The Prince of Networks Notes

Last weekend I finished the Prince of Networks (which is in fact available for free online and I recommend you read it, though Alien Phenomenology may be a more concise and lighter introduction into speculative realism) by Graham Harman.

I must say I’m quite impressed by the clarity and breadth of thought that Harman and many of the philosophers in that current express. This interview (my excerpts from it) with him contained some insights and phrases that I had not seen expressed before.

More generally speaking whether it is Harman or Bogost or DeLanda or any of the others, it is particularly nice to be reading the current philosophers of our age who right now are relevant, alive and online. This last bout of reading has finally made me reach the long overdue realization that philosophy need not be a dead pursuit nor that writings on philosophy need to be obtuse.

So here are my notes from the book which is filled with brilliance:

the engineer must /negotiate/ with the mountain at every stage of the project, testing to see where the rock resists and where it yields, and is quite often surprised by the behaviour of the rock.

it is impossible to derive one thing instantly from another without the needed labour

Actors become more real by making larger parts of the cosmos vibrate in harmony with their goals, or by taking detours in their goals to capitalize on the force of nearby actants.

It is never the actant in naked purity that possesses force, but only the actant involved in its ramshackle associations with others, which collapse if these associations are not lovingly maintained.

Harmony is a result, not a guiding principle.

Systems are assembled at great pains, one actant at a time, and loopholes always remain.

To see something ‘directly’ means following a lengthy chain of transformations from one medium into another and on into another.

Their main difference is that Plato’s metaphysics seeks reality at a layer deeper than all articulation by qualities, while Latour thinks there is no reality outside such articulations.

Yet they are allowed to enter only by virtue of their effect on other things, since Latour holds that there is never anything more to them than this.

The question is only whether we grant sufficient reality to objects when we say that a thing is not just /known/ by what it ‘modifies, transforms, perturbs or creates’, but that it actually is nothing more than these effects. If the pragmatism of knowledge becomes a pragmatism of ontology, the very reality of things will be defined as their bundle of effects on other things.

Latour does not mind defining an actor by what it affects, but he does not allow an actor to borrow its effects in advance. Payment in real time is demanded at every stage of the translation.

If not for this basic asymmetry between an actor’s components and its alliances, we would have a purely holistic cosmos. Everything would be defined to an equal degree by the actors above it as below it, and there would be no place in reality not defined utterly by its context.

Monisms are too pious and sugary in their holism, dualisms too static in their trench warfare, and triads too smug in their happy endings. But fourfold structures allow for tension no less than plurality, and hence we find Empedocles, Plato, Aristotle, Scotus Eriugena, Francis Bacon, Vico, Kant, Greimas, McLuhan, and others chopping the world into four.

Instead of an objective nature filled with genuine realities and a subjective cultural sphere filled with fabricated fictions, there is a single plane of actors that encompasses neutrinos, stars, palm trees, rivers, cats, armies, nations, superheroes, unicorns and square circles. All objects are treated in the same way. Latour justifies this with his broad conception of an actor as anything that has an effect on other things. […] Latour adds that if all entities are equally real, all are not equally /strong/. Fictional characters and myths have weaker legions of allies testifying to their existence than do lumps of coal. Hence, we can democratize the world of actors and still avoid the free-for-all of social construction.

In this sense, an object is a sort of invisible railway junction between its own pieces and its outer effects. An object is /weird/—it is never replaceable by any sum total of qualities or effects. It is a real thing apart from all foreign relations with the world, and apart from all domestic relations with its own pieces.

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