Latour/Bloom

by CarlD

I just read Bruno Latour’s short essay “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” It is a critical defense of facts against critique, motivated by Latour’s observation that the waste-laying weaponry of deconstruction has fallen into the hands of its enemies, who use it to cast doubt on global warming and to construct elaborate conspiracy theories about the CIA and Mossad’s connivance in the bombing of the World Trade Towers. “There is no sure ground even for criticism. Is this not what criticism intended to say: that there is no sure ground anyway? But what does it mean, when this lack of sure ground is taken out from us by the worst possible fellows as an argument against things we cherished?”

Latour worries that critical intellectuals are fighting the last war, that their aim is bad. Exposing the enemy misses the target when everyone is already busy running around pulling masks off and pants down. If the bad guys’ certainties are unwarranted, what about ours?

In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact–as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past–but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we have now to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices?

DoonesburyDrNull

This is of a piece with Latour’s more extensive (and acerbic) dismissal of postmodernism in We Have Never Been Modern, but somehow this one triggered a different association for me. It’s been a long time since I read it, but isn’t this some part of Allan Bloom’s argument in The Closing of the American Mind? As I recall, it’s not that Bloom didn’t see the value of the marxian and nietzschean critical ordnance that enables the demolition of the eternal verities, but that he thought they were too powerful. In unskilled or inimical hands they leave nothing but scorched and salted earth, or at least fool kids trampling his lawn and having sex in his bushes.

I’m no more comfortable now with philosopher kings locking away the most powerful engines of human intellection than I was in grad school when I read Bloom. But from Dostoevsky to Bloom to Latour smart people keep making good points about what happens when you let everyone play with dynamite. All else being equal I certainly do prefer good sense to scorched earth. But what exactly is at stake? Wouldn’t it be just typical for intellectuals to overestimate the importance of ideas in the world?

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38 Responses to “Latour/Bloom”

  1. Carlo I don’t know what Latorique has done beyond this little droplet, but this sounds just like the most venomous neoliberal mantra that we must accept mediocrity and debility because ”there isn’t any other way”. That’s just an extension of Dr. Zizek’s ”Slovenia must leave Yugoslavia because there’s no other option but the EU” Because it’s been plugged into MTV, satire is no longer effective, or it must remain unoffensive, hitting only the targets approved by the corporation, or for that matter, the academic organization. But nevertheless the censorship remains, it only gets more subtle interactive and unpredictable, but it still remains attached to defending the core functioning of the system. Around this it seems in your part of the world whole academies have dedicated ”thinkers” like Latorique or the Queen of Alexandria to the debate around how one gets to euphemize this defeat so that it generates even more posh self-questioning and melodramatic self-doubt, like that time K-punk addressed the Amphitheater by announcing ”this is the end of the world as we know it”. This pessimistic drudgery Marxism is really passe, and the lack of vital energy is uninspiring even if you wrap it up in vampire porn format. I HATE FUCKING LARS VON TRIER.

  2. “Around this it seems in your part of the world whole academies have dedicated ”thinkers” like Latorique or the Queen of Alexandria to the debate around how one gets to euphemize this defeat so that it generates even more posh self-questioning and melodramatic self-doubt”

    HA! Well here’s the problem; in the academic Humanities in the wake of the 20th century’s multiple demolitions it looks like you’re stuck with either grand doomed gestures (and their pathetic derivative burlesques) or self-deluded philistine projects involving forward retreats at full speed. Bloom’s book was more of the former, but I’m hesitant to put Latour there, nor is he just retreating into liberal technocracy. I certainly find that my days go better if I hold certain facts and values to be amply robust, albeit not absolute, and he’s working on making the world (or at least the academy) safe for that kind of modest pragmatic stance. Whether it’s a fruitful third way in the larger sense you address remains to be seen.

  3. with either grand doomed gestures (and their pathetic derivative burlesques) or self-deluded philistine projects involving forward retreats at full speed.

