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.(Here, a plea for assistance, for on page 161-2 the being-as-being and being-as-other along with multiple transcendences suggests multiplicity in the passing through rather than the reference, a clarifying of the multiplicity of modes, but also, I suspect an intervention in philosophy that I cannot quite put my finger on – perhaps you can help?)
But more centrally, why the restriction, the “ontological anemia” among moderns? Why make others into “culture?” Or insist on the hard choice between representation in the mind or raw reality? Latour replies – see the histories of the fetish, or anti-fetish, of iconoclash? The claim to a non-manufactured god, to avoid all representation of the spirit is a passion Latour traces through Judeo-Christian tradition to 20th century radicalism and philosophy. This critique of the “false” belief of others, one Moderns are obligated to undo. “Others believe they make their gods.”
Iconoclash then joins knowledge as “the double source of the double language of the Moderns… We believe that we know. We know that the others believe.” As such “‘We are those who do not construct our Gods’; and ‘We are those who know how to speak literally and not just figuratively.’” First attack material in favor of (imagined) ideas, then assault ideas in favor of and (imagined) access to material. Together, this makes, what Latour calls bifurcation – not, he claims false consciousness. Instead, he says, our claim that knowledge is real such that “forms” actually traverse referential chains, is so clearly false, so “contrary to experience,” that it only gains temerity through its fusion with the inverse claim that God is beyond all construction, yet requires our participation. The “link between these two enthusiasms… produced a single invincible history, and – this is the fascinating part – both are true at once.” And both are impossible, he says – we can never talk straight nor reach God without reaching. Therefore, we cannot practice the way we theorize. And why is this not simple double stupid false consciousness? Because the difficulty comes from a category mistake – it is the conflagration achieved when two modes of existence meet, mix and create something quite obviously painful. The “collateral victim of this double accident, is, of course, EXPERIENCE.” Ouch.
Thus the charity of intercultural respect must be replaced replaced by a self reflexive awareness of cross cultural modes, Moderns need “ontological fattening therapies.” Therapies of relational empiricism, what some anthropologists call “kinky” ones (Rutherford).
I find ambivalence regarding several elements of this chapter, in particular Latour’s characterization of the reciprocity between knowledge and faith; and his anthropology. Simply put, I find it difficult to think that the moderns are confused. Do they escape experience – this seems a straw vision of the denaturalized modern? Let us perhaps ask them. I wonder if those with more religious training can help develop this, but does Latour give Christians a fair shake when he assumes they can’t or won’t pull apart the categories. Instead, my sense is that there are multiple sophisticated Christian articulations that very clearly delineate the subtle dynamics between God, and the various material channels through which people engage without accepting the simplicity of Latour’s either or. On one hand, it is true that the Pentecostals I work with struggle to find a version of sensory experience that gives God all the agency, and they do reject a description of their practice as training. They fit Latour’s story, although I see it as a battle over scale in which Pentecostals fight to limit their religious experience to a tightly controlled temporal scale – the immediate spontaneity of speaking in tongues untrained. On the other hand however, there are multiple logics around the cross or the rosary that have them as material and practiced, yet not fetishized. In other words, they don’t need to cross modes to make sense – they do already. Is Latour prepared to grant that?
Further, I find his linking the two enthusiasms fascinating and fun, but I need more to truly tie them – perhaps I should reread We Have Never Been Modern? In other words, I am not arguing against linkage, but rather, I don’t see how, certainly not in this text. His story reminds me of Gauchet and others who read Judeo-Christianity as the roots of Modernity in ways that often seem ahistorical. If the two (knowledge/material – god/immaterial) are so reciprocal why did they emerge as dominant thousands of years apart? Did they? And then what is it that holds them together, where is the glue, or least the stories that convince me of glue, so I can believe they are mutually necessary? I want more actual anthropology.
As may be apparent, this reply relies on my work on cultivation and sensory aptitude among Pentecostals. Pentecostals carefully nourish a sensorium, which includes body logics, doctrine, politics, ethos and more – a well developed set of articulations. This complexity has me wondering about the density or the thickness of Latour’s modes. There’s clearly some sensory, practical, physical elements, yet they seem to hinge on logic. Further, religion seems for denser than reference. Are they both modes in the same sense? Is equating them a category mistake? And the thickest of modes in his tale might be the intersection at the heart of the modern. But this one is pulled apart, a God trick offers a cleaner view? Perhaps it does? Or, perhaps entanglement gives purchase?
Like other modal thinkers (Whitehead, Deleuze, Wittgenstein, even (at times) Foucault) Latour provides cross cultural relational things (modes) that coexist, compete, and cooperate, but rarely do we see them dissipate completely or emerge from another. What of the cultivation of a mode of existence? Where do they come from? How do they persist? How do they emerge? How big are they? How small? What makes reference akin to religion akin to politics and reproduction? How do these compare with the other modal visions I mention above? What is the relationship to episteme/ paradigm? Are modes coevolving epistemes?
So, the purpose of these modes: 1) to open spaces for multiple logics? (They are obviously not incommensurable so is the translation, encounter, entanglement his space for agency? Where is Latour’s sense of the undetermined? Who are the agents? At what scale is he imagining motion? – i.e. his politics is collective, what isn’t collective? Are there individual subjects somehow autonomous, or cut autonomous for a moment? Cut collective?) 2) To develop a self critical lens that allows us to access to Gaia? In other words, to disentangle the Modern so we can refashion it. 3)?? What other purposes does it serve?
Hope these questions inspire something from you all.