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On the Realist Pluralism of Bruno Latour

On the Realist Pluralism of Bruno Latour

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Published by Terence Blake

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Published by: Terence Blake on Jan 27, 2014
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05/25/2014

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ON THE REALIST PLURALISM OF BRUNO LATOUR 
 by
 
Terence BlakeFOREWORD: the struggle for intellectual hegemony and thetravestying of pluralism "We are witnessing today the struggle for intellectualhegemony — for who will occupy the universal place of the“public intellectual” — between postmodern-deconstructionistcultural studies and the cognitivist popularizers of “hard”sciences"
(Slavoj Zizek, “Lacan Between Cultural Studies AndCognitivism”).
Faced with the strange contemporary spectacle of the struggle for intellectual hegemmony between the postructuralist constructivistsand the scientistic cognitivists, Zizek proposes his own solution to escape from this dichotomy: an imaginary Lacanism (that could be called "LacanZ"! put together retrospectively to outflank bothconstructivism and cognitivism #he position elaborated in Zizek$ste%ts amounts to the combination of a poststructuralist approach (there is no metalanguage, the big &ther does not e%ist! and of aregressive FreudoLacanian recoding of such ideas Zizek takes deconstructive and pluralist arguments and then retranscribes thembackwards into what he calls 'Lacanese )ut the Zizekian Lacan never e%isted, rather it is the necessary mask for propounding Zizek$s own ideas, a heuristic fantasyZizek wavers between poststructuralist pluralism and a monist reductionism founded on his idiosyncratic reading of Lacanian psychoanalysis *espite the grand declarations, Zizek does not accomplish any break with and going beyond poststructuralism, rather his work represents its continuation  +nless one accepts his caricature of poststructuralism as an accurate description, inwhich case it is no big thing to go beyond it#his strategy of unavowed parasitic feeding on and wilful misrepresentation of pluralist thought (whenever Zizek talks about postmodern, deconstructionist, or poststructuralist thought he is targeting the pluralist thought of *eleuze, Foucault, Lyotard, and*errida! is no invention of Zizeks *eleuze and -uattari argue convincingly that Lacan$s "antiphilosophical" thought is a compromise formation between the monism of his predecessor Freud and various pluralist insights that he integrated to correct or topluralise the system partially .o, like his mentor Freud, Lacan feeds on, without giving proper recognition to, the 'other image of thought that *eleuze e%plicitly links with the names of /ietzsche, 0illiam 1ames, and 0hitehead*iscussing "pluralism" or the "pluralist" in general can be in itself a conceptually regressive gesture, creating the danger of
 
conflating the pluralist with the relativist, or confusing realistpluralism with social constructionism 2s these latter positions are relatively easy to refute, such conflations and confusions have a strategic rhetorical advantage: one can seem by rattling off hardhitting arguments to refute a whole gamut of positions, and to be in the theoretical avantgarde, without giving oneself the trouble to work through any really e%isting specific pluralistelaborations in detail &ne may bray loudly about our fallibility and about the need and importance of empirical tests to ensure ouragreement with the real, without ever having confronted a real pluralist position to test ones arguments 2s one has talked about noone in particular, specific 3uotations contradicting the stereotyped analysis can be simply ignored, declared irrelevant, interpreted as saying the opposite of what they do indeed say, etc4n this article we shall try to distinguish pluralism from its relativist shadow, and to elaborate, both abstractly for its own sake, and in relation to a concrete e%ample of a pluralist thinker, the concept of a realist pluralism #he concrete e%ample that we shall e%amine is the pluralist metaphysics of )runo Latouras it is e%pounded in his book 2/ 4/5+467 4/#& 8&*9. &F 94.#9/;9
FROM RELATIVIST EPISTEMOLOGY TO PLURALIST ONTOLOGY
&ne can talk about the e%perience of gods, or spirits, or demons, or ghosts, or of supernatural entities in general< one can investigate the practice of sorcery, or divination, or witchcraft<one can study the historical movements of magic, or gnosis, or alchemy 9ach time one can show that much of what appears to us tobe alien, primitive, naive, or superstitious in terms of our current technoscientific outlook can have a totally reasonable interpretation in terms of the sort of pluralist, diachronic, individuating, performative ontology that can be found in the works of poststructuralist philosophers such as *eleuze, -uattari,Lyotard, Foucault, and 8ichel .erres 4f one adopts the broadly *eleuzian and Feyerabendian pluralist line that one can see in contemporary thinkers such as )runo Latour, )ernard .tiegler, Fran=ois Laruelle, 0illiam ;onnolly, 2ndrew >ickering, and 1ohn Law, then we can see that such phenomena are not ?ust the ob?ects of culturally alternate perceptions and views, to be respected in some relativist gesture of tolerance #hey are in fact much closerto home and more familiar, an integral though downplayed and often unnoticed part of our own practices and e%perience4n @ubert *reyfus and .ean Aellys book 2LL #@4/-. .@4/4/-, we cansee a sort of evolution in their understanding of pluralism as more than ?ust an epistemological relativism, a position that can also be found elsewhere, sometimes more clearly, sometimes less #he overarching frame for that book is a @eideggerian vision of the succession of incommensurable "understandings of )eing", or "worlds", from the @omeric world through the tragic culture of
 
2eschylus and the metaphysical culture inaugurated by >lato, through *ante and his poetic e%pression of ontotheology, up to 8elvilles 8&)7*4;A as a work of art that configures a pluralist understanding that characterises in part our contemporary world, but that is yet to come to full flourishing #his description of the historicity of our e%perience of )eing as embodied in a plurality of worlds succeeding each other over time (and also across space, as in their lectures *reyfus and Aelly consider the differences of our world with those of the 1apanese and the )alinese! is only a first appro%imation, as no understanding of )eing can ever be total .uch a total understanding would make communication between different worlds, and the passage from one world to another, not only incomprehensible but impossible.o this "relativist pluralism" must be mitigated with the observation that we are not stuck inside an allpervasive e%pressive totality that saturates every single word and deed, where everything is related to everything else, at least indirectly, by virtue of being related to the allenglobing worldunderstanding 2s 2ndrew >ickering remarks, such seemingly "total"worlds are in fact only hegemonic, in the sense that there are many smallscale and marginal practices and understandings going on within whatever global world prevails at any given period, imposing its dominant significations and regulated behaviours on amarginal molecular mass of other meanings and acts2 further mitigation of relativist pluralism lies in the fact thateach worldunderstanding contains a multiplicity that is more or less restrained or displayed: the many gods of polytheism (@omeric, but also )alinese and 1apanese polytheism!, the profusion of saints and angels within ;hristianity, the pluralism of moods in the 8elvillian cosmos (and in the phenomenology of @eidegger! #he combination of these two mitigations to relativistpluralism, marginal practices and contained multiplicity, determine a position that one could call "realist pluralism"@owever even this vision gives too much ascendancy to the global understanding of being, or episteme or paradigm, said to define anepoch >erhaps even its hegemony is more relative and more fragilethan its selfadvertising would have us believe #his interplay ofthe center and the periphery, of the norm and the margins, of the ma?ority and minorities, is incomplete, as it creates sharp boundaries even as it seeks to blur them 4t tends toward a reproduction of the same sort of e%pressive totality, only on smaller and smaller levels, a nesting downwards of subworlds within worlds /othing has changed e%cept the scale, the molar relativism has been replaced with a molecular e3uivalent .uch relativism is not finegrained enough: there is more to transaction and transversal commingling than the molecular interplay of powerrelations and peaceful (or not so peaceful! compositions

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