Walking Notes: Latour on Heidegger

I was thinking today about Latour's move to Heidegger in "Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam". He notes that it might strike many as odd, a hyper-realist turning to one among the most speculative of phenomenologists. But Heidegger's fourfold moves us away from matters of fact because it moves us away from a conception of the Real (of) Being in terms of abstraction.

Yesterday, in my new media class, I introduced Ulmer's anti-definition assignments via a discussion of tables. Aristotle, if chasing down the "reality" of the table, would seek to cut away anything peculiar to a particular table. These he would call accidental qualities. His aim would be to arrive at the elements common to every table (the essentials). Western philosophy spent the better part of 2000 years following Aristotle's lead.

But the 20th century saw a turn away from Aristotle's quest for the Ideal table. Slowly, an appreciation grew for the peculiarities of particular tables. A cut in the wood from the time your brother ran his tricycle into a table leg, for instance. Tables become permeated with memories. So, the question I pose to my students was this: "don't tell me what you think when I say table, spend sometime telling me how you feel when you hear that word. What is the first memory that pops in your head? This is what Ulmer might call the affective table." To which one student responded: "yes, but why are we talking about tables at all? Why does this matter?" Aristotle would be proud? This question I leave open to them.

Back to Latour: his interest in the fourfold lies in its opposition to chasing down the one Ideal, abstracted table, divorced from time and space. The fourfold represents for Latour a method for reconceptualizing our relation to the world (see Rivers here for an extremely smart explication of how "world" in Latourian discourse deconstructs the West's foundational nature/culture binary, 196-197). Method is actually too strong a word--what we are talking about here isn't even a heuristic--rather I would identify it with Ulmer's term heuretic. It is a way of opening a way of thinking about the world. As Hawk emphasizes, it is not a predetermined system but rather a kairotic sensibility to the possibilities a context makes possible (see Hawk 206). Its elusiveness, which Bay and Rickert explicate so wonderfully, is its very charm (which, to a positivist, will stink of magic, deception, and pastry-baking).


pure_sophist_monster said...

"Stink" indeed.

jhonnold said...


I like the careful way you frame all this and I wish to add one thing in a complementary fashion, which is to say that paradoxical heuretics are helpful here. Essentials vs. particulars; logocentrism vs. post-humanism/post-modernism; we are well acquainted with the list of diametric dualities. But I feel like (I'm being a student here) we live and work in the spaces between. And I also feel like we are learning/practicing dwelling/working in these spaces. Paradoxical heuretics are useful for allowing us to first "see" the paradoxes all around/through us, and then to dwell/work in these spaces. FOr whatever reason, paradoxical cognition & dwelling seems underrated and difficult for many, while also being invaluable at the same time. Thanks for your public notes!