LATOUR AND DELEUZE: politics and the structure of the modes of existence

In an interesting interview Bruno Latour compares his own modes of existence project to the project defended by Deleuze and Guattari in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? This book too sketches out a typology of modes of existence (philosophy, science, art). Latour’s difficulty with this alternative version is that Deleuze and Guattari  do not include politics among their modes (or “planes”), but that they include philosophy:

“If you take Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy, you find that politics is not
conceived as a singular mode. But you do find philosophy considered as such (this is difficult for me to understand, but this is another question). It would be interesting to use this same kind of approach to explore what is the proper being of the political. As they do for philosophy – in this case it’s the concept – and for science – where it’s the functive. We must define this proper being of the political” (page 10).

It is true that politics is not a separate mode for Deleuze and Guattari insofar as it concerns the informal element of force- and power-relations and of performance underlying all the modes. Latour’s modes are more an affair of competence, as it is necessary to respect the formal felicity conditions of each mode in order to avoid illegitimate crossings and interferences. Deleuze and Guattari’s typology is richer and more complex than one would gather from reading just WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? This book is a sort of appendix to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS where Deleuze and Guattari discuss other modes of existence, including both literature and psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is subsumed with religion under the mode of “subjectivation”, that they also call “individuation”. Politics is further sub-divided into macro-politics and micro-politics, and is sometimes given an ontological dimension affirming that “before Being there is politics” (A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, 203).

Latour seems to acknowledge this complexity later in the interview, when Brian Massumi brings up the question of micro-politics:

“What concerns me about micropolitics is that it is always in rapport with the institution that would be invested in the politics of what we call “macro.” What we absolutely have to avoid is that the micro position itself against the political institution, when the real question
is how to deal with the political institution at all its levels. It’s a problem of political positioning – this time in the classic sense of the term as Deleuze uses it” (11).

Finally, the problem is not really that Deleuze and Guattari do not have a typology of modes that includes politics, but that their mapping of its conditions is different from his. The objection that micro-politics is by nature “against” the institution is a travesty of Deleuze and Guattari’s position, trying to criticise them in terms of a misunderstanding that they explicitly refute on many occasions. Micro-politics is precisely a matter of positioning at all levels, not just of the political institution but of all institutions and structures, including the various modes. Despite himself Latour is designating what is in fact a major problem in his typology: the consensual nature of his project. The need to have his fictive “informants” agree with and accept his re-descriptions as faithful accounts of their practices and values imposes a monist principle of convergence (in this case, of convergence of opinions) on a purportedly pluralist analysis.

Deleuze and Guattari avoid such a principle of convergence by a variety of pluralist procedures and concepts. One of the most important of these pluralising strategies is that in their analyses each time a mode is to be described the description includes both a macro-version and a micro-version within the same mode, in various degrees of fusion, alliance, or conflict. The macro-version tends towards formalisation, the codification of the felicity conditions and stabilisation of the objects, while the micro-version tends towards decoding and destabilisation, in the sense of greater fluidity within and between domains and institutions, rather than taking up an oppositional stance against the institution as Latour seems to think.

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