“An Enquiry Into Modes of Existence”

Via Ian Bogost on twitter, the latest book from Bruno Latour: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/252

Seems like a kind of magnum opus really.

The phrase “modes of existence” reminds me of Simondon’s work on the “mode of existence of the technical object”, so I guess Latour is working with that as an analogy, or something similar.

Anyway this looks like a massive piece of work that will simultaneously summarise what Latour has been working on for the last couple of decades – in the way that “Reassembling the Social” just didn’t! – as well as setting an agenda for “Latourian” enquiry for a good few years to come.

I was very interested, and conflicted, to read his essay in the recent Nordhaus & Schellenberger edited collection Love your Monsters  – I wanted to hate this book because it seemed like the kind of classic sell-out to capitalist values over green values that I have opposed for years, but in the end I felt that Latour, and others, made a pretty good case and that we may need to go down this kind of pragmatist approach in order to survive the Anthropocene. I can’t believe I am writing this, but anyway.

I wonder if the “very original purpose built digital platform” basically means a website, though?


Bauman and Weil on the present and the future

I found a couple of quotes this evening, and was amused by their juxtaposition.

“In what we do we hardly ever start from a clean slate. The site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries to take root.” – Zygmunt Bauman
(via The Sociological Imagination on Facebook)

“The future is made of the same stuff as the present” – Simone Weil
quoted on the Transhumanism website

I have transcribed the full Bauman quote here (found on Google Books – Living on Borrowed Time, 2010):

“In what we do (both in personal life and in history) we hardly ever start from a clean slate. The site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries (sometimes by design, but mostly stealthily or surreptitiously) to take root. All continuity is stuffed with discontinuities; no discontinuity (‘rupture’, U-turn, ‘new beginning’) is free from residues and relics of the staus quo ante.
Adorno rightly warned that in trying to make our theoretical models consistent, harmonious, eindeutig, ‘pure’ and logically elegant (as we tend to do, and can’t help doing, whenever we theorize), we advertently impute to reality more rationality than it possesses and could possibly acquire. All theoretical models are for that reason utopias (not necessarily in the sense of ‘a good society’ but certainly in that other sense of the word – of ‘nowhere places’. Our theoretical models can breathe and move freely only in the habitat of academic offices, seminar rooms and scholarly symposiums – and rest only when ossified in their printed or video records. On the other hand, the messiness of our reports, offensive and offending as it is to a logic-loving mind, sometimes results from disorderly, sloppy thinking – but more often than not from a sober and faithful reproduction of the messiness of the reported objects.”

Lovely stuff. I was reminded on John Law’s book After Method which of course draws on ANT and anthropology to explore the messiness of research and of the realities that it aims to capture.

I found this quite reassuring, as my thinking is all over the place at the minute, but I hope that the main reason for this is because the stuff I’m trying to get my head round is so complicated!

Anyway, what do I take from the Weil and Bauman quotes? At least a couple of things:

a) any solution to our problems has to start with where we are at now, not some wished-for alternative universe scenario;
b) the whole enchilada is not going to change overnight;
c) no matter what happens ecologically and economically, we will still be trying to solve similar kinds of problems within similar kinds of worlds for the foreseeable future.