Throughout this semester, I was consistently struck by how combative the various authors that we read seemed to be with one another. They all seemed to write in a manner that only allowed for one true understanding of what an object is and how they fit into this crazy world that they share with humans. In a way, it seems slightly ironic that each of the authors attempts to analyze the “world” of objects, but none can do this while completely separating themselves from the human experience. I don’t think that this gap has to be reconciled, but it has been something that I’ve been thinking about since the beginning of the semester.
The role that objects play – whether an actant as Latour marks them, a secondary agent as Gell labels them, or any of the other titles/roles which are bestowed upon objects – determines our understanding of the human experience as well as we constantly redefine the subject-object divide. Thinking about the divide that we have socially constructed between subjects and objects, I have turned to the various readings through the lens of museum studies. For example, through Latour’s framework, humans and nonhumans exist as actants, equals in the world and have power only through their involvement in networks rather than something inherent inside of them. In this scenario, humans have attempted to be modern by purifying the nonhuman object and relegating it to a non-subject status. Museums, then, could be seen to function as a part of the project of purification, sanitizing the object by placing it behind glass and using the object as a “fact” of the human experience. In trying to look at museums through Latour’s perspective, I wonder if this is totally possible. By placing the object behind glass, often on a literal pedestal, the network in which the object is a part also seems to empower it in addition to its purification. The museum staff cleans objects, preserves them, and researches them – granting their life an importance that is often denied to the mere object. The visitors gaze upon the objects, spending more time in recognizing and really looking at the object. So, what does this actually do to the object?

One Response to “”

  1. gabriel Says:

    As usual, I don’t know how to post so I just reply…

    If “Latour’s central thesis is that an actor is its relations” (17), his irreductionism opens up to the paradox of a potentially infinite actor which is at the same time an ever transforming network: the actor becomes the network that, in Deleuze’s terms, can be traced yet not mapped. This actor-as-set-of-relations is also concrete (17), but how is this concreteness achieved conceptually? Cutting the network? And who does the cutting—given that cutting is the first step towards a literal comprehension of the real that can only be grasped in its parts and not as a whole, i.e that needs to be communicated in order to exist? Here there is a tension between the absent essence of actants that thus require alliances and relations to become “real” (19), and the fact that an actant does not exist if it does not affect another actant or the real lato sensu—keeping in mind that to affect it must be reckoned with, recognized, comprehended (do actants as events exist only if acknowledged? By who (110, 162)? How are difference (137) and translations (145) recorded?). Happily Harman, somewhat of a reductionist, states that there is an objectivity to objects beyond (or prior to) their relationality (27). This point, which Harman does not develop further, could tell us how networks are qualitatively created, since for Latour there is no potency and thus no inherent direction or quality the network will take (32)
    Actants create networks, which are thus de facto contingent alliances subjected to continuous transformations, rather than the medium in which actants move (which explains the absence of time, p. 35, which would otherwise be read as a pre-existent network). This is reinforced by the fact that there are no a priori for Latour. How does the thickening of networks (some are thicker/stronger than others) occur? By recursiveness? Are networks, like the universe, ever-expanding?
    The interaction between actants, in which parts of actants (instead of whole actants) interact with each other (30), seems to hint towards a reading of actant as cyborg. This is also related to the fact that translation and mediation are always partial/prosthetic, since they would otherwise lead to identification or subsumption.

    “Every actant can be seen as a black box or as a network, depending on the situation” (40), i.e. on the actant being congealed (black box) or fluid (network). The difference is that black boxes seem to have some kind of teleology (62), networks don’t)

    Is Harman’s metaphysic reading of Latour convincing? Latour himself writes rather of infra-physics. Furthermore, is Latour a philosopher?

    What about plasma, a non-social matter that is not in relation (it seems to pre-exist relations or to be the interstitial infinity in which relations take place, occupying a small fraction of its extension (which could even be its essence?)

    Why is the word intimacy banned from conversations on matter, because it implies human that casts meaning and emotional attachment on an object?

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