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Jagannath's Saligram.

On Bruno Latour and Literary Critique After Postcoloniality

Amit Ray
Evan Selinger
Bruno Latour has turned to Indian vernacular fiction to illustrate the limits of ideology critique. In
examining the method of literary analysis that underlies his appropriation of postcolonial history
and culture, we appeal to Edward Said's notion of "traveling theory" in order to discuss critically the
aesthetic as well as political stakes of using the technology of the modern novel for the allegorical
purposes that Latour has in mind. We argue that Latourian analysis fails to uphold its own rigorous
aspirations when it reduces complex literary and cultural representation to universal allegory.
Even though Bruno Latour is renowned for appropriating anthropological resources to study
Western technoscientific norms and practices, he has been criticized for ignoring colonial and
postcolonial history.1 In light of such assessments, it appears significant that Latour has come to
depict the failed actions of a fictional Westernized Brahmin named Jagannath as an allegory
about the limits of ideology critique.2 We believe that a useful way to analyze Latour's
invocation of Jagannath is to contrast his approach to literature with the style of postcolonial
criticism favored by such figures as Edward Said (and others). 3 This juxtaposition can establish
a framework for attending to topics whose import extends beyond Latour scholarship, notably:
(1) assessing the epistemic implications of using literature to intervene into meta-philosophical
debates about the limits of ideology critique and its underlying logic concerning fetishized
objects and primitive beliefs, (2) discussing the political and aesthetic effects that can arise from
using the technology of the modern novel for the allegorical purposes that Latour has in mind,
and (3) suggesting better ways for Science and Technology Studies (henceforth, STS) 4 to
collaborate with Postcolonial Studies.5 Latour develops the concept of the "factish" in order to
distinguish the limits of ideology critique. 6 In his deployment of this term, he misses the
opportunity to engage work in postcolonial studies that has questioned ideology critique by
considering alternative and multiple modernities rather than a single monolithic regime. 7 By
examining how Latour's interest in ideology critique brings him to Jagannath's tale, we can
argue for the relevance in his work of occluded literary and cultural detail. By doing so, we
comment on Latourian analysis from a vantage point that resonates with the fuller implications
of Said's work, thereby positing a critical space for a dialogue between STS and postcolonial
Ideology Critique, Literature, and the Juggernaut of Reason
Latour does not discuss ideology critique in order to enlarge its available definitions.8 Rather,
he aims to uncover a discursive formation to which all modern critics have allegedly adhered,
regardless of how they define ideology and its associated concepts. According to Latour, the
"very precise mechanism" of this formation circumscribes uniformly the manner by which the
varieties of modern criticism have tried to debunk their respective objects of religious and
secular mystification. What Latour tries to establish, therefore, is nothing less than the

"modernist's psycho-social profile" (Pandora's 276, 277).9

As depicted within this framework, the primary goal of modern criticism has been to liberate
the public from false beliefs. In the period traditionally referred to as "early modernity," critics
appealed to "transcendent" scientific facts in order to demystify religious convictions. Their goal
was to demonstrate that religious experience untainted by politics does not exist; intuitions
concerning "God" were asserted to be the result of social discipline that is imposed by groups
that benefit from its deployment. In "late modernity," however, critics shifted their focus. By
appealing to the causal relations emanating from "society, discourse, knowledge-slash-power,
fields of forces, empires, capitalism," critics attempted to demystify the transcendent basis of
scientific authority (Latour, "Why Has Critique" 229). In this transition between periods of
modernity, scientists have gone from being the agents to the objects of critique, 10 but their
underlying discourse remains the same: normative guidance is legitimated by the critics' appeal
to "false consciousness" and to "hidden reality."11
In order to explain why the modern approach to criticism is problematic, Latour pursues a
literary trajectory and analyzes Jagannath's tale. 12 Jagannath's story appeared in the seventies, a
time in which "Marxism was posing a real threat to democratic socialism because of a profound
change in people's attitudes to certain Gandhian notions about the self, society, and history"
(Nagaraj vii). At the end of Pandora's Hope, Latour appropriates Jagannathanth's failure to
liberate his village's untouchables from the oppression of the caste system for didactic purposes.
He claims that it illustrates the way ideology critique fails to accurately capture how, why, and
when power is abused: ideology critique distorts how authority comes to be overly esteemed;
ideology critique imputes "extravagant beliefs" to whatever group is taken to be oppressed;
ideology critique leaves the group that it perceived to be oppressed without adequate grounds
for liberation; ideology critique distorts the relation between critic and the object of criticism;
and ideology critique accusatively "destroys a way of arguing." Latour thus treats Jagannath as
the personification of the modern critic's deleterious influence on modern intellectual and
political history. Jagannath's activities are supposed to demonstrate that the modern critic fails to
appreciate that an artifact only becomes a powerful idol after an iconoclast attempts to
demystify it:
Actually, as Jagannath's move beautifully illustrates, it is the critical thinker
who invents the notion of belief and manipulation and projects this notion upon a
situation in which the fetish plays an entirely different role. Neither the aunt nor the
priest ever considered the saligram as anything but a mere stone. Never. By making
it into the powerful object that must be touched by the pariahs, Jagannath
transubstantiates the stone into a monstrous thing--and transmutes himself into a
cruel god . . . while the pariahs are transmogrified into "crawling beasts" and mere
"things." Contrary to what the critics always imagine, what horrifies the "natives" in
the iconoclastic move is not the threatening gesture that would break their idols but
the extravagant belief that the iconoclast imputes to them.
(Pandora's 270-71)
The central point Latour conveys in this passage is that the modern iconoclast illegitimately
dismisses diverse forms of social belief and practice by inventing a misleading concept, the
"fetish." The modernist's conception of the fetish does not register relevant underlying social
and political practices that exist apart from the condition of belief imputed to the native by the
Placing Jagannath in Context

