At the Verso blog, McKenzie Wark continues his series on key theorists of today with a piece on French philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour. Wark focuses specifically on a recently published collection of Latour's lectures, Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climactic Regime (Polity 2017), asking whether its vision of nature is adequate to the challenge of thinking climate catastrophe. Check out an excerpt from Wark's piece:
Latour wants to replace Galileo as scientific hero with James Lovelock. If for the former, the earth was an object, just another planet, for the latter, it is a subject, and a planet like no other. What is ambiguous here is how much Latour intends this as a restoration and how much as a new revolution in thought. Must this be a reterritorialization? It is certainly a turn away from the infinite, toward a situated thought. There is no dwelling place for our species-being other than this, other than Gaia. Latour reminds us that Hesiod’s Gaia is no figure of harmony. She is always an antecedent and contradictory figure. What Latour extracts from Lovelock’s use of this figure is an animated earth, but an earth of soil, not soul. A secular earth, but one not free from the problem that religion poses, which one might short-hand as the problem of what binds us.
If there is an abiding enemy in these lectures, it is the figure of totality. This can only ever be an expressive totality for Latour, where all the parts are in their essence the same and marked in their essence by the spirit of the whole. Totalities must necessarily imply an engineer or designer for him. “And as Gaia cannot be compared to a machine, it cannot be subjected to any sort of re-engineering.” (97) There are only parts, not wholes. But there might be a lot of other totalities one can imagine besides the expressive: ones that have unassimilable supplements, or parts ordered by their differences rather than a shared essence, and so on. Nor does totality have to take on an ontological priority. Nor is it necessarily the case that totalities imply a creator or single cause.
Image of Bruno Latour via the Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography, and Social Thought at the New School.