Sunday 21 March 2010

On Latour's Reflections on Critique

Denunciations of ‘fact’ may fall into the same trap as their opponents – they regard a ‘critique’ of a ‘fact’ as a significant event. Both sides seem unable to see facts as something produced rather than in/adequated, though the critical camp stray closer to this terrain.

Bruno Latour points out that a physics paper that would, if widely read, revolutionise its field will have no effect if, as is the fate of most scientific papers, it remains entirely unread. It contains, then, no truth that transcends its particular emplotment in space, time and matter; if read it might be hailed as the new Truth, but unread, devoid of any and all alliances it can be no such thing. Does not the drive to critique fall into this same trap? To submit an ‘essentialism’ to critique is seen, in some quarters, as an inherently valuable event. ‘Take that substance metaphysics!’ But if this critique has no effect – if no one reads it – what critique (as a kind of event rather than a theme or genre of literature) has actually occurred? Does a largely unread critique have more, less or the same existence as a largely unread fact? If being is an effect of language and language alone can the relative expediency of an unread critique or fact over a read one be ascertained?

Plainly, to switch from a demand for adequation to a demand for inadequation is insufficient. Hitherto ‘critical scholars’ have just ‘critiqued’ the world; the point is to change it (I thought we all knew this by now).