Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern

Bruno Latour
We Have Never Been Modern
Area: Rhetorical and Critical Theory
Critical moments in the text

4: “This is why I will use the word ‘collective’ to describe the association of humans and nonhumans and ‘society’ to designate one part only of our collectives.”
10: “The adjective ‘modern’ designates a new regime, an acceleration, a rupture, a revolution in time. When the word ‘modern,’ ‘modernization,’ or ‘modernity’ appears, we are defining, by contrast, an archaic and stable past.  Furthermore, the word is always being thrown into the middle of a fight, in a quarrel where there are winners and losers, Ancients and Moderns.  ‘Modern’ is thus double asymmetrical: it designates a break in the regular passage of time, and it designates a combat in which there are victors and vanquished.  If so many of our contemporaries are reluctant to use this adjective today, if we qualify it with prepositions, it is because we feel less confident in our ability to maintain that double asymmetry: we can no longer point to times’ irreversible arrow, nor can we award a prize to the winners.”
10: “Modern designates two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct. […]  ‘Translation,’ creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture.  The second, by ‘purification,’ creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on the one hand; that of nonhumans on the other.”
13: “The double separation is what we have to reconstruct: the separation between humans and nonhumans on the one hand, and between what happens ‘above’ and what happens ‘below’ on the other.”
27: “In other words, they are inventing our modern world, a world in which the representation of things through the intermediary of the laboratory is forever dissociated from the representation of citizens through the intermediary of the social contract.”
37: “Everything happens in the middle, everything passes between the two, everything happens by what of mediation, translation and networks, but this space does not exist, it has no place.”
47: “No one has ever been modern.  Modernity has never begun.  There has never been a modern world.  The use of the past perfect tense is important here, for it is a matter of a retrospective sentiment, of a rereading of our history.  I am not saying that we are entering a new era; on the contrary we no longer have to continue the headlong flight of the post-post-postmodernists; we are no longer obliged to cling to the avant-garde; we no longer seek to be even cleverer, even more critical, even deeper into the ‘era of suspicion,’ No, instead we discover that we have never begun to enter the modern era.  Hence the hint of the ludicrous that always accompanies postmodern thinkers; they claim to come after a time that has not even started!”
54: “Is not society built literally – not metaphorically – of gods, machines, sciences, arts, and styles?”
61: “With the postmoderns, the abandonment of the modern project is consummated.  I have not found words ugly enough to designate this intellectual movement – or rather, this intellectual immobility though which humans and nonhumans are left to drift.  I call it hyper-incommensurability.”
67: “Hasn’t history already ended?
68: “The moderns have a peculiar propensity for understanding time that passes as if it were really abolishing the past behind it.”
71: “People are gong to distinguish the time ‘BC’ and ‘AC’ with respect to computers as they do the years ‘before Christ’ and ‘after Christ.’
76: “It is the sorting that makes the times, not the times that make the sorting.”
Class notes (read with Freud’s “The Wolf Man”)
•    Inherited philosophical traditions
•    Psyche—different way to tell story/different method of history
•    Unconscious repository of past
•    The individual in modernity
•    Centrality of sexuality—contending with it
•    Method—narrative structure: historicize and circumscribe
•    Simultaneously real, social, natural
o    Discipline of psycho-analysis
•    What is a discipline? –both in Latour and DeCerteau
•    What are Freud’s goals?
o    Producing universal, usable models
•    Advent of psychoanalysis
•    Unconscious not in the present—understodd in duration
•    The overlapping—by chance (Proustian?)
•    Recollection v. construction
•    Pushing pack and forth: reversibility of time
•    The individual is universal: why it repeats
•    Temporality of urgency
•    Time of narrative—time of psyche
•    Trauma only happens retroactively
o    A return, rather than an event from the past
o    Retrospective determination: it’s attendant on everything in the present tense
•    Working through and closure
•    How does a narration culminate—the goal of a session?
o    Continual? Organizational?
•    A melodramatic whodunit
•    Momentary temporary closure
•    Withdrawal, misconceiving, mimetic relation time in narrative
•    Mish mash of temporalities
•    Strata of the later generations (origin of the primal scene)
•    Epistemological practice
•    Episteme and possibility: what is a discipline
•    If the origin is the primal scene
o    Originary event in the present
o    Timeless event?
o    History constantly mobilized
•    Normalize the subject—developmental sexuality
•    Ontogenetic recapitulation of phylogenetic ends with heteronormativity
•    Bersani: primal scene when one gets shattered into sexuality
•    Multiple frames, seemingly linear temporality
•    What is a modern reader? (forms of modern texts)
•    Passively consumed text: readerly text
•    Demands/requires intensity, active reading, consumption: writerly text
o    Requires the reader to do interpretive work
•    You become positioned through psychoanalysis as reader
o    Temporal, conjunctual, and driven from and by desires
•    As a subject of a text, can analyze myself as the object
•    Constantly reading ourselves
•    Relation between object and subject
o    Hybrid text as genre
•    The moment of purification—projecting onto the text
•    Gradualist—eternal revolution of the present
•    Pre-modern → Modern
o    In between: absolute break
•    Revolution (non-human) as temporal (human) disruption
•    The past is always present
•    Punctuated equilibrium→gradualization
•    No modern/pre-modern = amodern
•    Purification → mediation: method
•    Absolute rupture to which one cannot return
•    Producing and modulating each other
•    The very model produces other things
•    Networked individual
•    Autonomy is problematic
o    Compartmentalization of time
o    Accessing time through present designation
•    End of questioning of discipline
•    What’s the range of discipline
•    Historical amnesia
•    Distinction—possibility of transition
•    Rethinking geopolitics


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