Bernard Stiegler mentions Bruno Latour critically in an interview cited on the blog THE SEMAPHORE LINE: “Latour is a high-ranking philosophy professor [agrégé de philosophie], a philosopher, but he is in a state of philosophical denial [une dénégation philosophique]. For example, he will not put up with phenomenology, he will not bear transcendental questions, etcetera. He asserts an empiricism, an associationism, which is certainly something very efficient and very fruitful. But at the same time, I always have the impression, because of this denial, that there is a certain blindness, a certain naïveté even, in Latour’s reasoning process, a certain cynicism”. (“Bernard Stiegler’s Pharmacy: A Conversation” p463-464, unfortunately behind a pay-wall here).
I think that Stiegler’s comment on Latour may be more complex than any translation into a differend over “the human subject’s access to the thing” allows. I think that such talk of “access” is misleading: knowledge is not access, neither for Latour nor for Stiegler, nor for any significant philosopher of the last 100 years (unless one is credulous enough to believe Harmanian historical fairytales). If one had to theorize the debate in those terms it is clear that Stiegler thinks that Latour is still stuck in access because he is stuck in “empiricism”. At first sight this is a somewhat surprising accusation to make against Latour, but I think it can be substantiated. Latour has a double empiricism: that of networks, that one has just to trace and follow, and that of modes of existence that one has to describe and prevent from imposing their felicity conditions on another mode.
The accusation of “denial” of philosophy is double-pronged. In many ways Latour’s ideas are just ordinary extensions and applications of Deleuze and Guattari’s or of Michel Serres’ ideas. Let us not forget that the notion of quasi-object derives from Serres. Stiegler is quite up front about the influences on his ideas and the need to re-read such philosophical sources with new eyes, ie. in relation to contemporary events. Stiegler has his own theoretical ressources for thinking through the notion of networks and assemblages in what he calls “long circuits of transindividuation”. Latour acknowledges that there may be philosophical ancestors to his ideas, but distinguishes his contribution as based on his scientific research. Here again his empiricism enters, with a covert scientism, as if this empirical research gave superior credence to his ideas. So basically Latour is sophisticated and ironic about other people’s ideas, and naive about his own. So the denial of philosophy exists at this level of not taking into account his own enunciative position.
An interesting example of this denegation is in Latour’s referencing and resurrection of Etienne Souriau’s work on modes of existence. This is pure misdirection to avoid the anamnesis of his debt to Deleuze’s work on modes of existence. The co-author of the long preface that Latour wrote to Souriau’s work is Isabelle Stengers, who is not in phiosophical denial and who has always made clear her affiliation to Deleuze’s philosophy.
Stiegler situates the human in relation to an originary “default of origin”, in both the objective and subjective senses of the genitive: there is something defective at the origin, and the origin is absent.