    I thought the whole point was get beyond the binary (either or) and that whole ”choosing the lesser evil” shit and revert to action, like, instead of writing a book about how everything has gone uncreative and unoriginal, like, why not just make something original???

    I hold certain facts and values to be amply robust, albeit not absolute,

    Yes Carlo I know you’re a robust democratic libertine bear. You don’t have to emphasize that. It’s just that when you ”moderate” the ”robust”, you sound like a Kleenex. There’s no passion, and everyone can see that anger is boiling.

  4. I stand with Carl and Latour. To me the same point is best made by Zygmunt Bauman, who argues that critique once had a noble mission, carving out a space for freedom in the face of totalitarianism. Now, if it has any useful role at all, it will be in reconstructing the space within which reasoned debate can take place.

    And, besides, I can’t stand assholes who run on about doing something original and do nothing but spout mindless cliches. Or advocate action while sitting at their keyboards.

  5. In unskilled or inimical hands they leave nothing but scorched and salted earth, or at least fool kids trampling his lawn and having sex in his bushes.

    Let’s not go overboard, Carl. Sex in bushes can be a great thing.

    I haven’t read the article you’re referencing, but his “critique of critique” is a pretty common theme throughout his work. The problem with Latour is that he has a somewhat flamboyant, bombastic, and dramatic way of expressing himself. Thus, for example, in We Have Never Been Modern it would be a mistake to assume that his rejection of modernity’s distinction between two purified ontological realms of nature and culture means that he believes we are akin to the premoderns in believing that the appearance of a comet is an omen of an approaching plague or famine. At the end of the day I think Latour is a pretty practical guy. If he has a problem with “critique” (in the exalted and high sense of deconstruction, Nietzschean critiques of values, Marxist social critique, etc), then this is because he thinks its inefficacious. Rather, he wants to get at the nuts and bolts of social phenomena and how they’re held together. In Re-Assembling the Social there’s a striking passage where he offhandedly asks “what’s more efficacious? a grand Marxist critique of capitalistic production or a detailed knowledge of how this corporation, say IBM is related to this corporation, say Microsoft, and how all of this is linked to the New York Stock exchange and how that link is dependent on certain satellite technologies that can be interfered with as mediums of communication between these entities?” Like Gramsci, perhaps, he’s interested in a more “journalistic” mode of engage that discerns the linkages rather than speaking from on high about ideas. I think he worries that when we talk about grand abstractions like “capitalism”, “ontotheology”, “phallocracy”, and so on, we end up paralyzed because these things are everywhere and nowhere and we feel as if we cannot therefore target them in any strategic or effective way. Viva la Braudel!

  6. I can’t stand assholes who run on about doing something original and do nothing but spout mindless cliches.

    I’m not an asshole, I’m a dickhead. But I was talking about the fact that e.g. in the area known best to me, the arts, computer simulation seems to have developed cloning as people no longer seem to be in the habit of spewing something of their own on a blank piece of paper, which is always, or most frequently, the way to make something creative. Instead, they look to simulate, as if there’s a board out there saying SIMULATE BITCH. If criticism can have any purpose then I think it should be to shout as loud as possible just MAKE something goddammit, and make it your own experience, your own life, your own feelings and thoughts.

  7. LS- I agree with Latour (and your close reading of Latour) on these points, but I do sometimes wonder why deconstruction gets lumped in with the other traditions of grandiose critique that you mention (Marxist, Nietzchean, etc.) I understand that deconstruction came to preoccupy the academy throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and ultimately became a sort of orthodoxy unto itself, to the exclusion other types of discourse. But I’ve always read its small handful of ‘practitioners’ as being thinkers primarily interested in destabilizing our all-powerful abstractions on the way toward something else, something new, and not pedants who were overly chained to nebulous abstractions. Of course, it’s true that these same thinkers never really succeeded in pointing to what ‘something new’ might be, and so you might say they failed miserably…

    I suppose what I’m suggesting is that perhaps grandiose critique was a just one necessary step in the right direction, away from “being [para]modern”? Perhaps it’s not entirely necessary to spend too much time and energy denouncing our predecessors, when we could learn from them and move on. I’m thinking right now of how important it is that facts about, say, our genetic makeup never become excuses or justifications for bigotry, institutionalized racism, sexism, etc., because we know now that “we never know what a body might do.” We are evolving even as we speak— no need to treat existing genetic trends or scientific findings about human biology as prescriptions for social organization. These are lessons that science/facts alone may not have taught us, but that a combination of science and a “critical” deconstructive approach did. No?

