Bruno Latour’s “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of fact to Matters of Concern” juggles the human need to place certain phenomena above others—favorite books, films, songs, areas of research—perhaps in an attempt to find some signal point of comfort or control in a large, sometimes extremely cold existence. As Latour points out, this choosing of or fixating upon these objects, examined under certain auspices, is problematic.
Latour questions the difference, or total lack thereof, between beliefs held for emotional reasons and the critical mind’s analyzing structures, (i.e. sciences and other reason-based theoretical views of the natural world) those passionately adhered to by their practitioners. He leans heavily on perspective in explaining the blind favoring of one stance over another in spite of factual experience. “To fact position, to the fairy position, why not add a third position, a fair position?” argues Latour, in requesting some form of new critical thought, some mode that doesn’t discriminate by keeping its own interests sacred or working from a point of subjective certainty (Latour 243).
Latour’s insight possesses an aspect of Eastern spirituality, specifically the Zen Buddhist belief in the destructive force that is human desire. Psychiatric study has long understood the power of confirmation bias as human motivation and its ability to shape belief, as everyone can relate, in one form or another, to the human minds ability to preconceive. Latour uses the political and economic equivocal suspicion of hard evidence on climate change to underscore this desire to shape facts to fit theory, to demand that they fall in line with an agenda.
Is Latour conceptualizing a multi-purpose scholar, beholden to not only no particular discipline, but to no “fixed point” as in the quote form Archemides, father of the round Earth? Are facts far too perspective-driven, or even arbitrary?
Latour requests a return to the pragmatism of William James, using the dire state of the planet as a beacon. At this point, in the Anthropocene era, cam man afford to theorize on anything other than what is directly in front of our eyes? Is it the responsibility of a critic to be “not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles” in this era of our crumbling ecosystem (246).
Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 225-248. Print.