Chapter 11: Welcoming the Beings Sensitive to the Word

Author: Tim Howles, University of Oxford

And so we arrive at chapter 11 of AIME, ‘Welcoming the Beings Sensitive to the Word’. Here, we find religion as the next mode of existence to be encountered.

To get us going, then, may I offer a provocative suggestion? Could it be the case that religion is in fact the concealed dynamo of Latour’s entire intellectual project? And, moreover, that it has functioned in this way from the very beginning? Continue reading

Chapter 10: Learning to Respect Appearances

Title: Habitual Care:  The Mode of Existence of Habit and its Politics

Author: John W. Wright. Point Loma Nazarene University.

Chapter 10, “Respecting the Appearances,” engages “the question of essence” (p. 264).   Why does it arise?  Latour argues that the question of essence gestures toward another “mode of existence.”  This mode of existence, later in the chapter named “habit,” accounts “for the apparent continuity of action” amid a world characterized by fissures, gaps, and heterogeneities – in other words, a net.  Latour calls “habit” the “most indispensable” mode of existence:  “the one that takes up 99 percent of our lives, the one without which we could not exist” (AIME, p. 264).  As Latour works through the chapter, he clarifies his overall ontology and the deeper ethical/political concerns that fuel the plasma that circulates unseen underneath his ontology. Continue reading

Chapter 9: Situating the Beings of Fiction

Author: Andre Ling

Chapter 9 is a challenging and remarkable exploration of what Latour terms the beings of fiction. It is challenging, quite simply, because it demands that the reader accord reality to something so readily opposed to what is generally considered ‘real’ – and this entails a certain amount of conceptual acrobatics. It is remarkable because it purports to do for language, meaning and the symbolic what has just been done for nature; that is to reveal an amalgam and use Latour’s razor to separate out the different modes of existence that it conceals. In my view, it is, in a sense, one of the most important chapters of AIME. If you can go with it, your playing field just got very large indeed. Continue reading

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