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Of Whales and the Amazon Forest

Gabriel Tarde and Cosmopolitics

Interview with Bruno Latour, 24 November 2008

Bruno Latour: BL
Erin Manning: EM
Brian Massumi: BM

BM: We would like to start with the question of the economy and the
concept of value and evaluation in the work of Gabriel Tarde, a concept
you address in “ Gabriel Tarde : The End of the Social "

BL : This is Tarde’s first and oldest idea. It’s the concept that kept him going
throughout and right away in his second article – the year after – he
applies it to the economy. His second article is on the economy. He’s
always worked with this idea that the economy is a bit like the amazonian
forest: when people arrive in the amazonian forest, they think the forest is
very rich and deeply rooted in the European way, while in reality, as
pedologists have shown, the amazonian forest is hung on the sky in a
certain sense. It is almost ungrounded – it hangs from the top through a
rapid water circulating system, the circulation of nutrients, of organic
products. If you cut the forest, the ground immediately disappears and
you find that the forest is attached by its branches to the sky and not
rooted into the ground. The economy for Tarde is the same. This is a
metaphor but Tarde saw right away that the economy was in fact
inversed. We plunge it into what we think of as material infrastructures
when it is in fact attached or connected to what he calls « passionate
interests, » that is, evaluations of belief and desire.

This is the concept I depart from in my preface on Tarde, which has

become all the more apt now since we have begun to hear that as
regards the economy, “everything rests on confidence.” It may be the
case, but were we speaking of this before the economic crisis? And if it’s
true that it was always a factor in production, perhaps we should have
put it before the definition of factors of production… It’s strange because
it’s really a rematerialization to ground the economy in the passions and
balancing acts, as Tarde says, the constant logic duals that we are all
engaged in on the subject of desire and belief. This is a rematerialization

Micropolitics : Exploring Ethico-Aesthetics. Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation. No. 3. October
2009. www.inflexions.org
upside down, so to speak. If it’s true that Marx put Hegel back on his feet,
then Tarde puts Marx back on his feet. He turns the economy upside
down. What is really quite extraordinary is that we still do not know where
to situate the economy.

EM: Through Tarde, you bring back the question of quantity. It’s an
interesting problem, a complex problem for us, since where you situate
the concept of quantity via Tarde, I would often replace it with quality or
James’ radical empiricism. I was wondering, if we return to the context of
the economy, where we’re at when the economy becomes purely
speculative, when there is little or no quantity as such. In such a context,
how would you situate the concept of quantity as Tarde understands it?

BL: For Tarde there are quantities but we must always attend to the
difference between measuring measure and measured measure. These
are real quantities. That is to say that measured measures quantify: each
monad quantifies from the moment that it evaluates and evolves as more
or less. The problem is that afterwards you have to see what you can do
with this real quantification. And I’m speaking here of measuring
measures – that which affects the judgments of others. The very nice
example that Tarde uses is that of the advent of the printing press – now
we would say “before Google…” – before the advent of the press we
didn’t know how to measure value, how to assess the respective glory of
literary writers, novelists, etc. Once the printing press comes into existence,
we become capable of making this judgment, which obviously does not
mean that we measure the reality of what literary glory signifies –
measured measure – which continues to count but in the form of a
plurality of dual logics, specific to those for which there is no simplification
or unity.

This is quite a paradoxical argument. On the one hand, Tarde says “the
monads always quantify.” But since there are millions of monads that
quantify tons of things, he admits that we will never fully be able to fully
quantify due to the lack of adequate instruments. But on the other hand,
when we have a measuring measure, the potential for descriptability and
the judgment of others increases. For example, when my economist
colleagues want to hire someone, they no longer speak about what this
person does. They go instead to Google Scholar to check the “publish
and perish” site and see what this person’s score is. This is exactly what
interested Tarde. They grasp a tiny bit of the measure which in turn
simplifies judgments, even more so due to current standardizations. This
then allows for an understanding between people, which leads toward
what Michel Callon calls a performative economy (Tarde does not use this

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term). This is what it comes down to: quantity grasped as a block allows us
to describe the real.

