If you need a “way-in” to Latour’s writing on religion….

Here is an excellent short introduction to the theology of Latour by the ever-wonderful John Reader: do check it out.

Advertisements

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 5)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa. Remember, these are nothing but notes: 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.

Lecture Five: Comment convoquer les différents peuples (de la nature)?

face
Hobbes and Nature

The difference between the two images (Leviathan frontispiece, Nature cover):

Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes

NatureCover120315

  1. The first proposes unity.
  2. The second proposes and enacts division; it is less clear how to act when faced by it.

Thus: ‘face au Léviathan, vous savez qui vous êtes et devant quelle autorité vous devez plier le genou; mais comment se comporter devant cet autre Cosmocolosse’.

The second image, corresponding to the Anthropocene, therefore marks a radical new situation in the world with which we must take account: ‘on peut douter que l’Anthropocène marque une époque géologique, mais pas qu’il désigne une transition qui oblige à tout reprendre’.

Religion in the Anthropocene

One of the things the Anthropocene (as represented by the Nature-image) shakes up is religion.

  • Where the Leviathan-image sought to situate religion in a clear and controlled way.
  • The Anthropocene has thrown it into doubt and unsettled it.

This is particularly the case for religions that claim some kind of global or all-encompassing authority: ‘la survenue de Gaïa oblige à douter de toutes les religions englobantes’.

Religion One

To be more precise, what is shaken up in the Anthropocene is the form of Religion One (as defined in the Gifford Lectures), that is, ‘l’étrange idée qui faisait de la Nature connue par la Science ce qui devait s’opposer à la Religion’. We might call this ‘natural religion’ in a specified sense to indicate this is religion under the aegis of the Modern Constitution (the ‘MC’), the Religion of the Moderns.

Religion One and land appropriation

Religion One, like all expressions of the MC, is always a function of a land appropriation:

C’est à toutes les cosmologies [in which religion is included as one] que la même question se pose: que veut dire, pour un peuple, de mesurer, représenter et composer la forme de la Terre à laquelle il se trouve attaché?

  • Religion One thus seeks to control, measure, represent, figure, etc that which is immanent and secular.
  • However, it does so from a position ‘above’ the immanent and secular, and thus is guilty of being transcendent and dogmatic.

An opportunity to corrode Religion One

The opportunity posed by the Anthropocene is to dissolve Religion One and to recast it instead as fully rational and veridicted: ‘c’est l’une des forces de Gaïa, cet acide si puissant, qu’elle corrode l’amalgame de toute religion naturelle’.

Religion Two and land appropriation

The recalibration of this debate will come via an act of remapping: ‘ce que je voudrais dessiner, c’est une carte grossière des territoires occupés par des peuples en lutte les uns contre les autres’. This would replace the artificial land appropriation given by Religion One above.

What is proposed, then, is a new spatial-temporal configuration of religion, which would be a land appropriation, or a *‘design’:

Pour esquisser un tel dessein, il nous faut apprendre à repérer, pour les collectifs jusque là mal assemblés par le format nature/ culture, comment ils pourraient s’entre définir, s’articuler l’un par l’autre, en procédant à des opérations que l’on pourrait dire de guerre ou de paix, autrement dit de diplomatie risqué.

Note from this quotation:

  • This procedure will entail operations of ‘war and peace’ (Schmitt).
  • This procedure will ultimately lead to ‘diplomacy’.

Five questions

If an institution (such as Religion Two) is to be mapped more appropriately, five questions will have to be posed, each of which concerns how the collective is to be composed:

  1. What is the supreme authority that collects it?
  2. What is the extent of the people gathered?
  3. What space do they occupy? (‘sur quel territoire se sentent-ils habités?’)
  4. What time do they believe they inhabit?
  5. What is the organizing principle (‘le principe d’organisation’) that distributes their agencies? = which is also called their ‘cosmogram’? This fifth question is the one that allows the value judgment (PRE) to arise.

This fivefold method will allow questions to be asked of religion that evade the Nature/ Culture schema.

Violence

To ask these questions is to arrange a collective on the ground. It is thus a land appropriation that seeks to displace the land appropriation previously in place. It is bound to entail jostling, repositioning, self-defence, etc against those who are trying to assimilate us to a different configuration:

La violence que doivent apprendre à regarder en face ceux qui prétendent assembler des peuples pour se défendre contre ceux qui prétendent détruire leur sol. Comment s’en étonner, puisque c’est bien dans une guerre des mondes que nous nous trouvons désormais engagés?

The (new) land appropriation will therefore follow the pattern: (A) violence first; (B) afterwards, a hope of diplomacy.

Neglect

At this point, Latour picks up Serres’ definition of religion as the antonym of ‘neglect’.[1]

  • Religion is understood as a broad definition of whatever it is we take care of/ build together/ assemble. In fact, religion occurs wherever there is composition: ‘en ce sens, on le comprend volontiers, il n’existe pas de collectif irréligieux’.
  • Religion will only be lacking, then, where neglect of this principle of composition exists.

Religion and diplomacy

In adapting its compositional role, religion represents something like a radar able to detect compositional processes in general (and where they may or may not be present in other collectives). Thus, to be religious is ‘devenir attentif au choc, au scandale, que peut représenter pour un collectif le manque de soin d’un autre collectif. Autrement dit, être religieux, c’est d’abord se rendre attentif à ce à quoi d’autres tiennent’.

To be religious is therefore to be the highest form of diplomat: ‘c’est donc, pour partie, apprendre à se comporter en diplomate’.

What renders religion so diplomatic? It is because it is able to be sensitive to the fivefold questions posed above.

Q1. Religion is sensitive to the fact of a supreme authority that collects

For Latour, religion is equipped to enquire and respect the Durkheimian observation that all collectives have a supreme authority of one sort or another, whether that be a God or something else, and that the most important thing is that we at least come to see what that is. Thus: ‘nous le savons depuis que l’anthropologie existe: pas de collectif sans un rituel au cours duquel on découvre que le seul moyen de se rassembler réellement comme groupe consiste à être convoqué par cette autorité et à l’invoquer en retour’.

