Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Bruno Latour - We are all reactionaries today
pavlos hatzopoulos on Sun, 25 Mar 2007 01:42:13 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Bruno Latour - We are all reactionaries today

*Konstantin Kastrissianakis:* If today we live in the era of simultaneity,
in a space where everything is contemporary, can we use the terms
"conservative" or "regressive" or should we abandon them altogether?

*Bruno Latour: *Everybody is reactionary today. The problem is not there:
the problem is which ones to choose. The division of things between
progressivist and reactionary ought to be abandoned precisely because the
topography of time, the repartition of political passions, has been
overturned. Because in modernism, we were relatively easily oriented towards
a progressivist direction. So we could distinguish between progressivist and
reactionary attitudes with relative ease, reactionary being linked to the
attachment to the past and progressivist to future emancipations. Today,
however, things have changed to the extent that attachments are not only in
the past but also in the future. For example, ecological questions, issues
concerning the city and urbanism etc. As I have said in "making things
public" <http://www.bruno-latour.fr/articles/article/96-DINGPOLITIK2.html>,
we have gone from a time of Time to a time of Space, from a time of
succession to a time of co-existence. As a result the differentiation is now
based on the type of attachment rather than on the old reactionary and
progressivist scenography. So we are obliged to change the political
passions while they still remain relatively classic, attached to the whole
package of progressivist/reactionary, liberal/neo-liberal,
anti-globalising/globalizing. In effect, in the details, we have to open the
package to understand the allocation of attachments and the dose of
emancipation and attachment they presuppose. These developments are not
necessarily due to the emergence of instantaneity but primarily to the end
of modernism, to the disappearance of the arrow of time, of emancipation as
sole political horizon.

*K.K.:* Was it also a period where differences or oppositions were clearer?

*B.L.: *We considered them clear, but they never were. Only retrospectively
do they seem clearer. Modernism was always a different thing from what it
pretended to be. "We were never

*K.K.:* Now, if the watch, the calendar, technological inventions are
symbols of the time that passes, what are the objects that represent your
notion of multiple temporalities?

*B.L.:* The fact that progress is no longer the horizon does not mean that
we abandon the notion of time. It means that time is no longer the carrier
of emancipation solely, but that it carries both emancipation and
attachment. Therefore time is still there; the direction of time is still
there. We continue to die. We are still mortals. However, what has changed
is the repartition of time: the great narratives that resolved people's
differences and positioned them on the basis of their relation to the future
have been replaced by their position in relation to objects, to issues.
Today in order to see if someone is a good or a bad reactionary, we must
know where his attachments lie. Ecology, illustrates this very clearly. We
can now have odd configurations: one can be both pro-nuclear and anti-global
warming. Today there is no longer a single object that rules, that gives
rhythm to the repartition of time or to the direction of time. On the
contrary, politics turns around objects of interest, "issues", "affairs",
"things", *??????????* in ancient Greek. So it is of no importance to know
whether one is a reactionary or not, but to know what those objects are that
one holds dear, and the types of things to which one is attached.

*The proliferation of hybrid forums*

*K.K.: *These are political, affective things?

*B.L.:* Of course, political, affective. They were always interrelated: to
use Peter Sloterdijk words <http://www.petersloterdijk.net/french/>, they
are relations of habitat, of spheres, of atmosphere. Politics will become
what he calls "spherology" which is about the habitats, artificial
environments, artificial surroundings in which we are and co-exist. In
arguments of this type, it is true that the central metaphors tend towards
space rather than time. They are formed primarily in architecture and in
co-existence rather than in the great revolutionary narratives that reigned
for centuries in their left or right versions of history. Sloterdijk
proposed another more interesting
term<http://www.hypermoderne.com/sloterdijk_ecume.htm>to replace that
of revolution: "explicitation". The history of explicitation
is made increasingly intelligible in the spheres and objects to which we are
attached. Therefore the problem is not to order things according to time or
space. It is no longer hierarchical but heteriarchical. Rather, today we
must try to approach these new attachments, these new political passions.
The categories of the French revolution, the left and the right, with their
specific categories and particular techniques of classification, of
positioning, no longer correspond to the order of things. Whether we talk
about global-warming, delocalisation, GMOs (genetically modified organisms),
habitat or public transport, there is each time a different configuration of
these positions. It is not that these divisions no longer exist, but that
they have been drowned in the multitude of other attitudes.

