouveau régime climatique (2015) is due for English translation sometime this year or next year (I think). Actually, I’ve been making notes on it as I’ve been reading in French, in my own idiosyncratic and non-systematic way. I wondered if it might be helpful to post them up here. I haven’t got time to edit them in any way, so this is with the understanding that they’re just as they are—partial, unexplained, unfootnoted, etc. Is that OK? They don’t contain any of my own interpretation, so it’s really the case that they’re just a record of some of the themes and content of the book. It might be that all this is useless, so do ignore the following posts if you can’t face them. But if it helps English readers to have a sense of where that book is going, I hope they’re useful to you.

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(I’m using a PDF copy, and haven’t got the time to page-reference every citation to the book itself, sorry).

The first post will sketch the content of the ‘introduction’ (for the first lecture, see here). 

INTRODUCTION

Where did the idea of ‘facing Gaia’ originate?

Latour offers a brief chronology of his own immersion in the theme:

  • Stephanie Ganachaud: Latour first watched her movement of dance in the early to mid 1990s; the Moderns flee an archaic past, but come face to face with a future that is more terrible still, whose irruption is in part of their own doing. Latour has written about this dance in numerous places elsewhere.
  • Kosmokoloss/ Gaia: Latour initially named the figure the Moderns face ‘kosmokoloss’; later he renamed it ‘Gaia’; this figure had to be understood in its full multi-dimensionality: ‘une force à la fois mythique, scientifique, politique et probablement aussi religieuse’ (my trans. ‘a force all at once mythical, scientific, political and probably also religious’).
  • Gaia: Global Circus
  • Gifford Lectures: Latour says that those lectures have been ‘remaniées, amplifiées et complètement réécrites’ in this book (‘reorganised, amplified, completely re-written’).
  • An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: this was written under the spectre of Gaia; it was resonant with the motif of the Nouveau Régime Climatique (cf.  term introduced by Stefan Aykut and Amy Dahan, Gouverner le climat?, 2015); in light of the Modern category of ‘Nature’ becoming unstable: ‘le cadre physique que les Modernes avaient considéré comme assuré, le sol sur lequel leur histoire s’était toujours déroulée, est devenu instable’ (my trans. ‘the physical environment that the Moderns had taken as assured, the ground on which their history had always taken place, has become unstable’).
  • Science: meanwhile, by means of the concept of the Anthropocene, science suddenly began to embrace the parameters of the same thesis about the future of humanity, in an attempt to ‘comprendre cette Terre qui leur semble réagir à nos actions et que nous allons rencontrer au fur et à mesure’ (my trans. ‘to understand this earth that was apparently reacting to our actions, the very one we’re going to meet as we go along’).

As a result of all this, we can begin to see that we are governed by a new law/ a new constitution, that is, a new esprit des loix (Montesquieu).

What results from this alteration in the order of existence must be different versions of science, politics and religion, each of which will now be taken as more modest and more earthbound in their distinctive rationalities:

[…] des sciences, des politiques et des religions enfin ramenées à des définitions plus modestes et plus terrestres de leurs anciennes vocations.

(my trans. ‘[…] finally a science, a politics and a religion called back to more modest and more earthbound definitions compared to their former vocations’).