Although we have thus far been discussing Latour's invocation of Jagannath's tale as an analysis
of literary fiction, Latour never makes this identification explicitly.14 The bibliography at the
end ofPandora's Hope does not inform us of crucial features; its title, language, and author go
unlisted. Furthermore, Latour introduces the reader to Jagannath as if he were familiarizing us
with the actions of a real person:
His name is Jagannath, and he has decided to break the spell of castes and
untouchability by revealing to the pariahs that the sacred saligram, the powerful
stone that protects his high-caste family, is nothing to be afraid of.
(Pandora's 268)
As it turns out, Jaganath's tale is extracted from the novel Bharathipura.15 Written in Kannada-one of the Dravidian South Asian vernaculars--in 1974, its author, U.R. Anantha Murthy,
remains a prominent figure in the literary world of Kannadan and Indian vernacular letters.
What Latour interprets is but a fragment of the novel that first appears in English in Another
India, a collection of translated vernacular Indian literature.16
The translations of prose and poetry that appear in Another India were originally composed in
one of the dozens of vernaculars used in the subcontinent. The editors, Nissim Ezekiel and
Meenakshi Mukherjee, primarily attempted to showcase the complexity and richness of Indian
vernacular letters and to counter the disproportionate emphasis placed on Anglophonic "Indian"
writing in Europe and North America. Such an ambition was prescient with respect to future
debates. In 1997, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of India's independence, Salman
Rushdie would contend that the only writing of substance in South Asia was composed in
The prose writing--both fiction and nonfiction--created in this period [the fifty years
of independence] by Indian writers working in English is proving to be a stronger
and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the
eighteen "recognized" languages of India, the so-called "vernacular languages,"
during the same time. . . . The True Indian literature of the first postcolonial half
century has been made in the language the British left behind.
Latour's readers, however, are never apprised of this significant tension in South Asian literature
(and in much writing characterized as "postcolonial").17 Consequently, the significance of
translation and the problem of incommensurability in Jagannath's tale are never addressed. For
example, there is no mention of the parallels between Jagannath's inability to comprehend
the Dalitand the postcolonial Indian writer's dilemma of choosing from amongst the various
possibilities for political identification and representation that different languages--notably local
vernacular and the colonial tongue--afford.
Latour begins by informing the reader that "His name is Jagannath," but his analysis of
Jagannath's story does not focus on its linguistic, historical, and etymological contexts. That the
protagonist has this particular name is significant; it is replete with powerful associations in
South Asian religious experience. The Temple of Jagannath in Puri, Orissa, celebrates a popular
and mischievous avatar of Vishnu/Krishna and is a major pilgrimage site for many of South
Asia's Hindus.18 The reference to Jagannath (Sanskrit for "ruler of all the world" or "ruler of the
universe") draws associations to a figure revered by millions of South Asians. Significantly, this
avatar of Vishnu is celebrated for his transgressive qualities; he is a cunning and lusty trickster.
There is also an important etymological relation between a juggernaut and Jagannath. Although

the name Jagannath is drawn from the temple in Puri, its European usage refers to religious
spectacle. According to European travelers' tales, during the Rathayatra Festival zealots would
throw themselves underneath the giant wheels of a chariot towed by pilgrims to the temple
gates.19 The "juggernaut" has long harbored characteristic features of Orientalist exoticism: its
European legacy conjures irrationality and religious fanaticism in order to mark the Indian as
"other"--a function that India has served in various European imaginaries, dating from at least
Europe's early modern period onward. As the English-educated, Kannada-speaking Brahmin,
Jagannath thus carries in his name associations that reverberate in these contexts of South Asian
religio-cultural consciousness and Anglophonic etymology.20 Similarly, linguistic resonances
relating to debates over Indian modernity can be found in Bharathipura, the novel's title. The
subject of caste has for many become synonymous with the "Indian condition," and tales of
uplifting the downtrodden from caste entrenchment have come to be seen as paradigmatic of the
possibility of modernizing India. These issues have been rendered into numerous aesthetic
forms--the subject of novels, films, and philosophical tracts--both inside India and abroad. 21 It
is not surprising, therefore, that the title of Murthy's novel, Bharathipura, establishes a
metaphorical relationship between a specific geographical site, Bharathipura, and the Indian
nation as a whole. Bharat is the ancient Sanskrit name for "India," and pura means village.
Roughly translated, Bharathipura designates the "Village of India." Thus, an element of general
social critique via the microcosm of the village is prominently featured for the reader even
before any of the novel's plot is revealed.22
Finally, as a work written for a Kannadan audience and only recently translated in its
entirety,Bharathipura addresses several key issues raised within Anglophone postcolonial
studies. The question of the significance of composing in the so-called colonizer's language is a
vibrant and contentious feature of postcolonial societies that concerns the manner in which
categories such as "literature" and the "literary" are negotiated. Untranslated vernacular literary
"traditions" consciously experiment with the problem of how to accommodate the enormous
cultures of book and print that arose in connection with the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth
century introduction of European print technologies. The language communities served by these
vernaculars together constitute a diverse, national entity: a heterogeneous India where Gujarati,
Bengali, Tamil, and fifteen other vernaculars are recognized as languages appropriate for
literary expression. Thus, if the umbrella term "nation" can be used to refer to postcolonial
India, it is only in the context of a sovereign nation that is learning to accommodate substantial
regional and linguistic differences.23In this context, Murthy's decision to write in Kannada is
deliberate. Like many Indian literati, he works in more than one language. In fact, Murthy's
1966 doctoral degree in comparative literary studies is from the University of Birmingham:
three years earlier, the renowned Center for Cultural Studies was established at Birmingham by
noted Marxist scholars Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall. The complex treatment of varied
Marxist/Socialist positions over the course of Bharathipuraspeaks to Murthy's familiarity with
contemporary "Western" scholarship, as well as to the prominent place of Marx amongst India's
own intellectuals and politicians. The English language translation of the entire novel was not
available until 1996, more than two decades afterBharathipura's first appearance in print.
What the excerpt of Bharathipura Latour reads occludes, and what the novel's cultural texture
helps focus, is Murthy's critique of liberal ideas of cultural authenticity. At the beginning
ofBharathipura, Jagannath recalls going to the University of London to study. Once there he
uses his charisma and intelligence to seduce women with "revolutionary" zeal:
What had he done for five years in England? . . . He had become a magnetic
existentialist . . . . His black eyes, olive complexion, his tone of voice . . . all of these
he had used with superb sleight-of-hand. He turned liberal, a reader of The
Guardian. Reason--simple. Liberal rhetoric helped him justify his aimless drifting

