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Latour’s Inconsistency, “Start in the Middle”

Ailsa, over at a musing space asks a question that I have been troubled by myself, as she that she is in a kind of Möbius strip if she takes Latour’s reduction of Pasteur’s actorly position in a network, and applies it to Latour himself. If I understand her correctly, she is a counselor interested in the consequences of a Latour’s thinking on her profession, and though is quite happy at seeing that “essences” as lived moment to moment experiences of presence, come out of the trained existential relations of a therapy, but questions how it is that Latour himself is able to hand her the keys to the process. On what ground does Latour leverage his claim?:

I can do counselling, and in the performance their is an essence, or several essences; belonging, being in the moment…empathy. They don’t exist outside of performance, but they are aspired to and recognised as valuable in a therapeutic interaction…and therefore they are taught and aspired to…seems to me ts an ‘and and’ issue.

To adapt some Latourian critique of Pasteur and turn it on Latour himself:
Is Latour not giving his entity a little nudge forward? …He is doing the action, he has prejudices, he is filling the gap?
Are not the metalinguistic resources that I apply handed to me directly by the author…

The Case of Free Translation

I reprint here my comment, as it reflects something I have raised before, that Latour reduces the world in some rather dramatic ways without attaining to the very requirements he sets before others:

I have to say that applying the ontic/methodological principles of a philosopher to themseleves is one of the great tests, and few philosopher’s remain unscathed in some important sense. But I think that this is a signficant thing to do if one is going to take philosophical thought seriously, at its word.

I am no expert on Latour, and have only arrived at his thought lately through Graham Harman, but a huge question that I have is: If nothing is reducible, but also everything that is reduced must be translated in such a way that we can trace the reduction, then where in the world is Latour’s traceable translation of making everything in the world “actors”? This is an incredible reduction (I mean that that literally, in-credible, without credit), under Latour’s own framework for legitimacy.

Perhaps he has answered this question in some way or another, or he simply doesn’t care for the meta-question, the internal consistency of his thought. It is one thing to say that one must always “start in the middle” (I wonder if he got this from Deleuze and Guattari, for this is their advice from “a thousand plateaus”), but quite another to say, “Because I start in the middle, my theory is self-justified”.

This is one of the difficulties that I have with Latour as far as I know him. He presents a very rich weave of concepts which help us tease out the nature of interactions in the world, but what he argues is incomplete, and leaves out significant factors of what we look for in an explanation. Yes, we are all actors in a world of actors, but we are also more than that. Its my feeling, as you suggest, that something of the demand that “existence precedes essence” comes from the insufficiency of “we must start in the middle”. Yes, we must “start” in the middle, but the middle always leads us to what was before us.

My problem seems to be slightly different than Ailsa’s, for while I am troubled with the internal consistency of Latour’s thinking with a view toward its wider philosophical applications (its relation to other philosophical positions making claims of equal breadth), Ailsa is more troubled with her position as a subject, operating within a philosophical framework, looking to bring its analytical principles into play in real world situations. But I don’t think that these aspects are disconnected, for it is actually well-within our perceived, self-relating coherences that we work best as agents; and the Möbius strip sense-making that Ailsa is untangling herself from is part of the reason that chained-causes, the way that history imposes itself upon a process and gives us the constitutive weight of what “essence” is, substantiate a process. There is ballast to the thinness of the actor.

 

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