The Prince and the Wolf, Graham Harman

Feb 26th, 2013 | By | Category: Book News

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT - THE PRINCE AND THE WOLF

Too often debates are sterile. Each participant lines up behind the other, each with their own point of view. All is on show but nothing much happens. This debate is different. Something happened. Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick Author of Non-representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect (2008), Knowing Capitalism (2005), and Spatial Formations (1996)

This is an especially welcome book. It is rare that one has the opportunity to be a near eye witness to a constructive and intellectually generous exchange of provocative ideas-in-the-making. Graham Harman, Bruno Latour and the assembled audience put on a great show. The exchange is fresh, laced with good humor, and informative. There is much to be learned here about empirical metaphysics—and collegiality. Michael Flower, Portland State University

Many crucial things get exposed and made explicit here. A key access point to the Latourian moment. Fabian Muniesa, École des Mines de Paris

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Foreword

The Prince and the Wolf is a modern-day fairy tale in which the protagonists, instead of resorting to physical violence, decide to settle their differences in a debate on metaphysics. The reasons for the allegory will soon become clear. This volume contains the lightly edited transcript of “The Harman Review: Bruno Latour’s Empirical Metaphysics,” a symposium held at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on February 5, 2008. The event was a debate staged between Bruno Latour, the prominent French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher of science, an early developer of actor-network theory (ANT), and Graham Harman, the Cairo-based American philosopher known for his post-Heideggerian object-oriented philosophy. Harman’s recently completed manuscript about Latour’s contribution to philosophy—since then published as Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics —was the main subject of the discussion.1 The ‘Prince,’ remaining true to his fabled sense of humor, compared the dogged determination of professional philosophers like Harman who have been pursuing him over the years to that of a pack of wolves. The Prince and the Wolf is the story of what happens when the wolf catches up with the prince but, through a strange turn of events, they both find themselves transported to a laboratory, where they have to contend with each other according to the rules put in place by the onlooking scientists and their apprentices. The latter were a diverse, multidisciplinary crowd of academics and PhD students who gathered to assess the merits of both Latour’s philosophy and Harman’s manuscript.

Two sets of questions dominated the proceedings. The first set concerned the fundamental question “What is?”, whether one calls things that exist beings, actors, or objects. Harman’s term object emerged as the favored designator at the event, so I will stick with it. What is the nature of objects? How do objects emerge? How do objects interact? What is the nature of causality? The second set of questions concentrated on the philosophical practice of defining what is, or in other words, metaphysics. What is the purpose of metaphysics? How to conduct metaphysics? What is the relationship between metaphysics and science?

This symposium was an unusual occasion on a number of counts. It is a rare privilege in the best of times to gain access to a contemporary philosopher’s work-in-progress manuscript and to have him at hand to discuss it with his readers. It must be an even rarer occurrence also to have the subject of his monograph present and ready to respond. As the eighty or so “[LAUGHTER]” notations in the transcript testify, for a metaphysics conference it was a highly entertaining affair. Those working in philosophy departments may also wonder why the work of a sociologist and anthropologist was being discussed in terms of first philosophy. If one further considers that this proto-philosophical debate was hosted by the Information Systems and Innovation Group (ISIG) in the LSE’s Department of Management, the bewilderment must be complete.

Yet there were some very good reasons for this event to unfold the way it did, where it did. Graham Harman’s claim is indeed that Bruno Latour the social scientist has made some crucial contributions to philosophy, to which professional philosophers should pay heed. In his words, “When the centaur of classical metaphysics is mated with the cheetah of actor-network theory, their offspring is not some hellish monstrosity, but a thoroughbred colt able to carry us for half a century and more.”2 His sentence conjures up the image of a peculiar laboratory where such cross-breeding of mythological creatures and wild animals can take place. It is however an eminently suitable metaphor for describing this event. The symposium was a temporary laboratory for a social science experiment, to test Harman’s claims about Latour’s metaphysics and Latour’s claims about his own work, by subjecting both to an experimental protocol. The task of the audience and the panel —the latter composed of Lucas Introna and Noortje Marres— was to study the sparks that erupted from the collision of the two actors, or in Harman’s terminology, of the two objects.

It may strike some readers as odd to hear this encounter of two authors, two flesh-and-blood human beings, described as the clashing of two objects in a laboratory. However, it was precisely the question of what an object as such is (whether human or nonhuman) that constituted the central metaphysical controversy of the event. The answers propagated were anything but ordinary. In fact, there was a multitude of objects coming together and interacting at the symposium. Besides the corporeal presence of Harman and Latour, the written corpus of each author and a host of others from the history of philosophy and science were summoned to collide, to shape the arguments of one or the other, including Latour’s claim that the body corporate (the corporation as an organization) would be an ideal metaphor and case study material for metaphysics.

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Zero_Books_master_coverThe Prince and the Wolf - The Latour and Harman at the LSE

ISBN: 978-1-84694-422-2, $16.95 / £9.99, paperback, 15pp

EISBN: 978-1-78099-003-3, $9.99 / £6.99, eBook

The Prince and the Wolf contains the transcript of the February 5th 2008 debate at the London School of Economics (LSE) between the prominent French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher Bruno Latour and the Cairo-based American philosopher Graham Harman. The occasion for the debate was the impending publication of Harman’s book, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. During the discussion, Latour (the ‘Prince’) compared the professional philosophers who have pursued him over the years to a pack of wolves. The Prince and the Wolf is the story of what happens when the wolf catches up with the prince.

Graham Harman is Associate Provost for Research Administration and a member of the Department of Philosophy at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.

 

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