Reading Latour: Reassembling the Social

12 October 2011 William L. Benzon

ABSTRACT Notes on Bruno Latour, Reassembling: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, with some consideration of compositionism. These ideas are developed with ideas and concepts from cognitive science, literary studies, music, and extensive examples from the world of contemporary graffiti.

CONTENTS Introduction: Reading Latour ..................................................................................................................1 Reading Latour 0: Ontology, Methodology, Compositionism..............................................................3 Reading Latour 1: Tracing .......................................................................................................................7 Reading Latour 2: The Social ..................................................................................................................9 Reading Latour 3: Groups and the Game of Graffiti ...........................................................................12 Reading Latour 4: Society and Culture.................................................................................................18 Reading Latour 5: Things ......................................................................................................................20 Reading Latour 6: Recouping Constructivism .....................................................................................25 Reading Latour 7: A Bit of Reflection..................................................................................................28 Reading Latour 8: Some Conjunctions in the Pluriverse.....................................................................30 Reading Latour 9: The Latour Locus, an Interlude ..............................................................................33 Reading Latour 10: Description & Graffiti ..........................................................................................37 Reading Latour 11: Plug-ins and Couplings.........................................................................................45 Reading Latour 11.1: The Cartesian Individual ...................................................................................48 Reading Latour 12: ANT and Literary Studies ....................................................................................50 Reading Latour 13: ANT and Politics...................................................................................................53 Appendix: Three Objects for OOOIII ...................................................................................................56 222 Van Horne St., 3R Jersey City, NJ 07304 201.217.1010

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Introduction: Reading Latour
No scholar should find humiliating the task of description. This is, on the contrary, the highest and rarest achievement. —Bruno Latour
Bruno Latour. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford UP, 2005. Here then is a series of notes I made over the course of a month and a half in which I worked my way through Reassembling the Social (RS) and then, at the end, Latour’s manifesto on compositionism. For the most part I’ve gathered the notes in the order in which I posted them. But not completely. The first set, RL0, contains my (provisional) thoughts on compositionism, suggesting that it has various precursors, including the cognitive science movement. I conclude those notes by suggesting that the future of compositionism lies precisely in redrawing the boundaries between psychology and sociology, which Latour calls for in RS, but does not deliver in a deep way. And that, in turn, sets the stage, it seems to me, for what I was up in my sets of notes. On the one hand, yes, I was reading RS and commenting on it. But I was also assimilating it to my own work, and my work to it, though an extensive series of reflections on graffiti. Graffiti and its culture is just the sort of phenomenon for which Actor Network Theory (ANT) was devised. It is a relatively new phenomenon—dating only back to the early 1970s—and it is not yet fully institutionalized. It is in flux. My descriptive notes on graffiti stay, for the most part, within the social sphere. Where I talk of cost-benefit calculations, of the significance of so-called ‘pieces’, and about stylistic fidelity (RL3), however, I move into psychology. Those notes are about how graffiti writers think about their work. Later on I move more deeply into psychology with discussions of cognitive science, music, and literature. Accordingly, the following listing shows the ‘intrusions’ of other material into observations directly on Latour’s ideas. Collectively, this other material suggests ways of extending Latourian analysis and description of society to and through psychology to culture. RL0: Ontology, Methodology, Compositionism: cognitive science RL1: Tracing: origins of graffiti from early 1970s through the early 1980s RL2: The Social: graffiti, art or vandalism; social psychology, game theory RL3: Groups and the Game of Graffiti: graffiti all the way, pictures included, games, masterpieces, styles, and the graffiti community RL4: Society and Culture: society is groups of people, culture is their norms, etc. RL5: Things: power and graffiti, more pictures RL6: Recouping Constructivism: Herbert Simon, Sciences of the Artificial RL7: A Bit of Reflection: enter, literary form, but just a tiny bit RL8: Some Conjunctions in the Pluriverse: evolution, complexity, the ecological psychology of J. J. Gibson, and emic vs. etic (linguistics and anthropology) RL9: The Latour Locus, an Interlude: I comment on five photographs, none of graffiti, indicating ‘lines of being’ intersecting through the photos RL10: Description & Graffiti: mailer and Naar, The Faith of Graffiti, a proto-ANT account; Graffiti in Jersey City, NJ, a little history, some photographs -1-

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RL11: Plug-ins and Couplings: a neural-level description (composition) of music-making in a group; this is a critical move in the integration of psychology and sociology RL11.1: The Cartesian Individual: basically a pendant RL11 RL12: ANT and Literary Studies: texts and standards, text as intermediary and mediator, oral cultures, written texts, reader as agent RL13: ANT and Politics: all Latour, except for a brief note about graffiti Appendix: Three Objects for OOOIII: the world-wide graffiti wall (with a map and a photo), the music-making group, the literary text I didn’t write the appendix as a commentary on Latour. I wrote it during the course of the ObjectOriented Ontology meetings that happened in mid-September in New York City. The three objects I describe in that post, however, provide a convenient summary of my thoughts on cross-border raids between sociology and psychology, between the group and the individual mind.


There is no privileged force to which the others can be reduced. natural. Latour says they are ‘socially’ constructed not just by human minds.’ A bit further on (p. more specifically. Compositionism Bruno Latour. Oxford UP. business lunches. but that was as much a thought experiment as a practical suggestion. It’s as an ontologist that Harman presents Latour. Empirical studies are more important for him than for almost any other philosopher. this is what you do. as it was available as a free download. An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. 2005. 2010. correlatively. one thing to give quick assent to the notion of a flat ontology in which no object is endowed with more Being than any other object. and most satisfying. And whereas mainstream philosophy worries about whether things exist independently of us or are constructed by the mind. The many examples Latour gave were interesting but. if slightly odd. and artificial objects on the same footing. Once I got the book I looked up the specific passage Harman had mentioned. An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”. 16): Whereas Latour places all human. ontology. physical force. propaganda. 14): Latour always insists that we cannot philosophize from raw first principles but must follow objects in action and describe what we see. later in his career he will even speak of ‘experimental metaphysics. and certainly no ceaseless interplay between pure natural forces and pure social forces. It might go like this: I was intrigued by the notion of Latour litanies. and then looked around in Harman’s book. and. Methodology. nonhuman. Nothing but actants—most provocative. rumors. however. individually a bit thin (I assume he has thicker descriptive work in other books). What I read struck me as a fascinating and brilliant. given what he was saying. that’s something I’ve learned. but also by bodies. treatise on method: To describe the social world. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. And a very important lesson it is. and all of them are utterly concrete. There was some talk of notebooks in one chapter. and so downloaded that book. I suppose I choose Reassembling the Social both because it is relatively recent (2005) and for the systematic exposition promised by its subtitle. Thus (Prince of Networks. New Literary History. That’s what I didn’t (quite) know when I started this project. For reasons grounded in my own work— -3- . Though it’s not so long ago that I decided to read Latour. While graduate students are usually drilled in a stale dispute between correspondence and coherence theories of truth. Latour locates truth in neither of these models. a quotation from Richard Rhodes on p. It is. read a post by Graham Harman where he referred to one he’d quoted in his study of Latour. atoms. but in a series of translations between actors. finally deciding I needed to read Latour himself. or explain way a single gap between humans and the world.Reading Latour 0: Ontology. each untainted by the other. cosmic rays. how you do it. or God. 41: 471490. 103. Nothing exists but actants. deny. and why you do it. It’s as though the methodological flavor served as an elaborate metaphor for something else. And that something else is philosophy. indicated in the whys. I don’t recall the exact route that led me to his work. but as a peculiar one. Prince of Networks. as were the specific how-to-do-it suggestions. the analytics and continentals both still dither over how to bridge.

history. is newer than http://en. all of the above? No.wikipedia. taking its place along side the various old disciplines. That in itself is not so strange. A cognitive scientist specializing in cognitive psychology is. a new way of being disciplined. He begins the preface of Mental Process. that division that’s embedded in our grammar. such as physics. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. geology. except for a program here and there. Biophysics. The department where I was trained. out of the specialized disciplines. As for the polyglot field he named._Christopher_Longuet-Higgins -4- . it never really took root as a university discipline. for example. and bring it into the common sphere? But I digress. ipso facto. that is what gave off an aura of the new. for which he has provided a new term. my work on music—I found that notion congenial when I first found it in posts by Tim Morton. When in 1967 Richard Gregory and I packed our bags for Edinburgh. for my taste. What I’m now wondering is whether or not Latour is neither a philosopher. a compositionist who thus practices compositionism. nor a sociologist. the section Constructing Minds (Constructing Science) in RL6: Recouping Constructivism). had programs in Literature and Psychology. THAT is what I found in Reassembling. computer science. what School? Humanities? Social Sciences? Natural Sciences? Engineering? None of the above. from a different background. What happens if one is so bold as to insist on taking that neat division out of the specialized literature. Philosophy and Literature and Literature and Society. Cognitive science sprawls across linguistics. It has existed mostly as an interdepartmental mongrel. but a cognitive psychologist is not. like this: This is the log book of an expedition into the mostly uncharted territory of the mind. My point is that cognitive science was something else. and it is a well recognized specialization. 1 2 http://en. a 1987 collection of his papers. To my mind. For where would it situate itself in such a scheme. philosophers. And so it goes with various linguists. Christopher Longuet-Higgins. computer scientists.2 who was trained in and had appointments in the physical sciences but somehow ended up doing computational work on the human mind. a psychologist. The phrase was coined in 19731 by H. While the primary scientific literature only shows up sporadically in the book— at least as I can see from a quick skim—it’s no more than a citation or two away from what DOES appear in the book. As an oddly parallel case I offer cognitive science (cf. a cognitive scientist. I have no idea whether or not Longuet-Higgins was the first physical scientist to gravitate to a primary interest in the human mind—most likely not—but he certainly wasn’t the last. vegetable. and so on.wikipedia. In saying this I am not suggesting that compositionism is a new discipline. and particular. the steam went out of cognitive science perhaps two decades ago. and all the rest. animal. albeit one with its own journals and professional societies. And that literature throws doubt on the nice neat division of the world into human. But that’s neither here nor But it is something else to see the idea systemically developed by a different thinker. And I can see it there in the Jane Bennett’s very different work. rather than yet another discipline trying to force its way into the scheme laid down in the 19th century German university. for example. The are many such hybrids in the contemporary university. but something new. it was in the shared conviction that the workings of the mind could not possibly be as tedious as the psychologists made them out to be. mineral. a something else that never fit into the 19th century scheme of intellectual being. or as peripheral as the physical scientists tended to assume. I am suggesting that compositionism is something else. ipso facto. But these examples all span a relatively ‘compact’ interdisciplinary arena. the Department of English at the State University of Buffalo. sociology.

for example. A thorough description of graffiti-world would have to ‘reach’ into the graffiti itself and deal with those multi-celled organisms are constructed of single cells organized into tissues of various types. and construction. and neuroscience.logic.html -5- . Beyond that. had it not been already taken by art history). had plenty of tools for doing that and. to my mind. would we be able to see about graffiti? Of course we do not know. on the other hand. Three Objects for OOOIII. well or badly composed. about creating something from nothing. of course. While the descriptive work I’ve done is relatively informal. but not only for graffiti world. .com/2011/10/scienceandtechnology-or-engineers-rule. anthropology. It thus draws attention away from the irrelevant difference between what is constructed and what is not constructed. about how things are assembled into other things. All this feels much closer to engineering than to. and in the appendix) I have composed a neural-level object that crosses. and thus is associated with choreography and scenography . say. as Latour acknowledges in listing kindred precedents: “. There is. and of enough kinds. art. where is the novelty in Latour’s proposal? That. and thus is associated with choreography and scenography. . it has a clear root in art. dance. music. In Reassembling the Social Latour mostly urges description upon us rather than producing extensive descriptions himself. has. there is enough of it. . Above all. But. nothing inherently new in that. which I have not done in these posts. to give some sense of what it would be like to describe graffiti-world in some detail. a composition can fail and thus retain what is most important in the notion of constructivism (a label which I could have used as well. psychology. theater. that would be deeply NEW. And much of cognitive science has this engineering feel about. as I’ve argued in this post. Engineering is all about composition. physics. as I have indicated in the appendix. it is connected with composure. an engineering feel about it. mathematics is almost pure construction.bruno-latour. I’m thinking about Chomsky’s notion of a grammar as a set of rules from which sentence structures are composed in the manner of a mathematical proof and of all those simulations of mental models. . not at all. RL11: The Cartesian Individual. Given that description. no. in my description of the music-making group (see RL11: Plug-ins and Couplings. and so forth. where one derives a universe from a handful of laws. It’s there in the flattened ontology and in the emphasis on description. but also. philosophy. what THEN. this compositionist aura. while classified as a science. and ONLY then. inscribed on a bridge between the social and the psychological. . which is no small thing. compositionism has been around for some time in various forms. We have to do the work first. then. it seems to me is at one and the same time. he hasn’t really provided any conceptual tools for doing that beyond his metaphor of the plug-in. If. . The cognitive and neurosciences. design. theater. it is not too far from “compromise” and “compromising” retaining with it a certain diplomatic and prudential flavor.” For that matter. dance. painting. Here’s Latour’s own gloss on the word (PDF): 3 Even though the word “composition” is a bit too long and windy. . and in a sense even dissolves. THAT descriptive work. toward the crucial difference between what is well or badly constructed. obvious and not at all obvious. compositionism’s novelty can be seen in Latour’s call to redraw “the boundaries between sociology and psychology” (213).pdf http://new-savanna. a much wider and somewhat more mysterious and tenuous remit. what is nice is that it underlines that things have to be put together (Latin componere) while retaining their heterogeneity. that boundary.4 And biology. music. Also. The cell is a chemical factory. one starts with axioms and postulates and builds a mathematical system. painting. organisms interact with one another in complex ecological fields. semi3 4 http://www. Compositionism feels more like that. That is why I’ve introduced graffiti into so many of my posts. Compositionism is about construction.blogspot.

is where the compositionist frontier lies. urban hydroponics world. I suspect. -6- . we need to weave our compositionist webs back and forth over the abyss currently separating the psychological and the social. on the far side of descriptions as yet unwritten. YouTube video world. and many more. there. quilting world. Arab Spring world. In all those cases.conductor fabrication world. There. and so forth.

time and again. Not Harman.” Latour’s distinguishing his approach from that other approach. sees things. whereas one should end with them. for one doesn’t necessarily start at the beginning and read through to the end. “Third Source of Uncertainty: Objects too Have Agency. And. No. the wall on which the marks are made.. The believed the social to be made -7- . you know.Reading Latour 1: Tracing Bruno Latour. mere physical things. it’s philosophy. adherents of the first [the position being set on the shelf] have simply confused what they should explain with the explanation. that is.” Looks promising. wondering how to read it. 2005. who gave us the Latour Litanizer. it seems to me. And I’m not interested in reaching philosophical conclusions. They begin with society or other social aggregates. and to do so with a straight face and without crossing your fingers? Heidegger? I’ve known about him for years. the book I bought. and Tim’s commented back. and whom I’ve been reading in blog-sized form. But all signs pointed to Latour. or Bryant. I figure. Further. on which Tim’s commented. And making my own OOOish posts. I suppose that’s what I learned as an undergraduate from James Coleman and Arthur Stinchcombe and some guy whose name escapes me. But I’ll let others worry about it. No doubt whatever I do implies some philosophical stance. is what I need. say. That dialog is worth. or Bogost. As I’ve said time and again. a thousand words of dialog is worth 100. Should I start there. a label. but I’ve been commenting. I got the book a couple of days ago and leafed through it. I’m not sure I how far I can go with thinking that regards Heidegger as a living influence. merely read. Such understanding as I manage to scrape together will. here in the index. but he introduced me to Centuries of Childhood.. nor even Morton. I simply don’t know how to negotiate my way in philosophy. What does it mean to talk about capital “B” Being. Who likes flat ontologies. My immediate task is to understand graffiti. & Latour doesn’t even have Heidegger in his index—I’m talking about Assembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. there’s anything worth worrying about. who is an explicator of Latour. well graffiti world is just a phrase. It’s not going to be philosophy. not anymore. well. so I’ve read. Which counts for more than you might think as not only have I been reading. “Third Move: Connecting Sites”? Heck. reading snatches here and there. If you will. Never read him. And whom. I decided to start at the beginning: “Introduction: How to Resume the Task of Tracing Associations.000 words of static text. a sociologist by trade. if. where one picture is worth a thousand words. That. get a jump on it? What about “How to Keep the Social Flat”? Or. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford UP. Latour. And the graffiti world. why not go straight to the finish: “Conclusion: From Society to Collective—Can the Social be Reassembled?” So I leafed through the book. And I’m not sure about philosophy. That I use the term should not be taken to imply that I understand it. 8: . be some kind of informal and discursive social science perhaps with a psychological twist. for my specific problem is that of the graffiti site. object-oriented ontology is. who introduced me too OOO. p. the site is some kind of agent in the graffiti world. I finally decided that I’d have to bite the bullet and read Latour. 5 thick books. Merleau-Ponty was my man back in the day. as ineluctably part of the social. See. the one that’s fallen to pieces. for whatever reason.