I was talking to an economist this morning who was telling me: “it’s
wonderful – I spent 2 weeks in Indonesia and now I really get the
Indonesian economy.” He was obviously not saying that he had
understood everything – this would be arrogant. He was saying that
because of economization, the Indonesian economy has become
susceptible to description for someone from the outside. This is what
measured measures refer to – they simplify judgments, creating effects of
coordination. We no longer have to go into the details of what really
constitutes an economist – we just have to say what their score is on
Google and that’s it. The fundamental point Tarde makes is that this is a
quantification of the qualitative, which would be a kind of classical
version of an economic critique which would purport that the economy
calculates while our passions are incalculable. Tarde, on the contrary,
says that our passions are quantifiable and you economists can only
quantify a very small fraction of them.

BM: Does this mean there is a third term? Measured measure, measuring
measure, but also the measurable? A term that would perhaps escape
measure since it represents an activity of appetition that is always already
elsewhere, like a kind of force…

BL: Yes but I’m not sure that – I mean if we are speaking of Tarde…

BM: No, now we’re speaking of you…

BL: Tarde’s argument – wait, you were saying unmeasurable or


BM: Measurable. Like something that escapes each measure since as you
say it can only be grasped in a small way, which means that there is a
reserve or, as you say, a part that escapes and that returns to this coming
together of belief and desire and returns as well to measure, to structure.

BL: Yes, right, but I think it’s measurable in the sense of measured measure.
In principle these are quantifications, they are vectors – more than and
less than. There’s a very nice passage where Tarde says that the best
situation is an economy of war; or, in an economy of war that is well
organized, there is also continual chaos. (Remember, this is written in 1902
– imagine saying this of Marxism and in this period!). This doesn’t mean
that it’s due to the qualitative –there are many quantifiables, much that is
measurable. This is a very clear argument that seeks to avoid the idea of a
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simple economic critique that would objectify human passions. For him it’s
just the contrary. He wants to found an economic science that is
quantitative, but operates in the good quantities. The economy is about
taking the right measures…

EM: This reminds me of the difference that Whitehead traces between

appearance and reality. Appearance for Whitehead is the limited
prehension, while reality is always there in its totality but cannot be
submitted to (or directly prehended) since it is unmeasurable, virtual.
Would there perhaps be a link?

BL: Isabelle Stengers doesn’t like us to say that there might be a link
between Tarde and Whitehead since she finds Whitehead wonderful and
Tarde banal… The argument is that the whole is always inferior to the
parts. It’s simply that since the whole is not a superior being – this is Tarde’s
argument against Durkheim – the whole is an abstraction, an extraction.
To facilitate this extraction, we have measuring instruments that simplify
judgment and make the social readable to itself. It’s a question that really
interests Tarde, the press. He would have been fascinated by Google and
the Internet, he would have jumped for joy, since all the elements that
make the social readable to itself, including glory, reputation, appetition,
purchasing are there… He would have spent hours on Amazon trying to
understand why Amazon tells you to buy this or that, making the social
traceable. This is really part of Tarde’s argument.

EM: We read Didier Debaise’s article on Tarde1, perhaps you know it…. He
has a nice quote from Tarde. To the question “what is a society,” Tarde
responds with extraordinary simplicity: “reciprocal possession through
extremely various forms of all for all.” This reminds me a bit of what you are
saying – what do you think of this idea of possession…

BM: This also brings up the question of ecology that in your work comes
together with the question of the environment.

EM: So the question of possession. It seems to me that when I think of

possession, religion immediately comes to mind. We think of exorcism:
when we are possessed, we are possessed by a force that undermines the
notion of the subject, of the self as such. Is this the idea of possession we
find in Tarde’s work?

Debaise, Didier. 2009. “11. The dynamics of possession: An introduction to the sociology of Gabriel
Tarde”. In Mind that Abides, Skrbina, David (ed.), 221–230.

