Chapter 7: Reinstituting the Beings of Metamorphosis

My contribution to the reading group on Latour’s AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE can be found here: a summary of chapter 7 (“Reinstituting the Beings of Metamorphosis”) plus commentary. This is Latour’s account of the fabrication of psyches, and includes a phenomenology of emotion. I compare this with ALL THINGS SHINING and with James Hillman’s psychology of “soul-making”. Deleuze’s notion of the “production of subjectivity” is also mentioned.

AIME Research Group

Author: Terence Blake

The movement of deconstruction of the split between subject and object allied to the pluralisation of ontologies continues. We must now apply this ontological pluralism to the irrational superstitions that are thought to characterise traditional societies. Modernity has been constituted in terms of a battle against the superstitious belief in invisible beings and occult powers. The previous chapters have shown that the Moderns are mistaken about the nature and composition of the visible world. For Latour there is no “visible world”, the very idea is the result of a category mistake. A suspicious symptom from our history is the overwhelming violence that has accompanied the spread of Reason in the world, a sign that we are anxious and frightened about what we nonetheless assert to be devoid of existence.

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7 Responses to Chapter 7: Reinstituting the Beings of Metamorphosis

  1. cmkeys says:

    Latour’s reliance on Tobie Nathan is I think crucial for understanding chapter 7 of AIME.

    Nathan has worked with many people from different cultures who have had near-death experiences in war zones and ethnic conflicts — being hacked with a machete and tossed in a mass grave, for example, only to survive. (http://www.ethnopsychiatrie.net/TN&CG_PTSD.htm)What he found was that each of them on the brink of death were visited by some sort of psychogenic being from another dimension, so to speak. For example, one man who had throat problems and couldn’t sleep was found to have been visited by an eagle that grabbed his throat with its talons. Ethnopsychiatric intervention thus involves collaborating with the patient to design a therapeutic venue in which to confront these culturally-specific psychogenic beings.

    Tobie Nathan has also described occasions in which individuals on the brink of death were visited by Jesus, which is interesting from the standpoint of the distance between the MET and REL modes. The psychogenic network of that particular geography and historical location rendered Jesus a viable image for re-vivifying the dying individual, who then devoted his life to the church. In what sense was this individual’s encounter with the psychogenic being of Jesus a “conversion” experience? The context of the encounter was bodily survival. I expect that the conversion to Christianity happened afterward, after reflecting upon the encounter and connecting the psychogenic being with the doctrines and traditions and rituals and networks of the religious institution. The psychogenic encounter really does seem quite different from the process of conversion. And so there would seem to be a huge difference between MET and REL in these examples.

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    • cmkeys says:

      In the case of the man from Burundi who encountered “Jesus”, in the actual text Nathan claims that the man said he encountered “God”, not Jesus. The fact that the man became a healer and Christian preacher came afterward. Nathan suggests that the trauma that split his being and brought God was utilized by the man in order to confront the politics of religion in Burundi. Through the frightful encounter the man was given the tools to shape a new social order. It is this power that Nathan suggests may explain why various secret societies have for millennia used extreme fright and death-rebirth rituals as preliminary practices for developing cultural leaders.

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    • terenceblake says:

      I think we must distinguish empirical conversion and modal conversion. The modal conversion has nothing essential to do with creeds, doctrines, rituals and communities. If an eagle rather than “Christ” resuscitates me then that is still the experience of conversion. Conversely if I “convert” to Catholicism, go to Mass, pray etc. but remain in the domain of belief, then no conversion in the modal sense has taken place.

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  2. dirk says:

    I think that Hillman (in his early work before his religious inclinations fully bloom) by rightly sticking to the phenomenological-event-ualities (active-imaginings) and so relativizing (in a familial-resemblance, family-rhizome, kind of way) Self-ish projections (and blind impresses) lacks something like the promissory-note of the ATS “meta” move and I think this is to his credit.
    For progressive theologically minded folks (including the later World Souling Hillman) this of course will be a tragically all-too-human result:
    http://www.users.drew.edu/rcorring/downloads/Jaspers%20and%20Hillman.pdf

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    • terenceblake says:

      I don’t see ATS’s metapoiesis as a promissory note, but as a rather banal accompaniment to pluralism: we have to get used to working with plurality; Hillman wishes to cultivate psychological awareness with such techniques as pathologizing, personnifying, seeing through, de-humanizing, de-literalising and dis-identifying. All of these are at work in ATS and form for me a sketch of metapoiesis.

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      • dirk says:

        that we “have to get used to working with plurality” (is this an is or an ought?) doesn’t mean that we actually can, we suffer from all kinds of related cognitive-biases and despite the speculative hype of folks like Malabou there are in fact real resistances (as well as affordances) in our plasticity, not to mention the limits of the biosphere (as Hillman bemoans in his We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy – And the World’s Getting Worse.).

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  3. terenceblake says:

    You find metapoiesis vague and promissory. I have shown how with Hillman how we can sketch out some content for the idea. Latour’s examples in chapter 7 are even more banal. Don’t forget that if |met] corresponds to plasticity, it is limited by |rep] or tenacity. Both exist and both are necessary to constitute a psyche or a cosmos.

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