Bruno Latour: Pandora’s Hope

Reading “Do You Believe in Reality? News From The Trenches of the Science Wars” and “From Fabrication to Reality: Pasteur and His Lactic Acid Ferment”, I am reminded of why I am drawn to Latour’s work (although I haven’t read much, nor have I read this) – (from) what he composes, his delivery, and the desire to dwell within small nodes of the text (but moving within it). With this last characteristic, I will mention, that Latour is someone I would like to read slowly as an attempt at understanding at different scales. For now, I am thinking about the section from “From Fabrication to Reality” , “In Search of a Figure of Speech: Articulation and Proposition”, as I try to pull threads from our conversations in class, as well as Patricia H. Smith’s account of science as new philosophy in The Body of the Artisan as a way of constructing knowledge through human interactions with objects in nature as observation and representation as means to get closer to knowing objects and nature (really oversimplified and reductionist account on my part, but something I’m working with in threading Latour into what we are weaving as our class conversations). Reading Latour made me wonder about the construction of knowledge through understanding nature (would it be considered “out there”?) as something fixed, as something that is worked toward, established as knowledge, and recorded. What would the relationship between humans and nonhumans be in this period of the beginning of science? Is it like what Latour describes in Pasteur’s working with lactic acid ferment? Can the object exist as a discrete entity articulated in so many settings (evoked as knowledge?)? What does this mean for craft? I’m wondering about both the affordances and constraints to craftspeople in the relationship between them (their hands and bodied knowledge that create objects that reflect this) and their materials (objects for working) where the objects might stand apart from the maker. I’m struggling to articulate this, but is there a parallel to scientists, laboratories, science, and craftspeople, workshops, and craft at the level of objects? At the relationship between human and nonhuman (objects)?

In the moment, I am stuck on:

Latour states “What I have been groping toward, from the beginning of this book, is an alternative to the model of statements that posits a world “out there” which language tries to reach through a correspondence across the yawning gap separating the two…I am attempting to redistribute the capacity of speech between humans and nonhumans” (141).

And

“Our involvement with the things we speak about is at once much more intimate and much less direct than that of the traditional picture: we are allowed to say new, original things when we enter well-articulated setting like good laboratories. Articulation between propositions goes much deeper than speech. We speak because the propositions of the world are themselves articulated, not the other way around. More exactly, we are allowed to speak interestingly by what we allow to speak interestingly” (144).

For material to make something else, I found this talk Latour gave at Dublin City University, which I would like to listen to while rereading his “Steps Toward the Writing of a ‘Compositionist Manifesto'”. The abstract, from his website:

In this paper, written in the outmoded style of a “manifesto”, an attempt is made to use the word “composition” as an alternative to critique and “compositionism” as an alternative to modernism. The idea is that once the two organizing principles of nature and society are gone, one of the remaining solutions is to “compose” the common world. Such a position allows an alternative view of the strange connection of modernity with the arrow of time: the Moderns might have been future-centered but there is a huge difference between the future of people fleeing their past in horror and the “shape of things to come”, that, strangely enough, now appears suddenly in the back of humans surprised by their ecological crisis.

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The Body of the Artisan

Pamela H Smith’s The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution is a dense and interesting history of the influence of art and craft on the formation of science, or “new philosophy” in the early seventeenth century, that I can’t begin to unpack just yet. But I am interested in questions that are surfacing about natural knowledge, the focus of the scientific revolution, on the basis of observation and depiction. I’m not sure how (or if) questions of seeing help me get footing in the text, but I couldn’t get the work of Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida and James Elkins in The Object Stares Back out of the back of my mind. I can make a loose connection their work to create a language/way to talk about images and art beyond aesthetic qualities to the work of theorizing from drawings/paintings – a way of communicating knowledge orally (or in alpha. text). But the connection I find more interesting what knowledge is and isn’t able to move from nature, or from embodied practice, as a representation (a re-presentation). I feel like in posing this thought it seems like I’m trying to get a some philosophical real world beyond, but it’s really a matter of curiosity in how this knowledge (embodied or tacit) traveled because of graphic depiction (and what couldn’t). And in terms of engaging with nature, sight (reasonably so) is the sense that is appealed to/through; while it highlighted to the eyes, I wonder what was left unseen.

“Well, what is it like?” (In the Laboratory with Agassiz): It reminds me of a short account I read in a tech comm class before, In the Laboratory with Agassiz on Learning to See. A student enters Agassiz’s lab wanting to learn zoology , to which Agassiz responds with leaving the student alone with a fish to analyze. He asks the student what he sees in the fish but is dissatisfied with the student’s observations of the fish’s appearance. After days of looking at the fish, the student describes it as “symmetrical sides with paired organs” which pleases Agassiz as a connection between facts and general law – not just observations in isolation as facts. While this is distributed throughout Smith, I thought these related:

“The pursuit of natural knowledge became active and began to involve the body; that is, one had to observe, record, and engage bodily with nature” (18).

and

“Images came to be known as witnesses to facts. Images that increasingly invoked claims of factuality reinforced the techniques of observation and eyewitness as modes of inquiring knowledge” (150).

as disciplined observation and engagement to construct knowledge in objects and physical, observable phenomena. This enaction is what made scientific inquiry and the construction of knowledge possible. Making allowed people to make themselves, or the material of their culture; “Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis, not mechanism” (James Elkins The Object Stares Back). These depictions seem of a small scale though, or perhaps singular – how did this knowledge circulate? (particularly when its origins were in craft and art that was embodied knowledge unto singular persons that moved through apprenticeship). What is the relationship between the body of the artisan and the body of scientific knowledge?

note to self: cite Tolstoy or Camus

Can one opt out of the Analytical Writing portion of the GRE for ideological reasons? What about citing insufficient cultural capital as justification? I didn’t know that James Buchanan was born in a log cabin, went to law school, and gave great speeches just like Lincoln but doesn’t receive recognition because of his lacking association with the Civil War. Or that one does not do science, but is a scientist. Or that Bolivia uses a majority of its resources to maintain an agricultural status quo.

Shot out of a canon, but not of the canon, nor in canon. My canon is more like cacophony.