Tuesday 18 November 2014

Henning Schmidgen—Bruno Latour in Pieces (some brief thoughts)

Peter Gratton wrote a short review of Henning Schmidgen's Bruno Latour in Pieces a couple of weeks ago. I had, at that point, only just started reading it and thought the review a bit harsh. Having now finished it, I think that I liked it more than Peter did overall. However, he was not wrong that its best moments are in the first 50 pages or so. Unlike him I wasn't so bothered that the book is quite light on explications of Latour's major texts. For me it just seemed to run out of the interesting anecdotes, asides and observations that pepper the earlier pages so delightfully.

The 'Science Wars' were covered but not in a great deal of detail. The manner in which Latour is occasionally heckled at public events could certainly have been dealt with (see, for example, this). That might have given some weight to the otherwise rather breezy (and admittedly very readable) air of the text.

One rather minor and grammar police-type point that bugged me a little: a spectacular underuse of commas. It's like the printers were charging them by the punctuation mark or something. I tend to overuse such things and there are grey areas in terms of their proper use; however, I thought that it began to impede readability. (Maybe it was just me.)

All in all, it's well worth a look but I could by no means put it in the 'must read' column for many readers. It's probably best for those who already have a good familiarity with Latour's work and are looking for some degree of fleshing out with regards to its background, particularly in the early days (those interested, for example, in Latour's work in Africa in the '70s should definitely find a copy). Provided that one doesn't pick it up expecting something especially systematic and rigorous it's a welcome addition to the secondary literature.