12.15.2006

Bruno Latour and Ecocomposition

This is probably too geeky a post to even take seriously: I am at home on a Friday night (hey, at least I have kids for an excuse), eating ice cream (Chocolate Shoppe!), watching Clerks II, and blogging about Actor Network Theory. Anyone have the number for Beauty & the Geek ? Anyway, as I promised...

Latour may be one of our most ecological thinkers. He's certainly keen on the role of rhetoric in contemporary knowledge if, by rhetoric, one means the techne as descended not from Aristotle and Cicero, but through the sophists. But sophistry does not equal ecological... at least I think.

Anyway, Latour wants to bring the sciences into democracy and he wants to do so by acknowledging nature in our society. So, it's not so much that Pasteur "discovered" germs as that he figured out a way to elicit a conversation about the phenomena surrounding them. In short, science is socially constructed and if science is just a social convention, then we only have accepted narratives about nature, not "objective" knowledge.

So, ecocomposition is all the more important because nature is a construct. It is the conventional patterns of language by which we deal with existence, not trees and rocks themselves. The more we know about this language by which we deal with existence, then, the more we know about "nature."

Astute readers might notice the swarm of logical conundrums in the above paragraph: does language refer to anything? Does "existence" imply a physical reality? How does language relate to something "in itself" and is that ratio something we can rely on? And, does this imply that discourse is all there is; some ultimate force
"between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship"?

Yeah, that's where it bogs down for me. I agree language mediates reality for us, thus making it impossible to ever claim to know "reality," but I don't accept this as a reduction to language, which by the very constructionist thinking is also ultimately unknowable. Following the postmodern thinkers who returned to Kant, there are concepts that are supersensible. Perhaps "nature" is one. Experience of nature, then, is noumenal rather than phenomenal. And this, I would venture to say is Latour's point. In The Politics of Nature, Latour argues that we can *all* go outside Plato's cave thereby affirming routes to the supersensible beyond scientific reasoning. This gets more of society working on understanding "nature," thus allowing nature greater representation in what Latour calls the Assembly.

I'm inclined to follow Latour as an ecological thinker. He certainly is important for anyone in scientific and technical communication to understand. However, politically, he's nuts. Given the world and the power investments in circulation today, Latour's political divisions are cumbersome and unpractical. Not that unpractical ideas are bad -- they just offer hope for the future rather than solutions for the present. I like that Latour gives, in theory, room for intelligent designers, but what hedge is there in Latour against a consolidation of their route to the noumenal?

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