Sunday, 16 September 2012

Politics and Ontology: The Multiplicity of Regimes

 The Agent Swarm blog writes:
The attribution of ontological commitment must take into account the regime of enunciation, otherwise you are guilty of the declarative fallacy: reducing all enunciations to the declaration of facts. Levi Bryant’s example is typical: “if you tell a person that your mother is seriously ill and going in for surgery and they reply by saying “I will pray for you”, their statement, whether they realize it or not, presupposes an ontology. Minimally such a statement presupposes ontological claims about the types of beings that exist and about causation.” Not necessarily, Latour would tell you that religious enunciation does not have the same ontological commitments as “double-click”discourses. Lyotard’s philosophy of phrases in THE DIFFEREND converges with Latour’s analysis. Bryant’s technique of revealing the ontological commitments of enunciations does not take into account the heterogeneity of regimes of enunciation. I agree that the enunciation (not the “statement”) does have ontological presuppositions, but not those that Bryant describes.
On the contrary, as I understand it, Bryant's answer is premised upon the heterogeneity of regimes of enunciation. This is why he claims that politics and ontology are separate -- because they belong to different regimes; different practices, with different rules. They can overlap and one can depend on the other but that's the thing with enunciation regimes: they needn't be distant in space and time. Any one person can speak from a number of regimes at once. They can speak ontologically, politically, scientifically, all jumbled up together. The important claim is that these this spatio-temporal co-existence doesn't detract from their difference qua regimes (I think this is broadly Latour's position and Bryant's claims vis-a-vis discourse are basically Latourian). Their difference qua regimes depends on their different rules and internal operating principles, not on their being confined to any particular place and time. Consequently one can speak politically while having ontological presuppositions without politics and ontology becoming coterminous. The fact that there are different kinds of ontology shouldn't make a difference. Perhaps there is a specific kind of ontology particular to political talk -- that'd have to be demonstrated. But even so that wouldn't make them one and the same thing, it'd only establish a meshwork of relations between the two.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Philip, thanks for your comment. I think we must distinguish ontology as a régime of enunciation (cf Badiou’s “mathematics is ontology”) and the analysis of the ontological presuppositions of a particular régime of enunciation, which is also a mode of existence. And distinguish those two from the explicit claims about ontology that a régime may make. I think Bryant is not Latourian here at all (though he may be elsewhere in his patchwork). He seems to have in mind what Latour calls “double-click”, which is a false representation of the ontological commitments of scientific enunciation.
    Bryant’s example of of the believer saying “I will pray for you” being committed to the declarative existence of God and to a false theory of causality is anti-latourian. For Latour religious enunciation is transformative of the addressee and not informative. So you can’t assign ontological commitments in the same way.
    “Politics” is similarly ambiguous between a régime of enunciation and of practice and the mode of navigating and of establishing links between the heterogeneous régimes. This is the Lyotardian point that I think Deleuze and Guattari share in their statement “Before Being there is politics”. I conjecture that Latour must presuppose some such notion for navigating the “meshwork”, whether he calls it “politics” or not.

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