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ding politik


  • 32View from above into the exhibition Making Things Public at the ZKM |Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe 2005, photo: Franz Wamhof

  • the latest beheading by fanatics in Falluja, the lastAmerican election. For every one of these objects,you see spewing out of them a different set of pas-sions, indignations, opinions, as well as a differentset of interested parties and different ways of car-rying out their partial resolution.

    Its clear that each object each issue gener-ates a different pattern of emotions and disrup-tions, of disagreements and agreements. Theremight be no continuity, no coherence in our opin-ions, but there is a hidden continuity and a hiddencoherence in what we are attached to. Each objectgathers around itself a different assembly of rele-vant parties. Each object triggers new occasions topassionately differ and dispute. Each object mayalso offer new ways of achieving closure withouthaving to agree on much else. In other words,objects taken as so many issues bind all of us inways that map out a public space profoundly dif-ferent from what is usually recognized under thelabel of the political. It is this space, this hiddengeography that we wish to explore through thiscatalog and exhibition.

    Its not unfair to say that political philosophyhas often been the victim of a strong object-avoid-ance tendency. From Hobbes to Rawls, fromRousseau to Habermas, many procedures have


    Some conjunctions of planets are so ominous,astrologers used to say, that it seems safer to stayat home in bed and wait until Heaven sends amore auspicious message. Its probably the samewith political conjunctions. They are presently sohopeless that it seems prudent to stay as far awayas possible from anything political and to wait forthe passing away of all the present leaders, terror-ists, commentators and buffoons who strut aboutthe public stage.

    Astrology, however, is as precarious an art aspolitical science; behind the nefarious conjunc-tions of hapless stars, other much dimmer align-ments might be worth pondering. With the politi-cal period triggering such desperation, the timeseems right to shift our attention to other ways ofconsidering public matters. And matters are pre-cisely what might be put center stage. Yes, publicmatters, but how?

    While the German Reich has given us twoworld wars, the German language has provided uswith the word Realpolitik to describe a positive,materialist, no-nonsense, interest only, matter-of-fact way of dealing with naked power relations.Although this reality, at the time of Bismarck,might have appeared as a welcome change afterthe cruel idealisms it aimed to replace, it strikes usnow as deeply unrealistic. In general, to invokerealism when talking about politics is somethingone should not do without trembling and shaking.The beautiful word reality has been damned bythe too many crimes committed in its name.

    What Is the Res of Res publica?By the German neologism Dingpolitik, we wish todesignate a risky and tentative set of experimentsin probing just what it could mean for politicalthought to turn things around and to becomeslightly more realistic than has been attempted upto now. A few years ago, computer scientistsinvented the marvelous expression of object-ori-ented software to describe a new way to programtheir computers. We wish to use this metaphor toask the question: What would an object-orienteddemocracy look like?

    The general hypothesis is so simple that itmight sound trivial but being trivial might bepart of what it is to become a realist in politics.We might be more connected to each other by ourworries, our matters of concern, the issues we carefor, than by any other set of values, opinions, atti-tudes or principles. The experiment is certainlyeasy to make. Just go in your head over any set ofcontemporary issues: the entry of Turkey into theEuropean Union, the Islamic veil in France, thespread of genetically modified organisms in Brazil,the pollution of the river near your home, thebreaking down of Greenlands glaciers, the dimin-ishing return of your pension funds, the closing ofyour daughters factory, the repairs to be made inyour apartment, the rise and fall of stock options,


    * Although I cannot thank all the people whose thoughtshave contributed to this paper without listing this entire cat-alog, I owe a very special thanks to Noortje Marres, whosework on Lippmann and Dewey has been central during thethree years of preparation for this show.

