Chapter 8: Making the Beings of Technology Visible

Author: Philip Conway

So, after something of a hiatus (geddit?) the AIME reading group is back!

Before I get on to chapter 8, ‘Making the beings of technology visible,’ I’ll just mention some resources that could help with the previous chapter on [met]amorphosis. A very difficult chapter, not especially well written, in my view, but important for understanding [tec]. I think I have a grip on it now after having read up (a little bit) on Tobie Nathan’s practice of ethnopsychiatry. All the talk of psyches, spirits and metamorphoses is based on Latour’s encounter with Nathan’s work; in order to understand ch.7 I’d say it’s pretty much essential to have at least a vague understanding of his practice. To that end (and in English) there’s a short summary of ethnopsychiatry by Nathan himself here; a really interesting paper on the kinds of spirits, Djinns, he has to deal with in his practice here and a nice blog summary of one of his books hereContinue reading

Chapter 7: Reinstituting the Beings of Metamorphosis

Author: Terence Blake

The movement of deconstruction of the split between subject and object allied to the pluralisation of ontologies continues. We must now apply this ontological pluralism to the irrational superstitions that are thought to characterise traditional societies. Modernity has been constituted in terms of a battle against the superstitious belief in invisible beings and occult powers. The previous chapters have shown that the Moderns are mistaken about the nature and composition of the visible world. For Latour there is no “visible world”, the very idea is the result of a category mistake. A suspicious symptom from our history is the overwhelming violence that has accompanied the spread of Reason in the world, a sign that we are anxious and frightened about what we nonetheless assert to be devoid of existence. Continue reading

Chapter 6: Correcting a Slight Defect in Construction

Author: Josh Brahinsky

Why the gap between practice and theory? “Why is it so hard to follow experience?” In other words, why do Moderns doubt the referential and reproductive mediations of practice? Simple answer – we confuse our modes.

Construction is hard to imagine positively. Or, at least, in the world of fact, construction outlines the cracks.  The cracks in time Latour calls reproduction, cracks in contact, reference. Latour recognizes the challenge in the name, the word construction, so devoid of philosophical warmth that even naked, without social, its baggage has him revising as composition and now instauration.  For construction is both a sign of ignorance (not-knowledge) and has lost some of its density.  However, for Latour, construction suggests a doubled action (doubled author), uncertain direction (co-constituted trajectories between authors), and a qualitative judgment regarding construction.  Or at least it ought to, he says. Since we have denuded it of these connotations, and have forever tied it to “weak” knowing rather than “strong” being-becoming, Latour offers a new term. Perhaps, he hopes, instaurators instigate, reciprocally, without certainty, always concerned with quality?  Further, it is a concept that invites, and requires, certain respect for the resources, perhaps agency, of the beings that co-participate in this new version of construction.  You/I/We must “encounter beings capable of worrying you… articulable beings… beings that have their own resources.”   Neither raw material nor creative imagination, only grasped successfully in their own interpretive key. Continue reading

Chapter 5: Removing Some Speech Impediments – From an Ethnography of the Moderns to the Ontology of Networks

Author: John W. Wright, Point Loma Nazarene University

So far in An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, Latour has thickened a program found in much of his previous writings. He has combined the philosophical categories developed in We Have Never Been Modern (1993) with his ethnographic method developed with Steve Woolgar in Laboratory Life (1979). The program, however, begins to shift in chapter 5. Latour now introduces concerns recorded in “Irreductions” (1993): “Nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else” (The Pasteurization of France, p. 158). He slowly builds conduits to circulate us within veridiction conditions for a pluralistic ontology of modes of existence. Continue reading

Chapter 4: Learning to Make Room — Introducing the Beings of Reproduction, Instituting ‘A Whole New Diplomacy’

Author: Matthew David Segall

 

In chapter 4 of his inquiry into modes of existence, Latour begins the difficult task of appropriately ennunciating how it came to be that the Moderns, despite having conquered the whole world, still lack the room to deploy the values — legal, moral, fictional, political, economical, spiritual, psychological — that they so cherish. Even the values of physical science became impossible to localize and equip after the entire earth and sky were submerged in an abstract space-time filled by the mathematical motion of matter-energy. Where, it must be asked, is the Mind that measures, calculates, and understands the infinite system of the Universe standing? On whose authority was this Mind granted access to the Ideas at work in Nature? Latour’s inquiry into the modes of existence cannot even begin until after the Cartesian Constitution leading us to repeat such poorly posed questions has been torn to shreds.

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Without Mediation, No Access: Comments on Chapter 3

Author: Adam Robbert

Had Bruno Latour his own academy the inscription above the door might read “Without Mediation, No Access.” To new students of the academy the statement would appear paradoxical, even obscure. If to “mediate” is to come between, to intervene from the middle, isn’t mediation, then, that which must be in the way of access rather than its condition? Isn’t the goal of knowledge to remove all mediation so as to gain a form of direct access to the things themselves? The students would shake their heads, disappointed with the ambiguous nature of the engraving. The initiates, however, would offer a different, more complex, reading: Mediation separates, yes, but it also joins; mediation is the medium of exchange and communication, the linking element that builds a new bridge; it provides the conditions by which access becomes possible. To “access” itself means to come in close; to not just approach something, but to approach it in a particular way, to create an entrance by means of the bridge. What’s more, the initiates would be aware that bridges do not appear ready-made; they must be constructed though meticulous labor and with precise materials so as to connect each new entity that seeks to gain access to the others in the circuit. Worse still, the initiates would also know that bridges do not last forever; they must be continually maintained and reproduced; the access they provide is not granted for all time and for all places, but only to those places and those times connected by the right bridges. The cosmos, the initiates would understand, is a vast archipelago of different beings that can only access one another when the right mediators are in place, and then only insofar as the mediations can be stabilized over time.

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Collecting Documents for the Inquiry: Summary of Chapter 2

Author: Sam Mickey

Let’s look at chapter two of AIME.  As in the introduction and first chapter, Latour touches on a lot of issues in the second chapter, and a lot of questions and possible criticisms still remain.  We should bear in mind that we’re still early in the book, and Latour is imagining a reader who is patient and kind, demanding a final reckoning only at the end of the inquiry, not “after only a few pages” (p. 67).
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