Historical Rhetorics/Contemporary Sophistic Scholarship

I find myself short on time this week, so I will point you towards my reading notes posted on my personal web page.

Below is a collection of reading notes on Bruce McComiskey's Gorgias and various works of Bruno Latour. In short, I believe we can frame Latour's investments in politics, construction, networks, etc. in terms of the Gorgias that McComiskey offers (or invents depending upon your outlook).

Reading Notes on McComiskeyEdit

McComiskey, Bruce. Gorgias and the New Sophistic Rhetoric. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2002.

McComiskey's HistoriographyEdit

In terms of his historiographic methodology, McComiskey pledges allegence to de Certeau, while also holding onto Schiappa's notion of historical reconstruction: For de Certeau, the very act of writing (anything) is itself an interpretation, a construction, and when we write histories, we perform this social act through disciplinary, institutional lenses. [...] But this does not mean that what Schiappa and Rorty call historical reconstruction is impossible. Historical reconstructions consciously attempt to put aside those modern frameworks that they know were not available in the past. [...] The important thing to remember, however, is that no historians are ever able to take full inventory (that is, to analyze and bring completely to consciousness) all the modern frameworks that condition their interpretive process. (8-9)

Here, as with Jarratt, I think we see McComiskey struggling with what I call Vitanza's "plague of hysteries." It demonstrates the extent to which the disciplinary and institutional expectations for history (objective knowledge), along with the desire of the historian/theorist to exert influence on the present (to instill a way of seeing and being-with-one-another-in-world-now on the predicate of how-we-might-have-been-in-the-world-before in light of how-we-will-be-judged-in-the-will-have-been) still exert influence. If we read Vitanza in contact with Muckelbauer, then we see an approach to history that forgoes the question of accuracythrough the foregrounding of purpose: that is, the question (according to Muckelbauer) isn't who gets the sophists "right," but rather who approaches the sophists in an inventive way that opens new paths, generates responses, and inspires action (and isn't inspiring action key to several of our readings of the sophists?).

McComiskey's Scope of SophistryEdit

McComiskey follows Schiappa's lead in expressing doubt as to whether the sophists shared an intellectual project; he chooses instead to approach Gorgias as an individual (although much of his analysis maps Gorgias against Plato's transcendental-rationalist-Idealist agenda). (see 11).

The opening section of McComiskey's book has two intertwined goals: first, it wants to expose Plato's misrepresentation of Gorgias in the famous dialogue, and, second, it wants to argue that the three extant Gorgian texts reveal that Gorgias's epistemology is relativistic, and his corresponding rhetorical methodology works to sieze the opportune moment (kairos) in which certain kinds of language can be used to unite subjective consciousnesses into a communal desire for action" (18). In the second section, McComiskey interprets each of the fragments in order to produce an integrated, coherent interpretation of Gorgias's extant texts. In brief:

  • [Gorgias's] rhetorical task in On Non-Existence [is] to articulate this [non-essentialist] ontology in opposition to the essentialist ontologies theorized by prior pre-Socratic philosophers" (35)
  • "Helen [serves] as a treatise on the negative uses of rhetoric as peitho [...], for when language has no basis in communal truth, then its use may be devoid of ethics" (39)
  • "When confronted with unsupported allegations, according to Gorgias, the orator must invent a defense from the intersection of relatively consistent truths and the ever changing variable of each unique rhetorical situation; and in the Palamedes, Gorgias suggests that arguments regarding honor and dishonor must not partake of doxa but instead should partake of aletheia in conjunction with a present necessity (anagke)" (47)

As to the first goal, much of McComiskey's argument rests on contextualizing Plato's politics in the complex flow of Athenian history. Practicing what hepreaches explicates (or is probability more germane to Consigny's explication?), McComiskey would have us ponder the probabilities. It is likely, he argues, that Plato's elitist, oligarchian tendencies would have appeared vile to many democratic Athenians, especially in light of the two oligarchic tyrannies of the 400 and the 30. Though McComiskey avoids the anachronistic terminology, his Gorgias is a proto-phenomenologist and a cultural relativist:

Gorgias's view that the act of human perception distorts reality allows him to deny the possibility of pure knowledge and atemporal rational thought. Platonic rational thought relies on the ability to refer to some external reality or immutable truth in order for it to progress rationally. However, since, for Gorgias, external perceptibles are constantly susceptible to distortion in the human sensory-perception process, no human thought can ever be considered "rational." (24)

For the connections between Gorgias, phenomenology, materialism, and Bruno Latour, see 36-37. McComiskey frames Gorgias as a "nascent social constructionalist," I think the resonances to Burke's symbolic action and Latour's ANT are strong.

