Posts Tagged ‘Latour


Stengers’ Power and Invention

Isabelle Stengers

Power and Invention: Situating Science

Area: Digital Media

Foreword ( by Bruno Latour)

·                    “Stengers looks for a touchstone distinguishing good science from bad not in epistemology, but in ontology.”

·                    The modern tradition in anthropology and science studies is to study “up” not “down”

·                    Modify our definition of science: not to look at the limits of human representation but the world’s ways of marking these limits

·                    What is a science? (Contra our class discussions on what is a rhetoric of science)

·                    CC: “cosmopolitically” correct

·                    The world is not outside, the mind is not inside

·                    Distinction: not between true and false statements, but between well-constructed and badly-constructed propositions

·                                Proposition: (opposite a statement) includes the world in a certain state                          and could be called an event (Deleuze)

·                                A  construction is not a representation form the mind or dorm the society                                   about a thing, an object, a matter of fact, but the engagement of a certain                                    type of collective

Xi: “First, a world outside untouched by human hands and impervious to human history; second, a mind isolated inside its own mind striving to gain an access to an absolute certainly about the laws of the world outside; third, a political world down there, clearly distinct from the world outside and the mind inside, which is agitated by fads and passions, flares of violence and eruptions of desires, collective phenomena that can be quieted down only by bringing in the universal laws of science, in the same way that a fire can be extinguished only by water, foam, and sand thrown form above; and fourth, a sort of position ‘up there’ that serves as a warrant for the clear separation of the three spheres above, a view from  nowhere that is occupied either by the God on ancient religions or in recent times by a more reliable an watchful figure, that of the physicist-God who took upon himself—it is definitely a he!—to make sure that there are always enough laws of physics to stop humans from behaving irrationally.”

Xiii: “The mind is not an isolated language-bearer place in the impossible double bind of having to find absolute truth while it has been cut off from all the connections that would have allowed it to be relatively sure—and not absolutely certain—of its many relations.  It is a body, an ethological body, or to use Deleuze’s expression, a ‘habit of thought.’”

Xiv: “Constructivism, for Stengers, is not a word that would have an antonym.  It is not, for instance, the opposite of realism.  Thus, constructivism is the opposite of a pair of positions: the twin ones obtained after the bifurcation, as Whitehead says, between world and word.  In this way, ‘social construction’ is not a branch of constructivism, but the denegation of any construction, a denegation as thorough as that of realist philosophers.”

Xv: “The same principle strikes twice with the opposite result: once should not eliminate from a discipline what constitutes its main source of uncertainties and risk, reversible time in the case of nonhuman phenomena, susceptibility to influence in the case of human phenomena.”

Chapter Nine: Who is the Author?

·                  “Any definition, we will say, is a fiction, tied to an author”

·                  Who is the author of the fiction concerning the movement of bodies that Galileo opposes to Aristotelian science?

·                  The “author” would then be an abstraction

·                  Authors, in the medieval sense, are those whose texts can act as an authority

·                              Scientists recognize nature as the only authority

·                  When an experimental fact is accepted, in the very process of its acceptance, a new question, a new history begins

155:  “An absurdity is not a contradiction.  Absurdity relates to the idea of rationality that would establish, in one way or another, a common meeting ground for human reason and the reasons nature obeys, in such a way that rational argumentation is able to claim the power of distinguishing between the possible and the impossible, the acceptable and the unacceptable, the thinkable and the unthinkable.”

160:  “Thus one can see in the modern sciences that the invention of an original practice of attributing the title of author, playing on two meanings that it opposes; the author, as an individual animated by intentions, projects, and ambitions, and the author acting as authority.”

160: “Every scientist knows that both he and his colleagues are ‘authors’ in the first sense of the term and that this does not matter.  What does matter is that his colleagues be constrained to recognize that they cannot turn this title of author into an argument against hum, that they cannot localize the flaw that would allow them to affirm that the one who ‘claims to have made nature speak’ has in fact spoken in its place.”

160-1:  “The question is to know if this title of author can be ‘forgotten,’ if the statement can be detached form the one who held it and be taken up by others from the moment that they welcome into their laboratory the experimental apparatus whose meaning is given by this detached statement.”



