Theology and New Materialism

If you are in or near Oxford next week and are interested in philosophies of “new materialism” and how they might relate to contemporary theology, do come to this event:

Theology and New Materialism, 14.00, Trinity College, Danson Room

The event will centre on the publication of a very important new book by John Reader. An expert panel, featuring Beverley Clack, James Hanvey and Tim Howles (!) will discuss the themes and arguments of the book, which include not only issues of human agency and transcendence, but also the search for a New Enlightenment and practical issues of politics, aesthetics and technology. There will likely be a healthy dose of Latour from at least one of the panellists!

Following the panel presentation, a wider debate will follow in which all are invited to participate. Drinks afterwards.

But do sign up here for free. Thanks.

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Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 8)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa.

face

Lecture 8: Comment gouverner des territoires (naturels) en lutte ?

Simulations

The value of simulations:

  • Embodied, practical simulations are useful because they are able to represent and re-enact the compositional processes of science, art and politics: ‘compliquer les modèles du monde et y impliquer ceux qu’ils concernent pour ensuite composer, voilà qui me semble une définition commune aux sciences, aux arts et à la politique’.
  • Within a simulation each actor represents something, but the important thing is that this has to be made explicit (in the same way as Assmann’s translation tables).

In other words, simulations enact the ‘figuration’ of as broad an array of agencies as possible.

The MakeItWork simulation

climat-MIW.jpg

  • This simulation focused and tried to represent non-conventional ways of occupying space: ‘les diverses manières d’occuper des territoires’.
  • This allowed the simulation to bring into the negotiating room (the ‘interior’) unconventional actors: ‘aux Amandiers, les organisateurs ont décidé de placer toutes les parties à l’intérieur pour qu’il n’y ait plus d’extérieur, et pour qu’on voie les parties prenantes exercer leurs pressions toutes ensemble. Que chacun se batte sous ses propres couleurs’.
  • Once in the room, all these actors were required to work together by ‘showing their hand’ and being ‘explicit’ (cf. Sloterdjik, expliciter) about how they were working: ‘s’opposer aux autres en explicitant sur quel territoire elles se trouvent’.
  • Emergence could certainly take place, but only by explicit (not en douce) operations within the room: ‘elle [une partie] n’aura pas à agir en douce, elle devra se présenter et dire quels sont ses intérêts, quels sont ses buts de guerre, qui sont ses amis et ses ennemis, bref où elle se trouve, qu’est-ce qui permet de l’espacer des autres’.
  • Thus, the negotiation had a conflictual character: ‘alors que Hobbes devait inventer une politique après des décennies d’affreuses guerres civiles, le paradoxe des négociations sur le climat, c’est qu’il faut faire comprendre aux protagonistes qu’ils sont bel et bien en guerre, alors qu’ils se croient en situation de paix’.

Rejection of totality

The delegates gathered under the banner: ‘ni Dieu, ni Nature—et donc pas de Maître’. The ‘Maîtres’ (metaphysical principles) they were rejecting included the following:

  • The nation-state.
  • A ‘world government’ that could decide for all.
  • A single, unified concept of ‘Nature’ that could decide all the debates.
  • The unifying power of capitalism in the guise of the ‘Economy’.
  • Indeed, this also meant that they had to reject ‘Gaia’ (at least, Gaia understood as an overarching actor): ‘de ne pas prendre Gaïa pour un Système unifié’.

Another way of saying this is that the simulation was premised on the redundancy of the figure of the ‘Globe’ (as demonstrated in earlier chapters): ‘nous retrouvons ici la figure du Globe dont nous avons appris, conférence après conférence, à quel point elle était non seulement impossible, mais moralement, religieusement, scientifiquement et politiquement délétère’.

Thus, the task was to find an alternative way of representing the actors of this world than that of Totality (the globe): ‘pour retrouver le monde commun—et peut-être aussi le sens (du) commun—, la solution n’est pas de faire appel à la Totalité, qui de toutes façons n’existe pas, mais d’apprendre à représenter différemment le territoire auquel on appartient’.

Politics from above/ politics from below

The simulation allowed two types of politics to come to light:

  1. To defer ‘upwards’: politics defers upwards to an operation of scale, ‘en faisant appel à un principe supérieur commun, à l’État de la Nature’; however, this serves only to ‘dépolitise toute la négociation devenue simple application de règles de distribution’.
  2. To defer ‘downwards’: this enacts the opposite movement, ‘en traitant toutes les parties prenantes à égale niveau de souveraineté’, granting to all entities the right to ‘prendre parti’; this is what alone provides a true and proper politics.

Defintions of space as ‘utopia’ and ‘topos’

In terms of the two forms of politics above:

  1. To defer ‘upwards’ is to defer to a utopia; its movement is ‘utopique, au sens étymologique de ce qui est nulle part’.
  2. To defer ‘downwards’ is to reterritorialise oneself; its movement ‘consiste à se donner un sol’.

Externalisation

The sort of politics that defers ‘upwards’ is a politics of ‘externalisation’, which refers to the bracketing out of agencies, and thus is ‘synonyme exacte’ of ‘la negligence calculée’ that has already been defined (via Serres) as the essence of irreligion.

The utopia/ achronia of the Modern understanding of the natural world

By understanding the things of the natural world according to ‘the laws of nature’, the Moderns assume that these things will work always and forever in the same way.

In doing so, they denude them of the right to act in space and time:

Le problème des questions écologiques, pour employer un terme désuet, c’est qu’elles semblent parler d’objets qui ont été téléchargés dans l’utopie aussi bien que dans l’uchronie. Ni l’eau, ni le sol, ni l’air, ni les vivants, ne sont dans le temps et dans l’espace de ceux qui en font le cadre de leur action.

