The modesofexistence (http://modesofexistence.org/index.php/site/index) people have contacted the AIME reading group to solicit comments and greater participation. Here is the comment I left on their site:
I am a member of the AIME reading group, but unlike Adam I quckly felt the sequential format of discussion too confining. I would have liked to have a more variegated discussion on the AIME site, but this is still to come. A major obstacle for me is that I forget the conditions of use, which I quickly clicked through, but I think I had to agree to ceding ownership of my comments to the site. As I am writing quite a lot on the book and may publish my analyses in book form I do not think I will leave anything more than short comments on the site.
Fortunately I have my own blog and have published quite a lot of posts on the book. Another member of the AIME reading group Philip Conway has done the same on his blog CIRCLING SQUARES, and so all together we have managed to generate at least a three-sided inter-blog discussion. To this one must add Levi Bryant of Larval Subjects (http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/), who is working his way through the book and making some very interesting comparisons with the work of Niklas Luhmann.
Philip Conway has produced some very useful critical analyses of the chapters on power and on religion, and has posted insightful comments on Latour’s work on his blog for some time, beginning well before the publication of AIME. I myself on this blog have been analysing the philosophical status of the book, its philosophical sources, comparable projects by other contemporary philosophers, and I have concentrated on examining criticallythe crossing of the scientific and the religious modes.
I must admit that I have chosen a polemical style for most of my comments, but I think the book is very interesting in its scope and in its analyses. The idea of the digital platform is a potentially very fruitful initiative.
In the past I was involved with the project around ALL THINGS SHINING by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly. This book is in a very different style a pluralist treatise on modes of existence (called by them « modes of understanding of Being » and « modes of gathering). This project was not just limited to a book but included two series of podcast lectures, one by Hubert Dreyfus at the University of Berkeley and the other by Sean Kelly at Harvard. It was also associated with a blog (http://allthingsshiningbook.wordpress.com/). The blog did not live up to expectations because of
1) the lack of implication by the authors (Dreyfus never wrote for it, Kelly began with frequent articles and replies to comments, but quickly lost impetus, as the effort necessary for such writing is very time-consuming)
2) the rather hagiographic approach to the book, shutting its eyes to defects and lacks, not to mention outright inconsistencies, treating it as a work of genius beyond all but minor criticism.
3) the absence of any attempt to engage with the thought of other pluralist thinkers, the attitude that this was a unique and incomparable thought, an attitude that I have called « monological pluralism ».
So with reference to AIME my conclusions from that experience, which was very promising but which only half-succeeded, would be
1) more implication and feedback from Bruno Latour himself (I realise that time considerations may make this impossible). More updates on the progress made in the meetings, discussions and reports and on the possible directions for future transformations.
2) an active encouragement to get in and deal critically with the text. This does not mean saying « we’re open to people who do a simlar sort of ethnographic inquiry on one of our modes or on a new one, let them provide the documentary material and we will examine it ». This in fact closes off discussion for many who do not have the resources and training for such an investigation. It also denies the highly philosophical nature of the text and discourages direct philosophical criticism, which should also be possible.
3) a serious attempt should be made to link this project with other pluralist thinkers such as Deleuze (he really gets a poor deal!) and Michel Serres, but also with Bernard Stiegler, François Laruelle, and Alain Badiou. I would add to this list of pluralist ontologists William Connolly, and Dreyfus and Kelly. The book is not a lonely milestone projecting out of a swamp of bungling bifurcators and I think this scenography counts against its ambition to flourish into a collective collaboration.
My own personal conclusion is that I find the book very interesting, very stimulating, but also very flawed. I have done the best I can to widen the discussion and I will continue to do so. Thank you for this opportunity to participate in the collective elaboration, and I really hope that it goes beyond the level of a flashy gimmick but that it changes our way of doing philosophy. I will do everything I can to help it work.
hey TB, not sure if you have given any thought as to whether or not you will be making the final collection open-access but if so I would really like to share it on ANTHEM.
Not sure of anything yet, but thanks for the offer.
« …I think I had to agree to ceding ownership of my comments to the site. »
That condition is flat-out ridiculous. Amazon can do that for reviews written on their site, but AIME is a more serious project.
