Latour?

I’ve been recently indulging in Latour’s “Science In Action” and his “Pasteurization of France” and “We Have Never Been Modern” (and a number of short articles…)

I was wondering if there is anyone on this board who is familiar with the material, who would like to comment. I am especialy interested in thoughts about part two of “Pasteurization” and “Never Been Modern”…

Because I have allready chucked this selection up somehwere else, I’ll just tack it on here as well as it might perhaps spark someones interest in the author…

but yeah I’m after some conversation with someone who’s savy with the material, although I’ll take what I can get in the interest of developing my reading…

Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France, Chapter 3: Anthropologics.

3.1.4. Every actant decides who will speak and when. There are those it lets speak, those on behalf of whom it speaks, those it adresses. Finally, there are those who are made silent or who are allowed to communicate by gesture or symptom.

Entelechies cannot be partitioned into “animate” and “inanimate”, “human” and “nonhuman”, “object” and “subject”, for this division is one of the very ways in which one force may seduce others. We can make stone gods walk, deny the blacks a soul, speak the name of whales, or make the Poles vote. Actors can always BE MADE to DO so, even though what they would do or say if they were left to their own devices is a mystery.

Interlude IV: Explaining Why Things-In-Themselves Get by Very Well without Any Help from Us.

This in themselves? But they’re fine, thank you very much. And how are you? You complain about things that have not been honored by your vision? You feel these things are lacking the illumination of your consciousness? But if you missed the galloping freedom of the zebras in the savannah this morning, then so much the worse for you; the zebras will not be sorry that you were not there, and in any case you would have tamed, killed, photographed, or studied them. Things in themselves lack nothing, just as Africa did not lack whites before their arrival. However, it is possible to force those who did perfectly well without you to come to regret that you are not there. Once things are reduced to nothing, they beg you to be conscious of them and ask you to colonize them. Their life hangs by no more than a the thread of your attention. The spectacle of the world begins to turn around your consciousness. But who creates this spectacle? Crusoe on his island, Adam in his garden. How fortunate that you are there as saviors and name givers. Without you “the world”, as you put it, would be reduced to nothing. You are the Zorros, the Tarzans, the Kants, the guardians of the widowed, the protectors of orphaned things.

It is certainly hard work to have to extract the world from nothing every morning, aided only by the biceps and the transcendental ego. Crusoe gets bored and lonely on his island because of this drudgery. And at night what happens to the things that you have abandoned?

…For instance what about this tree, that others call Wellintonia? Its strength and its opinions expand only as far as does itself… We cannot deny that it is a force because we are mixed up with trees however far back we look. We have allied ourselves with them in endless ways. We cannot disentangle our bodies, our houses, our memories, our tools, and our myths from their knots, their bark, and their growth rings. You hesitate because I allow this tree to speak? But our language is leafy and we all move from the opera to the grave on planks and in boxes. If you dont want to take account of this, you should not have gotten involved with trees in the first place. You claim that you define this alliance? But this illusion is common to all those who dominate and who colonize. It is shared by idealists of every colour and shape…

Who told you that man was the sheperd of being? …There are too many of us, and we are to indecisive to join together into a single consciousness strong enough to silence all the other actors. Since you slince the things that you speak of, why don’t you let them talk by themselves about whatever is on their minds like grownups? Why are you so frightened? What are you hoping to save?

4: Irreduction of “the sciences”

4.4.4

“Universality” is as local as the rest. Universality only exists “in potentia”. In other words it does not exist unless we are prepared to pay the high price of building and maintaining costly and dangerous liaisons.

…Do not accuse me of nominalism. All the parts of an army MAY be linked to a headquarters. The officers of the Strategic Command MAY work on a map of the world that measures three meters by four. All the clocks in the world MAY be syncronized if a universal time is built. I simply want the cost of creating these universals and the narrow circuits along which they run to be added to the bill.

4.4.5.1

The “universal” can no more swallow the particular than historical paintings can replace still lifes. Theories cannot be abstract, or if they are, the name refers to a style, like abstract painting.

4.4.6

How are “abstraction”, “formalism”, “exactness”, and “purity” achieved? Like cheese, by filtering, seeding, molding, and aging. Or like petrol, be refining, cracking, and distilling. We need dairies and refineries. These are all expensive processes, impure crafts that smell.

4.4.7

It is no more in our power to be abstract than to talk properly.

4.5.7.1

Nothing escapes from a network, least of all know-how, but who doubts that a network which pays the price can extend itself?
“Prove to me that this substance which works so well in Paris is equally good in the suburbs of Timbuktu.”
“But what on earth for? There is a universal law.”
“I don’t want to BELIEVE in it. I want to SEE it.”
“Just wait until I have built a laboratory, and I’ll prove it to you…”
A few years and a few million dollars later in the brand laboratory I see the proof with my own eyes. I step away. I travel a few miles, and pose the question again:
“Prove to me that…”

When people say that knowledge is “universally true” we must understand that it is like railroads, which are found everywhere in the world but only to a limited extent. To shift to claiming that locomotives can travel beyond their narrow and expensive rails is another matter. Yet magicians try to dazzle us with “universal law” which they claim to be valid in the gaps between their networks!

4.5.7.2

How can knowledge be extended? Like radios that are made in Hong Kong, or multiplication tables! There must be buyers and sellers, teachers and commercial circuits, representatives and books that are held to be authorative.

We say that the laws of Newton can be found in Gabon and that this is quite remarkable since that is a long way from England. But I have seen Lepetit cememberts in the supermarkets of California. This is also quite remarkable, since Lisieux is a long way from Los Angeles. Either there are two miracles that have to be admired together in the same way, or there are none.