Notes for Bruno Latour “Why has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern”
Key concepts: fact and fairy positions, matters of concern, quasi-object, second empiricism, states of affairs, super-critical.
Super-critical constituent of collective intelligence, transpersonal, post postmodern subjectivity.
Related theorists: Bogost, Harman, James, Jenkins, Serres, Brian Cantwell Smith, Turing, Whitehead.
Charge that academia slow to prepare for new threats, tasks, and I would add tools: starting to connect a second Latour text into the reading lists from which derive both the exam questions and the exam responses I will write either with or without help from this software system; actually it seems rather odd that I would be prohibited from enhancing my human cognitive performance by writing software to use with the exams, the prospectus, and the eventual dissertation product PHI.
It does not seem to me that we have been as quick, in academia, to
prepare ourselves for new threats, new dangers, new tasks, new
(226) To prove my point, I have, not exactly facts, but rather tiny cues, nagging doubts, disturbing telltale signs.
Curious post postmodern danger of distrusting good matters of fact as bad ideology.
(227) 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!
(228) Remember the good old days when revisionism arrived very late, after the facts had been thoroughly established, decades after bodies of evidence had accumulated? Now we have the benefit of what can be called instant revisionism. . . . Things have changed a lot, at least in my village. I am now the one who naively believes in some facts because I am educated, while the other guys are too unsophisticated to be gullible. . . . Has knowledge-slash-power been co-opted of late by the National Security Agency? Has Discipline and Punish become the bedtime reading of Mr. Ridge (fig. 1)?
(230) Maybe I am taking conspiracy theories too seriously, but it worries me to detect, in those mad mixtures of knee-jerk disbelief, punctilious demands for proofs, and free use of powerful explanation from the social neverland many of the weapons of social critique.
Is critique appropriate to the current state of problems, or ineffective like nuclear arsenals against improvised explosive devices?
(230) After all, masses of atomic missiles are transformed into a huge pile of junk once the question becomes how to defend against militants armed with box cutters or dirty bombs. Why would it not be the same with our critical arsenal, with the neutron bombs of deconstruction, with the missiles of discourse analysis? Or maybe it is that critique has been miniaturized like computers have.
What should be our critical equipment for the current period?
Responds to Derrida comment about whether it mattered that Freud did not use email that equipment of present period must be used rather than tools of older period.
I simply want to do what every good military officer, at regular
periods, would do: retest the linkages between the new threats he or
she has to face and the equipment and training he or she should have
in order to meet them—and, if necessary, to revise from scratch the
whole paraphernalia. This does not mean for us any more than it does
for the officer that we were wrong, but simply that history changes
quickly and that there
is no greater intellectual crime than to address with the equipment
of an older period the challenges of the present one.
(231) The question was never to get away from facts but closer to them, not fighting empiricism but, on the contrary, renewing empiricism.
Second empiricism cultivating realist attitude toward matters of concern; compare to Jenkins monitorial citizen.
What I am going to argue is that the critical mind, if it is to renew
itself and be relevant again, is to be found in the cultivation of a
stubbornly realist attitude—to
speak like William James—but a realism dealing with what I will
call matters of concern,
not matters of fact.
. . . Matters of fact are only very partial and, I would argue, very
polemical, very political renderings of matters of concern and only a
subset of what could also be called states of
It is this second empiricism, this return to the realist attitude,
that I'd like to offer as the next task for the critically
(232) To put it another way, what's the difference between deconstruction and constructivism?
(232) Is it really impossible to solve the question, to write not matter-of-factually but, how should I say it, in a matter-of-concern way?
Thing as matter of concern, Heideggerian gathering; Harman reference.
A thing is, in one sense, an object out there and, in another sense,
an issue very
much in there,
at any rate, a gathering.
To use the term I introduced earlier now more precisely, the same
word thing designates
matters of fact and matters of concern.
(233) The handmade jug can be a thing, while the industrially made can of Coke remains an object. While the latter is abandoned to the empty mastery of science and technology, only the former, cradled in the respectful idiom of art, craftsmanship, and poetry, could deploy and gather its rich set of connections.
(233) And, yet, Heidegger, when he takes the jug seriously, offers a powerful vocabulary to talk also about the object he despises so much.
Technological objects not appreciated for historicity the way Heidegger jug is; science studies makes things Things again: do it with technological objects as well, including software, protocols, programming languages, electronic devices, circuits, and computing machinery.
But, as Ludwig Fleck remarked long ago, their objects are never
complicated enough; more precisely, they are never simultaneously
a complex history and new, real, and interesting
in the universe. Philosophy never deals with the sort of beings we in
science studies have dealt with. . . . Heidegger’s mistake is not
to have treated the jug too well, but to have traced a dichotomy
between Gegenstand and
was justified by nothing except the crassest of prejudices.
(236) My point is very simple: things have become Things again, objects have reentered the arena, the Thing, in which they have to be gathered first in order to exist later as what stands apart.
(236) I could open the newspaper and unfold the number of former objects that have become things again, from the global warming case I mentioned earlier to the hormonal treatment of menopause, the work of Tim Lenoir, the primate studies of Linda Fedigan and Shirley Strum, or the hyenas of my friend Steven Glickman.
Serres quasi-objects; thingness of things that gather.
footnote 19) Serres proposed the word quasi-object
cover this intermediary between things and objects—a philosophical
question much more interesting than the tired old one of the relation
between words and
(237) You can do one sort of thing with mugs, jugs, rocks, swans, cats, mats but not the Einstein's Patent Bureau electric coordination of clocks in Bern. Things that gather cannot be thrown at you like objects.
