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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Latour: the allagmatics of correspondence

Chapter 3 of AIME (An Investigation into Modes of Existence) is dedicated to a criticism of the idea of adequatio rei et intellectus as a basis of scientific procedures of truth. He considers correspondence as something that has to be two-sided: both the intellect and the thing are to help out in order for a suitable correspondence to hold. The thing side helps out at least by showing itself - and determining how much of itself is going to be apparent (see Heraclitus' new fragments, fr. 204). He engages the image of Borges that a map of scale 1 is useless and blind. He considers a trip to Mount Aiguille (close to Grenoble) with a map - a GPS would put him completely within a network, like a termite, fully blind and fully located. Map-making requires work not only in the intellect side of things - the map - but also in the thing side - the field that is mapped. The latter is crucial for his argument: the field itself is so to speak prepared to be represented. One has to intervene - as folks do in the labs - in the reproduction (REP) of the truth-maker. It is not merely about work done in the map (or in the statement) but rather work to be done to approach the field (or the facts) to what tracks it (Latour calls it, very appropriately, reference (REF)).

It seems like he is here criticizing correspondence definitions of truth. In particular, he could be placing Borges remark on maps of scale 1 against isomorphism-based conception of correspondence (say, Russell's). In fact, Latour is saying that work has to be done to individuate Cassio and Desdemona in order for the proposition to correspond to a state of affairs - a state of affairs needs to be worked on so that it can properly make something true. It is not only about getting to the truth-maker (like identity theories favor the image of not stopping anywhere shorter than the facts, inspired in Wittgenstein's PU 95, see for instance McDowell's Mind and World, lecture 2). It is a two-sided movement. Truth-makers would have to be thought as genuinely making something, and they eventually need help to do it. Correspondence is to be thought as an alliance, as an agreement that requires movement from both sides.

But I think the bite of Latour's argument against correspondence is not really a correspondence definition of truth (or an adequatio one). Such definition says nothing about how much work has to be done in each of the two parts, it is rather about the holding correspondence. Latour's bite is rather about a conception of knowledge that is based on the idea of arriving at a correspondence with things or states of affairs. It is against an image of knowledge as a one-sided march towards corresponding beliefs (or statements), a route towards the unmoved facts. Our intervention is claimed to be crucial. In AIME, p. 95, he presents a brilliant dialogue, if correlationist, between the anthropologist of the moderns and a modern (a correlationist, in this case, for that matter) who complains about her impossibility to get to the things in themselves. The anthropologist says: why are you so unhappy that you don't get to the things if your do have an access to them? The answer: because we don't disclose them as they are without us. The anthropologist: yes, but things without you would be things that you don't approach at all, and you seem to be happy that at least you can find a way to approach them. The modern: yes, because if we don't access them, we can't know them. And the anthropologist: it is as if you're happy that there is a way up Mount Aiguille but unhappy that they let you climb up. And Latour compares the situation with that of the tourists that enjoy having the site prepared for them but don't like meeting other tourists there...

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Intensity of forms

Thinking about form as an intensity. The wires in the floor of my bed, like thread, weave themselves on their own,triggered by mere quantity. Nests are made by just placing thread-like material in enough quantity for the threads to weave themselves. Form itself is productive, like paint or temperature. It is an affect. In this cases, matter and form are efficient causes. There is no need for an intervention of a spider to weave around, the web is self-constitutive. Intensity is, I suppose, one of the basis for all things auto-poietic. In particular, I was thinking about floors. Intensity is the forming principle of the floor, the geological accumulation of different matters in different forms. Floors, unlike grounds, are permanently in the making. Layers are weaved by the very form of the material thrown on the existing ones. It is the form and the location of the floor - it is below - that make things become part of the floor. Floors are intensive - they eat up. Not because they are an efficient cause of further floor-making, but because they have the form that captures, in different speed, whatever touch them.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

