Lacan’s concept of the “imaginary” does not exhaust the register of images but represents only one particular regime of that register. This insight underlies behind Deleuze’s cinema books, which continue, in sublimated form, the critique of Lacanian psychoanalysis that is contained in ANTI-OEDIPUS and A THOUSAND PLATEAUX.
Bruno Latour’s philosophical style can be seen as a generalisation of Deleuze’s imagistic conceptualism, or conceptual imagism. I have often referred to this pulsation between image and concept as characteristic not only of Deleuze’s style but also of Continental philosophy in general.
Bruno Latour describes his own style in a similar way, talking of his philosophical “life among conceptual characters” as a pulsation between imagistic character and intellectual concept, between actor and actant.
Graham Harman agrees with Searle and Chomsky denouncing the obscurantism of Theory, its irony, lack of straightforwardness and of engagement. However, straightforwardness may not be as desirable or attainable as he seems to think. After all, Harman is the thinker who tells us straightforwardly that we cannot say anything straightforward about the real object, as it withdraws.
For Harman only the non-straightforward, “indirect” approach of art can hope to say something of value about the real. This dualism between obscurantist disengaged irony and straightforward engaged vivacity does not exhaust all the possibilities.
Latour cannot possibly be an ally for Harman on this point as he proposes 15 “tones” of enunciation in his modes of existence project. In Latour’s system of modes of existence the only “straightforward” tone, Double Click, loses all hegemony, as it presupposes one can reproduce information exactly, without transformation, outside networks.
It also seems strange to hold Latour up as a paradigm of escape from irony. There are many sorts of irony, many ironic tones, not just one. Latour is a master of deflationary irony, taking his adversaries at their word to show up the absurdity he sees behind it.
Latour situates himself firmly on the side of textuality and “écriture” as opposed to straightforwardly putting one’s ideas into language. This means that in his work style and content cannot be separated so easily, and that Latour is constantly avoiding provocation, “hedging”, diplomatically negotiating meaning.
The irony of Harman’s naively hailing Latour as a paragon of non-irony is quite touching.
Latour cites Nietzsche, Greimas, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida, Lyotard, Serres amongst his influences. He is no dupe of the myth of universal correlationism. Harman has replaced this pulsation between image and concept, between actor and actant, with a partition that only his real objects can overcome. Unfortunately these real objects are by his stipulation themselves partitioned off behind the wall of withdrawal.
Note: I have commented on Harman’s synchronic travesty of Latour’s diachronic ontology here.
Latour’s project of digital humanities demolishes these partitions. There is no pathos of a universal correlationism to be overcome.
Latour’s conceptual style operates between Nietzsche and Bultmann, between revisionary hermeneutics and conservatory exegesis. My regret is that he ultimately gives primacy to reprise over revisioning.