The first of my summer reading books have arrived from Amazon. Last night I read the first few chapters to Brooke's Lingua Fracta and the Pandora's Hope chapter of Harman's Bruno Latour: Prince of Networks. Both are really good, although Harman's book agitated me (and, yes, it was an affective response--quivering hands, underlining margins, restlessness). I slept on it, then re-read/drafted a response to Harman for my "Callicles, Latour, and Levinas" article. Here's the rough stuff.
What appear below is my initial reactions/notes to Harman's chapter. Many grammatical fragments and oddities likely follow. Please proceed with tolerance.
Harman, Graham. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. re.press: Melbourne, AU: 2009.
Latour's commitment to democracy is not a form of pandering to the spirit of our age, but is an intimate part of his metaphysical position. The universe is nothing but countless actors, who gain in reality through complex negotiations and associations with one another: not as one against a crowd but as one in the shape of a crowd of allies. We cannot appeal to some authority (geometry, power) lying outside the shifting alliance of networks. (88).
"For Latour all reality is political, not because human power inexorably shapes the truth, but because truth and reality are assembled through chains of actors in the same way that bills go through Congress: slightly transformed and translated at each step, and failing as often as they succeed. All reality is political, but not all politics is human" (89).
It might be difficult to appreciate how Latour's third position differs from that of the second--Plato's morally and intellectually bankrupt Callicles. I would offer this distinction: it is a matter of where we locate agency. Agency cannot be isolated in the rhetor, who through skillful manipulation, lies, and pandering molds the crowd. Rather, agency is located in the crowd, who through yea or nay determine a course of action (think of Consigny's robust definition of agonism, a game in which all participants agree to honor the contest's determination). In Harman's language, power cannot be located solely in the hands of the sophist who acts upon the crowd, but is dispersed throughout all the actors (rhetor, opponent, audience, scene, time, podium, screen, temperature, etc) composing the rhetorical ecology.
Harman citing Latour: "A politics that does not rely on experts citing impersonal law 'requires a disseminated knowledge as multifarious as the multitude itself. The knowledge of the whole needs the whole, not the few. But that would be a scandal for Callicles and Socrates, a scandal whose name has been the same at all periods:democracy" (89, Pandora's Hope 229).
Harman's rehabilitation of Socrates, particularly in light of Latour, is to stress "Socrates' contempt [not] for the mob, but to his contempt for power" (90). Thus wisdom for Socrates: "only wisdom governs these virtures in such a way that they always reach for the sake of which they act; and in the end only a god is wise, no human experts" (92). He concludes:
The power of a tyrant or rhetorician is insufficient, because these are merely superficial efforts at the mercy of a reality that only wisdom can probe, not power. The guiding insight of Socrates is the notion that reality is more than its current status, its current impact in the world here and now, its attributes, its relations, its alliances with other things. And here we find a more genuine point of opposition between Socrates and Latour. (93)
Here Harman does not seem to ask the obvious (sophistic) question--isn't wisdom itself an expression of power? Despite these conceptual differences, Socrates' transcendental non-humanism leads Harman to conclude that "the similarities between Latour and Socrates are much greater than those between Latour and the Sophists" (95). Quarreling with Harman's depiction of sophistry is not my primary aim. Quarreling with his depiction of sophistry is; unlike Latour, Harman fails to pull back the Platonic theatrical veil and question Plato's depiction of sophistry as mere, pandering, power-grubbing foolery. (My initial affective annoyance stems from the fact that I really appreciate the complexity and nuance of Harman's work--I wish he paid some attention to some contemporary rhetorical theory, particularly a 25+ year rehabilitation of sophistry, rather than simply echoing Plato's dismissal).