*K.K.:* Is it possible to argue therefore that positions are thus based more
on the substance of these "matters of concern"?

*B.L.: *I don't know where the influences come from. Politics always was
object-oriented. It is simply that in the modernist scenography, where
politics was one sphere amongst others, such as those of civil society,
economy, nature, we were under the impression that we could define politics
in a procedural manner. An arena through which all kinds of affairs could
pass but representatives would treat them in such a way so as to standardise
them. What happens today is that the techniques of political representation
no longer seem capable of absorbing the multiplicity of positions and, in
any case, they are no longer capable of standardising them. If you take for
example the associations of patients: today, each illness has its own
association. This is "politics" in a very vague sense, consisting of people
who get together around "matters of concern". But it is no longer political
in the sense of something completing itself according to a particular
technique of representation such as the parliament, the executive, the law.
While some might reach this point, they are rare compared to the mass of
hybrid forums that, as Sloterdijk puts

*K.K.:* But it is not necessarily their objective to get into parliament.

*B.L.:* No the Parliament is a place where very little happens. We could
argue that it has become largely irrelevant. Not because the Great Politics
has been sidestepped by economic forces, but because the techniques of
representation of the official political arena have not evolved in the same
speed as the multiplication of hybrid forums around "matters of concern".
This is what we tried to stage with the exhibition "Making Things
The Parliament was there as a particular technique among the multitude of
other hybrid, non-official, not necessarily legitimate forums which are very
effective involving a variety of things: from the supermarket, and finance
to law, technology, debates over nature, etc. Therefore there is a
proliferation of "micropolitics", to use Urlich Beck's
In my opinion the dream of macropolitics, the sphere that could cover all
these forums, has disappeared.

*K.K.:* In this new configuration, how can we re-imagine a democracy capable
of accommodating the co-existence of different temporalities or of different
"matters of concern"?

*B.L.:* Intellectuals cannot answer this question. Anthropologists,
sociologists, philosophers can follow what is already going on. In practice
politics was always about "matters of concern". It was always
"issue-oriented". The village mayor has always been aggressed or alerted by
his co-citizens on problems of garbage, roads, schools, factories, etc. It
is primarily a question of representation of what always happened in
politics, a problem that we could not see clearly as long as politics was
thought of either as covering the totality of activities (the "everything is
politics" of the 1960s) or, in the opposite, as being uniquely oriented
towards the official, parliamentary version of representative government.
Therefore in these two positions, which broadly cover the ideals of the
previous century, it is difficult to discern how to nourish the requirements
of democracy by new means. This is because either we were within the
"everything is political", a perspective that was revolutionary without
taking into account the institutions of democracy ??? as we know,
revolutionaries are never good democrats ??? or we were under the impression
that democracy in its official representative form could absorb all
questions that passed through its procedure and became politics when they
arrived at the desks of ministers or deputies. Suddenly, we pause and raise
the issue of democracy whereas, in effect, people always posed the question
of democracy in different ways. That is, through organizing simultaneously
hybrid forums around subjects which do not constitute objects of politics as
classic notions would have it.

We can take the contemporary situation regarding patient associations, no
one imagined that politics of health would be organized on a one-to-one
basis. No one imagined that food, as it has become in Italy with "slow
food", would become an object of politics. No one imagined that something
like the climate would become an object of politics. It is a kind of
pixelisation of politics. The form of politics has changed to such an extent
that each pixel has its proper autonomy. And the question of democracy is
posed within all these spots. Therefore we could either say that this is no
longer democracy and rather "??cume", as Sloterdijk
or alternatively we could argue that in the essence of politics, democracy
carries our passions, our beliefs, our attachments, our engagements, issue
by issue. Therefore we are not in a pure situation. It is a different
situation. There are those intellectuals that work empirically who try to
capture again these new enclosures, the new forms of democracy. There are
those who do it on the web, which permits a cartography of many states of
democracy in the making. In our exposition we mobilized a lot of those
sites. Some of them were really interesting, containing issues that resemble
a kind of prefiguration of this very practical democracy. They were all
issue-oriented. Many people work on these issues: this is the web. But in
associative life there is a multitude of other elements. The great obstacle
is that we cannot do the same with the economy. It remains, in the beliefs
of the old left and the old right, a system obeying laws in a way that
nature no longer is. The contemporary paradox is that nature is clearly
politicized whereas the economy remains rigid to the extent where laws are
put into effect without anyone being able to express his opinion. It is rare
to find the idea that the same pixelisation can take place in the economy
whether within the Marxist left or the Marxist right. Whereas in practice,
of course, the economy is pixels. It consists of small aggregates,
collections, new hybrid forms, etc. It is an amusing paradox of the era that
the economic nature resists more than nature itself.

