Henning Schmidgen’s Bruno Latour in Pieces

Translated by Gloria Custance, I was disappointed by this work, which I hoped would be the necessary background for providing links among Latour’s disparate works, from his PhD in philosophy of religion to laboratory life to his late AIME work. Originally published in German as Bruno Latour zur Einführung (2011), the books is at its best with Latour’s earliest writings, showing how in each of them there was a subterranean dialogue with a given thinker of power (Nietzsche, Spinoza, Foucault, Deleuze), but as it goes on, it can go through texts (We have never been ModernReassembling the SocialModes of Existence) with longer summaries of, say, a piece by Lyotard than anything in the actual texts. Indeed, it’s notable that one could read this “intellectual biography” and not even get stated the main thesis many of these texts (We have never been Modern is just jumbled, never mind the critique of the social in RtS), while going on about how Latour should have noted his phenomenological predecessors or Lyotard or someone else, or noting that MoE opens like Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism” (um, how?) etc. Then here it ends:

Latour provides no answers to these questions [it’s not clear what they are from the proceeding paragraphs, so no matter, since I guess he hasn’t answered them anyway]. He is too much the masked philosopher, the thinker on a stage. [Huh? Masked and on the stage?] His aim is not a representative sociological survey, a historical reconstruction, or a causal and explanatory account. Ultimately, his concern is not philosophy but to write books. Latour wants a new richness for descriptions–lively depictions of unfamiliar spaces, discourses, and realities. His concern is to dissuade us from anthropology [Huh? MoE is explicitly written in terms of “comparative anthropology”] as well as theology, away from the discipline of history as well as the history of science. The glad tidings he brings are that the openness of the event is perennial.

Nothing in the book discussed the “openness of the event” or how it’s presaged in this work to land at that ending. I thought the point of MoE is to think modes of diplomacy between these disciplines, not to dissuade “us” from them. In any event, too bad, since a book comparing the theses and arguments of Latour’s oeuvre along with its development (and perhaps also parsing out the relation of his devout Catholicism to any/all of this work, which is hinted at in spots in this book) would be a real help for those working through Latour.

5 comments

  1. I’m only about 50 pages in but I must say that I like it so far. It is a bit strange how little the texts themselves are discussed but I actually quite like that. I’ve read all those books, I don’t need them summarised. The bits and pieces of surrounding information are interesting. It’s not especially rigorous or systematic but as a fairly laid-back stroll through an individual’s career it has a lot to recommend it. So far, at least.

    1. Well let me know if I was being unfair. I don’t need random summaries, but I also would like to know what the author had as a take-away from a given text. For example, does Latour really mean for the formation of “new societies” after the RS? But the first 50 -70 pages were pretty good.

      1. Having now finished the book I don’t think you were unfair. The first third or so was certainly the best part. I still enjoyed it as a light read. One rather minor and grammar police-type point I noticed was a spectacular underuse of commas. It’s like the printers were charging them by the punctuation mark or something.

  2. Ha that’s right. I also wondered about the translation–hylé getting translated outside the parentheses as substance and so on.

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