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’.

Actor Network Theory, Bruno Latour, Peter Sloterdijk, Philosophy

Sloterdijk / Latour

After finishing my Bachelor thesis on Bruno Latour this week, I started reading Peter Sloterdijk’s ‘Spheres: ‘Schäume’ today. The task that I would like to set for myself for the next few weeks is, first, to understand what this German public Kopfarbeiter is talking about and, second, try to write it down in this blog. That is: relating Sloterdijk and Latour and try to come to grips especially (and obviously) with the idea of ‘spheres ‘ and ‘networks’ with regard to space.
In my BA thesis on Latour (which was called:  ‘Zijn Wordt Worden’: de Actor Netwerk Theorie als ontologisch project, opzoek naar de realiteit in het werk van Bruno Latour’, which means, in English, ‘Being Becomes Becoming’: the ontological project of the Actor Network Theory, in search of reality within the works of Latour’) I tried to show that his relationism, which seems to lie at the heart of his thinking, is also the notion that causes problems with regard to his realism and his ontological criterion of what counts as an actor. This understanding was largely based on what Graham Harman tries to show in his Prince of Networks and some other articles. (See for instance a post by Larval Subjects on:

What I would like to do is to come to grips with Sloterdijk’s ‘Schäume’ by comparing it to Latour’s idea of ‘actor-networks’ and by using it to try to find a way out of pure relationism and directing it into a more ‘clothed’ direction. My vague language indicates that there are a lot of ‘blind spots’, black holes and shoe gazing moments in my understanding of Sloterdijk and, to a hopefully lesser degree, Latour.