As shown above, McComiskey acknowledges that Gorgias does believe in both an external world and in a conception of knowledge/truth. But his terms for truth, aletheia and eido, differ from both doxa (opinion, what Plato consigns rhetoric in the Gorgias dialogue) or episteme (Platonic-transcendental knowledge). Regarding eido, the important distinction drawn by McComiskey concerns empiricism; knowledge is provisional and gained/maintained through concrete lived experience, hence, it is superior to mere subjective opinion (25). For more on aletheia, see 38-39.

What Consigny (below) will question, is McComiskey's assumption that this empirical, relativistic epistemology is necessarily supportive of democracy. McComiskey: "For Gorgias, knowledge is gained empirically through communal discourse in public rhetorical situations is more reliable than purely subjective opinions" (25).


Gorgias was aware, as were most fifth-century BCE Greek sophists (particularly Protagoras and the anonymous author of the Dialexeis), thatlogoi have a communal basis and that communal realities (ta pragmata, not ta onto) generate socially relevant discourse.

To raise a question: where does the terms "communal" and "public" come from? Of course, we might find these terms central to Gorgias's supposed student Isocrates, but are we sure we can locate justifications for them within Gorgias's extant texts? Put another (leading) way, doesn't McComiskey risk conflating "local audience" with "general populus"? Is he running away from the specter of Callicles, who declares that power, not consensus, establishes the game? In other words, in the shadow of Vitanza's hysteries, I am suggesting that McComiskey's desire (for a future) impacts his presenting of the past. Rather than contradiction, let's say I would like McComiskey to provide some empirical evidence for his characterization (see also 27, McComiskey borrows from White in a way that calls his own characterization into question). Putting aside this hystery, I would point out how McComiskey is close to echoing an underwhelming attack on postmodern/poststructuralist theories: "well, if there's no truth, then that means that everything is equally true!" Rather, it means that truth is something measured across a scale rather than on an axis (see his discussion of the Palamedes, 24).

McComiskey largely sidesteps, I believe, the questions surrounding Gorgias's extreme poetic style, though he does briefly address the issue (via Charles P. Segal): According to Charles P. Segal, Gorgianic rhetoric is a two-step process in which terpsis, a passive aesthetic, sensory response to a stimulus, leads to and must precede anake, the active, psyche-based force that motivates the desired physical action in the audience (106-17). (28)

In contemporary terms, McComiskey is recongizing the role affect plays in moving someone from an idea to action. Further, a phenomenological theory of human perception suggests the necessity for an aesthetic techne rather than the "clear" knowledge-based techne of Plato (and Aristotle? from 47-52, McComiskey suggests that portions of Aristotle's rhetoric likely borrow from Gorgian tenets; overall, McComiskey supports a reading of Aristotle as a text "against itself"--Platonic in theoretical introductions and generalizations, sophistic in articulations of practice).

Odds and Ends from McComiskey He points out one of the absurd assumptions to many rationalist projects: the idea that evil is simply a matter of false-knowledge: "Socrates believes that knowledge of immutable truth (the greatest good) is the goal of negative-dialectical instruction, since one who knows the truth about justice will never act unjustly" (26). We might wish this were so, we might wish evil where simply an epistemic problem. Histories suggest otherwise. What is happening in McComiskey's explication of Helen is an anticipation of/reflection upon what Lanham will call the "Q" Question (see 34). One other thing I would like to highlight: McComiskey's discussion of Consigny and kairos (page 93): Prior to Gorgias, the term kairos was applied to the weaver's ability to thrust a thread through a momentary opening in the loom and the archer's ability to exploit the minuscule opening in space that would guide an arrow to its target. However, Gorgias, departing from his predecessors, applied this useful concept to logos, constructing in the process a doctrine of rhetorical context (Consigny, "Gorgias's Use" 284-85).

Reading Notes on Latour's Pandora's HopeEdit

Against Critique / Latour's Relation to Science

"That we are studying a subject matter does not mean that we are attacking it" (2).

