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Latourian Villains

by on March 29, 2013

Like Alien Phenomenology, I’ve found Reassembling the Social refreshing and inspiring in its wide-eyed, heterological, and mercifully rational methodology. To me, Bogost and Latour are proposing a process of thought to the intellectual world that is akin to the awakening process in Buddhism. In both, preconceived notions, defense mechanisms, and neuroses are cleared to make way for a more healthy and objective viewpoint. Throughout this course I have become more and more convinced that the ‘correlationist’ intellectual scene of today’s world could really use such a wake-up call. I can really get behind Latour’s positivity and call to ‘construct’ as well as ‘deconstruct’.

I haven’t read all of part 1 yet so this may be on its way, but I would like to have seen Latour engage more directly with the ‘sociologists of the social’. I have in mind compatriots like Foucault, Lacan, and especially Althusser (who I think is probably most guilty of the kind of intellectual crimes for which Latour is handing out impersonal indictments), but I would really like to have seen some citations. Nonetheless, I am moved by Latour’s argumentation. On page 52 he comes across strongly: “Actors fill the world with agencies while sociologists of the social tell them which building blocks their world is ‘really’ made of. That they often do this for high-minded reasons, to be ‘politically relevant’, to be ‘critical’ for the good of the actors they wish to ‘free from the shackle of archaic powers’, does not reassure me. Even if it were excellent politics, which it is not as we shall see, it would still be bad science.” Strong stuff! There is something fishy to me about a structural social philosophy like Althusser’s which (and correct me if I’m being reductive or unfair here, I’m not all that familiar with him) reduces people to units of structure being puppet-mastered by malicious state apparatuses. Or about Adorno, for whom post-WWII culture was so far sunken into the capitalist shit-hole that the only responsible thing for artists to do was to ‘hibernate’. Says Adorno:

“There is no way out of entanglement. The only responsible course is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one’s own existence, and for the rest to conduct oneself in private as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breath, in hell.”

This quote may not serve as an example of the kind of short-sighted sociology of the social that Latour chastises, but I just find its hyperbolic negativity a good (and downright funny) example of just how depressing continental social theory can be. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. But that kind of thinking may not be what is best for today’s world. A better example of Latourian villainy is the following quote from Terry Eagleton, which surely would have caused foam to gather at the corners of Bruno’s mouth:

“Individual psychology is…a social product”.

After reading Reassembling the Social it’s hard not to find a lot wrong with this statement. I apologize for not remembering what comes in the middle of this quotation – I wrote it down a long time ago. It’s from Marxism and Literary Criticism. This kind of reductive thinking just seems lazy and negative in the light of the kind of social theory that Latour advocates.

That’s all for now but I expect I will have more to say as I continue reading.

 

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