There are no more revolutions in store to impel a continued forward flight. There are so many hybrids that no one knows any longer how to lodge them in the old promised land of modernity. Hence the postmoderns’ abrupt paralysis. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.131)
Do we need to add that the crossed-out God, in this new Constitution, turns out to be liberated from the unworthy position to which He had been relegated? The question of God is reopened, and the nonmoderns no longer have to try to generalize the improbable metaphysics of the moderns that forced them to believe in belief. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.142)
If the question of relativism is insoluble, relativist relativism – or, to put it more elegantly, relationism – presents no difficulty in principle. If we cease to be completely modern, relationism will become one of the essential resources for relating the collectives that will no longer be targets for modernization. Relationism will serve as an organon for planetary negotiations over the relative universals that we are groping to construct. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.114)
As always, however, postmodernism is a symptom, not a solution. The postmoderns retain the modern framework but disperse the elements that the modernizers grouped together in a well-ordered cluster. The postmoderns are right about the dispersion; every contemporary assembly is poly temporal. But they are wrong to retain the framework and to keep on believing in the requirement of continual novelty that modernism demanded. By mixing elements of the past together in the form of collages and citations, the postmoderns recognize to what extent these citations are truly outdated. Moreover, it is because they are outmoded that the postmoderns dig them up, in order to shock the former ‘modernist’ avant-gardes who no longer know at what altar to worship. But it is a long way from a provocative quotation extracted out of a truly finished past to a reprise, repetition or revisiting of a past that has never disappeared. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.74)
But why do those philosophers no longer recognize them? Because they believe what the modern Constitution says about itself! This paradox should no longer astonish us. The moderns indeed declare that technology is nothing but pure instrumental mastery, science pure Enframing and pure Stamping [Das Ge-Stell], that economics is pure calculation, capitalism pure reproduction, the subject pure consciousness. Purity everywhere! They claim this, but we must be careful not to take them at their word, since what they are asserting is only half of the modern world, the work of purification that distils what the work of hybridization supplies. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.66)
The moderns have a peculiar propensity for understanding time that passes as if it were really abolishing die past behind it. They all take themselves for Attila, in whose footsteps no grass grows back. They do not feel that they are removed from the Middle Ages by a certain number of centuries, but that they are separated by Copernican revolutions, epistemological breaks, epistemic ruptures so radical that nothing of that past survives in them – nothing of that past ought to survive in them. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.68)
With the postmoderns, the abandonment of the modern project is consummated. I have not found words ugly enough to designate this intellectual movement – or rather, this intellectual immobility through which humans and non-humans are left to drift. I call it ‘hyper-incommensurability’. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.61)
The ‘postmods’ are the end of history, and the most amusing part is that they really believe it. And to make quite clear that they are not naive, they claim to be delighted with that end! ‘You have nothing to expect from us,’ Baudrillard and Lyotard delight in saying. No; indeed. But it is no more in their power to end history than it is not to be naive. They are simply stuck in the impasse of all avant-gardes that have no more troops behind them. Let them sleep till the end of the millennium, as Baudrillard advocates, and let us move on to other things. Or rather, let us retrace our steps. Let us stop moving on. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.62)
What will you tell [the moderns], then? They hold all the sources of power, all the critical possibilities, but they displace them from case to case with such rapidity that they can never be caught redhanded. Yes, unquestionably, they are, they have been, they have almost been, they have believed they were, invincible. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.39)
You think that thunder is a divinity? The modern critique will show that it is generated by mere physical mechanisms that have no influence over the progress of human affairs. You are stuck in a traditional economy? The modern critique will show you that physical mechanisms can upset the progress of human affairs by mobilizing huge productive forces. You think that the spirits of the ancestors hold you forever hostage to their laws? The modern critique will show you that you are hostage to yourselves and that the spiritual world is your own human – too human – construction. You then think that you can do everything and develop your societies as you see fit? The modern critique will show you that the iron laws of society and economics are much more inflexible than those of your ancestors. You are indignant that the world is being mechanized? The modern critique will tell you about the creator God to whom everything belongs and who gave man everything. You are indignant that society is secular? The modern critique will show you that spirituality is thereby liberated, and that a wholly spiritual religion is far superior. You call yourself religious? The modern critique will have a hearty laugh at your expense! (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.38)
If so many of our contemporaries are reluctant to use this adjective today, if we qualify it with prepositions, it is because we feel less confident in our ability to maintain that double asymmetry: we can no longer point to time’s irreversible arrow, nor can we award a prize to the winners. In the countless quarrels between Ancients and Moderns, the former come out winners as often as the latter now, and nothing allows us to say whether revolutions finish off the old regimes or bring them to fruition. Hence the scepticism that is oddly called ‘post’modern even though it does not know whether or not it is capable of taking over from the Moderns. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.10)
The tiny networks we have unfolded are torn apart like the Kurds by the Iranians, the Iraqis and the Turks; once night has fallen, they slip across borders to get married, and they dream of a common homeland that would be carved out of the three countries which have divided them up. (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p.6-7)
Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern (1993) is one of my favorite books. Not only is Latour really witty. He also, in my opinion, gives a refreshing description of “the moderns” – the children of modernity. In the book he argues that the moderns separate the human from the non-human in two separate ontological spheres, nature and culture. He then shows that this separation is in fact not possible. If that is true, then he argues modernity is impossible and nobody has ever in turn been modern.
A must-read for anybody interested in questions pertaining to modernity.
Se all my posts for We have never been modern here.