Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bruno Latour, from We Have Never Been Modern

To notice that we have never been modern and that only minor divisions separate us from other collectives does not mean that I am a reactionary. The antimodern reaction struggles fiercely against the effects of the Constitution, but accepts it fully. Antimoderns want to defend localities, or spirit, or rationality, or the past, or universality, or liberty, or society, or God, as if these entities really existed and actually had the form that the official part of the modern Constitution granted them. Only the sign and the direction of their indignation vary. The antimoderns even accept the chief oddity of the moderns, the idea of a time that passes irreversibly and annuls the entire past in its wake. Whether one wishes to conserve such a past or abolish it, in either case the revolutionary idea par excellence, the idea that revolution is possible, is maintained. Today, that very idea strikes us as exaggerated, since revolution is only one resource among many others in histories that have nothing revolutionary, nothing irreversible, about them. ‘In potentia’ the modern world is a total and irreversible invention that breaks with the past, just as ‘in potentia’ the French and Bolshevik Revolutions were midwives at the birth of a new world. Seen as networks, however, the modern world, like revolutions, permits scarcely anything more than small extensions of practices, slight accelerations in the circulation of knowledge, a tiny extension of societies, miniscule increases in the number of actors, small modifications of old beliefs. When we see them as networks, Western innovations remain recognizable and important, but they no longer suffice as the stuff of saga, a vast saga of radical rupture, fatal destiny, irreversible good or bad fortune.

The antimoderns, like the postmoderns, have accepted their adversaries’ playing field. Another field—much broader, much less polemical—has opened up before us: the field of nonmodern worlds. It is the Middle Kingdom, as vast as China and as little known.

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