What about 1982? when Wild Style came out. graffiti resonance. Latour goes on: They believed the social to be always already there [who coined this phrase?] at their disposal. It too was passed around from writer to writer. they know your tag before they know you. it’s held up against trials. The significant fact. where group boundaries are uncertain. Surely THAT played a role in coalescing graffiti culture. Graffiti abounded in the NYC subway system. A fluctuating range of entities—tags. New. no?] it leaves (under trials) when a new association is being produced between elements which themselves are in no way ‘social. and no doubt little bits elsewhere. It was on the New York City cultural map. when the range of entities to be taken into account fluctuates. Another line. And you theirs. given jail terms. and cars where being ‘buffed. Writers were being roughed up. inside and outside. Do we have graffiti culture yet? -8- . It is visible only by the traces [a Derrida word.’ “Under trials”—what does that mean? Stress. sure.’ So. the traces must survive? Well. along with videotapes of Style Wars and Wild Style. Graffiti on subway cars. whereas associations are made of ties which are themselves nonsocial. back in late 1972 Jon Naar was commissioned to photograph graffiti. of course. p. whereas the social is not a type of thing either visible or to be postulated. the associations people made with one another through those marks on the cars. on trains. now that we know. but only in NYC. that was a year or two later. that’s easy. on the ground on. and other places as well. It became a bible of graffiti. when the Style Wars documentary ran on PBS? Graffiti had survived a decade. The Faith of Graffiti. three. canvas? So. Heterogeneous. no. but also the stations. new heterogeneous associations. you can find stories like that in graffiti.essentially of social ties. But an ongoing self-sustaining cultural formation. Back in 1974 Mailer and Naar published their book. their boundaries? Certainly. Bingo! Wherever new heterogeneous associations are made—that’s the stuff. Retrospectively. Graffiti had become part of a conversation larger than the writers and their acquaintances. 11: “But in situations where innovations proliferate. They imagined that sociology is limited to a specific domain. yes. Do we have graffiti culture yet? With none of its members as old as 20? And these particular styles only two. And masterpieces had become coin of the realm. walls. and Philly. What are the groups that constitute graffiti culture. a fictional story starring real graffiti writers and others on the graffit and hip hop scene—for the hip hop connection had been made by then. Subway Art was published. I’d say it’s too early to declare graffiti culture. That became the second graffiti bible. the writers themselves. pieces. is simply that the book existed and was reviewed in The New York Times. Or 1983. and Norman Mailer went with him on some shoots. the sociology of the social [that is now being put on the shelf] is no longer able to trace actors’ new associations. which would take graffiti to Japan. such as they are. that is. Writers would pass copies around. When your tag travels from one end of New York City to the other. say. though the City government was trying to eradicate it. on the cars. whereas sociologists should travel wherever new heterogeneous associations are made. But only them? Surely not. people see it. throwies. And the trials continue. A year after Style Wars showed.” Again. the practice hadn’t been invented. But back then. if you wanted to be a king. No pieces yet. 12 December 1972: Did graffiti culture exist? Graffiti yes. It’s there in the histories. four years old? Graffiti.

linguistic. What I think is that. they’re using museums and galleries as shorthand ways of pointing out thousands of examples of capital “A” Art. My imaginary interlocutor is not. That first non-answer is what happens when you try to define art by its content and someone pushes you to the wall on it. for the question does implies it. And some might say: You know. When I say that the nature of art is independent of its legal status. but about the authorizing institutions. A given trait was said to be ‘social’ or to ‘pertain to society’ when it could be defined as possessing specific properties. And if you pressed me on it. ‘social practice’. as you might imagine. in fact. That. but it implies them. ‘social dimension’. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. if you asked them. is to note that we don’t have an either/or dichotomy here. ‘social order’. then. The Question of Graffiti Public discourse on graffiti tends to be dominated by one question: Is it art or vandalism? My first impulse. psychology. but not all the other urinals in the world? Which brings me to that second answer: It hangs in galleries. science. well. biology. What is art? what would they say? I don’t know. offering such a definition. but entirely outside legitimate society.Reading Latour 2: The Social Bruno Latour. it is dichotomous. he sets up his argument by countering his position against what he takes to be The Standard view. that graffiti can easily both. not merely unauthorized. law. And it’s a very sophisticated sense of what art is. Rather. etc. Oxford UP. As is the matter of ‘the social. it has been important to distinguish this domain of reality from other domains such as economics. economical. of course. seriously. and politics. is whether or not an image is art is logically independent of where it is and whether or not it is legally there. constitute art. For the last century during which social theories have been elaborated. ambiguous. What about Duchamp’s urinal? What makes that urinal art. natural—and some positive—it must achieve. or subvert the social order. more sophisticated than most people are on such matters. geography. What I’m thinking. is an institutional definition. some negative—it must not be ‘purely’ biological. but I can imagine that someone during the conversation at least some of them would say: I know it when I see it. YES.’ And that brings us back to Latour. not about the images themselves. nor is it NOT about imagistic content.” But I’d admit there is a problem. Social Calculations The question is a messy one. And so we’re back at that question: Is it art or vandalism? If that question is taken as one. 3): The first solution has been to post the existence of a specific sort of phenomenon variously called ‘society’. in desperation. It is not clearly and explicitly about institutions. of course. the question is unclear. if you REALLY DID press men on it. reinforce. The people who pose the question obviously don’t think that way. 2005. it’s in museums and galleries and sells for lots of money. I suspect that reaction is both too sophisticated and not sophisticated enough. indefinite. Here’s how he starts that (p. And the dichotomy is between institutionally authorized and. As I mentioned in my previous Latour post. reproduce. maintain. And so they point to the institutions that. or ‘social structure’. that sort of thing is surely what I have in mind. Still. as ordinarily asked and understood. in the institutional definition. express. I wouldn’t say “I know it when I see it. -9- . otherwise they wouldn’t post just THAT question.

the story goes. and choose it every time.I suppose he’s right about that. I also suppose that his friends knew his tag. In an article he published in Dædalus (Vol. and that he knew that they knew. if anything. but their feedback was reversed: if student A pressed the red button. A Three Player Game What. that was incidental. or perhaps it just stops and you turn away. although they were sometimes wrong. yes. When Taki 183 tagged the streets of New York. but they would quickly settle on one color. 3: 203-216). then student A would see the red light. And. a subject on which my intuitions are deeper than my technical skill. whatever intellectual baggage I bring to this reading. perhaps into violence. Latour would have us take fully into account. he was right. or two. all of which. name on a wall. therefore. That others too say the name. But his training and orignal work was in sociology. We told each that he was working with a machine. they arose out of the interaction of two students. like icing on the cake. if the two students pressed matching buttons they would both be correct. Those students were immersed in a complex guessing game. otherwise. They were busy figuring out the complex patterns of the machine. It’s. much odder. you ask. has this to do with graffiti? Everything. My sense of society derives from my graduate school mentor. It’s an odd sort of game—and it derives from game theory—in which the basic task is simple and the moves are made explicit by the highly artificial material situation. Yes. but after enough experience they would generally hit on something. . I suppose. . We brought two students into our building through different doors and led them separately to adjoining rooms. I can see how people would take about ‘the social’ almost as though it were a substance. You’re always anticipating your interlocutor. On any trial. Over and over again. The writer puts his. they soon grew bored. Always correct. that happens in ordinary conversation. These calculations can easily reach a point where they just break down and the interaction collapses. So this was at heart a comfortable exchange among friends. But then. he would press one or the other of the two buttons. or sometimes her. I say this by way of indicating that. “Language and Interpersonal Relationships”. say red. it’s not some notion of the social as reified substance. But what happens in an antagonistic interaction where you don’t trust the other person? There the guessing can go on and on and on as you try to suss out the angles. then a moment later student B would see the red light go on. at a signal. he was trying to attract the attention of a specific young lady. and by suggesting to him that he is attempting to reach an accord with a mere machine. he reports an unpublished experiment he did at the RAND Corporation: The experiment strips conversation down to its barest essentials by depriving the subject of all language except for two pushbuttons and two lights. But where did the patterns come from? Although neither student knew it. as some of you may know. he taught me some computational linguistics. It’s math. Latour does admit that he’s creating something of a caricature. and showed him lights and pushbuttons. and if they chose opposite buttons they would both be wrong. In games as deeply different as poker and chess part of the craft lies in guessing what your opponent is up to. and then one of two lights would come on.10 - . 102. were rarely bored. You may even complete one of their sentences. But the existence of such talk doesn’t necessarily mean that the accompanying thinking is so naïve. No. If the light that appeared corresponded to the button he pressed. And properly so. But then. David Hays. The students faced identical displays. And lots of real games are like that. who did he intend to read the tag? Anyone. Language does tend to push us in that direction. . I assume. and s/he you. . wrong. We used a few pairs of RAND mathematicians. The students. Who’s the intended audience? When Cornbread in Philly did it. and if student B pressed the red button. And THAT’s what I believe is at the heart of ‘the social’. The students began with difficulty.

It has somehow managed to stage a game in which all of (legitimate) society is compacted. and reified into a single player in THE GAME. about graffiti. that changed the game. it’s SOCIETY. the full force of The State behind the buff.11 - . his friends. which means society-at-large—‘the social’ reified in a single institutional player?—took notice. and very mysterious. And it’s a game that’s played all over the world. Any graffiti in Antarctica? . distilled. and abstract. It’s a three-person game. And three-person games are notoriously complex and unstable.And when a photo of one of his tags appeared in The New York Times. But if SOCIETY can’t catch you. It’s the site the creates the question: What SOCIETY? That’s what’s so very clever. The so-called paper of record took notice. Now it was Taki 183. That player is at once concrete. and SOCIETY. the buff that obliterates the writing. Who sets the rules of the game? In theory. so what? That’s what’s at state in the game of graffiti: So Bleepin’ WHAT? That’s why the site is so very important.

put them in books. those who look at the graffiti and the photos. which include the graffiti thoughts I’ve been having for the past few years. they’re not. Oxford UP. in photos. Sometimes when I talk of graffiti culture. . 29: To sum up. I mean to indicate a group of people. groups. There is graffiti itself.12 - . at least not so far. if we are faithful to it. And others besides. and thinking. I’m reading him so I can better read graffiti. So. I talk of graffiti culture as though there is such a thing. and it sets me to thinking. . tells us that there are lots of contradictory group formations. It’s not that the ideas are particularly tough. and thinking . Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. group enrollment—activity to which social scientists are obviously crucial contributors. It takes time to run his stuff through (several decades of) my own accumulated thoughts. Groups On to groups. is Latour’s first topic after the introduction. in books and on the web. This reading Latour (Reassembling the Social) is tough. our most common experience.Reading Latour 3: Groups and the Game of Graffiti Bruno Latour. not so much Latour. or we follow the actors’ own ways and begin our travels by the traces left behind by their activity of forming and dismantling groups. whereas for sociologists the first problem seems to settle on one privileged grouping. And that. 2005. It’s that I read a line or paragraph. on the walls. take the photos. And it’s graffiti I really want to understand. p. The choice is thus clear: either we follow social scientists and begin our travel by setting up at the start which kind of group and level of analysis we will focus on. . and on the web. And there are the people who make the graffiti. so I put the Latour down and think and think some more.

if the graffiti stays up for a sufficient period of time.What’s interesting about graffiti is that the graffiti itself is a means through which and around which groups come into being. However. young men who were already somewhat alienated from mainstream America. Rather. considers to be his peers. Beyond that. as the graffiti was up long enough to earn its increment of fame. but also those among their immediate associates who may not themselves be writers. to define our game a bit: (1) The individual graffiti writer is one player in the graffiti game. Let’s follow it out. The state functions as a proxy for the whole of legitimate society. one can always prove that one got up in this or that spot and the removal of the graffiti thus does not negate the count. whatever that is. let’s take another look. can be assessed a fine and / or jail time. then those costs to ‘the graffiti community’ must be lower than the benefits of graffiti. THAT’s the group whose existence we’re trying to understand. Redefining I’ve been going about this the wrong way—isn’t it always thus? The illegal nature of graffiti IS an issue. With these considerations in mind. his homies. an arrest. the state can impose other costs as well. as represented by the police and the justice system. along with graffiti itself. is a third player. (3) Each writer ‘plays’ to what I believe sociologists call a ‘reference group’. this may not be a cost at all. The Game of Graffiti So. however those costs and benefits are counted up.13 - . Once there is a photographic record. to the writers themselves? Fame and reputation within his reference group. then it’s loss is not so high. That is. And the two ARE linked. as is the FIDELITY of graffiti style to the NYC and Philly originals all over the world. First. Considered as a group. the state. the graffiti can be removed by the authorities thus costing the writer the effort expended in getting up PLUS the opportunity cost of that effort. To exact these costs. if convicted. The cost of the beating would depend on its severity and the resilience of the writer. writers may get beaten-up by the police without. What are the costs? For the purposes of this informal discussion I’m going to ignore the costs the reference group can impose (for breaking the informal codes of graffiti writing) and concentrate on the costs imposed by the third player. the police have to catch the writers and they have to be able to convict them. Thus. The advent of photography further mitigated the cost of ‘buffing. these reference groups are another player. Informally. however. Think of ‘getting up’ as analogous to counting coups. we must note that graffiti started as the expressive practice of (mostly) minority young men. Neither of these is certain. The question ISN’T so much: Why did graffiti persist despite its illegal nature. the writer can be arrested. . the group of people which a given individual. This group will be fuzzy and fluid. such as a graffiti writer. the question IS more like: Under what circumstances will the illegal nature of an expressive practice tend to foster that practice? What does the existence and persistence of graffiti tell us about the world? The fact that graffiti is illegal means that the state is going to impose costs on the activity. the disapproval of mainstream America is not new to them and might even conceivably be rewarding to them if they settle on an Oppositional identity. of course. Of course. the effort expended in getting up was not wasted. and. If graffiti is to persist in the face of those costs. What are the rewards of graffiti writing. but will include other graffiti writers. Call it simply the graffiti community. (2) The state. Considered as a collectivity.’ If one’s work has been photographed. To begin with. the illegal nature of graffiti is crucial. or as an irritant or stimulus to group formation.

