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Circular Question

by on April 4, 2013

First of all, two strong, aesthetic gripes: Latour, after condemning low quality, monotonous, droning writing spends roughly the first 180 pages of his book incessantly repeating the same two or three points. 180 pages stating sociology can’t start from the bottom up or the top down? That it is not a substance? And then he has the audacity to say, “What is often called a powerful and convincing account, because it is made of a few global causes generating a mass of effects, ANT will take as a weak and powerless account that simply repeats and tries to transport and already composed social force without reopening what it is made of without finding the extra vehicles necessary to extend it further” (131): sounds a lot like the first 200 pages of your work there, buddy. He didn’t even attempt to offer a solution until the last 1/3 of his work and still felt comfortable saying this?

While I follow the uncertainties, and they all seem reasonable enough, this could have been summarized in one chapter, rather than babbling on with these ridiculous lists that add ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than brief analogies to points he has already explained. Which brings me to my second gripe: the “Latour Litanies”: they are not cute, clever, nor do they add depth to any of this!!! It just convolutes his points by placing these huge gaps of inane and often completely unrelated chatter midway through otherwise interesting thoughts (they are unrelated by design, I know, but it doesn’t make them valuable at all) and creates massive gaps that had me constantly looking two pages back after he aimlessly wandered off for several pages. I just find it ironic that someone who condemns superfluous writing seems to demonstrate it more than anything I have read in quite some time, and then he claims that it is the failure of OTHER disciplines!? I quite frankly find his hubris at least as delusional and misguided as a search for a social fluid, which I didn’t realize anyone was taking seriously to begin with, so why spend so much time ripping it apart?

All that aside, I really do like what he is doing here (I just HATE how he is doing it). While at times he seems far more concerned with bashing social criticism and sociology as it is today than he is with doing anything particularly constructive, the “pool of actors” as things stand in sociology is laughably shallow, and his inclusion of non-human actors as a novel idea was shocking for me, but not because of any failure of Latour’s. For all of Latour’s condemnation of critical sociology, I thought the role of material interactions (though loaded with the political, still considers human-object relations, even if only in economic and political terms) was firmly established in Marx, though I suppose for Marx it was considered strictly in the “body politic.” In denouncing the very concept of the event, it seems to me that Marx would be in agreement with Latour’s statement, “the body politic was supposed, by construction, to be virtual, total, and always already there” (162). Latour explicitly agrees with such a stance here:

“There is nothing wrong with this since it had to solve the impossible problem of political representation, fusing the many into one and making the one obeyed by the many. Only political action is able to trace, by a continuous circular movement, this virtual and total assembly that is always in danger of disappearing all together” (162).

So Latour, why go out of your way to denounce an accomplished supporter? Am I wrong in thinking Marx would be down with this?

This quote stopped me on another level as well: can a political movement ever truly disappear? In vast chains of actors all partaking in “net-work” (maybe that’s where that second hyphen was meant to be), it would seem impossible for any political mode to “disappear altogether.” Mercantilism has largely disappeared in practice, but the Western European nations that gained strength in its practice persist. For that matter, the texts still exist, import tariffs are still in discussion, Adam Smith still had to denounce something, Marx still had to denounce Adam Smith, and hence, it continues if only as an omission or an actor who walked off stage long ago but the remaining characters still mention him. If anything, rather than being the profoundly fragile and always dying thing that Latour presents it as, political ideologies seem to have a lifespan greater than that of major religions (democracy has after all been around longer than Christianity and managed to survive about 1500 hundred years of not being practiced/near illegality), the nation states that practice them, etc. Power is fragile and constantly dying, not political representation, not even political action as the death of a power structure is still entwined in opposite political action, which still finds reference in the original political action. Political ideology is not power, as power structures arise in near identical forms regardless of the ideology of the state, practitioners, or what have you. Ideological influence may wane, but maybe that is better said in Latour’s terms as “political action” may wane, and thus, so too does the “continuous circular movement.” But we all know ideology can exist without any practitioners (anyone out there still worshiping Dionysus? Horace? Sacrifice anything to Helios lately?). This is probably just back to that infinite regress issue, but I can’t think of any political system that is truly dead and gone. I don’t see how we can ever completely divide “assembling the body politic and assembling the collective” (161), as it seems the former entirely depends on the latter, and I’m not sure if I think they can be divided.


From → Quadruple Object

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