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Philosophical Entertainments

September 12, 2013

Latour’s fifth book, the colorful and offbeat Aramis, is a literary exploration of the cancellation of the little-known Aramis system: a fully computerized replacement for the Paris subway, consisting of detachable individual cars that would move independently from any point in the city to any other without transfer. This last work rivals Francis Bacon’s remarks on fire, Aristotle’s definition of good luck, and Leibniz’s “Drôle de Philosophie” fragment as the most entertaining philosophical text I have ever seen.

— from “Bruno Latour, King of Networks”, collected in Toward Speculative Realism
by Graham Harman

I love this sort of thing — how wonderful to find Bacon, Aristotle, and Leibniz entertaining! It makes me want to track down those three texts and read them, though I probably won’t. I have read Aramis, or the Love of Technology and I don’t know if I find it quite as entertaining or as philosophical as Harman does — not so much as some of Latour’s other work — but it is charming and utterly unique, and helps flesh out some of Latour’s ideas with real-world examples. It is almost certainly more entertaining than any other intellectually ambitious study of a failed transportation project. Latour applies a light fictionalization to his account, and weaves the book out of different voices, designated by distinct typefaces.  The wild style helps offset what most people would probably consider a boring subject matter. Latour pulls out all the stops in trying to seduce us into the love of technology — true love for true technology, not some shallow, consumerist, gee-whiz infatuation with shiny gizmos and facile futurology. He has called it his favorite among his books.

My vote for most entertaining philosophical text, Heavyweight Division, would be the Chuang-tzu. Among less distinguished, but still insightful, works, I am always entertained by the philosophical musings of Raymond Smullyan, himself a lover of Chuang-tzu.

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