‘Book Review: Bruno Latour. An enquiry into modes of existence: An anthropology of the moderns’, European Journal of Social Theory 18 (3): 343-348.

One key feature of modern life is the dissatisfaction with modernity’s own selfdescriptions. Accounts of these experiences vary greatly, of course, but more often than not they reflect on disappointed expectations and the gaps between ‘facts’ and ‘values’ or between ‘representation’ and ‘reality’. Equally modern is the view that modernity can only be described adequately if we do so in its totality and on the basis of a more or less radical claim to originality: historical conditions make it necessary that a new narrative is attempted; previous accounts are to be discarded but now we will succeed in avoiding past mistakes. A sequel to his own We Have Never Been Modern, Bruno Latour’s most recent book belongs decidedly to this modernist genre in which modernity is treated as a single civilizational complex that is in need of full reconsideration: it is a thoroughly modern attempt to account for the modern dissatisfaction with the modern experience of unfulfilled promises that arise from modernity’s own successes and failures. To Latour, the modern world we inhabit exists but not in the way people think it does. It can and ought to be explained objectively but the scientists who have produced these explanations have radically misunderstood what they are doing; it works well, but this is despite our misunderstanding technology as merely a means to an end; it has been beautifully represented in countless works of arts but these are neither the creation of particular authors nor a reflection of their time and place. You and I are real, but ‘our’ consciousness and bodily constitution are not really ours and do not tell us anything about our shared humanity.


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