This is what Latour means when he says there is no secular, because however ‘secular’ a collective claims to be, it is still operating under the aegis of a supreme authority of some sort. To put it another way, for Latour there has to be a ‘god’ function in any collective.[2] Cf. John Milbank in Theology and Social Theory.

41FRxEFy9qL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_

Q2. Religion is sensitive to the fact of a collective that sustains their supreme authority

The life of a collective is not secured only in a top-down way, however, but also by a reciprocal process of definition: people are assembled by a god; god is invoked by the people. This is a ‘mouvement d’aller-retour qui relie un peuple rassemblé par ses divinités à des divinités rassembleuses invoquées par leur peuple’. To put it another way: ‘pas de culte sans culture vivante; pas de culture sans culte vivant’.

Translation tables

A (religious) diplomat sensitive to Q1 and Q2 would be adapting a methodology akin to that of Assmann: it is to look underneath ‘names’ and towards ‘performances’: ‘tant que l’on s’en tient aux noms, on se bat sans cesse et en vain’.

The Mosaic division

Latour agrees with Assmann that the function of translation was systematically lost at a punctuated point of history: the Mosaic distinction.

With the MD, Latour seems to be agreeing that there was a particular moment in history (Moses) in which the possibility of being religious was lost and in which the phenomenon of Religion (using Assmann’s terms: ‘counter-religion’ or ‘secondary religion’) became a majority player on the stage.

Features of the MD include:

  • From that time on, we became non-attentive/ neglectful of that to which other collectives hold, thereby indicating that our own belief system was not being progressively composed in the common world (but rather that it was held to as a fundamental belief): ‘l’ancien sens du mot religion n’est plus compréhensible: bien au contraire, négliger ce à quoi les autres tiennent, telle est la nouvelle injonction’.
  • From that time on, the idea that we should be prepared to defend our own fundamental belief in the common world (by means of translation tables, for example) induces horror: ‘À partir de ce point de rupture dans l’histoire, on va pouvoir repérer l’irruption de la religion par les réactions d’horreur devant le relativisme modéré qu’autorisaient les tables de noms de dieux, et par la multiplication des gestes iconoclasts’.

Contemporary secularity as ‘religious’

  • The Mosaic Distinction (and the Religion of the Moderns that it sets in motion) seems to be a far cry from (what appears to be) our contemporary society, which is highly pluralistic and apparently tolerant.
  • And yet the dynamic that lies behind the Mosaic Distinction is everywhere apparent in our contemporary society, in the way it ‘invokes’ the ‘god’ Nature.
  • This is in spite of the fact that our contemporary society may well assume that it is secular, and perhaps even irreligious: ‘il ne suffisait pas pour être irréligieux de se croire irréligieux’.

True religion (which for Latour = REL, composition, secular) is rare in the contemporary world, then, because there is always a metaphysical over-determination waiting in ambush around every corner: ‘il y a toujours une déité en embuscade qui exige de n’être rendue commensurable avec aucune autre’.

Contemporary secularity, then, in spite of its pluralistic claims, refuses to enter into composition and thus acts as the worst kind of fundamentalist religion of the past. In fact, contemporary secularity has really just replaced the God of former times for the God as given by Nature: ‘du vrai Dieu fulminant contre toutes les idoles, on est passé à la vraie Nature fulminant contre tous les faux dieux’.

The Moderns are religious

Thus it can be said that the Moderns are the most religious people of all, by dint of the fact that they will have some concept of ‘truth’ that preys on the metaphysical status of a ‘supreme authority’:

Quoiqu’on pense des Modernes, aussi incroyants qu’ils s’estiment, aussi délivrés de toute divinité qu’ils s’imaginent, ils sont bien les héritiers directs de cette ‘division mosaïque’ puisqu’ils continuent à lier autorité suprême et vérité, à cette nuance près que la division passe désormais entre, d’un côté, croire en une religion quelconque et, de l’autre connaître la vérité de la nature.

Whatever one thinks of the Moderns, as unbelieving as they consider themselves to be, as free of all gods as they imagine themselves to be, they are all the same the direct inheritors of the ‘Mosaic Division’, insofar as they continue to associate truth with a supreme authority, if we nuance the division by understanding it nowadays as passing, on the one hand, between belief in some religion and, on the other hand, knowledge of the truth of nature. (my loose translation)

And this is the case however vehemently ‘secular’ the Modern in question might conceive himself as being, and indeed however anti-monotheistic he might conceive himself as being: ‘même ceux qui vomissent les religions monothéistes, leur ont emprunté cette façon si particulière de vomir l’idolâtrie’.

Nature is revealed as ‘Religion One’ by dint of translation tables

  • The cry of indignation quickly rises: Nature is not a ‘god’ that is invoked like Jesus or Buddha; it is simply how things are.
  • But be patient, and apply the category of ‘Nature’ to the translation exercise outlined above.
  • This will soon show that Nature ‘n’est pas un domaine mais un concept’.

Cenosotone as deity

Thus follows the thought-exercise around the collective: ‘ce-dont-nous-sommes-tous-nés’, the equivalent of OWWABB in the Giffords. Here, cenosotone can be taken as the ‘deity’ that convokes a people. The question is, what kind of deity is this?

Cenosotone is of course the deity: Nature One.

There follows lengthy descriptions of the contrast between theory (what the Moderns think cenosotone is) and practice (how cenosotone actually functions):

  1. Externality.
  2. Universality (in the sense that all agents obey its law).
  3. Inanimate (in the sense that individual agents don’t have their own wills).
  4. Indiscutable (in the sense that it presents itself as a closed matter of fact, not as a matter of concern).

Of course, these functions are contradicted by practice: ‘les attributs sur lesquels insistent ses adeptes révèlent également que la Nature est à l’intérieur, qu’elle est multiple, qu’elle accepte de se trouver aux prises avec des êtres animés et fortement controversés, qu’elle a une histoire confuse et que son extension est aussi limitée que variable’.

In summary, cenosotone is a ‘deity’ that should be understood as compositional (cheiropoeite), but which is all to often taken as non-compositional (acheiropoeite): ‘tout se passe comme si ces gens devaient faire tourner leur cosmologie autour de deux foyers en même temps: l’une où tout est extérieur, où rien n’est fait par l’homme; l’autre où tout est intérieur et fait par l’homme’.

