Being-as-Other, the Hermeneutical “as” and New Media

Can one interpret the AIME project (An Inquiry into Modes of Existence from the point of view of communication theory?

Latour doesn’t use the term “communication,” – the term doesn’t appear in the Glossary of AIME which is odd considering for both Habermas and Luhmann communication is the very definition of the social – but a link appears when Latour proclaims that “beings utter themselves.” Another word for self-utterance is taken from semiotics, “enunciation,” which in AIME amounts to an “articulation” of continuity under the regime of time, of discontinuity, hiatus, indeed, of being-as-other. The “as” in this foundational term of the AIME metalanguage cannot help but recall the hermeneutical “as” in Philosophical Hermeneutics. Just as for Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricoeur Being is meaning, so for AIME “being and enunciation can almost be taken to be synonymous since it is the nature of a being to utter itself, to exist, to transit, to throw itself forward through the hiatus of existence or expression.”

From the point of view of a theory of communication the hiatus between being-as/and-other is bridged by establishing redundance, repetition, establishing thereby the “same” in difference. How do we know, Wittgenstein asked, if we are using the same word in the same way? We can’t, was the answer, so long as we are solipsistically isolated transcendental subject(s), for whom, whatever they say is right is right. The famous private language argument in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations convincingly showed that order, meaning, and therefor language also were only then possible, when intersubjective corrigibility or community guaranteed that what I say makes some kind of sense, that is, when meaning is constructed (articulated, enunciated) in and through communication. What use is it for a being to utter or enunciate itself, when noone “hears” or “responds”? At least it would be difficult to think of any kind of “negotiating” between any modes of being or any collectives without communication.

In ANT (Actor-Network Theory) things, non-humans, as Latour tirelessly pointed out, must be considered as social “agents,” that is, participants in communication. Although Latour doesn’t seem to like the word “communication,” it might turn out to be a good name for going about composing the collective and therefore it could become a term of some theoretical importance. An importance that could warrant it a place in the metalanguage of AIME.

Including “communication” in the metalanguage of AIME implies looking at how beings “communicate.” It implies describing the modes of being in terms of modes of communication, since after all, “being and enunciation” are same. At the very minimum it can be argued that overcoming contingence by bridging the hiatus is a form of creating redundance, which, as Wittgenstein showed, amounts to following rules. Of course these are normative rules. One doesn’t have to make sense. Madness, just as non-being, is possible. Neither lines of force, nor lineages, nor habits, nor attachments have to jump their various gaps and subsist. The necessity and certainty of substance is gone. Indeed, being-as-other implies being-as-contingence. Being “as” other means that everything could be “other” than it seems. There is no guarantee, or as Latour would say, there is no substance, only subsistence, that is, an always precarious continuity.

Isn’t this what the hermeneutical “as” is all about? Interpretation is the construction of meaning as sameness in otherness. The interpretation is always at once a product of many factors. The author’s intentions, the works own infinite horizon of possible meanings, and the interpreter’s meaning. Nonetheless, it is an interpretation of this particular text, this work of art, this era of history, this experiment, this vote, and so on. That everything exists only in the mode of “as” implies that there is an ontological hiatus between how it at any time appears and how it could appear. Hermeneutical understanding, Interpretation bridges this gap in one way or another. The different ways that the hiatus is bridged – if only for the moment, since the next interpretation is already waiting off stage – could be thought of as modes of communication.

What does this link between hermeneutics and AIME have to do with communication theory? It could be that communication is subject to constraints of its own that influence the modes in which beings can utter, enunciate, articulate, in short, “interpret” themselves within the collective. It could be that technologies of communication and New Media change these constraints and therefore the modes of being that AIME is carefully documenting. Media make a difference, as Marshal McLuhan said. Being-as-other and the hermeneutical “as” might not only be messages, but also media.