You say « This does mean mean saying … » Do you mean to say « This does NOT mean mean saying … »?
Thanks Bill, I have corrected my text.
You’re overstating our differences, Terrence. The AIME site is available for any participant to do whatever they want with. I just keep it going.
No problem Adam, I still use it. But I express myself elsewhere as well, as do you.
Thanks Terence Blake for a useful feedback. We are exploring different ways of doing empirical metaphysics collectively, and we risk falling in many pitfalls. So thanks for warning us and for pointing to other failed attempts (I did not know about Dreyfus and Kelly’s case for instance, and it is great to debrief this one as well).
I have tried to answer below some of the points you underline most forcefully.
Regarding copyright. We are working under a Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. So the only thing we request from co-inquirers is the possibility of using contributions in any future digital publications (with the name and permission of the contributors and on conditions that it remains on free access) and we ask them not to withdraw their contributions once it is published on the site (through the editing process) so that we don’t suddenly lose documents and prose that has been already integrated and commented.
The function of the site has never been to limit, restrict or even define the conversations around the paper and digital text of the book. I fully expected the argument to be debated in the normal ways that is through old fashion reviews, new blog like sites, reading groups, pep talks and gossips. Philosophical discussions should proceed according to their normal ways. Whenever I can, I will answer, but it is not our primary goal. Let thousand flowers flourish. I don’t think we need any special device for that. We are all good at it.
(Even if, for me personally, it is of course very interesting to have all my errors redressed, this is not the main idea since I have no interest in being the centre of attention. Not because I hide my philosophical weaknesses but because I see my role more as giving an occasion for others to modify their connections with one another).
If we have assembled such a complex (maybe too complex!) device it is because the goal is to rewrite the critical parts of the project through face to face meetings for which the site merely assembles the preparatory documents. We will do that for much of the next six months. This is what we call diplomatic encounters.
The reason for such a procedure is that it is not based on a will to know (inspired by the [REF] mode, if you wish), but the will to restitute to the practitioners (and that includes also philosophers) another version of what they value in a language that allows other practitioners to have their values taken into consideration. So the project is inspired more by [PRE] to use our jargon. This is the only way we found to render ontological pluralism a serious and costly undertaking. To claim that there might exist several ontological templates is supposed to make life more complicated to be registered and recorded. Not only for me, but for the co-inquirers as well. That is the reason why our wish is not to receive commentaries but to get contributions.
The difference between commentaries and contributions comes from the determination of three different purposes I have proposed in the conclusion of the report:
-the sharing of the experience; not so much of the modes but rather that of the many crossings, since it is only through ambiguity, hesitation, protestation that the modes may be detected; (this is a present weakness of the book that keeps presenting modes one after the other, when all the data have been obtained, and will be obtained, through the documentation of tentative crossings).
-my own clumsy metalangage in which I have framed this experience, metalangage that is entirely disposable;
-and, finally, the overall diplomatic situation in which this inquiry is framed (Moderns who have never been moderns and who encounter Gaia and have not much time left — to put things too grossly).
During those many years, I have found that the detection and sharing of experience is the most difficult and that the conceptual equipment to make it visible is the most disposable. Hence, the strange set up we have built (incredibly enough, with European money!): on the one hand, a highly constrained focus on documents and arguments for educing sharable description of experiences; and, on the other, a completely open transformation of the various metalanguages.
Very close, and very open! Just what is expected from a diplomatic encounter strained by the urgency of finding a solution when none is possible!
Since it is a contradiction, we cannot do this without steering the discussion in a highly artificial way by offering potential contributors what we consider not as a filter but as a high quality intellectual service for editing and preparing the final phase.
I agree that there are many pitfalls in proceeding in such an unusual way. I don’t think that there is much risk in hagiography and complacency, but rather in losing track of the project and having a “débat d’idées” instead of a collective inquiry. This being said, we agree with you that we should provide more reports to everybody on the former meetings and next encounters.
So, once again, many thanks Terence for your help and feedback on the process we invent as we go along. I hope I have clarified a few of the points and that you will be interested in continuing the experiment with us.
(I have one little quibble, though: would you seriously place the name of Badiou in a list of “pluralist thinkers”? That would come to a surprise to many French…).
Bruno Latour and the AIME team