LATOUR’S FOURTH GIFFORD LECTURE: « The Anthropocene and the destruction of the image of the Globe »

We are getting used to Latour’s rhetoric now. We know that Latour makes fun of the post-modern because « we have never been modern ». So this alolow him to rip off Lyotard by defining the secular as the absence of any universal arbiter, which is precisely Lyotard’s definition of the postmodern. So we need not be surprised by his ironic jibes at the post-humanists for failing to anticipate the « return of Anthropos », now that we are entering the Anthropocene and that humans have become the most powerful geological, or « geostorical » force. But he is quick to notify us that Anthropos is not a « unified agent of history ». This is another unacknowledged debt to Lyotard, who made the absence of any unified subject of history another of the defining characteristics of the postmodern.

The link with the end of the last lecture is in the idea that Gaia is unlike Nature in that we cannot globalise it easily by just jumping to a higher level. « Nature » was a hierarchical system of levels from smallest and lowest to largest and highest, from A to Z, « from atoms to Zeitgeist ». This leads to scientistic fantasies of an overarching feedback system that could re-establish equlibrium, but there is no such overarching loop, the positivistic version of the « wisdom » of Gaia. No harmony to love, no final level of control either (so no Spaceship Earth under our control). Ecological issues do not unite us, but divide us eve  more intensely. We cannot just unite under the banner of science: « Let’s all be scientists » is no solution. Science must give us the instruments to make us sensitive to what is happening on the Earth. We need science but it is no final authority and is itself fraught with controversies. Science is disputed but indispensable.

The problem with science as usually understood (science one) is that it cannot overcome the « discrepancy » between the local situatedness of the scientists and their pretention to a universal viewpoint, the view from nowhere. This unresolved discrepancy renders it difficult for science to be assimilated by society and explains the political naïveté and impotence of scientists. Scientists need to anchor themselves in their specificity and not erase but make visible their production of an epistemic culture along with their material knowledge structure. They do not acceed directly to a unified global view of a unitary Nature. Where do you reside when you say you have a global view of the universe? It cannot be done and we cannot bear that sort of global responsibility, so we must depose ther Globe to escape from the malediction of Atlas.

This discrepancy can be traced back to the unresolved bi-focal vision that has characterised the West since Plato. Plato’s obsession with the Globe was imported into Christianity and has haunted us ever since. Using Peter Sloterdijk’s spherology Latour argues that we have maintained two contradictory visions simultaneously: the theocentric vision and the cosmocentric vision. Incompatible unifications, where both unify too fast what should rather be composed.

The concept of the loop should have precedence over that of Globe. You need to actually trace out the Globe by following many loops. And not the feedback loop, but the aesthetic loop, the loop of sensitivity: you need to feel the consequences of your actions. We have to weave and to wrap ourselves with a great many loops. How many little loops did it take before many of you gave up smoking? Through each loop we become more sensitive the globe we inhabit. « How many loops do you need to feel the rotundity of the Earth for good? »

We must be suspicious of any global view. Gaia is not a sphere but rather a tiny membrane, only a few kilometers thick. It is not made of loops in any cybernetic sense, but as we saw in the last lecture of events of agents each going to the end of their intentions. The Global, the Universal, the Natural are poisons that obscure the laying down of the equipment that allows us to be sensitive to all the influences of events.

Again the example of Lars von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA: it is not the Earth that is destroyed, it is the Globe that should be destroyed to release our capacity to render ourselves sensitive. Following Sloterdijk we must pass from monotheism to monogeism: we have no spare planet. This is all we have, but we don’t know its shape anymore. We must trace out multiple, controversial and entangled loops – multiply the number of ways we feel the feedback. The two senses of aesthetic: produce ever more sensitive instruments (science) to allow us to become ever more sensitive (art).


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2 commentaires pour LATOUR’S FOURTH GIFFORD LECTURE: « The Anthropocene and the destruction of the image of the Globe »

  1. Sam Hind dit :

    Reblogged this on The Semaphore Line and commented:
    I wasn’t in a position to live-tweet Latour’s 4th Gifford Lecture (although I did watch it), so here’s a condensed version via Agent Swarm.


  2. Ping : Latour’s 4th lecture – the anthropo.scene

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