gains in stature after his first arrest because he comported himself properly. None of this is possible unless society is divided. before they could do the more sophisticated pieces. in fact. I seem to have heard of at least one case where a writer got two years. aka Masterpiece The piece—especially elaborate graffiti involving a large surface area. complex design. Yes. . and many colors—deserves special attention because its very existence presupposes the existence of a meaningful graffiti community. in that process piecing would not have evolved if there hadn’t been a graffiti community ready to reward it. with alienated young men. The central character. and sentenced to prison. it’s on the high end.14 - . the writers had to do the simple stuff. that writers have been arrested. We’ve also got to consider the possibility that an arrest and conviction may actually enhance a writer’s standing within the graffiti community. But also that that process brought into being a community of people ready and willing to reward the skill exhibited in piecing. there is the historical progression from tagging to piecing but we must note that. as a matter of developing technical and aesthetic skill. Graffiti thrives on/in the division. which. was not about graffiti at all. It was about the mafia. Here I’m thinking of a scene from Goodfellas. on the whole. of course.We know. It’s not simply that. I have no reason at all to believe that that’s the maximum sentence that’s been handed out but I do think that. Which takes us back to where we began. The Piece. tags and then throw-ups. that is. I’d imagine things work out in a similar fashion in the graffiti world. within a writer’s reference group. Henry Hill. convicted.

more traditionally. as always. “rack” it. that is. The reward. is fame. 1973 and 1975—as evidence that something we can reasonably call ‘the graffiti community’ was taking shape. I thus take the emergence of piecing—between. steal it. (2) The opportunity cost of the time it takes to paint the piece. but I don’t know how effective this is as reward.Piecing imposes costs on the writer: (1) There is the material cost of all the paint required. This time also entails exposure to arrest. One must either pay for the paint or. say. There is also the intrinsic pleasure of doing the work.15 - . It is that community . Racking by its nature imposes the cost of exposure to arrest.

graffiti spread through imitation and people would imitate they styles they saw.’ But how does one assess the costs and rewards to this community. to say that it gives fame to good writers and is rewarded in increments of cohesiveness? Whereas giving fame to poor writers depletes the stock of cohesiveness. which is still pretty much the major reward that accrues to writers. it seems remarkable that Japanese graffiti nonetheless preserves many of the NYC/Philly features and makes extensive use of ‘romanji’ characters as well (that is. and so I may be totally wrong on this. of course. Given that 1) graffiti is based on letter-form writing and 2) that the Japanese writing system is radically different from that of America. for example. I can see how one would set out to do that. Subway Art. which lacks any administrative structure for keeping track of and responding to costs and rewards? What can this community do that earns it a reward. when graffiti began to spread away from New York City and Philadelphia. what can this community do that incurs a cost. let us say. Now. for example. Stylistic Fidelity Given all this. We could. in The Faith of Graffiti. But the general idea is simply that widespread stylistic fidelity facilitates the spread of fame. If styles drifted a great deal when graffiti spread from one place to another. I suspect. Caveat: The Graffiti Community I’ve been talking about costs and rewards to individual writers. Not only do we have friends and associates of the writers. Why? Well.that rewarded the writers for the risks they took and the skill they exhibited in putting pieces on subway cars in New York City. identify these various role players and assess costs and rewards for them. many of the features of NYC and Philly styles went along with it and have been preserved. that would. I think I now have a way to approach the question of stylistic fidelity. Stylistic fidelity may also reinforce the oppositional nature of graffiti. But I’m not sure mere imitation will account for this stylistic continuity and fidelity. The preservation of stylistic continuity allows for a larger community in which fame can circulate. And this is the group whose existence I’m trying to understand. Fame would thus be more localized. Or. Fact is. of course. All over the world. And. graffiti is against IT. Graffiti writers and followers all over the world are bonding with one another in opposition to THE EXISTING WORLD ORDER. then I’m not sure I don’t have to do the same thing for ‘the graffiti community. when I thus speak of a world-wide graffiti community. Perhaps even that that’s all there is. which. Wild Style.16 - . but also the photographers and film-makers who have been so important in graffiti culture. But. whatever the local or regional IT may be. One reason I’ve been led to postulate such a community as an entity above and beyond the writers is simply that people other than the writers do play roles. What about the other two. the graffiti community and the state? I think working out costs and rewards for the state is relatively straight-forward. the Roman alphabet). if I’m treating the state as player. as does withholding fame from good writers? . They’re only one of the three players I’ve identified. But I’m not sure about the graffiti community. I don’t know quite what I mean. I don’t mean to imply that graffiti is one big happy family all over the world. I’m particularly impressed by the fact that many of these features are preserved in Japanese graffiti. of course. and Style Wars. and what form does the reward take? Similarly. though I certainly cannot prove. that something else may be going on. and what form does that cost take? Does it make sense. albeit an abstract and collective one. I suppose that at some level that’s necessary. By that I mean that. tend to fracture ‘the graffiti community’ into many more smaller communities. I suspect. includes the writers themselves.

see Graffiti Mystery Theatre: Same Old Same It’s about a motif found in both Jersey City and http://new-savanna.html See also Graffiti. Japan: http://new-savanna. Signaling.***** On stylistic fidelity.17 - . and Art. Evolution.html .

. talking of the admittedly awkward label. that stability is the first requirement. . Before I forget. An ant writing for other ants. to the extent that such socio-cultural work. it’s first ‘task’ was to achieve stability. leave chemical traces wherever they go. yes.Reading Latour 4: Society and Culture Bruno Latour. I’m a bit skeptical of that last clause-I’d like examples of continuing social groups brought into being through the scrutiny of analysts—but otherwise. Latour observes (p. the great virtue of appeals to society is that they offer this long lasting stability on a plate and for free. myopic. actor-network theory. It has become obvious to me though my thinking about the cultural evolutionary process that. To revert to my continuing example. how is that culture threatened by the sporadic legitimization of graffiti culture. the process of thinking leaves chemical traces in our brains.18 - . we know. . there may exist durable ties. as expressed in the recent exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art? . until someone pointed out to me that the acronym A. was perfectly fit for a blind. this fits my project very well! And ants. And the rapid change of cultural forms in the West over the past half-millennium. Once stability had been achieved—can we see this in hand axes?—well. our school views stability as exactly what has to be explained by appealing to costly and demanding means. . 2005. Prior to this achievement. Yes. for the sociologists of the social. That is. and in the face of arrest? And. Cultural change. They navigate their world by following those traces.T. reliable transmission of cultural patterns from one generation to the next. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. ‘evolution’ in the ordinary sense of the term. how odd! And yet we’ve come to see it as the norm. and the cost to be paid for the extension of any interaction. and collective traveler. Process and Upkeep It’s become obvious that Latour is reacting against the reification of ‘the social’ into a metaphysical substance with inherent causal properties (p. while “evolution” tends to denote change (of a certain type? through a certain mechanism?). 66: The main advantage of dissolving the notion of a social force and replacing it either by short-lived interactions or by new associations is that it’s now possible to distinguish in the composite notion of society what pertains to its durability and what pertains to its substance. It’s now possible to bring into the foreground the practical means to keep ties in place. 9): I was ready to drop this label for more elaborate ones . Oxford UP. then it takes real ‘work’ to create cultural change. whenever / however fully human culture first emerged. culture would ‘drift’ aimlessly from one generation to the next. graffiti. what do graffiti writers have to do to maintain their expressive activity in the face of ‘buffing’ by the authorities. the ingenuity constantly invested in enrolling other sources of ties.N. but this does not count as proof that they are made of social material—quite the opposite. For us larger-brained animals. becomes a problem to be explained. trail-sniffing. . whatever it is. workaholic. The great benefit of a performative definition [is that] it draws attention to the means necessary to ceaselessly upkeep the groups and to the key contributions made by the analysts’ own resources. 35): Whereas. How odd! Is ANT a sociology of cultural evolution? Culture Evolves Among the ANTS p. has become central to ‘graffiti culture’.

On the next page (67): Sociologists will claim that when they appeal to the durability of social ties they bring in something that really possesses the necessary durability. culture.7 5 For posts on cultural evolution: http://new-savanna. It is. There did you see it? Social customs. the busy bees in my brain must buzz. or ‘social customs’.5 To use my favorite 7 http://mimiandeunice. Of course Latour mentions these as inadequate proposals. they argue. and the busy bees in your brain. it is precisely a delicate meshwork of neural connections. or ‘structures’. that must be maintained through constant socio-cultural 6 http://new-savanna. or ‘social laws’. indeed. or ‘culture’. rules—the ’stuff’ of culture.blogspot.19 - .blogspot. and inertia.html . must buzz around just so if they are to keep us in touch with other through the medium of a common culture. or ‘rules’. it is ‘society’. etc.6 Image courtesy of Nina Paley. but the culture of cultural evolution is not a metaphysical substance. which have enough steel in them to account for they way it exerts its grip over all of us and accounts for the unequal landscape in which we are toiling. a convenient solution but does not explain where their ‘steely’ quality is coming from that reinforces the weak connections of social skills. solidity. distributed through many brains.

They have concluded that because they are incommensurable they should be kept separate from proper social ties. millennium (gasp) to millennium. 63-86. things might authorize. lend their ‘steely’ quality to the hapless ‘society. But think also about books. 2005. the difficulty or registering the role of objects comes from the apparent incommensurability of their modes of action with traditionally conceived social ties. afford. The reading may change from decade to decade. touch. in so many various ways. around them. does not mean that these participants ‘determine’ the action. so prominent that homo faber. I note that Latour highlights J. block. man the tool-maker. without realizing that they should have concluded precisely the opposed: it’s because they are incommensurable that they have been fetched in the first place! If they were as weak as the social skills they have to reinforce. but where would those readings be is they had only ephemeral atmospheric vibrations as their object? Those things are indispensable. stable repositories of specific language strings. see. 68: It is always things—and now I mean this last word literally—which. Such a reversal in the direction of influence would be simply a way to transform objects into the causes whose effects would be transported through human action now limited to a trail of mere intermediaries. taste them?—or motorically—how to we move to. and so on. influence. Some Passages on Things p.20 - . in practice. encourage. the written word. whether perceptually—how do we smell. century to century. 75): . Their physical stability makes them vessels of our social stability. Latour is concerned about the stability of so many human social arrangements. hear.’ pp. forbid. 74: It is true that. From the chapter “Third Source of Uncertainty: Objects too Have Agency. suggest. Affordances are considered to be properties of things out there in the world. baboons we would have remained. permit. Just strings of characters.J. how do we manipulate them? p. Rather. allow. if they were made of the same material quality. p. But sociologists of the social have misunderstood the nature of such incommensurability. 71-72: This. Gibson’s notion of affordance in a footnote to this passage. render possible. is one prominent conception of our nature. And our mental stability too. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Think of those stone weapons and tools so prominent in humanity’s early archeological record. it means that there might exist many metaphysical shades between full causality and sheer inexistence. that baskets ‘cause’ the fetching of provisions or that hammers ‘impose’ the hitting of the nail.” pp. Oxford UP. We read the thoughts into those characters. not thoughts. on our interaction with things. but they are the properties that allow us humans to ‘latch on’ to them. and he’s pointing out that this stability depends.Reading Latour 5: Things “No ideas but in things” —William Carlos Williams Bruno Latour. In addition to ‘determining’ and serving as a ‘backdrop for human action’. at first sight. from. for our minds are inextricably intertwined with our society. where would the gain be? Baboons we were. A bit further down the page (and continuing on to the next. of course. no not thoughts.

. . . any human course of action might weave together in minutes, for instance, a shouted order to lay a brick, the chemical connection of cement with water, the force of a pulley unto a rope with a movement of the hand, the strike of a match to light a cigarette offered by a coworker, etc. [NB: a Latour litany composed, not of nouns, but of noun phrases.] Here, the apparently reasonable division between material and social becomes just what is obfuscating any enquiry on how a collective action is possible. Provided, of course that by collective we don’t mean an action carried over by homogeneous social forces, but, on the contrary, an action that collects different types of forces woven together because they are different. This is why, from no on, the word ‘collective’ will take the place of ‘society’.

Here’s a big one (p. 75):

. . . we have to accept that the continuity of any course of action will rarely consist of human-to-human connections (for which basic human skills would be enough anyway) or of object-object connections, but will probably zig-zag from one to the other.
There we have it, zig-zag continuity through a ‘flat’ ontology. And so forth and so on. Really, I can’t spend all morning just transcribing BIG chunks of this chapter (pp. 63-86) onto the web. You should read it yourself, for it contains many useful examples. Still, a little more (p. 78): “So, we have to take non-humans into account only as long as they are rendered commensurable with social ties and also to accept, an instant later, their fundamental incommensurability.” I suppose one might wonder whether or not there is a ‘transcendental social’ in which the commensurable and the incommensurable are rendered commensurable. But that’s babbling. That transcendental social is simply the world.

Power and Graffiti
Latour devotes the last section of this chapter to power relations, a major concern of ‘standardissue’ social theory. I won’t attempt to reprise or condense his discussion. I’ll just cut to the chase (p. 85):
There exists, however, an even more important reason for rejecting adamantly the role given to objects in the sociology of the social: it voids the appeals to power relations and social inequalities of any real significance. But putting aside the practical means, that is the mediators, through which inertia, durability, asymmetry, extension, domination is produced by conflating all those different means with the powerless power of social inertia, sociologists, when they are not careful in their use of social explanations, are the ones who hide the real causes of social inequalities.

So, the rich and powerful live in BIG houses, many of them in several BIG houses dispersed over a wide geographical area. The poor and powerless live in small houses, if that. How is it that one gets to live in a big house? What resources does one deploy in one’s work? Factories and capital and laborers and raw stuff and tooling and laws, all of that is necessary to the ownership of big houses. Those who live in big houses have large and highly dispersed collections of material stuff at their disposal, the material anchor of their power—a Mortonian hyperobject perhaps? The poor are object poor. And then there’s graffiti. You rack (that is, steal) fifty or sixty cans of aerosol paint, sneak into a lay-up at night, and paint the side of a subway car. That’s a big hunk of iron you’re just laid claim to. It’ll cost the authorities a nice hunk of change to buff it clean of your art. They command

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many more objects than you do. And yet you can push them around with a couple of cans of spray paint. These days that’s known as asymmetrical warfare. It’s how the thing-poor impress their existence on the thing-rich. Now, if the authorities had been willing to chop off the hands of graffiti writers, and with only circumstantial evidence, then they might have been more cheaply effective in cleaning up the New York Subway system. But they weren’t willing to do that. It would have seemed, and been, barbaric. And it would certainly be unconstitutional, cruel and unusual punishment. Style Wars has an interview with Ed Koch, then mayor of New York City (early 1980s), in which he says that the third offense should get you five days in jail. How many pieces can you get-up on subway cars before you’re caught, with good evidence, for the third time?

