Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bruno Latour (in brief)

Quick thoughts

Recent readings dealing with dualities, splits in our thinking and zipping them back into something whole. Last week in regards to the split of Plato’s cave, referred to Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as dealing with Plato and his fight against sophists. (http://nstctc.blogspot.com/2009/04/zenmm-in-connection-to-plato.html This comes up early in Latour’s essay as he sets out to reverse the split that story put into place in Western thought. This also brings to mind EO Wilson’s idea of “consilience” in his book of the same name. He defines the term (an existing word he retooled for his use) as involving the integration of multiple disciplines to establish a “common groundwork of explanation.” Wilson proposes that only when the disciplines come together can the problems that affect the world be appropriately addressed, writing “Only fluency across the boundaries will provide a clear view of the world as it really is, not as seen through the lens of ideologies and religious dogmas or commanded by myopic response to immediate need.”Wilson also warns that “A balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces but through pursuit of the consilience among them.”

In my head, Latour and Wilson are talking the same thing. Latour is bringing down Science from this mythical place and making it unsmooth, messy, rhizomatic, and connected to our experience so that real conversation can happen. Wilson is talking about the danger of specialization (as initially voiced by CP Snow in “The Two Cultures”) that arose from the failure of the Enlightenment where no one knows how to talk to each other. With the idea of Consilience and Latour’s “political ecology,” a common framework is established, a means to have a dialogue and actually tackle issues that both men are passionate about – the health of our species and the health of this planet. All that said, Wilson’s use of “Science” may set Latour off, though I’m less clear what might upset Wilson. Having heard Latour I wondered why he didn’t mention Wilson, so curious to gain a better understanding of the difference in their arguments. (http://nstctc.blogspot.com/2009/02/bruno-latour-lecture.html) As someone who’s used Wilson’s work in my own work, I know I’ve gotten flack from social science folks who are angry with him about sociobiology – which personally, I don’t think they understand. Wilson rocks – a delightful, endlessly inquisitive man, as Latour also seems to be. I’d love to hear a conversation between them. Perhaps I’ll have to imagine it.

One more quick thought (longer notes and comments coming in second installment), at dinner tonight Leah was discussing long known health benefits of tai chi, yoga – and how now Science is “proving” them. It pointed out just how prevalent this split is in our culture, that we don’t even know that it’s happening. This prompted a quick discussion of Latour and her conversation with an Indian man in her class who brought up the difference between hard date and testimonials, the qualitative/quantitative split more or less. The beauty of the readings is even when they’re things we already feel we know and definitely believe in, it raises our awareness to what’s happening all around us.

Oh yeah, Latour also brought to mind Michael Pollan who I was fortunate to hear speak this term. His analogy of thinking of being a naturalist as gardening, I think is in line with Latour. It’s acknowledging the human in the natural from the ground up – there is no separate Nature in the romantic, mystical sense. Hence, Pollan is to Latour as farming is to political ecology. As with Wilson and Latour, there’s the same strong passion for ecology, but thinking of ways to do so beyond protecting Nature. All compelling arguments. – Nick  

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