ways. He favoured free love because he wanted several women without

commitment. . . . He wanted to be free, and so dubbed life itself absurd. He assumed
a variety of personalities so as to conceal his innermost appetites. Bluntly speaking,
his life was one continuous debauchery. A masquerade.
But as his failing relationship with Margaret, a half-English/half-Indian woman, falls apart,
Jagannath becomes motivated to abandon his charlatan ways and aspires to transform himself
into someone who is "creative" and "authentic." He returns to Bharathipura, believing that if he
can liberate the village pariahs he will acquire the allure of a political revolutionary and thereby
win back Margaret's love: "He would write to her after he became more substantial. And for him
to become that, the untouchables, who lived like birds or animals, should muster enough
courage to take that first step into the Manjunatha temple. Their rebellion would bring him
authenticity" (38).24
Jagannath's intervention is a failed act: his exercise in liberal largesse is grotesque, perverse,
and utterly narcissistic. Back in India, Jagannath's efforts to lead the pariahs out of their
"ignorance" is hotly debated in the town and beyond. Undeterred by the skeptics, Jagannath
eventually forces the issue upon the untouchables and the local community. At the end of the
novel, he leads several drunken pariahs into a temple on a festival day only to find that their
entrance is not considered blasphemous because the temple's sacred lingam is missing. 25 In a
plot twist, the reader is apprised that the priest's physically and mentally abused son had exacted
revenge on his cruel father the night before by digging up the lingam and casting it into the
river--an act that resonates in Lingyat belief. When the thousands of faithful, who have come for
the festival, hear what has happened, they conclude that although removing the lingam defiles
the temple, it is a justified action; it occurred in order to stop the greater defilement that would
have been caused by the pariahs. Although readers are privy to the psychological motivations of
the priest's son (much as they are to Jagannath's), the worshippers are not duly informed; as a
result, they appeal to indigenous beliefs to explain Jagannath's failed actions, a move that allows
their belief-system to remain intact. By contrast, the reader is aware of what motivates the
novel's protagonist and has the opportunity to consider the relation between personal
psychology and social revolution. Murthy's construction of this scenario allows for the
modernist critic's intervention to be absorbed by indigenous belief, a facet of Jagannath's move
that Latour's analysis does not encounter and therefore address.
Representing the Unrepresented?
Latour, reading an excerpt of the novel, misses these dimensions of its plot and so its critique of
liberal ideology. The broader implications of the novel's politics of inclusion and marginality are
also conveyed by its style. Narrative voice is so important to Murthy's project that any analysis
ofBharathipura that fails to engage with the ways it articulates multiple and competing points of
view remains incomplete. While a range of characterization extends to a variety of different
social groups--a feature reinforced by their access to narrative voice and point of view--this
privilege is not extended to the untouchables. Many social and ideological positions are
represented in the novel (the Brahmin ascetic, the Marxist politico, the corrupt Monk), but the
untouchables, whose contested position within Indian society is the central plot device, are not
represented as speaking for themselves. As indicated in the excerpt, and established more fully
in the novel, Jagannath's tale of failed cultural translation is exemplified by the very absence
of Dalit narrative consciousness. But, unlike Marx's formulation concerning Europe's peasants,
this lack of representation does not arise solely from the Dalit's lack the agency to represent
themselves.26Rather, this particular Kannadan novel achieves its literary coherence by