"Then I realized I was wrong. What I would call 'adding realism to science' was actually seen, by the scientists at this gathering, as a threat to the calling of science, as a way of decreasing its stake in truth and their claims to certainty" (3). Put otherwise, Latour's study of the sciences threatened Modern Science.

Latour and Isocrates / Gorgias / Sophistry

We can be "relatively sure of many things [...] absolute certainty is the sort of neurotic fantasy that only a surgically removed mind would look for after it had lost everything else" (4).

Callicles and the Perceived Dangers of Relativism

"It is the resonance of these two fears, the loss of any certain access to reality and the invasion by the mob, that makes his question at once so unfair and so serious" (7). [Reflecting on the question "do you believe in reality?" - the extent to which the Nature / Culture divide explored in WHNBM has impacted the academy. Of course reality is real if you ground yourself in observing reality. Contemplating the possibility of certainty and purity from the "mob" are both Idealistic enterprises, central to the Modern Constitution, and no longer worth our time.

The fear: "if reason does not rule, then mere force will take over" (10).

The center of Socrates's Right: geometry (11). Latour notes that Socrates's Reason is every bit as much a movement of Right as that of which he accuses Callicles. Plato attempted to silence the people (14).

"So the question is not simply the opposition of force and reason, Might and Right, but the Might of the solitary patrician against the superior force of the crowd" How can the combined forces of the people of Athens be nullified? (11). Carter, stasis theory/ Lanham and drama. Latour is against this Platonic insistence upon nullification. The crowd does not become something we work against (critique, as a display of power), but with (construction, as an offering of cooperation). Really echoes here with Lanham's strong defense of rhetoric.

In Pandora's Hope, Latour traces the roots of Boyle and Hobbes' Modern war back to Plato's Gorgias dialogue, focusing particular attention on the conflict between Socrates and Callicles. One the one side, the gadfly represents disinterested Right dedicated to protecting us from the evil on the other side; the callous Callicles stands as a proto-Nietzschean/Machiavellian master of Might.

Perhaps unexpected is Latour's framing of Plato as one who longs for the "inhuman"; Plato searches for a transcendental foundation beyond humanity from which he can save humanity from its own dark impulses, its hunger for power. Latour notes that postmodernity seeks to interrupt this search for a transcendental foundation; although it does so without calling into question either the definition of Science (as the quest for the transcendental) or the definition of politics (as a purely human power struggle) (217-218).

Latour notes Socrates's reliance on a transcendental realm, one beyond the capacities of the agora (219).

Latour highlights the extent to which Plato positions Socrates and Callicles across from a common enemy: the people of Athens. Of course, Plato's demotic hatred is nothing new to those of us in Rhetoric and Composition.

Designates two Callicles: the straw and the real: "While the straw Callicles is a strong enemy of the demos and the perfect counterpart for Socrates, the anthropological Callicles will allow us to retrieve some of the specificities of political truth-saying. (221). This anthropological "Callicles is not for Might understood as "mere force" but for something, on the contrary, that will make might weak. He is looking for a might mightier than might" (221).

Latour stresses that Socrates' argument is the same as Callicles: "We are so used to laughing when Callicles falls into all the traps set by Socrates that we fail to see how similar are the roles both offer to an irrepressible natural law that is not manmade" (223) and "both say that deformation by the "social construction" cannot stop the natural law from 'blazing forth' in the hearts of naturally good people" (224) and "the[ir] goal is the same, and even Callicles, in his wildest definition of forceful domination, never dreams of a position of power as dominant, as exclusive, as undisputed as teh one Socrates requests for his knowledge" (225). Although Latour does not cite it, we are all familiar enough with the parable of the cave.

What is this power that Socrates claims? "When Truth enters the scene, it is not as one man against everyone else, it is as an impersonal, transcendent natural law, a Might mightier than Might" (225).

Why doesn't Callicles dare to dream of this power? "There is, to be sure, a big difference between the two anchors, but this should count in favor of the real anthropological Callicles, not Socrates: the good guy's anchor is fastened in the ethereal afterworld of shadows and phantoms, whereas Callicles' anchor is at least gripping the solid and resisting matter of the Body Politic" (226).

And: "So much for the dialectical method and the appeal to 'the community of free speech.' When the time of retribution has come, Socrates speaks alone in the much despised epideictic way" (465e).