Burnett’s How Images Think

Ron Burnett

How Images Think

Area: Digital Media


·                  MRIs and image quality: many issues arise in the relationship between images and diagnosis

·                  Middle space: combines the virtual and the real into an environment of visualization that has the potential to displace conventional notions of subjectivity

Xiv: “How Images Think explores the rich intersections of image creation, production, and communication within this context of debate about the mind and human consciousness.  In addition, the book examines cultural discourses about images and the impact of the digital revolution on the use of images in the communications process.”

Xviii: “However, a great deal of intelligence is being programmed into technologies and devices that use images as their main form of interaction and communications.  The screens that mediate the relationships humans have to the technologies that surround them have become increasingly sophisticated both in texture and detail as well as in content and what can and cannot be done with them.  I use the term image to refer to the complex set of interactions that constitute everyday life within image-worlds.”

Chapter 6: Humans—–Machines

·                  Rather than thinking about human and machine as a collapse, think of it as a convergence

·                  Computers have the capacity to talk to each other

·                  What do “listen” and “talk” mean with computer-computer communication?

·                  Humans transform machines into surrogates

125: “Communications networks to some degree are about autonomous relationships developed and maintained by machines with connections that are generally sustained without too much human intervention.  Of course, machines do not literally speak to each other.  They do communicate although the assumption is that humans mediate the interchange.  However, a great deal takes place that is not governed by humans even if they may have been the progenitors of the interaction.”

126: Can a machine feel pain? “On the one hand, computers are related to as if they have no bodies. On the other hand, when a hard disk crashes and wipes out its ‘memories,’ it also takes something from the humans who may have used it.”

Chapter 8: Computer Games and the Aesthetics of Human and Nonhuman Interaction

·                  There is intelligence in the game, but the question is does the game know?

·                  Technology has always been mapped into and onto human bodies

·                              And…human bodies have always been mapped into and onto technology

·                  Customization is the game

·                  Even though open source may be messy, writing code appears to be the most concrete of activities

·                  When playing video games, there are actually very few choices.  The “trick” to winning is to figure out the limitations

170: “The computer is a trope, a part-for-whole-figure, for a world of actors and actants and not a Thing Acting Alone.  Computers cause nothing, but the human and nonhuman hybrids troped by the figure of the information machine remake worlds.” (Haraway)

171: “Latour suggests that machines and humans form a collective and are continuously acting together in an associative chain of relationships that is only interrupted as people move to different levels of complexity in the process.”

175:  “Current frameworks for developing technological products reflect a limited conception of their role.  In designing such a product, the emphasis is placed on what can be preconceived about its use, as expressed in its functional specification, its optimization to meet specific functional needs, and the evaluation of its performance by predetermined metrics.  This perspective on design is not sufficient to address the agenda of cognitive technology; it takes too little account of the interaction between a technology, its users, and its environment.” (Beynon)

177: “When an individual says something to a friend and he or she responds, there is not direct way to fully comprehend all the intentions that governed the communication.  Instead, both parties agree by convention, habit, and the desire to understand each other that, to a certain degree, the gaps between them will not affect the content f the exchange.  Although the gaps are present, they are part of the process.  Awareness of the gaps, however, pulls the process of communications into a netacommunication, where individuals must develop an awareness of what works and what doesn’t.  They also have to be aware of the constraints that the gaps introduce into every part of the exchange.  It is the combination of exchange, awareness, and communications that produces additional spaces of interaction and conversation—these are third spaces that can only be examined by looking at all parts of the exchange.” (Bateson)


Hocks and Kendrick’s Eloquent Images

Mary E. Hocks and Michelle R. Kendrick, eds.
Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media
Area: Digital Media