The Train, the Triceratops, and the Man
As a meditation on power, think of the trains, the piece, and the man in the following photos. Note that many of the cars in that train will have graffiti on them. The man (Michael Bérubé, founder and chair of the WAAGNFN Party) is a bit over six-feet tall; the piece behind him is 18 feet wide and over seven feet high. What kinds of things, what kinds of power, who commands them? Note that that land is posted as no-trespassing. Thus, Japan Joe was breaking the law when he painted that piece, and Bérube´ and I were breaking the law simply by being there.

The triceratops if by Jersey Joe and is about 7 feet tall and 18 feet wide. Notice the graffiti on the freight car.

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Notice “JungLites” at the left. That was painted after the triceratops, which is, in fact, a way of ‘clothing’ the name, Joe.”

Michael Bèrubè is a bit over six feet tall. Notice older graffiti showing around the edges, especially at the right.

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I took this photograph at dawn. . looking toward the East. The roadway above goes through the Holland Tunnel between Jersey City and Manhattan. The most remote buildings you see are across the Hudson River in Manhattan.24 - .

Now Latour confronts the sociology of science. This is too obvious to be pointed out. In that reading. showing us why ‘the social’. it’s not trivial at all. Oxford UP. as we all know. etc. or an automobile is ‘constructed’. the social construction of science meant that scientific knowledge was constituted of/by this social stuff and.8 That seems innocent enough. alas. And it remains there. quality.wikipedia. but the social considered (constructed?) as assemblages of heterogonous networks of entities. cartoonist. durability. though in its newer guise as “science studies. though did not read him. in all domains. The great questions are rather: How well designed is it? How solidly constructed is it? How durable or reliable is it? How 8 Rube Goldberg machines: http://en. worth. to say that something is constructed has always been associated with an appreciation of its robustness. “Third Move: Connecting Sites”. has been the site of some of the nastiest intellectual fighting of the past three decades. that’s what he’s been doing in the whole book. this is the second longest chapter of the book. Rube Goldberg. So much so that no one would bother to say that a skyscraper. is not at all trivial. named after. 89: . That is. and that’s certainly not how the opponents of this work construed the social. the social as a “kind of stuff”. 219-246. where I first heard of him. And this. a sculpture. And yet. was pretty much arbitrary with respect to how the world works. is banal and trivial. pp. as such.Reading Latour 6: Recouping Constructivism With a Note on the Sciences of the Artificial Bruno Latour. like pretty much everything else in human culture. style. a war that bled out of the academy and into the general sphere. you guessed it. that’s the fulcrum point on which Latour will re-construct social construction. That is.” And it’s on that distinction that Latour will recoup ‘construct’ as in ‘science is socially Rube Goldberg: http://www.25 - . engineer. From the chapter “Fourth Source of Uncertainty: Matters of Fact vs.” This is where he first made his mark. when you look. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. The set-up (p. it confused two entirely different meanings: a kind of stuff and a movement for assembling non-social entities. For what it’s worth. 2005.rubegoldberg. at how science or anything else is constructed. Them’s fightin’ words. for Real p. carefully. and in strange forms and strange company indeed. . . the longest being the penultimate one. and inventor. When seen carefully it all looks like those parodic contraptions we know as Rube Goldberg machines. Construction. It was just a bunch of ideas that the boys in the club agreed upon. that science. a nuclear plant. of course. and fight they did. that’s not how ‘the social’ was construed in much of this newer work on science in its social setting. That.” pp. But that’s an . 88): “We now understand why the word ‘social’ could entail so much misunderstanding. But. 87-120. But we know all that. science wasn’t objective it all. as they say. Matters of Concern.’ We all know. In these discussions it was the other social that was in force. Indeed. is socially constructed.

And so we have a rather large intellectual community devoted to constructing the mechanisms of (human) thought. or continue further into this chapter—we’re only four pages in—I want to look at a different part of the intellectual landscape. but it’s cousin to it. . of course. and remains. rather than continue along that line. scientific practice. They seemed to operate with the strange idea that you had to submit to this rather unlikely choice: either something was real and not constructed or it was constructed and artificial. My dictionary defines “artificial” as. artificial. . Some modeling was done in service to psychology. science is objective because it is artificial. the cognitive sciences. Unfortunately the term “artificial” has a pejorative air about it that we must dispel before we can proceed. So. .” . in particular. That little book has chapters on a number of things. and art. “Produced by art rather than by nature. engineering. but mostly it’s about human thinking: How do we think? What are the mechanisms and processes? Much of cognitive science. But. engineering. science offered the most extreme cases of complete artificiality and complete objectivity moving in parallel. 90): To say that something was ‘constructed’ in their minds meant that something was not true. difficult to tell the difference between the two. proceeded by way of computer modeling.” And that’s that. and of the deep compatibility between artifice and objectivity. Latour and his colleagues are figuring out how the social and. in one division of the academy. contrived and invented. constructing models intended as accounts of how people thing. Artifice can be used for many ends.costly is the material? Everywhere. And some was done in service to achieving some practical result. but not so simple. More. confusion about ‘the social’ led to a mis-construal of construction and from that. affected. . architecture. In another division. make up and false. no? Yes. like medical diagnosis or translation from one language to another. And that’s what it really was and is. Constructing Minds (Constructing Science) It is no accident that one of the great informal expositions of cognitivism should have ‘artificial’ in the title. . Science is artificial and objective. architecture. Simon and his colleagues are constructing the mental. in technology. to Herb Simon’s The Sciences of the Artificial (1981). construction is so much a synonym for the real that the question shifts immediately to the next and really interesting one: Is it well or badly constructed? And then we go: “Even more so than in art. construction. We ask whether there cannot also be “artificial” science—knowledge about artificial objects and phenomena. . is constructed. and engineering. Our language seems to reflect man’s deep distrust of his own products. It’s not the same as Latour’s problem with ‘the social’. I agree with Latour.26 - . not pertaining to the essence of the matter. including economics and social planning. Complementary activities. objectivity is one of them. But often it was. of course. not genuine or natural. And thus a simple. on the constructed nature of science. 6): Natural science is knowledge about natural objects and phenomena. I refer. For many (p. Alas. others didn’t see it that way. but it flew in the face of everything we were witnessing in laboratories: to be contrived and to be objective went together. The latter work tended to be done under the banner of artificial intelligence while the former generally flew under cover of cognitive psychology or linguistics. the science wars. In the first chapter we find these words (p. as you know.

it seems to me. Each representation is partial.html . how minds interact. existing in a real human brain.9 But just what is being checked? The particular proposition that is regarded as true in consequence of the experiment? It seems to me that that’s where the emphasis lies. That is. It’s about the role of replication in scientific practice. and potentially important. if no replication. residing in individual brains. So scientists in Laboratory B and Laboratory C attempt to replicate it. The rate is low and lower: http://marginalrevolution. But it can also fail because the original experimenters inadvertently left out a crucial bit of information about apparatus or procedure. just how do we draw the line between the mental and the social? Culture. the result will have been replicated. as well as designing the man-machine interface: How do humans interact with machines? But these are not conceived as fundamentally problems of communication.Culture as the Mental and the Social But where and how do they meet? The constructors of the mental were not. And I say this knowing that machine translation has been one of the core problems in this domain. and perhaps properly so. that is. About that. partial representation of the domain. The knowledge models that have been created. keep current with one another? How does a particular scientific community act AS THOUGH it had access to some ‘transcendental mind’? It seems to me that THAT question is firmly in Latour’s domain. concerned about communication. for the most part. 9 Tyler Cowan has an interesting post on replication of results in biology research. each with partial knowledge. So. So how do these experts. covers the whole domain. even within their respective specialties. if they use the same procedures. rather. Culture is magic. No one physicist knows all of physics. when knowledge is distributed among a collection of investigators. Which means that no existing mental representation of scientific knowledge. If not. then the result will likely disappear. true magic. I offer one thought. But it also seems to me that what is in fact being checked is the entire assemblage of things and processes that enter into making and communicating the observation. is like that. Laboratory A conducts an experiment and publishes the result. they are engineering problems with a communication component. say. the social construction of science.27 - . classical mechanics know that whole domain. The result is Nor even does one expert in. will they get the same result? If so. have pretty much been construed as knowledge in a ‘transcendental mind’ that knows everything in the relevant domain and so has no problems about the compatibility of one chunk of knowledge with another. A replication can fail because the hypothesis is wrong. but allowing them to operate as if they were one. So the knowledge of these various experts is partial. And yet such problems abound in the real world. Replication is a way to check the science. both mental and social.

and so forth. in a sense I have nothing to add. like the social. I think. what allows the private minds of a bunch of individuals to open out into one another and so allow those individuals to function in a group. things I’ve not thought of myself—though graffiti’s brought me very close to them. attitudes. goes roughly like this: The society is the group of people. Taiwanese society. almost / more or less self-evident in the words he uses. but society hasn’t been front an center in my thinking. to hook it all up. It is familiar in that I do recognize what he’s talking about. of course. the social—it sets groups one against the other. That you have to describe it . So much work to do! Hallelujah! So much work to do! Pushing the rock up the hill up the hill up the hill. It binds people into groups—in this it is much like. if not identical too. if anything. if you will. the culture is the norms. all . Thus. the cultural has it worse than the mental. What he says seems to me. culture and society are often confused. ***** Right now I think the best thing is to sit back and reflect a bit. So I see the fit. using literature and music and this and that as vehicles for so doing. Well. And that’s all. ***** Both ‘the mental’ and ‘the cultural’ suffer from the same disease Latour has diagnosed in ‘the social’. And. Rather. but/and only the semblance. At this point I almost feel as though I should transcribe large sections of his text into these posts and simply interject ‘yes yes yes’ here and there by way of commentary. and so forth through which the people in society organize their relations with one another. 2005. Taiwanese culture. I’ve spent most of my career thinking about the mind and about culture. For I know it’s not that easy. They are strange to me. that mind and culture are intimately bound up in society. of a group mind. in its hands. and so forth—is almost inevitably to talk of American society. in particular. it dictates thoughts and feelings. It is what affords the semblance. In fact. I recognize the zig-zag network of connections between objects and humans that he points out at every turn. sorta’. what he says is at once utterly familiar and utterly strange. No. detail. I recognize them as points of attachment for ‘the mental’ and ‘the cultural’ that I’ve been examining. Lakota culture. beliefs. in minute . reading Latour I see he’s framing the question of society in a way that’s commensurate with mind and culture as I have come to think about them. But they are not the same. Frustrating because yes yes yes. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. And now I just want to get on with it. if we are to talk that way. The peculiar thing about culture is that it is at one and the same time located in the mind and in the society. Lakota society. we are puppets—again. two words? The distinction. Rewarding because yes yes yes. it’s not that I recognize those networks he points out. then. Oxford UP. To talk of X culture—American culture.28 - . For. . It is.Reading Latour 7: A Bit of Reflection Bruno Latour. Reading Latour is both rewarding and frustrating. So much talk of culture is as though culture was this substance that does things. I know. So why. Hence the frustration. precious . In practice it’s all but impossible to think about one without thinking about the other.

the text as an expression of social structures and processes. my own interest in form. or. The other program saw society in the text. keeping the old older oldest ideas circulating. There were other subprograms as well. In the Latourian context. you must first describe the text. social class. But if we keep this up we’ll never join up with Latourian ANTS. Suffice it to say that the Darwinians do not have a useful appreciation for textual detail and let’s leave it at that. might seem hopelessly old-fashioned. which gravitated toward Frankfurt School sociology and cultural studies in the Raymond Williams mold. for we won’t have the detailed specifications necessary to achieve linkage. I went to graduate school in the Department of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Getting back to psychology and society. That department had one program in Literature and Psychology. apparently not tools at all. So my interest is just strange. interact. One program asks you to use psychology to explain the text. in particular. at the time. same old same old. more like explain the reader’s response to the text. that networking if you will.html .***** What does Latour mean for me as a student of literature? My current hobbyhorse. in the text. Another program in Literature and Society. it seems to me. Both and neither are there. then. the actual formal aspects of texts. of course: description.blogspot. what’s pretty much the same. or. not in any rigorous way.29 - . you don’t HAVE to do so. ‘Round and ‘round the wheel. beyond some often strange and elaborate diagrams. As for evolutionary psychology. Well. I’ve beaten that horse enough already10 and don’t need to rehearse that here and now. “Center for Peripheral Studies”. Against that background. except that I’ve elaborated that interest with the newest of tools. mostly But if you don’t. To explore that interaction. and for the same reason. That’s where literary studies is now: same old same old. my interest in description and form is simply a precondition for considering the text as a vehicle for the mental and / or the social. description. 10 http://new-savanna. description. And an office door bearing the sign. They hook-up link together. Nor will we be able to mesh with Herb Simon’s sciences of the artificial.

its morality are all different from the past. . When you look for the first.” Latour choose to believe the scientists. This poverty. Latour ends up with what he calls a second empiricism (p. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. the sociologists of science did the same thing for science. What you see is what you get. its esthetics. These deeper motives derive. and deploy more types of agencies than the narrow role given to them in empiricist accounts. unity. 116: Such a multiplicity does not mean that scientists don’t know what they are doing and there everything is just fiction. as for how Latour got from there to here. And so on. And so (pp. but rocks in geology seemed to be much more varied. for instance to the ‘rich human subjectivity’. Back in post six in this series. however. the social sciences have proposed accounts of people’s behavior that are quite different from those proposed by people themselves. asserts that Jack buys the BMW to one-up his neighbors. Sociologist is concerned. but it is livelier. It’s not true that one should fight reductionism by adding some human. I commented on some passages early in this long chapter. though many chose not to. In the extreme. In the post I’m going to comment on a passage or two near the end of the chapter. Mr. namely reality. 87-120. Mr. As for the middle. Recouping Constructivism [some URL]. . who drive Toyotas and Fords. as far as he. you do not get automatically the two others. one might even say that Mr. and more mediated than the other. Oxford UP. Sociologist. It is the thing itself that has been allowed to be deployed as multiple and thus allowed to be grasped through different viewpoints. to begin with. pluralistic. Empiricism no longer appears as the solid bedrock on which to build everything else. making it clear that. but closer to the much variegated lives materials have to offer. and indisputability. but as a very poor rendering of experience. In this second empiricism objective reality is messier and more complex than it is in the empiricism of the positivists. is not overcome by moving away from material experience. Thus. Sociologist substitutes his account for Jack’s. It is still real and objective.about his own motives. briefly and crudely. For instance. before being possibly unified in some later stage depending on the abilities of . Well. protested: “You guys are crazy. . Jack buys a BMW because he likes its style and engineering. or social ‘aspect’ to the description since reductionism. much more uncertain. And so Latour was motivated to drop the. From the chapter “Fourth Source of Uncertainty: Matters of Fact vs. Jack doesn’t know jack---. And this has nothing to do with the ‘interpretive flexibility’ allowed by ‘multiple points of views’ taken on the ‘same’ thing. more talkative. or is it ‘a’?. much more open. the Pluriverse This is the heart of the matter. Your ‘the social’ plays no role in our laboratories. . standard distinction between the natural and the social. its politics. non-human entities were able to appear under an unexpected guise. however. from ‘the social’. unlike ordinary folks. 115): “its science. classically. once the artificial boundary between social and natural was removed. subjective. does not render justice to objective facts. 2005. but rather that studies has been able to pry apart exactly what the ready-made notion of ‘natural objective matters of fact’ had conflated too fast. symbolic. 111-112): To our great surprise. rocks might be useful to knock an idealist back to his senses. of course.” Enter.Reading Latour 8: Some Conjunctions in the Pluriverse Bruno Latour.” pp.30 - . Matters of Concern. it’s like this: Traditionally. The scientists. p.