It is clear why the people of cenostone are so unstable (as Latour would say in WNM, they are unstable between theory and practice): ‘on comprend pourquoi ce peuple divisé contre lui-même est tellement inquiet, tellement instable’.

Cenosotone and space-time

Importantly, when cenosotone is entered into a translation table under the ‘deity’ column, the collective that results is revealed as being spatially-temporally awry:

  • To be convoked by the deity cenostone means that one does not defend a spatial territory, that is, that one’s feet are literally not implanted in this ground (thus, that this person has become airily transcendent): *it indicates ‘la plus étrange façon d’être et de ne pas être de ce monde. Ils refusent d’être un peuple et d’être limité à un territoire. Ils sont à la fois partout et nulle part, absents et présents, envahissants et d’une négligence ahurissante’.
  • To be convoked by the deity cenostone means that one does not occupy a temporal moment, that is, that one’s feet are literally not situated in a particular historical moment (thus, that this person has become airily non-temporal): *one has become ‘universel, et l’époque où il se situe de tous les temps’.

The convocation of the deity cenosotone does not ground one in space-time, then: ‘ce peuple est décidemment inassignable, d’autant qu’il est aussi impossible à situer dans le temps que dans l’espace. À quelle époque appartient-il? À aucune, puisqu’il est indifférent à l’histoire et qu’il accède à des vérités universelles qui existeraient de toute éternité’.

  • The people of cenosotone do have an account of their own historicity, however, but it is one that is grounded in revolution and rupture: ‘en même temps, bien sûr, ce peuple a une histoire et il se reconnaît comme l’héritier d’une rupture radicale, arrivée récemment, et qui lui a permis d’échapper à un passé archaïque, obscur et confus, pour entrer dans une époque plus lumineuse qui permet de distinguer radicalement le passé du présent et du futur radieux : quelque chose comme une Révolution scientifique’.
  • When the people of cenosotone encounter how history really is, its twists and turns, they simply don’t know what to do with it: ‘ce peuple sans histoire a bel et bien une histoire dont il ne sait pas quoi faire et qu’il considère comme quelque chose d’aussi honteux que d’appartenir à un sol’.

We should not be surprised at their groundlessness, which is due to the impossibility of them understanding their own composition: ‘comment s’étonner qu’il se sente incapable d’occuper la Terre en sachant où il se trouve et ce qu’il peut y faire, alors même qu’il prétend la saisir ‘dans sa globalité’’.

Cenosotone in the time of the Anthropocene

The significance of the Anthropocene is that it disrupts the assumptions made by those convoked by cenosotone and serves as a means of re-uniting the artificial division made between theory and practice:

Et l’on ne s’étonnera pas qu’il prenne si mal aussi bien l’irruption de Gaïa que l’hypothèse de l’Anthropocène qui l’obligeraient à s’ancrer, à se situer, à expliciter enfin ce qu’il veut, ce qu’il est, à désigner enfin quels sont ses amis et ses ennemis.

Note that Gaia (as given in the Anthropocene hypothesis) is that which challenges the Moderns to enter themselves into a translation table and to define themselves according to a Schmittian politics.

What kind of a composition does Cenosotone create?

To be convoked under the name of Cenosotone is to be torn between the list of traits given above:

  • son statut d’extraterritorialité l’empêche de définir son territoire
  • son universalité lui interdit de comprendre les relations qu’il doit établir
  • sa quête d’objectivité le paralyse devant les controverses dont il ne sait plus sortir
  • sa prétention à embrasser tout le monde le laisse déconcerté devant le petit nombre de ceux qui lui appartiennent vraiment
  • quand à son histoire, il ne sait jamais s’il doit sortir du temps présent par une nouvelle révolution ou sortir de l’idée même de révolution radicale

In other words, Cenosotone is not a collective entity at all; it is one that has been imposed undiplomatically: ‘il n’accepte jamais de se présenter comme un collectif, justement, et surtout comme un collectif au milieu des autres en précisant son mode de collecte, son cosmogramme’.

Religion One

Nature One, cenosotone, is matched by an equivalent deity: Religion One. This is the deity of ‘Dieu ordonnateur’. And the people this deity convokes are: ‘le peuple qui se déclare Enfants du Grand Dessein ou encore Peuple de la Création’.

Comparisons of Religion One and Nature One

General observations:

  • In general, Religion One is just as non-compositional as Nature One: ‘on fait appel à une autre autorité suprême qui n’est pas si différente de la première colonne du tableau ci-dessus’.
  • It shares three features in particular: its truth is given as exterior, universal and incontestable.
  • Just as the people of Nature One are rigorously selected according to what they believe and housed in a particular institution (Science), so the people convoked by this deity are ‘selected’ (‘ils sont recrutés par une procédure explicite — une forme de conversion’) and housed in a particular institution (Church).

Two more interesting comparisons:

  • Both propose a temporal ‘rupture’ in their own pasts. This is the moment in which the ‘deity’ intervenes from outside of this world: […] ces deux peuples partagent cette idée qu’une rupture radicale a eu lieu dans un passé plus ou moins proche. Rupture qui les a propulsé dans une histoire totalement nouvelle que les uns l’appellent celle de la Lumière, les autres, au pluriel, celle des Lumières. L’important, c’est qu’ils se situent tous les deux dans le temps qui succède à une rupture radicale—Révélation ou Révolution.
  • Neither therefore have a rationality that comes from this world: ‘quant à l’appartenance au sol, elle leur manque à tous deux également, le premier parce qu’il est de toutes façons hors sol, le second parce qu’il appartient à un autre monde, celui, apparemment, du sens et des buts, d’un grand Dessein, d’une Providence vers laquelle ils aspirent à se télécharger.

Difference between Religion One and Nature One

The key difference, and what causes the Science vs Religion conflict, is that Religion One results in the over-animation, rather than the de-animation (cause-and-effect), of its agents: ‘elle a en effet les mêmes caractères, à ceci près qu’elle s’obstine à suranimer ce que l’autre s’obstine à désanimer’.

