Monday, October 15, 2012

Latour and the smell of blood in the morning

More from the OOO thread:

theurj: In trying to get a better handle on Latour I've turned to Harman's Prince of Networks. One thing that strikes me right off is that media(tors) are also actants (suobjects) with a 'mind' of their own:

"A mediator...always does new work of its own to shape the translation of forces from one point of reality to the next" (15).

I'm reminded of Edwards' mediator holons, like words. Rhetaphor indeed. Word? (Aka henna?)

At 16 Harman notes Latour is proud to be guilty of what DeLanda and Bhasksar criticize as 'actualism.' After all, it is in the 'act' that defines a actant. Or what I'm calling via Bryant the local manifestations of an actant at any given time. However this does not fall prey to Bryant's criticism that a actant is stuck with any given actualization, for per Latour this is every changing and in each new locally manifesting assemblange the actant is made anew, while still retaining its autonomy due to its irreducibility.

Oh, and Harman credits Latour as being the progenitor of OOO.

In a sense irreducibility is virtuality, for the relations in any given locally manifesting assemblage are not predetermined. Nor is an actant's identity, since it is open to the novel. This is getting at the bridge between autonomy on the one hand and extended mind in an assemblage on the other. It's not clear yet but forming as I'm linking* to this assemblage of notions.

* Or 'jacking in,' as it was called in Neuromancer.

Balder: Yes, the question of the nature of an "actant" is an important one (for its compatibility with OOO).  I like the term, since it can nicely serve as a root term for "agent" in an enactive worldview.  But while Harman does consider Latour a progenitor of OOO, he later argues (in PON) that Latour's actualism is insufficient, since it doesn't make a distinction between primary and secondary qualities or (a point important to Bryant, not Harman) even see a need for any hidden potency or potential.  For Harman, it is important for objects to be able to exist, or to be possessed of qualities, independently of their relations (primary qualities).  For both Harman and Bryant, without this extra something, then even though Latour says objects constantly change, he hasn't accounted for how (since, as they both argue, objects in a relationist framework would be exhaustively defined by present relations and would have no reason to change).

I've tried, perhaps without complete success, to argue that my Morissonian reading of the principle of irreduction allows for objects to escape this problem of being relationally exhausted and therefore inert: infinite reducibility = irreducibility, and therefore in-exhaustion.

theurj: So from your reading of Latour how is his irreducibility different from what you're saying about infinite reducibility = irreducibility?

As to how or why an actant would change, it must do so in response to changing circumstances in its environment, like it or not, or die. That seems like a good enough motivation and cause. Given the malleability of such adaptive responses I don't see how it follows that the actant could possibly be defined or exhausted by any given present set of circumstances. And I also don't see how this somehow makes a particular actant somehow part of an amorphous general blob or metaphysical substrate, since it still retains its individual irreducibility.

Combine the above with what Latour said in this post about “variation itself” being that which contextualizes the plural modes and we might have something like the virtual differance at the core of an actants autonomy. Harman notes that he did not address Latour's later ideas or exploration of Souriau in PON, so perhaps he is missing this later aspect where we might find some resonance?

Balder: I'm thinking that Harman and Bryant both argue that, if all actants are such that they are no more than what is actually manifesting at a given time, and that further, if actants are only defined by their relations to each other, then there would be no "changing circumstances" to prompt change for any given actant because all actants would be frozen in (because exhausted by) a single moment of actual relations (with nothing "in reserve" to allow for anything else to happen).  This is my understanding of their reasoning, at least.

Interestingly, and as I discussed near the beginning of this marathon thread, this is the mirror image of Nagarjuna's argument, that things which exist wholly unto themselves, independently of relations, would never change because -- being their own cause -- they would have no reason to become other.

(Something important is to be found between the horns of this dilemma, methinks...)