And, in addition, they impose upon them an operation of scale that comes from the ‘exterior’:

Elles ne peuvent être dictées de l’extérieur simplement parce qu’elles auraient été
‘déterminées objectivement par les Lois de la Nature’.

Planetary boundaries and critical zones

These two terms indicate the sense that we should not be trying to escape to another planet as a means of understanding this one.

Geo-disciplines

The disciplines that Latour suggests instead are ‘geo’ ones, starting with the ‘géo-traçante’; these are ‘cette activité de pistage de l’espace, de parcours des lopins et de traçage de lignes’.

Mapping

By contrast, 2D maps are the opposite: they limit our ability to visualize new configurations of human and nonhuman agencies, compelling us instead to stick with old forms of representation that (in fact) are not very representative at all, and over which wars are too easily fought:

C’est aussi parce que nous sommes limités à l’imaginaire de ces cartes en deux dimensions, aux frontières délimitées, qui sont bien utiles, comme on le sait, pour ‘faire la guerre’[1] mais fort insuffisantes si l’on veut s’y retrouver dans la géopolitique des territoires en lutte.

So the way of representing the world would be via a ‘geo’-map of some sort, ‘une chose comme une carte géologique avec sa vision en trois dimensions, ses couches multiples encastrées les unes dans les autres, ses dislocations, ses ruptures, ses reptations, toute cette complexité que les géologues ont su maîtriser pour l’histoire longue des sols et des roches, mais dont l’infortunée géopolitique reste dépourvue’.

The future of the nation-state

In reorganizing the distribution of powers the simulation showed what a true politics (in the sense of a nomos) would look like vis-à-vis the nation-state:

  • The nation-state no longer has the political privilege of violence.
  • Politics must now shift to new configurations, including those incorporating Gaia: ‘comment conserver ‘le monopole de la violence physique légitime’ quand il s’agit de la violence géohistorique du climat?

Quelle avancée si l’on pouvait enfin passer des États régnant sans contre-pouvoir sur un sol délimité par des frontières, à un ordre constitutionnel enfin doté du système complexe de contre-pouvoirs exercé par les autres délégations—ces fameux ‘checks and balances’ tant célébrés par les Humains, mais que les Terrestres en sont encore à rechercher?.

Gaian politics

This new form of politics coalesces around Gaia (it is here that differences with the Schmittian politics become most apparent):

  • Gaia does not mimic the old function of the nation-state: ‘contrairement à la Nature, Gaïa ne fait pas irruption pour régner à la place de tous les États forcés de se soumettre à ses lois, mais comme ce qui exige que la souveraineté soit partagée’.
  • Gaia forces us into new political configurations that need defending and justifying: ‘comme Gaïa ne sont ni extérieures, ni indiscutables, elles ne peuvent pas rester indifférente à la politique’.

Nature as religion

The construct ‘Nature’ acted as a religion, insofar as it demanded allegiance as a ‘cult’: ‘tandis que la Nature pouvait régner sur les humains comme un pouvoir religieux auquel il fallait rendre un culte paradoxal, civique et séculier […]’.

Gaia is not religion

By contrast, the state of Gaia is not religious:

  • For example, here is a basic statement: ‘Gaïa ordonnent seulement de partager le pouvoir comme des pouvoirs profanes et non pas religieux’.
  • Thus, we are not moving (in Comptean fashion) from ‘metaphysical God’ to ‘Nature’ to ‘Gaia’: ‘Il est inutile d’espérer une nouvelle translatio imperii qui irait de Dieu à la Nature, puis de la Nature à Gaïa. Aucune ‘loi des trois états’ n’est ici à l’œuvre’.
  • Gaia is strictly limited by this earth: ‘Gaïa se contentent de rappeler les traditions plus modestes d’un corps politique qui reconnaît enfin dans la Terre ce par quoi ce corps assemblé accepte solennellement d’être définitivement borné’.
  • To reintroduce the old ‘God’ of metaphyiscs is to forestall Gaian politics: ‘si vous en faites une divinité totale, vous suranimez et vous dépolitisez tout aussi sûrement’; ‘nous réalisons que nous sommes convoqués par un pouvoir qui est pleinement politique

Whatever [REL] is, then, it must not be religious where Gaia is not.

However, Gaian politics will depend on religion

Having said that, the extent to which we might embrace Gaian politics depends very much on the way in which we inherit religion and which religion it is that we inherit: ‘l’issue de ce combat dépend forcément de la façon dont nous nous rendrons capables d’hériter de la religion’. To put it in more general terms: ‘autour de ces questions passablement obscures de la fin, des buts, de la finitude, de l’infini, du sens, de l’absurde, et ainsi de suite, il y a toujours la question religieuse’.

  1. Secularisation is counter-religious

As we’ve seen before, Latour thinks that ‘secularisation’ is actually a counter-religious function: ‘ce qu’on appelle ‘sécularisation’ n’a fait que reprendre le trait principal des contre-religions—vivre dans la fin des temps—, mais en décalant cette fin des temps dans l’utopie de la modernisation, on comprend que l’accès au terrestre sera rendu impossible’.

  • It lives in ‘the end times’.
  • Thus it functions as a utopia.

Thus it has no immanence/ earth-boundedness

2. The overthrow of the secular cannot come via politics or science alone

The overthrow of the secular cannot be a function of politics or science alone: it must tackle this issue of the counter-religious origin: ‘même si nous parvenions à redonner une place aux sciences et à dynamiser de nouveau la politique, il n’en resterait pas moins que ceux qui ont hérité du modernisme—c’est-à-dire, aujourd’hui, la planète entière dans ce qu’elle a de globalisé ou de mondialisé—se situent dans un temps impossible, celui qui les a pour toujours arraché au passé et lancé dans un futur sans avenir’.