This difference is exhibited in design-type arguments (eg. the intricacy of the human eye). For one, the intricacy signals nothing more than a creator God; to the other, the intricacy signals nothing more than evolutionary contingency. For one, there is a Watchmaker, for the other, a Blind Watchmaker. Both, however, are reductionist, in that in both there is ‘une perte de puissance d’agir, de narration, d’histoire, de géohistoire qui transforme Gaïa en un Système autorégulé’.

Thus, those who explain the intricacy of the eye by means of evolutionary contingency are positing a MP every bit as much as those who explain it be means of a creator God: ‘ce qu’il y a de particulièrement déconcertant pour ceux qui, comme moi, estiment ceux qui chantent la gloire de Dieu aussi bien que ceux qui célèbrent l’objectivité des sciences, c’est que le deuxième récit, en gommant toutes les surprises que l’on trouve à foison dès que l’on suit l’histoire de la structure de l’œil, s’efforce d’être aussi pauvre que le précédent’.

Both, therefore, have problems with emergence.

Emergence

Neither Nature One nor Religion One have an account of agency that will enable the Moderns to handle the temporal connotations of the phenomenon of emergence:

  • By positing a metaphysical principle of determination, and thus a model of cause-and-effect, they presuppose that the future is entirely contained in the presenting situation. There is thus a ‘net gain’ of zero in any actantial situation: ‘en termes de rôles actantiels—horribles mots pour une si belle chose—le résultat net est zéro puisque la quantité d’animation n’a pas augmenté d’un iota.
  • Thus, nothing new happens, and there is literally no history: ‘tout est dans la cause, rien dans l’effet. Autrement dit, littéralement, rien ne se passe. Le passage du temps ne fait rien au monde. Il n’y a pas d’histoire.

Emergence as Creation

Latour uses the term ‘creation’ (without connotation of the ‘Creator’ or ‘creationism’ of Religion One) in order to describe the model of agency that can handle emergence:

  • Cause-and-effect is not sufficient to explain emergence: ‘la création—qui est l’inverse du créationnisme—suppose que le rapport cause-conséquence soit modifié de telle sorte que la conséquence déborde quelque peu sur la cause’.
  • Emergence-as-creation therefore describes time as moving from the future to the present: ‘ce qui revient à dire que le temps coule de l’avenir vers le présent, et non pas du passé vers le présent. Ou, pour le dire encore autrement, que les conséquences, d’une certaine façon, ‘choisissent’ toujours quelles seront leurs causes’.

Science vs Religion

The debate between ‘materialists’ and ‘spiritualists’ is thereby revealed to be in error:

Et pourtant que de salive on a dépensé pour distinguer
’spiritualistes’ et ‘matérialistes’! Au bout de quelque temps, on ne comprend plus où est la dispute : un dessin et un Ingénieur contre un dessein et un Créateur, quel beau combat en effet, bien digne qu’on s’étripe.

There is no need to continue to fight, nor to reconcile them in their current forms, because neither of them have a correct understanding of the nature of the agency that determines them: ‘on comprend pourquoi il ne sert à rien d’accuser la Science d’être un substitut de religion, ni de chercher dans une religion naturelle ce qui pourrait convaincre les incroyants de l’existence de la Providence. On ne peut ni opposer, ni réconcilier les visions scientifiques et religieuses du monde’.

Instead, it would be better to redefine both nature and religion from scratch: ‘il vaut mieux tenter de faire tout le contraire et de dissoudre l’amalgame entre les deux’.

Natural religions

Religion One should not be known as ‘natural religion’, then. Both Religion One and Nature One are ‘natural religions’:

Untitled.png

Radical Rupture

The diagramme above shows the Moderns (Nature One, Religion One) living in a particular époque: this is given by a rupture radicale:

  • This rupture radicale in the past determines the cause-and-effect progress of the future. Another way of saying this is: the Moderns believe ‘le monde a une fin’, but only in the sense that this fin will be the inevitable outcome of their own progress: ‘les buts qu’il poursuit seraient définitivement atteints’.
  • For Religion One, this rupture radicale might be understood in a variety of ways, for example: ‘être ‘sauvés’, être ‘enfants d’un Dieu qui prend soin de nous’, être ‘le peuple choisi par Dieu’,
’avoir été créé’, ‘se trouver dans la Présence’’ .

Religion One thus exhibits an eschatological tension: ‘les temps sont accomplis, mais qu’ils durent’.

References

[1]   Serres, (1992), Le Contrat Naturel, p.81.

[2]   Cf. Latour’s comments in the sixth Gifford, where he attempts to define what diplomatic value his diagnosis has brought about: he has sought to provide ‘a diplomatic reach wide enough to engage in parleys with potential allies; and, who are summoned by an entity—a divinity, a God, a set of gods, a god function—through specific rituals that would make such a people conscious of their existence’ (Gifford Lectures, p.124).

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 4)

I must continue with my posts on Face à Gaïa. Remember, these are nothing but notes: 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.

This chapter, lecture 4, is wonderful.

face

Lecture Four: L’anthropocène et la destruction (de l’image) du Globe

The sub-commission 

The sub-commission on Quarternary Stratigraphy (SCQS) represents an expression of the NRC and its proposed redistribution of agency: ‘les travaux du groupe de travail animé par Zalasiewicz offrent à qui veut bien les lire un passionnant exemple de cette redistribution des puissances d’agir que nous suivons de conférence en conférence’.

The Anthropocene as avatar for the NRC

Being more concrete, the concept of the Anthropocene that the SCQS is uncovering has a number of implications for Modernity:

  • The Anthropocene merges the old epistemologies of Nature and Society (cf. Arcimboldo effect paintings: do we see in them primarily natural objects or a human face?).
  • Thus, the Anthropocene represents a heuristically powerful avatar of the NRC and disrupter of Modernity: ‘le concept philosophique, religieux, anthropologique et, comme nous allons le voir bientôt, politique le plus pertinent pour commencer à se détourner pour de bon des notions de ‘Moderne’ et de modernité’; it provides a ‘désagrégation progressive de tous les ingrédients qui participaient, dans l’Ancien Régime Climatique, à la figuration conjointe des humains et des choses’.

download.jpeg

The Anthropocene redefines both Nature and Society

What is the nature of the ‘désagrégation progressive’ that it enacts upon the bifurcation of Modernity?

