Friday, 5 August 2011

Latour abolie

Dipping my toe into some Latour; but cautiously, since I've a hunch that I could tumble embarrassingly in love with his thought, like a crazy teenager.  I've been reading bits and pieces, as well as Graham Harman's excellent Bruno Latour: Prince of Networks (2009; which is available for free download, here. Why wouldn't you check it out?). My worry at the moment is that the objections that occur to me are of the undercooked sort that, in turn, don't take account of the complexity of Latour's actual writing. That's one danger of critiqueing on the basis of summaries rather than originals:
In Reassembling the Social (2005), Latour continues a reappraisal of his work, developing what he calls a “practical metaphysics,” which calls “real” anything that an actor (one who we are studying) claims as a source of motivation for action. So if someone says, “I was inspired by God to be charitable to my neighbors,” we are obliged to recognize the “ontological weight” of their claim, rather than attempting to replace their belief in God’s presence with “social stuff,” like class, gender, imperialism, etc. Latour’s nuanced metaphysics demands the existence of a plurality of worlds, and the willingness of the researcher to chart ever more. He argues that researchers must give up the hope of fitting their actors into a structure or framework, but Latour believes the benefits of this sacrifice far outweigh the downsides: “Their complex metaphysics would at least be respected, their recalcitrance recognized, their objections deployed, their multiplicity accepted.”
OK: but this, it seems to me, cannot account for the 'Mornington Crescent' aspect of human discourse: a game that is played like a game and indeed is a game, but which is at the same time a joke, established to mock complicating gaming. Or to put it in the terms of the believer inspired by God: the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a beautifully Mornington Crescent-y iteration of deity. A believer in the FSM can perform exactly the same degree of 'seriousness' about her faith as any Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew; but 'taking her belief seriously' rather violates the fundamental principle that this belief is predicated upon as kind of joyous, satirical unseriousness. How do we respect the 'ontological weight' of claims like this?

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