Monthly Archives: September 2017

tracing an actor-network

“In order to trace an actor-network, what we have to do is to add to the many traces left by the social fluid another medium, the textual accounts, through which the traces are rendered again present, provided something happens in it. In an actor-network account the relative proportion of mediators to intermediaries is increased. I will call such a description a risky account, meaning that it can easily fail—it does fail most of the time—since it can put aside neither the complete artificiality of the enterprise nor its claim to accuracy and truthfulness.” (Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social, p.133)

rehearse relativity

“It is exactly at such a juncture that we have to choose to be literal, naive, and myopic. Refusing to understand only half is sometimes a virtue. After all, physicists got rid of the ether only when one of them was moronic enough to ask how the small handle of a clock could be ‘superimposed’ on the big one: everyone else knew, he chose not to. With all due respect, I propose to do the same with this great mystery of the social. Everyone seems to know what it means to ‘relate’ religion and society, law and society, art and society, market and society, to have something at once ‘behind’, ‘reinforced’, ‘invisible’, and ‘denied’. But I don’t!” (Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social, p.104)

creativity and conditioning

“[C]reativity obliges us to think of conditions. There is not, nor can there be, any tension between creativity and conditioning, nor even between novelty and explanation, for novelty is inseparable from the way something is explained by something, the way a being is conditioned by what Whitehead often calls its “social environment.” Nothing is more alien to Whitehead than the strategy of Descartes’ “radical doubt,” which undertakes to make a clean sweep of any inference that could be recognized as fictive or mendacious but forgets all that is presupposed by this very approach, including the fact that his decision and his research presuppose, at the very least, words to formulate the legitimate reasons to reject, one after the other, everything that is no longer to be believed. Descartes’ doubt requires the specialized social environment which, most creatively, it undertakes to judge.” (Isabelle Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead, p.259)

not conflict, but clash

“All values presuppose a risk. The generic risk that corresponds to endurance qua successful infection must not be expressed in terms of a conflict ( . . . ) but rather of “clash.” Conflict implies the existence of a negation—it is he, and then not I, or I, and then not he—and can only belong to a realization that gives meaning to the negation, or at least to its germ: to hesitate, to feel in conflict with oneself. A clash, for its part, is neutral and indeterminate in its result. It exhibits the fact that an “entity,” realization, individualized mode of capture, can only succeed in holding fast if the way it “infects” its environment does not give rise to repercussions that make it lose its hold. Clash thus signifies that infection has failed. ( . . . ) People say “our visions of life clashed,” but Whitehead has written, “a clash of doctrine is not a disaster—it is an opportunity.” His “trust” deliberately ignores hatred and anguish, polemical passion, or the feeling of having been abused. What counts is what happens. A clash can be an obstacle and a limit, or it can “evolve” into a durable, even symbiotic new harmony. Or else it can create problems.” (Isabelle Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead, pp.159-160)


“Whitehead, for his part, does not privilege any experience [ . . . ] Whitehead therefore does not oppose to intellectual knowledge the profound truth of duration, whose experience the Bergsonian texts try to induce in their readers. For him, the experience of a duration is the most widely shared thing in the world, and the most “democratic.” What matters is not to confuse “what” we are aware of in perception and “what” we perceive. Whitehead by no means criticizes the fact that we pay to certain relations the attention appropriate for actively interpreting their signification . . . that is, for producing specialized knowledge.” (Isabelle Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead, pp.55-56)

infinite possibilities

“Whitehead will not ask, will never ask of experience that it admit its finitude. Any resemblance between one Whiteheadian statement and another coming from elsewhere will be declared null and void if the latter orients thought, in one way or another, toward a mode of judgment that turns the infinite possibilities that haunt our experience into a temptation that must be resisted.” (Isabelle Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead, p.43)

constructivist question

“I have practiced an approach that could be called constructivist, but not in the sense of a theory of knowledge or an epistemology that affirms that not reality, but human activities alone are responsible for our knowledge. The constructivist question I have asked is “what makes these human beings, these producers of the knowledge we call ‘experimental,’ become active?” In other words, “what is the uniqueness of the adventure in which they have become engaged?” “what matters to them?” “what does success mean to them?”” (Isabelle Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead, pp.19-20)