Bruno Latour: From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public

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Latour, Bruno. “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik – or How to Make Things Public.” In Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005 (accessed July 23, 2008).

Keywords: fundamentalism, Realpolitik, Dingpolitik, Body Politik, Res Publica, matters of concern, material/materials, facts (truths and proofs), eloquence, assembly of assemblies, disassembly, (an assembly of ways of dissembling), hybrid forums, assemblage, parliament of things, (re)presentation, disabled (speech impaired), prosthetics, indifference, domes, Phantom of the Public, Leviathan

Moses, OS, Ding (meaning things), NASA, geographical metaphors, prosthetics, Leviathan, Greenland’s glaciers, Fraser’s dome on the Reichstag, fundamentalism, a pneumatic parliament, weapons of mass destruction, Norwegian congressman, Realpolitik, Noah’s ark, (re)presentation, iconoclasm, Beauty, Truth and Piety; Norman Rockwell, May 1968, neo-gothic, mebra disjecta, The Chinese, bodies and phantoms, Moses…

And the point of these references? Their relevance to sociologist Bruno Latour’s (eclectic) curitorial statement for an exhibition at ZKM? We urgently need new ways of addressing public matters, with matters here referring to both “matter” (as in stuff) and “matters” (as in concern). Politics is fraught with problems, including fundamentalism, an important pressure point in Latour’s post-911 text. The concept of Realpolitik has shifted since the days of Bismarck. Instead of describing practical considerations, it now connotes power politics more interested in authority and control than in grappling with “realism”—whatever that may be?! And Latour’s “answer”? We need new stratagem not of assembling but of disassembling—modes of (re)presentation that acknowledge the processual complexities of “getting together”. This, asserts Latour, is what the exhibition in question explores. It considers issues related to political, scientific and artistic representation by packing “…loads of stuff into the empty arenas where people were supposed to assemble simply to talk.” It’s about highlighting matters of concern rather than matters of fact…what brings this stuff—this “ding”, these objects—together. It’s about creating an aesthetics of matters of concern, of things. Latour’s question: “Why are we being so badly represented?” And his answer: because the interests we try and represent…are…wrong. Dispense with “the what” (the issue, “the fact”). Engage with “the why” (what makes this concern of importance?). To this end Latour would like “…visitors and readers to move…[through the exhibition]…asking every time the three following questions: How do they manage to bring in the relevant parties? How do they manage to bring in the relevant issues? What change does it make in the way people make up their minds to be attached to things?”

It’s difficult, having not seen the exhibition, to know if/how the stuff/ding on display actually asked these questions. Such are the problems with curatorial statements like this one. They invariably editorialize through their (re)presentations. For Jem Mackay, who picked this text for the Ecoes' study group, transparency is central to Latour’s rant: “…the second section [provides] a possible solution to this by enabling the general public to voice their worries openly (e.g. artists within the ZKM exhibition). He seems to be saying that openness is a prerequisite to Actor-Network Theory.” (Jem's comments to members of the Ecoes working group) Pushing this idea further, it seems Latour is arguing (albeit paradoxically and ironically) that transparency is so important because it’s impossible to achieve. Why? Because all representation involves (re)presentation. Everything is mediated. The result: Latour calls for “a new eloquence”: a way of speaking not tantamount to openness and clarity so much as assemblage for the point of making things public. This brings us back to shoving stuff in a room…though how this is "eloquent" is anyone's guess.

Relevance to Ecoes

A catalog of questions in this text

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