Why does Socrates turn to the afterworld? For Latour: "One is epideictic, the other apodeictic. One is employed in the dangerous conditions of the agora, the other in the quiet and remote one-to-one conversations Socrates pursues with his disciplines" (229). Linking to Why Has Critique: the one-on-one allows for the joiussance of the critique, the unassaible certainty that s/he knows the other.

Makes me want to riff off of Gorgias: "there are some answers..."

Socrates prides himself in episteme (230); "if anything, it is the apodeictic reasoning of causes and consequences, the episteme, that is 'without understanding,' meaning that it fails to take into account the pragmatic conditions of deciding what to do next in the thick of the agora with ten thousand people talking all at once" (230-231).

Contrary to Harman's reading, Latour's primary purpose isn't to reinvigorate philosophy. Rather, it is to combat ecocide. How? By attending to the multitude. To do that, academics, both scientists and humanists have to leave their caves, the Idealist, disciplinary parlors instantiated and maintained by (post)modernity. A core element of Latour's non-modern orientation is to embrace the trials of the agora.

Davis and noise; Latour's third estate and Vitanza's third sophistic--learning to count otherwise than 1 and 2 (than the poles of Culture and History, than the process of synthesis and abstraction). To add Vitanza's multitude is to add reality.

Three forces, Socrates (logos), Callicles (ethos), and the force of the people (pathos)--which, for simplicity, I hear refer to pathos. Affective engagement in others. Page 235 Pathos becomes responsibly and hospitably attending to the other person (out of a re-cognition of the possibility of a/an/many transcendental Other(s)).

We are dealing with the old Aristotelian triad--logos, ethos, and pathos all permeated by a determining kairos.

Note see 122 and trials

Between Callicles and Socrates--two side of the same coin--is the third estate. Resonance! Vitanza! Third Sophistic! Mess and noise, inviting in the noise (Davis quotes).

This, for Latour, signals Stengers' "cosmopolitic." (236)

Jarratt's description of nomos: neither opposed to both monarchical tradition and non-human natural laws

Postmodernism is Yucky

"One solution, or more exactly another clever slight of hand [...] The prisoners are now gaggling those who ask them to look out their cell windows; they will 'deconstruct,' as they say--which means destroy in slow motion--anyone who reminds them that there was a time when they were free and when their language bore a connection to the world" (8). Latour refers to the postmoderns as "gloating prisoners," something of a stockholm syndrome.

From Why Critique, 239: "The Zeus of Critique rules absolutely, to be sure, but over a desert" (239). Here we can imagine that the resonances to Baudrillard's opening to Simulation and Simulacra are intentional.

Latour's Use of Postmodern

One reason you can forgive Latour his occasional diatribes against postmodern excess--in practice he accepts some of its premises. Take language--obviously not a one for one. Latour: "speech implies by definition the risk of misunderstanding across the huge gaps between different species. If scientists want to bridge the two-culture gap for good, they will have to get used to a lost more noise, and, yes, more than a little bit of nonsense" (17).

See page 67 for an interesting discussion of how language isn't "resemblance."

Phenomenology is Yucky

Hidden in the section on phenomenology--Latour's insistence that one cannot overcome the distance between subject and object. Understanding this limitation is the first step to moving toward relative assurance--or as McComiskey would characterize Gorgias, a relative epistemology.

Latour's slight mistake with phenomenology, at least from Levinas's perspective. Phenomenology need not be primarily an epistemological or ontological operation. Levinas's first interest is in ethics, an attention on the relation to the other (person) and the Other (a divine/infinite ambiguity, a beyond, toward which we can speculate but never kNOw).

For more on Latour and phenomenology--the machinary works well (Critique Has Run Out of Steam, his appreciation for Heidegger's analytical vocabulary, specifically the fourfold (WHCROoS 234). Phenomenology's commitment to rich description of the everyday world. What Latour rejects is its consideration of a mind-in-a-vat, its exclusive focus on human consciousness. There is a real, unfolding, world outside of human consciousness. Whether or not a human hears it is not as interesting to Latour as recording how the tree has fallen. Put otherwise, Latour isn't interested in an abstract conceptualization of what the tree, or the noise the tree makes, is; rather, his attention is focused on what the tree does--what other actants it realizes or allies it mobilizes through its fall. Heidegger's method "offer[s] a unique window into the number of things that have to participate in the gathering of an object" (235).

Latour on Whitehead: "What set Whitehead completely apart and straight on our path is that he considered matters of fact to be a very poor rendering of what is given in experience and something that muddles entirely the question, What is there? with the question, How do we know it?" (244)

"Matters of fact are totally implausible, unrealistic, unjustified definitions of what it is to deal with things" (244).

