FROM LATOUR TO LYOTARD: Gaia needs cosmos

It is not sufficient to append the prefix « cosmo- » to one’s position to be sure of escaping anthropocentrism. In the case of Bruno Latour, « cosmopolitics » sounds promising, but he ultimately ties it to our status as « earth-bound » as some sort of permanent state, whereas Lyotard treats us as sun-bound, but only as a provisional halt on the path of complexity. That is to say that cosmopolitics can go in the direction of a contraction of the universe, a containment within prudential limits, perhaps more easily than it can go in the sense of its expansion.

Lyotard thought that this inhuman process of complexification was to be cultivated, yet he believed that it left something out. This is why he emphasised the need for anamnesis in order to bring it in relation to another inhumanity, that of the unconscious, which in his earlier work he analysed in terms of intensities. He later regrouped these heterogeneous networks of intensities by means of incommensurable régimes of phrases. One of the main reasons for this change of ontology was to combat scientism, now limited to the régime of reference, and to give full importance to ethics and politics. Where Latour elevates religion to the dignity of a separate mode of existence, Lyotard places the ethical mode (or ethical « régime » in his terminology).

The opposition that Latour has in mind would seem to be the (false) equation expansion = extensity, and by implication contraction = intensity. Latour’s repeated appeals to « Gaia » can be seen as an attempt to import ethical prescription into his pluralist system, which is in danger of re-iterating at the meta-level of the modes the same ethical vacuity that we find at the level of the heterogeneous networks. Yet this appeal to Gaia also serves a function of subjectivation or psychgenesis, interpellating us as « earth-bound », in Latour’s vision.In other words, Gaia is not just an object of science, confined to the referential mode, but a trans-modal or inter-modal entity. If one being can have this trans-modal status, there is no reason why many other beings cannot have this same property. The whole policing of incommensurabilities and enforcing of respect of felicity conditions is threatened or seriously mitigated by the existence of such trans-phenomena.

However, this conversion to the close things of the Earth called for by the eruption of Gaia is driven (and validated) by Latour’s analysis and espousal of the religious mode as both prescriptive of attention to the close and underlying the binding of our psychic multiplicity into a unified subject. Without this monistic overcoding effectuated by the religious mode Latour cannot exclude other cosmological elements from entering into the construction of our subjectivity. The Sun, the planets, the stars, the galaxies, black holes and space itself are, if Latour’s pluralism of modes is to have any sense, not just objects of science, but also metamorphic presences. From a polytheistic perspective Gaia alone makes no sense, and while our subjectivity can and must be grounded anew, that ground is inseparable from a pluralistic cosmos both physically and psychically.

I do not see the positive result of de-mystifying our vision and practice of science and of mathematics if we proceed to re-mystify it by importing into our metaphysics the even more dubious presuppositions of monotheistic religion.

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