Rather than continuing on with Latour I want to shift to some work I did with the late David Hays and some more recent work of my own. the complexity we have in mind is a complexity in the very fabric of the universe. is the heart of the matter. living systems. ecosystems have complex pathways of dependency between organisms.the collective to unify them. Gibson noted that the chief feature of reality. so-called dissipative systems are such that small fluctuations can be amplified to the point where they change the behavior of the system. complexity. and I no more know what he was then thinking than I know what I was thinking. We argued that. it follows that time is not simply an empty vessel in which things just happen. For it seems to me that we’ve arrived at more or less the same place as Latour has. Prigogine 1980. The passage of time. there might be dragons around the next bend. And yet such general examples have the wrong “feel. it seems to me. than philosophers and scientists thought possible. but for epistemological reasons. We then asserted: “Reality is not perceived. but through a very different route. Talcott Parsons. That garments of complex design can be made of that fabric is interesting.11 After commenting on a passage in which J. who won the Nobel prize for demonstrating that order can arise by accident (Prigogine and Stengers 1984. Complexity in the Universe Some years ago Hays and I published a brief paper. it is enacted -. that strengthens the sense that that place is real. though I note in passing that Hays had studied with one of the great sociologists of the mid 20th century. it seemed to us that much thinking has regarded complexity as a matter of superficial appearances. are the complexity with which biology must deal. not out of narcissism (“I did it myself”). Nicolis and Prigogine 1977). These systems have very large numbers of parts and the spontaneous order they exhibit arises on the macroscopic temporal and spatial scales of the whole system rather than on the microscopic temporal and spatial scales of its very many component parts. It is complexity in the fabric which we find essential. There are simply more agencies in the pluriverse. but are not limited to. as opposed to dreams and fictions. Note that I am asserting this intellectual independence. rather.J. is intrinsic to physical process. In general. but one can also make complex garments from simple fabrics. We live in a world in which “evolutionary processes leading to diversification and increasing complexity” are intrinsic to the inanimate as well as the animate world (Nicolis 11 .” The formulation. organisms consist of complex arrangements of cells and tissues. I believe. We are in dangerous territory.g. is Hays’s. and more. A Note on Why Natural Selection Leads to Complexity. to use William James’s expression. Now. on the contrary.31 - . These things. Further. Platonic forms). He showed that when certain kinds of thermodynamic systems get far from equilibrium order can arise spontaneously.” they don't focus one's attention on what is a universe of great. But I see nothing in that formulation that is restrictive about just what agencies are doing the enacting and so conclude that we must have meant any agencies whatsoever. is that reality changes under repeated scrutiny. In such views. To use a metaphor. since these processes are irreversible. who knows? In this parlous state the fact that two more or less independent lines of investigation have led to the same place. We take as our touchstone the work of Ilya Prigogine. These systems include. We arrived there through the computational study of the mind. yielding ever more to inspection. This. once one sees beneath or through those appearances one encounters a real reality that is inherently simple (e. perhaps unbounded. real reality is inherently complex: Biology is certainly accustomed to complexity. Biomolecules consist of many atoms arranged in complex configurations. http://faculty. in fact. and generalized it into etics and emics. This is the object against which Latour banged his head.32 - . alas. It is not clear to me whether or not such a generalization can be salvaged. the original account of the experiments may not have fully conveyed the “emic” features of the investigation. But it is far too feature rich.” Independently of the fact that you don’t know what the words mean or how the syntax works. If you look at a sonogram of some chunk of speech. the experimenters may not have fully understood the emics of their procedure and thus failed to distinguish them from the full etic array of features exhibited by their activity. you will not pick up just those properties that allow the stream to encode words and sentences.and Prigogine 1977: 1.htm . That sounds awfully like the Jamesian/Latourian such as the sounds of a natural human language? That’s a problem that linguists have dealt with by distinguishing between phonetics and phonemics. These are obviously very closely related matters. of course. interrelated through a staggering array of mediations and translations. I observed that “a replication can fail because the hypothesis is wrong. is not very clear. Replication is the only way to ‘ferret out’ the emics. the many-propertied object. At this point. this is the domain of phonemics. you can’t even hear the phonemes in the speech stream. the object I’m talking about. nor can you snip a tape recording into phoneme-long or syllable-long segments and reassemble it into something that sounds like natural speech. Let’s return to the account of experimental replication I offered in an early post [some URL]. which. the object florescent in all of its plurality. between phonetics and phonemics. As I noted in one of my notes on cultural evolution. Anthropologists have taken this distinction. continuous. It’s just another complex sonic object. The emic and the etic Now. and if so.’ macroscopic objects requiring a coherent state of matter in order to produce the complex biomolecules that make the perpetuation of life possible.“ That is to say. human and non-human. Speech: The former [phonetics] is about the psychophysics of speech sound while the latter is about phoneme systems. you can hear the speech stream. how to do it.12 Yes. but they aren’t the same. In particular. is the experimental investigation with its full array of agents. 12 13 http://ssrn. But the speech signal is. Cultural Evolution 8: Language Games 1. lets think about the plurality of sonic objects. you don’t draw a series of vertical lines through it separating one phoneme from another. Unless you know the language.” Here Prigogine asserts that organisms are macroscopic objects. The aspects of the speech stream which are phonemically active differ from one language to another. however. We tend to perceive the speech stream as consisting of discrete sound entities. implicitly contrasting them with microscopic objects.13 In practice it seems to have been used as a way of authorizing anthropologists to provide ‘sociology of the social’ accounts (etics) for the practices of a people as understood by them (emics). but I do think it’s worth considering. see also Prigogine and Stengers 1984: 297-298). But it can also fail because the original experimenters inadvertently left out a crucial bit of information about apparatus or procedure. for your auditory system to attend to it ALL. which is why foreign languages all sound like “Greek. let’s take this plurality seriously. syllables and phonemes. That this complexity is a complexity inherent in the fabric of the universe is indicated in a passage where Prigogine (1980: xv) asserts “that living systems are far-from-equilibrium objects separated by instabilities from the world of equilibrium and that living organisms are necessarily ‘large. property rich.

The clouds in the sky. None of those things. say.33 - . of course. one should intuit them immediately and be prepared to spin them out as necessary. This is nowhere more obvious that in photography. five or six miles away on the island of Manhattan. one that’s ‘easy’ because there aren’t many objects in it: . the locus of viewing has become many. The locus of the-taking. For it supplied the light. at that time the locus of viewing (1) and the locus of taking (2) are/were the same. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building (in the middle) would be. each at the place where a viewer looks at the photo. it is nowhere visible in this photo. how far away are they? And the sun. One should not have to pull out the threads laboriously one after the other. if I may. say. What’s important. or problematic. is that the apprehension of the Latour Locus. or philosophically deep. and 3) the locus/loci IN the photo. the photos. Here’s another example. 10 to 20 yards from me. at least three loci are conjured into being by every photograph: 1) the locus of viewing.Reading Latour 9: The Latour Locus. but its existence is implied by the fact that the photo exists. Rather. where. The tall building to the left is the Goldman Sachs Building in Jersey City. of course. be immediate and intuitive. remains unchanged. at least in principle. Now. Consider this photograph: When I took that photo I was standing at a certain place. 2) the locus of takingthe-photo. It’s. But what about the loci IN the photo itself? The lamps were. an Interlude One of the things that Latour does in Reassembling the Social is show that ‘the local’ is deeply ambiguous. say. It’s 93 million miles away. which are the physical basis of the photo. between a halfmile and a mile from where I stood when I took the photo. automatically. in a fairly direct fashion. at this juncture in our thinking about the world. Just where IS this photo? What is the locus? In asking that question I don’t mean to be mysterious. The loci in question can be traced.

and taller than I am as I recall. or 70? After all. pointing . the moon is 183.34 - . reflecting light from the sun. less than ten yards. exactly? Though I’m a short man. what’s the difference between 30 yards and 70 yards? As they say in the mobster movies.000 miles away. But what does it matter if it’s 30 yards. In that context.The weed to the left was not far away at all. fuhgeddaboudit. The trees? Call it 50 yards. Let’s change scale a bit. I took that photo by holding the camera down below the flower. In this photo the iris is no more than a foot from the camera: But where am I. I’m not so short that I can stand beneath an iris and shoot up through it.

the locus of taking-the-photo? In a deep way. of course. not where the photographer’s eyes are. Picky? Yes. The only palpable distance is that of the foliage. for that matter. depressing the button half-way until I heard the auto-focus ‘click’ into place. nothing. That. What does that do to locus 2. was several feet away from where my hands held the camera. say. not physics. But not problematic. 7 to 10 yards away while the building in the background was perhaps 15 yards away. Next. you’ve seen many shots of the sun shining down through the foliage: While we know that the sun is quite distant. Who cares whether or not my eye glued to the view-finder or not? I would think that. after the film-maker Terrence Malick. is aesthetics. the fact that the sun is obscured by the foliage pretty much obliterates any sense of that distance. thus. the important locus is where the camera is.35 - . The foliage to the left was. It’s a picky business. If you’ve seen his films. or his feet. My eye. which is not the most straight-forward way to shoot with a single-lens reflex. It becomes a mere intellectual abstraction. not a visible phenomenon. of course. what I call a Malick. The sun’s light becomes a diffuse luminous presence. Then. Finally: . we have the out-of-focus background. The entire compass of the loci in the photo (excluding the sky and the implied sun) is thus closer-in than in the loci summoned in the previous photos. for 2. and then snapped the photo.up.

36 - . Ultimately they are the same. I leave as an exercise for the reader: Does this photograph thus dissolve the distinction between aesthetics and physics? . but any visible distinction between matter and energy bleeds and dissolves about it. in the annoying way of mathematics texts. From that I derive a question which. matter and energy.Not only is the sun a luminous presence. as Einstein has taught us.

Two different kinds of things. 129: A good text elicits networks of actors when it allows the writer to trace a set of relations defined as so many translations. For my colleagues in literary criticism. Again: No scholar should find humiliating the task of description. p. From the chapter “Fifth Source of Uncertainty: Writing Down Risky Accounts. be careful about be too reflexively clever. 128: To put it very simply: A good ANT account is a narrative or description or a proposition where all the actors do something and don’t just sit there. on the contrary. 121-140.” pp. The idea is simply to bring into the foreground the very making of reports. here’s where I get off the bus (p. the highest and rarest achievement. talk about how to write a proper account. describe describe describe has been my mantra and my practice for quite awhile. p. that I’m talking about describing texts. But this is not the time and place to discuss the differences. Note. no? p. an event. This is. Oxford UP. Some Passages p. on the contrary. the highest and rarest achievement. As a matter of methodology. 124: Since we are all aware that fabrication and artificiality are not the opposite of truth and objectivity. 137): Either the networks that make possible a state of affairs are fully deployed—and then adding an explanation will be superfluous—or we ‘add an explanation’ stating that some other actor or factor should be taken into account. we have no hesitation in highlighting the text itself as a mediator. on the contrary. On the other hand. This is. each of the points in the text may become a bifurcation.. let me repeat these words as though they were my own. 2005. so that it is the description that should be extended one step further. however.Reading Latour 10: Description & Graffiti Bruno Latour. on the contrary. we have to add a fifth and last source of uncertainty..37 - . Third time’s a charm: No scholar should find humiliating the task of description. while Latour is talking about describing an ontologically heterogeneous network of actors in manifold interactions with one another. After all. 136: No scholar should find humiliating the task of description. namely one about the study itself. . the highest and rarest achievement. the highest and rarest achievement. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. This is. my ‘home base’ for the rest of this post. p. sure. No scholar should find humiliating the task of description. That’s the only way I can internalize what (I understand of) Latour’s ideas. 122: If we want to have a chance to move up all the controversies already mentioned. Here’s what I’m going to do this time out. This is. First I’m going to quote from brief passages from the chapter. Instead of simply transporting effects without transforming them. If a description remains in need of an explanation. or the origin of a new translation. Then I’m going to return to graffiti. it means that it is a bad description. But as epistemology and ontology .

No. is where we are now. That’s certainly how I feel about literature. To go from what they did to that proper ANT account one must ONLY provide more of what’s already in the book. They were engaged in cultural reportage and criticism. a move that’s always already stillborn. I’ve been staring at descriptions for years and years. And THAT. is more easily said than done. of course. 14 of the revised edition) “They messed up my property three times. As for Mailer’s text. If I catch them. Many of them also include the wider context.38 - . I took a quick scan through the book and spotted this quote in the margin (p. or some variation on it. Naar also got some action shots. of course. That. like the exact location and the exact time. Sure. of course. and their tools (markers and spray cans). The Faith of Graffiti: A ProtoANT Account The Faith of Graffiti.I don’t agree with this. he was with Naar when Naar was taking photos. Meaning explains nothing. Our capacity to describe has out-stripped all our old and familiar explanatory moves. for some cameras. not in the face of our new descriptions. that tells us NOTING about the writing on the walls. the surfaces on which the graffiti was painted. I believe that it can serve as a proto-ANT account of graffiti. They don’t do any work any more. But it may not always be possible. for without them Mailer’s superb text is empty. What of third parties? Well. I’ve not seen. But Naar took those photos in pre-digital days and he took many of them under circumstances (e. photos by Jon Naar and text by Norman Mailer. With modern digital gear time-stamping is automatic and.” So we know. and I’ve not seen any better. But none of that’s very solid. running from the police) where making notes about time and place was all but impossible. or even an alternative to it. as visual objects. You couldn’t toss it over a swamp and expect to walk over the swamp on it. They’re superior to most that I’ve seen. On the whole. In the old days. managed to deploy the ingredients of a proper actor-network description. “the name is the faith of graffiti. Actornetwork theory. And Naar and Mailer were not engaged in social science. I have hints and clues about things to be explained. Let’s start with the photos themselves. that’s going on. these are among the best graffiti photographs ever taken. so is location stamping (via geo-location chips). He talked with the writers and their words are in his text. the only hope for solidity right now is in the description of the text. and never will see. Of course. Stillborn. what it means to them and why they do it. often enough so that you can figure out where the picture was taken. the vast majority of graffiti photos. The cognitivists seem to want the same from their cognitive tropology.g. And intoning that mantra. of course. is the best book that’s yet been written about graffiti. it is superior. They depict the graffiti itself and. such things can be inferred and we do know. this is a pretty good record. when the photos were taken. which are still very much with us. The literary Darwinists think they can explain texts by redescribing actions in terms of evolutionary psychology. by drumming up some theory about social marginalization under later capitalism. The title comes from one of the writers. . Aesthetically. first. to the week or so. did not exist at the time. Explanation is always necessary. in their words. When he says ‘no explanations needed’ he means that reference to ‘the social’ in any of its many guises does not count as an explanation anymore. In a full-dress ANT account one would. so wee see writers themselves. But we knew that before we even looked at graffiti. I suspect. And. As photos. Still. Cay 161 told Mailer. That move has grown tired and stale. And maybe even a clue to a hint or three about what kind of thing might possibly serve as an explanation. You cannot explain graffiti. for example. a reading or an interpretation WAS CONSIDERED TO BE an explanation. And I suspect that’s where Latour is as well. incidentally.

