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An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence by Bruno Latour

The result of a twenty five years inquiry, it offers a positive version to the question raised, only negatively, with the publication, in 1991, of ”We have never been modern”: if ”we” have never been modern, then what have ”we” been? From what sort of values should ”we” inherit? In order to answer this question, a research protocol has been developed that is very different from the actor-network theory. The question is no longer only to define ”associations” and to follow networks in order to redefine the notion of ”society” and ”social” (as in ”Reassembling the Social”) but to follow the different types of connectors that provide those networks with their specific tonalities. Those modes of extension, or modes of existence, account for the many differences between law, science, politics, and so on. This systematic effort for building a new philosophical anthropology offers a completely different view of what the ”Moderns” have been and thus a very different basis for opening a comparative anthropology with the other collectives – at the time when they all have to cope with ecological crisis. Thanks to a European research council grant (2011-2014) the printed book will be associated with a very original purpose built digital platform allowing for the inquiry summed up in the book to be pursued and modified by interested readers who will act as co-inquirers and co-authors of the final results. With this major book, readers will finally understand what has led to so many apparently disconnected topics and see how the symmetric anthropology begun forty years ago can come to fruition.

Text and Image via Bruno Latour

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Another turn after Actor-Network Theory: An interview with Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour’s forthcoming book, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. We discuss his intellectual trajectory leading up to actor–network theory and the pluralistic philosophy underlying his new, ‘positive’ anthropology of modernity.

Bruno Latour’s work on actor–network theory (ANT) put him at the forefront of a wave of ethnographic research on scientists ‘in action’ in their laboratories and in the wider world. Starting with 1979’s Laboratory Life, his many books, written independently and in collaboration, have traced the chains of reference that connect instrumental inscriptions in labs to factual statements in journals and, eventually, to the laws of nature found in textbooks. Along the way, he has shown, facts take on increasing ontological weight, growing increasingly ‘universal’ through extensions of the scale and reach of networks and alliances between humans and nonhumans. His work has also contributed to rethinkings of modernity, leading scholars to study how scientists, engineers, and their heterogeneous allies have redefined and transformed both nature and society. Compelling, controversial, and constantly on the move, Latour’s arguments and collective projects have helped orient many research perspectives in Science and Technology Studies (STS) over the past three decades, creating bridges between science studies and anthropology, history, literary studies, art history, and environmental studies; philosophers have also increasingly engaged with his ideas (e.g. Bennett, 2010; Harman, 2009; Rouse, 1987; as well as Latour, 2010).

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Swerving: How the World Became Modern

In The Swerve, Greenblatt traces the history of an ancient manuscript written in poetic meter that argues for the materialist doctrines of the Hellenistic Greek philosopher Epicurus. The poem, known as De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) was written in the first century BCE by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius. Unfortunately, we know next to nothing about Lucretius; his personal story has been lost to history. His manuscript was almost lost as well, in the great obliteration of ancient knowledge that came with the fall of Rome. Centuries passed and classical documents lay largely overlooked in neglected monastery libraries until, as the Middle Ages drew to a close, people started to become curious about the knowledge of a previous era. Greenblatt puts it like this: “Something happened in the Renaissance, something that surged up against the constraints that centuries had constructed around curiosity, desire, individuality, sustained attention to the material world, the claims of the body.”

For some scholars, this curiosity became an obsession. Petrarch’s discovery of a lost collection of Cicero’s letters in 1345 fired the minds of many manuscript-seekers. Greenblatt’s book focuses on a less widely known figure: the 15th-century Italian scholar, writer, and humanist Poggio Bracciolini. Poggio was an incredible book hunter, and one of his greatest discoveries was the poem by Lucretius, which had been lost for more than a thousand years. Simply on artistic merit, it was an important find; with its blend of Latin poetry and densely argued philosophy, De rerum natura is a beautiful work. But Greenblatt thinks there was a much greater significance to the rediscovery of the poem. “[A]t the core of the poem,” he writes, “lay key principles of a modern understanding of the world.” Among those principles are the ideas that “there is no master plan, no divine architect, no intelligent design. All things, including the species to which you belong, have evolved over vast stretches of time.” The best way to come to terms with these truths, Lucretius argues, is for human beings to “conquer their fears, accept the fact that they themselves and all the things they encounter are transitory, and embrace the beauty and the pleasure of the world.”

Excerpt from an article written by Morgan Meis, n+1. Continue HERE

Human-ities · Public Space · Social/Politics · Theory

Europe invents the Gypsies. The dark side of modernity

Social segregation, cultural appropriation: the six-hundred-year history of the European Roma, as recorded in literature and art, represents the underside of the European subject’s self-invention as agent of civilizing progress in the world, writes Klaus-Michael Bogdal.

Is Europe anything more than the remnants of a grand political delusion? Is there a cultural bond that unites the nations and peoples of this fragmented continent? From Max Weber to Norbert Elias, the greats of European intellectual history have described and re-described Europe as the birthplace of modernity; not, like the other continents, as the “heart of darkness”, but as the energetic center of civilizing progress. Their attention has focused on the “grand narratives”: industrialization and economic productivity, state and nation building, science and art. Yet might not an examination from the other side – through an investigation of the marginal – provide essential insights into Europe’s development over the longue dureé? Might not the history of the Roma, a group marginalized like none other, reveal a less auspicious aspect of Europe’s grand narrative of modernity?

The tendency of existing research to treat the Roma as having first entered European political history with the Nazi genocide disregards a unique six-hundred-year history. It is indeed the case that the Roma, who over long periods of time lived nomadically and possessed no written culture of their own, have left almost no historical accounts of themselves. The heritage and documents therefore do not permit a history of the Roma comparable to that, for example, of the persecuted and expelled French Huguenots. What is available to us, however, is evidence – in the form of literature and art – of the way in which the settled, feudally organized European population experienced a way of life that it perceived as threatening. Despite consisting solely of stories and images that are defensive “distortions”, this evidence provides a far from unfavorable basis for an examination of the six-hundred-year history of the European Roma, insofar as it is a history of cultural appropriation characterized by segregation. We encounter the traces of the reality experienced by the Roma almost exclusively through depictions by outsiders, and must use these to imagine those parts considered impossible to represent. The extraneous cultural depictions of the Roma – variously referred to as gypsies, zigeuner, tatern, cigány, çingeneler, and so on – have created heterogeneous units of “erased” identity and cultural attributes. The “invention” of the Gypsy is the underside of the European cultural subject’s invention of itself as the agent of civilizing progress in the world.

Excerpt on an article written by Klaus-Michael Bogdal for Eurozine. Continue HERE