    Regardless, in the end I agree with you again— we are more likely to understand and confront such political junctures within science from the standpoint of everyday “journalistic” modes of engagement than we are through grand critical schemes. Cutting out these grand critical schemes in effect cuts out the middle man, which is always a good idea.

  8. I am probably what you would call a troll.
    But isnt the reason that critique has run out of steam, the fact that everything that could possibly be said about the system has already been said, and that consequently there is nothing new or useful to say. And that none of it has made the slightest bit of difference to the almost unstoppable momentum of the Invisible Mega-machine (Mumford).

    The Mega-machine is totally impervious to any criticism, and thus by its very nature grinds all seeming objections, criticisms, and seemingly new possibilities to rubble—we are quite literally all BORG now.

  9. Nah John. I’m with A.L. on this one. Critique has made a tremendous difference in a variety of ways. Deconstruction has spawned all sorts of things and the point of SR is not to get rid of that. Rather it’s to broaden the field of engagement and allow for other forms of analysis.

  10. Sex in bushes can be a great thing.

    Dr Sinthome beware of WACKINESS.

  11. I’ve really been enjoying this discussion, and once again I’m grateful to have great colleagues here who carry the discussion without me. I’m between classes right now so just one quick thought out of many:

    John@8, welcome! I think Latour’s point might be that productive criticism has barely begun, because until now we have been chasing the ghosts of God the Big Mover of Everything, or his stand-ins The System, The Mega-Machine, Capitalism, The Big Other, or whatever other fantasy we concoct to name our ignorance about how things actually work. Going meta like that is a give-up move for at least two reasons: it gives us license to irresponsibility by making only heroic but doomed gestures of opposition against the unbeatable foe look possible; and it lets us off the hook of doing the hard work of sussing out the much more complex dynamics that create both blockages and opportunities for our intentional action.

    If we’re Borg you’re right and there’s no point trying. Therefore it’s worth considering if we’re not Borg. Cheers!

  12. “Perhaps it’s not entirely necessary to spend too much time and energy denouncing our predecessors, when we could learn from them and move on.”

    I think this is right, as John M. has also said referencing Bauman and Levi has said referencing Braudel. I take Latour to be observing that denunciation has become an unproductive practice (if it was ever productive), but that the tools that enable denunciation could still be turned to better purpose. Here I like Dejan’s impatience with simulation in favor of making new things. I just don’t think we do that in a vacuum – to create something really new that isn’t just a lucky accident or a structural evolution requires a more mindful practice than we’ve seen so far.

    “Cutting out these grand critical schemes in effect cuts out the middle man, which is always a good idea.”

    Right! But what that would actually look like in practice is not yet obvious. Any thoughts?

  13. Carl writes,

    Here I like Dejan’s impatience with simulation in favor of making new things. I just don’t think we do that in a vacuum – to create something really new that isn’t just a lucky accident or a structural evolution requires a more mindful practice than we’ve seen so far.

    Could it be that the missing element is talent? Or, rarer still, genius?

  14. Sorry. Interrupted by my three-year-old grandson. Got to have priorities.

    But, seriously, I, too, feel an emotional resonance with, “If criticism can have any purpose then I think it should be to shout as loud as possible just MAKE something goddammit, and make it your own experience, your own life, your own feelings and thoughts.”While I do have reservations about much good coming of criticism that takes the form of shouting as loud as possible, I take very seriously, indeed, that “MAKE something.”

