Heidegger’s discussion of nearness was a little confusing last week, but I think that reading Harmon’s interpretation of Latour’s thought on the matter helped clear it up for me (or at least added further thinking on the topic). It seems as if both thinkers were conceptualizing nearness in a similar way. My reading of Heidegger, as he states that “near to us is what we usually call things,” is that objects that are near us are able to be verbing (2). The thinging of the thing occurs when we are able to interact with it (pouring the jug, flying the kite, seeing the grasshopper jumping). 

Harmon interprets Latour’s position on nearness by stating that “action also means nearness, since to act on something is to affect, touch, or interfere with it in some way” (41). This action is a point of translation, it is “how actants communicate,” actants “need interfaces in order to touch, and this requires labor” (42). I don’t think that actants need translation to exist in general, like the restaurant example– that “a restaurant becomes real when it stops being isolated and when the number of people engaged in eating there are many and explicitly engaged in eating there and passing the word along” (61). This does not mean that the restaurant did not exist before people were eating in it, but its strength as an actant is dependent upon its alliances, its connections and interactions with other actants. Am I correct in interpreting action and nearness as the same thing? Of course, I feel as though I’m setting myself up, as we come back to the question of “if a tree falls in the wood and no one hears it, did it really fall?” so perhaps I need to hear more discussion on nearness.

I really enjoyed reading the first section of Harmon’s book. It felt like a cliff’s notes to four of Latour’s major works and going over key terms (like black boxing and time) was helpful for me.

Connecting Latourian philosophy (I’m allowed to call him a philosopher now, right?) with the Museum Anthropology program… When we read We Have Never Been Modern in class, I mentioned that Latour’s idea of a spiral model of time and history would be a different way of presenting information in museums. To my delight, an article for our Museum Anthropology class this past week, “Thinking and Doing Otherwise: Anthropological Theory in Exhibitionary Practice” by M. Bouquet, explicitly discussed Latour’s theories in exhibitions. I don’t have the article in front of me at this time to state the museum, but the author described an exhibit that utilized a spiral staircase on which the visitor ascended and descended while viewing the exhibit, to show that history can overlap. I think that the spiral may have been a little too literal for the exhibit, since Western thinking equates going “up” as a form of evolution/something good, like going up to heaven vs. down to hell. It would be interesting to think of other ways Latour’s works may change the way we think of presenting culture/history/science.


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