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BL: No, no, I don’t think so. Not at all. There is nothing religious in Tarde.
He’s just not interested in it. He uses possession in a very technical sense, a
way that fascinated Deleuze, as it does Debaise. It’s based on the
argument that having is much more interesting than being for the
excellent reason that when you say “I have,” you are linked to the thing
you have, whereas when you say “I am” you are cut off, you are defining
your identity as a subject, separately. Thus the whole argument on
possession and property is important since he says that the equivalent of
identity is property, what “I have.” Give me your properties and I will tell
you what you are. The notion of property in everyday language is at once
what we possess and what we are, our identity. This is the paradox. To
have is stronger than to be. To have is to have property, so we also have
being. When we have being alone, we have nothing. This is a nice
reversal. He has this famous sentence: “philosophy would have been
wholly other had it worked with the verb to have rather than the verb to
be.” Because the had and the having are linked while being and non-
being are separate. So I imagine the history of philosophy with Parmenides
asking himself not “to be or not to be” but what is the relation between
the had and the having. With the had and the having we would have a
completely different history of philosophy. This must have really amused
Deleuze – also the notion that to exist is to differ.

BM: I wanted to return to the question of quantity since you also lay claim
to James’ radical empiricism and his idea that relations are as real and
primitive as beings. In this thought of quantification that you were
speaking about just now, where do you place the relation? Could you
bring together this Tardian way of thinking the economy with relation in
the radical empiricist sense?

BL: Tarde is a sociologist, he is trying to understand, he is very interested in

the social, contrary to Durkheim, his opponent, for whom society is
foremost a religious and moral argument. The link I see with James
concerns radical empiricism, this extraordinary notion, as you just pointed
out, that relations are in the world and not in the human mind and then
added to the world. Obviously in the case of evaluating monads, this is a
general property, a property of the world. Valuation is a property of the
world. My argument that follows on this, if you allow me, is based on the
idea that if relations are given in the world, we must be able to
differentiate them. So let’s differentiate these relations – this is what I call
the enunciative regime or mode of existence – and we will find the
economy but in a completely different form. James’ argument is a radical
argument in fundamental metaphysics that probably would have
interested Tarde, but I don’t know what he would have done with it other
than say “yes, obviously, monads evaluate and are related by desire and
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belief, thus relations are part of the world.” In this sense, yes, they have
something in common. But the specialist on these questions is Debaise, it’s
he you should ask.

BM: Is there a philosophical movement that links these major philosophies

of the economy – ecology as cosmopolitics?

BL: For Tarde, economy as a science is not the house, the oikos, where we
live. Our house is another oikos, the ecology. But the passage from one to
the other house is difficult. First because the economy, by definition, has
externalized too much and internalized only a very small proportion of the
beings to “be taken into account” and, what’s more – and here we’re
back to the problem we were discussing before – we are limited to the
capacity of the instruments to measure what is measurable, in the sense
this time of “bottom line” and “red ink.” We are missing the instruments
that would permit us to take good measures.

It’s evident that the economy is at the interior of ecology as an instrument

of measure – in the inside of the house, so to speak. So the economy is not
the world where we are, we don’t live in the economy – this is one of
Whitehead’s arguments – any more that there are Galilean objects in a
Euclidean space. Locally, yes, there are Galilean objects in Euclidean
space, but they don’t interweave. It is therefore incumbent on us to find
the intellectual tools to understand what becomes of the measuring
instruments of the economy in the house of ecology.

Economics and economy are two completely different things. Actually we

know very little about economies. Precisely because of the arguments
concerning measuring measure, we know a lot of things about
economics since that is what we measure. There is the whole issue of the
immersed continent of the economy, “economy-thing,” in opposition to
economy as a discipline. And we know very little – with the exception of
some writing by anthropologists and of course our own experience as
consumers, buyers, the homeless – which is very difficult to decipher,
precisely because we only have the language of economy as a
discipline, of economics, which in the end is not that interested in the
“economy-thing” since it formats and organizes it. In the end, what we
called nature in modernism is economy, much more than biology or
physics. As soon as you look a little further in biology it begins to proliferate
in all directions. This is a little less true in chemistry, less true in physics, but
this is not from whence the danger of the notion of nature emerges. The
danger, the poison in the notion of nature, is really an idea that comes
from economists. And the question of ecology is fascinating: will ecology

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be capable of comprehending economy, in the sense of absorbing it, of
including it?

EM: To continue with the question of ecology, there is a quote from your
work: “Ecology is not the science of nature, but the reasoning, the logos
about how to live together in livable places.” Could you say more about
livable spaces?

BL: What is it to live together? Do whales belong to the commons?

Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But suddenly everyone is asking themselves
political questions about all kinds of beings externalized up until now.
These are really fundamental questions and, certainly, the language of
economy does not deal well with them. But if we say that economics are
measuring instruments, the performers for Callon – what he calls
calculative devices – then we can situate them in the interior of the
political house of ecology. And behind, or beyond, or this side of it, there is
the immense continent of that which we must be able to study by other
methods, the economy-thing, in the sense of the uncountable relations of
evaluation between subjects, between goods and words – it’s an
immense continent. It is the reversal we were speaking about earlier: the
economy is like the amazonian forest, it has its roots in the sky, and so the
earth is not very well known, it is evaluated very badly.

EM: What concerns us these days in our own milieu at the SenseLab, is the
question of what the potential of the political is at the level of
collaborative practices. How can we work at the level of the
micropolitical such that it may have global effects?

BL: Yes, but the political has always been cosmopolitical so… The work
around the question of the political is another undertaking. This work
requires many successive operations. First, we need to liberate the
political from science, separate science from the State, as the good
Feyerabend would say. The political idea is very influenced by
epistemology. It’s an enormous work because we always come back to
the idea that we cannot found the political without turning to
epistemology as a crutch. And since this dates from Plato, it won’t be
transformed quickly. So, this is a first point. To detach, in a sense, the
conditions of enunciations proper to the existence of politics which are
very particular, of a foundational dream based on economic science, a
historical science – read rhetorical – that remains a very strong aspiration
for a whole slew of rationalists in every sense of the word rationalist.

And then the problem becomes even more complicated because we

need to characterize the very specific curve of the political. And here the
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ecologists up until now have not been particularly useful, and I’m
speaking of professional ecologists since in the end we have here a
bizarre mix of a very classical technical dream, a very modernist expert-
based approach that is even apocalyptic if not religious. How to detach
from this a political space, where politics no longer means a politics that is
founded on nature as its ground? And not a simple critique or a
deconstruction. So, a definition of the political as the composition of a
commons that has not yet been achieved. I think my position is quite easy
to validate now – in any case, my argument holds. We cannot continue
to attempt to found politics in reason, saying “the commons is already
there, it’s the universal, the rights of man, it’s a whole series of values, it’s
the economy, it’s modernization, in any case things that are already there
and that politics will sort out”… This is the idea of cosmopolitics in the
sense criticized by Stengers and used in David Held, for instance, it’s
exactly that – cosmopolitical principles are born universals in a certain

So here we reverse the idea. We say that the composition of the

commons is not there yet, we have to create it, we have to compose it.
And this is the cosmopolitical in the sense of the politics of the cosmos that
Stengers proposes, where the political is there to prevent that cosmos
become “nature” and cosmos is there to prevent that politics be
occupied only by humans. In this sense, the cosmopolitical takes over the
place usually occupied by nature. There is no longer any nature as such
but instead a political debate about nature.

Who are the ecologists who have taken up this argument? I don’t know.
It’s a very complicated problem. But the main difficulty is that having
undone ourselves of the question of nature, having deepistemologized
politics, we now have to characterize this particular curve which is
political enunciation. And this curve is very strange. We constantly
rationalize it even though it’s impossible to rationalize. Or, rather, it is
rational but in the sense of working within conditions that are extremely
demanding. And so, we lose it all the time – we think we have it and we
lose it.

EM: When you speak of your project, you seem to be speaking of a

project that cannot be situated as such. Is it an “instaurative” (instauratif)

BL: For me the term “project” has a very precise meaning. It is what allows
us to think technique not as an object but as a project. This is a key
element in my philosophical thought. I define project as a very particular
mode of existence. We need to try to understand why technology,
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technique has everywhere been so badly understood by philosophy with
the exception of a few rare cases which can be counted on one hand.
The word “project” is a way of trying to avoid the notions of object,
subject etc. – it’s a way of trying to make apparent an interest for
technicity. As Bergson says, all philosophy is the realization of a unique
project, a unique intuition.

