Thread chord

A passage from Latour’s latest book, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, reminded me of another from Calvino’s Invisible Cities.


In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, or authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.

Thus, when travelling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.


 From this point on, observers no longer find themselves facing a world that is full, continuous, without interstices, accessible to disinterested knowledge endowed with the mysterious capacity to go “everywhere” through thought. By taking apart the amalgam of res ratiocinans, we have become able to discern the narrow conduits of the production of equipped and rectified knowledge as so many slender veins that are added to other conduits and conducts along which, for example, existents can run the risk of existing. These networks are more numerous than those of references, but they are no less localizable, narrow, limited in their kind, and, too, a sketch of their features — this is the essential point — reveals as many empty places as peaks and troughs. The stubborn determination of things to keep on existing does not saturate this landscape any more than knowledge could.

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