3. Religion must be an element in the new world

This is because religion is also a key component in the progressive composition of the common world, just like politics and science. Thus, the new world will come: ‘en acceptant la finitude : celle de la politique, celle des sciences, mais aussi celle des religions’.

  • This subverts the usual sociological comment that we must ‘leave religions behind us’ in order to make progress.
  • Religion is thus a ‘poison’ (in the guise of ‘counter-religion’), but also and crucially it is the ‘counter-poison’ also.

4. Religion must engage with the other modes to engage this new world

Another way of putting this is that religion is one of the three ingredients in the new common world that must be composed: ‘autrement dit, pouvons nous enchaîner trois humiliations en cascade, celle des sciences, de la politique et de la religion, au lieu de cet amalgame mortifère qui en a mélangé les vertus, mais n’a réussi qu’à nous empoisonner’.

Thus, ‘la religion en se limitant, apprenne à conspirer avec les sciences et la politique, pour redonner un sens à la notion de limite’.

End times

The final appeal of the book is to inhabit apocalypse, not utopia, which means switching from the ‘end of time’ to the ‘time of the end’:

Pouvons-nous réapprendre à vivre dans le temps de la fin, sans pour autant basculer dans l’utopie, celle qui nous a téléchargé dans l’au-delà, aussi bien que celle qui nous a fait manquer l’ici-bas?

The new world

The new world, the common world, that Latour wishes to invoke, then, is a rupture within space-time, not a rupture in space-time (this world seized differently, not another world):

Avant d’être enflée dans de grandioses scènes cosmiques à grand budget, la rupture radicale de l’eschatologie doit être d’abord reconnue dans une tonalité plus légère, plus humble et plus économe. La fin du temps n’est pas le Globe Final qui encercle tous les autres globes, la réponse finale au sens de l’existence; c’est plutôt une nouvelle différence, une nouvelle ligne, tracée à l’intérieur de toutes les autres lignes, qui les traverse partout, et qui donne un autre sens à tous les événements, c’est-à-dire un but, une présence finale et radicale, un achèvement. Non pas un autre monde, mais ce même monde saisi d’une façon radicalement nouvelle.

The wrong way to grasp the apocalypse

What Latour is seeking to avoid, then, is an understanding of these great theological themes as a flight into transcendence and out of this world. In other words, these themes as given by the old ST:

  • Eschaton: as ‘echappée hors du temps, en saut dans l’éternité, dans ce qui ne connaît pas de temps’.
  • Incarnation: as ‘altérée en fuite loin de toute chair vers le royaume désincarné du domaine spirituel du lointain’.
  • Salvation: as ‘tout ce que pour quoi, selon leur propre récit, leur propre Dieu avait fait mourir son propre Fils, à savoir la Terre de Sa Création’.

The Holy Spirit

It is difficult to know exactly what this means, but the (metaphorical?) appeal is finally made to the Holy Spirit as that which can renew the world, but only if it is working in the framework of a Gaian politics, not in the old politics of Nature: ‘le Saint Esprit peut ‘renouveler la surface de la Terre’, mais Il est impuissant quand on le confronte à la Nature sans visage’.

Bad theology

Theology goes wrong not when it addresses its theological themes (God, etc), but when it addresses them according to ‘Nature’, that is, in the guise of ‘Religion One’:

Comme il est étrange que les théologiens qui combattent le matérialisme, aient mis si longtemps à comprendre que ce sont eux qui ont construit, à travers les siècles, un véritable Culte de la Nature, c’est- à-dire la recherche d’une entité extérieure, immuable, universelle et indiscutable, par contraste avec le récit changeant, local, intriqué et discutable que nous autres Terriens habitons. Pour sauver le trésor de la Foi, ils l’avaient abandonné à l’Éternité.

Laudato Si

pope

Latour was nearly in despair in seeing an understanding of religion in this way until he came across the encyclical:

  • It re-unites politics, science, religion (cf. chapter 6, where Toulmin had argued that 1610 saw their separation): ‘en rattachant enfin l’écologie avec la politique et sans mépriser pour autant les sciences’.
  • It enacts the new mode of conversion, which is not towards separation but rather towards composition: ‘serait-ce possible, me disais-je en lisant l’appel du Pape François à la conversion, que l’intrusion du Gaïa puisse nous rendre proches de tous les dieux?’.

The future

All is open, everything to play for.

New world

The new world that is to be found will not be via ‘expansion’ (Columbus, etc), but by ‘intensity’ (understanding better the earth we live on, not finding a new one): ‘il s’agit toujours de l’espace, de la terre, de découverte, mais c’est la découverte d’une Terre nouvelle considérée, si je peux dire, dans son intensité et non plus dans son extension’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]   This is an allusion to the celebrated essay: Yves Lacoste, ‘La géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à faire la guerre’, 1982 (fn. 283).

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.

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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’.

Soren Kierkegaard, Peter Sloterdijk and the History of [REL]

The Reset Modernity catalogue looks wonderful. I actually submitted a piece myself, which didn’t get accepted. I was very disappointed of course – but the contributors are so elevated that I can’t claim to be in such company. Anyway, here is my piece in case you are interested. It’s a little study of [REL] in a historical context. For me, one of the key questions about [REL] as Latour defines it is how and when it arises in history (was it a punctuated moment, pace Assmann’s Mosaic Division, or does it ebb and flow?). It is by dint of understanding its history that we will understand what it is now. Here, I take one synchronic cut in nineteenth-century Denmark. Many others could have been chosen. Anyway, I’ll leave you to read the rest.

 

What History are we Supposed to Inherit?
A False Start in the Reset of Modernity


Part One: What history are we supposed to inherit?