addressing the issue of untouchability through the objectification of the Dalit. Whereas some
critics contend that this act of reification subjugates the untouchables further, we can perhaps
better view Murthy's literary strategy as one that highlights how dominant groups, even ones
with emancipatory liberal intentions, find it difficult to view the "other" apart from their own
projections and include the "other" on terms that do not exceed self-interest.27
In this respect, Murthy's literary and political aims are perhaps best understood in the context
of the modern novel as a literary technology. Since the nineteenth-century, historical realist
fiction has been used as an instrument that enables competing vantage points to negotiate their
partial and situated perspectives against the reader's God's-eye view--a disembodied perspective
through which all of the personal and institutional machinations that are central to the plot of the
novel are perceived as transparent.28 In the tradition of Marxist historical realist fiction, it is
expected that the reader be left with a new view of social reality, one that is less ideologically
distorted and that presents avenues for political action. In this context, the possibility of
revolutionary activism links literary representation with political praxis: the reader is given the
impression that as a result of understanding the novel, he or she is better placed to engage with
injustice and ideological mystification. Indeed, the reader can feel transformed: he or she is no
longer an ordinary social agent, but instead has become enlightened about matters of personal
complicity vis--vis class complicity.
Although Bharathipura belongs to the genre of social realism, it is not Marxist; selfconsciously Kannadan, Bharathipura relies upon the heteroglossic potential of the novel to
suggest that caste politics at the local level cannot be altered when action is justified by nonlocal norms. Specifically, the reader is made to observe how modern critique and traditional
beliefs confront one another: at novel's end, traditional beliefs appropriate and circumvent
critical intervention. While the Marxist realist tradition of the novel is
invoked, Bharathipura defies the expectations of a genre that revolves around issues of
domination and injustice. Because an untouchable consciousness is absent in it, the novel--as a
genre and a form--seems to be rendered ineffective for adequately addressing the exclusion of
minoritarian voices. In this reading, such an impasse offers an ironic, high-modernist
perspective on the tropes of caste and untouchability in postcolonial India. Far from inciting the
reader to revolution, Bharathipura seems to suggest that while the literary imagination has the
potential to deflate overly zealous critical ambition, it cannot establish a direct course of action
for citizens to pursue. If any of the diverse South Asian readers are implicated by the
untouchables' plight, the novel remains silent on why this is the case and what should be done to
redress it. By not giving the Dalit representation, what the novel suggests ultimately is that until
the Dalitrepresent themselves, "we" cannot represent them either. Their naming, as in the case
of Dalit in modern Indian history, must occur through acts of self-naming. The impetus
for Dalit representation must come from within communities of the excluded and enter into the
larger body of civil society--a society that must be able to refashion itself in order to accept, and
adapt to, Dalit inclusion in the postcolonial Indian nation-state.29
Latour and Postcolonial Theory
It is tempting to compare Latour's discussion of Jagannath to Said's intervention into V.S.
Naipaul's politics of demystification in "Among the Believers." 30 There Said takes issue with
Naipaul's portrayal, regarding his visit to Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, of the West as
"the world of knowledge, criticism, technical know-how, and functioning institutions" and of
Islamic culture as "fearfully enraged and retarded dependent [sic]" (114). Said's position is that
so long as Naipaul is, through his "acquired British identity," prejudiced to see the world in this
way, it is impossible for him to perceive or learn anything new: "What he sees he sees because it

happens before him and, more important, because it already confirms what, except for an eyecatching detail, he already knows. He does not learn: they prove" (116, 113). The crucial point,
one that is central to both Latour's and Said's respective analyses, is that neither an empathetic
nor an epistemic connection to "otherness" is possible if the observer mistakes projected for
genuine native beliefs. Recall Latour's contention that "it is the critical thinker who invents the
notion of belief and manipulation and projects this notion upon a situation in which the fetish
plays an entirely different role" (Pandora's 270). Said reminds us that so long as Naipaul
remains within the space of "carefully chosen" and "absolutely safe" places to visit, so long as
he fails to "live among them" and "risk their direct retaliation," so long as he fails to be like
Socrates and "live through the consequences of his criticism," he can only present characters
that "barely come alive" in landscapes that are "half-hearted at best" (116).
Despite these parallels between Latour and Said, important differences mark their approaches
to literary analysis. By the time Latour publishes Iconoclash, it becomes clear that he is not
familiar with the complete Bharathipura. The one-page discussion of Jagannath
in Iconclash includes a reference to Murthy and his novel, but nothing to explain
why Pandora's Hope presents an incomplete citation. Although Latour goes so far as to claim
that Jagannath's tale is "at the origin" of the Iconoclash exhibition-discussing the inspirational
value of Jagannath at the level of personal origin--he does not discuss the issue of cultural
origins: he does not say why Kannadan writers were grappling with the limits of ideology
critique in the 1970s. This occlusion allows us to distinguish between Said's intervention into
Naipaul and Latour's intervention into Murthy. Although Latour connects his use of Jagannath's
tale to his project of "letting beliefs regain their ontological weight," the fact remains that for
Latour, India is imaginary at best--a phantasm connected solely with a literary fragment that,
when taken out of context, bears unexamined but significant ethnographic traces.
We contend that the type of scholarship Latour exhibits in the context of his appropriation of
Jagannath is problematic and relates to the questionable strategies he uses to solidify the
disciplinary identity of STS by attempting to prematurely settle the question: what kind of
expertise entitles one to speak authoritatively about science and technology, and in which
contexts and for what purposes? As our discussion of Murthy demonstrates, the limits of
ideology critique are already being established in South Asia during the early 1970s. By
contextualizing that which is left out of Latour's reading, we can register an "East" that is not
essentialized and objectified. In recognizing the specific conditions that have contributed to the
text's production and circulation--its literary and "translated" status, its original production and
consumption as a vernacular as opposed to "national" language, and its deliberate positioning
with regard to contemporary intellectual and political life both in South Asia and in Europe--we
can register more than an East that serves to put on display the hubris of the modernist critic.
Indeed, in light of our contextualization, Latour's deployment of Jagannath would be even more
persuasive in that the use and abuse of ideology critique in South India highlights the
heterogeneity and complexity of resistance to the supposed universalism of modernist reason.
Once again, postcolonial instantiations of modernities, as opposed to the Eurocentric uniformity
of a singular modernity, reveal the negotiations taking place in situ.31 As in the laboratory,
decoding the practices of particular villages highlights the degree to which they cannot be
abstracted out of their historical time and place.
When considering these factors, it becomes important to take into account the status of works
of literature within Latour's project of analyzing the limits of ideology critique. Literary
investigations have been demarcated historically from more "proper" theoretical investigations
based on considerations of the kinds of claims formal and conceptual arguments can yield and
the kinds of claims narrative can provide. However well a story may allow readers to come to a
new understanding of the world, however much it enables readers to imagine that things could

