Friday 7 March 2014

Latour's Inquiry into Modes of Existence: A second attempt

I'm just starting to re-read Latour's AIME book for an article that I'm writing. When I get to the chapter on technology [tec] I'm going to write up a short post for the AIME Reading Group, which fell into something of a deep freeze at the end of last year. Presumably most of those who were participating have now finished the book; it'd be nice to get that discussion back on the road as we only covered a small part of the text (and it gets more interesting in the later parts).

Initial (second) impressions of the first few chapters: I'm liking the book a lot more the second time around, now that I know where it's all going. I found it to be a very frustrating read last time. It doesn't really show its hand with regard to its purpose and goals until right at the end and many of the modes are described with such circuitous opacity that I felt like giving up once or twice! It's not just a difficult book, at times it's an exhausting one.

However, having finished the book, and having had several months to mull it over, I think the whole apparatus is actually pretty simple. It's broadly continuous with Latour's previous ANT work in two ways. First, ANT is incorporated in the [net] mode. Secondly, AIME is, as Latour himself puts it, the 'colour version' of ANT, which sees the world only in black and white. AIME turns up the contrast. Where ANT simply and freely traces all the heterogeneous relations and transformations that go into or are implicit in any given event or occasion, deliberately disregarding the form, kind, register, resonance of those relations, AIME demands attentiveness (via the [pre] mode) to the particular ways in which things relate, transform, translate, become, etc. Each mode discerns a particular way of becoming; AIME documents these ways, collaboratively.

Many of the modes ([tec] [ref] [pol] [law] [rel] [org] and [mor], at a minimum) are nothing new to readers of Latour's work; AIME simply gives them an explicit, quasi-systematic framework. The political mode [pol], for instance, is expounded at length in Latour's 2003 article 'What if we talked politics a little?' (published in French in 2002); [ref], meanwhile, is worked out in chapter 2 of Pandora's Hope, in the essay on circulating reference (published in French in 1993).

AIME and ANT aren't really separate projects; ANT is simultaneously prelude, parallel and part with regard to AIME, depending on how you look at it.

I still think that there are a lot of problems with the project but I've warmed to the philosophy and am looking forward to the rest of the re-read.