If we have never been modern, then what history are we supposed to inherit?[1]

The time seems ripe for us to enquire into the history we are supposed to inherit. After all, as Latour has shown us, the ‘official history’[2] given to us by the moderns, that narrative of emancipation that is pumped out every day and from every media outlet, is bunk. It has the status of one of those telegenic news broadcasts delivered by Comical Ali during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, sponsored, authorised and endorsed by Ba’ath Party HQ, and communicated with faultless bravado, but ludicrously oblivious to what was taking place in the real world and moments away from being disbanded and taken off air. How absurd all that was! How we laughed at such ostrich-like behaviour!

But our laughter was hard-won. For the only reason we could laugh was that we watched it from the comfort of our armchair with remote control in hand, knowing that at any moment we could switch channels and gain a different perspective on the story unfolding before us. In just a moment, and with the tap of a button, we could be watching aerial shots of precision GBU-27 bombing or footage provided by the head-cam of an US infantry soldier as he moved through the streets of Baghdad. To see beyond official history requires an alternative camera-angle, an alternative historiography, we might say. Do we have one for our own situation? Do we have an alternative historiography that will help us see beyond the narrative of modernity and towards what is approaching in the middle-distance? Except for us, of course, what’s approaching is not an invading military force, but an insurrectionist anthropocenic politics that will change the very face of the earth upon which we live.

Since the need is so urgent, it’s worth considering every available candidate. Which is why the work of Peter Sloterdijk is so interesting.[3] Sloterdijk’s historical project is to fracture or decentre the singular, unified story that is told by the moderns, their official history, we might say, in favour of a broadcast that opens out to the middle-, or even to the far-, distance. His heroes are those who are ‘temperamentally’ inclined in one way or another to provide this alternative footage; his villains are those who are frantically and neurotically engaged in the attempt to close it down, to shut off the broadcast, to ensure the transmission only of what has been officially approved.

Let’s consider one particular moment in this Sloterdijkian historiography. Actually, it’s more of an encounter, an encounter between a hero and a villain, or between two different news reporters. For Sloterdijk, this encounter (and others like it) represents precisely that ‘change of the channel’ described above, an alternative transmission, revealing the banality and redundancy of what we were watching before and opening up a means for us to inherit history in a new way. So enter, stage left, the villain: Hegel.[4] Here we have history as ‘idyll’, narrated from the point of view of the end, of ‘consummation’, elevated above the flux of time, and therefore with no take on reality.[5] With Hegel, the camera-angle is too removed from the scene to report on the story as it unfolds. For Sloterdijk, then, Hegel is the broadcaster of modernity par excellence: he represents the attempt to narrate history by removing oneself from historical situatedness. So enter instead, stage right, the hero: Kierkegaard.[6] Proclaiming the idea of an existential time that is always open to the future and an awareness of the self as being always located in ‘contemporaneity’, Kierkegaard opens out the camera-angle and provides us with history in media res. Thus, for Sloterdijk, Kierkegaard represents the first wave in a nonmodern counter-current, or, to be more precise, he becomes the heroic thinker of something called ‘a radical modernity floating in experiments’ (which is, in fact, the same thing).[7] With Kierkegaard (and others like him), then, we finally begin to inherit a nonmodern history.

Sloterdijk’s historiography, I believe, is sound. But are the historical details correct? Does Kierkegaard really deserve the place Sloterdijk affords him in his pantheon of nonmodern heroes? And if so, what does he actually do to fracture or decentre the official history that is provided by modernity? For it is my contention that something did indeed happen at this time (in this sense, Sloterdijk’s intuition is surely on the money), but that the transition may not have been as clean as Sloterdijk supposes. And so by tracing more accurately the somewhat ragged lines of this transition, in recalibrating the story that Sloterdijk proposes, we might find ourselves better equipped to understand the complex inheritance of our own history¾and so also to face the history that is to come.

To do so, let’s focus in on another encounter. This time, not between Hegel and Kierkegaard (those two, of course, never did meet in person), but between Kierkegaard and a man whose own story is obscure, mundane, almost undocumented, and whose name (were it not for this encounter) would be more or less lost to the historical record. 

Part Two: The Strange Case of Adolph Peter Adler

It was in 1843 that Magister Adler published his Sermons, in the preface to which he in the most solemn manner announced that a revelation had been bestowed upon him and that by this revelation a new doctrine had been communicated to him.[8]

Adler
The only known image of Adolph Peter Adler, taken c. 1843.

Some time in June 1843 (the precise date is not known) Kierkegaard received into his house a man named Adolph Peter Adler, a contemporary Danish pastor, writer and theologian.[9] The meeting had in fact been arranged at Kierkegaard’s bequest. Why? Because Kierkegaard’s curiosity had been piqued by a great deal of negative publicity Adler had recently been receiving in the press on account of his claim, published in the preface to a collection of his sermons entitled Nogle Prœdikener, that he had experienced a revelation given to him directly by Jesus Christ.

The case had become something of a cause célèbre in Copenhagen society (insofar as an ecclesiastical scandal ever holds the front pages for long¾history is full of them, is it not?)[10] But it had also drawn the attention of the Danish State Church. It wasn’t long, then, before Adler was summoned to a formal deposition conducted by his employers. At this deposition Adler was asked a series of questions concerning his revelation and the state of mind in which he had received it. The process was long, but its outcome was decisive: on 13th September 1845 Adler was defrocked and dismissed from his holdings, from whence, although continuing his writing, he lived out the rest of his days in obscurity on an island in the north of the country.

So much for the centralized ecclesiastical machinery of control. It was ever thus. We might be more surprised, however, to learn that Kierkegaard, that heroic gadfly in the side of the Statskirke, in fact upheld the Church’s decision on this matter. His reasoning was as follows. Christianity was itself grounded on claims of authoritative revelation. To discover a foot-soldier in its ranks claiming another revelation, a different one no less, was therefore a serious matter. Kierkegaard took Adler to represent not just a source of potential reputational embarrassment to the Church, to be referred to the bishop’s PR department and issued with a warning in regards to his future conduct, but an insidious threat to the life of the institution itself. Here was a potential renegade to the faith once received by the saints¾and operating from the inside no less! The stakes couldn’t have been higher.