” Mailer also quotes from a variety of articles in various news media. Lead Pipe Arm Breaker. if you start laying ANT trails outward. Not only is that panoramic. Some writers got started by imitating what they saw in those photos. Graffiti: Some Jersey City Traces By way of orientation. And then there’s Mayor Lindsey. But they new what they saw and they described it. The fact is.39 - . yes. each with the tools at hand. New Jersey. a bit of explanation of ‘the social’ type. all particularized through specific examples and comparisons. But there’s also some quotes Mailer identifies as being from ‘Chairman Martinez. And that’s if you trace no trails forward in time from the publication of the book. but he was also on the way out of office and so couldn’t do much about it. a collective that tried to take graffiti legit. across the river from the area where Naar took his photos. He’s got loads of ‘context’ (not a particularly good word in Latour’s world). Jersey City. He’s just one man. in a later chapter. I got it from Gastman and Neelon. a panorama. from what’s in THAT book. Mailer goes to the Museum of Modern Art and looks a graffiti through those various lenses and he also talks about other developments in the contemporary arts scene. he wasn’t simply speaking as a private individual. His words have the force of what Latour will call. He was against it. Martinez said. is across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. Nor is that all. When I took the following photograph I was within a quarter of a mile of the site where the Holland Tunnel makes ground in Jersey City: . for example. Martinez majored in sociology in college (though I don’t think Faith says that. newspapers and magazines. a representative of the body politic. 30). but one man in a special slash peculiar situation. well . that is. it sounds like what it is. The History of American Graffiti). you’re going to end up covering a big chunk the world back to the edge of human history— for Mailer makes the now-standard connection with cave and rock art.’ Hugo Martinez. like Mr. . star fashion. The thing is. Writers had copies and passed them around.I’ll break their arms with a lead pipe. Mailer and Naar weren’t sociologists. If you allow yourself forward trails. I’m afraid that any would-be ANTologist of graffiti has no choice but to start with that book. “Graffiti writing is a way of gaining status in a society where to own property is to have an identity” (p. conjure with the fact that THAT BOOK quickly became assimilated into graffiti society. Many of the media quotes are panoramic in Latour’s sense. We was speaking as an elected official. Mailer interviewed him and got his views on graffiti. organizer of United Graffiti Artists. .

though about a mile away or so. He’s one of a small number of graffiti writers who makes a living with his art.14 It was designed by Cesar Pelli. It’s illegal for me to be here. in Enos Jones park or close to it.40 - .wikipedia. That’s the tallest building in New Jersey. The light pole at the center of the photo is. as they’re sometimes called. Just to the left of center you can see the name “Rime. I believe.” Rime also writes as Jersey Joe.I’m standing beneath one of the viaducts that takes vehicular traffic to or from the Holland Tunnel and I’m looking roughly Southeast. if you scan down from the middle band and look carefully in the foliage near the center you’ll see railroad tracks. They’re an active freight line of the CSX railroad. such as that one. owned by Goldman Sachs. In a band across the middle of the picture we see buildings with graffiti on them. But he still keeps his hand in by doing illegals. The land on which I’m standing is a CSX right of way. as it is illegal for graffiti writers to paint here—they paint on the huge concrete stanchions that support the viaducts to and from the Holland Tunnel: 14 . the architect who did Malaysia’s Petronius Towers half way around the world and the office buildings of the World Financial Center just across the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan. There’s a tall building behind the leaves just to the right of that pole. Now.

Let’s move to a site that’s roughly mid-way between THIS site and the entrance to the Holland Tunnel: There’s a variety of graffiti at the bottom of that wall. They were. Notice that painted goal posts at the right and the basketball hoop at the far right. There’s a matching hoop off the photo to the left. and some of it wasn’t. if by no means complete. I’ve been photographing this site for five years and have a rich. that’s new. well-painted by the time I found them. The black background and the two pieces on it that dominate the lower third of the stanchion.The graffiti you see at the left wasn’t there two months ago. You’re looking at layers that have accumulated over a period of years. of course. Well.41 - . The surface in front of the building is thus used as a basketball court and playground. some of it was. record of what’s happened on these walls during that time. But those aren’t the stories I want to tell. .

though some of the land was rebuilt for other uses. and it’s relevant to the many graffiti stories I could tell. and the many more I have no trace of. You can see the remains of Bull Durham ads. is either on railroad land. It was two blocks long and one of the largest in the country. What were those ads facing back in the day? Surely they were positioned where they would be seen by men who’d buy Bull Durham tobacco. even in brief.We’ll get back to the graffiti. At that time that building would have been crawling with men moving fright to and from freight cars. yes. One could mutter. Here’s a shot of the lower left: . Suffice it to say that there is a story. The one on the right is for smoking tobacco. or on buildings that were once served by the railroad. The leavings of late industrial capitalism. but not enough to retell it..42 - . that’s what we’re looking at. a story about why the freight yards left Jersey City. take a look at the middle and top of the photo. I know bits of that story. most of which is within a half-mile of these two sites. the land and the buildings were abandoned. Here’s the building that faces those ads (notice the hoops to the left and right): During the middle of the 20th century that building was a freight terminal. ‘late industrial capitalism’ and. but first. At the time Jersey City was a port town and this area was filled with railroad yards. They were the audience for the Bull Durham ads. of course. But just what does that tell us about the graffiti? Let’s return to that Bull Durham wall. The railroad line in our first photograph is about all that’s left of those freight yard. When the railroad left. among other things. There is. land that once belonged to the railroad. by way of providing context. Almost all the graffiti I’ve photographed in the past five years.

and Mike 171 and Snake1. it seems like there’s a good chance that one of them started someone who started someone . So Chello 14 set NOME TMF off on his graffiti career. Who else did Chello 14 help in that way? How many stuck with it? What about NOME TMF. Let me add a final move to it. Those are not common graffiti motifs and. let’s step back just a bit and ask: What chain of hand-offs leads back from Chello 14 to those writers whose work was photographed in The Faith of Graffiti? Since those writers were working just across the river. most of those markings. I found him through that website and have been corresponding with him for a couple of years. He has a website (google his name. for example. of course. a well-known designer who designed the signage for the New York subway system. If you click through to my Flickr page you’ll see that NOME TMF made an interesting comment: “chello 14 gave me my first can”.blogspot. Jon Naar is not. strong or weak? An interesting little game. To the left of center we see Chello 14. aren’t graffiti in the particular aesthetic tradition that I’ve been examining. We could. I’ve also met him face to face. for example. The second occasion was a panel discussion about graffiti and signage. While Norman Mailer is dead. .Notice the Puerto Rican flags to the left and right. There are a number of names on the wall. the NewYork&Philly to the World tradition. to draw such a line on that wall. two of the writers whose work Naar photographed. it’ll come up). both have painted on the same wall (but not necessarily at the same time). It would be difficult. The line between graffiti in general and that tradition in particular is a fuzzy one. Me and who knows who who started Chello 14. . 15 http://new-savanna. indeed. We’re now playing six degrees of separation with graffiti writers where the linkage requirement is fairly strict: one person must have helped the other get started as a graffiti writer.43 - . I wonder of Chello 14 owns or has seen The Faith of Graffiti? What about NOME TMF? What about a writer who’s only a strong link away from either of them? A weak link away? Two links.html . who did he start off? Now.15 That discussion included Massimo Vignelli. while they are graffiti in the general sense. loosen the linkage requirement to.

So. just how big is the graffiti world? . and Snake1. Mailer talked to the Mayor.44 - . Mike 171. Naar ran with Mailer.As you read this you are only one weak link away from me. which puts you one weak link from Naar.

at least within a group. the pick-up-a-package module. feeling responsible for his sins. Then the self-talking goes silent and is completely internal. Latour had mentioned language a bit earlier (p. one performing a Beethoven quartet. They could be called subjectifiers. but for exactly the opposite reason: they make visible what was before only present virtually. another for writing a research paper. competence was a rather mysterious affair that remained hard to trace. unconscious. you realize that to obtain ‘complete’ human actors. and interiority? If we have been able to show that glorified sites like global and local were made our of circulating entities. new types of clamps offer themselves to facilitate our enquiry. Much as I’d like to say something about each chapter of this book. There’s the eat-breakfast module. Each of us has our own set of apps. why not postulate that subjectivities. This one bootstraps though some built-in equipment. still on 207: As we have witnessed so many times throughout this book. Don’t have time. in the theory advanced by Vygotsky. Rather. such as language. is an internalized other (which I discuss in some detail in both this paper. turning us into formal cyborgs or ‘post human’ ghosts.45 - . 191-218. You don’t have to imagine a ‘wholesale’ human having intentionality. in bulk. as soon as we raise this very odd but inescapable question. In earlier . information technologies allow us to trace the associations in a way that was impossible before. 177) but didn’t discuss it much. raising a barn. From the chapter “Second Move: Redistributing the Local. Not because they subvert the old concrete ‘humane’ society. for this reason. it opens itself to fieldwork. Read it http://ssrn. personnalizers. 207)—with just enough language from the skipped-over text to offer a taste of what you’re missing: Surely the question we need to ask then is where are the other vehicles that transport individuality. making rational calculations. and so on. As the infant gains verbal fluency she talks to herself so becomes capable of using language to direct her movements and attention. So that’s what we are. subjectivity. canoeing through rapids. Continuing with Latour. What is so telling in this metaphor of the plug-in is that competence doesn’t come in bulk any longer but literally in bits and bytes. each of which is empirically distinct from the next. borrowing this marvelous metaphor from our new life on the Web. .’ Plug-in fully installed and ready for submodules and upgrades. Now it has become ‘thinking. as soon as it can be peeled back layer after layer. you have to compose them out of so many successive layers. on the self. I’m skipping over 50+ pages so I can rejoin Latour in “Redistributing the Local. .Reading Latour 11: Plug-ins and Couplings Bruno Latour. personhood. you had to order it.” And I’m skipping much of that so I can pick up the trail here (p. and personalities would circulate as well? And sure enough. 16 and this one on Coleridge’s “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”17). planting tobacco. I can’t. directing her movements and her attention through their words. but there are some we all share. At first the young child listen as others talk around her and to her. as do many others and. so to speak. As soon as competence can be counted in bauds and bytes along modems and routers. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory.” pp. Oxford UP. but I prefer the more neutral term of plug-ins. justifications. or agonizing over his mortal soul. Please. 16 17 http://ssrn. or individualizers. a bunch of plug-ins ‘downloaded’ from the web of our acquaintances. .

Fireflies do it too. There’s no mysterious psychic ether connecting people. And to simulation and modeling as well. What Latour is here proposing is that the same technology can be used as a source of metaphors for interactions between persons and thereby showing how “the boundaries between sociology and psychology may be reshuffled for good” (212). which is the traditional starting point for psychology.18 or by reading about the busy bee brain 19 and about clapping and group intentionality. I further argued that this ‘groupiness’ is to be understood as a physical connection between brains. During the musicmaking it’s all one synchronized physical system. But you can fill the sketch in by reading chapters 2. many of them frustratingly unconscious. albeit a subtle sort of brute physicality. they become synchronized though vibrations passed between them in the wall. and some are connected only to other neurons. to what has been known in the past as the psychology of the individual. or playing an instrument) and hear. It’s a purely physical interaction. So I started thinking about a group of people making music And. the people decouple and their brains are no longer one tightly coupled Start them up so they swing independently of one another. as I’ve done several times before. The coupling. It’s made by groups of people. there’s really nowhere for you to go but in circles.20 18 19 http://www. and one that obscures music’s nature in a way worse even than the printed score (for at least a live musician had to play the music hidden in the written notes). The computer. Just molecules colliding with one If that’s your starting point. as well. you just fly out of the bottle. Latour’s point applies.Yes. I want to get off the Latour bus and look around in my own backyard. To get out. But now.blogspot.human-nature. 3. For. No more worrying about whether or not there’s a world out there and whether or not there are any people in it. as both tool and source of metaphors and analogies. Before too long. People in Groups (Music) Rather than start with the individual mind. because the connection is a brute physical one. And brains consist of neurons. The rhythm. I decided music is fundamentally and irreducibly social. or clapping and stomping. my review essay of Stephen Mithen’s The Singing Neanderthals. When the music stops. in your mind. Thus people’s brains are physically synched together through the sound waves they emit (through song. their blinks are synchronized. In time. And a good thing. That’s rather sketchy.46 - . That’s not what it’s about.html . some are connected to sense organs. and 4 of Beethoven’s Anvil. has enabled us to construct explicit models of the mind and its processes. You attach two pendulum clocks to the wall. coupled oscillation. that. Physicists call it coupling. It’s about the music and the dance.html 20 http://new-savanna. albeit mediated by sound waves. there’s no mystery about how different peoples minds know one another and the world. as Wittgenstein knew. Some are connected to muscles. They start blinking independently of one another. no social soup either. But in rhythm. Thus I tossed aside the Cartesian individual. Neurons too. Before the computer we could only think of the mind as this nebulous stuff populated by various agents. The fact that for a century or so we’ve been able to listing to music coming out of various technology-stuffed boxes and contraptions is a rather late development. back when I was first thinking about music I had to do my own reshuffling of the boundary between the social and the individual.html http://new-savanna. Done.

And then they disperse and go about their day in ones and twos and fives. Human. Then comes biology. There is. And it consists of itty-bitty particles and piles of particles of various sizes. All I’ve done is draw some simple inferences about how music-making fits these things together. but there’s much agreement that some things are higher than others. in the morning. we have society. Once Again. or on top of it. as I’ve said. overseen by chemists. And society is studied. OOO! . in pendulum clocks. not by bathing psychological individuals in a soup of social stuff. A very complex physical thing. an all but inescapable one—though some of us are on the lam. But this is not that trivial. whatever. Think of that hour as the group’s psycho-cultural home base. Whole. a Flat Ontology Here’s the more general significance. People walk and talk together. 20 or 30 individuals. What we know about oscillation and coupling. What I did when I declared music to be fundamentally a group phenomenon and physical one is that I modeled something at the very top of that chain of being in terms of phenomena at the very bottom. They sing the old songs. a common one. When some of these particles get hooked up just so. Indivisible. One system. next up we have psychology. and then. in neurons and brains. Let’s imagine an idealized society living as a small band of. they gather and sing together for an hour. The relationships between these various realms are much in dispute.47 - . by sociologists (and others). All physical stuff. I conceptualized the irreducible organic group. Thus we can think of the life of the group as a movement to and from the daily hour of song and dance. but nonetheless physical. Organic. chase down a dear together. woman. rounding things off at the top. one tightly coupled physical system. or around. fugitive style. and dance a bit. On the level. Once they disperse. There’s a view. Even someone who’s alone for a minute—say.But let’s push this discussion just one more step. I suppose. naturally. behind a bush to urinate—is likely being thought of by someone. the coupling between individuals becomes looser. I achieved the groupishness through the physical. And so too is the movement to and from home base a physical thing. but it’s still there. dig for yams together. we have the more complex world of chemical phenomenon. And that home base is a physical thing. a trivial and uninteresting sense in which everything is a physical thing. This is the province of physicists. composed of trillions of neurons and trillions upon trillions of air molecules in rhythmic motion. in vibrating systems of any kind. Everyone. not in spite of. that is not trivial. and children. or at least banging away at the shackles—that at the bottom of things we have the physical world. but by insisting on treating them as physical particles at the same level as the physical particles in the atmosphere and in the wood and skins and metal and sinews of musical instruments. While they’re all together and singing their brains are. say. say. Each day. man.

