The Great Divides



Latour’s central argument in We Have Never Been Modern is just that.  All the while we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we are modern and have used this false consciousness to mould our philosophies, exploits, and historiography.  We have propagated a great divide between nature and culture that is actually an outgrowth from another chasm separating human from non-human.  Latour sees these divides as illusory and moreover misleading and mistaken.  He hopes that a repatriated anthropology that acknowledges the a-modern can rectify the a-symmetries that currently threaten to fold us into a dark, ignorant, and intellectually stagnant place.  He wants fling back the curtain and let the dazzling light expose things as they are: as not either non-modern or modern, wither natural or cultural, either subject or object, either essence or existent, either us or them…but as quasi-objects and quasi-subjects.  And an anthropology of the present will have to address these fraught categories and tear down the dichotomies that are holding us fast.  This is our chance to uncover the continuities in our humanity.  After being entrenched in dichotomies for so long, it is time to look towards the connections, collectivities, assemblages, and natures-cultures.


This idea of Latour’s of filling in these great divides reminded me of a particular work of Barbara Kruger’s We Won’t Play Nature to Your Culture.  (1983)  In this piece she creates an iconic message that refutes the concept of men as producer of culture and women as products of nature.  The piece orders us to shake ourselves from this dichotomous suggestion that the sexes and the cosmos can be split in such a superficial and limiting manner.  Kruger’s work employs a juxtaposition of imagery and text that helps the viewer to realize (textually and visually) the power schematics that are at play.


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