Saturday, 4 April 2015

Scientific iterations of 'Anthropocene' and modal incommensurability

Terence Blake writes (by way of introduction to a broader blog critique of Latour's AIME project):
The term “Anthropocene” is a scientific denomination, and so belongs to the mode of scientific knowledge, or “REF” in Latour’s terminology.
I don't think that's fair. 'Anthropocene' is a multi-modal term if ever there was one. This is an interesting video that pertains to that point:



John Tresch in conversation with Jan Zalasiewicz. The latter is very insistent upon the necessity of sticking to a strictly scientific (and, more specifically, geological) vocabulary within the context of his debates with other geologists. There is a very precise mode of discourse that cannot be seen to be influenced by political or moral concerns in any way. For the geologist, it all ultimately comes back to the stratigraphic record itself. That is king. However, Zalasiewicz at no point attempts to push away or close down political or moral iterations of 'Anthropocene.' Indeed, he seems to have many sympathies with these readings.

The distinction of modalities here is an institutional necessity but it does not follow that 'Anthropocene' begins and ends with science.

Terence's broader point concerns something he's taken issue with before: the apparent incommensurability of the modes of existence. When writing my recent article on the subject, I thought long and hard about how to describe the relationship of Latour's modes to one another. I settled on the term 'interimplicatedness'—ugly but precise. The context: "[Latour's] works must be read ‘anthropologically’ – that is to say, in cognisance of the interimplicatedness of every typological strand of ‘the social’ taken altogether [that is, all of the modes]."

'Interdependent' would be too strong, 'interrelated' too bland. Implication seems to me to be the correct choice. To transform one mode is to transform the others. They are not vacuum sealed. However, the question does persist with regards to their purity.

If a mode is akin to a particular kind of rhythm, vibration or tone and if the 'crossing' of modes can result in harmonics and disharmonics then are we to expect a pure harmony (a perfect sine wave) when we overlay modal events of the same kind? Or is there a necessary degree of modulation (a resonant disharmony) between any two existents, even at a strictly ontological level? The latter seems a more palatable. There is, therefore, a question of plurality within modes of existence as well as between them.

To put it another way, if we overlay two existential waveforms on one another and if we then discover subtle disharmonics in evidence, this indicates the historicity of these abstract categories. To paraphrase Nietzsche, only that which has no history can be identified. This intra-modal plurality was not the concern of the Inquiry; nevertheless, it is something that seems to follow from the principal concepts upon which the project was constructed.

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