More: "Whatever the words, what is presented here is an entirely different attitude than the critical one, not a flight into the conditions of possibility of a given matter of fact, not the addition of something more human that the inhumane matters of fact would have missed, but, rather, a multifarious inquiry launched with the tools of anthropology, philosophy, metaphysics, history, sociology to detect how many participants are gathered into a thing to make it exist and to maintain its existence" (245-246).

Latour's breakdown of the fourfold chose, causa, res, aitia

There is overlap between Latour's explication of the Heideggerian thing and Jarratt's discussion of sophistic nomoi, or McComiskey's explication of Gorgian logos.

Latour: "A thing is, in one sense, an object out there and, in another sense, an issue very much in there, at any rate, a gathering" (how critique 233).

Problem: every object has a real history. "objects are never complicated enough; more precisely, they are never simultaneously made through a complex history and new, real, and interesting participants in the universe" (how critique 234).

Every "object" is composed of millions of folds, millions of things. Infinite? perhaps not. But once one realizes that every object is in fact a mysterious thing composed of millions of other objects-waiting-to-be-things, what Latour refers to as black (Pandora's) boxes waiting to be opened, then we have a flattened compositional metaphysics that stretches towards the infinite. A compositional, good-enough epistemology is an attempt to trace as many of these alliances as possible. It is upon this movement toward the infinite that I find a possible connection between Latour and Levinas.

Levinas helps (does not solve, once and for all) the pivotal sway from critique to construction. He also helps (does not solve) the other problem--how do you make someone whose sense of the universe is grounded in transcendentalism to agree to open boxes that a Divine Authority (be it science or God) has closed. My argument, on both points, will be grounded in explicating a pathetic resonance to Levinas's concepts of the self, the face, and the neighbor.

Critique has run out os steam 238-240; the euphoria of critique (as a "potent euphoric drug").

Humanism is Yucky

Attempts to view all non-humans as enemies. Levinas isn't a humanist in this sense. (19) Note: humanists invest themselves in the "war" far more than scientists.

Latour's Goals

What we need is "to retrace our steps, retaining both the history of humans' involvement in the making of scientific facts and the sciences' involvement in the making of human history" (10)

Link up to relatively certain on page 4 (below): "And why burden this solitary mind with the impossible task of finding absolute certainty instead of plugging it into the connections that would provide it with all the relative certainties needed to know and to act?" (12)

Here is a long one: "We long neither for the absolute certainty of a contact with the world nor for the absolute certainty of a transcendent force against the unruly mob. We do not lack certainty, because we never dreamed of dominating the people" (15).

Stated another way in WHCROoS: "The critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles. The critic is not the one who lifts the rug from under the feet of the naive believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather. The critic is [...] one for whom, if something is constructed, then it means it is fragile and thus in need of care and caution" (246). The need for care, the need to gather, the need for hospitality.

Moving away from a simple, uni-lateral "transference" model of communication. More seriously, bridging the gap cannot mean extending the unquestionable results of science in order to stop the 'human debris' from behaving irrationally" (18).

Moving away from Science to Research (20): "If Science thrived by behaving as if it were totally disconnected from the collective, Research is best seen as a collective experimentation about what humans and nonhumans together are able to swallow or to withstand. (20) Note that "withstand" here conjures an earlier term for Latour--trial, tied to his metaphysics.

Productive and friendly discussions between science and humanities (pg 23).

"The goal of our philosophy, social theory, and morality is to invent political institutions that can absorb this much history, this vast spiraling movement, this labyrinth, this fate" (214).

A Goal: Rethinking Agency

Working toward translation: page 181, "the prime mover of an action becomes a new, distributed, and nested series of practices whose sum may be possible to add up, but only if we respect the mediating role of all the actants mobilized in the series" (181).

And: "the attribution to one actor of the role of prime mover in no way weakens the necessity of a composition of forces to explain the action" (182).

Latour and Isocrates / Gorgias / Sophistry

We can be "relatively sure of many things [...] absolute certainty is the sort of neurotic fantasy that only a surgically removed mind would look for after it had lost everything else" (4).