    A recurrent theme in current debate in Japan is the difference between older generations who were dedicated to monozukuri, making things, and younger generations who seem preoccupied with henshu, “editing,” sampling and remixing instead of creation. This is seen as more than simply a turn from production to consumption; it may, says Atushi Miura, one of my favorite trendtrackers, be a shift in value from “owning” to “getting,” from the durable pleasure of ownership to the transient thrill of acquisition.

    Imagine this model applied to scholarship, with desire to acquire the latest thing trumping the piling up of “solid” knowledge. Something to think about.

  15. I just don’t think we do that in a vacuum – to create something really new that isn’t just a lucky accident or a structural evolution requires a more mindful practice than we’ve seen so far.

    Au contraire Carlo, I am more tempted to think it comes precisely out of a vacuum, ‘soon as you get ”mindful” in creation the results come out mediocre. I think the problem is enslavement via technology: at least in the area of the arts, the computer necessitates that you adopt a ‘simulating’ way of thinking, and for many people, mastering the computer in the end means reverting to old-fashioned techniques, the pen and paper, and so on. Some people say you can swim through technology, but what if it’s damned us all now into this kind of submission?

    I was just working the other day with this program ”Adobe Illustrator” which boasts the ability to emulate all these artist’s strokes, ink, pastel, pencil, you name it. But even the most perfectly emulated technique emanates absolutely no emotion. It’s empty, and cold.

  16. Dejan, this looks pretty classically like anxiety of influence, which then requires a reaction somewhere on a scatterplot between abject surrender to the supremacy of the antecedents or bitter rejection and repression of them. I guess I think all of that is what the Buddhists might call ‘extra’, adding nothing to the fact that we are always doing what we do in a present moment unfolding between our sources and our products. So the question is always what it’s possible to do right now with the tools and materials at hand.

    Where I agree with you most thoroughly, perhaps, is in rejecting the tendency of this fact and process to degenerate into mere reproduction. I have more complicated feelings about reconfiguration, however, which a lot of the time looks to me like what’s possible.

  17. I appreciate and am challenged by your point about monozukuri/henshu, JM. Today we’re so self-conscious, we’d rather pass ourselves off as sampling machines, and you’re right, it is consumerist, and overslick. Props to those creating fools out there! I’ve always been too harsh on myself, always borrowing a hoard of other people’s hairy eyeballs.

    I don’t think the focus should be on creating something new for the sake of newness, but something that’s authentic and valuable, even approaching something once vital from a new angle that breaks through the calcification and reveals a connection to something unexpected. Exactly the work of increasing understanding through the study of interrelations and assumptions.

    Dejan, I agree about Illustrator, it’s a dead zone where no interesting mistakes happen. Ick.

  18. There are plenty of ways to introduce chaos into the creative process. Check out alchemy if illustrator leaves you feeling confined. And as far as current CG being too focused on simulating reality, well, sure, it’s really hard and/or expensive to do but it will pay the bills. Really good computer graphics is quite hard and the best are in high demand. But that’s not the really interesting stuff I see. Have you not heard of Stash Dejan?

    More generally, people long for solid ground and postmodernism has yanked that out from under us. My understanding is that there is a flight into fantasy away from the trauma of the Real but that our dreams all collapse eventually and we are thrown back into harsh reality. The trick, I am told by the Slovenly one and to whom Dejan bears some kind of grudge, is to see the real within fantasy itself.

    Teaching that to people though is difficult because it means growing as a person and that is always painful. It means giving up your dreams, not your pretend dreams but the real ones, the ones you hang your very life upon. It can leave you feeling uprooted.

  19. In order to respond both to Amarilla and Noen, I am quoting this animated film from the famous Zagreb school of animation, produced in the 1970s, ”Satiemania”:

    The film is a tremendous parody of Western consumerist post-modernism, but that aside, it shows you that the power of animation lies in the trembling line, always elusive, never settling down, UNCANNY, literally, because conjuring up unseen realities in between the frames of the movement. The new animation programs (from FLASH across After Effects to the 3D stuff) cannot do this, because they operate with vectors, whose point is to strangle warmth and movement in order to produce ”gloss”. (Best example: in these programs people have gotten used to drawing with the ”pencil tool”, if there was a good way to kill drawing, there’s one for ya) Also of note for this discussion is what this famous animator Joanna Quinn once told us at the British animation festival, she said that sometimes when she’s deep into the night drawing, she draws two frames of expression in order to come to an expected result, e.g. a change in the position of the eyebrows, but by accident, this inexplicable alchemy happens so that a third expression, completely unrelated to the previous and next frame, is created. Also two completely unrelated frames, showing disparate expressions, can suddenly generate something new and unprecedented.

