Tuesday 25 May 2010

More on Plato

After further reflecting on my earlier post on Plato, I think I've identified a little more closely what resonates for me between the Statesman and the object-oriented philosophies of Harman, Latour et al.

The resonance: (pre-Kantian) epistemology. Plato treats knowledge as an object; or, more accurately, as a wide variety of objects to be discerned through division and organised through a procedure of combination (thus mirroring in terms of philosophical method what skills the ideal statesman is supposed to have). It is clear that the Statesman is a product of knowledge - an epistemic being - but this epistemology is unconcerned with whether or how we 'really' know the statesman. Simply, the statesman is both the product of and the holder of a certain kind of stately knowledge. In the Republic we learn the importance of education and calisthenics; presumably these are the methods through which the ideal statesman is to be moulded. He is a construction, in other words; the meeting of knowledge and flesh; of rhetoric and star-jumps! How we know him is a methodological question not one of correlation (at least this is true after Plato gives up searching for the seventh, perfect kind of politics as this serene harmony could only be known to gods - how modest he is!).

So, the statesman is both the holder of the knowledge of (political) weaving and the product of the knowledge of (philosophical) weaving. This is a most important point. Would it be so hard to generalise this lesson - to collapse the structure of the dialogue into a political-philosophical kind of weaving?

What I want to take from this dialogue is a more generalised account of political subjectivation that takes the subjectivising powers of knowledge seriously but doesn't reduce the debate to Kantian epistemological questions of correlation. I think the weaving metaphor allows this precisely because it serves as a metaphor on a number of levels - principally as a philosophical method and as a metaphor for the statesman.

Plato shows a fondness elsewhere for imagining the philosopher as the statesman so this parallel shouldn't be surprising; is it all that hard to imagine going one step further and imagining every subject as a political-philosophical weaver? (There is something really rather Whiteheadian in this particular notion.) It seems quite straightforward to me. In fact this is more or less exactly the idea of the subject that we get in ANT - the semi-blind lay metaphysician plodding ever onward, simultaneously weaving and woven; entangled in the heterogeneous web by which it climbs, from which it feeds and of which it is spun. We need only forget the pre-existance of the subject and our work is done.

This I think is the trace of dialectic I find in Latour - the careful, methodical extraction and combination occurring not on the vertical axis of reality (not shuttling back and forth between ideology and nature, for example) but on the horizontal axis - shuttling back and forth between heterogeneous objects of many kinds; many of them epistemic in kind, many of them not.