Latour’s 4th lecture

A couple of thoughtful commentaries on Latour’s lecture yesterday over at Rain on Arrakis and Agent Swarm.

My favorite part of the talk was actually the question period. One questioner granted virtually every point Latour made but then repositioned it all as an outworking of Christian Theology (Latour keeps pitching his arguments as ‘political theology’ so the line of reasoning isn’t a total appropriation). He suggested we have entered the Christo-scene.

What made the question interesting is that the questioner worked from passages in the Pauline book of Romans, which often mixes ideas of creation, an expanded notion of a Christ-centric self and time. So it provides a non-secular counterpart to Latour’s ideas of a universe, a distributed notion of agency and accelerated time (the Anthropocene). And this is where Latour has tripped up – the acceleration of time – because that is exactly what a secular theory cannot hold in its back pocket. Time must be bound to things, but its rate mustn’t be cordoned to us unless it is also the case that there is something unique about our agency, which is something Latour keeps on denying – or at least trying to work without.

These claims about temporal acceleration are something that most theories of the Anthropocene have yet to deal with carefully enough. Latour gestured towards his response yesterday by referencing Sloterdijk’s work on space. The idea being that you can think in “Earth time” (i.e. through cycles and loops that crescendo and relax in relation to multiple agents acting amidst each other) once you have a secular understanding of the space of the world. It will be interesting to see whether, or if, he follows through on this.


  1. The question on the Christocene was very interesting as well because it worked in the notion of the Last Judgement and the separation of the sheep from the goats, which renders explicit something that Latour tries to gloss over with his “diplomatc” discursive style. The questioner declared that it is the sensitivity to suffering that demarcated the sheep from the goats, an ability to feel the loops that embody the connection with people who suffer and to try to alleviate thei suffering. He went on to quote a “study” of people who engage in low carbon behaviour, showing that they do not do it out of any love for Gaia but out of the desire to alleviate the suffering of those whose lives will be harmed by pollution and climate change. Harman seemed quite open to most of this, but unfortunately the transmission of the video was cut at this point, just when he was talking about the poor record of traditional theology on these issues. Maybe there is a possible convergence with François Laruelle on THE FUTURE CHRIST.

    • Yes, that was another interesting part of that questioner’s line of thinking. It does seem that Latour could have given a better response, and perhaps he did after the video cut out, than criticizing theology. He could have also pointed out that the sheep-goat metaphor was interpreted elsewhere by Augustine as relating to the Church as a body of both believers and unbelievers; sheep and goats. Had Latour taken this route, he probably could have told a story about the distributed agency of the Church that did not rely on individualist ideas of judgment. From that basis he could have made the case that increasing sensitivity to suffering is the work of an assemblage. I have no idea if he took this line of argument, but it seems open to him. This wouldn’t hitch up to Laruelle but that is also an interesting line to pursue.


  1. […] (Or click here to download them). I’ve already posted a few thoughts on the earlier lectures (here, here, and here, for […]

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