  • Nature: this no longer accepts to be called mute and deanimated.
  • Human: there is no single actor called ‘human’ who bears singular responsibility for the Anthropocene, in such a way as this human could ‘act’ to rectify the situation: ‘parce qu’il n’y a aucun moyen d’unifier l’Anthropos en tant qu’acteur doté d’une quelconque consistance morale ou politique, au point de le charger d’être le personnage capable de jouer sur cette nouvelle scène globale’.[1] Thus, if humans have a part to play, which they certainly do, then it will not be ‘l’humain comme agent unifié’ . Instead, there will have to be a new (political) configuration of humans into different people grounds composed in a new way: ‘qui doit être décomposé en plusieurs peuples distincts, dotés d’intérêts contradictoires, de territoires en lutte, et convoqués sous les auspices d’entités en guerre—pour ne pas dire de divinités en guerre’.

Thus there is an inversion, whereby when we find ‘human’ we encounter what was hitherto known as ‘nature’, and vice versa: ‘partout où l’on avait affaire à un phénomène ‘naturel’, on rencontre ‘l’Anthropos’—au moins dans la région sublunaire qui est la nôtre—et partout où l’on s’attache aux pas de l’humain, on découvre des modes de relation aux choses qui avaient été auparavant situés dans le champ de la nature’.

In summary: avec le concept d’Anthropocène, les deux grands principes unificateurs—la Nature et l’Humain—deviennent de plus en plus invraisemblables.

The Anthropocene dissolves the image of the sphere

What is the significance of the image of a sphere in the light of the Anthropocene?

C’est une image de la pensée qui était restée intacte dans toute l’histoire de la philosophie, l’idée d’une Sphère qui pouvait permettre à n’importe qui de ‘penser global’ et de porter sur ses épaules le poids total du Globe—cette étrange obsession occidentale […] En d’autres termes, nous devons mettre fin à ce qui pourrait s’appeler ‘la malédiction d’Atlas’.[2]

Latour cites various recent articles on the ‘implausibility’ of the globe as an item of knowledge:

  • Olwig, Kenneth, ‘The Earth is Not a Globe’, 2011.
  • Diederichsen, Diedrich, and Franke, Anselm, The Whole Earth Catalogue, 2013.
  • Grevsmühl, Sebastian-Vincent, La Terre vue d’en haut: l’invention de l’environnement global,

But most of all, in 2015, on account of the Anthropocene, it ought to be finally possible to sever ourselves from the fascination with the figure of the sphere that has held us in thrall since the time of Plato (146).

Sloterdijk

For Latour, Sloterdijkian immunology (or, we might say, spherology) represents nothing less than the first fully and properly anthropocenic discipline: ‘la première discipline anthropocénique’ (131).

In summary, this is because Sloterdijk is the first philosopher to provide a properly ‘material’ or ‘re-materialised’ understanding of what it means to live on this earth:

Ainsi de page en page, Sloterdijk rematérialise d’une façon nouvelle ce que c’est que d’être dans l’espace, sur cette Terre, nous offrant la première philosophie qui réponde directement aux contraintes de l’Anthropocène de nous ramener sur Terre.

Sloterdijk’s contribution can be broken down in more detail as follows:

  • Latour takes him as following the same model of agency/ composition as himself, focused on how an entity ‘se protège de la destruction en construisant une sorte de milieu intérieur bien contrôlé qui lui permette de créer autour d’elle une membrane de protection’.
  • Contra this enveloping, the sphere (which Latour tends to call the ‘Globe’) represents a premature unification: ‘d’après Sloterdijk, la singularité complète de la philosophie, de la science, de la théologie et de la politique occidentales est d’avoir insufflé toutes les vertus à la figure d’un Globe—avec un grand G—sans accorder la moindre attention à la façon dont il pouvait être construit, entretenu, maintenu et habité’. And again: ‘la figure du Globe autorise à sauter prématurément à un niveau supérieur en confondant les figures de la connexion avec celle de la totalité’.
  • When the Moderns attempt to assert global thinking, then, they are asserting something highly destructive: they will end up acting so as to sever their own livelihoods, that is, ‘rompre toutes les enveloppes protectrices nécessaires à la fonction immunologique de la vie’.
  • The premature unification embodied in Globe-evangelism and its advocates throughout history represents nothing less than a ‘utopie’ .
  • Sloterdijk therefore enacts a reversal of the position-from-nowhere of a MP: ‘il devient très improbable qu’on puisse voir quoi que ce soit depuis Sirius’ .

Deus sive Sphaere

Latour deems this sub-chapter of Globes II to be absolutely vital.

globes

In fact, by means of the concept of Deus sive Sphaere, Latour credits Sloterdijk for addressing the primary problem that has afflicted the entire humanities and sciences: ‘de lever la principale difficulté commune aux sciences et aux humanités quand elles abordent la question du super-organisme’. *Note: the religious metaphysic that underlies this, there is a theological underpinning to global thinking!

  • Sloterdijk identifies a ‘bifocalisme non résolu’ in all imagery of the classical metaphysics .
  • This arises from the difficulty of representing both God and the earth in one view: either one or the other had to attain to the centre, but not both .
  • Sloterdijk argues that the philosophia perennis has in fact denied the fact that there can’t be at the same time an all-ordaining God at the centre and a fully animated earth.

At the end of the chapter, Latour picks up Sloterdijk’s distinction between monotheism and monogeism :

  • Monotheism: obsessed with building a Globe; but one that has a contradiction at its heart (cf. Deus sive Sphaera).
  • Monogeism: conscious of only having one earth; but able to progressively compose from that point.

The Globe forestalls space-time

In Deus sive Sphaere, Latour thinks Sloterdijk has demonstrated nothing less than the impossibility of space-time (or we might say the bastardisation of space-time) under the Modern Constitution:

*Voilà pourquoi il n’y a pas d’histoire—et encore moins de géohistoire: dès que la philosophie croit penser globalement, elle devient incapable de concevoir aussi bien le temps que l’espace.

