EMPIRICISM vs HERMENEUTICS (1): Reading Bruno Latour religiously

Does Bruno Latour have two philosophies, as he claims recently, or just one? Is this a empirical or « double-click » question? Or is it a hermeneutical question? does it depend on our interpretation, which may be different than the one Latour gives of his own work? Perhaps it is even religious? Latour himself declares

« Groping, contradictory exegesis: this is religion itself. Etymology attests to this: religion is the relationship among or, better still, the relativism of interpretations; the certainty that one obtains truth only through a new path of alterations, inventions, deviations that make it possible to obtain, or not, against rote reiteration and wear and tear, the faithful renewal of what has been said » (AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE, 313).

This is good advice on how to read his book: avoid the weak reproductive reading of « rote reiteration », and read critically and creatively to engage in the « faithful renewal » of what Latour has written. Reading is interpretation and not repetition, and such interpretation is necessarily plurimodal.  Hermeneutics is thus essential to Latour’s thought, and to reading his books. In the list of authors that constitute his hermeneutic horizon, I would not include in pride of place such official hermeneutic authors as Dilthey, Gadamer, and Ricoeur. Rather precedence should be given to Spinoza, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and Deleuze.

Bad advice would begin by telling people not to read in terms of their preferred modes of existence, but rather according to one’s own favoured mode. This is the monist or monotheist mode of reading that judges everything in terms of its one supreme value. Reading, I have argued, is interpretation, it cannot be contained within the borders of one domain. Reading is tied to pluralism and intensity, it « takes into account the fact that a border indicates less a dividing line between two homogeneous sets than an intensification of crossborder traffic between foreign elements » (AIME, 30).

Some good work of exegesis has been done on Latour’s work in view of the intensification of our reading experience. I do not see critical discussion as condemned to remain at the level of mere generalities, expressing emotional reactions of rejection or appropriation. A good hermeneutic reading certainly involves not just linear rote summary but global framing, wandering trajectories, and plurimodal intensities, including critical intensity (something that Latour is full of, despite his inveighing against « critique »).

One possible conclusion that one could draw from the book is that of the need for « religious studies », on the model of science studies, to complete or transform the perspectives of this preliminary report. Unfortunately, there is nothing in AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE, or any other of Latour’s texts, to show that he has done any field work on the subject of religion, of anything approaching the tenor and rigour of the work he has done for Science and Law and Technology. That is a very serious shortcoming of AIME. Doing religious studies is not the same thing as speaking religiously, nor is speaking religiously necessarily speaking about God. The « religious » is a mode of veridiction, not a special content or an obligatory name. It directs our attention (to the nearest and the neighbour). If I read Latour’s book with attention, as neighbour, with all I’ve got, then I am reading it religiously whether I speak of God or not.

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3 commentaires pour EMPIRICISM vs HERMENEUTICS (1): Reading Bruno Latour religiously

  1. It does not make sense to me to label this approach as religious in any other sense than one that patronizes the « one who believes ». How does this do anything other than pat the innocent on the head to insure them that nothing is really different (but what is preserved is done so in name only)? Would a religious person recognize this as described? I think Serres talks about religion in a similar fashion (« The Natural Contract » maybe?) and your quotation (months ago) from Feyerabend on « voo-doo » as well, all have the same tonality to my ears. At what point does « pluralism » only arrive via a pure formalism with no real content?


  2. terenceblake dit :

    I am following a tortuous argumentative itinerary here, trying to tease out various problems that I see with the book and Latour’s self interpretations. If you want to get a glimpse of the conclusions you can take a look at this post, https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/on-the-cognitive-scope-of-religion-paul-feyerabend-vs-bruno-latour/, where I argue for the cognitive dimension of religion as against Latour’s reductionist demarcationism. I maintain the accusation of formalism, of establishing a preserve for a merely « generic » religion with no creedal content here: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/does-latour-show-the-speculative-fly-the-way-out-of-the-ontotheological-fly-bottle/. On the non-empiricity of Latour’s analysis, because his religious account does not correspond to anything his « informants » (if he had any) would accept, you will have to wait a little longer.



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