first, thank you for a wonderful semester–while I am still very much working through my engagement with this course and its thinkers, there’s no doubt that it’s already shifted my thinking in productive and tangible ways, and will continue to exercise its agency in the future. Also, before moving on to comments re: Latour and Harman–I still hope we can use the blog to multiply the etymological question raised by Gabriel in relation to Heidegger’s Thing, and will set up another post later today to house that discussion. I’ve been thinking about the thing-words in the languages I’m studying this semester (on which I blame the decrease in my blog contributions!) and think it’s an inquiry worth pursuing.
I found Harman’s elegant exegesis of Latour helpful both as a review (one that didn’t provoke the somewhat allergic reaction I’ve occasionally had to the latter’s prose) and as an extension that partially resolves some of my points of discomfort with ANT. One intervention I’d particularly like to flag for discussion is the way Harman deals with the problem of Latour’s notion of time, which, as he observes, “is entirely occasionalist in spirit” (187)–Harman’s intervention, with its insistence on substance, that “things must be partially separate from their mutual articulations. If this were not the case, they would never be able to enter new propositions” (168) which allows us to talk about continuity and change in a way that Latour’s ANT seems to resist, the strange forumulation of plasma of Reassembling the Social notwithstanding. Harman’s move to locating that “plasma” inside things (191) is more appealing.
I am broadly sympathetic to the empiricist impulse that drives Latour’s work—glossed by Harman as a sense “that critique makes things less real, when the goal should be to make them more real” (154). But I am also not so ready to dismiss the theory-things Harman groups under the heading “continental tyrannies”, as I continue to find value in both their epistemological inquiries and their concepts of power—and do not read all work in this tradition as necessarily being so fully dismissive of the hybrids and quasi-objects Latour and Serres bring knocking on the parliament’s doors. (Also, as Sev observed last week, Latour still wants to still “do politics”, which requires a degree of stabilization that chafes uncomfortably against his metaphysical position.) Finally, like Matt, I also continue to struggle with the radical levelings Latour’s democratic ontology requires–though I wonder if what I am balking at is less the universalization of agency than at the equivalencies Latour and Harman demand of us—to think of Thailand and actor-network theory as things of the same order as fish and steel (I did enjoy Harman’s incantation-lists.) As an anthropologist, my research is still going to cohere around questions asked of those objects we call human, and I am still thinking about how to do that work in a way that takes on the ‘posthumanist’ and ‘hyperhumanist’ perspectives we’ve been absorbing. Perhaps the useful takeaway is the reminder to think of a human, too, as “not a simple monadic soul, but a black box containing all manner of swarming actors” (168)— a formulation that reminds me of a wonderful passage from the last page of Edward Said’s memoir:
I occasionally experience myself as a cluster of flowing currents. I prefer this to the idea of a solid self, the identity to which we attach so much significance. These currents, like the themes of one’s life, flow along dring the waking hours, and at their best, they require no reconciling, no harmonizing. They are ‘off’ and may be out of place, but at least they are always in motion, in time, in place, in the form of all kinds of strange combinations moving about, not necessarily forward, sometimes against each other, contrapuntally yet without a central theme. A form of freedom, I’d like to think, even if I am far from being totally convinced that it is.
Edward Said, Out of Place: A Memoir (London: Granta, 1999, 295)
I am also grateful to Harman for putting Latour into dialogue not only with Heidegger, but with al-Ghazali, infosar as one of my frustrations with Latour’s works (and a many of the other theoretical readings we have encountered) has been the sense that they are rooted in primarily European debates and Euroamerican examples, and tend to seize on other philosophical and cosmological traditions merely for juicy source material that is brandished, but not rigorously explored (I’m echoing Easton a little here—but I also think the Pinney and Keane articles we read are excellent engagements of this sort on a more ethnographic level). Like many of the rest of you, I am still wondering if we can make the leap from worldviews to worlds a methodological project. But in the spirit of Henare et al, I’ll borrow from e.e. cummings, and suggest we keep trying:
—listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go