LATOUR’S METAPHYSICAL PLATFORM: Pluralising the Apophatic Veil

Continuing my discussion of Continental metaphysical research programmes, Latour’s is significantly more satisfying, when judged in terms of the four criteria of pluralism, diachrony, apophaticism, and democracy.

1) Pluralism: Latour’s with its multiple modes of existence is explicitly pluralist in conception and facture. For details on Latour’s realist pluralism, or pluralist realism, see my article “On the Realist Pluralism of Bruno Latour“.

We can see the superiority of Latour’s to Harman’s and Laruelle’s systems by evaluing them in terms of the criterion of pluralism. Latour’s system is pluralist all the way down, combining the plurality of heterogeneous networks with a multiplicity of modes of existence. In contrast Harman’s OOP is superficially pluralist at the sensual level, but monist at the “deeper” level of real objects. Similarly Laruelle’s pluralism of philosophical worlds is secondary to the monist real, the “One”, under the condition of unilaterality.

2) Diachrony: Latour’s acknowledges the historicity of the modes, and of the construction of entities within each mode. Thus, in principle his system is diachronic all the way down.

In contrast, once again both Harman and Laruelle posit a halting point to historicity: the real. Compared to Latour’s AIME, Harman’s OOP and Laruelle’s NP are incomplete, half-fledged diachronic pluralisms, ultimately giving primacy to a monist a-historical real.

3) Apophaticism: Latour’s is apophatic: both inside the religious mode and more fundamentally in the primacy accorded to being-as-other.

3a. The religious mode, REL, is apophatic in that it does not belong to the régimes of knowledge or of belief, and it disallows cognitive naming.

3b. AIME is also globally apophatic in that it refuses the traditional primacy of identity in terms of being-as-being in favour of the primacy of alterity, in terms of being-as-other. For AIME the real can only be prehended in terms of semiotic modes of enunciation that are also modes of existence, thus Latour’s real is itself multiple, and does not stop short at the Veil of Withdrawal or of Unilaterality.

For Latour there is an Apophatic Veil, but given his diachronic pluralism this Veil is not absolute, unversal and eternal, but partial, regional and historically variable. Contrary to Harman’s OOP, for AIME the intelligible can become sensual and vice versa over time, and this distinction is pragmatic rather than ontological. Contrary to Laruelle, the Apophatic Veil is not a sharply-defined absolute “unilateral” barrier, but fuzzy and porous.

Latour’s AIME has no need to posit a deus ex machina to account for the encounter with the real, as these encounters are its ongoing stuff. In particular, it has no need of the hypothesis of a miraculous “trauma” to explain encounters with the real.

4) Democracy: Latour’s is unfortunately not entirely democratic, but it is much more so than Harman’s OOP and Laruelle’s NP. The AIME platform is probably the first experiment in crowdsourcing ontological research. Its democracy lies in its openess to contributions from any source, not just from friends or colleagues. Contributions are free and democratic. However, the validation process is hierarchical and authoritarian, actively impeding democratic discussion. Further, despite its theoretical pluralism of modes, at the przctical level AIME valorises consonance, convergence and consensus.

This monism of AIME is not intrinsic to the metaphysics, declared to be “empirical”, but it is due to the sociological and psychological difficulties of leaving behind a hierarchical academic habitus.       

Note: It is beyond the scope of the present paper to enter into a full discussion of the similarities and differences between Badiou’s and Laruelle’s positions. Suffice it to say that very often Laruelle is unconsciously criticising not Badiou but himself. Laruelle’s ANTI-BADIOU is in fact an ANTI-LARUELLE.

In conclusion, the set of comparisons that I have set up by means of Popper’s concept of metaphysical research programmes, and of the set of four pragmatic criteria (pluralism, diachrony, apophaticism, and democracy) show the importance of Latour’s AIME project for any discussion of recent Continental philosophy.Seen in this light, AIME comes out as significantly more coherent and more intellectually and practically satisfying than other comparable positions.

It is worthy of note that Graham Harman has published two books, and several articles, devoted to a discussion of Latour’s ideas, and that an important strand of Harman’s work is constructed in critical dialogue with Latour’s positions.

In contrast, Laruelle and the Anglophone Laruelleans show no such openness to dialogue with and discussion of potentially rival metaphysical research programmes. They remain caught in the contradiction between the barrier of the Uniqueness Hypothesis: there is only one non-philosopher, and their appeal to an ad hoc Supplementation Manoeuvre: the One (Laruelle) can conveniently be supplemented by whatever will patch up the holes (e.g. Bergson, or Lacan).

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3 Responses to LATOUR’S METAPHYSICAL PLATFORM: Pluralising the Apophatic Veil

  1. Kokkonen, J., Paavola, S., & Engeström, Y. (2013). Becoming a swarm catalyst. International Journal of Knowledge-Based Organizations (IJKBO), 3(1), 57-70.

    This must be relevant to some difficulties faced in AIME that you point under democracy. Unfortunately I have no access to it

    Like

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