Moreover, Kierkegaard had taken the trouble (indeed, he had taken a great deal of trouble) to take on the role of Private Investigator and to examine the case for himself. His invitation to Adler to join him for coffee and scones in his living-room in June 1843 was certainly a function of his undercover detective work. Did he get what he wanted? Well, one thing we do know is that the encounter gave him a lot to think about. Pages and pages of musings on the Adler-case have been left to posterity: notebooks, leaves of manuscript, journal entries. A veritable logorrhoea seems to have ensued. But throughout all this writing Kierkegaard’s verdict remained consistent: Adler’s claim simply did not stand up to scrutiny.

Three lines of evidence are presented against the accused. First, Kierkegaard notes that the content of Adler’s putative revelation-event was almost identical to ideas Adler had committed to print before, in books purporting to be Hegelian philosophy, no less! The God of revelation, it seems, lagged somewhat behind the authority of the philosopher of Geist. Second, Kierkegaard notes that, when challenged regarding the detail of what happened, Adler seemed to have prevaricated: rather than defending to the death the Word that had been given to him from above, he seems to have felt it quite reasonable to reconfigure it, to restate it, even to correct it. Where, then, were the boundaries of its authority to be located? Why was Adler so ready to modify his claim to apodictic truth? Third and finally, Kierkegaard combs through Adler’s own writings about his experience, particularly from the period 1844-1846. Kierkegaard notes that, in what he wrote subsequent to the original event, Adler seems to be moving more and more to downgrade its status, finally referring to it merely as a ‘reference point’ [Holdningspunkt][11] in his own life, one that he reserved the right to develop or abandon later on as his own ideas became clearer, or whenever he found himself in need of a different vehicle by which to communicate them. With this, Kierkegaard decides that the case for the defence had finally collapsed. Adler did not seem to be overtly malicious: no doubt he was in earnest in regard to his putative revelation-experience. But by his own actions he had revealed himself to be mistaken. Adler was acting like a child who, whilst boasting to friends of his undoubted courage, was refusing to jump in the river unless everyone else did so too. It was not the behaviour of one who was convinced of a Word given to him from above.

Kierkegaard’s verdict was in fact that Adler had surreptitiously switched the mode of veridiction of his revelation-event from that of ‘apostle’ to that of ‘genius’. For Kierkegaard, the category of revelation most certainly should belong to the mode of the apostle. The apostle is one who understands himself in receipt of a fixed truth, a Word given to him from above, for which he is merely the repository and custodian. His calling is to safeguard that Word, even unto death, should it be necessary. Certainly the apostle might find himself, Ezekiel-like, called into the midst of the agora (after all, the Word of God must be brought to the people). But he would never allow that Word to be handled by them, like a rabbit brought out at the petting farm for the children to stroke. The Word entrusted to the apostle was not subject to verification. It would not admit to categories of improvement, change, development, re-orientation, clarification, perfectibility, or mediation.

Moreover, as Sloterdijk himself has shown elsewhere, the mode of the ‘apostle’ has in fact defined the entire history of modernity.[12] Modernity, or the ecclesio-imperial magisterium, as he would describe it, has sought to ensure the domination of its own narrative, the faithful delivery of its official history, by means of sending-out millions upon millions of mini ‘apostles’: these representatives of the centre are mandated to scurry out to the periphery in every direction, to the very ends of the earth, each of them carrying the same message, each of them broadcasting the same report, and tracing out by their movement a spherical world in which we who follow are to ‘live and move and have our being’.[13] The communication of an apostle, then, can admit of no disturbance, no interference, no parasite:[14] it comes to us with the full force of an official history, with the authority of a meta-dispatcher behind it.

So what about Adler? Certainly he claimed to have received a Word from above. And so, as far as Kierkegaard was concerned, he should have conducted himself in the mode of the apostle.

But he didn’t. Adler announced his revelation-event… but then hesitated. He ventured into the agora with his Gift from above… but then allowed it to be passed around and manipulated. Having initially ‘thundered in the most terribly loud tones’, as if he did indeed have the authority of an apostle, Adler then paused and ‘asked the surrounding world to come to his aid with an explanation as to whether he had actually had a revelation or not’.[15] Whether he realised it or not, Adler had shifted his own veridiction to the mode of the ‘genius’. Here was an entirely different category, diametrically opposed to that of the ‘apostle’. The word of the genius is not sent out by a meta-dispatcher, nor it is required to report the official history mandated by the centre. And so the genius seeks, even requires, the approval of the general public. Of course, it may be the case that the message of a genius will appear strange and difficult to receive by the public at first (‘it is surely ahead of its time’, we say, as we pace through a gallery of modern art, not quite sure how to process the material presented to us and reluctant to appear ignorant in front of our companions). But the genius must produce something that can be handled in the agora if it is to persist. The work of the genius is ingenium, born-in-time, and subject to its veridiction. And thus it constitutes a completely different historical broadcast to that of the apostle. ‘The genius has only an immanent teleology’, Kierkegaard concludes, ‘whereas the apostle, teleologically-speaking, is absolutely, paradoxically positioned’.[16]

As far as Kierkegaard was concerned, then, the Adler-case smacked of a category mistake. A revelation-event (of the type Adler claimed) must not be justified by its engagement in the world. Adler should have declaimed his message in the mode of the ‘apostle’, confident that he had the authority of the meta-dispatcher behind him. But he didn’t. He engaged it in the mode of the ‘genius’. And so Kierkegaard’s conclusion? As soon as Adler did so, he volatilised his revelation and revealed himself mistaken about its origin. The game was up. Case closed.

