The Books That Influence Nikolaj Schultz, Nikolaj Schultz, δημοσίευση στο Frieze [20/3/2023]
Bruno Latour, Down to Earth (2018, Polity Books)
In his short book Down to Earth (2018), Bruno Latour enters the terrain of political science in the tradition of the German philosopher Eric Voegelin. For Voegelin, the main task of political science was to delineate the political principles by which societies orient themselves – a task that must be renewed if a society enters a moment of crisis or destabilization. In Down To Earth, Latour takes up precisely this task in the light of our rapidly transforming historical situation. The result is an exercise in re-orientation, an attempt to create a sort of political map with which we might orient ourselves in our ‘new climatic regime’. This epoch in which we find ourselves is characterized by climatic disasters, and a ‘wicked universality’ of ecological destruction that is both commonly felt – because it is happening everywhere – and unevenly and unequally distributed in its effects.
Latour’s map consists of four political coordinates – the local, the global, the off-shore, and the terrestrial – representing different signposts for politics. According to Latour, modernization was one long passage from the ‘local’ towards the ‘global’, but today, the dream of this horizon has burst; climate change and global inequalities have proven that we cannot keep on globalizing. Yet returning to the local and the nation state is an even less realistic possibility; one can neither escape the interconnections globalization has brought with it nor build a wall against climate risks. As an alternative to these dead-ends, Latour suggests recalibrating our political compass towards what he calls the terrestrial, the meeting point of politics, people and their earthly conditions of habitability – a coordinate based on the planet’s reactions to how we are inhabiting it. In other words, Latour takes us on a political flight, then suggests that politics needs to come to land.
In a time of political bewilderment, Latour’s political compass orients us toward more or less realistic horizons of politics. Down to Earth remains a crucial read, a book with which Latour established himself as one of the most important thinkers of our times, both in and outside the academy. On a more personal note, this is where he first introduced the notion of ‘geosocial classes’, a concept he and I would go on to develop together in the final years of his life, resulting in a set of co-authored articles, and in his last book, our On the Emergence of an Ecological Class: A Memo (2022).
Emanuele Coccia, The Life of Plants (2018, Polity Books)
A new movement of thinkers have emerged in France in recent years, following in the footsteps of Latour and his long efforts at integrating non-humans into social theory and sketching out the philosophical and political landscape of our ‘new climatic regime’. Not unlike the existentialists of the 20th century, they are interested in ‘being’ and ‘existence’, but in the light of the anthropocene and the unfolding planetary tragedy, they are approaching these topics in a novel manner. Instead of focusing on the meaning of human existence as the ‘old existentialists’ did, these thinkers practice a sort of new existentialism that focuses instead on the beings that allow other beings to exist; they direct attention to the plurality of living beings with and on which humans coexist and depend.
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