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Latour and the Passage of Law$
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Kyle McGee

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748697908

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748697908.001.0001

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Plasma! Notes on Bruno Latour’s Metaphysics of Law

Plasma! Notes on Bruno Latour’s Metaphysics of Law

(p.197) 7 Plasma! Notes on Bruno Latour’s Metaphysics of Law
Latour and the Passage of Law

Laurent de Sutter

Edinburgh University Press

Here, Laurent de Sutter poses a direct challenge to a principal tenet of Latour’s metaphysics: Latour’s commitment to empiricity, positivity and above all the trace by which alone an actor is grasped in actor-network theory. De Sutter embraces Latour’s argument about the ontological openness or generosity of law – it is the only mode, de Sutter reminds us, capable of seizing any being whatsoever and attaching it to an utterance or an action and thereby registering its agency and, importantly, rendering it compossible with beings of quite other pedigrees. As such, law is the only ‘ontologically neutral’ mode, but there is much more at stake than the harmonics of existential modes, namely the real composition of worlds and, indeed, of what must be defined as the unworldly: ‘all that exists only as non-existing’, ‘all that is present only as absent’, or again, ‘all that has form only as unformed’. These missing masses that Latour occasionally acknowledges, de Sutter argues, escape from the tendrils of the networks that define the real and the knowable, but enjoy something more than a mere negative or emptily theoretical existence. For Latour, plasma is simply the ‘dumping ground’ where he deposits the things that do not awaken his interest, a realm of obscurity that must be set off from the world of which clear and distinct representations are possible. To undo this surprisingly Cartesian tendency in Latour, perhaps, de Sutter suggests, it would be possible to recover plasma as the genus to which Deleuze’s dark precursor would belong. If there is identity, similitude, resemblance, traceability, in short the whole modern system of representation, it is only as a plasmatic excrescent. As a first step along this path, de Sutter makes a pitch for the recovery of what he calls the beings of sensitivity, which may affect other beings profoundly but which themselves leave no measurable trace.

Keywords:   Ontology of law, Metaphysics, Bruno Latour, Speculative realism, Modes of existence, World

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