Actor Network Theory, Bruno Latour, Peter Sloterdijk, Philosophy

Plasma / Foam

This morning I woke up and I realized that the one thing I didn’t mention in my earlier post on Sloterdijk / Latour was the notion of plasma. This is the name Latour gives to:

                “That which is not yet formatted, not yet measured, not yet socialized, not yet engaged in metrological chains and not yet covered, surveyed, mobilized or subjectified. How big is it? Take a map of London and
                 imagine that the social world visited so far occupies no more room than the subway. The plasma would be the rest of London..”

Given the fact that this ‘plasma’ is so big and so present yet unrelated, Latour must say something about it, must take it into account. But here’s the problem: as Harman states, Latour’s relationism seems to make it impossible for him to understand what this ‘plasma’ could be: he can’t differentiate it, he can’t give it a name, he can’t, methodologically and philosophically spoken, say what it is because it is always not yet. It is not yet related, not yet socialized, not yet allied to other actors, not yet related. This problem arises from (1) Latour’s idea that (as the ‘principle of irreduction’  says) ‘Nothing is by itself either reducible or irreducible to anything else.’And (2) the fact that , given this principle of irreduction,  no actor has a substantial identity, an essence, but is entirely defined by its relations. Following these two points; what can Latour say about the ‘plasma’ except that it consists of actors that are not yet ‘actorized’? As Graham Harman states: ‘There is no good reason to agree with Latour that the plasma has no format, since this would imply that all format must come from relations.’
This remark by Harman follows his observation that Latour, with his movement in the direction of a ‘plasma’, senses the problematic character of a fully relational ‘actor-reality’. This means that Latour seems to understand that there really is a problem in explaining how formatted actors (that is: actors that are part of a network and not part of the plasma) could ever change their format or ‘have a future’ as being a particular actor. (We must keep in mind that these two themes (change and future) is also Harman’s critique of Latour regarding his ontological definition of what actors are: Latour can’t explain change because there is literally nothing that can change (there are only relations, which always carry changes in themselves [translation=transformation] and he cannot understand how an actor can have a future, because he can only say something about the changing alliances and nothing about the actor itself)
Given the cited statement of Harman above, accepting ‘plasma’ as the non-relational side of reality and of actors, means abandoning Latour’s stringent relationalism.

Unfortunately, an Harmanesque non-relationalism or ‘plasma’, doesn’t seem to be enough. His non-relational move seemse to be very valuable, but he doesn’t really explain what this could be made of. There is more than relations: ok. There is a substantial side of things: ok. But what is it that forms this substantiality? What ‘clothes’ this naked substances? We don’t want to lose Latour’s notion of actor-networks and relationalism altogether; we want to add an Harmanesque ‘actor-reality’, but how to design this reality?  

             At this point the Foam / Schaüme appears. I’ve finally made my point: what I want to do is to look for a designation of ‘plasma’, of ‘plasma-actors’ and ‘plasma-networks’ by giving it a different name for a while: Foam. By reading ‘Spheres: Foam’ it would like to try to ‘fill up’ the ‘plasma’ and call this ‘filled up plasma’ Foam. I want to know what Sloterdijk would say about Latour’s relationism and about Harman’s critique and how Foam ‘boils down to’ being a different kind of ‘plasma’, that is: a re-designed ‘plasma’.


2 thoughts on “Plasma / Foam

  1. Psylo says:

    cool stuff, this is exactly what I’m working on, still got some problem with Latour’s plasma and think Sloterdijk is a move in the right direction. I think Deleuze’s notion of abstract machine is another useful way to keep relationality while accounting for change, that is, events, in a way that Latour cannot. I assume you’re aware of this, if not, pretty useful stuff:

    Click to access 115-SPACE-HARVARD-09.pdf

    • Don’t worry about the out-datedness of the post and your comment. I’m still working on the topic, just haven’t posted much about it in the last couple of months. I’m now doing a small course on Tarde’s Monadology and Sociology. You probably know it, but Deleuze actually got much of his philosophy of difference out of this 19th century sociologist. Think that Latour (and perhaps Sloterdijk as well) is struggling with his idea of ‘identity’ as a whole of stabilized relations – as Harman said: how can Latour explain change if there is really nothing that changes except for the relations which make the actor into another actor instead of an actor that undergoes change. This issue Latour does not really deal with, perhaps precisely of the fact that he misses the idea of ‘difference’ – his relience to assume a stable core of an actor would not be much of a problem when this core is, literally, difference and always differing. Have to look more closely at the abstract machine (as you suggested). Hope to hear more from you

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