A hauntology of (maybe all) ontographies

I was wondering whether in all ontographies - be them fully worked out ontologies or just sketchy maps of what there is made en passant by some researcher - there ought to be a room for some matrix of permanence and disruption. In other words, a contrast between what stays the same and what can be changed. I guess this contrasts haunts all attempts to picture the world - something has to subsist in order for something else to be modally or temporally variable. This contrast doesn't entail positing a fixed amount of substances - it can be cashed out in terms of something akin to a Doppler effect, something has to stay fixed for a moment for something else to have trans-time or trans-world movement. For example, Leibniz's way is to have an infinite number of substances that get no trans-world movement and travel in time because there are other substances in the world. There is, I guess, always a negotiation between the accidental and the permanent in all ontographies. I'm not sure this is a condition of possibility for them, maybe it is. But I guess they are all haunted by this matrix somehow.

The work of Descola - and his four types of ontology, animism, naturalism, totemism and analogism - seem to vindicate the widespread character of this matrix. The four types are characterized by different negotiations of continuities and discontinuities. In the first, nature is changing while culture is permanent (substantial) while in the second there is multiculturalism. Here, nature and culture are thought as loci for the stable and the variable. In the last two types, totemism and analogism, there is either complete stability - in the former - and total variability - in the latter. They are types of ontology, nevertheless, because they have a particular position in the matrix of variability and permanence.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Monadological withdrawal

One of Harman's exciting Heideggerian move in L'objet quadruple is to make withdrawal ontological. Objects have a secret life, withdrawn not only from us but also from any other object. No quality, no description - and no prehension - of the object captures its open horizon; reality for an object is to resist, to escape, to withdraw. Objects supersede, they transcend. The speculative jump towards universal withdrawal reinstates transcendence in a flat ontology - it is a Kripkean transcendence. No need for a different layer of things, it is enough to postulate a trans-worldly feature to objects - or the non-identity of all indiscernibles. Qualities are not enough to determine an object. This is why it has a quadruple nature, because ontology is flat but the insides of what there is - we could call it endontology for the lack of a better term - is structured.

Fair enough, but exactly because the scheme is Kripkean to a great extent, it is not Leibnizian. In fact, it flies on the face of Leibniz's law. Transcending objects (or transcending monads, for that matter) is something very far away not only from Leibniz but from the very principles of a monadology. Monadologies, as I understand them, posit distributed beings. Monads are wordly things. There is some transcendence because no monad in the world fully capture what a monad is - none can see beyond its field of vision, so to speak. Withdrawal, therefore, has to be a wordly withdrawal. In other monadologies (Tarde's, Latour's or Whitehead's for example) it is even clearer that what is withdrawn about a monad from any other monad is the wordly relations (or alliances, or sponsoring connections) it enjoys with the rest of the world. As no monad sees everything, each perspective opens up a blind spot. Part of the blind spot is unveiled when we change perspective. But as no perspective is complete, there is a resilient withdrawing of each monad. Not from its structured inside, but rather in the vastness of a world of interconnections. In a sense, we could say that the only inner reclusion that take place spells no more than a reclusion towards somewhere farther away.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Arguedas: reverse anthropologist

Thinking a bit about the anthorpology of the moderns that Latour proposes in AIME. Such anthropology would be very wary of the Moderns' self-description in terms of domains (science, politics, religion, economy...) and would rather look for something else that underlies both their practices and the way they describe them. Been yesterday at the premises of the Intercultural University of Veracruz (UVI) here in Xalapa to attend to the launching of the La Comunidad Transgredida by Fortino Domingues Rueda. His work looks at a hybrid: urban Zoques, a population of native people who have become citizens of big towns. Fortino is himself a Zoque. The UVI is full of anthropologists of all non-white groups (to some extent, non-Modern). Maybe they are the ones who could carry out an endeavor such as an anthropology of the moderns. And I recalled the work of José Maria Arguedas (who killed himself in 1969) in Spain. He went to a traditional (i.e. non-modern) rural community to study Spanish peasants in order to understand the hybrid which is the peasant culture in the Andes. In a world of hybrids, the natives of hybridism have the experience of becoming modern. Arguedas talks about this (it was something that drove his suicide, as he hints in "The fox of up above and the fox of down below"). Hybrids are in a position to reckon the pains of becoming modern with the accompanying relativism that, as Latour writes also in AIME, "never traffics in hard cash".