    I suppose this is also the idea behind Alchemy, although Noen when I look at the gallery of images they all again seem to revolve around creatues from CGI games, so that the spectrum of imagination again seems fairly limited. One wonders especially why the games are always rendered in hyper-realistic code, as though it would be impossible to call upon some OTHER drawing code, perhaps from Monet or Van Gogh or you name it. I know there are timid attempts to counter this,and people say independent games are a growing market, but so far it’s been really a tyranny of hyper-realism which always reminds me, in a bad way, of social realism 30 years ago.

    Anyhow I don’t know if this works for other people as well, but my antidote has always been to take a pencil and draw the first thing that comes to my mind, without trying to restrict myself in any fashion by the computer.

  20. http://www.vorace-art.com/portfolio.html

    Like Noen in the case of this ”artist” I have to wonder how his imagination got to be so colonized by THE PHANTOM MENACE that he has to have his vampire spook fantasy figure dragging goddamn LIGHT SABERS??? Why not light dildos, or anything else for that matter? And why is the register of fairy-tales always restricted to Gothic goblins … and so on…

  21. Oh, the pen tool. The antithesis of that is one thing a professor of mine once asked us to do, to just draw with a stick found on the ground, dipped in ink. Wicked fun, it made me feel connected to nature’s cunning trickery, and subject to the unpredictable preferences of the stick.

    I saw Ponyo yesterday. Haven’t read much up on it, but noticed that Miyazaki used a sketchier realism less hyper realistic paint by number, more the colored pencil treatment of Don Freedman’s Corduroy. The subject matter, which I found genuinely compelling, wise in its naivete, sweet without being treacley, does call for a softer edge. No light saber dildos in evidence, even if the story falls within the Pinocchio archetype.

    I’ve taken a cue from Fido the Yak and picked up a copy of Free Play by Nachmanovitch. It would be very interesting to hear what he, with his background in Blake, would observe about Miyazake’s work.

  22. I saw Ponyo yesterday. Haven’t read much up on it, but noticed that Miyazaki used a sketchier realism less hyper realistic paint by number, more the colored pencil treatment of Don Freedman’s Corduroy.

    Myazaki animates in European style, with lots of detail, stretch and squash and character expressiveness. He is manga only in the choice of style, the colors. Ponyo was done for much less money, so he resorted to simpler design, but you can still see a clever use of the animation language.

  23. Ponyo is a tranny.

    Panga is the common South African name for Pterogymnus laniarius, a small ocean-dwelling fish. … Over the course of its life, a panga will undergo periodic sex-changes with as much as 30% of the population being hermaphroditic at a time.

    That’s where all her magical powers come from. “She” represents the pluripotent undifferentiated state. That’s why her father Fujimoto is so frightened at her contact with the human world. She has the power to become anything.

    I’m familiar with Satiemania, it’s very nice and I see what you mean. The reason I suggested alchemy was I was just trying to be helpful. The programmer’s intended use is that of a sort of Rorschach generator. You create these forms through music and then pick one that’s interesting for further work in illustrator. The reason the images all look like game assets is, well, that’s what 20 year olds are really into these days.

    I thought you were talking about how difficult it is to come up with things that are truly new. I’ve certainly faced that horror of the blank sheet of paper. Making random marks doesn’t work for very long because your hand is connected to your arm and it tends to make similar arcs. How to break out of that? One answer is drugs and alcohol but that tends to shorten your career. Another answer is to retreat into psychosis, sure seemed to work for Van Gogh but I seem to have a hard time getting there.