*K.K.:* Why then do you remain sceptic as to what the internet can do?

*B.L.:* Because we are not completely "uploaded" on the web. Despite all,
life on the web is still a very small segment of our common existence. We
continue to live in relatively traditional atmospheres: the walls, the air,
heating, people who meet, who talk etc. Therefore, if democracy should also
be the power to co-exist, to use Sloterdijk's expression "while waiting
one's turn", without reaching a situation of extreme violence we cannot
imagine transposing all our democratic habits on the web. In addition, the
web is not a subject of passion. It is a very small passion.

*K.K.:* But it is a tool of expression?

B.L.: An answer would be that it is more than what you are saying: it is a
real space, because it is hierarchical and mimes very well a decentralized
character without utopias, without relations of zoom between places, because
we can intervene in a blog at the other end of the planet. Its form is
interesting from the point of view of contemporary issues. Nonetheless, it
is only a first prefiguration of future spaces in which it would be possible
for democracy to be exercised. It is a good model. But there is a bit of an
exaggeration when we hear about the web as offering the universal forums
that we have lost. The notion of a universal forum is probably a notion that
we should lose. We should not wish to go back to the "global."

*K.K.:* For example, have you heard about this site which is called Second
Life <http://secondlife.com/>?

*B.L: *Yes. S??gol??ne Royal has set up an electoral desk there.

*K.K.:* Does it represent something new or is it only a logical

*B.L.:* All those things that materialize the symbolic spaces, in which we
live, all those things that make them intelligible and shareable, and
countable, are interesting for the understanding of society. I suppose that
today there are probably as many sociologists who study Second Life as there
are users. Certainly, there are many economists and they find economic
models remaining practically unchanged. Second Life is indeed not very
original from the point of view of economic relationships. It is, however,
interesting because we can see the rematerialisation, layer by layer of what
existence in a virtual world means. The term "virtual" is, in fact, not
appropriate because it is the normal state of affairs. "First Life" is
virtual whereas Second Life is material since one is obliged to pay the
price. Not very much, but a cost nonetheless. All those things that
facilitate the replacement of virtual relations between symbolic and
material are of interest because they preclude a lot of the nonsense that
suggests that we are moving from a real world into an imaginary world.

The Greeks taught us that we were in an imaginary world many years ago.
Today we pay for a connection and so we can see more clearly what it is all
about. Also I think there is now a small police in Second Life. Not yet real
politics but there is a set of rules, of exclusions. One can be excluded as
bad alias, bad avatars. There were acts of violence, strikes, sit-ins.
Therefore we find certain elements of "First Life". But it is not
particularly original, in a strange way it is hardly utopian. The study of
second life will not be easier than that of first life. From that
perspective, Second Life resembles a lot "Biosphere
which was an attempt to reconstitute an artificial biosphere, not virtually
(not on the web) but in a situation of controlled urbanism which would play
an important role in the ecologists' imagination. All these difficulties in
order to construct a second biosphere, all these efforts to constitute
artificial islands are interesting.

*The politics of things*

*K.K.:* You talk about the demon of the political and how the phantom of the
public could loosen it. Through a passage from *Realpolitik* to *
Dingpolitik,* you explain how we could realistically "make things public".
What is exactly the notion of *Dingpolitik *and can the political be tamed?

*B.L.:* The etymology of the word demon carries two meanings: to cut and to
share. Though we understand why, it is interesting to note that this term is
equally articulated in two opposing meanings. We see that the demon of the
political cannot be simple. It is necessarily a monster. Political
philosophy is a teratology, the apprenticeship of monstrosity. Those who are
dangerous in political philosophy are those exactly those who think that it
is not about monstrosity. Historically, in the political realm, monsters
have emerged from reason, rather than through monstrosity itself. Therefore
the question which was raised by the *Dingpolitik*, by the "politics of
things" is the one that we just posed.

