Death of Bruno Latour, thinker of the ecological bifurcation

He is a curious and learned researcher who has just passed away, but above all a deeply contemporary spirit. Like few other philosophers, Bruno Latour, who died on October 9 at the age of 75, had taken the measure of the present times. Since the dawn of the 2000s, he has been trying to think about the consequences of the ecological crisis in our way of understanding ourselves, inviting a real metamorphosis of knowledge.

With real freedom, Bruno Latour carried out this work at the crossroads of philosophy, sociology, anthropology, science, but also aesthetics and theology, having understood that only the dialogue of disciplines made it possible to to advance.

Critical reading of modernity

Born in 1947, graduate in philosophy, he had carried out his first research in anthropology in a laboratory in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) on the Ivoirisation of executives within local factories, while working on a thesis in biblical exegesis on the stories of the resurrection. His work was quickly oriented towards the sociology of science, to take an interest in laboratory life and the construction of scientific discourse.

As a sociologist as much as a philosopher, he had diverted his gaze from “science done” to science “in the process of being done”, crossing the questions of objectivity and truth. This first project was the foundation of his critical reading of modernity, the blind spots of which he has since sought to illuminate.

This multidisciplinary approach was to be invaluable to him in thinking about the Anthropocene, this new geological era linked to the massive and negative transformations of man on the living. Instead of carrying out a simple “greenwashing” of thought, he had gradually put back on the bench all the classic notions of philosophy: nature and culture, matter and spirit, the particular and the universal, progress and tradition… Professor at Sciences Po since 2006, he was particularly concerned with the political question, an essential lever for implementing the rescue of our common world.

A man of conversations

Bruno Latour was aware of the magnitude of the task and its urgency. A friendly and mischievous man, creative spirit, he tried to reduce the legitimate vertigo caused by the climate crisis by implementing a collective work willingly associating artists and young researchers. “When my father and my grandfather died, they knew that their children would live in much the same world as them. But for me, between my birth and my death, the world has changed immensely. This novelty, deeply distressing, drives people mad. My own solution was to disperse my anxieties on other people, through my lectures, my books, the theatre”he confided to The cross in 2020.

Over the decades, his books had reached a wide audience, thanks to an unacademic style and spirited writing. His essays often raised more questions than they answered. They did not always elucidate the flashes that passed through them, but always proved to be inspiring.

Thinking with Gaia

Bruno Latour had taken the measure, before many other thinkers, of the intimate solidarity of man with the natural world and of the danger of the destruction of our ” environment “, which precisely in his eyes was not one. “This idea of ​​environment makes little sense since you can never draw the boundary that would distinguish an organism from what surrounds it. In a literal sense, nothing surrounds us, everything conspires with our breathing.he remarked.

Friend of poetry and literature, Bruno Latour had then exhumed a Greek mythological figure, Gaïa, goddess of the Earth, to express the solidarity of humans with all the living, “which have a family resemblance because they have a common origin and have spread, spread, mixed, superimposed, almost everywhere, transforming from top to bottom, incessantly repairing their initial conditions by their successive inventions ». If the term could surprise at first glance, or even arouse mistrust, it had the effectiveness of ” to land “ – as he liked to say – humanity and to make it impossible to keep it above ground. Humanity lives not “on” earth, but “with” Earth or Gaia.

For Bruno Latour, it made no sense to continue to be “old-fashioned humans”that is to say modern, supposedly autonomous. “The individual in the modern world is always a literary hapax, a theatrical cogito, as we have known since Descartes. And so whenever an individual who presents himself as such and claims sole ownership of some property, that should make us laugh.”. He criticized the behavior of “excavators”these predatory individuals of the living, which he opposed to “earthly”, aware of their bond of solidarity with Gaia. He called for the constitution of a new “ecological class”, capable of redrawing the map of political conflicts.

Back to basics

Lately, the experience of confinement appeared to him as a moment of confirmation of the necessary bifurcation of our societies. With the health crisis, the economy, “taken until now for the indisputable foundation of existence”was “rising upwards, like a wooden beam”, he pictorially described in Where am I. lessons of confinement with regard to terrestrials. “Without firing, the famous ‘infrastructure’ of modern life appeared superficial”, he noted. Then could have appeared the essential that are “the concerns of begetting and the questions of subsistence”.

Inspired by the Christian faith, Bruno Latour saw in the incarnation another reason to look towards “down here”. For this, he strongly criticized the spiritualist temptation which had, according to him, taken hold of Catholicism since the 17th century.e century in its attempt to respond to atheism. He saw in this escape of Christians from the world a contradiction in terms of the Gospel. “What meaning could (believers) give to the incarnation of a God made man, if it was necessary to escape from the world? », he warned. He had received the encyclical from Pope Francis Laudato si’ as excellent news, considering this text as “the essential place for the resumption of Catholic preaching”.

Without claiming to be a theologian, the philosopher invited the Christian faith to an intimate metamorphosis. “Transcendence has become false, not to say diabolical, and it is immanence, despised by centuries of ”spirituality”, which becomes desirable, moral and civic, he still confided to The cross. For me, it is time to get rid of the question of belief and ask another: what is embodiment? Where do you incarnate and with whom? On this, Christianity has things to say. »

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