Many thanks to Graham Harman for reminding us of the first anniversary of the Harman Review symposium, and also for his gracious words. It was such an unusual and unlikely event; even in retrospect it is difficult to believe it actually had taken place. What are the chances of hosting a metaphysical debate between a Heideggerian philosopher and a sociologist known for his dislike of Heidegger on the grounds of a management school, organised by PhD students of an information systems department?
Yet at the same time there was a sense of inevitability to it, as the organisation of it gathered pace. As any actor-network theory head knows, projects are born in multiple places and can die multiple deaths but there is one thing certain: technology had a lot to do with the birth of this one. Facebook and Google Groups exerted their agency in bringing some of the key actors together, and there was one critical moment, when two Palm Pilots were put side-by-side and the realisation was born that Bruno Latour and Graham Harman would be in London and at the LSE on the same day, by pure chance, if there is such a thing.
Of course once one digs a bit deeper it becomes clearer that the Information Systems and Innovation Group (formerly Information Systems Department) at the LSE was not such an unlikely host after all. Latour himself spent time there as visiting professor and its former head, the late Claudio Ciborra, was one of the first people if not the first one to contrast actor-network theory and Heidegger in relation to the question concerning technology. The PhD students who formed the ANTHEM reading group in November 2006 in a way just carried on with this questioning, being puzzled by Latour’s rejection of Heidegger on the one hand, and by his embracing of some of Heidegger’s notions (such as the thing as gathering) and concerns on the other.
As it turned out, there were a few other people interested in this conundrum (see our little bibliography). Doll Jr. and Petrina for example said this as early as 1999: “In someways it is possible to see Latour’s own views on technology and society not only being influenced by but being an extension of Heidegger’s provocative and seminal, 1950s, essay, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ (1997/1954).” So to have the author of Tool-Being, Guerilla Metaphysics, and Heidegger Explained on hand to interrogate Bruno Latour about his metaphysics, and not just in casual conversation but on the basis of his manuscript on Latour’s metaphysics, was just a godsend (or shall we say godheadsend?) for us, information systems PhD students grappling with the philosophy of technology.
It was indeed our great pleasure to be able to play a small part in facilitating this debate and we are looking foreward to seeing Harman’s forthcoming book, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics, in print later on this spring. Over this past year, the recording of the symposium hosted on our eSnips site had been accessed 883 times, which must be only a fraction of the number of downloads of the file hosted at the LSE site, the latter being the top Google search result for all things Harman/Latour/Heidegger. The circulating manuscript in the meantime has inspired some spirited discussions on blogs too many to name here. What better way to end this post than by referring you back to Graham’s own blog, where just a few days ago he posted an excellent summary of the main concerns of his forthcoming book on Latour.