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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Substances vs instances

In chapter 7 of his AIME, Latour considers the mode of existence of metamorphoses - that he nicknames MET. This is a mode of existence that contrasts sharply with what is substantial. He contrasts MET with what repeats itself, what subsists, what is engaged in its reproduction (REP). He finds MET in what is taken to be elusive, invisible, hard to spot, unmeasurable (by the standards of the mode of existence prêt-à-porter, DC, double click). MET will be the mode of existence of miasmas, animal spirits, possessions, demons, angels and all kind of entities that the moderns prefer to reduce to something internal to their minds - as if they were all in their own psyche. The moderns do that because they associate existence with stability - what is not stable but sparkling is perhaps a second creation, perhaps the transformations that we ourselves promote in the world, but the interior (to the mind) is a mode of inexistence. If we take further the route of Plato's parricide (which is what this research into modes of existence is doing: showing how many modes being can take beyond full-blooded substantiality), we can consider the mode of existence of the unstable, of the sparkling, of the eventual. These are, not substances, but rather (irreducible) instances. Instances are the stuff everything unsubstantial is made of - not a mode of inexistence, but a genre within existence, not among things that subsist, but among those that merely instantiate themselves. Those that unsubsist. Eventually.

Now, the eventual is non-necessary, it is also unstable and, as such, an instance. It is also accidental: it is the casual element in the events - the extent to which they weren't determined, but just happened. Accidents could be an example of instance that is hard to think through from the perspective of stability. Accidents, to be sure, can be understood as something very different from those instances and, more to the point, instances can be thought as not accidental. In fact, many ontographies have placed the elusive and the invisible among apparitions that are not at all accidental, but followed their own necessity. Instance is not the mode of existence of accidents, it is the mode of existence of the one-offs, of what has no substance to carry on. Unstable as they are, they could pave the way for an ontology where things don't have to subsist to exist.

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