Wednesday, November 16, 2016
In my culture
Finished up Bruno Latour's book, "On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods". I am just going to speak to the middle chapter here as the last one hurt my head too much. This middle chapter is called "What is Iconoclash?" and he defines Iconoclash as the moment or state of being where the viewer does not know what value to ascribe to an experience/thing. Is the glass breaker a burglar or a fireman? Until we have further information and apply lenses of interpretation - maybe they have a fire fighter uniform or the building is on fire - we are unsure of how to situate this thing before us. This process of interpretation can itself be a contested space. Religious or thought leaders might want to sell a particular lens. The artist may play with our expectations in order to deliberately create a moment of crisis. Destruction may be the key to new creation. These elements mean that this space may be simultaneously uncomfortable while also being a space of potential creation and action. This is the space between "transcendence" and "construction".
Latour explicitly speaks to the modern urge to see science and science facts as being transcendent and untouched by human hands, but if this were the case and hands were not able to reach truth, can science exist? Can it, he asks, make something more truthful by acknowledging that it is created and understanding how it came to be? Are we not be better worshipers when we can understand where the object of worship has arisen from? Doesn't science still provide insight into our lives even when we know its histories and influences? It is well known at this point that he observer influences the observed phenomena - can we stop being scared of that or pretending that it is a falsehood? As we choose to engage in understanding how the "truth" is made, can we be closer to the truth? Maybe the truth/lie dichotomy does not serve us well.
He then categorizes the different responses to this space of iconoclash based on the roles the participants play. Do I aim to free you from your false beliefs as I have better beliefs or do I not believe in belief at all? He uses art as an example. Can you create new art or is it all bound to be in reaction to what has come previously? Many of us don't go to church, but literature and art still carry the references to these stories. Are you a Judas? Cast from Eden? Stuck in a David and Goliath situation? We can recognize the strings that connect us to the wider narrative or we can burry our heads in the sand. But do we then risk creating a new god of the sand to protect us from scary questions?
His answer, which leads into the last section of the book is that, "...thou shall not freeze frame..." We must always remain aware that a particular idea or thing we are engaged with has a whole history and we can't know it by one frozen moment, rather we must exist with these ideas or things and come to know them. Again I am left feeling like that was a lot of words to come back to a pretty basic indigenous world view. We exist together with all that came before and after us and we are related to all. It is all relational and I do not exist alone. What I find amusing is that when Bruno Latour sets this out it is science and philosophy and something proper from the western intellectual tradition, but it feels like when indigenous people say it, then it is a sort of quaint belief from a people who don't know any better. I say that not to take away from Latour, but as a question to myself and a challenge as I think about my intellectual life.