For Latour, “modernity” imposes (what I will call) a spatio-temporal conditioning effect upon its inhabitants. To be “modern” is to find oneself inhabiting material space and historical time in a way that is artificial and dislocated from reality, that is, from ontology properly understood.
What exactly is this effect? Its most negative function, as Latour discerns it, is to leverage upon the present a sense of closure and stability that properly belongs to a non-specified future. Thus, a form of epistemological paralysis is imposed upon on the present, closing down the dynamic flow of activity that constitutes the productive domain of the political. This de-politicization of the public space can be discerned everywhere within the institutions of contemporary western society and is Latour’s core diagnosis of the crises that are currently afflicting the west (Trump and Brexit foremost amongst them).
That Latour is interested in exploring ideas of space and time, and their relation to lived experience, has been noted before in the critical literature. (See for example Nowotny (1994), Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience, p.79 ff.; Pickering (1995), The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science, p.3; Schmidgen (2012), ‘The Materiality of Things? Bruno Latour, Charles Péguy and the History of Science’). However, what I would like to suggest is that Latour’s understanding of the spatio-temporal constitution of “modernity” has to do with his understanding of transcendence, and hence that the idea is one that is productively addressed with reference to his writing on religion.
In a series of posts over the next few days, I will seek to advance and defend this idea. These posts represent a further attempt on my behalf to make the case for the fundamentally religious orientation of Latour’s work.
See here for the next post.