Monday, 3 February 2014

Gelassenheit, Verlassenheit, Government

Had a dream today with something like a subject of knowledge becoming a monad. I can't recollect the whole plot, this is obviously my immediate reconstruction of the dream. It felt quite insightful at the time but as it often happens it faded away and its message became something closer to what I had previously thought. But it also made me remember Hölderlin's Shicksalslied and the connections between fate and availability:

Ihr wandelt droben im Licht
Auf weichem Boden, selige Genien!
Glänzende Götterlüfte
Rühren euch leicht,
Wie die Finger der Künstlerin
Heilige Saiten.

Schicksallos, wie der schlafende
Säugling, atmen die Himmlischen;
Keusch bewahrt
In bescheidener Knospe,
Blühet ewig
Ihnen der Geist,
Und die seligen Augen
Blicken in stiller
Ewiger Klarheit.

Doch uns ist gegeben,
Auf keiner Stätte zu ruhn,
Es schwinden, es fallen
Die leidenden Menschen
Blindlings von einer
Stunde zur andern,
Wie Wasser von Klippe
Zu Klippe geworfen,
Jahr lang ins Ungewisse hinab.

(Edwin Evans' translation:
Ye wander gladly in light
Though goodly mansion dwellers in Spiritland!
Luminous heaven-breezes
Touching ye soft,
Like as fingers when skillfully
Wakening harp-strings.
Fearlessly, like the slumbering
Infant, abide the Beatified;
Pure retained,
Like unopened blossoms,
Flowering ever,
Joyful their soul
And their heavenly vision
Gifted with placid
Never-ceasing clearness.
To us is allotted
No restful haven to find;
They falter, they perish,
Poor suffering mortals
Blindly as moment
Follows to moment,
Like water from mountain
to mountain impelled,
Destined to disappearance below.)

Deleuze, in the D&R, talks about the difference between fate and determination. Fate, he points out if I remember right, allows for some gaps, for some indeterminacy for it can be accomplished in different ways (there are many paths a soul can take to be doomed, but it can simply be fated to be doomed in any of these different paths - like an oracle prediction). In this gap between fate and determination lies the Verlassenheit that is pictured by Hölderlin: because a thing is at all the other's disposal, it can be carried away like in a river, with no restful haven. To find serenity in the turmoils of one's Schick, not as something written somewhere by an author, but as something affected by the writings of many authors - characters subjected to many authors. It is as if anything can author me, thousands of pens are right now ready to write down my future whereabouts. Many repetitions acting upon a single thing - to be is to wonder a valley populated by the attraction of many repetitions. "No restful haven to find" is no-substance: not a being that seals itself but rather a being-available, the openness of the unsealed. Availability is the opposite (at least in the sense of being contraries: they can't be both the case*) to substantiality - to be available is to be open to be seen (or prehended, or captured, or sponsored, or maintained, or rendered) in different ways, to be unready, inachévé. Finally, Schick is also the Verlassenheit of community, of one's life affected by many subjects. The Parmenidean being can only be rendered in a single way. Parricide dissolves this unicity.

Availability is then a matter of government. What is communal (and therefore not sealed, not immune) is governed by many other things - it is not self-governed, it is not automaton (not causa sui, not spontaneous, not undetermined) but rather open to government, multi-governed or multi-determined. When one presents a virtuality - say, a law of nature - one presents a single determination; but laws lie because they speak truth in lab conditions, where they are made immune. Outside the lab, too many things also affect a particle - it is governed by the law, but it is not immune to anything else. Verlassenheit is therefore the name of actuality, of what is not merely virtual, of what is subject to many governments. The monadological way to think about these multiple governments is to think in terms of distribution: one's subject and one's object is spread in the world. If a central command (clausure, harmony) is removed from a world of monads, what is left is each monad's capacity to govern around. Such a capacity is exercised in an environment of multiple governments where governing can only be exercised while being governed.

* It is an interesting question whether something can be neither substantial nor available in this sense. Surely, this can be a way to think of an alternative mode of existence.