*Une sphère n’a pas d’histoire, pas de commencement, pas de fin, pas de trou, pas de discontinuité d’aucune sorte.

What the chapter is moving towards, of course, is the conclusion that only when this Globe is destroyed can real history (or progress) pick up again. Thus, the final words of the chapter are: ‘le Globe une fois détruit, l’histoire se remet en marche’.

The theological Globe leads to the scientific (rational) Globe

Although (via Sloterdijk) the Globe can be shown to have theological roots, Latour now argues that the same default has carried through to science, and from that to rationality in general: ‘c’est que la même incohérence s’applique exactement à l’architecture par laquelle la rationalité a été construite’. So, it follows that science just as much as theology has sought to determine reality by metaphysics, whilst denying the way it is progressively composed on earth: ‘le même déni d’une telle impossibilité, se retrouve parmi les scientifiques et les philosophes exactement au même endroit que chez les théologiens et les mystiques’.

The question is, which came first?

  • *Latour is explicit that it doesn’t really matter. This is because it is the same error (the translatio imperii) that is at play in both cases: ‘c’est le même problème répété deux fois—la première dans l’histoire de la religion, la seconde dans l’histoire de la Science, grâce à cette translatio imperii dont il existe tant d’exemples’.
  • However, this is the point that can be challenged in Chapter Four of the thesis. And at various points in FG, Latour seems to suggest the (Christian) theological motive is primordial: *‘construire un globe c’est toujours réactiver un thème théologique’.

When scientists think according to the Globe they are acting like God

  • First, because it situates the scientist outside the very networks in which his rationality is defined and given: his work ‘prend inévitablement la forme d’une sphère transparente qui pourrait être inspectée par un corps désincarné à partir d’un lieu de nulle part’.
  • Second, because it prevents the scientists from looking at the networks by which his rationality is defined and given: ‘la forme sphérique arrondit la connaissance en un volume continu, complet, transparent, omniprésent qui masque la tâche extraordinairement difficile d’assembler les points de données venant de tous les instruments et de toutes les disciplines.

Thus it is plainly stated: ‘ceux qui regardent la Terre comme un Globe, se prennent toujours pour un Dieu’ .

Global thinking is thus impossible in any discipline

The point was made in relation to science, but can be extended to any discipline. This is because global thinking always presupposes a fixed composition that can be seen from the outside: it can never represent ‘le monde lui-même dans lequel tout est censé être inclus’.

Global thinking indicates a non-history

To think in terms of a globe is done when one is ‘tired’ of history (geo-history): ‘[…] la Sphère c’est ce qu’on souhaite passivement contempler quand on est fatigué de l’histoire […]’.

By contrast, Gaia is what returns us to history by recalling us to the immanent space and time: ‘Gaïa est une puissance d’historicisation. Encore plus simplement, comme son nom l’indique, Gaïa est le signal du retour sur Terre’.

However, when science operates according to Nature Two, it takes on again a history

In Gifford Lecture 4, this is given as: *‘data flows again in its original form of historical narratives’ (GL4, p.92); in FG this is given as ‘les données affluent à nouveau dans leur forme originale de fragments, en l’attente d’une mise en récit’.

Loops

By contrast with global thinking, Latour now introduces the concept of a movement ‘en forme de boucle’.[3]

  • The virtue of thinking in loops is to avoid over-animating or de-animating agencies, with the necessary corollary of a MP: ‘c’est le seul moyen de tracer un chemin entre les puissances d’agir, sans passer par les notions de parties et de Tout que seule la présence d’un Ingénieur tout puissant—Providence, Évolution ou Thermostat—aurait agencé’.
  • Thus, thinking loops introduces the disciplines of a ‘profane’ science, a ‘profane’ politics and even a ‘profane’ theology: ‘c’est le seul moyen de devenir profane en science aussi bien qu’en théologie’. This is a corollary of Latour’s use of the word ‘secular’.

Loops are the primary principle by which nonmodernity must function: ‘faites en sorte qu’une boucle soit traçable et publiquement visible’.

Loops should not be conceived cybernetically

  • There is something about cybernetics that defers to a MP: ‘comme on le sait, dans l’étymologie même de cybernétique, il y a tout un gouvernement qui prétend tenir la barre’ .
  • To conceive of the loops as a fixed cybernetic system would be to take them as ‘un modèle avec gouvernail, gouverneur et gouvernement mondial’.
  • If the term can be redeemed, the objective would be to shift from a ‘technical’ definition of cybernetics (MP) to a ‘political’ one in which response and re-adjustment becomes the norm: ‘la question est de savoir si la métaphore glisse du côté de la technique—on multiplie les servocommandes et les centres de contrôle—, ou du côté de la politique—on multiplie les occasions d’entendre protester ceux qui exigent de rétroagir aux commandes’.

Loops of agency in environmental awareness

  • Building on recent work proposing different start dates for the Anthropocene,[4] Latour points out that there have been numerous dates since the eighteenth century when the alarm has been sounded on escalated environmental change.
  • That these have not been heeded is determined by the fact that we have used the ‘vocabulaire du sempiternel Globe’, whose eternity militates against the sense of urgency that the conditions really demand. In fact, this shape will always resist radical behavior on the behalf of humans: ‘par définition, la géohistoire ne se laisse jamais penser sous la forme d’une Sphère dont on aurait découvert une fois pour toutes la forme englobante’.
  • However, if these dates are understood as progressive (bike spokes) in the composition of human awareness about the environment, then all of a sudden perhaps they can be justified as different start dates for the Anthropocene: ‘si les boucles de réflexivité se ressemblent par la forme, le contenu, l’échelle, le rythme, chaque fois diffèrent’ .
  • To think this way will avoid the idea of zero-sum ruptures of knowledge: ‘il ne sert à rien de prétendre qu’on le savait déjà et que d’autres avant nous l’ont dit’ .