be other than they currently are, some contend that the readers' ability to articulate what is
compelling depends upon their going beyond literary possibility by making philosophical
arguments concerning what justifies (or fails to justify) the beliefs, intentions, and actions of the
literary characters. When Latour reduces Jagannath's tale to an allegory of the modernist
iconoclast, he engages in conceptual reductionism. It is as if he is suggesting that whatever
insights can be found in Kannadan literature, they remain insufficiently epistemic because they
have yet to be conceptualized properly. This strategy of attribution belongs to a long history in
which: (1) non-Western inventions are marginalized; (2) the West is given credit for inventing
things that were already fabricated; and (3) complex postcolonial situations that have given rise
to numerous responses to, critiques of, and alternate configurations for, so-called "modernity"
are elided.32 In short, Latour proceeds as if textual violence were not an essential component of
analyzing Jagannath's tale as a model--as a minimal representation of the fundamental features
that account for the failure of ideology critique. Although models can be valuable for a number
of ends--particularly in the sciences, when they can strip away inessential details in order to
clarify the forces of a situation--using Bharathipura in this way undermines Murthy's literary
intervention: exposing the limits of critique in a specific context through a heavily
psychologized and historicized agent.
Latour's reduction of Murthy occurs as if he were unaware of the value of Said's distinction
between "theory" and "critical consciousness":
Theory, in short, can never be complete, just as one's interest in everyday life is
never exhausted by simulacra, models, or theoretical abstracts of it. Of course one
derives pleasure from actually making evidence fit or work in a theoretical scheme,
and of course it is ridiculously foolish to argue that "the facts" or "the great texts" do
not require any theoretical framework or methodology to be appreciated or read
properly. No reading is neutral or innocent, and by the same token every text and
every reader is to some extent the product of a theoretical standpoint, however
implicit or unconscious such a standpoint may be. I am arguing, however, that we
distinguish theory from critical consciousness by saying that the latter is a sort of
spatial sense, a sort of measuring faculty for locating or situating theory, and this
means that theory has to be grasped in the place and time out of which it emerges as
part of that time, working in and for it, responding to it; then, consequently, that first
place can be measured against subsequent places where the theory turns up for
use. The critical consciousness is awareness of the differences between situations,
awareness too of the fact that no system or theory exhausts the situation out of which
it emerges or to which it is transported.
(Said, The World 241-42, emphases added)
Whether Latour has read Said or should be expected to be well-versed in Said's terminology is
irrelevant here. The fact remains that when it comes to analyzing Western technoscientific
practice, Latour has long advocated that STS practitioners should conduct empirical case studies
that trace carefully how provisional identities and disseminated knowledge claims are stabilized
temporarily through networks of heterogeneous actors and "actants" who engage in complex
acts of translation and negotiation in real time. Indeed, when he discusses Western scientific
achievements and failures in his books and articles, Latour depicts networks as strong and weak
connections between people, objects, concepts, and events that cannot be specified
independently of the activity of those particular people, objects, concepts, and events. In other
words, when presenting the reader with an account of how Western knowledge is fabricated,
Latour always displays great sensitivity towards to the spatial orientation and the "traveling" of
theory that Said associates with "critical consciousness." By contrast, his reduction of
Jagannath's tale to an abstract model transforms the story into a saligram: it appears magically,

as an ahistorical object waiting to be de-fetishized by the postcolonial studies scholar's

contextualizing insight into historical networks of translation. What Latour's objectification of
literature impedes, therefore, is the appearance of Bharathipura as a "thing" of concern for those
in STS.
Matters of Fact, Matters of Concern, Matters of Context
The exclusion of postcolonial historical context in Latour's argument suggests that greater
scrutiny should be given to his use of examples that resonate with a variety of global scenarios,
be they postcolonial, multi-cultural, or otherwise involving the many local, regional, and
national cultural situations systemically interlinked through geographically widespread
economic, political, and social "development." Our aim here is to highlight the effects of
Latour's analysis when it does not meet its own expectations for contextual specificity and
For example, in his recent Critical Inquiry article, "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam,"
Latour recounts flipping between C-SPAN 1 and 2 in February of 2003, during the prelude to
the Iraq War. On one station, ongoing coverage could be found of the recent Space Shuttle
Columbia disaster. Latour contends that this event was best understood as a "metamorphosis of
an object into a thing" (234). A technology that had long been taken for granted as an "object"-another instrument in America's technological arsenal--was becoming imbued with rich
connections that could be characterized "in the respectful idiom of art, craftsmanship and poetry
. . . . Here, suddenly, in a stroke, an object had become a thing, a matter of fact was considered a
matter of great concern" (233-35). At that moment on another station, Latour finds a different
process on display in which a "matter of concern" was being transformed into an "object": a
myriad of contradictory responses that had been proffered in relation to the Bush
administration's case for war were now being consolidated into a unified, monolithic narrative
that justified preemptive military action. At the UN, "we had an investigation that tried to
coalesce, in one unifying, unanimous, solid, mastered object, masses of people, opinions and
might" (235).
But while Latour considers how these parallel events--broadcast over cable, satellite, and the
Internet--can provide insight into the distinction between "things" and "objects," he fails to
address the issue of audience and, therefore, context. Consider that in those televised images of
searchers combing the North Texas countryside, most of the footage was concentrated around a
small town. As the United States ramped up its war efforts in the Middle East, millions of
Muslims around the globe also watched and also registered the shuttle as a thing: an auratic
entity--carrying six Americans and an Israeli-whose fall from grace, not far from the U.S.
President's ranch, had come to lie in Palestine, Texas. In light of such lack of contextualization,
Latour's claim rings hollow: "Frightening omen, to launch such a complicated war, just when
such a beautifully mastered object as the shuttle disintegrated into thousands of pieces of debris
raining down from the sky--but the omen was not heeded; gods nowadays are invoked for
convenience only" (236). Perhaps Latour and Jagannath alike view the invocation of the gods as
convenient cover for political actions. But for those believers, not only Dalit, but
fundamentalists and religious literalists in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, these gods do
indeed come to life, justifying belief and action.
Glib dismissal of current events that resonate in messianic and eschatological theology might
allow Latour to present justified criticism of President Bush's rhetoric, but only by stripping
away the significance of C-SPAN as a global, multi-media network, parochializing U.N. actions,
and evading the import of his response to these programs as incommensurate with the responses
of many believers. Any analysis of President Bush's rhetoric must account for the religious
coding meant for a largely domestic Christian audience. It is conventional wisdom that Bush

