Adam Tooze | e-flux | December, 2020
The vista painted for us by Bruno Latour, Eva Lin, and Martin Guinard in their concept for the Taipei Biennial 2020 is alarming: “We are witnessing a massive extension of conflicts and an extreme brutalization of politics. The ‘international order’ is being systematically dismantled … We lack a common world.” The divisions are so deep that we can no longer even define peace and war. “It is crucially important to explore alternative modes of encounter … to avoid destruction,” yet we cannot do so on the assumption of an overarching authority, which is precisely what no longer exists. “The present imperative is not simply to foster a discussion among a multiplicity of perspectives, since this would inevitably fall back to older models of universalism” in a vain attempt to reconcile “multiple visions of the same natural world. The aim … is to explore alternative procedures that still aim at some sort of settlement, but only after having fully accepted that divisions go much deeper than those anticipated by old universalist visions.” This is what Latour, Lin, and Guinard mean by “new diplomatic encounters.”
Latour first began developing his diagnosis of the contemporary crisis thirty years ago with We Have Never Been Modern. It is a complex and continuously evolving project reflecting, on the one hand, on the displacement of a stable nature as common ground, by what he calls Gaia. On the other hand, he is responding to the political impasse of modernity, which is at its most extreme in the Anglosphere. His 2017 Down to Earth was a direct response to the double crisis of 2016: Brexit and Trump.
But there is another strand in Latour’s contemporary diagnosis that informs the insistence on “diplomatic encounters”—the work of Carl Schmitt. And this is also the point at which the diagnosis misleads us. Reanimating Schmitt’s critique of liberal modernity born out of the violence of Europe’s early twentieth century serves as much to compound as to illuminate our current impasse. It is time to provincialize Schmitt’s critique. It is time also to put the know-nothing, climate-denial tactics of a small fraction of the US elite in their historic place. Elon Musk’s rockets may capture headlines, but the strategy that Latour has dubbed “escape,” or “exit,” is a dead end. And that fact is evident not only to the EU, but also to China and the most powerful voices of global capital as well. There is every reason to think that profound shifts are breaking the impasse that has defined our reality for the last thirty years. This is not to say that we do not face a divided and unequal world set on a disastrous course, but rather that the key players and the terms of the negotiation are shifting.
Originally published by e-flux. Read the full article here.