Part Three: What historical inheritance does Kierkegaard provide?

So much for Adler. But where does this tell us about Kierkegaard himself? Kierkegaard the Sloterdijkian hero, Kierkegaard the thinker of a modernity ‘floating in experiments’, Kierkegaard the initiator of a nonmodern history which we are called to inherit.

            The picture now seems more blurred than chiaroscuro. In his condemnation of Adler as a ‘genius’, Kierkegaard has revealed himself to be a child of modernity and a believer in its official history. For faced with the Adler-case, Kierkegaard’s temperamental response was to examine it brutally in relation to the monolithic rationality of the original Christian utterance and for evidence of ‘an emotion that is controlled by Christian conceptual definitions’.[17] Or, to put it another way, if Kierkegaard was to admit of the possibility of a revelation-event at all, it must be within the purview of the centre, and not by any means opened out to be handled by those residing in the agora.

            As Latour has shown, to justify a religious utterance according to the mode of the ‘apostle’ is to fail to understand its rationality as reprise. For the apostle, the logic of religion moves from past to present without passing over any hiatus, such that it can be transported from centre to periphery without alteration: ‘guaranteed as fresh as the day it was picked’, as the supermarkets promise for their packaged strawberries and bananas. Religion as a mode of existence, by contrast, risks its own repetition in new and creative ways, such that it reinvigorates, or repristinates, to use the old theological term, those who partake of it. Every attempted religious communication can be handled in one of two ways: it can be subjected to the ‘poison of the chain of logic’ or, alternatively, it can profit from ‘the counter-poison of its revival’.[18] The problem with Kierkegaard is that, in his handling of Adler, he reveals himself to be committed to the former and not the latter. And in doing so, he reveals himself to be a representative of modernity. Is this really the history we want to inherit?

            So then, it seems that Kierkegaard cannot be claimed for the pantheon quite as Sloterdijk desires. His camera-angle on history is not much different from Hegel’s after all. But is there another turn of the screw? Is there yet more to be gleaned this encounter? I suggested at the beginning that what we have here is evidence of the ragged transition to a nonmodern history. And surely we can see the outlines of those ragged edges coming into view right here. For Kierkegaard’s encounter with Adler seems to signify something more than merely brutal apostolic anathema. And we see it in the way that Kierkegaard himself… hesitates. What is this hesitation? A moment of aporia, perhaps? An emerging crack? A fault-line? Or perhaps even the ragged beginnings of a reset? To see why, let’s return one last time to the strange encounter that took place in June 1843.

What went on in Kierkegaard’s living room? We don’t know for sure. A witness statement of sorts exists in the form of an account written by the philosopher Hans Brøchner, Kierkegaard’s nephew, who claimed to be reporting what he’d heard from his uncle’s own mouth. In Brøchner’s account, Kierkegaard is presented as maintaining an ironical distance from his house-guest: for example, in response to Adler’s enthusiastic attempts to persuade him of the veracity of his revelation-event, Brøchner reports Kierkegaard as replying, with a wry smile, that he would of course be happy to ‘serve as John the Baptist to Adler as Messiah’.[19] Here is Kierkegaard the paradigmatic modern once again, condemning his guest merely as a ‘genius’. And yet, a degree of historiographical caution is advisable regarding the reliability of that source.[20]

And so instead, we might turn detective ourselves, and flick through Kierkegaard’s private journals to catch a break on the case. As we consider that material, a strange tension comes to light. For it turns out that almost as soon as Kierkegaard pronounces his apostolic judgment upon Adler… he hesitates. The verdict he issued on the case, the dogmatic criterion by which he judged Adler, he now admits, was passed ‘not without distress and not without sadness’ on his own part.[21] We discover strange motifs of identification with Adler’s plight, an identification that perhaps Kierkegaard himself does not fully understand. ‘Indeed’, he writes, ‘I am in truth all too inclined to keep Adler afloat’,[22] for ‘it is cruel to slay a man in that way’.[23] And so, notwithstanding the great stakes, for Adler himself, for the institutional situation of the Statskirke, hell, even for the authority of Christianity itself, Kierkegaard never got round to circulating his writing on Adler during his own lifetime (a quite extraordinary situation for that most self-conscious of authors). The reason? ‘I simply cannot get myself into it in such a way that I really have a desire to publish it’.[24]

Perhaps, then, Sloterdijk was onto something after all: Kierkegaard does indeed represent a ‘break’ with modernity.[25] But it is a ragged break, to be glimpsed mainly in the equivocation to which Kierkegaard is ultimately reduced when confronted by the Adler-case. Kierkegaard sought to condemn Adler for falling short of apostolic authority. Indeed, he tried his hardest to close the case once and for all on precisely those terms. And yet, for all his efforts, the encounter caused him to pause and consider how ‘the sudden appearance of a man who appeals to a revelation might provide at least a desirable stimulus’.[26] A ‘stimulus’ to what? A stimulus to Protestantism to open itself out to ‘fecundity’ of its own transmission in the world.[27] A stimulus to us to open ourselves out to forms of religious utterance that are not subject to the framing of modernity, but which, instead, must be presented to the agora for consideration and testing. The revelation-event of Adolph Peter Adler had just as much right to exist as the mundane liturgical worship of a parishioner at Sunday Mass[28] or the ecstatic visions of a pilgrim in the crowds at Medjugorje.[29] Its veridiction would come not from the apostolic centre (Kierkegaard the anathematizer), where it could be censored by the authorities and presented as official history, but from its distribution in the common world (Kierkegaard the hesitator).