    “why is the register of fairy-tales always restricted to Gothic goblins”

    Well by all means, fill the void.

  24. “she draws two frames of expression in order to come to an expected result, e.g. a change in the position of the eyebrows, but by accident, this inexplicable alchemy happens so that a third expression, completely unrelated to the previous and next frame, is created.”

    Yes. The scientific and managerially inclined strive to produce emergent properties that are predictable, repeatable, goal-directed, and marketable. Spielberg’s alchemy always produces gold; Hitchcock’s too, though it’s sort of a black gold. Experimental alchemy is what’s wanted, spawning unprecedented and unnameable and unrepeatable compounds. Though of course I resist, always looking for formulae and controlled experimentation…

  25. I’m rereading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Here’s the very next paragraph (p. 246):

    “And now it’s three o’clock in the morning and we have a couple of trollops here who are doing somersaults on the bare floor. Fillmore is walking around naked with a goblet in his hand, and that paunch of his is drumtight, hard as a fistula. All the Pernod and champagne and cognac and Anjou which he guzzled from three in the afternoon on, is gurgling in his trap like a sewer. The girls are putting their ears to his belly as if it were a music box. Open his mouth with a buttonhook and drop a slug in the slot. When the sewer gurgles I hear the bats flying out of the belfry and the dream slides into artifice.”

  26. I mean, I understand Latour’s insistence on demystifying and reverse engineering complex events, the world being populated by BELIEVERS in either the Official Story or the Conspiracy. Understanding how things work is what makes for a good engineer or politician or chief operating officer. The world is a play of forces; all relations are trials of strength; the only way to become more real is to exert wider influence. How much am I reading Latour through Harman’s translation?

  27. A few things seem to be mashed together in the post and the discussion, and it leaves me a bit confused. I suppose this comes from Latour’s own rather wildly conceived notion of critique in the article. I see that he mentions “deconstruction” by name, and eludes to Marx, but is Nietzsche thrown in on this (I may have missed it)?

    I actually find Latour’s ontologies EXTREMELY Nietzchean, to a fault. Is he one of these kids playing with dynamite?

    And did not Nieztsche teach us that what critique means is to not only ask if something is true, but also to ask WHO is making the claim, and to look into WHAT their stake in it was. There are no value neutral (or should be say “network-less”) claims. Is this really a bad thing to put into the hands of the people.

    When Latour complains: “What has become of critique when a book can be a best-seller that claims that no plane ever crashed into the Pentagon?”

    Is this really because too many people have read Derrida, and have, with their brains-ravaged by French Thought, all rushed out to buy the book? Or is it because too many people have watched Terminator 3, and have learned to distrust the verity of photographic representations, knowing as a matter of the regular course of their entertainment that ANYTHING can be staged.

    And is it not a Latourian lesson that one always has to look for the translation?

    I agree that the Intellectual Avante Guard has “lost its spirit” so to speak, but it is a Nietzschean analysis that tell us this. As I have often pointed out, their work is FOR the university (that text making machine, and for the eco-elite class that they criticize. But perhaps there is no frontline or even a war to refer to here. The spirit of revolution has changed into a spirit of invention, a very different sort of thing.

    When Latour writes: What has become of critique when someone as eminent as Stanley Fish, the “enemy of promise” as Lindsay Waters calls him, believes he defends science studies, my field, by comparing the law of physics to the rules of baseball?…

    …I guess that Fish’s point that it is community (that network, those translations) that make statements true, and not untranslated events of the world, does not count much for Latour, despite a certain affinity. But what does he think when Graham Harman takes up Latour’s thinking and makes of “the rules of baseball” a physics of ghost objects which have no causal explanation at all? Which is more ridiculous, which is more dangerous? And really is Fish the one responsible that Red State Republicans refuse to accept Global Warming as it is portrayed in its very Hollywood Al Gore fashion? Is it enough to say, as simplistically as Latour wants “Global warming is a fact(!)”, or should we also realize that “Global warming” is also a social fact, and that there are not simply facts without the networks to support them.

