Having recently finished Bruno Latour’s Politics of Nature, I was reminded of his liberal use of “Latour Litanies,” the lists (for which he continually demonstrates an adeptness) he creates to remind his audience of the implications of a flat ontology in which ALL entities – animate and inanimate, human and nonhuman – receive equal treatment and ontological status, none subordinated to any others. The creation of assemblies and collectives, one of the central aims of Politics of Nature, is, like Actor-Network Theory in general, particularly well suited to concise exemplification via Latour litanies. The book is worth reading but probably not worth adumbrating, since Latour himself has provided a “Summary of the argument for those Readers in a hurry.”
The term, “Latour Litany” was coined by Ian Bogost, who has also created a “Latour Litanizer,” enabling all of us to create our own litanies. His version is based on a combination of the chance derived from an algorithm and the emphasis of Wikipedia, which tends to be heavy on Proper names of people, places and events. Latour’s own lists follow a slightly different pattern, usually grouped in sevens and created more deliberately by an individual French intellectual. If we take an example like “a river, a troop of elephants, a climate, El Niño, a mayor, a town, a park” (PoN 83), we notice that Latour usually includes a person (mayor), animals (elephants), a material and delimited place (town, park), an entity from nature – though of course the term “nature” is always problematic with Latour – (El Nino), a more nebulous space or facet of nature (climate), as well as parts along with their larger wholes (park/town, El Nino/Climate). He often, though not in this case, includes cyborg-like combinations of the organic and inorganic.
Politics of Nature includes what is to date my favorite Latour Litany: “black holes, rivers, transgenic soy beans, farmers, the climate, human embryos, and humanized pigs” (PoN 151), which I figured would make for a more interactive and collective game (not unlike the politics of nature themselves) and as a great creative substitute for Rochambeau. Black holes/Rivers/Transgenic Soy Beans/Farmers/The Climate/Human Embryos/Humanized Pigs could replace the rather staid Rock/Paper/Scissors as a version more ambitious than the other available alternatives, including Rock/Paper/Scissors/Lizard/Spock popularized by an episode of “Big Bang Theory” (see video below), or the already ambitious but rather anthropocentric Monkey-Pirate-Robot-Ninja-Zombie.
Possible details (suggested below) clearly need some work, but that is part of the Latourian fun (or chore). The game is always a work in process. Different Latour litanies can be used, and processes for deciding who gets to play, how these entities can live together, who speaks for entities that cannot speak for themselves, etc. become part of an ongoing discourse that allows us to avoid the habitual stasis of predictability in favor of experimentation. That is, the collectives and their individual entities work via extension and remain in a “process of exploring,” according to Latour, so it is fitting that the game would be constantly reconfigured, new relations created, new associations drawn. As Latour reminds us, we must remain skeptical of all spokespersons speaking on behalf of things (including games), so be suspicious of your opponents. This is all to say, that arguing about the rules and deciding what beats what will occupy more attention than the actual game – just like political ecology.
Anyway, it’s ridiculously complicated and difficult to keep straight, but it’s guaranteed to definitively settle any dispute … or not.