What happened to Adler, and his revelation-event, is pretty much lost to history. But perhaps he did exert a historical footprint of sorts. For in that encounter of June 1843 we see the ragged beginnings of a new way of broadcasting, one which we ourselves would be advised to make use of if we are to face the history that is to come.

References

[1]  Latour, Bruno, (2011), ‘Reflections on Étienne Souriau’s Les différents modes d’existence’ in Harman, G., Bryant, L., & Srnicek, N., (eds.), The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism (Re.press), pp.304-333, at p.304.

[2]  For a definition and analysis of the category of ‘official history’, cf. Penuel, William R., & Wertsch, James V., (1998), ‘Historical Representation as Mediated Action: Official History as Tool’ in The International Review of History Education, Volume 2, pp.23-38.

[3]  Cf. Sloterdijk, Peter, (2013), Philosophical Temperaments (trans. Thomas Dunlap, New York: Columbia University Press).

[4] Ibid, pp.67-69.

[5] Ibid, p.67.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Kierkegaard, Søren, (2009), The Book on Adler (trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, MA: Princeton University Press), p.28. All page references in this text are to this edition.

[9] For further biographical detail on the life and thought of Adolph Peter Adler, cf. Koch, Carl Henrik, (2009), ‘Adolph Peter Adler: A Stumbling-Block and an Inspiration for Kierkegaard’ in Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception and Resources (Volume 7, Tome II: Theology, Farnham: Ashgate), pp.1-22.

[10] In a letter dated 16 December 1843, addressed to the Danish Chancellery, Bishop Mynster, head of the Statskirke and initiator of Adler’s deposition, mentioned that of the 1,000 copies of Nogle Prœdikener that were printed only 50 had been sold.

[11]   Kierkegaard, The Book on Adler, p.10.

[12]   Sloterdijk, Peter, (2014), Globes: The Spheres Trilogy Volume II, Macrospherology (1999, trans. Wieland Hoban, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), cf. chapter VII, pp.638-755.

[13]   Ibid, p.656.

[14]   Serres, Michel, (1982), The Parasite (trans. Lawrence R. Schehr, Baltimore, ML: Johns Hopkins University Press).

[15] Kierkegaard, The Book on Adler, p.23.

[16] Ibid, p.87.

[17] Ibid, p.113.

[18] Latour, Bruno, (2013), Rejoicing, or the Torments of Religious Speech (2002, trans. Julie Rose, Cambridge: Polity Press), p.112.

[19]   Relevant extracts are translated in Kirmmse, Bruce H. (ed.) (1996), Encounters with Kierkegaard (Princeton, MA: Princeton University Press), pp.234-235.

[20]   For example, the report was written nearly three decades after the original June 1843 encounter (to be precise, between December 1871 and January 1872) and incorporates somewhat vague temporal markers (‘one day’, ‘I once heard a remark’, etc) indicating its status as a non-recorded reminiscence.

[21]   Søren Kierkegaards Papirer (ed. Heiberg, P. A., Kuhr, V. and Torsting, E., Copenhagen: Gyldendal), VIII 2 B 9:1.

[22] Papirer VIII 1 A 252.

[23] Papirer VIII 1 A 264.

[24]   Papirer X1 A 117.

[25]   Sloterdijk, Philosophical Temperaments, p.68.

[26] Kierkegaard, The Book on Adler, p.43.

[27] Cf. Latour, Bruno, and Lowe, Adam, (2008), ‘The Migration of the Aura or How to Explore the Original through its Facsimiles’ in Bartscherer, Thomas, and Coover, Roderick, (eds.), (2011), Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts (Chicago: Chicago University Press), pp.275-297.

[28] Piette, Albert, (1999), La religion de près: l’activité religieuse en train de se faire (Paris: Métailié).

[29] Claverie, Elisabeth, (2003), Les guerres de la vierge: une anthropologie des apparitions (Paris: Éditions Gallimard).

Sloterdijk, ‘In the Shadow of Mount Sinai’, part 4

Continuing my posts on Peter Sloterdijk’s recent text: In the Shadow of Mount Sinai: A Footnote on the Origins and Changing Forms of Total Membership (2016). See previous posts 1,  2 and 3 above.

For Sloterdijk the second form of ethnoplastic religion, that is ‘boundaried’ religion, is clearly demonstrated in the Sinai episodes of the Hebrew Bible, which he understands to be ‘the primal scene of ancient Jewish anti-miscegenation policy’ (p.25). Here then, the methodological funnel of Sloterdijk’s analysis finally begins to narrow-down or focus-in on one historical instantiation of religion, namely, Judeo-Christian religion.

shadow

For Sloterdijk, the various episodes of ‘the Sinai schema’ (we will note in a moment why his bracketing of the biblical Sinai material is pre-orientated and problematic) all have the following structure:

First movement: an attempted sin-action

There is always an account of an attempt on behalf of the people of Israel (or a sub-section of it) to open-out the boundaries of their religion in some syncretistic break-out. Sloterdijk describes this as a gesture of ‘zeal’. Such actions, then, are ‘the mode of being of a zealous collective’ (p.43).

Second movement: an enacted punishment

The judgment of God is then enacted against that group of Israelites for this attempt (enacted, of course, by some priestly hegemon purporting to act in place of God himself).

Third movement: renewal of boundaries

Finally, there is an enacted renewal of the relationship between God and the people of Israel in the form of a covenant, reclose the boundaries once again in the form of ‘total membership’ (p.44), so as to reinforce the self-identification of ‘chosenness’ (p.41) of this human grouping.

Sloterdijk believes that he sees this structure repeated in the Sinai narratives. And indeed that it is ‘prototypical’ (p.34) of the entirety of Judeo-Christian religion that follows.