BM: You referred earlier to the curve of politics and its complexity within
your thought. It emerges from an encounter with the non-human and
then there are all the vicissitudes of capture, the developments, that raise
problems for the public, all of which ends up creating a certain commons
that is never beyond contestation. As a result there is a repoliticization of
already closed questions. The question this non-disciplinarity of philosophy
raises concerns the fact that this encounter with the non-human remains
external to or infra to these captures by the disciplines. So if philosophy is
indeed the non-discipline of thought, are there political practices,
assemblages, techniques which can target the pragmatic level of

BL: It’s a complicated question. There is perhaps a misunderstanding with

respect to the human/non-human. Saying that this sociology or this
philosophy is interested in human or non-human relations is not enough to
bring non-humans into political thought. Relations between humans and
non-humans are found as much in art as in science, in techniques
obviously, in the economy, in religion. What is odd is the modernist version
where the relation subject-object creates the dichotomy human/non-
human. The originality of the argument does not rest in the idea that in
politics we are interested in the non-human. The originality rests in making
strange or unthinking, retrospectively rendering almost incomprehensible,
even monstrous, the fact that humans and non-humans have been
related only as subject-object.

And here the argument is uniquely critical. This is to say that there is no
sense in creating a modernist story by saying that this is the story of the
relations between subjects and objects. Once we have seen that there
are millions of different assemblages of the human/non-human relation –
which is evident today – we arrive at a wholly other description of the
world, which I summarize for my students by saying that rematerializing is
resocializing, resocializing is rematerializing.

All of this is a massive argument, and valid, I think. But then there is a
whole necessary operation for the isolation or the extraction of one of the
relations which would be the political relation. And this political relation is
not the same one that I might call economic or organizational etc. The
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political relation is very specific. One of the aspects that interests me
concerns defining this particular specificity. It is specific for the simple
reason that it is the political relation that constitutes the aggregates, the
identities – mobile as they may be – and one of the elements of what we
call representation – the notion of speaking for someone or something

It’s going to be a very different endeavor if you engage the political

relation in a technical project, or in an artistic one, in the creation of a
market or an institution. As regards the moral question, there will
necessarily be a link between humans and non-humans, but the political
question, the isolation of a mode of existence that is properly political, this
is a complicated question that demands close attention. If you take
Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy, you find that politics is not
conceived as a singular mode. But you do find philosophy considered as
such (this is difficult for me to understand, but this is another question). It
would be interesting to use this same kind of approach to explore what is
the proper being of the political. As they do for philosophy – in this case
it’s the concept – and for science – where it’s the functive. We must
define this proper being of the political, no matter whether we position
ourselves on the right, the left, the micro, the macro, the meso etc. We will
always need to be able to define something that circulates.

And so I engage in this search for the being of politics and I do this by
focusing, as I often say, on the adverbial contrast between “speaking of
politics” and “speaking politically.” It’s not the content of the proposition
but a certain twist, a certain spin that defines the political and permits us to
say “there something is going and it really is political.”

EM: You say: “Make politics turn around topics that generate a public.” I
really like this idea that there is not yet a public that preexists the political.

BL: Yes, this is the fascinating argument I take on from Lippmann. No issue,
no politics – this is an expression from Noortje Marres. The trajectory and
natural history of “issues,” the way in which they circulate, recombine,
transform, would be a mode of reinterpreting the question of the content
of politics. I was speaking recently for instance of pixilation – the political is
the image, but if you isolate each pixel, then you have an issue, an affair,
a concern. Each issue begins with a certain attachment, a passion, a
certain type of representation. This is a somewhat bizarre metaphor but
political science extracts from all issues a certain number of common
elements that they name “the problem of representation,” “the problem
of institutions,” “the problem of governance” and in a generally
unrigorous way, even the question of revolt, isolating what each of these
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have in common. I find interesting in the turn toward objects (what I call
the politically-oriented-object) this idea of “give me your issues and your
movement and your navigation and I will know something about politics.”
Here the Web becomes interesting, since the Web is a good mechanism,
in this regard, for measuring measure, a good way of following the
development, the deployment, the confusion, the isolation and the
disappearance of issues. This goes pretty well with Tarde’s early argument
– made long before the Web at the epoch of newspapers and the
beginning of public opinion and even the very concept of the public. In
the end perhaps I am redefining what you call the micropolitical?

