What has critique become when a French general, no, a marshal of critique, namely, Jean Baudrillard, claims in a published book that the Twin Towers destroyed themselves under their own weight, so to speak, undermined by the utter nihilism inherent in capitalism itself—as if the terrorist planes were pulled to suicide by the powerful attraction of this black hole of nothingness?
The French, it is well known, love revolutions, political, scientific or philosophical. There is nothing they like more than a radical upheaval of the past, an upheaval so complete that a new tabula rasa is levelled, on which a new history can be built. None of our Prime Nlinisters starts his mandate without promising to write on a new blank page or to furnish a complete change in values and even, for some, in life. Each researcher would think of him or herself as a failure, if he or she did not make such a complete change in the discipline that nothing will hereafter be the same. As to the philosophers they feed, from Descartes up to Foucault's days, on radical cuts, on 'coupure épistémologique', on complete subversion of everything which has been thought in the past bv everybody. No French thinker, indeed no student of philosophy, would seriously contemplate doing anything short of a complete revolution in theories. To hesitate, to respect the past, would be to compromise, to be a funk, or worse, to be eclectic like a vulgar Anglo-Saxon.
There was a problem in American literary criticism: the New Criticism had gotten too formalist, too focused on the individual text apart from biography or historical context. It was a reaction against the bibliographic excesses of an earlier generation. What was needed was to supplement New Criticism, by bringing in historical context, history and psychology because New Criticism was also anti-Freud... What poststructuralists did was to abandon the whole thing.
Would it not be rather terrible if we were still training young kids—yes, young recruits, young cadets—for wars that are no longer possible, fighting enemies long gone, conquering territories that no longer exist, leaving them ill-equipped in the face of threats we had not anticipated, for which we are so thoroughly unprepared? Generals have always been accused of being on the ready one war late— especially French generals, especially these days. Would it be so surprising, after all, if intellectuals were also one war late, one critique late—especially French intellectuals, especially now?
Do you see why I am worried? I myself have spent some time in the past trying to show “the lack of scientific certainty” inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a “primary issue.” But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument—or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I’d like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from prematurely naturalized objectified facts. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?
Threats might have changed so much that we might still be directing all our arsenal east or west while the enemy has now moved to a very different place.
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.
In France generally, Latour perceives a deep fear of being seen as naive, outdated, or gullible; these are the "worst" things one can be in Parisian society, and thus, coupled with and causing its love of revolutions (see "The Enlightenment Without the Critique"), discourse there prized, above all, for being à la mode.What has become of critique when my neighbor in the little Bourbonnais village where I live looks down on me as someone hopelessly naive because I believe that the United States had been attacked by terrorists? Remember the good old days when university professors could look down on unsophisticated folks because those hillbillies naı¨vely believed in church, motherhood, and apple pie?
The dynamic reminds me a bit of the American gov's habit of supplying arms to a rebel group ("anything but the current regime," in the dialectical spirit of corrective). Thirty years later it has to fight those exact rebel group, who have now become the oppressive regime and are armed to the teeth with American weapons.Latour worries that poststructuralist criticisms of science are "one war late," that the dialectic ground they responded to—the midcentury enthusiasm and belief in science, the positivist strains of analytic—have already receded, and been replaced by (e.g.) climate skepticism, anti-vax, conspiracy theory, post-truth mindset, etc. Hence the second part of his title: "From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern."