Tankebiografi

Ser att Latour skrivit ett slags intro till hans nya An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence i Social Studies of Science. Här är lite citat.

Eftersom AIME ämnar sammanställa tidigare arbeten är framställningen i SSS-texten en slags tankebiografi – vilka platser, fälterfarenheter, och möten har bidragit till Latours arbete? Indeed, sådana möten är centrala, men de bör även följas av tid att smälta intrycken:

one”™s thinking seems to be a matter of decisive encounters whose effects one pursues in total solitude. (Without solitude, nothing happens; without encounters, nothing happens either.) (10)

Vi får exempelvis höra om hur fröna till hans ”symmetriska antropologi” såddes tidigt – kanske framförallt under fältarbetet i Elfenbenskusten.

In the Abidjan of 1973–1975, I discovered all at once the most predatory forms of capitalism, the methods of ethnography, and the puzzles of anthropology. One of them has never left me: why do we use the ideas of modernity, the modernizing frontier, and the contrast between modern and premodern, before we even apply to those who call themselves civilizers the same methods of investigation that we apply to the ”˜others”™ – those whom we claim, if not to civilize entirely, then at least to modernize a little? (3)

There was a flagrant asymmetry here: the Whites anthropologized the Blacks, yes, quite well, but they avoided anthropologizing themselves. Or they did so in a falsely distant, exoticizing fashion, by focusing on the most archaic aspects of their own society – communal festivals, belief in astrology, first communion meals – and not on what I was seeing with my own eyes, educated, it is true, by a collective reading of L”™Anti-Oedipe (Deleuze and Guattari, 1972): industrial technologies, economization, ”˜development”™, scientific reasoning, and so on: in other words, everything that makes up the structural heart of the expanding empires. (4)

(Deleuze nämns för övrigt som viktig influens tidigt i karriären.) Senare, under arbetet på Salk-institutet kommer etnometodologin in som ett komplement till den semiotik som fanns med Latour sedan början:

The passion for semiotics … might have led to a simple ”˜textualization”™ of scholarly activity, if I had not discovered in Garfinkel”™s (1967) research, around the same time, an entirely different way of breaking with the social realism that was so widespread in sociology (6)

Vad tar han då med sig? Jo, att

every course of action, even the most ordinary, is constantly interrupted by a minuscule hiatus that requires, from moment to moment, an inventive act of repossession by the actor equipped with his own micromethods. […] no continuity of a course of action is possible without an inventive repossession that gives the social actor reflexive capabilities, sources of innovation, and even sociologies and ontologies whose uses go far beyond the capacities of ethnologists. The investigatee always knows a great deal more than the investigator.

This, moreover, is why I still found the philosophy of my youth so indispensable: it alone was untamed enough to manage to follow, without too much astonishment, the inventiveness of agents. It was through metaphysics that one could hope to become a good ethnographer.

Den senare insikten är intressant: Många av de mest spännande forskarna som arbetar etnografiskt hävdar att de är närmast ”anti-teoretiska”, men leker samtidigt med spekulativ filosofi. Det är detta som är tricket – inte utgå från de där ”självklara” sociologiska förklaringarna som vi alla känner väl till, utan snarare studera detaljerna i en situation, och samtidigt arbeta med abstraktioner som radikalt bryter mot det som vi redan tycker oss veta.

Så fram till mötet med Stengers och Whitehead:

I am almost certain that it was in 1987 … that Stengers shared with me an astonishing quotation from Whitehead … about the risk taken by rocks – yes, rocks – in order to keep on existing; it must have been the famous passage about Cleopatra”™s needle on the Charing Cross Embankment in The Concept of Nature. In August of that year, stretched out in the sun on an island across from Gothenburg, in Sweden, I could not stop running my fingers over the rough red surface of the rocks as if to find out whether Whitehead could have been right! (11)

Detta leder fram till tematiken i AIME:

There exists a completely autonomous mode of existence that is very inadequately encompassed by the notions of nature, material world, exteriority, and object. This world shares one crucial feature with all the others: the risk taken in order to keep on existing. Thus, the hiatus that I had detected very early on in exegesis and that I had found in the study of scientific inscriptions, in the disjointed itineraries of courses of action, and in the surprising detours of technologies, the same hiatus was here as well, here in the first place, in the apparent continuity of being-here. (10-11)

Latour föreslår därmed en slags ”regional ontologi” eller ”antropologisk filosofi” för att undersöka dessa världar som vi normalt sett benämner som ”natur” eller ”material”.

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Hur som helst – en utmärkt text för den som vill förstå Latours oeuvre. Viktig läsning för exempelvis Axess-skribenter som funderar på att göra ett nytt nummer om ”postmodernism” – och inte vill göra bort sig igen.

2 tankar kring ”Tankebiografi

  1. chrisk

    Var i skärgården i helgen. Kleopatras nål i London är ett mycket sämre exempel än bergarterna på Styrsö. Så jag förstår varför Latour såg vad han såg.

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