Latour and Religion

"I am, I have always been, when I know, for instance, that the God to whom I pray, the works of art I cherish, the colon cancer I have been fighting, the piece of law I am studying, the desire I feel, indeed, the very book I am writing could in no way be accounted for by fetish nor by any combination of those two absurd positions" (WHCROoS 243).


On agnosticism: "I define agnosticism, not as the doubting of values, powers, ideas, truths, distinctions, or constructions, but as the doubt exerted against this doubt itself, against the notion that belief could in any way be what holds any of these forms of life together. If we do away with belief (in beliefs) then we can explore other models of action and mastery.

Latour and Technological Determinacy

My television thing (page 192): "There is no sense in which humans may be said to exist as humans without entering into commerce with what authorizes and enables them to exist (that is, to act)" (192). We should not overlook the importance of the parenthetical here--because we are not grounding the existence of a human on her essence (what a human is), but rather in motion, action, interaction, engagement (what a human does). When we think of our institutions, our classes, our students, it might be time to stop assessing and addressing what they think and develop more robust approaches to examining, exploring, and impacting what they do. I must leave this pedagogic exploration for another article.

Odds and Ends

"To know is not simply to explore, but rather is to be able to make your way back over your own footsteps, following the path you have just marked out" (74).

Reading Notes on Latour's Politics of NatureEdit

PoN stresses Latour's desire to bring agonism to the forefront, and bring non-humans into the political/agonistic arena.

"The more we associate materialities, institutions, technologies, skills, procedures, and slowdowns with the word "collective," the better its use will be: the hard labor necessary for the progressive and public composition of the future unity will be all the more visible" (59).

On the topic of the non-human, he goes as far as to say: "Democracy can only be conceived if it can freely traverse the now-dismantled border between science and politics, in order to add a series of new voices to the discussion, voices that have been inaudible up to now, although their clamor pretended to override all debate: the voices of nonhumans. To limit the discussion to humans, their interests, their subjectivities, and their rights, will appear as strange a few years from now as having denied the right to vote of slaves, poor people, or women." (69)

Scientific Authority (Socrates Redux)Edit

Latour makes a distinction between Science and sciences (9-10). Science "as the politicization of the sciences through epistemology in order to render ordinary political life impotent through the threat of an incontestable nature" (10). Thus, it is another Socratic reduction. Science, with a capital S, paralyzes politics by the looming transcendental authority ("incontrovertable certainty" (12) to which it claims access. It is the establishing of an authoritarian ethos (14). "Science no longer kidnaps external reality to transform it into an appellate court of last resort, threatening public life with a promise of salvation worse than the evil against which it offers protection" (40).

To challenge Science is to be labeled a sophist and a terrorist: "you will die of hunger before you have gnawed through the bars of the prison in which you freely locked yourself up" (16).

Latour's new notion of representation: from the old (making appear) to the new (speaking for in the assembly, the agora). Scientists operate as spokeperson's, translators, proposing new connections to the collective (64-65). But this now opens up the question of authority. This is the move from matters of fact to concern, to representation as "seeing/verifying" to "proposing/collecting." Politics, of concern, is "the progressive composition of the common world" (18). Ethics, for Latour, is a dedication to introducing propositional assemblies, representative of both humans and nonhumans, to our assemblies. Thus, the major task of rhetoric in this century will be in creating, promoting, and insisting upon public spaces in which these trials can unfold.

Latour's new politics becomes the Levinasian unsaying of the said: "political ecology proposes to convoke a single collective whose role is precisely to debate this said hierarchy--and to arrive at an acceptable solution" (29). Latour tells us that work is in the future; we could say always, already in the future; propositions never crystalize into statments, concerns never reify into facts. There is performances and re-performances, what Vitanza would call (re)beginnings. Latour: "the work [of the collective] is just beginning. To participate in the development of political institutions adapted to the exploration of the common world and the "same earth," anthropology must become experimental. Everything is a proposition without crystallizing into a fact. Emphasize "the common world we all share" (47).

  * [...] we are left with only the banality of multiple associations of humans and nonhumans waiting for their unity to be provided by work carried out by the collective, which has to be specified through the use of the resources, concepts, and institutions of all peoples who may be called upon to live in common on an earth that might become, through a long work of collection, the same earth for all. (46)

A meta-narrative for Latour! A vision for the future.

Latour on language: "Language is not cut off from the pluriverse; it is one of the material arrangements through which we 'charge' the pluriverse in the collective" (85).

