Monday, 28 October 2013

Bruno Latour is a dialectician - discuss

'Diplomacy' is a kind of dialectics.  It is a form of critique that has three movements: first it dismantles its opponent, then it seeks to extract what is of value in its opponent by rearticulating those values in its own terms and, finally, it makes its results public and allows them to be criticised and negotiated.

It is a philosophical form of digestion.
digerere "to separate, divide, arrange," from dis- "apart" + gerere "to carry"
It is critical.
Latin criticus "a judge, literary critic," from Greek kritikos "able to make judgements," from krinein "to separate, decide" ... [see also crisis:] from PIE root *krei- "to sieve, discriminate, distinguish"
The philosopher qua diplomat doesn't occupy the position of a judge empowered by Reason or Nature.  However, distinction, separation, sifting - all that needs to be added to these qualities is a commitment to negotiation and a deferment of de-cision - a reluctance to cut the thread of debate - and we have diplomacy.

Diplomacy is only 'post-critical' inasmuch as it departs from the vulgar modernist and postmodernist versions of critique that sought to destroy their opponents by enveloping their opponents' being in their own concepts with no remainder, leaving no possibility for engaging with objections.  In many ways this departure is actually a return to older forms of philosophical, dialectical discourse that were built upon conversation.  The major difference from these older forms, in principle, is that there is no Nature or Reason to appeal to, to slap down as a 'trump card' so as to prematurely close the conversation.  But, in practice, the classic dialogues rarely resorted to such vulgarities.  Latour has a theory/practice problem of his own.

Opponents in diplomacy are not antithetical in any metaphysical sense.  Indeed, any diplomatic 'summit' will have many interested parties, those parties will have complex alliances and ententes as well as disagreements and feuds.  But not all forms of dialectics have demanded that their terms be placed in such strict straitjackets as thesis/antithesis.  Diplomacy does not seek synthesis, it seeks settlement.  But then not all dialecticians have been pursuing the end of history.

A thing is what it does.  Diplomacy is simply a reformed dialectical critique imbued with an ethos and aesthetic of compromise, respect and coexistence.  A rose by any other name...

12 comments:

  1. I agree that Latour's "diplomacy" is a form of pluralised dialectics, as is post-structuralist thought in general. I think that Zizek's recent LESS THAN NOTHING with its valorisation of mediation and its non-negative negativity is ontologically close to Latour's AIME, although Latour should re-include his idea of "plasma".

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  2. I do think that it differs from most forms of poststructuralist critique. In general poststructuralist critique sees itself as existing 'on the margins' and its role is to criticise hegemonic, mainstream discourses so as to expose reification and 'open up thinking space,' as it is often said. Rarely if ever do these critiques attempt to move on to steps 2 and 3, although Foucault said some interesting things in interviews on the topic.

    I've not read Zizek's opus (it does seem to be a time for magnum opuses the past few years!) so I can't comment on that.

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  3. not so different I think from Rorty and the other "neo" pragmatists of social hope on philosophy/culture as conversations, if one fleshes out (as I do) Rorty's radical behaviorism to include recent enactivist/extended-mind-ing work.
    -dmf

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  4. "Richard Rorty's distinct brand of positivism is explored in relation to action research. Rorty's opposition toward the dualisms which haunt western philosophy is briefly described, his nonfoundationalist, anti-metaphysical pragmatics and his views on the contingency of the language that we use outlined. Since we can neither appeal to universal reason nor to an external reality as foundations for our claims, argument must move through a process of redescription. It is argued that just as Rorty is redescribing philosophy, so action researchers are redescribing inquiry. Rorty's ideas are compared with five basic characteristics of action research: practical knowing, democracy and participation; ways of knowing; human and ecological flourishing; and emergent form. Finally, Rorty's notion of the ironist is compared with the action researchers as reflective practitioner. The stimulating quality of Rorty's thought suggests that action researchers must find new language to describe their work, rather than be caught in the old academic metaphors of research."
    http://arj.sagepub.com/content/1/1/103.abstract
    maybe someone with access can open this for the group.
    -dmf

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  5. seems he has gone public after retiring, even blogging:
    http://www.peterreason.eu/Papers/Rorty.pdf
    -dmf

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  6. You may be right that it's more like the Rortyean version of critique but that isn't a version I've encountered all that often, to be honest. Most self-styled critical theorists in the social sciences see their role as being that of critiquing reification/naturalisation, etc. - no more, no less. It's an ironically unself-critical vocation. I think that Latour's 'diplomacy' would still scandalise many on the academic left even if it isn't especially original.