Reprise, not repetition, vis-à-vis the environment

*Repetition vs reprise:

  • Repetition: global thinking predetermines this space-time phenomenon of repetition, by dint of the fact that it entails radiating lines of the same from a centre, and a corresponding lack of understanding of that which is novel: ‘l’impression de répétition du même vient de la forme du Globe avec lequel chacun cherche à figurer ce qui lui arrive de nouveau’ .
  • Reprise: thinking in terms of loops, by contrast, would entail a historical thinking in terms of loops: ‘l’histoire, elle, surprend et oblige à tout reprendre chaque fois’ (147). The rhythm of this phenomenon is progressive, emergent and elongated: it constitutes something like: ‘la découverte, chaque fois bouleversante, d’une connexion nouvelle et dramatique entre des puissances d’agir inconnues jusqu’ici, et à des échelles chaque fois plus éloignées, selon un rythme chaque fois plus frénétique, cela, oui, est vraiment nouveau’.

Definition of a loop

The loop speaks for itself in the practices that are required before a globe can be thought

  • Material: bringing your pencil back to the start point .
  • Empirical: required the navigation of ships around the globe, cf. Magellan .
  • Moral: feeling the impact of your action, such that one accepts ‘responsibility’.

Definition of progressive composition by loops

This leads to a definition (or perhaps, a series of images) of how living-by-loops is necessary:

  • faufiler, de fil en fil.
  • envelopper.
  • être ressentis .
  • sentir.
  • entremêlement.

Gaia is not a sphere

  • Latour introduces the idea of Gaia representing a thin membrane of habitable earth, a critical zone: ‘Gaïa n’occupe qu’une petite membrane, de guère plus que quelques kilomètres d’épaisseur, l’enveloppe délicate des zones critiques’.
  • This militates against the idea that Gaia could be a sphere, with corresponding ‘centre’ and ‘control room’: ‘elle n’est pas globale au sens où elle fonctionnerait comme un système à partir d’une chambre de contrôle occupée par quelque Distributeur Suprême surplombant et dominant’.

Thus, Gaia is not a Globe: ‘si vous m’avez suivi jusqu’ici, vous aurez compris que Gaïa n’est pas le Globe, ni une figure globale, mais l’impossibilité de s’en tenir à une figure du Globe’.

Rather, Gaia functions according to loops

Just as there were loops of retrospection, and therefore history, in the dating of the Anthropocene, so there are in Gaia: ‘elle est une suite d’évènements historiques dont chacun se répand un peu plus loin—ou pas’.

The detection of Gaia will only come be rendering ourselves more and more sensitive to complex, and yet provisional, groupings of loops: ‘on ne peut que faire s’entrecroiser leurs chemins potentiels avec autant d’instruments que possible pour avoir une chance de détecter de quelles façons ces puissances d’agir sont connectés entre elles’.

Our responsibility is to become sensitive to these loops

  • This will take the form of those who ‘suivre les boucles pour éviter la totalité’.
  • Or, by contrast, those who refuse to foreclose them, those who do not ‘interrompent, effacent, négligent, diminuent, affaiblissent, nient, obscurcissent, défavorisent ou déconnectent ces boucles’.

This sensitive responsibility is the definition of politics

Definition: ‘suivre les boucles pour éviter la totalité, c’est évidemment aussi se rapprocher de la politique’.

But Gaia will not provide a soothing form of politics

Although Gaia is shifting us towards a new form of politics, we should not expect this politics to be an easy unification of fractured humanity

Rather, Gaia will require the taking of sides, and thus clear friend/ enemy distinctions among humans: ‘inutile d’espérer que l’urgence de la menace soit si grande, et son expansion si ‘globale’, que la Terre agirait mystérieusement comme un aimant unificateur pour faire de tous les peuples éparpillés un seul acteur politique occupé à reconstruire la Tour de Babel de la Nature’ .

This undermines the dream of a utopia provided by ‘Nature’

À l’époque de l’Anthropocène, tous les rêves, entretenus par les écologistes profonds, de voir les humains guéris de leurs querelles politiques par la seule conversion de leur soin pour la Nature, se sont envolés.

This dream is usually centred on the unifier ‘Science’, of course.

A new politics

Such a utopia is not possible, then.

But this is not to say that there can be no politics in which we don’t make progress towards a greater whole, even a ‘universality’.

However, if this is to come to pass, it will come to pass via a politics of progressive composition,[5] and nothing else:

*l’universalité que nous cherchons doit être de toute façon tissée boucle après boucle, réflexivité après réflexivité, instrument après instrument.

This is the form of universality that clearly states its own principles of composition via a mechanism like the ‘cosmogramme’.

This universality, perhaps even it is a utopia, will arrive via a form of politics that is careful to distance itself from both of the following:

  • A politics of nature: where unity is found, but it is a unity secured by a MP.
  • A politics of cultures: where multiplicity is found, but it is secured according to arbitrary cultural markers, rather than compositional principles.

Thus: ‘ces collectifs, c’est là toute la différence, ne sont pas des cultures—comme avec l’anthropologie traditionnelle; ils ne sont pas unifiés par le fait d’être, après tout, des ‘enfants de la Nature’—comme c’était le cas avec les sciences naturelles de naguère […]’.

There is an opportunity to enact this new form of politics with the advent of the Anthropocene: ‘vivre à l’époque de l’Anthropocène, c’est se forcer à redéfinir la tâche politique par excellence: quel peuple formez-vous, avec quelle cosmologie et sur quel territoire’ .

Political Theology

Earlier in the chapter, we’d noted Sloterdijk’s the distinction between monotheism (build a Globe from a position away from the earth) and monogeism (conscious of one earth, and determined to build from it). At the end of the chapter, there is the following interesting comment:

Les monogéistes sont ceux qui n’ont pas de planète de rechange, qui n’ont qu’une seule Terre, mais qui ne connaissent pas plus Sa forme qu’ils ne connaissaient la face de leur Dieu d’antan—et qui sont ainsi confrontés à ce qu’on pourrait appeler un genre entièrement nouveau de théologie géopolitique.

The politics of composition, then, has an echo in the old forms of theology, but only where that old form of theology was determined not to know the agency it was handling in advance, that is, ‘qu’ils ne connaissaient la face de leur Dieu d’antan’ (154). This is the form of [REL] in history.

References

[1]   Cf. Hache, Tremblez (2015).

[2]   Latour also calls ‘Atlas’ malediction’: ‘la fatalité du Globe’ .

