“…but the critic is always right!”

I’m reading Bruno Latour’s “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” I’m not sure what to make of his critique of critique yet, but I do like his style, which he calls “mean” (228).

Do you see now why it feels so good to be a critical mind? Why critique, this most ambiguous pharmakon, has become a potent euphoric drug? You are always right! When naïve believers are clinging forcefully to their objects, claiming that they are made to do things because of their gods, their poetry, their cherished objects, you can turn all of those attachments into so many fetishes and humiliate all the believers by showing that it is nothing but their own projection, that you, yes you alone, can see. 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, alone can see. Isn’t this fabulous? Isn’t it really worth going to graduate school to study critique? “Enter here, you poor folks. After arduous years of reading turgid prose, you will be always right, you will never be taken in any more; no one, no matter how pwerful, will be able to acuse you of naïveté, that supreme sin, any longer? Better equipped than Zeus himself you rule alone, striking from above with the salvo of antifetishism in one hand and the solid causality of objectivity in the other.” The only lose is the naïve believer, the great unwahsed, always caught off balance. (238-239)

Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004): 225-248.

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6 Responses to “…but the critic is always right!”

  1. chris says:

    I’ve never really known what to make of Latour, so I’ve pretty much just avoided reading him.

    When reading the quote, I just kept thinking, “What’s so bad about that?” Plus, I think critique is a productive activity, rather than destructive. One produces a new understanding of something. I guess I’m just partial to Marx’s goal of “a ruthless criticism of everything existing.” Why not criticize? Even if it’s just a game — is there a better game worth playing?

    I was just writing about something kind of similar today, criticizing Richard Dawkins and Noam Chomsky for unkind things they had to say about “theory.” It’s shameless self promotion, but I think it’s worth reading, if for no other reason than Dawkins mentions Latour as one of the abusers of scientific jargon in the text I’m criticizing. It’s almost sort of tangentially related! 😉

    Also, congrats on escaping Corvallis and getting published. I managed to do one of those at least.

  2. Michael says:

    Latour doesn’t come out against critique in general in the article (to do so would be to say all of his work was for not), but thinks that critique needs to be changed, in a way that I’m not sure I completely understand yet. I’m going to re-read the article sometime.

    Thanks for the link to your post. It was a good read.

  3. chris says:

    I just found something that actually directly relates to your post. From blogger academic Steven Shaviro, whose writings I often enjoy,

    There is something drearily reactive about always trying to prove that the opposite of what everyone else thinks is really correct. It’s an elitist gesture of trumpeting one’s own independence from the (alleged) common herd; but at the same time, it reveals a morbid dependence upon, or concern with, the very majority opinions that one pretends to scorn. If all you are doing is inverting common opinion, that is the clearest sign possible that you are utterly dependent upon such common opinion: it motivates and governs your every gesture. That is why you need so badly to negate it. Zizek totally depends upon the well-meaning, right-thinking liberal ideology that he sets out to frustrate and contradict at every turn. His own ideas remain parasitic upon those of the postmodern, multicultural consensus that he claims to upset.

    This comes from his response to Zizek’s review of 300.

  4. Michael says:

    Thanks, Chris! Interesting read.

  5. ailsa says:

    “If there is one thing not to set up from the onset. it is the choice of a privileged locus..” (Latour, in reassembling the social)
    i dont think Latour says not to critique, but rather than this is good, that’s bad and I’m right vs you’re wrong, he suggests an appreciation of a wider picture, and not to collapse the point of tension. Not to presume a moral higher ground. In suggesting there’s a puppet master at work pulling strings maybe the suggester needs to look at themselves also. If the blame for a state of affairs is to be blamed on a nebulous entity such as economics or any ism, that connections need tracing not excusing.
    In provoking a look at critique running out of steam, I think that the critiques he eludes to as problematic are because they stop thinking rather than encouraging thinking; this would be to run out of steam.
    Admittedly i have dared to post without going back to the article, which from recall was a good one, and have instead based my comments on current understandings of other texts he has written.

  6. Michael says:

    In provoking a look at critique running out of steam, I think that the critiques he eludes to as problematic are because they stop thinking rather than encouraging thinking; this would be to run out of steam.

    Thanks, Alisa. This seems pretty true to his article, from what I got out of it. He argues that critique needs to assemble rather than take away, needs to pull people and networks together rather than strip away. This seems, in a way, like encouraging rather than stopping thinking.

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