Before going on, it is interesting to note how Sloterdijk chooses to bypass an older strand of biblical material that handles the YHWH-istic covenant with Abraham (we might note that the commonality of the three monotheisms is usually described in terms of their ‘Abrahamic’ inheritance). Here, of course, is a strand of covenantal material that does not function with the Sinai schema, and seems to contain concepts that would be problematic to the three-fold movement described above (cf. the movement of YHWH himself through the divided animal pieces in Genesis 15, thereby signally his self-identification with the punishment owed to the Isrealites on account of their boundary-sins). The absence of a properly biblical theology is a significant weakness of Sloterdijk’s analysis.

Sloterdijk, ‘In the Shadow of Mount Sinai’, part 3

Continuing some posts on Sloterdijk’s recent text:In the Shadow of Mount Sinai: A Footnote on the Origins and Changing Forms of Total Membership (2016). See posts 1 and 2 above.

Peter

So, religion is an essential component of the Sloterdijkian version of Mitsein. Religion is that which provides an immunological envelope that enables humans to survive and flourish. (The contrast with the Girardian sacred is here most evident).

However, as far as Sloterdijk is concerned, there are two different expressions of religion in history that have led to two different modes of Mitsein.

Neither approach is exactly to be lauded: both are premised on systems of control-by-fear. However, they are different in their effects: where the first is a ‘phobocracy’, the second is an ‘auto-phobacracy’ (p.46), and for Sloterdijk the latter is more pernicious in its psychopolitical effect, and leads to more violence.

  1. Syncretistic religion

Syncretistic religion is the standard technique of successful empires throughout history as they have handled defeated and treaty-amalgamated religious groups following a religion that is not their own. Its objective is to secure a peaceable working arrangement amongst sovereign and vassal by means of ‘a liberating amalgamation of foreign worlds of peoples and gods’ (pp.19-20).

Syncretistic religion functions on a day-to-day level via ‘diplomats’ (p.20), those who are trained to recognise similar functions of divinities underneath the array of different gods that are worshiped across the empire. This diplomatic work is what enables different people groups to approach one another in the form of ‘ecumenism’ (p.20), whilst simultaneously ensuring the maintenance of peace in the empire (p.46). We are here on the same ground as the ‘diplomat’ of modes of existence.

The great innovation of this school of thought lies in the discovery that with inter-culturally sustainable gods, the inner and the outer converge: what one had taken for a foreign god is revealed, upon closer inspection, as a different guise of one’s own deity. (p.20)

This syncretistic process is exactly what is described by Jan Assmann in his ‘translation’ tables and picked up in the wonderful fifth lecture of Latour’s Face à Gaïa.

  1. Boundaried religion

The second form of religion in the world is ‘boundaried religion’, whose objective is to secure its own existence and perpetuation in history via a process of ‘withdrawing to what is its own’ (p.21).

Some of the functions of ‘boundaried religion’ include:

  • It will defend (to the death) the ‘singularity’ of an ‘untranslatable god’ (p.21).
  • It will likely incorporate some kind of ban on images, which is a cynical move intended to withdraw God from the risks of self-justification in the agora (p.22).
  • It will promulgate that idea that to forsake this deity is to ‘go under amid multiplicity’ (p.21), with the corresponding doctrine that ‘whoever mixes themselves is eliminated and whoever translates falls from grace’ (p.23).
  • It is prepared to enter into a ‘great contest’ (p.21), no doubt agonstic, with other ethnic groupings that follow different gods.
  • It demands the total adhesion of its members to the boundaries it stipulates, even to the extent of demanding some kind of total adhesion of being: it reaches for ‘the entire existence of its members’ (p.52).
  • It will likely incorporate some kind of ban on images, which is a cynical move intended to withdraw God from the risks of self-justification in the agora (p.22).

It is no surprise, then, that this second avatar of religion refuses to participate in Assmannian translation tables (p.21).

So far, Sloterdijk’s methodology has held in tact: he has described two forms of religion in terms of the immunological-compositional effects, rather than in specifics of monotheistic doctrine. We are soon to enter into the shadow of Sinai, however.

Sloterdijk, ‘In the Shadow of Mount Sinai’, part 2

In light of the previous post, the objective of Sloterdijk’s text thus becomes: (A) to explain the origin and maintenance of religion in history, (B) such as to demonstrate why some religion has become violent and other religion has not.

Sloterdijk wishes to avoid the following twin explanations in the study of religion:

  • Platonic: world religions are outworkings of ethnic archetypes (p.13).
  • Romantic: world religions are outworkings of ‘spirits of peoples’ (p.13).

In other words, Sloterdijk wants to avoid explanations for the origin and maintenance of religion in history that posit some factor outside of or apart from the agency wielded by the practioners of that religion themselves: thus, he advocates ‘the abandonment of popular concepts based on essentialist or even metaphysical foundations’ (p.16).

By contrast, Sloterdijk will prefer to take a more ethnological or anthropological approach, or what he calls ‘ethnoplastic’ approach. Here, religion is understood as a ‘mechanism’ (p.16) wielded by its own practioners for their own purposes and survival, showcasing their ‘mythopoetic and theopoetic talents’ (p.17). An immunology if you like.

To explain this, Sloterdijk embraces a Durkheimian explanation of religion as a function of living together or being together that he calls ‘group synthesis’ (p.8). This is the Heideggerian Mitsein. He is prepared to accept that religion is not just one way of developing Mitsein, but rather it is the essential way. In fact, there can be no Mitsein without religion. Thus, Sloterdijk acknowledges that religion is an indispensible, primordial building block for hominization and for the stabilisation of all human society.

The assumption of a people existing completely without religion would amount to the paradoxical assertion that there can be stabilized collectives which dispense with all connecting media and do not become acquainted with any symbolic bond, shared history or firm normative commitments (p.9). Such a thing would be logistically impossible.

More to follow.