BM: I am trying to think of an example of a meeting with the non-human

and what comes to mind is whale song. The interest in whale song
erupted at a certain moment in the 1960s and was taken up and
recontextualized by a number of different disciplines and domains. There
were artistic engagements, mystical ones, quasi-religious responses,
biological experiments, and all kinds of mobilizations and political or
pragmatic position-taking – all of which emerged from this same point of
encounter. For us, the micropolitical or transdisciplinarity are conceived as
points of emergence or irruption that differentiate themselves through
different modalities, bringing with them a plurality of new problems for the
public, new issues, thus becoming nodes for negotiation and
contestation. In the end, they are regulated, but only to eventually be put
back into question. This is the idea of “instauration.” Could we imagine a
technique, an activity, that would correspond to this? Would this be a
pragmatic philosophy? A micropolitics? An aesthetic practice in a larger

BL: When you speak of micropolitics, are we speaking of the microphone

that registers whale song? Just kidding. Whale song is interesting. First, the
dimension of the problem of whales is not defined. It changes with respect
to the public. So it’s not particularly micropolitical. For the Japanese, for
instance, it’s an essential problem of identity, so for them it’s not micro.
Speaking of which, last week the campaign for whaling took off again, so
it’s not micro at all. What concerns me about micropolitics is that it is
always in rapport with the institution that would be invested in the politics
of what we call “macro.” What we absolutely have to avoid is that the
micro position itself against the political institution, when the real question
is how to deal with the political institution at all its levels.

It’s a problem of political positioning – this time in the classic sense of the
term as Deleuze uses it. We have to be careful. For me the question is, “is it
politically-oriented-object” politics? Because if it is, if it’s object-oriented,
whether this be revealed by artists or militants who want to hear whale
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songs, or be it scientists who want to create sonar technology to register
the sound for the first time, it doesn’t matter. The only way to follow this
kind of thing is not to become obsessed with which position is the artistic
one, the scientific one, the political one – it’s to follow the whale song.

So this is really a good example of politically-oriented-objects, but not

because it’s particularly micropolitical. Here we see a new composition or
a new being. Now the whales singing become part of what needs to be
absorbed into the commons. We see here – if “instauration” means the
entry of a new being into the ensemble of what it means to co-inhabit in a
livable world – a nice example of instauration.

Just yesterday I read in the Greenpeace journal that this year they are no
longer attacking whaling boats. The reason is interesting: what matters,
says Greenpeace, is to convert the Japanese. Boat attacks create such
negative reactions, and what interests Greenpeace is to make the
Japanese think as they do. Here we see the proper being of politics in
motion. Before we wanted to create an issue, to create an affair through
acts of provocation and opposition. Now we enter into another phase:
we must convince and turn Japanese opinion in our favour. These are
moments of one and the same cycle, of the same curve. I am
reconstructing Greenpeace’s position, which seems quite subtle to me.
We needed to make visible the insanity that was the scientific pursuit of
whales, and we had to make ourselves seen in the media, but now we
have to do something different. We see the issue in motion, and we see
the positions of those who want to move the issue change. The issue is
transforming itself. And this is very interesting because it’s a mode of
recharging in a certain way the definition of politics, in the banal sense of
the term. I am adding a pixel in the definition of the commons, in a certain
sense. The important difference for me is first “is this object-oriented or not”
(is there objective content in some sense) and secondly, does the curve
of politics, what I call the circle of the political, tie itself around this object.
It’s here that politics becomes really interesting.

BM: What makes visible this project of constriction and forces different
domains to come into relation, at more than one level? Would it be
possible to provoke conditions for a point of irruption (as the whale song
did), or are these always aleatory events? Is there a term that I could use
to describe this activity, or does this activity not have a status in the world
of practices?

BL: Abundance… It’s the pragmatic problem. The multiplicity of beings

that are asking questions, this is not what is lacking right now. What is
lacking are artists, political thinkers, scientists, militants, capable of listening
Micropolitics : Exploring Ethico-Aesthetics. Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation. No. 3. October
2009. www.inflexions.org
and articulating. The problem is not a deficit of emergent or “instaurated”
beings, the problem is that our academic organization is so poor, so
unwell that we have enormous difficulty representing the beings with
which we must pose the questions and compose the world.