needs to keep the bloc of the so-called Christian Right happy. However, Latour does not address
the tendency towards complex and diverse responses around the globe to the explosion--even
though they are relevant to the sorts of issues that Latour seeks to clarify in the Critical
Inquiry article: that Critique seems to have given way to conspiracy theory, with the former
lending the latter its methodological tools; that Critique has become disabled by its own
modernist tendencies, imposing a tautological form of critical reasoning that occludes that
which it seeks to critique; and that the work for critical STS is to understand how that
historicized and contextualized fact--the "factish" in Pandora's Hope--actually strengthens
rather than weakens the ontology of the fact. Yet the very example of C-SPAN leads us to
understand how Latour's network fails not only to interact with the historical and cultural
dimensions of transnational media and communications systems, but also with the significant
beliefs that render the media's "facts" over-determined. It also prompts us to revisit the theme
addressed at the beginning of this essay, namely the relation between philosophy and STS. If
STS has differentiated itself from philosophy by taking itself to be a mostly descriptive
enterprise, then how does Latour justify his implicitly normative use of the factish? While
Latour appeals to the factish to show why Dalit beliefs should be respected, he fails to explain
why the factish does not likewise support the judgments of those who saw the Shuttle disaster as
a divine omen and sign of Judgment, and for those who cultivate such beliefs for political gain.
Works Cited
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Chatterjee, Partha. "Caste and Subaltern Consciousness." Subaltern Studies 6. Ed. Ranajit Guha. Delhi:
Oxford UP, 1989: 169-209.
. "Religious Minorities and the Secular State: Reflections on an Indian Impasse." Public
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Elam, Mark. "Living Dangerously with Bruno Latour in a Hybrid World." Theory, Culture and
Society 16.4 (1999): 1-24. [CrossRef]
Ezekiel, Nissim, and Meenakshi Mukherjee. Another India: An Anthology of Contemporary Indian
Fiction and Poetry. New York: Penguin, 1990.
Hoy, David Couzens. Critical Resistance: From Poststructuralism to Post-Critique. Cambridge: MIT P,
Latour, Bruno. Pandora's Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge: Harvard UP,
. "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern." Critical
Inquiry 30.2 (2004): 225-48. [CrossRef]
Latour, Bruno, Peter Weibel, and Zentrum fr Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe. Iconoclash.
Cambridge: MIT P, 2002.
Murthy, U.R. Anantha, and P. Sreenivasa Rao. Bharathipura: Modern Indian Novels in Translation.
Madras: Macmillan India, 1996.
Nagaraj, D.R. "Introduction." Bharathipura. Ed. U.R. Anantha Murthy. Madras: Macmillan India,
1996: vii-xvi.
Ray, Amit. Negotiating the Modern: Orientalism and Indianness in the Anglophone World. New York:
Routledge, 2007.
Rushdie, Salman. "Life and Letters: Damme, This Is the Oriental Scene for You! An Introduction to
Indian Fiction." The New Yorker 23-30 Jun 1997: 50-57.
Said, Edward W. Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.
. The World, the Text, and the Critic. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture.
Eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988. 271-316.
Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford UP,