The political was always about "things". However, when we read political
philosophy, we do not hear about "things". There are innumerable treatises
addressing how we will create the procedure which is going to absorb
different affairs as if the procedure itself was set. As if whichever matter
entering the parliamentary, executive machine would come out in the form of
laws and solutions. This is what we now call governance. It is a managerial
version of politics. Underlying this understanding of politics are a number
of presuppositions: the existence of institutions, instruments and
techniques of representation, which are "across the board", which would
equally absorb questions of ecology, economy, everyday life etc. The word *
Dingpolitik* signals the implausibility of this theory of the political. It
is not a new politics but what I call object-oriented politics. Since the
very nature of the political always was to be concerned with objects, can we
imagine techniques of representation ??? including artistic and scientific
representation ??? that appropriately render this new pixelisation of the
political? The politics of things is not a novelty. It was always there: the
*ding*, and exists in all European languages. In Greek, *??????????*. Does it
also mean an assembly? It is a juridical term.

*K.K.: *Today it means the "cause".

*B.L: *It is the cause that we bring to the tribunal. We find ourselves
somewhere between sharing and being opposed to.

*K.K.:* It is the cause but it can also mean the reason.

*B.L.:* It is a beautiful etymology that we should not lose from our sight
and that was always, in essence, active in politics. However, there was a
time when we wished to separate the two arenas: on the one hand, that of the
narrowly conceived political and, on the other, that of things and causes in
their modernist version, which also corresponds to a division of tasks of
the political to laws and conflicts while guarding the cause outside, in the
scientific domain. Whereas it was not clearly visible at the time it is now
clear that all "things" have become causes. All "matters of fact" have
become "matters of concern". The enormous problem that our generation faces
is to find the conceptual and physical architectures that absorb this

It is not an easy task because people continue to over-invest in traditional
politics, which is a very local technique, as we can see with the ongoing
French presidential campaign. It shows how complicated it is to give
relevance to "matters of concern" with a very archaic technique and
localized style. At the same time, however, we have also lost the great
techniques that ought to still be used today, that of eloquence, of
rhetoric. Instead, we have reached a slightly discouraging amalgam of
governances. This is all the more obvious in the programs presented to us.
We are being asked to imagine that politics is set of programs that we must
apply in a problem-solving fashion. Therefore there is no longer the
technique of eloquence or spin that gives the quality of everyday life to
the political. At the same time we have a technique that remains very
archaic. One could say that we are in the worse situation imaginable. We
have lost the passion of the political ??? something which is not necessarily
bad because political passions can also bring about disaster ??? and have not
found the institutions and the technical forms that will allow us to make
the system representative of all those other objects of disagreement in
which we are already involved. This is the operation that the exhibition
"Making things public" tried to put in place and, at least at a conceptual
and visual, level was successful in doing. Parliaments are only one
technique amongst others but I can hardly see anyone trying to make these
techniques pertinent for all other assemblies. The definition of the
political is reduced and consequently people complain that they are not
sufficiently represented. The crisis of representation is increasingly
eminent because of this kind of reduction of politics to techniques of
representation that no longer seem legitimate.

*K.K.:* But is it also because we expected too much from representation

*B.L.:* We expected too much and too little. On the one hand, we expected a
lot in terms of covering the totality of human life. This is
Sloterdijk's inflatable
parliament <http://g-i-o.com/pp1.htm>, an enormous parliament, where
everyone would debate about everything, of contracts between all, of
respecting each other while sitting around a gigantic table at the scale of
the globe. This is too much. On the other hand, not enough because the
innumerable assemblies formed around all these sets of disputes are
considered as being an inferior form of politics. This is where Beck's
interesting argument on micropolitics lies. Whether it is feminism or
something else, it is never considered sufficiently political because it is
too local. Thus we accuse them of having particularistic interests, as if in
the big sphere we had only general interests. For this reason, the phantom I
staged in this exhibition, which is drawn from a book by Walter
is a reminder of the fact that politics should not be seen as an immense
body covering the totality of public life, but as a passage, as a movement.
A movement, which Lippmann tried to describe in his book The Phantom
The public is necessarily a phantom, it cannot be a body. It is constantly
at the stage of being restarted, of being a passage, of being an assembly of
all the other assemblies that are in the process of revealing new issues.

*Architecture and coexistence*

*K.K.:* Do you see any leads for a conceptual or physical architecture to
"make things public"?