•    Responds to current questions like whether digital media should be understood simply as a pastiche of existing forms or if digital media have brought forth a radical paradigm that requires new methods of inquiry and understanding
•    New media: radically different? Revolutionary?
•    Distinction between print and visual culture: Latour’s binary-based thinking
o    Modernist thinking: posits radical paradigm shift
•    Modern—two sets of entirely different that must remain distinct to remain effective
•    The idea of new media as ‘revolutionary’ or ‘radical’ rupture has been overstated
o    This book favors a more cautious, historicized, and situated perspectives
•    Borrowing Latour’s model: new media is a hybrid of word and image
o    Something knowable in ‘only specific local practices and contingent change’
•    Bolter: all words begin as images first—pictoral quality becomes more transparent over time
•    Kirschenbaum: complicates our ideas about the function and consumption of images
•    New media artifacts construct hybrid experiences, identities, epistemologies, and virtual realities
•    DeCerteau: practices must occur in specific, culturally controlled contexts, but they also often exceed and complicate those contexts in surprising ways
1: “Eloquent Images demonstrated that to attempt to characterize new media as a new battleground between word and image is to misunderstand radically the dynamic interplay that already exists and has always existed between visual and verbal texts and to overlook insights concerning that interplay that new media theories and practices can foster.”
5: “Outlining broadly the historical and cultural tensions between print and visual culture, Bolter concludes that, with the advent of new media, the ratios have changed to privilege practice over theory, production over critique, formal over ideological, and visual over verbal.  He ultimately sets up the dichotomies as heuristics to be subjects for debate as we move into a more complex understanding of new media.”
6: “Wysocki argues against two assumptions in new media studies: that hypertext creates politically engaged and empowers readers and that images weaken readers by making interpretation too easy.”
7: “LaGrandeur uses classical rhetoric to set up images and text as separate means of persuasion that support one other rhetorically, drawing precedents for this activity from classical texts and applying them to Web site design.”
7: “Understanding the image, according to LaGrandeur, also means comprehending its dichotomous possibilities: its persuasive power might add to an argument by using ethical, emotional, and logical appeals, but its force and nonrational nature might also distract from a message’s logical appeal.”


Latour’s Pandora’s Hope

Bruno Latour
Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies
Area: Digital Media

