Sunday, July 19, 2009

Etienne Souriau is the major influence on the later Latour

Souriau’s book coming back into print
from Object-Oriented Philosophy by doctorzamalek
Readers of Prince of Networks will recall my reference to the “later work” of Latour. The later Latour was not later in the biographical sense, but only in terms of order of publication, since he actually began working on his “later” system in 1987...

In any case, the half-forgotten French philosopher Etienne Souriau (1892-1979) is the major influence on the later Latour. If you haven’t heard of him, there’s no need to feel ignorant, since hardly anyone knows of Souriau (though Delueze, with his flawless antennae, mentions Souriau once; or perhaps it was both Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy?; I no longer remember where the reference occurred). He’s remained an exciting figure for people working intensely on aesthetics, but has entered oblivion for specialists in all other fields.

Souriau’s major book of first philosophy is entitled Les différents modes d’existence, and the concept of “modes of existence” is pivotal for the “later Latour.” I don’t quite get the modes yet, I must admit. But the version circulated in Cerisy involved 14 modes of existence (12 specific modes, and 2 overarching modes that the others must all employ). Also, Latour does not treat them as permanent categories of the human mind. They are produced historically, so that their number might be augmented or even diminished, and he makes no claim to the validity of his own list beyond the compass of Western civilization. (I will say no more until his book is eventually published, since there’s no way of knowing what the final version might look like. He really took the feedback in Cerisy seriously.)

But only now do I come to the main point of this post… PUF is re-issuing Souriau’s book, with an introduction jointly authored by Latour and Isabelle Stengers. If anything, Stengers is even more of a Souriau devotee than Latour is; reportedly she’s read everything he ever wrote.

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