    1 Ron Suskind, Without a Doubt, in: New York Times,October 17, 2004.

    From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things PublicBruno Latour*

    The aide said that guys like me were in what we call the reality-based community, whichhe defined as people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of dis-cernible reality. I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles andempiricism. He cut me off. Thats not the way the world really works anymore, he con-tinued. Were an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while youre studying that reality judiciously, as you will well act again, creating other newrealities, which you can study too, and thats how things will sort out. Were historys actors [] and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do. Ron Suskind1

    Clintons cat Socks or the degree zero of politics, Little Rock Arkansas, November 17, 1992, AP Photo / Greg Gibson n Chelsea Clintons cat Socks gets the attention of photographers on the sidewalk outside the fenced Arkansas GovernorsMansion in Little Rock. Socks strolled about a two block area with photographers in tow. President-elect Bill Clinton wasworking on his transition and preparing for a trip to Washington and a meeting with President George H. W. Bush.

    Presidential hopefuls US Vice President Al Gore and former US Senator Bill Bradley listen to a question December 17,1999 during an ABC TV Nightline town hall meeting moder-ated by Ted Koppel at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, NewHampshire. Photo AFP/E-Lance Media, photo: Luke Frazza




  • Good and the Bad Government, and have tracedtheir complex genealogy. But what is most strik-ing for a contemporary eye is the massive presenceof cities, landscapes, animals, merchants, dancers,and the ubiquitous rendering of light and space.The Bad Government is not simply illustrated bythe devilish figure of Discordia but also throughthe dark light, the destroyed city, the ravagedlandscape and the suffocating people. The GoodGovernment is not simply personified by the vari-ous emblems of Virtue and Concordia but alsothrough the transparency of light, its well-keptarchitecture, its well-tended landscape, its diver-sity of animals, the ease of its commercial rela-tions, its thriving arts. Far from being simply adcor for the emblems, the fresco requests us tobecome attentive to a subtle ecology of Good andBad Government. And modern visitors, attuned tothe new issues of bad air, hazy lights, destroyedecosystems, ruined architecture, abandonedindustry and delocalized trades are certainly ready

    to include in their definition of politics a wholenew ecology loaded with things.6 Where haspolitical philosophy turned its distracted gazewhile so many objects were drawn under its verynose?

    A New EloquenceIn this show, we simply want to pack loads of stuff into the empty arenas where naked peoplewere supposed to assemble simply to talk. Two vi-gnettes will help us focus on those newly crowdedsites.

    The first one is a fable proposed by Peter Sloter-dijk.7 He imagined that the US Air Force shouldhave added to its military paraphernalia a pneu-matic parliament that could be parachuted at therear of the front, just after the liberating forces ofthe Good had defeated the forces of Evil. On hit-ting the ground, this parliament would unfold andbe inflated just like your rescue dingy is supposedto do when you fall in the water. Ready to enter

    6 Peter Sloterdijk, Sphren III Schume. Plurale Sphrologie,Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 2004.

    7 Peter Sloterdijk, this volume, chapter 15.7

    been devised to assemble the relevant parties, toauthorize them to contract, to check their degreeof representativity, to discover the ideal speechconditions, to detect the legitimate closure, towrite the good constitution. But when it comesdown to what is at issue, namely the object of con-cern that brings them together, not a word isuttered. In a strange way, political science is mutejust at the moment when the objects of concernshould be brought in and made to speak up loudly.Contrary to what the powerful etymology of theirmost cherished word should imply, their res pub-lica does not seem to be loaded with too manythings. Procedures to authorize and legitimize areimportant, but its only half of what is needed toassemble. The other half lies in the issues them-selves, in the matters that matter, in the res thatcreates a public around it. They need to be repre-sented, authorized, legitimated and brought tobear inside the relevant assembly.

    What we call an object-oriented democracytries to redress this bias in much of political philos-ophy, that is, to bring together two differentmeanings of the word representation that havebeen kept separate in theory although they haveremained always mixed in practice. The first one,so well known in schools of law and political sci-ence, designates the ways to gather the legitimatepeople around some issue. In this case, a represen-tation is said to be faithful if the right procedureshave been followed. The second one, well knownin science and in technology, presents or ratherrepresents what is the object of concern to the eyesand ears of those who have been assembledaround it. In this case, a representation is said to begood if the matters at hand have been accuratelyportraye