1. A representative critic is Mark Elam, who contends

although there is no reference to the fact in Latour's account of our non-modernity,
hybrids have been a perennial concern of imperialists and colonialists. Like Donna
Haraway's alternative cyborg figure, the hybrid can be said to have a bad history.
While Haraway makes clear her reasons for adopting the "offspring of militarism
and patriarchal capitalism," Latour never attempts to account for his attraction to a
concept closely connected with colonial science projects. In relation to this silence,
Latour fails to adequately address the way in which hybridity encourages us to
essentialize difference and thereby cancel out the new symmetries he introduces in
favour of new asymmetries.
2. In light of the potential disciplinary implications of his work, it is worth noting that Latour
is currently the President of the Society for the Social Studies of Science.
3. Our appreciation of this form of literary analysis was strengthened by conversations with a
number of friends and colleagues, especially: Casper Bruun Jensen, Babak Elahi, Timothy
Engstrom, Lisa Hermsen, Christine Kray, Srikanth Mallavarapu, Richard Newman, Cyril
Reade, Linda Reinfeld, Richard Santana, and Sandra Saari.
4. As an institutional designation, STS remains a porous category; citational practices, for
example, suggest that scholars who are not identified as STS researchers manage to draw
from STS literature fruitfully. But as Harry Collins's recent work on the "third wave" of STS
suggests, meta-theoretical claims about its development can be useful, particularly if one is
interested in improving future inquiry. See H.M. Collins and Robert Evans, "The Third Wave
of Science Studies: Studies of Expertise and Experience," Social Studies of Science 32.2
(2002): 235-96.
5. Postcolonial studies, like STS, refers to a large and heterogeneous body of scholarly and
intellectual activity. While we address theorists and practitioners whose thought has been
labeled--by themselves and/or others--as "postcolonial," we restrict the term to describe the
condition of sovereign national states that have emerged following World War II.
6. The development of the factish (a conjoining of 'fact' with 'fetish') extends from Latour's
previous work on the complex interactions between the material and the semiotic.
In Laboratory Life, Latour and Steve Woolgar offer detailed ethnographic analysis of how
human and nonhuman coalesce, allowing for the processes through which scientific and
technological activity take place. In attempting to break down the binarism between subject
and object, human and thing, Latour contributes to the body of work known as ActorNetwork theory--a methodological approach that notes the co-constitutive relationship
between actors and actants in a network of practice. See Latour and Steve
Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (Princeton: U of Princeton P,
1979). Like this earlier work, the concept of the factish takes aim at the logical and scientific
iconoclasm that attempts to demolish the "irrational" fetish/object through an appeal to
reason, logic and science invested in the fact. Latour notes that fact and fetish share not only
an etymological root but are both fabricated (Pandora's 272). The iconoclast denies the
fabrication of the fact, which is used to demolish the fetish. The factish, according to Latour,
re-establishes the conditions for human agency to appear "in both cases," allowing for "a
world where arguments and actions are everywhere facilitated, permitted and afforded by

factishes" (Pandora's 274).

7. While not all Subaltern Historians subscribe to the terminology of plural modernities, they
have taken issue with the monolithic developmental models of modernity favored by
nationalists and neo-liberals alike. For more on the Subalterns and Modernity see Chapter
One of Dipesh Chakrabarty's Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern
Studies (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002), 3-19. For more on Alternative Modernities see
Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis:
U of Minnesota P, 1996) and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, "On Alternative
Modernities," Public Culture 11.1 (1999): 1-18. Notes 30 and 32 also address this issue.
8. Ideology critique as a subject fits the profile of what Raymond Williams calls "key words,"
over-determined terms whose definitions are "inextricably bound up with the problems [they
are] being used to discuss" (13). The meanings associated with "critique" and "ideology" are
tied to the intelligibility of concepts that are fundamental to modern epistemology and
modern ontology: the inadequacy of false beliefs is discernable by comparison with
standards appropriate to true beliefs; the inadequacy of opinions is discernable by
comparison with standards appropriate to facts; the illegitimacy of co-opted interests is
discernable by comparison with standards appropriate to real interests; the nature and scope
of social kinds is discernable by comparison with standards appropriate to natural kinds; and
irrational historical progress is discernable by comparison with standards appropriate to
rational historical progress.
9. Latour's attempt to circumscribe ideology critique within a Foucaultian episteme is
curious. In other contexts--such as when arguing against the value of classifying a period of
history as modernity--he favors heterogeneous accounts of history that are punctuated by
diverse associations between actors and actants.
10. Latour also notes that whereas earlier modernist criticism was proffered by the
"intelligentsia," today it can be found in the "instant revisionism" of conspiracy theories and
anti-ecological right-wing political zealots. For a scholarly treatment of this topic, see "Why
Has Critique Run out of Steam?" For the popular press version of this argument, see Latour,
"Readings--the Last Critique," Harper's Apr. 2004: 15.
11. Latour's genealogy of critique reveals how much has changed in academia since the
1960s and 1970s. During that time, Paul Feyerabend lamented that while ideology critique
had been applied to religious beliefs with great success, it had yet to be applied to the ideals
of Western science. Certain epistemic problems attend to Feyerabend's solution to the
problem of the ideology of expertise. See Evan Selinger, "Feyerabend's Democratic
Argument against Experts," Critical Review 15.3-4 (2003): 359-73.
12. See David Couzens Hoy (229) for a discussion of the textual traditions associated with
Marx and Marxism. To understand the legacy of critique after Karl Marx, Hoy examines
"poststructuralism's abstention from critical theory's use of both the method
of Ideologiekritik and the idea of ideology as false consciousness" (16). He begins with
Marx, Friederich Engels, and Georg Lukacs and then proceeds to read work by Foucault,
Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Jrgen Habermas, Steven Lukes, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal
Mouffe, and Slavoj Zizek. By proceeding in this way, Hoy contends that we can come to
understand arguments and theories that have provoked "major changes in the way that one