He says things are both irreducible and always reducible, but I have not seen him link the two, such that "always reducible" equals or is the same thing as saying "irreducible."  But it doesn't appear to be a big step from what he is saying...

theurj: I'm not getting from Latour that an actant is no more than its present actualization, given that it does in fact change continually with changing circumstances. And I just don't see that the responsibility for change needs to reside within particular actants. Bryant notes in numerous places that the environment is always more complex than any suobject.* Now what he means by environment is not exactly clear to me. Is the environment just other suobjects with which a suobject responds? Or is there something more to an environment that is not just suobjects?

Bryant, like Morton, claims that there is no Nature as such, and this would apply to an environment as such.** This is because any given suobject cannot process all the external stimuli, that given its differences from the outside it can only translate within the limits of its suobstance. So what. That doesn't negate the  larger environment, which seems to be much more than the sum of the suobjects within it. And it is this something more about the environment that initiates change perhaps?

* As one example p. 144 of this version of TDOO. He never seemed to pin down what this larger environment was, other than just pieces of it get translated by a suobject. It seems to me that just because no particular suobject can ascertain its scope (if not its totality) that doesn't mean that a social assemblage cannot make some ontological statements about it. That is speculative realism after all, isn't it?

** See p. 146. Here there is no environment as such to which a suobject must 'adapt.' This is because in this case he interprets 'environment' to be that with the suobject creates due to its endo-structure. And yet he just got done saying an environment is always more complex than any suobject. He's playing with different definitions here and I think skirting the issue of this more complex environment. Due to this aversion the latter almost seems like some kind of amorphous goo which only takes shape by a suobject, ironic given his repulsion of goo.

I was wondering how Latour might respond to Harman, rather than taking Harman's interpretation of him at face value. Lo and behold I found this debate between the two on Harman's presentation in PON. In fact at the end of 45 and beginning of 46 Latour is highlighting the virtual, which comes after Irreductions and is antithetical to his former actualism.

At 43 of the debate Latour just doesn't accept Harman's claim that he is a pure relationist, given the irreducible singularity of an actant. Just want I was getting at above. It's Harman's translation problem given his OOO commitments (blinders), that he's not seeing something in Latour that is there.

Correction: Virtuality is discussed at the end of 46 and beginning of 47. At least the start of it. Something tells me we're going to get much more heavily into the topic. What is interesting to me is that my several questions above are exactly what they are dealing with in this discussion. It let's me know that I'm on the right track in stalking my prey, to use Latour's metaphor. Even though I cannot clearly see it I can smell it in the near distance, catching a whiff here and there as the wind changes. I smell blood!


  1. On pages 52-4 I learned that Harman doesn't understand Latour's new work. And that Bryant disagrees with Harman in the latter's claim that things must directly touch. Bryant found an adequate explanation via dynamic systems for how they never directly touch but only translate each other, which is one of Latour's points. However Latour is now agreeing that this infinite regress is a problem whereas Bryant gleefully accepts it. And he retains a suobject's withdrawn autonomy. Then Latour wimped out and said he didn't want to discuss this anymore. And we never got what he was getting at with the 14 modes, 2 of which are supposed to be 'unifying.'

  2. At the end of 73 Latour asks an audience member a question, since that member agreed with Harman's criticism of 'serial redescription.' Per my last comment it seems Latour agrees with Bryant about an infinite regress via a suobject's system maintenance.

    Ah, I think we're getting to le differance with Latour's plasma, unformatted reality (80 and following). And on 83 we discern it by, like Bryant, drawing a distinction between the marked and unmarked space. And this circles around to my question about the more complex environment that a suobject translates through its marked space. So perhaps I understand a bit better Bryant's contention that there is no fixed structure to the environment, given that like differance or plasma it is unformatted. Still, like those other realities to which we refer with concepts they are the cause of a suboject's being. And to which it must adapt or die (83). (He brings in Sloterdijk on 84 in this regard.)

    On p. 99 a questioner is giving a speech, and he is again bringing up serial redescription. When it was first introduced above my response was it sounded quite a bit like Derrida's iteration, in that the past was repeated and yet always with something novel. On this page the questioner says something very similar.


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