Do Not Attempt: French Philosophy Without Coffee

I made the mistake of attempting to read Bruno Latour’s techno-science theory book We Have Never Been Modern before I had had enough coffee. First of all, the socio-philosophical (what’s he say he is? A sociologist?) text was translated into English from the original French, and whenever I read him I worry I am missing some nuances in the translation. My French skills are not up to the level of reading the original work. I struggled through Voltaire’s Candide in French as a grad student. That’s probably as advanced as I’m going to get. (I read the English version of it when I was 14 so it’s not complex.)

There was actually a moment while reading Latour’s other techno-science text Pandora’s Hope that the editor chose not to translate a passage from French, instead including it verbatim and attempting to explain what it meant. I felt a great deal of academic pride in recognizing the ambiguity of the French verb and understanding why the translation would not work in English. Faire is a French verb. It’s like the first verb you learn in high school French. I am not a genius.

Anyway, after reading about three pages of Latour’s treatise on modernity, my brain got a bit mushy. I was tempted to ask my Twitter followers to give me 140 character definitions of Latour’s idea of modernity just to see what they said but decided against it. I have a number of teenage girls following me on Twitter right now and I didn’t want to melt off their faces. (Don’t ask how that happened; it’s a long story.) It would be an interesting social experiment though. Feel free to try it and send me your answers.

Unfortunately, I really do need a good postmodern techno-scientific definition of modernity for contrast with Cartesian methodology but I am apparently not smart enough or well-caffeinated enough to digest Latour. It’s like he’s speaking a foreign language. (Ha! J'ai fait une joke.)  I’m still not sure what “modern” means. I’m pretty sure this blog isn’t modern.

In summation, you know you’re in neck deep in philosophical theory when Michel Foucault seems simple and straightforward compared to what you’re actually reading.