Saturday 24 May 2014

More on Fuller and ANT

Steve Fuller replies to my comments that were reposted on the ANTHEM blog. There's a long comment and then a shorter one. Here's the latter:
Take home lesson: While I realize that there may be some value in trying to keep the ANT doctrine philosophically pure from interlopers like Land by the scholastic means you have, you would be smarter to deal with him on the political level at which he’s pitching his claims because he is one of the few people who makes the idea of ‘ontological levelling’ interesting beyond the sort of surprising intellectual party trick that guys like Timothy Morton are still dining out on.
I think his comments are quite fair, actually. This is the problem with talking so curtly, at such levels of abstraction—i.e. blogging. Language: tricky. Doubtless the early ANT accounts were lacking in reflexivity (and deliberately so). Their authors eventually acknowledged the faults of this approach. I suppose we are quibbling over the 'canon.' When I think 'ANT' I'm thinking of Annemarie Mol's 'Body Multiple' as much as I am of Callon's scallops—no one can say that the former wants for reflexivity.

R.E. Land, my understanding is that he is very much more a Deleuze-Guattarian rather than a Latourian. I honestly don't know if he's drawing on Latour at all but I've never seen any mention of it. Morton et al. certainly are, shall we say, post-Latourian and I've been very critical of them in the past. This was my take on Morton's 'Hyperobjects':
It's a writing style [...] where a single vocabulary, a single style of speech, a single mode of assembly suffices to address any kind of thing wheresoever, whensoever, howsoever, whatsoever. [...] The world becomes a frozen lake across which the bricoleur glides, slides or tumbles, depending on his skill. The relational labour required to forge any particular connection seems minimal, almost inconsequential – it is enough that the words are on the same page, conjoined by puns.
This seems to be something that Fuller finds objectionable in ANT and it's there, for sure. It'll be interesting to see how Harman, Morton, etc. respond to Latour's modes of existence project since it is explicitly intended to overcome this kind of all-too-easy ice-skating effect.

Friday 23 May 2014

Anti-politics, UKIP and the incompetence of the political classes

A source said: "You do not deal with an anti-politics party by calling them names. What you should do is call them out."
Quite so, and this is what all the major parties have singularly failed to do to the UK Independence Party, which has made substantial gains in yesterday's local and European elections. There are dissenting voices within the Labour party claiming that the leadership didn't go after UKIP strongly enough, assuming that they would do more harm to the Conservatives than to Labour. This was surely misguided, if true.

The predominant strategy against UKIP from all quarters has been to label them racist, loudly, and to create as many sensational headlines as they can from the odd, nasty and objectionable views of their more extreme candidates. This has only played into UKIP's hands, perfectly complementing their narration of themselves as anti-establishment outsiders (who just happen to be led by a former City-boy millionaire, who just happens to have a socially conservative, economically libertarian agenda).

If UKIP are anti-politics then I'm not sure what the rest of the parties are. They're certainly not 'pro-politics.' They have no interest in actually engaging with those who, rightly or wrongly, feel marginalised or providing alternative narratives that explain these peoples' problems. They're anti-politics in a whole other way. In this sense the Ukippers have a point: there stands before us a strong and insular British Establishment, resplendent in its self-congratulatory cronyism, that stupidly lashes out at anything it perceives to derive from outside its empire. Where Ukippers are wrong is in not realising that, however outside the Establishment many of their candidates and voters may hail from, their politics squarely follows that of the most venally establishmentarian elements of the Conservative party; see Rees-Mogg for details.

Whether or not they are a 'racist party,' they most assuredly have significant numbers of racist members and their election posters have been dog-whistles for the far right. However, reactionarily labelling such a fractious group of millions of people 'racist' in the name of anti-prejudice, as so many in politics and the media have done in the past few weeks, is not only wrong, it's politically stupid. The way to counter racist stupidity is not with non-racist stupidity.

Many who voted UKIP yesterday did so because they yearn for the imaginary halcyon days of racial and cultural homogeneity - but by no means all. Treating Ukippers like they're all, every one of them, just jackbooted thugs in disguise doesn't help anyone. It makes matters worse.

UKIP's policies alone should be enough to discredit them. No one should ever apologise for or distract from racism in politics but nor is the R word a silver bullet - treating it as such only lets racism slither along further, beneath the stampede.

Steve Fuller on 'Dark Ecology'

At the slowlorisblog there's an interesting guest post from Steve Fuller. It's a good read but I have a quibble with one of his comments:
To understand OOO and dark ecology (I take the latter as a specific extension of the former), one needs to understand the intuitive appeal of actor-network theory, which is that you’re better placed to understand the full range of agency in the world if you yourself are not an agent, but simply a mouthpiece for agency.
I really like the essay but that's false. There are plenty of human actors and agents in ANT. The central tenet of ANT is that every node in a chain of translations transforms what it carries, conducts, transmits. Therefore, humans can't be written off as mouthpieces; or, equally, even mouthpieces translate what they mouth.

The problem with ANT is that it's a method that got out of hand; that it got exploded into being a complete philosophy of everything. Somewhere Latour remarks that ANT is a combination of Garfinkel's ethnomethodology and Greimas' semiotics. OOO ignores the former and only takes up the latter. So, OOO eradicates what remnants of phenomenology there was remaining in ANT. It's essentially a dumbing down and, simultaneously, a massive overextension that arbitrarily excludes the ethno-sociological heart of the matter (which is very much there, and beating, if you look closely).

To understand Prof. Fuller's take on this one needs to understand that he's been waging war on ANT, etc. for decades and his readings are always uncharitable—sometimes productively so but, for my tastes, he's a way off the mark.

More constructively: I think the principle intellectual-political product of this 'dark ecology' would be the whole 'accelerationism' thing. This explicitly grows out of Nick Land's sophomore-entrancing shtick and is very zeitgeisty at the moment. Moreover, it explicitly sets itself up as a radical political project rather than just an intellectual one.