LEVI BRYANT AND THE PERFORMATIVE CONTRADICTION (6): a-historical (synchronic) materialism

In his new book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE Bruno Latour talks about the “institution” of matter, a horrible simplification of the diverse materials put into play in our practices. This leads him to say: “There is no matter at all”. That is to say that philosophical materialism is a reductionist metaphysical principle, a lowest common denominator, to unify and homogenise the heterogeneous materials deployed by different networks of knowledge and existence. There is no matter in this metaphysical sense because there is no unity of science, and I would emphasise no unity of common sense either.

Latour summons us to just start measuring things around us and try to sketch out and colour a drawing of them. He claims that we will soon recognise that we do not live in a unified homogeneous Euclidian space filled with lumps of matter. Any materialism or naturalism that purports to describe the world we actually live in would have to be totally empty of content, amounting to just a meaningless ritual formula, or it would have to be judged on its empirical consequences for our knowledge both present and future.

As to the historical question of the so-called idealism of continental philosophy, I think that Levi Bryant gives a very misleading picture. Althusser, Rancière, Deleuze, and Guattari, Foucault, Lyotard were all materialists. Still producing interesting work today: Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, François Laruelle, and Bernard Stiegler are all materialists – though in order to avoid the aporia indicated above I have argued that their ontology is diachronic. Bryant however is proposing yet another synchronic ontology and is apparently incapable of doing justice to such diachronic materialism.

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