Sunday 27 October 2013

Auto-ontology (every philosophy must be able to conceive of itself in its own terms)

Terence writes:
Philosophy seems to pose a problem for Latour, and is not officially included in his list of modes of existence, but is declared to be definitory of the Moderns: “the Moderns are the people of Ideas; their dialect is philosophy” (22).
Every philosophy must be able to account for itself within its own terms, otherwise it is a performative contradiction.  A philosophy of discourses must conceive of itself as a discourse; a philosophy of objects must conceive of itself as an object, etc.  Does a modal philosophy have to conceive of itself as a mode?  It might be able to but I'm not sure that it's necessary to conceive of it as a single mode.

Clearly the practice of philosophy (like all concrete practices) must be polymodal.  First, aime is a work of fiction [fic] inasmuch as it uses all kinds of characters, various sorts of shifting and so on.  Whether we are reading Latour in his 'own' voice or speaking through his litany of characters we are encountering a shifting (and rather shifty) actant.  That much is straightforward.  Aime is also political [pol] inasmuch as it declares 'we,' 'us,' and 'them' on various occasions.  The 'talk' of the book is most definitely 'crooked' rather than straight.  It does seem to have the structure of a curve that tries to draw the reader along.  It is actively and explicitly seeking to compose a public.  Latour claims that in his religious writings he aims to 'speak religiously,' although they didn't have that effect on me!  The book also involves elements of reproduction [rep] via technology [tec] in both its printed and electronic forms.  That's true if somewhat banal.  More interestingly, the book is written in a transformative way [met].  It seeks to provoke emotions in us and leave us different to how we started.  It is not written in a fashion that avails itself to evaluative reading.  Indeed, it is hugely frustrating if you want to read it evaluatively along the lines of a scholarly paper or a student essay wherein theses must be first set out then justified.  Latour delights in revealing what he's really talking about only after x hundred pages of dissembling, metamorphising, preparation and preamble.  We could even say that it is a legal [law] text inasmuch as it is seeking to reattach the Moderns to their actions.  Moreover, it is clearly a passionate attachment for its author and doubtless it will be for many of its readers.

I could go on but I think the point is clear.  The book (in all its forms) can be understood in many different modes.  The question is: is that enough?  Is something missed out?  Is there terra incognita lurking at the edges of this field of vision (apologies for the mixed metaphors)?  Is the above confluence of modes sufficient to account for the book itself not just as a book but as a work of philosophy?

I wrote in another post that, as James argues, the distinctive quality of a philosophical truth is that it arrives through reasoning.  Latour's process may not always seem entirely reasonable but it certainly involves a thread of reasoning inasmuch as it presupposes a subject-reader that it must lead on a journey in order to transform that reader, in order to lead its reader to conclusions that can only make sense at the end of the journey, with no shortcuts being taken.  That 'journey' is the key thing.  If philosophy can be thought of as a mode then it's in that transformative journey that the contrast is to be found, I think.