97* Lorraine Daston Books In Dark Times (JP)


Our Books in Dark Times series offered John this 2021 chance to speak with Lorraine Daston of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Her list of publications outstrips our capacity to mention here; John particularly admires her analysis of “epistemic virtues” such as truth to nature and objectivity in her 2007 Objectivity (coauthored with Peter Galison).

Although she “came of age in an era of extreme contextualism” Daston is anything but time-bound. She starts things off in John’s wheelhouse with Henry James, before moving on to Pliny the Younger–no, not the scientist, the administrator! Then she makes a startling flanking maneuver to finish with contemporary Polish poetry. John puffs to keep up…

Discussed in this episode:

Henry James, Portrait of a Lady

(Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer, American abroad, in Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady)

Pliny the Younger, Letters (“the very model of the good civil servant”)

Lisa Ford, Settler Sovereignty

Ovid, Tristia

Zbigniew Herbert, e.g. Mr. Cogito

Wislawa Szymborska View with a Grain of Sand

D. H. Lawrence, “Snake” (and other animal poems)

Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds (“This [octopus encounter] is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.”)

George Herbert, “The Rose

Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (1961) and The Futurological Congress (1971)

Listen to the episode here.

Read the episode here.

96 Lorraine Daston Rules the World (EF, JP)

Historian of science Lorraine Daston‘s wonderful new book, Rules: A Short History of What We Live By is just out from Princeton University Press. Daston’s earlier pathbreaking works include Against Nature, Classical Probability in the Enlightenment and many co-authored books, including Objectivity (with Peter Galison) which introduced the idea of historically changeable “epistemic virtues.”

In this conversation, Daston–Raine to her friends–shows that rules are never as thin (as abstract and context-free) as they pretend to be. True, we love a rule that seems to brook no exceptions: by the Renaissance, even God is no longer allowed to make exceptions in the form of miracles. Yet throughout history, Raine shows, islands of standardized stability are less stable than they seem. What may feel like oppressively general norms and standards are actually highly protected ecotopes within which thin rules can arise. Look for instance at the history of sidewalks (Raine has)!

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