Latour on texts and writing

“As soon as actors are treated not as intermediaries but as mediators, they render the movement of the social visible to the reader. Thus through many textual inventions, the social may become again a circulating entity that is no longer composed of the stale assemblage of what passed earlier as being part of society.” (p. 128)

“A text, in our definition of social science, is thus a test on how many actors the writer is able to treat as mediators and how far he or she is able to achieve the social.” (p. 129)

— One could almost read this as the definition of a good novel. (Of the Richard Powers-kind — Latour being as much influenced by Powers as Powers is by Latour’s view of science, technology and society. One can also still ‘feel’ the Greimas-influence here (his actant-theory, stories as transformations &c.).)

“A good text elicits networks of actors when it allows the writer to trace a set of relations defined as so many translations.” (p. 129)

“In a bad text only a handful of actors will be designated as the causes of all the others, which will have no other function than to serve as a backdrop or relay for the flows of causal efficacy. (…) Nothing is translated from one to the other since action is simply carried through them.” (p. 130).

— Because this reads like the definition of a bad novel.

Latour stresses that writing texts is an ‘art’ (although he doesn’t use the word art here):

“The simple act of recording anything on paper is already an immense transformation that requires as much skill and just as much artifice as painting a landscape or setting up some elaborate biochemical reaction.”

And, interestingly, he wants descriptions, not explanations: “If a description remains in need of an explanation, it means that it is a bad description.” (p. 137) A good description is an explanation. I’d like to agree.

Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social, Oxford UP, Oxford, 2005.

en,quotations,research,ubiscribe,writing | August 11, 2006 | 14:49 | Comments Off on Latour on texts and writing |


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