•    “Do you believe in reality?”
•    Science studies has added reality to science
•    Science Studies (SS): relatively sure of daily practices
•    Descartes: mind requires artificial life-support to keep it viable
o    Looking from inside → out: constant gaze
•    Fear of the mob rule
•    Offering the mind a body—not a spectacle but a lived self-evident, unreflexive extension of the self
•    How is it possible to imagine an outside world?
o    Make the world into a spectacle seen from the inside
•    When SS say there’s no outside world, refuse to grant it the ahistorical, isolated, inhuman, cold, objective existence that was only given to combat the crowd
•    Factish = fact + fetish
•    What does it mean to be “away” from the forest?
o    From this POV there’s no difference between observation and experience: both are constructions
•    Never a resemblance between stages
•    Munsell code (ex: find exact paint sample by matching numbers)
•    Complete rupture between “thing” and “sign”
•    The chain must be reversible
•    Amplification: “We have been able at every stage, to extend our link with already-established practical knowledge, starting with the old trigonometry placed ‘behind’ phenomena and ending up with all of the new ecology, the new findings of ‘botanical pedology’” (71).
•    From text we return to things, displaced a little further
•    2 Major misunderstandings:
o    SS seeks a social explanation
o    SS deals only with discourse and rhetoric, but doesn’t care about the outside world
•    SS: rejects the idea that science is disconnected but doesn’t mean it embraces the social constructivist side either
•    Two types of historians:
o    Pure Politics = externalists
o    Pure Science = internalists
•    Initial vocab is different from final vocab
•    Vocabs of content v. context
o    Context: what explains science is society
o    Content: sciences explain themselves
•    Chains of transactions
o    Exoteric resources: daily papers
o    Esoteric resources: university textbooks
•    One cannot change scientific fact: others need to bring about the transformation
•    Is it rhetoric or proof that finally convinces scientists?
•    Mobilization o the world
o    “The first loop one has to follow can be called the mobilization of the world, if we understand by this very general expression all the means by which nonhumans are progressively loaded into discourse. It is a matter of moving toward the world, making it mobile, bringing it to the site of controversy, keeping it engaged, and making it available for arguments” (99-100).
•    Scientists make the objects move around them
•    2 parallel series of artifacts
o    “In a place of a collective of humans and nonhumans we now have two parallel series of artifacts that never intersect: ideas on the one hand and society on the other.  The first series, which results in the dreams of epistemology and the knee-jerk defensiveness of science warriors, is simply annoying and puerile; the second, which results in the illusion of a social world, is far more damaging, at least for those like me who try to practice a realistic philosophy” (111).
•    “Construction” is in no way the mere recombination of already existing elements
o    Mutual exchange of properties
•    Double meaning of fact: that which is made up and that which is not
•    Who is doing the action in this new medium of culture?
9: “As if it had not been devised so as not to be overcome!—phenomenology leaves s with the most dramatic split in this whole sad story: a world of science left entirely to itself, entirely cold, absolutely inhuman; and a rich lived world of intentional stances entirely limited to humans, absolutely divorced from what things are in and for themselves.”
13: “To avoid the threat of a mob rule that would make everything lowly, monstrous, and inhuman, we have to depend on something that has no human origin, no trace of humanity, something that is purely, blindly, and coldly outside of the City.  The idea of a completely outside world dreamed up by epistemologists is the only way, in the eyes of moralists, to avoid falling prey to mob rule.  Only inhumanity will quash inhumanity.”
13: “This is the argument of the book…can our representations capture with some certainty stable features of the world out there? … Can we find a way to fend off the people? … Conversely, will we still be able to use objective reality to shut the mob’s too many mouths?”
64: “How can we qualify this relation of representation, of delegation, when it is not mimetic yet is so regulated, so exact, so packed with reality, and, in the end, so realistic?  Philosophers fool themselves when they look for a correspondence between words and things as the ultimate standard of truth.  There is truth and there is reality, but there is neither correspondence nor adequatio.”
130: “According to which of these two contradictory features is stressed, the same text becomes either constructivist or realist.  Am I, Pasteur, making up this entity because I am projecting my prejudices onto it, or am I being made up and forced to behave that way because of its properties? Am I, the analyst of Pasteur, explaining the closure of the controversy by appealing to his human, cultural, historical interests, or will I be forced to add to the balance the active role of the non humans he did so much to shape?”
Class Notes
•    What is the limit of rhetoric?
o    Given the history of science?
•    Science: lock on objective reality
o    Rhetoric: decoration? Flourish?
•    Things change in the 20 Century: questions of objective shifts
o    What consequences—voracity of nature of science, work, speaking “truth,” rhetoric contributing something else
•    Latour: looking at science as activity
o    Science: social activity?
•    Do you think Latour belongs in a course on rhetorical theory?
o    Should he be saying “rhetoric” but doesn’t?
o    Dynamic: seems to suggest rhetoric
•    Put in context with what else we’ve read—how does he fit in?
•    Assigning of agency
o    Accounting for interactions—who’s responsible for what?
o    Vitalism
•    Speed Bump: locating all of these things into a material object
•    When technology fails, we notice the technology
•    How we talk about the technology
•    Technology as a co-actor, not a tool
•    Burke: agent and agency
•    In the interaction, what comes first?
o    How does the world become populated by things we interact with?
•    Human/Nonhuman (H/NH) constantly interacting
o    Constant loops of interactions
•    Means and ends
o    Kant: treat humans as having an end (purposiveness?)
•    Humans become the end of technology
o    Requires us as an audience
•    Technology imbued with motive? (not really…)
o    Creative function in the mind
•    Not one person’s discovery
•    Science: politicized—above/outside realm of politics
•    Compact history
•    Might v. Right
o    Might: someone has power, not much you can do about it
•    One can’t bring about change, others need to bring about transformation
•    If we keep philosophical discussion too much, are we doing more harm?
•    Might of science: mist to subsume all humans to obey all laws of nature
•    Facts may be what they may be
o    Global warming (ex.): Latourian H/NH interaction
o    Less rhetoric: scientists prove this is the case and what we should do about it
•    Direct connection between what we know and how we act
o    More rhetoric: interpretative: convince people what to
•    Indirect or no direct connection between knowledge and action
•    What it is people do with what they know
•    Claming final truth is a different way of talking
•    How does the way of talking misconstrue things?
•    The object itself has an impact on environment
o    How do we talk about relationship with these objects?
o    The environments we’ve built constrains or enables us in these ways
•    How do we find responsibility for an act?


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

July 2017
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