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Distant Objectivity

weilla yuan's picture


In Bruno Latour’s “Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene”, he introduces the idea of subjectivity and objectivity. “It is impossible to read such a statement as an “objective fact” contemplated coldly from a distant place, as was supposed to be the case, in earlier times, when dealing with ‘information’ coming from the ‘natural sciences.’ There is no distant place anymore. And along with distance, objectivity is gone as well.”(2) Latour says. According to him, objectivity means distance. Only in a distant place, people are able to see the “facts”. However, Latour is being too over generalized. Sometimes good objectivity involves closeness, and objectivity is still needed for the world.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” is about fear and exploitation of humans. Humans go on to a place that had not been exploited before. The instinct tells them to fear whatever is unknown to them. However, this time the unknowns are plants with sentience. There is no such plant on Earth, so people perceive the alien plants “subjectively” as the plants they know about: “Can’t say I much like these plants myself,” Porlock, one of the characters in the story says, “All the same. No mind. No change. A man alone in it would go right off his head.” This subjective perception caused this group of humans end up with terrible fears, because what they subjectively perceived is wrong.

Autism in psychological perspective is considered as a disorder. When a person is diagnosed as autism, he or she is lacking reciprocity, withdrawing socially, and isolated from other human beings. Scientists identify autism as “abnormal” (Rescorla). But is it really abnormal? Or humans are just trying to deny their act of “over-animation”?

Osden used to be an autism patient. It is this isolation of autism from humans makes Osden closer to the other creatures (deanimation). Osden himself says: “ But I am not a man. There are all of you. And there is myself. I am one.” His group member also says that he cannot form any human relationship ((La Tour 153). Due to his autism experience, he has excluded himself from the human world, and has being connecting to other species other than humans. Osden knows that humans are not the sovereignty (Latour 6) of the world, so he understands that humans are not the subjectivity (Latour 11, 12). This is why Osden is the first who finds out that their fear comes from themselves being isolated from the already-knowns (Le Guin 173).

The humans keep getting distant from other species by trying to “colonize (Le Guin 178)” them. Apparently this is not working. The fear for the unknown leads them to exploitations, and it is also fear that pushes them back. In the end of the story, Osden stays there by himself, because he wants to be closer to the creatures to be objective. On the other hand, his group members left because of fear, but tell the rest of the human world that Osden is the “colonist” they left there. This sick ambition is what keeps humans from realizing they are deanimating any other species than themselves, and this is what leads to extinctions. Therefore, objectivity is very important for human beings to have, because it is the only way for us to see clearly what is going wrong.

Like Latour says, from some point in the history, humans got sick of being the “dumb objects” (Latour 12), and thus take over the “sovereignty” (Latour 6, 16) that is not supposed to be theirs. They keep deanimating other species and put them into a position that is distant from any others. The fear caused by the distance for the others makes them conquer more, and therefore the distance becomes further and humans become more subjective by thinking they are the strongest. To let go of the fear is the only way to make the distance closer, and achieve objectivity and thus to create balance between species.


Work Cited

Latour, Bruno.  "Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene." New Literary History

       45, 1 (Winter 2014): 1-18.

LeGuin, Ursula. "Vaster than Empires, and More Slow." The Wind's Twelve  

Quarters: Short Stories.  New York: Harper and Row, 1975. 148-178.

Rescorla, Leslie. “Lecture 8: Attachment / Autism Spectrum”. PSYC 105.

        Carpenter 21, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr. September 25th, 2014.


Anne Dalke's picture

Some reading notes on this paper:
I’m confused by a number of claims you make here; can you explain?
*that the explorers’ “subjectivity is wrong,” that less distance and “being closer” results in “better objectivity”?
* that being “closer to other creatures” is  a form of “deanimation”?
* that lacking “sovereignty” correlates with lacking “subjectivity”?
* that achieving objectivity is the goal here?
Also check your in-text citation form: quotations belong before the parenthetical citations, not after them.

Some talking notes, from our final writing conference:
* your claim here is that Latour is wrong (but you don't say this clearly enough)
* looking over your writing, you can see that your biggest improvement is learning to identify your thesis,
and how to expand the paper around that idea (this is happening not only in ESem but in other classes too);
* you also notice that your ideas have been expanding: lots of new ideas are emerging here!
* you need to keep on working on vocabulary and grammer
* you also need to keep on working on making your ideas clearer (including all these multiple new perspectives!)
* you are going to re-write paper #12, in order to make your thesis clearer (that is, that you are arguing w/ Latour!)--
AND in order to complicate the argument more, by drawing on what you have learned in your psych class about autism.
you will be challenging his over-generalizing and universalizing by demonstrating the diversity of human perception.