Of interest to my theological/irreductions argument--we are now clearly down to two poles to the Modern Constitution, ("two houses"). pg 13 / "Politics has to get back to work without the transcendence of nature" Or Science, or God. (Science is the third death, after God and man (26)). Insistence upon the fall of all three poles. Again: "Public speech no longer lives under the permanent threat of salvation from on high that would invoke laws not made by human hands to short-circuit the procedures that allow us to define the common world" (52). "Politics has to get back to work without the transcendence of nature" (56).

Science's new responsibility in Latour's new houses: "Let us restore to the sciences the crush of democracy from which they were supposed to have been protected as they grew" (143).

The New PoliticsEdit

The new politics (not a power politics): "the progressive composition of the common world" (18). [see above] "[...] we agree to redefine politics as the entire set of tasks that allow the progresive composition of a common world" (53).

On political ecology: "it has to do with associations of beings that take complicated forms--rules, apparatuses, consumers, institutions, mores, calves, cows, pigs, broods--and that it is completely superfluous to include in an inhuman and ahistorical nature" (21). There are no more "clear boundaries" between an object and its context; they are now "tangled beings, forming rhizomes and networks" (24).

"If modernism claimed to be detached from the constraints of the world, ecology for its part gets attached to everything" (21). No longer interested in purifying the world, Latour's sophistic political practice would create assemblies in which what counts can be assembled. "It suspends our certainties concerning the sovereign good of humans and things, ends and means" (21).

Finally political ecology means: "it shifts from certainty about the production of risk-free objects [...] to uncertainty about the relations whose unintended consequences threaten to disrupt all orderings, all plans, all impacts. What it calls back into question with such remarkable effectiveness is precisely the possibility of collecting the hierarchy of actors and values, according to a fixed once and for all" (25).

Once certainty becomes ruptured, once Science becomes pluralized, "it would be difficult to dictate positive laws by relying on such a multiplicity" (29). The new politics of association: "it is of the pluriverse that they should speak, of the cosmos to be built, not of the shadows projected on the wall of the Cave" (41).

The new politics is grounded in a collected cosmos, a new "learned City whose ecology is almost as complex as that of the world is is coming to know" [...] "Instead of finding ourselves facing a nature without history and a society with a history, we find ourselves thus already facing a joint history of the sciences and nature" (35). This is Irreductions again--there is no external resource, no transcendental appeal, no critical trump card. We move from "the social world as a prison [...] to the world as association" (37).

Latour recognizes how difficult it is to give up the old, Modern Constitution: "The old Constitution claimed to unify the common world once and for all, without discussion and without due process, by a metaphysics of nature that defined the primary qualities, meanwhile abandoning the secondary qualities alone to the plurality of beliefs. It is understandable that people find it hard to give up the conveniences procured by such an arbitrage between the indisputable and the disputable" (93). Without the Modern constitution, everything is potentially called into question. Such a brazen step is necessary if we are to advance a politics that would rebuild a common cosmos (93).

"[...] I claim we can achieve this end [cosmos building] by abstaining from making a distinction between the rational and the irrational, by rejecting the distinction as a drug that paralyzes politics" (94).

The New Politics (the Roman Rhetor)Edit

"But what politicians add of their own is a certain sense of danger stemming from the multitude of excluded entities that can return to haunt the collective and demand to be taken into account this time. Let us recall that the power to take into account is never the absolute beginning of a process, but is always its resumption. Nothing proves that those--humans and nonhumans--whom we have decided to do without are not going to come back and knock at the door, thanks to the imperceptible movements that will have to be detected as quickly as possible. The entire competence of politics consists in living in this permanent state of risk through which, when they attempt to form an "us," they hear responses in the form of more less inarticulate cries: "You, maybe, but not us!" It is precisely in collaborating with scientists and hovering over the same instruments that the detection of dangerous propositions by politicians is going to be able to nourish public life by responding to the requirement of external reality" (144).

Long quote: what I would highlight here is the potential return of the repressed.

A short take on the importance of politics, and political rhetoric: "Without the work of production of voices, there would no longer be voices at all" (145). Critics of politicians "forget that the multiplication of artifices to fabricate agents that can say "yes" or "no" is at least as important a skill as the construction of facts by researchers in laboratories" (144-45).

