BRUNO LATOUR’S CRITIQUE OF MONOMODAL REASON: diplomatic agonism or pluralist dialogism?

Latour’s agonistic agora is constituted by the repression of dialogue and the evacuation of counter-traditions by means of hegemonic felicity conditions. However, in saying this we ourselves are being diplomatic, because from a Deleuzian and Foucauldian perspective the “counter”-traditions come first, and are constitutive of the State, rather than reactions to it. With their immanent acts of valuation they are the nomadic dawn, where the values are the sedentary evening. Latour’s agonism is ambiguous in that it is both a step towards greater pluralism in its recognition of multiple modes of being, and a retreat from pluralism in its delimitation of those modes and his restrictions on their interactions.

I am focusing my discussion of Latour on a critique of his structural recoding of his pluralist insights. However, I think his book is very interesting and important and I have indicated that I find him not only more pluralist and more empirical than Badiou, whose pluralism is ultimately a monomodal mathematical reductionism, and whose empiricism is virtually non-existent. I also think that Latour’s INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE is in many ways an advance on Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? So I am all for preserving the Latourian (and Deleuzian and Feyerabendian) baby that I have baptised with the garish name of “pluralist diachronic ontology” (see http://www.theoria.fr/is-ontology-making-us-stupid/). The bathwater, however, is full of propagandistic claims to doing “empirical” metaphysics, when he is doing mostly pure metaphysics but drawing on some of his earlier empirical studies (for science, technology, and law). But those studies are far in the past now, and his actually modifying his system due to contributions from others on his digital platform is at the moment a vague promise for the future.

On the question of critique: Latour does critique, and does it massively in his writings. Unfortunately he mainly critiques what everyone doing critique has been ctiticising for the last hundred years. Criticising the modernist subject-object division (and the fact-value distinction, and the separation of science and politics) is a tradition for the French critical intellectual. The 1968 generation of philosophers was not one of critique, as Latour affects to believe. It was already a generation of the critique of critique, and Deleuze and Lyotard (and Foucault) wrote much on the poverty, the sterility, and the conservatism of critique both before May ’68 and in its aftermath. Latour knows this, he grew up intellectually in that conceptual milieu, and his work is marked both by its imprint and by his denegation of it.

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