    It seems like Latour read a headline somewhere when drinking his orange juice in the morning and decided to emetically disgorge all his hodge-podge, not-so-coherent frustrations in the world. Yes, Republicans, Leftist intellectuals, dangerous extremists all are plagued by the “spirit of criticism” a very odd sort of doorstep to place everything at.

    Honestly, it feels like Latour should read an author known as “Bruno Latour” more closely.

  28. One of the interesting things that came out of two years in the bakery, making thousands of croissants each week, by hand, is a whole other sense of “making things.” A well-made croissant is a thing of beauty (laminated dough is like that), and the process has to have some control at various stages, and automation (in the form of a dough sheeter) is absolutely necessary, but it is still, deeply and profoundly, an act of making something.

    Which is kinda OT and I apologize.

  29. And, as part of my recent musings, and partly as a result of last night’s ABB/WP concert (and last Friday’s Bonnie Raitt/Taj Mahal concert), there’s also the sense in which the performance IS one’s product, which seems to me to be relevant here in some way.

  30. There’s also the performance-in-an-athletic/competitive event, as well, which gets interesting in the case of, say, Formula 1, where the people who design/build the cars are competing/performing as well (in the constructor’s championship).

  31. “Honestly, it feels like Latour should read an author known as “Bruno Latour” more closely.”

    Yes, that’s a great point. Greg at Slawkenbergius has a nice critique up also, making great reference to Douglas Adams’ ‘Electric Monks’ and “the obsidian hand-axes of the hermeneutics of suspicion.”

    I won’t try too hard to defend this particular piece of vulgar-latourian ephemera on its own merit, but I do think that a Latour who had read “Bruno Latour” closely would think it important to translate the program for a variety of audiences and contexts.

  32. I wonder what really brought on this bizarre essay. It reminds me of how when we hear our favorite athelete open his mouth and talk about politics or his poetry one can really wince. But please, can’t our ideas about ideas also be ideas about the world? Please?

    Thanks for the Slawkenbergius link. I liked it.

  33. Kvond, I wonder too. I notice that I say quite a few ‘bizarre’ things in the classroom when I’m attempting to communicate with students who clearly have different worldviews than I. I don’t say what I’d prefer to say, I say what will make sense to them, then gradually use that connection to reel them in.

    Latour’s piece is in the style of Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken and other mass-market political-intellectual entrepreneurs. Perhaps we are not the intended audience for this one?

  34. Carl,

    You are very generous. So your thought is that Latour is writing in weird bombast to convince the rather taken-to-be illiterate types that don’t “believe” in global warming – the very types that really haven’t turned a page of Derrida in their lives – that all the intellectuals that do like Derrida, etc. (unlike an intellectual as himself) have ruined the fundamental “faith” of people in the West?

    Honestly, I can’t even picture his audience, but if seems to be those who would have never heard of Latour…but somehow have heard of Derrida and the “French Generals”.

  35. I think the target audience is more likely the slightly-educated liberal technical intelligentsia who have absorbed a vulgar-nietzschean ‘it’s all good’ attitude toward the culture wars and slumped into a mission creep where this also applies to matters of robust scientific fact concerning species survival. These are the foot-soldiers, the pikemen of critical Left intellection, and Latour is rallying the troops.

    I could be wrong. Latour could well have just lapsed into the lazy essayfying of a self-satisfied academic dotage. As you say, I’m just trying to connect the dots as generously as possible.

  36. Ah, the French Lieutenant is trying to depose the French Generals by turning to the foot soldiers. I see. All with the moral authority of Global Warming behind him. Its a good thing the planet is getting hot. I hope none of these soldiers have read Latour’s books for they may merely find him humorous on this point.

    I think he’s being very sloppy and incoherent about the world (perhaps I see the connections between Harman and Latour more vividly now), but I kind of like your version of it too. Too bad he forgot to lock his “black box” on this one.

  37. “Too bad he forgot to lock his “black box” on this one.”

    HA! Nice.

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