In the end whale song is an explanation of something we already knew,

something we chose to ignore and the connection, the rhizome, between
the sound engineer, the researchers, the artist, the militant, the political
thinker make it present to our common consciousness. The question is not,
it seems to me, how to do it, but rather how is it possible that we know so
little. And so, the connection: how is it possible that we have such difficulty
making links between artists and the social sciences? Artists are always
expressive of an extremely rich mode of being, one that is sadly too often
themselves! Whereas social sciences too often believe that they must
imitate the hard sciences despite the fact that the hard sciences engage
the concept of objectivity in quite a different manner. The problem is the
extraordinary archaism of the intellectual-political tools, and this is what is
really alarming. We are completely unadapted, and the problem is not
the beings we need to represent, the problem is that we live an extremely
limited intellectual life.

EM: This reminds me of a sentence where you say that for Etienne Souriau
what is important is to grasp the work – to become work (faire oeuvre) –
while avoiding the question of what comes from the work and what
comes from the artist.

BL: This is the problem: in all these questions of projects, of works, the
problem is the institution. The question is how to transform the notion of the
institution into a positive concept. And evidently how to create an
institution capable of becoming-work (faire oeuvre) – and this is
altogether another challenge. Anti-institutionalism doesn’t help... We must
also somehow manage to rework the notion of the institution at a political
level, to link instauration and institution. There is a link but to my knowledge
it hasn’t been thought for a long time.

BM: You spent your career of engaging in critique in the name of

constructivism. Now you seem to be replacing the issue of construction
with the idea of instauration. Could you say a bit about the reasons you
find it necessary to distance yourself a bit from the notion of construction
or constructivism?

BL: Constructivism… We tried everything with constructivism. Construction,

deconstruction, reconstruction, and we never even arrived at that
concept you mentioned just now from Souriau. The advantage of
Micropolitics : Exploring Ethico-Aesthetics. Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation. No. 3. October
2009. www.inflexions.org
instauration is that we leave the lexical field of critique where the notion of
construction is completely immanent. Isabelle Stengers has made a great
effort to speak of constructivism in a positive way. I completely failed at
this perhaps because I tried to do it in the sciences, which is precisely the
place where it is most forbidden to speak of constructivism. Afterwards I
tried to upset the balance by saying that the important question was to
engage the well and badly constructed to replace the opposition
between the constructed and the not-constructed. Here, it starts to look
like instauration.

I am a militant constructivist, convinced, yet I no longer use the concept,

it’s true. Instauration is a way of giving sense to the idea of construction
and creation… This is why Souriau does all this work: he finds in the
aesthetic realm the only place that has not been contaminated by the
constructed/non-constructed opposition. In the sciences of the time this
would probably have been impossible – he speaks very little about
science, or religion. After all, he is writing in the 1930s…

This is my experience: I tried everything with construction, all the possible

combinations for thirty years, so I have a long experience with the
concept and still I never managed to make it stick. And every time I fell
into the same trap, so to speak. If I had been engaged in aesthetic issues,
aesthetic philosophy, as Souriau was, it would not have been such a
problem. The problem is that doing constructivist work on the sciences
where the distance between the constructed and the non-constructed is
more vast – it’s obviously more difficult.

BM: And also in politics?

BL: In politics, you see, it’s the inverse: everyone is a “deconstructionist.” So

you have to be naïve in politics. You have to say yes, the representation is
faithful, but only on condition that you understand this very strange curve
that is the political. The obsession of the political is truth, it is to tell the truth.
But if you say this, you look extremely naïve since you are forever speaking
to people who have deconstructed in advance any confidence we
might have had in the political. This is what we undertook, for instance, in
Making Things Public. We tried to recharge the political through
mediations. According to the domain, you have to be differently
constructivist. In science, I am still a militant constructivist, since it is
necessary to keep fighting against the same old stupidity – it’s a domain,
in France at least, where ideas do not move an inch. In this case, you
have to be insufferable, unpleasant, you have to bark, to bite, as I did
when I was thirty. But not at all in politics. In politics you have be
completely different, there you have to be naïve. To each domain its
Micropolitics : Exploring Ethico-Aesthetics. Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation. No. 3. October
2009. www.inflexions.org
constructivism, its mode of existence, its own instauration, what Souriau
calls its “anaphoric path ” -translated by Erin Manning

Micropolitics : Exploring Ethico-Aesthetics. Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation. No. 3. October
2009. www.inflexions.org