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  7. Actually, thinking about it, it isn't that surprising that Rorty and Latour should be singing from the same hymnsheet. They're both 'continental pragmatists' in a sense. Both avowed heirs of James and Dewey and both embedded in the intellectual context of late twentieth century continental philosophy.

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  8. I do not identify dialiectics with critique, but with putting things in movement. The three phases of dismantle, extract, and publish characterise Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, Rorty, Foucault, Stiegler, Feyerabend, Laruelle, and Zizek. I would name them deconstruct, pluralize and set in movement, and share. For all his windy condemnation of "critique" Latour is an excessive master, and AIME could be called a treatise of ontological critique. The critique of critique is a trope from the 70s which still has some steam in it, but it is a preliminary step towards pluralism. Deleuze does a good job in his FOUCAULT of laying out the three positive ontologies present in Foucault's work. Retrospectively Foucault can be seen as passing from one mode to another, sketching out theirv grammars. Of course his modes do not correspond closely to Latour's, but then Latour is giving revisionary descriptions of consensually recognisable modes. I seem to be the only one to think that Latour's references to James are pure fluff and sleight of hand, though I do accept him as a sort of pragmatist.

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  9. True, dialectics aren't critique. Dialectical critique can be distinguished from, say, analytical critique or many other kinds. However, it's difficult to conceive of dialectics *without* critique. Isn't the 'putting in motion' of sedimented ideas critique by another name?

    I can see that the critique of critique has a long history. Indeed, it comes in waves. Wasn't Marx's critique was built on a criticism of the likes of Kant, the Frankfurt School on Marx, the poststructuralists on the Frankfurt School and then Latour on the whole lot?! (There may be many intermediary steps in that story, indeed.) Latour doesn't just criticise those versions of critique that appeal to a foundation but also those who celebrate its absence. So, there is a sense in which he goes beyond his immediate predecessors. However, it's true that his rhetoric outstrips his originality, as usual!

    Provided that we don't take him too seriously I think the whole 'post-critical' diplomacy thing is a valuable contribution to our collective discourse. My experience of 'critical theory' in the social sciences is that it's very much still stuck in the 'sit on the margins, critique mainstream discourses, open up thinking space, never say anything constructive because that's semantic violence' kind of rut that is often unfairly ridiculed but is nevertheless static and unself-critical. The idea that we do and must inherit from those we criticise isn't as widely recognised as it should be - and until it is we won't be able to learn to inherit *better*.

    I couldn't disagree more vis-a-vis James, by the way. I read his essay 'A World of Pure Experience' recently and it was massively elucidating for reading AIME. Read alongside each other they're like peas in a pod. That's one link that Latour isn't fabricating for rhetorical reasons, in my opinion anyway. It doesn't justify his pretensions to 'empiricism' as such but it does elucidate why he makes the claims that he does.

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  10. no not a surprise and yes alas other than some fringe characters like Rabinow all too few folks working after Foucault&co have moved to a kind of pragmatist anthro of the contemporary, I too think that Latour has increasingly exhibited the parts of James/Whitehead that Rorty wisely left behind.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/neopragvideo/videos
    -dmf

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  11. Thinking about this still, the phrase I see cited in social scientific critical theory the most often when discussing the practice of critique itself is probably Foucault's: "My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous...". This is usually interpreted to mean something along the lines of 'we have to keep the dialectic churning and the only way to do this is to undermine reification and naturalisation, to bring the intrinsic contingency of things to the surface so that the conversation can continue.'

    That more or less maps onto stages 1 and 3 of Latour's diplomatic critical process (as I described it above) but I don't see much evidence of stage 2 in there - that is, I don't see critics trying to look at the Modern discourses, finding what is valuable in them and then trying to restate those values without their oppressive, violent or simply confused modernist baggage.

    Of course, much of Deleuze's work, for example, can be understood as this kind of activity inasmuch as it draws on swathes of logic and science. Perhaps Badiou too. Everyone, really. Everyone inherits something from modernism (you can't say postmodernism without modernism). However, the fact of inheritance seems to be just that: a fact. It's largely implicit. Who would admit to be trying to save the Moderns from themselves or trying to learn from them? Wouldn't that be seen by most as a terribly regressive strategy? Wouldn't most prefer to critique, critique, critique and let undisclosed others get on with the work of advancing the conversation?

    Don't most critics see themselves as an avant garde bravely smashing up reified hegemonic discourses for the sake of those too dimwitted to see through the fog of ideology? That might be a silly caricature but it's fairly reflective of my experience of how critical theory is generally enacted these days. It's a straw man but lots of people seem to like to dress themselves up in his clothes...

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  12. You and your links, dmf! They're all very interesting, thankyou. One day I'll get a chance to read all of them!

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