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Bruno Latour “What is the Style of Matters of Concern?”

Latour, Bruno 2008. What is the Style of Matters of Concern? Assen: Van Gorcum

[…] naturalisation is what happens when you try to transport, to transfer the “senseless hurrying of matter” from the nature bank to the social or human side. That is when you treat the human with the strange notion of primary qualities handed down to you by the already bifurcated nature. (15)

But remember that society is not a word specifying in advance the type of associations – as if human societies were different from plant, plankton, stellar or atomic societies – only that it’s necessary to associate with others in order to remain in existence. (16)

[…] the more you remain close to language, the further away you are from reference […] (18)

[…] we have to consider two more crucial inventions made by Tarde in his efforts to redefine sociology. The first is that there is, in fact, a difference between human and non-human societies. But this is not what you might think; it’s a difference of numbers not of kinds; paradoxically, non-human societies are much more numerous than human societies. […] we have a much more intimate knowledge of human societies than we have of other non-human societies viewed from the outside and so to speak in bulk, or statistically. […] when a society is seen from far away and in bulk it seems to have structural features, that is a set of characteristics that floats beyond, or beneath the multiplicity of its members. But when a society is seen from the inside, it’s made up of differences and of events and all its structural features are provisional amplifications and simplifications of those linkages. (18-19)

[…] the sciences (in the plural) are adding differences of equipment and attention to the world; they are not what allows us to jump to the other side of the bank smack in the middle of the primary qualities […] (23)

[…] how did we manage to behave as if Nature had “bifurcated” into primary qualities – which, if you remember, are real, material, without value and goals and only known through totally unknown conduits – and secondary qualities which are nothing but “psychic additions” projected by the human mind onto a meaningless world of pure matter and which have no external reality although they carry goals and values. How did we succeed in having the whole of philosophy reduced to a choice between two meaninglessnesses: the real but meaningless matter and the meaningful but unreal symbol? (36)

What we have to do, if we want to be faithful to what William James called radical empiricism, is to deny the claims of the “bifurcates” in the first place to represent common sense and to speak in the name of science. We don’t have, on the one hand, a harsh world made of indisputable matters of fact and, on the other, a rich mental world of human symbols, imaginations and values. The harsh world of matters of fact is an amazingly narrow, specialized, type of scenography using a highly coded type of narrative, gazing, lighting, distance, a very precise repertoire of attitude and attention […] (38)

A matter of concern is what happens to a matter of fact when you add to it its whole scenography, much like you would do by shifting your attention from the stage to the whole machinery of a theatre. (39)

It is the same world, and yet, everything looks different. Matters of fact were indisputable, obstinate, simply there; matters of concern are disputable, and their obstinacy seems to be of an entirely different sort: they move, they carry you away, and, yes, they too matter. (39)

Without the experience of being tricked by painting in taking a “plane variously coloured” for a “convex figure”, philosophers would never have sustained for long the idea that the world itself could be made of primary streams of causalities that our mind transforms into non existing secondary qualities. Similarly, without the obsessive metaphor of painting, epistemologists never would have imagined that in science there are only two steps – a copy and a model – and a mimetic relation between the two. To put it much too bluntly: the idea of a bridge between representation and the represented is an invention of visual art. (41)

The question before us is to see how can we suspend this “fraudulent export” of ways of knowing (in Ivins’s rendering: drawing in perspective) into the relations inter se among betting organisms. (46)

Specification one: Matters of concern have to matter. Matters of fact were distorted by the totally implausible necessity of being pure stuff of no interest whatsoever – just sitting there like a mummified limb – while at the same time being able to “make a point”, humiliate human subjectivity, speak directly without speech apparatus and quieten dissenting voices. (47)

Specification two: Matters of concern have to be liked. The great Act I scene I of table thumping realists was that matters of fact were there “whether you like it or not”. […] It is fair to say that the whole first wave of empiricism had an odd way of conceiving democracy and was rather a clever way of escaping controversies by putting a premature end to them. (47)

Specification three: Matters of concern have to be populated. (48)

Specifications four: Matters of concern have to be durable. […] Facts are not the ahistorical, uninterpreted and asocial beginning of a course of action, but the extraordinary fragile and transient provisional terminus of a whole flow of betting organisms whose reproductive means have to be made clear and paid to the last cent in hard currency. Endurance is what has to be obtained, not what is already given by some substrate, or some substance. (48-49)

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