In his essay titled “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” Bruno Latour seeks to retest constructivism, to show the ways deconstruction may not be as relevant as it once was. For Latour, “the question was never to get away from facts but closer to them, not fighting empiricism but, on the contrary, renewing empiricism” (231). Cultivating a stubbornly realist attitude, literary critics and theorists can distance themselves from one-size-fits-all approaches in order to better understand their own biases. Moving away from critiques of ideology, Latour’s essay gives new meaning to digital humanities approaches that focus on building, playing, and screwing around.
Latour describes the various critical gestures and tricks that have come to dominate the intellectual community, including antifestishism, positivism, and realism. His essay demonstrates that many critics use “the three contradictory repertoires . . . [and] carefully manage to apply them on different topics” (241). Critics carefully choose when and where to apply antifetishism, positivism, and realism, eliding their own bias. Instead of actually contributing to or constructing a valid (empirical) discourse, critics too often resort to the “neutron bombs of deconstruction” (230).
In this sense, Latour’s essay demonstrates the efficacy of many digital humanities approaches, especially those that attempt to move away from the hermeneutics of suspicion. Anne Burdick notes that “[d]igital work challenges many of these separations, promoting dialogue, not only across established disciplinary lines but also across the pure/applied, qualitative/quantitative, and theoretical/practical divides” (Burdick et al. 7). Latour asserts that gathering is perhaps a new ideal to strive towards, and that critics should seek to understand matters of concern, rather than matters of fact: “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 maintain its existence” (246). With the range of digital tools now available, this new version of constructivism, or gathering, is more achievable than ever before.
This is not to suggest that deconstruction should completely fall by the wayside; rather, critics should focus on contributing to a growing empirical discourse. Instead of fostering the “two cultures,” the divide between sciences and humanities, individuals should strive to combine and integrate the two. Digital humanities may just make this possible.
Burdick, Anne, et al. Digital_Humanities. Cambridge: MIT, 2012.
Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30.1 (2004): 225-48.