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.


(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). 


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’).


4 thoughts on “Notes on Face à Gaïa (Introduction)

  1. “Facing Gaia” has a history as well. There have been previous encounters between people and an utter shuttering of their world. Was meeting the Tartars smoother? Was a sudden flood or drought that would push people who have been settled for centuries in a place, to far away places meeting very different peoples less of a shock, from their point of view, than entering the anthropocene from the moderns’ point of view.? Maybe such bad things were always supposed to be happening to others.

    It is a shock for the moderns that their deities -nature, progress, society- misbehave, but I cannot listen their “inner talk” without thinking how soon this “inner talk of the moderns” will be transformed into an “educational talk” , a call for enlightenment, for the rest (who in their majority are deformed from badly exported modernity and therefore will need to follow the new lead of the moderns).

    To whom do the moderns feel giving account (for their risk taking, for their experiments, for the consequences of what they do) except to their own “good sense”?


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