The role of rhetoric in this project is not only, as I have argued elsewhere, in the realm of the moralist. It is also mobilizing the potentials of new technologies to achieve the production of voices--and, more importantly perhaps--to develop spaces in which rhetorical production and collection can transpire. What we lack, in our contemporary landscape, is a place in which people can be political--sure

The New ConstitutionEdit

4 groups, 2 primary responsibilities/powers: Take into Account and to Put into Order First requirement: "Thou shalt not simplify the number of propositions to be taken into account in the discussion" (104). Second requirement: "Once propositions have been instituted, thou shalt no longer debate their legitimate presence within collective life" (105)- "precisely by preventing people from splitting hairs all the time and plunging the debates back into confusion" (105).

Power to Take into Account: How Many Are We? First Requirement (formerly contained in the notion of fact): You shall not simplify the number of propositions to be taken into account in the discussion. Perplexity.

Second requirement (formerly contained in the notion of value): You shall make sure that the number of voices that participate in the articulation of propositions is not arbitrarily short-circuited. Consultation.

Power to arrange in rank order: Can we live together? Third requirement (formerly contained in the notion of value): You shall discuss the compatibility of new propositions with those which are already instituted, in such a way as to maintain them all in the same common world that will give them their legitimate place. Hierarchization.

Fourth requirement (formerly contained in the notion of fact): Once the propositions have been instituted, you shall no longer question their legitimate presence at the heart of collective life. Institution. (see box 3.1, page 109).

Latour, writing on the value of perplexity, of allowing ourselves to be confused:

"In other words, nothing must stifle too quickly the perplexity into which the agents find themselves plunged, owing to the emergence of new beings. […] Second the number of those which participate in this process of perplexing must not itself be limited too quickly or too arbitrarily. The discussion would of course be accelerated, but its outcome would become too easy. It would lack broader consultation, the only form capable of verifying the importance and the qualification of the new entities. On the contrary, it is necessary to make sure that reliable witnesses, assured opinions, credible spokespersons have been summoned up, thanks to a long effort of investigation and provocation (in the etymological sense of 'production of voices'). (110)

My suspicion here--inherited from Vitanza's suspicions of "home"--any agency responsible for the inclusion of voices cannot help but exclude.

But Latour's fear, and one I think speaks to Vitanza: "Without this requirement of institution, the discussion would never come to an end, and one would never succeed in knowing in what common, self-evident, certain world collective life ought to take place" (111, hence, closure).

A New Sense of NatureEdit

"When one appeals to the notion of nature, the assemblage that it authorizes counts for infinitely more than the ontological quality of "naturalness," whose origin it would guarantee. (29)

"[...] by abandoning the notion of nature, we are leaving intact the two elements that matter the most to us: the multiplicity of nonhumans and the enigma of their association" (41). To be comfortable with the enigma of our existence (to suspend metaphysics in Latour's language); to remember, as Burke tells us, "

Nonhumans become integral to rhetorical agency as soon as we open up the question of authority, since there are a number of language prothesis spokespersons use to collect data. Yes. But also, can we discuss rhetorical agency in the way of opening exigencies--Ulmer.

The New Metaphysics, the Insistence Upon EthicsEdit

Latour dodges the metaphysical blackhole: "Fortunately, I do not need to erect one metaphysics to challenge another and thereby prolong the interminable quarrel over the foundations of the universe!" (61). Unfortunately, I am not so sure. That is to say, I am dubious that human beings can perpetual stall the metaphysical question, nor that they will accept a political-ethical system that does not address metaphysical foundations. While I agree with Latour that chasing the metaphysical rabbit is an impossible gesture, I also assert that it is--fortunately or not--an unavoidable one. In the second half of this essay, I will argue that Levinas's approach to the transcendence of the Other directly address the metaphysical question, albeit via a radical agnosticism, in such a way that contributes to promoting the ethos that cares and thus facilitating Latour's promotion of a more inclusive and effective political ecology.

"In the set of specifications of the concept that will replace value, let us not forget to include the function that will allow moralists to come closer to matters of concern and their controversies in detail, instead of distancing themselves to go in search of foundations" (98).


"When an entity becomes a state of the world, this does not happen in appearance and in spite of the institutions that support it, but "for real" and thanks to the institutions" (118).

Odds and Ends

Terministic Screens: "the reality of what is gradually comes to include everything that one would like to see in existence" (98).

"a thing emerges before anything else as a scandal at the heart of an assembly that carries on a discussion requiring a judgment brought in common" (54).

Rehash of Modern Cult of the Factish Gods (42-43).