Thursday, December 11, 2014

BRUNO LATOUR - The Enlightenment Without the Critique: A Word on Michel Serres' Philosophy

Hiroshima (is) the only date in history that he takes as a real turning-point; the earth has been shaking ever since. His rupture with epistemology... comes from this realization: all these eminent gentlemen are deaf to the noise made by the atomic bomb; they go on as if physics was business as usual; as if the emergence of thanatocrat - his word for the black triad made by scientists politicians and industrialists- had not reshuffled for ever the relations between society and the sciences…

The mob in a state of crisis cannot agree on anything but on a victim, a scapegoat, a sacrifice. Beneath any boundary is buried a sacrificial victim..

The French, it is well known, love revolutions, political, scientific or philosophical. There is nothing they like more than a radical upheaval of the past, an upheaval so complete that a new tabula  rasa is levelled, on which a new history can be built. None of our Prime Ministers starts his mandate without promising to write on a new blank page or to furnish a complete change in values and even, for some, in life. Each researcher would think of him or herself as a failure, if he or she did not make such a complete change in the discipline that nothing will hereafter be the same. As to the philosophers they feed, from Descartes up to Foucault's days, on radical cuts, on 'coupure épistémologique' on complete subversion of everything which has been thought in the past by everybody. No French thinker, indeed no student of philosophy, would seriously contemplate doing anything short of a complete revolution in theories. To hesitate, to respect the past, would be to compromise, to be a funk, or worse, to be eclectic like a vulgar Anglo-Saxon!..

His ignorance introduces us to what I see as one of the first important feat of Michael Serres' philosophy. He is not part of the 'Critique' philosophical movement. He doesn’t see philosophy as the discipline in charge of founding knowledge, debunking beliefs, adjucating territories, ruling opinions. Philosophy is not a crepuscular bird similar to Minerva's owl. If anything it is a light and bright morning bird. Not sad and wise, but naive and brisk...

Serres never overcomes anvthing. Serres' philosophy is free from negation. We all believe that negation and thus dialectics are the great masters of history, the midwives of our societies. Nothing is achieved we all admit too quickly, without struggle, and dispute, and wars and destruction. Serres' philosophy is first of all a reflection on violence, on what violence may or may not achieve, and this he does in all spheres of life, in politics, in economies, in scholarship, in physics. The world is innocent as well as positive and new. There is no divide, no camps, no boundaries that are worth a crime. It is not that, like in Nietzsche, the man of resentment becomes, after endless crisis, the man of affirmation, the later-dav adept of a gaya scienza. No, Serres is born endowed with this gaya scienza. We can say of him what Péguy said of Victor Hugo: he was born into a world as fresh as it was when leaving the Creator's hands..

What has been lost with the Critique parenthesis? A certain belief in the sciences, a certain confidence in their abilities to reconcile humans together. Serres did his thesis on Leibniz, the reconciliator par excellence. But then he slowly realtzed that the sciences were not a way to limit violence but to fuel it. He decided to hear and to feel this terrible earth shaking tremor travelling from Hiroshima, the only date in historv that he takes as a real turning-point; the earth has been shaking ever since. His rupture with epistemology, with Bachelard, with Canguilhem, with the Critique project, comes from this realization: all these eminent gentlemen are deaf to the noise made by the atomic bomb; they go on as if physics was business as usual; as if the emergence of thanatocrat - his word for the black triad made by scientists politicians and industrialists- had not reshuffled for ever the relations between society and the sciences…

The mob in a state of crisis cannot agree on anything but on a victim, a scapegoat, a sacrifice. Beneath any boundary is buried a sacrificial victim..

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