The psychologists and philosophers. This individual mostly sits in his vat. in the overall intellectual context. Yet without rhythm. of course. unable to move. Now. When I looked for research on rhythm and on our sense of time. After all. though it took me awhile to realize this. I too bought the Cartesian story—well. 2005. Oxford UP. the individual that Descartes put at the center of his philosophical meditations. The only way to investigate them is to observe individuals listening to musical stimuli. including most thinking about music. I believe. 21 http://www. the default starting for most thinking in les sciences de l’homme.1: The Cartesian Individual And Why it Must Be Rejected Bruno Latour. much of the best work was in the literature on motor control and on way-finding (navigation). we’ve got to be careful. For it is this individual that has been. whom I jettisoned when I began to think about music. yes. and ponders two questions: Is there a world out there? If so. No. For the most part music is stuff heard by Cartesian individuals floating in their vats.Reading Latour 11. I knew that from my own experience. This is an appendix to my previous installment of Reading Latour. By Cartesian individual I mean. In the literature that existed over a decade ago. no music. not to mention the . And the only way to get them to make music together would be to ADD SOMETHING EXTRA. is there anyone else in it? For such an individual society is deeply problematic—‘hell is other people’. I found that it was dominated by this Cartesian individual. Yet nothing seemed more basic than the obvious fact that we synchronize our movements together and that we do so The mere fact that psychologists have spent a great deal of time studying how individuals hear music need not imply that they are revolving in the Cartesian orbit. relatively little attention had been given to rhythm and time. that metaphysical substance Latour inveighs against. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. But I also knew it from the all-but-forgotten work of William Condon. if I took the existing literature as my starting point then I’d be forever explaining how these individuals would ever know whether or not a sound was REAL. we DO need to understand how the ear and the auditory system work. But when I considered the whole array of work. That alone does not betoken Descartes’ shadow. Nor were they interested in how musicians coordinated their activities. not music. which unfolds in time. who were interested in music. When I started. I want to say a bit more about the Cartesian individual. remember that? When examined in the Cartesian shadow. It can’t be avoided. When I began to read the literature in preparation for writing Beethoven’s Anvil. But it was only in thinking things through that I realized that the Cartesian individual dominated all. society is conceived as atomic individuals held together by social stuff.48 - .21 And that’s what allowed me to think my way out of the Cartesian punching bag. the Cartesian assumption was evident. The Cartesian monster came into view only as I realized that. Such a conception comes naturally in a society where most people experience many more hours of recorded music than live music and where the making of music is properly done only by children and a few particularly ‘gifted’ individuals. were much more interested in harmony and melody than in rhythm and time. Music had been conceived and studied as something heard by a Cartesian individual not as something made by people interacting with one another through sound. it was clear to me that Descartes had cast his net over the study of music. not completely. that just didn’t wash. I suppose that might be attributed to the difficulty of investigating such coordination but.

It was not something ‘added on’.49 - . Not through some special social stuff. That’s what he’s said about the scientific laboratory. And that leads to an exercise for the reader. What he discovered is that their movements were closely synchronized.stanford. Is Vico a precursor to Latour? 22 http://plato. interacting with one another. Even bacteria communicate with one another via chemical means. Where the Cartesian individual is alone. For that to happen. Early in the 18 century Giambattista Vico 22 set himself the task of opposing Descartes. that is certainly what Latour thinks. That is certainly the way in Latour’s account. Interaction is the way of the world. The infants’ bodies twitched and jerked in synchrony to the speech . In one investigation he filmed hourold neonates as they listened to someone talking. That truth is made. Agents of all kinds. I assumed active movers. Where the Cartesian individual is a passive perceiver. He would make high-speed films of people interacting with one another and analyze that interaction. Vico believed we arrive at truth through making (verum esse ipsum factum). Society is not an add-on. but through their own agency. It is basic. this entrainment of one person to the rhythms of another. For animals in general.A few decades ago William Condon had investigated interactional synchrony. this capability had to be basic to the nervous system. I made Condon’s interactional synchrony my starting point. I assumed people interacting with one another. And not just for humans. he is thereby rescuing our thought from the powerful Cartesian dispensation. When Latour sets out to reassemble the social. human and non-human. Where Descartes believed that we arrived at truth through observation.

in my vocabulary. perhaps more accurately in Latour’s terminology. Logically prior to the problem of interpretation is that of the canon: Just which texts are we supposed to be in agreement about? As a matter of recent history. The ANTs are about how people interact with one another and with a multitude of environments and objects. texts among . The canon. Canon wars are thus wars between groups or. . These ANTs will not. 23 http://ssrn. . and near universal. how do we determine it and so compel universal agreement? If not .23 That’s not what the ANTs are about. it seems to me. From the chapter “Third Move: Connecting Sites. of course. “Third Move: Connecting Sites.” pp. translate. . is what transports meaning or force without transformation: defining its inputs is enough to define its outputs. 2005. on the other hand . the problem of textual meaning came to a head before that of the canon. 223). Texts certainly do that. 222). Oxford UP.50 - .Reading Latour 12: ANT and Literary Studies Bruno Latour. the study of measurement. 219-246. 39): An intermediary. Mediators. or the movie you saw) to the most formal presentation in a professional journal. . A few pages later he’s talking about standards and metrology. . of course. and modify meaning of the elements they are supposed to carry. He starts by thinking about forms: “To provide a piece of information is the action of putting something into a form” (p. Texts and Standards Latour is interested in “what circulates from site to site” (p. what then? These matters became acute in the 1960s through the casual. As a first approximation I take it that the texts themselves are intermediaries while our various explications of the text. transform. agree on the meanings of texts. guide us to deep descriptive knowledge of the texts. in fact. observation that critics do not. the sort of knowledge I’ve advocated in my notes on Heart of Darkness. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. distort. are mediators. . What we need to think about is how texts can serve such a purpose. wars among collectives attempting to constitute themselves as the hegemonic social group. is just that body of texts around and through which a population of individuals constitutes itself as a group. from the most casual (as in office chatter about the book you read the night before. 228): “Standards and metrology solve practically the question of relativity that seems to intimidate so many people: Can we obtain some sort of universal agreement?” One can certainly read large swaths of the recent history of literary studies as a gloss on that question. Does the text have a single ‘true’ meaning? If so. to name one example. So generalize from that. Text as Intermediary Earlier in the book Latour distinguishes between intermediaries and mediators (p. for the contemporary world is woven through with standards of all kinds (p. . His first example is that of the kilogram. I want to deal with the material in Latour’s penultimate chapter.” by considering how one might think about literature in ANT terms.

happen in a single telling. e. we’d discover this coupling in the gestures and movements of everyone in the group. This does not. Making Meaning). to pass ‘the test of time’ as the saying has it. Rather. intonation. that’s something we must discover. Bordwell. not the every day stories they might tell about the day’s hunt or a child’s first steps. Particularly in the timing. 24 25 of course. We’d see it in their gazes. The ‘texts’ to which I refer. I prefer to start with how texts exist in oral cultures. Arguments and Icons: Divergent Modes of Religiosity. that of the text as connector among individuals. we’d see the coupling in the synchronized neural activity across the many coupled brains (an argument I’ve made explicitly with respect to music in Beethoven’s Anvil and in my review of Mithen’s The Singing Neanderthals). all of it. well that’s the question. And new texts are created to serve that function. Texts survive because they are sharable. In making such an argument what concerns me is how texts work in the mind and brain. words.g. the clapping of hands and slapping of http://www. My weak position is that it’s the form of the text that is an intermediary. 71). of course. If we could instrument everyone’s brain. p. gestures. except the details of a given performance. pp. albeit unobtrusively. There is nothing new about the story at all. which might be quite remarkable. In this situation the teller is aware of. Were we to examine each such performance in minute detail. “the boundaries between sociology and psychology may be reshuffled for good” (212). and plays to. as members of the audience are aware of one another. isn’t it? We don’t know as yet. Oral Cultures In thinking about this question. in Latour’s formulation. their attention to the story-teller. As the needs of the group change. Just how that—working in mind and brain—to be determined.). which cannot be determined through interpreting those texts (cf. once the stories become written down. Written Texts Things change.human-nature. Over time. the same episodes and incidents.That’s my strong position. a society. the same set of characters. And so texts fall out of fashion as they no longer serve as effective intermediaries.51 - . Harvey Whitehouse. The laughs and groans. In Literary Morphology 24 I have argued that texts have a computational form that must necessarily be the same for all readers. the ‘content’ may well have the flavor of being a mediator. and under these circumstances—traditional tale performed in front of the group—that acts as an intermediary that couples the many assembled individuals into a coherent group.html . the story adjusts to the shifting needs of the group and thus always remain within ‘coupling range’ (cf. It is the teller’s full performance. These texts are recited in full public view of the group. of course. 49 ff. The stories are standard ones known by all. texts summon the group in recitation. But in many tellings over weeks and years and decades. is its suitability as an intermediary. The direct connection between story teller and audience is broken. It’s an ongoing process. are the myths and folktales which are the common heritage of a people.25 In such an investigation. They are not passed from person to person in the form of marks on paper. Just what makes a text sharable. In this view the ability of a written text to survive. his audience. Once a story becomes fixed on the page it can no longer change and adapt. so the stories change to that they continue to be effective intermediaries. their glances at one another. a proposition which psychologist Keith Oatley accepts (Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction.

Surely it is not that simple. But not as an intermediary between the singular author. painting. not very deeply. of course.52 - . as in the oral situation. on the one hand. It is no longer the dead ashes on paper so beloved of the reader response theorists. no other domain has been more bulldozed to death by critical sociology than the sociology of art. we all knew that. of course. . on the other hand. and how they work. 236: Apart from religion. where a single author in the middle shovels the text through tubes to each lone reader in a private cell. I suggest. And there are some answers ready and waiting. even in modified form. I’m tempted to say. Rather. In the process I believe that we’ll recover the reader as agent. This happens first with religious texts and only much later with secular works – much. techno rave. My point is simply that THIS is the starting point. but not as the willful solipsist of reader response theory. individually one by one. much. of course. later. In thus generalizing from oral culture to written culture I realize that I’m glossing over many problems. But. as it were. more deeply. acquire a class of explicators who both stand guard on the texts themselves and serve as mediators of those texts before the larger group. And. but as a social agent interacting with others. all of the actors. and novel has been explained to nothingness by the social factors ‘hidden behind’ them. Every sculpture. are. In such a discourse the text itself would have to be allowed agency. stuff like that.Some texts. the text is an intermediary among all the readers. Surely much hard work will be needed to make such a story work. Agreed. That’s what the squabbling of the last 50 years has been about. please! Reader as Agent We must abandon the Cartesian starting point and work through all the difficulties anew. Through some inversion of Plato’s allegory of the cave. As such it is very different from the Cartesian starting point. The texts provide norms and values. just how does the text connect readers? What does it do? If it is a source of standards. just what those things. at least one. and the many readers. you might ask. p. The ANT sociologist of the literary would. haute cuisine dish. This is not a reverse panopticon. have to describe all of the threads in the new web of the text. with its many isolated subjects earnestly in search of the world and—hope! hope! hope!—of another subject. of which the author. all the objects people have learned to cherish have been replaced by puppets projecting social shadows which are supposed to be the only ‘true reality’ that is ‘behind’ the appreciation of the work of art. is one. from this new vantage point. he’s speaking of art in general and not specifically about literature. And. the most powerful agency a text can have is to act as an intermediary. what are those standards about? Good questions all. Let us return to Latour. norms and values? Not very deeply. I further suggest that this new study of literature will afford us ways of understanding. norms and values. How deeply do we understand those things. of course.

That last sentence came as something of a rude shock after Latour’s earlier proscription of explanation. That passage continues with this line (and of course more): “There is an exception. But his final chapter is not about those worlds. they circulate. above our heads and before the action. for which Actor-Network Theory has been devised. And we’re going to get there by taking a look at the concluding paragraph of the penultimate chapter (p. Here’s a passage I have already quoted in Reading Latour 10: Description & Graffiti (p. Not a useful result. The individual code items. The idea would be to recast memes as rigid intermediaries constituted as. Those are the explanations Latour seeks. If a description remains in need of an explanation. Politics Latour’s central point is simply that. They are not behind the scene. 137): Either the networks that make possible a state of affairs are fully deployed—and then adding an explanation will be superfluous—or we ‘add an explanation’ stating that some other actor or factor should be taken into account. however. could be combined into various ‘texts’—in the extended meaning of that term—which function as mediators between individuals and the groups of which they are members. Were I to embark upon it I’m afraid I might never find my way back out and thus would never be able to finish these notes. to the final chapter of Reassembling the Social. In Motion. nor encompass. but they occupy a very different position from what the tradition had first thought. nor explain. I think there may be an approach to that question. if it refers to a fairly stable state of affairs where some actors do indeed play the role of fully determined—and thus of fully ‘explained’ intermediaries—but in this case we are back to simpler pre-relativist cases.53 - . It’s about the world still in flux. The laws stating the regularities of a stabilized world are the products of something—forces. of course. not worlds in flux. below the participants and smack in the foreground. Comments on “Conclusion: From Society to Collective—Can the Social Be Reassembled?” pp. semiotic codes. where the sociology of the social is the appropriate conceptual instrument. But I stopped reading too soon. they have to be explained. There can be . for how can there be laws if there is no stability? Well. nor gather. Oxford UP. which is about stabilized social worlds. that stability itself must be explained. it means that it is a bad description. It’s those worlds in flux where description must be paramount. 247-262.Reading Latour 13: ANT and Politics Bruno Latour. shall we say. Laws and Explanations So. but I’m going to set it aside. when we’re dealing with a stabilized world. we’re back at the sociology of the social. then. but after the action. I take it that Latour’s point about “laws of the social world” is that. they format. drawing.” That is. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. on my remarks about graffiti and music as well. I would dearly love to pick up from my post on ANT and Literary Studies (Reading Latour 12) and generalize to culture in general. so that it is the description that should be extended one step further. But I must leave that generalization as an exercise for the reader. structures—Latour fails to name (as far as I can determine). 246): The laws of the social world may exist. where there is social stability. they coordinate. 2005. they standardize. there can be no meaningful politics. They don’t cover.

