I am eager to talk about ‘the modern’ and alternate modernities, although the word ‘modern’ is kind of a blob—we could massage it in many different ways. We could also subvert it. I read a book last year by Bruno Latour called We Have Never Been Modern, which argues that the superior attitudes of self-ascribed modernity (such as culture distinct from nature, or discourse distinct from society) are a kind of illusion or self-deception—we have always been hybrid-beings in hybrid-worlds, says Latour.
The modern works by a logic/praxis of purification (a proliferation of entities—natural, social, objective, etc.), entailing a logic/praxis of mediation (between these hyper-distinguished entities). Latour argues that the work of purification always already secretly involves the work of mediation and vice versa. He is not a deconstructing, but rather showing suppressed interconnections. He provides some schematic diagrams to illustrate the architecture of his argument, which at first I found to be somewhat complex (it took me forever to get through the book, even though it’s very short) but then simple when (I think) I got it. On the whole, I didn’t find his conceptual narrative all too relevant to matters of my personal concern. But I did really enjoy his critique of Heidegger, which I feel offers, in a cracked nutshell, a stinging (yet liberating) rebuke:
Who has forgotten Being? No one, no one ever has, otherwise Nature would be truly available as a pure ‘stock’. Look around you: scientific objects are circulating simultaneously as subjects objects and discourse. Networks are full of Being. As for machines, they are laden with subjects and collectives. How could a being lose its difference, its incompleteness, its mark, its trace of Being. This is never in anyone’s power; otherwise we should have to imagine that we have truly been modern, we should be taken in by the upper half of the modern Constitution.
Has someone, however, actually forgotten Being? Yes: anyone who really thinks that Being has really been forgotten. As Lévi-Strauss says, ‘the barbarian is first and foremost the man who believes in barbarism.’ (Lévi-Strauss,  1987, p.12). Those who have failed to undertake empirical studies of sciences, technologies, law, politics, economics, religion or fiction have lost the traces of Being that are distributed everywhere among beings. If, scorning empiricism, you opt out of the exact sciences, then the human sciences, then traditional philosophy, then the sciences of language, and you hunker down in your forest—then you will indeed feel a tragic loss. But what is missing is you yourself, not the world! Heidegger’s epigones have converted that glaring weakness into a strength. ‘We don’t know anything empirical, but that doesn’t matter, since your world is empty of Being. We are keeping the little flame of Being safe from everything, and you, who have all the rest, have nothing.’ On the contrary: we have everything, since we have Being, and beings, and we have never lost track of the difference between Being and beings. We are carrying out the impossible project undertaken by Heidegger, who believed what the modern Constitution said about itself without understanding that what is at issue there is only half of a larger mechanism which has never abandoned the old anthropological matrix. No one can forget being, since there has never been a modern world, or, by the same token, metaphysics. We have always remained pre-Socratic, pre-Cartesian, pre-Kantian, pre-Nietzschean. No radical revolution can separate us from these pasts, so there is no need for reactionary counter-revolutions to lead us back to what has never been abandoned. Yes, Heraclitus is a surer guide than Heidegger. ‘Einai gar kai entautha theous.’
B. Latour, We have never been modern, p. 66-67
Perhaps, in our own logic/praxis, we can develop a topic as an independent thread before scheduling a Café on that topic. That way anyone who is interested in the theme has time to read, research, flesh out some of the intricacies and folds, mull it over, interact and metabolize. The topic itself can mutate, soaking in the subliminal, until it’s ready to bubble up as a public event. Then we put it on the calendar…making sure everyone who would be interested knows when it’s coming up, etc. I’m sure we could better coordinate the cracking of this nut; I think it would mean giving ourselves enough (but not too much) time to practice with the ideas before performing them live.
I would love to dig into my modern library to find nuggets for improvisation and pastiche. For example, this weekend I think I am going to read the entirety of that Wallace poem. I may also dip back into Borges. I’ve learned a lot from @brian.george51 as well about modern writers and artists; and I’m reading some of his work too. I would add his piece on Girogio de Chirico into the mix.
We could also ask about ‘modernity’ in the light of concepts of time and history. This essay was shared with me by @sphuratti, who planted to seed of ‘alternate modernities’ in my mind:
Time-and-History_Reinhart-Koselleck.pdf (3.1 MB)
(Ben has been researching alt-modernities in Indian thought.)
Just one last thought: If we’ve never been modern, then we’ve never post-modern, or integral for that matter. Or perhaps, we’ve always been all of the above in some emergent admixture. There could be much to explore here as we tease apart (purify and mediate) these various epochs of consciousness and time, and their artistic productions. I will soon share some tools we could use to help organize our own productions across space and time.