*B.L.: *Architects have an important role to play because the notion of
architecture, which was always important as a metaphor for public or private
space, or for the repartition between public and private space, becomes
today something more than a metaphor ??? whether we are talking about virtual
architecture or the architecture of cities and parks. A few days ago, I met
a student in Houston who studied people doing space architecture at NASA.
This means architecture of the space around the earth. They work at the
scale of the solar system. There are architects paid by NASA to imagine the
repartition of beings, objects, stations in the solar system. This means
that the notion of architecture, the work of architecture realizes the
metaphor as defined by Sloterdijk. One where we are always looking for
spaces of coexistence. Therefore, architecture must play a role, but I am
not adequately informed to know which architects we must follow. There is an
immense distance between the problems that we are discussing here and the
building of a construction site. In addition, architects have a peculiar
relation to theoretical work. A casual one.

*K.K.:* Sometimes also with the public.

*B.L.:* I collaborated with
two years and thus I have read a bit of architecture, and strangely
enough I know quite a lot of architects, but still not enough about
architecture. Design, as a kind of architecture, is very important. When it
comes to natural parks, nowadays it is a question of design. Whether it is
collective design or collaborative design, there are so many schools to be
found almost everywhere: landscaping, management of natural spaces,
urbanism, they are in a process of being mixed because it is a question of
constructing artificial surroundings to life. "Life support" that captures
the space of politics. What would be interesting for architects is to reach
a point where they would be interested in "matters of concern". Meanwhile
the aesthetics of architecture remain the aesthetics of objects. In design
magazines we always see objects. We do not yet see many "matters of
concern". However, when we talk with architects, we realize that this is
what it is about.

*K.K.:* But do you think that they can create these spaces, these

*B.L.: *Not alone, but they are already part of the "atmospheres of
democracy", of this collective space. It was always their job after all to
constitute spaces. They take seriously the notions of space and life: they
are almost defined by coexistence.

*K.K.:* Yes, but not necessarily. There are those who consider that if they
were to take all these things into account, they would end up never

*B.L.: *Yes, but if you are able to build a single house it is because you
take seriously the question of coexistence. There are always walls,
interfaces, neighbours. Architecture takes seriously the word coexistence
even if it involves simply building a house. It is not only the case when
they build parliaments. In fact, most parliaments are constructed in a very
archaic manner. The one by Norman Foster, in the
clearly a caricature. Using glass to say it is transparent is a silly
metaphor. There are one or two other parliaments constructed recently which
are interesting, though they are rare. I don't know how a "parliament of
things" should look like. We had a bit of this in our exhibition, but it was
a simulation for a few months in the exhibition space. It was done with the
help of architects who gave the exhibition its shape and created
semi-transparent panels in a very interesting manner. Are you at the A.A.
(Architectural Association)? <http://www.aaschool.ac.uk/>

*K.K.: *Yes. In fact, we are trying to re-think the habitat, the house in
its relation to the community. The link between domestic life and public
life. The technique proposed by our professor is to explore the different
typologies, how different offices, hotels, hospitals, monasteries, squats
work, map them, and see how individual spaces are organized in relation to
communal and public spaces in order to propose new typologies through which
to speculate on relationships between domestic and public. We want to see if
we can re-think these spaces.

*B.L: *For me it was always a pleasure to go to Schools of architecture and
I have been in many such schools. I gave a conference entitled "Paris:
Invisible City <http://www.bruno-latour.fr/virtual/index.html>", it is a
book now. Whenever I can, I try to visit architectural studios to see the
projects students are undertaking. What is interesting now is the politics
of co-existence, cohabitation being a key word. I have one or two students
who are working in architecture. But I am already out of fashion, because
architects consume very quickly. It was for two years that I was really in
fashion but now they do not speak of me very much. Practically, what I do
now is not architecture, but websites of controversies. My aim is to build
websites by schematizing spaces of co-habitation of the range of
uncertainties pending on technical controversies. I am therefore using
sociology of sciences. This object can also become a debate in architecture.
When I was in Houston, I saw that architects have access to visualization
programs which would be instrumental for the social sciences but we are
still lagging behind. We are still doing simplistic statistics, while we can
create databases, we can create virtual spaces, future spaces, where we can
explore hierarchies and the ad hoc character of matters of concern.
Therefore my contribution to architecture lies in a metaphorical sense of
democracy; to somehow create a "??cume', specific for each subject.

*The interview was published as part of the special issue "Time and
politics" of Re-public journal

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net