real before-the-end-of-history politics. Some Concluding Passages At this point I’m declaring this reading to be all but over. then there is no politics. but the people who assemble about and through them. globalization. and where for each of their applications they need to rely on masses of hidden potentialities. Wimsatt is an experience youth organizer who grew up as a graffiti writer in Chicago and is steeped in hip-hop culture. sociology. p. looks like up to me. derived from “to get up. And Latour runs through a litany of examples from economics.54 - . But I’ll point you to William Upski Wimsatt. I won’t say this reading got me where I needed to go. Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs (Akashic Books 2010). to dream of occupying the place of complete power. and surprising connections is the only way to begin contemplating any kind of fight? With respect to the Total. or worse.” that is. but a politics. their gropings and groupings are very much in flux. That can only be in a world that’s still fluid. to write graffiti on a wall. but which feels nonetheless almost like home. “Upski” is a nickname from his graffiti days. No battle has ever been won without resorting to new combinations and surprising events. Some final passages from the book. I kid you not. artificial assignable. implies change. p. 254: Whereas the tradition distinguished the common good (a moralist concern) and the common world (naturally given). And that. that’s what speculative engineering is about). 252): Is it not obvious then that only a skein of weak ties. etc. no.g. and totalities circulate inside tiny conduits. Almost. Graffiti artifacts may go back 40 or 50 years. 257: Rather. each discipline is at once extending the range of entities at work in the world and actively participating in transforming some of them into faithful and stable intermediaries. accountable. It’s more like a homestead. but I’m not up to saying it. hence (p. psychology. there is nothing to do except to genuflect before it. geographers. It’s graffiti slang for paint the walls with a glorious vengeance and with style! And not bombing the suburbs is about growing up and crafting a serious political movement capable of changing the course of history. 258: This does not mean those disciplines are fictions. then no politics is possible. linguists. What that title’s about. that’s a convoluted story that runs on for several pages (pp. but I like where it DID get me. It means that they are. and cut down to size in a place where formats. only circulation of agents and actants according to a fixed pattern of intermediaries (250): “To put it bluntly: if there is a society. [Been down so long. structures. disciplines: each has chosen to . I proposed replacing ‘the politics of nature’ by the progressive composition of one common world. But not quite. There’s much more to be said about Reassembling the change. There is political sentiment there. flattened down. is what I’ve found in graffiti culture and society. I’m a compositionist through and through (e. of constructed. no?] But THAT. If this is not possible. not here and now.” Politics. Which is one of those many places I didn’t know about. and I’ve got lots to compose. inventing their subject matter out of thin air. I submit. I think it would be much safer to claim that action is possible only in a territory that has been opened up. 13-20). Suffice it to say that “bomb” has nothing to do with explosives. as the name nicely indicates. that cannot be done in a world that’s fixed in place. That’s the world Latour seeks to describe. p. And now Latour’s written ‘An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”’ and that’s where I’m going.

we must might have to engage in cosmopolitics.55 - . But Latour’s reasoning is not here fully deployed. Just WTF! is that. here and . but how well they are constructed. that discussion is not quite fully present in this book. 26 http://en. It might become interesting only if what was called in the recent past ‘the West’ decides to rethinking how it should present itself to the resort fo the world that is soon to become more powerful. Each discipline has its standards differentiating better constructions from poorer ones. 262): . sociology. the unity of this common world? You can be sure it’s NOT a successor to Otto Neurath’s International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. we have to establish connections with the others that cannot possibly be held in the nature/society collections.26 for that was the product of an era that slipped into the deep past when Fukuyama somewhat quixotically declared an end to history. Or. then ANT is useless. it also needs to tackle the ontological question of the unity of this common world.wikipedia. For better or worse. Just what happened to that distinction. and that distinction’s gone. to use another ambiguous term. contrary to its sister anthropology. thus populating the world with different types of well-drilled and fully formatted inhabitants. For that’s a world composed about a distinction between nature and society. that they should also be composed in order to design one common world. Here’s Latour rounding third base and heading home (p. what matters is not that the accounts are constructed. and why it’s going going gone. can never be content with a plurality of metaphysics. if you really think that the future common world can be better composed by using nature and society as the ultimate meta-language.deploy some sort of mediator and favored some type of stabilization. After having registered the sudden new weakness of the former West and trying to imagine how it could survive a bit longer in the future to maintain its place in the sun. . It IS here. p. 259: This is where politics again enters the scene if we care to define it as the intuitions that associations are not enough. enough that you can pick it up if you’re alert to the signs. Again. .

one is making a proposal about some particular domain. it is not an epistemological question. The last proposal is about the literary text. I do not regard any of these proposals as. It is. When I originally wrote this post I thought that the question of whether or not one had a proper object by the tail was a philosophical one. and the literary text. Now I’m not so sure. perhaps it is a compositionist question. What is the relationship between the theorizing and the praxis? What can we say about it? Perhaps we can approach that issue by through the question: How do I know whether or not I’ve got a proper object by the tail? While this is a question about knowledge. For whatever the text is. Final schedule: http://ecologywithoutnature. In particular. which in turn rests on the neurodynamics theorizing of Walter Freeman. the world-wide graffiti wall. That is. that it ever withdraws as we ever know. whatever kind of object the literary text turns out to be. that’s difficult. the music-making group. however we compose it. shall we say.html (schedule) . That is not a philosophical question. and only then. Note. For I have argued. The first proposal. is concrete enough. or had a philosophical dimension. of the music-making group. it is more than just ink splotches on the page (or vibrations in the air). And it is the most abstract of the three. and understanding specific objects and assemblages than I am in philosophizing about objecthood. I’m still wondering. I have no doubts. 27 My original post: http://new-savanna. however. what is the relationship between that theorizing and the practical business of describing and working with objects (praxis). but they are plausible.blogspot. Three Objects In the rest of this appendix I offer three objects that interest me a great deal: the worldwide graffiti wall. that the proposal says little about the structure and meaning of the graffiti itself and that is why it is relatively concrete. compositionally complete. but the proposal is pitched at the neural level: what is such a group considered as an arrangement among nervous systems? That rests ultimately on chapters 2. but I’m not quite sure why. It’s clear that I’m more interested in working with. has received the most extensive preparation in these posts and it is the least abstract of the three. then. But. But I do wonder. however. But just how we can characterize that more. and 4 of Beethoven’s Anvil. describing. Each builds on ideas I’ve already advanced in earlier posts in this series as well as on ideas I’ve elaborated Three Objects for OOOIII This is slightly revised from a post I originally wrote in response to the Object-Oriented Ontology III meetings held in New York City in September 2011. that in my overall thought about culture.blogspot. I AM glad that theorizing is taking place. that is. that composition presuppose the music-making group. in proposing some object as appropriate for description and investigation. What is not obvious.html. The second. I note. however.27 There were moments during Wednesday’s ‘wrap-up’ panel when I thought to myself I need wonder no more. Whether or not the proposed object is a proper object would thus seem to be a matter of whether or not it is reasonably composed from entities known to be in that domain. unless philosophy itself is the appropriate domain. Once we’ve got an object. no. that wondering is not doubting. one of methodology. The question strikes me as more of an empirical question or perhaps. rather. 3.56 - . can we worry about knowing that object—keeping in mind.

for example. Those aren’t connected together in one place. degradation and destruction of graffiti on the walls.blogspot. By the world-wide graffiti wall I mean all the graffiti in this tradition considered as a single ever-changing object. not in the ocean. For one thing.57 - . and plays. That created the neuro-behavioral environment in which language. Only the first of these objects more or less exists within the compass that Latour indicated in Reassembling the Social. though. The World-Wide Graffiti Wall (WWGW) As always. which indicates the graffiti zones in the Jersey City neighborhood where I’ve taken most of my graffiti photos: 28 http://ecologywithoutnature. That graffiti moves from place to place. poems. though surely graffiti exists on many islands. could . They aren’t. mostly by not entirely out doors.28 One of the things that interests me about the WWGW is its geometry. This graffiti goes on walls. nor are they uniformly distributed. Given its large spatial extent—six continents. and. Consider the map below. 213) he didn’t provide any conceptual tools for doing so beyond the internet-derived metaphor of the plug-in. On a scale of minutes to days we can trace the movement of graffiti on trucks and freights. The others cut deeply into psychology. maybe there’s some on Antarctica too—this WWGW is surely one of Tim Morton’s hyperobjects. it will not be evenly distributed in that area. Which means that the WWGW is fluid on at least two time scales. Graffiti tends to be in urban areas. who knows. e. the Japanese islands. the music-making group and the literary text. Nor is it evenly distributed within urban areas. We must also consider the graffiti that’s placed on freight cars (known as ‘freights’ or ‘fr8s’) and on trucks. On a scale of weeks to years we can trace the creation. that it was through making proto-music that very clever apes became primitive humans. I would submit. are the primitive beginnings of compositions that straddle that old boundary between psychology and sociology. by graffiti I mean the specific tradition that started in NewYorkandPhilly in the late 60s and early 70s. While Latour called for reshuffling “the boundaries between sociology and psychology” (p. and hence Beethoven’s Anvil. they are on land. evenly spaced on a rectangular grid. the spatial distribution of its discontinuous parts. Given an area with a fair complement of graffiti. often in acts of vandalism. Perhaps it is in supporting such compositions that compositionism will most deeply prove its worth. Thus these last two proposed objects. not even the literary text exists entirely within psychological. which are not evenly distributed.

say. which overlooks the Hudson River.The red pushpin is the entrance for the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan. say. is it a fractal? Further. the square meter. politics. at least a week. The graffiti zones are outlined in yellow.’ The pieces are not uniformly distributed within those zones. however. Meres is closely links to writers the world over. Let us. and that we’ve mapped it down to. where he has. and the blue pushpin is Dickinson High School. Now. let’s play six-degrees-of-separation with graffiti writers. consider the fact that only a few miles from the above area in Jersey City is a building in Long Island City. or whether or not they’ve ever had face-to-face contact. Finally. The building is managed by a man who writes as Meres. BR. Area JC is the Newport Wall that was mentioned Gastman and Neelon’s recent The History of Graffiti in America. While there are tags all through the area. of course. how many links between any two writers? As you think about that question. gotten up. that has attracted graffiti writers from all over the world. 5 Points. What’s the shape of this distributed object? In particular. Now. Almost all of the graffiti on those sites is vandalism. CT. let us imagine that we’ve mapped all the graffiti in the world as of some arbitrary date. I note that one wall in area BR has become obscured by a tree that fell on it when Tropical Storm Irene passed through. Meres has gotten up on one of the walls in zone N in that map.58 - . and YD are all posted notrespassing zones. those zones are where you find the elaborately worked ‘pieces. Further. Because of his position at 5 Points. thus implicating the institutional structure of society. . In particular. but it didn’t make sense to be more exact in a map of this scale. add the provision that their work must have been simultaneously visible for. Two writers can be considered linked if they’ve painted the same wall. Finally. zone HC is thinly populated. sites BA-BC. the green pushpin is the building where I lived for a decade. which means that I was breaking the law when it walked those zones taking photographs. It doesn’t matter whether or not they did it at the same time.

59 - . among other things. available to non-layers in the area as well. my argument. I argue that it is the physicality of all those signals. and the paths they travel. but not only MY argument. is that at some undetermined time in the past. and beyond those. this object. of course. so I’m not going to run through it in any detail. Some of the signals are electrochemical signals in the nervous systems of the individuals in the group. I have come to regard people making music together as a single object. The Music-Making Group I’ve blogged about this object many times (see. Seriously. for example. that constitutes this assemblage as an object proper. the history of humanity is. Because of that. I say: get graffiti writers to put it up on the WWGW. If you examine the various things I’ve written about this object. In the large. Given that as a premise. a physical system in which signals organize the group’s actions. But I also suspect that much of it would be in sympathy with this piece from zone YD: To those at OOOIII who worry about alerting the world to global climate change. I suspect it’s mostly unformed. groups of very clever apes began transforming themselves into human beings by assembling in such groups. they too are part of this system. it’s a neural-level description of how such a music-making group is constructed. The latter signals are. you’ll see that my argument takes the form of a construction. the work I reference. People in Groups in Reading Latour 11).I would hazard to guess the electoral politics of graffiti writers. . In particular. Others take the form of mechanical waves in the atmosphere in the immediate vicinity of the group. Or rather.

Even those philosophers who’ve taken an interest in literature (e. That ink is arranged in patterns.g. That generalization must.29 and in Reading Latour 12) so I’m not going to run down the whole drill here and now. When I put it that way. if I may. And that’s not what I’ve done. just what IS the text if not an object? Surely it’s not a subject. is that a properly constituted object? 2) What of the grand generalization. in principle. however. Well. I’m quite convinced that the only way to learn about describing literary texts is to wade in the waters and start describing.60 - . Meaning is thus a subjective phenomenon. that such an hyperassemblage. Academic literary criticism has organized itself around the search for textual . And has long ago discovered that even the best critics do not agree on what a given text means. in principle at least. constitute. That’s a starting point. Two questions: 1) Is that basic assemblage of people making music together. Again. When I take such assemblages. I take this as evidence that explication or reading is not the proper way to apprehend. however. they’re objects. that when I say that meaning is subjective I mean ONLY that it arises in the 29 http://ssrn. this thing I want to describe. going. or could it be construed as. and transformation of such assemblages. First there’s the music-making group and then there’s the grand generalization. By which it do not mean only the ink splotches on the paper. One would not thereby declare each such nominalization to be an object in the sense of OOO. language allows us to nominalize anything whatsoever. Derrida) have not been interested in describing the texts. That’s a question I’d like our philosophers to address.g.g.. I get all of humanity (to date) considered as a single hyperobject. at least meet the rather stringent requirements of Latour’s ANT methodology. every male child born on the third Thursday of even numbered months of the year). all of humanity. the principle. be able to describe it as such. a properly constituted object? On this second question it’s not meaningful simply to assert ‘all of humankind’ as a group. describe the text as object. human beings are such objects). I suspect that many critics will retort: Well of course not! The page and the ink. Which patterns are which? But that hardly exhausts this thing I’m calling the text. But the text. I’ve given the barest hint of how one might describe such a group at the physical level. I certainly don’t want them to give me tips on HOW TO describe the text. plug them into Latour’s Actor-Network Theory. . the text is . They’ve been interested in what the texts mean. etc. in fact. If it’s not a subject. no. then it seems to me that we should. Well—and here I’d like the philosophers to step in—I take it that meaning arises in the interaction between a subject and an object (an object which. Note. Etc. . including arbitrary sets (e. some of which are traces of the text while others are simply arbitrary artifacts of inscription on paper. For. It’s more than just the ink on the page.a history of the coming. is that. could be described. That’s not what most philosophers have done. then what else can it be if not an object? If it IS an object. One must see how it would be possible. The question of what’s there beyond the patterns of ink is a deep and thorny one. and note this very carefully. Again. etc. may ‘contain’ a subject. Norman Holland has used the term “sharable promptuary” and that’s what I’m after. how does one recognize a proper object? How does one compose it? The Literary Text My third object: the literary text. in this paper on Literary Morphology.. but even that ink is not so simple. I’ve discussed this extensively elsewhere (e. but not all there is. But I’m not clear about just what that kind of question that is. and crank up the Generalizer.

The disciplines of literary criticism are rich with methods for the first. it therefore varies idiosyncratically and capriciously between subjects.61 - . That certain way can also support the process of producing descriptions of those objects such that those descriptions compel intersubjective agreement. including the meaning of literary texts. And—perhaps this is where I really need help—it should be possible for critics who disagree about the meaning of a text to reach agreement about the proper description of that same text considered as an object. I do not mean to imply that. but poor in methods for the second. (fully) human communities are possible only through intersubjective agreements on all sorts of matters. I certainly believe that it is possible for subjects to arrive at substantial intersubjective agreement and understanding on many matters. I would argue that. the meanings of literary texts among them. For the methods by which one constructs a meaning are different from those by which one constructs a description. And that intersubjective agreement is possible only because many are mediated by objects that are ‘rigid’ in a certain way.interaction between a subject and an object. in fact. It may or it may not so vary. because meaning is subjective. . Note that intersubjective agreement about descriptions is different from intersubjective agreement about the meanings themselves.

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