(237) One reason is of course the position objects have been given in most social sciences, a position that is so ridiculously useless that it is employed, even in a small way, for dealing with science, technology, religion, law, or literature it will make absolutely impossible any serious consideration of objectivity—I mean of “thingness.”
Using diagrams to explain philosophical ideas, in this case fact and fairy positions.
(237) We can summarize, I estimate, 90 percent of the contemporary critical scene by the following series of diagrams that fixate the object at only two positions, what I have called the fact position and the fairy position.
Critique as pharmakon.
Why critique, this most ambiguous pharmakon,
has become such a potent euphoric drug? . . . But as soon as naïve
believers are thus inflated by some belief in their own importance,
in their own projective capacity, you strike them by a second
uppercut and humiliate them again, this time by showing that,
whatever they think, their behavior is entirely determined by the
action of powerful causalities coming from objective reality they
don't see, but that you, yes you, the never sleeping critic, along
(239) The Zeus of Critique rules absolutely, to be sure, but over a desert.
Fact and fairy position lists of objects that never cross over is what sustains critique.
The whole rather poor trick that allows critique to go on, although
we would never confine our own valuables to their sordid pawnshop, is
that there is never any crossover between the two
lists of objects in
the fact position and the fairy position.
(242) The mistake would be to believe that we too have given a social explanation of scientific facts. . . . Put simply, critique was useless against objects of some solidity.
(242) On both accounts, matters of concern never occupy the two positions left for them by critical barbarity. Objects are much too strong to be treated as fetishes and much too weak to be treated as indisputable causal explanations of some unconscious action. And this is not true of scientific states of affairs only; this is our great discovery, what made science studies commit such a felicitous mistake, such a felix culpa.
Add fair position to fact and fairy positions to retrieve a realist attitude.
Is it not time for some progress? To the fact position, to the fairy
position, why not add a third position, a fair
(243) To retrieve a realist attitude, it is not enough to dismantle critical weapons so uncritically built up by our predecessors as we would obsolete but still dangerous atomic silos.
Whitehead getting closer to facts discovers things, rather than following Kant, Husserl or Heidegger; Bogost leans heavily on this move.
Of all the modern philosophers who tried to overcome matters of fact,
the only one who, instead of taking the path of critique and
directing his attention away from
facts to what makes them possible as Kant did; or adding something to
their bare bones as Husserl did; or avoiding the fate of the
domination, their Gestell,
as much as possible as Heidegger did; tried to get closer
them or, more exactly, to see through them the reality that requested
a new respectful realist attitude.
(244) The solution or, rather, the adventure, according to Whitehead, is to dig much further into the realist attitude and to realize that matters of fact are totally implausible, unrealistic, unjustified definitions of what it is to deal with things.
Multifarious inquiry to detect participants gathered in a thing.
(245-246) The solution lies, it seems to me, in this promising word gathering that Heidegger had introduced to account for the “thingness of the thing.” . . . Whatever the words, what is presented here is an entirely different attitude than the critical one, not a flight into the conditions of possibility of a given matter of fact, not the addition of something more human that the inhumane matters of fact would have missed, but, rather, a multifarious inquiry launched with the tools of anthropology, philosophy, metaphysics, history, sociology to detect how many participants are gathered in a thing to make it exist and to maintain its existence. Objects are simply a gathering that has failed—a fact that has not been assembled according to due process.
Turing approached computers with Whitehead adventure of ideas wonder.
Good quote in footnote, linking to Brian Cantwell Smith On the Origin of Objects.
Toward super-critical, like Jenkins collective intelligence.
(247) Here Turing too cannot avoid mentioning God's creative power when talking of this most mastered machine, the computer that he has invented. . . . In the most dramatic way, Turing's paper demonstrates, once again, that all objects are born things, all matters of fact require, in order to exist, a bewildering variety of matters of concern. The surprising result is that we don't master what we, ourselves, have fabricated, the object of this definition of critique. . . . [quoting “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”] If, however, the size of the pile is sufficiently increased, the disturbance caused by such an incoming neutron will very like go on and on increasing until the whole pile is destroyed. Is there a corresponding phenomenon for minds, and is there one for machines? . . . Adhering to this analogy we ask, “Can a machine be made to be super-critical?” [“CM”, p. 454]
Toward super-critical theory: is the black box, input output analysis partially to blame for prevalence of devalued objects over field effect, matters of concern things?
Invocation to please touch and deploy ties to OGorman scholarly remainder and Bogost philosophical carpentry into critical programming.
(248) We all know subcritical minds, that's for sure! What would critique do if it could be associated with more, not with less, with multiplication, not with subtraction. Critical theory died away long ago; can we become critical again, in the sense here offered by Turing? That is, generating more ideas than we have received, inheriting from a prestigious critical tradition but not letting it die away, or “dropping into quiescence” like a piano no longer struck. This would require that all entities, including computers, cease to be objects defined simply by their inputs and outputs and become again things, mediating, assembling, gathering many more folds than the “united four.” If this were possible then we could let the critics come ever closer to the matters of concern we cherish, and then at last we could tell them: “Yes, please, touch them, explain them, deploy them.” Then we would have gone for good beyond iconoclasm.
Latour, Bruno. "Why Has Critique Run Out Of Steam? From Matters Of Fact To Matters Of Concern." Critical Inquiry 2 (2004): 225-248. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.