[3]   Latour confirms that ‘loops’ are precisely what he called ‘ondes d’action’ in Chapter Three .

[4]   Cf. in particular Fressoz (2012), L’Apocalypse joyeuse and the article by Hamilton and Grinevald, (2015), ‘Was the Anthropocene anticipated?’.

[5]   It is interesting to note that Latour here equates the politics of the Anthropocene with both a ‘metaphysics’ and a ‘cosmology’: ‘c’est ce que j’ai appelé une métaphysique ou une cosmologie’.

Why embracing an apocalyptic future is the only way to be committed to the present (1 of 2)

I’ve recently exchanged some communication with long-term friend and reader of Latour, Professor Michael Flower, in regard to this wonderful lecture delivered by Latour last year, and in particular a series of diagrams that Latour employs right at the end of the lecture.

What is the lecture about? A rough sketch might help to situate us.

  • First of all, Latour acknowledges that his recent work is situated in the realm of the ‘apocalyptic’.
  • Enter: righteous indignation from all and sundry. Is it not the case that to import apocalyptic discourse is to resort to scaremongering? Or perhaps to sensationalism? Or perhaps (what is worse still) to non-verifiable religious metaphysics? At any rate, is it not the case that to dwell in apocalyptic is to remove oneself from the here-and-now?
  • Latour is not surprised by such accusations. But see how he turns the tables. As far as he is concerned, those who dismiss the category of the ‘apocalyptic’, attempting to live as if the in-breaking of an eschaton was not upon them, are in fact the least equipped to face the here and now.[1] This is the crux of his lecture. It is the in-breaking of the end-of-time into time that generates a capacity for action. And that is what apocalyptic discourse resources.

So the Moderns need a good dose of apocalypticism. And not least in the time of the Anthropocene, when the earth itself is threatening our existence in the most apocalyptic of tones! As Latour said in his 2013 Gifford Lectures: ‘the fireworks of the Apocalypse are not there to prepare you for a rapturous upload to Heaven, but on the contrary, to make you ready to avoid being chased off the Earth by Earth’s own reaction to your presence’.

With this context, we can now turn to the diagrams themselves.

1. How the Moderns inhabit time

Voegelin 3

First reaction: *$!*£$*!

Well, what’s being represented here, let’s try to unpack it.

This diagram represents the situation of Modernity: the Moderns’ own account of themselves and why that account is insufficient to face the anthropocenic future that is baring down upon them..

Let’s explain it as follows:

  • The blue horizontal line represents the flow of time. History, if you like.
  • The first yellow vertical line represents an historical event, a ‘cut’ in time, something that has already taken place in this history of the Moderns. Thus, we can suppose that the Modern subject is somewhere to the right of this ‘cut’ (but not yet in the bundles of yellow verticals that is further to the right still: we’ll see what they are in a moment).
  • What was this ‘cut’? It was a transcendent event that has come to define the entire flow of history that follows. To use Latour’s own nomenclature, it was the advent of the ‘bifucation’ of Modernity. So let’s say it was the beginning of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth-century (as described by Toulmin). Or let’s say, if you are religious, it was the incarnation of God in the person of Christ. It doesn’t matter which it is, really: remember, for Latour, you can be either a scientific or a religious Modern (these two positions are represented by the constructs Nature One and Religion One in the second Gifford Lecture). The historical precision of this moment is not necessarily uniform. The point is that a Modern is always situated after a moment of transcendent clarification.
  • Now, because the Modern is situated after that ‘cut’, it follows that he will see himself on an inevitable journey of ‘progress’ (this is a highly loaded word for Latour). The Modern is always moving forward, intrepidly, into new lands, plus ultra. Why? Because of the ‘cut’, the vertical yellow line! Modern progress is always guaranteed by a metaphysics that is already given, rather than one that is progressively composed.

OK, so far so good. But let’s now introduce something disruptive.

2. The (impossible) threat of a second apocalypse

All of a sudden, the smooth horizontal progress of the blue line is interrupted. It is threatened. By what? By the advent of the Anthropocene.

Now, we have a warning to the Moderns (issued by scientists, no less). They are being told that their forward  progress must be tempered. That it cannot proceed as it used to. Tht the former world is going to end. Why? Because now the earth is fighting back, challenging the concept of ‘inert matter’ that had underpinning the first ‘cut’. Progress now (if there is to be any) will result in patient indwelling of a much more immanent space than their own transcendent back-story will allow: the critical zone of Gaia.

This is an existential threat to the Moderns: the progress guaranteed by the yellow vertical cut and moving forward in the blue line is now impossible.

And yet, Latour’s point is that the Moderns cannot grasp this message. They cannot heed this warning. The idea that ‘the former world is going to end’ is incoherent with their own epistemological undergirding, which is given by the yellow vertical ‘cut’. How can something be about to supervene upon a history that has already been determined by a supervenient power? Or, to put it another way, how can our progress by checked when we are beyond the point of no return? As Latour himself puts it in the lecture ‘nowhere is it written that there will be two apocalypses’.

But look at the diagram again. There, to the right of the blue line are a jumble of yellow vertical cuts, falling over, tumbling, higgledy-piggledy. These represent the disruptive transcendences of the Anthropocene. And in the midst of these, the blue arrow of time has begun to swing down. The Moderns’ commitment to inevitable progress is bound to lead to their losing of the very conditions in which progress actually takes place. Catastrophe.

For Latour, pace Voegelin, this is Gnosticism par excellence: if the eschaton has already been immanentised, one ends up floating in an ethereal domain that has lost all mooring from the need for action here and now, in this earth. Hence, catastrophe.

voeg

So this first diagram helps us diagnose the situation of Modernity. In the next post, I’ll continue with more diagrams, this time showing the positive situation of nonmodernity, the one the Latour shows us in AIME. With that, we will be able to see how the apocalypse can and must intervene into the present in order to guarantee a future that we can all inhabit.

Reference

[1] In Face à Gaïa, Latour uses Jean-Baptiste Fressoz’s concept of ‘dis-inhibition’ to explain this: ‘la modernité fut un processus de désinhibition réflexive’ (chapter 1).