digital rhetoric object-oriented rhetoric

Latour's moderns and correlationism's gift

I've been trying to think through the relationship between Latour's critique of modernity and the now-familiar issue of correlationism. While I am certainly not trained as a philosopher, I can count, so it's clear that Kant's arguments, which Meillassoux identifies as the inauguration of correlationist thinking, develop in the 1780s, while Latour focuses on Hobbes and Boyle (more than a century earlier) as a start point for the modern division of nature from culture. Latour clearly states that it is Kant who fully realizes the division that Hobbes and Boyle begin (in We Have Never Been Modern), so at least from Latour's perspective there is merit for seeing correlationism as a product of modernity. In Latour's view, Kant's Copernican revolution is one step in an increasingly attenuated line between the poles of nature/object and society/subject. In the modern world, there are always quasi-objects that serve the role of linking these two poles. For moderns these objects are mute intermediaries where for Latour they are mediators with an active role. This is a crucial difference.

I often hear from readers of speculative realism I encounter that philosophers in this school want to solve the problem of correlationism. Some do, perhaps, but as I see it, establishing correlationism as a problem to be solved might be misleading at best. That is, it is misleading if one imagines that the goal here is to establish a means by which modern subjects of the type Latour describes can encounter the natural world without mediation, without the drifting/withdrawal that makes our knowledge of the world always knowledge for us. That's not what's happening here. However, if solving the correlationist problem means offering a better explanation for the ontological/epistemelogical problem Kant identifies, then yes I think that makes sense. 

At the same time, I think it is important to recognize that the disconnection between subject and object in correlationism (and the general withdrawal among all objects in OOO) is the foundation of life. Without this disconnection, things would happen instantaneously via pure translation of cause. I'd have to think it through but perhaps one would even want to argue that there could be no events or time. Relations would be always already decided; they would be pure and total. Instead, because there are gaps, there is thinking. Because relations are not complete and translation is not overdeterminingly causational, there is agency. These are not solvable conditions, except through total destruction. I am not even sure why such a thing would be desirable. It seems that part of what one can learn from Latour is that our efforts to imagine the natural world in these terms have contributed to our destructive ecological condition. Who would want to extend such "solutions" further?

The "problem" of correlationism might, in Latourian terms, be understood as the problem of hybridity. If one extends this in a way Latour hasn't to not only object-subject but object-object (a kind of OOO move), then one begins to investigate how objects mediate one another through relation, developing capacities for thought and agency. Whether object or relation is primary can be a debate for another day. I am willing to say that an object need not be in relation in order to exist, as long as all objects are already made up of objects in relation. (In other words, there can be objects that have no relations but no objects can exist without relations also existing because every object has to be made up of other objects that are relating to form that object… make sense? he asked breathlessly) In any case, my particular interests are in objects that happen to be in relation to one another anyway (rhetorical relations). This problem of relation is not be solved (in the pursuit of substituting pure connection for relation). Instead, in the Deleuzian sense, it is the problem that forms the assemblage from which thought and action develop.




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