My reading group just finished Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory and Latour’s Reassembling the Social, both of which were very trying to read and neither of which added much value to my project. On the upside, I just finished Negri’s Goodbye Mr. Socialism, which I loved (despite the fact that his imagination of politics is mostly trapped in an economic register). I am continually energized by his approach to democracy (and its similarity to communism in his thought). I have Negri’s book with Guattari, Communists Like Us, next in my sights. The reading group is now moving on to Eugene Holland’s Nomad Citizenship, which I am very excited about. After the slog of Thrift and Latour, Holland better come through, dammit.
Another rant on Latour
…by me, over at the reading group’s blog.
In Praise of Copy Editing
Speaking of academic publishing, the reading group I participate in, Becoming Poor, is reading Bruno Latour’s Reassembling the Social. It is obviously a significant book, published by Oxford University Press, which is of course no slouch. And yet it is painfully clear that OUP did not pay to have a copy editor make sure the text was clean. Latour is ESL, and he makes frequent colloquial slip-ups that any copy editor would have caught [e.g. his French habit of using the infinitive in place of the gerund: “This is one of the many cases where sociology has to accept to become more abstract” (p. 53)] Not to mention frequent outright gaffes, such as
ANT’s solution is not to engage in polemics against sociologists of the social, but simply to multiply the occasions to quickly detect the contradiction in which they might have fallen into (p. 68).
On the other, it is a precious little institution to represent, or more exactly to re-represent–that is, to present again–the social to all its participants…(p. 139).
Embarrassing sentences like these are numerous, and they are exactly what a good copy editor saves you from.
I was reminded of copy editors’ value recently. My college granted me a bit of money to pay an independent copy editor to scour my book and fix its problems. She did a fabulous job, pointing out sentences like the ones above. It turned out I was lucky to have had hired her, because my publisher (Wiley-Blackwell, who has otherwise been great) does not retain a copy editor to fix the texts they publish. Obviously OUP does not either.
It’s not the end of the world, I guess. But if I were Latour, I would have re-read the text, and then I would have pressed the publisher to hire a professional to re-reread it.
The professional I hired was fabulous. Let me know if you would like her contact information. She can help.
Durkheim: Pragmatism is a Radical Threat
Latour, in Reassembling the Social, reports this opening statement from a 1914 lecture* of Durkheim’s on the challenge posed by the arguments of pragmatism, which were then a relatively new presence in the academic landscape:
We are currently witnessing an attack on reason which is truly militant and determined…
While Durkheim acknowledges “the need for a reform of traditional rationalism,” he says pragmatism is a “form of irrationalism” that goes much too far. He says that the task of resisting pragmatism is
of philosophical importance…the entire philosophical tradition, right from the very beginnings of philosophical speculation, is inspired by rationalism. If pragmatism were valid, we should have to embark on a complete reversal of this whole tradition.
It is revealing to see just how existential the establishment thought pragmatism’s challenge to the philosophical order was. I have a tendency to think of people like Rorty or Deleuze and Guattari as engaging in a project of radicalizing the ‘traditional’ pragmatists, taking them in dangerous new directions. Moments like this remind me again not to underestimate the radical challenge people like Dewey and William James were offering.
Durkheim’s words are also timely because my students just read Books IV and V of The Republic, where Socrates lays down those “very beginnings” of rationalism Durkeim is talking about.
*Latour cites: Durkheim, E. (1955) Pragmatisme et sociologie. Paris: Vrin.