French Philosophy Today: Summary of Chapter 6 – Bruno Latour

French Philosophy Today, New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malaobu, Serres and LatourThis is the sixth in a series of posts providing short summaries of the chapters in my latest book, French Philosophy Today: New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malabou, Serres and Latour. For further chapter summaries, please see here.

Chapter 6 considers the figure of the human that emerges in Bruno Latour’s An Inquiry into Modes of Existence and his ‘Facing Gaia’ lectures. Like the other thinkers discussed, Latour neither repeats nor discards previous notions of humanity but translates them in a gesture that can be traced all the way back to his doctoral work on the theologian of demythologisation Rudolf Bultmann. In his attempts to elaborate a figure of the human that follows neither the structure nor the emancipation narrative of modernity, Latour (like Serres) develops a multi-modal approach. The human is an amalgam of multiple modes of existence, and cannot be isolated within, or adequately narrated in, any single one. This dispersal mitigates the danger of Serres’s singular Great Story acting as a host narrative of humanity. In addition, Latour avoids the problems inherent in a host capacity approach by distributing both capacities and substance across human and nonhuman actors in unatomisable collectivities. Whereas the host capacity and host substance approaches seek to understand the human by looking within, Latour insists that the human only becomes comprehensible when we look outside and around. His 2013 Gifford Lectures both develop and challenge themes from the Modes of Existence project, reasserting the centrality of the human now in the new form of the ‘Earthbound’, a non-modern anthropos defined in terms of its limits and its multiple attachments to its world.