thinks not only about ideology, but also about subjectivity and social reality" (223).
Although Latour's initial reflections on Jagannath appear at the end of Pandora's Hope, they
end up playing so dominant a role in his later thinking that he contextualizes the tale as being
"at the origin" of his Iconoclash show (Iconoclash 474).
13. In order to address the violence done to native forms of belief, Latour invents the concept
of the "factish." For more on the factish, see Srinivas Aravamudan, Tropicopolitans:
Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804, Post-Contemporary Interventions (Durham: Duke UP,
14. While this lack of attribution may be deliberate, a playful conjoining of binaristic
opposition between fact and fiction, it risks mimicking long-standing Orientalist approaches
that elevated literary texts over practices "on the ground." This disparity becomes the basis
for the reification of a philosophical Hinduism that bears little resemblance to those many
forms in practice throughout India today. See Ray 36-50.
15. Jagannath's name is transliterated in the 1996 translation as Jagannatha. This renaming
reflects contemporary efforts by linguists to more accurately render Indian spoken
vernaculars into English. For example, the city of Calcutta has recently been renamed
Kolkata. This also holds for saligram and shaligrama.
16. See Ezekiel and Mukherjee. The collection is composed of English translations that
appeared in the magazineVagartha, published out of Delhi between 1973 and 1979. The
editors note that the magazine's purpose was to "search for whatever seemed worth reading
and talking about in contemporary Indian literature" (14).
17. Perhaps the most celebrated literary figure who has chosen to forsake literary expression
in the colonizer's language is Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Ngugi's English-language novels on
colonialism in Kenya, such as A Grain of Wheat(1967), made him well known throughout
Africa and the World. He renounced the colonizer's language after being imprisoned by
Daniel Arap Moi's authoritarian government in the early 1980s. Since that time he has
produced extensive critical work in English, but has chosen to compose literary and aesthetic
pieces in Gikuyu. Ngugi has advocated a return to indigenous language in order to produce
African literature, as opposed to "Afro-European" literature. See Ngugi wa
Thiong'o, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African
Literature(Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1986).
18. Recent scholarship has questioned the cohesiveness of "Hinduism" as a religious body,
suggesting that the categorization occurs as a result of European ideas and expectations as to
what "religion" is supposed to be. Richard King offers a fine overview of these recent
debates; see his Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and "the Mystic
East" (London: New York: Routledge, 1999), Chapter Five, "The Myth of Modern
19. The earliest description of the temple and its festival by a European appears in the 1321
travelogue of the Italian Franciscan Friar, Odoric of Pordenone. See Odorico and Henry
Yule, The Travels of Friar Odoric, Italian Texts and Studies on Religion and Society (Grand

Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

20. It should be added that the Rathayatra festival has become an important facet of Swami
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada's International Society for Krishna Consciousness
(ISKCON) movement, popularly known as the Hare Krishnas. The aim of this organization,
since its founding in 1966, has been to extend Krishna-worship outside of South Asia. The
Rathayatra festival is now held in cities around the globe, including New York, London, and
21. The fate of India's untouchables has been a topic of literary exploration since the
nineteenth century. Mulk Raj Anand's 1935 English-language novel, Untouchable, remains
the most widely known work on this theme. More recently, Arundhati Roy's Booker Prize
winning novel, The God of Small Things, prominently features a Dalitcharacter.
22. The village is an overdetermined category in colonial and postcolonial South Asia. Since
the nineteenth century, both foreign and indigenous interlocutors have produced a veritable
mythology of the village in India. According to this line of thought, the idealized India of
antiquity is Hindu and Aryan and the village is the still-living social unit rooted in that past,
the "Living Essence of the Ancient." For a through overview of this idealized notion of the
village in South Asia--by scholars and bureaucrats, European and Asian alike--see Chapter
Four of Ronald B. Inden,Imagining India (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990).
23. It makes sense that the Bengali vernacular and Bengali-speaking cultural elites would
have such success and exposure in colonial British circles. Their access to print technology
began early--in the 1790s--and catalyzed the translational move to the English language and,
simultaneously, to the Bengali print-vernacular. British East India Company officials closely
regulated all such exchanges. Early entry into print discourse by South Asians was
"smuggled" into Bengal via the Euro-missionary enclaves allowed by the Company. See
Mrinal Kanti Chanda, History of the English Press in Bengal, 1780-1857 (Calcutta: Bagchi,
1987). It is important to note that in South Asia the postcolonial politics of language are
particularly complex and have been, at times, violently conflicted.
24. Jagannath speaks of the untouchables as animals. The novel, in this early moment,
suggests that Jagannath must recognize the untouchables as human in order for his social
intervention to succeed. It is also worth noting that though Jagannath acts in order to secure
Margaret's love, the novel does not take up the issue of gender as it relates to ideology
25. Lingyat believers worship Shiva, represented by the phallic lingam. They are largely
congregated in the south of India.
26. Marx, referring to the French peasant proprietor in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
Bonaparte, writes that they "cannot represent themselves, they must be represented." This
quote has been the subject of wide debate. Both Edward Said in Orientalism and Gayatri
Chakravorty Spivak in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" use this phrase to discuss western
representations of the colonial "other." Referring to an exchange between Foucault and
Deleuze, Spivak writes: "It is impossible for contemporary French intellectuals to imagine
the kind of Power and Desire that would inhabit the unnamed subject of the Other of Europe"

27. Spearheaded by Gandhi, the struggle to overcome caste discrimination has been
addressed by every major political and intellectual figure in India. If the inclusion of pariahs
into the village is the condition for an equitable and just India, the absence of Dalit
consciousness emphasizes the flaws of bourgeois modernity in India.
28. The universalist aspirations of realist narrative in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
were instrumental in the development of the novel. See Ian Watt's classic The Rise of the
Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley: U of California P, 2001). See
also Elizabeth Ermarth, Realism and Consensus in the English Novel (New York: Columbia
UP, 1998). For the connection between modern nationalism and realist modes of narrative in
the novel, see Anderson 23-34.
29. The political theorist and Subaltern historian Partha Chatterjee presents a similar line of
thought. He shows how "normative" categories of the liberal nation-state have been recast in
light of postcolonial exigencies. His 1995 article, "Religious Minorities and the Secular
State: Reflections on an Indian Impasse," argues that minority discourse, in certain instances,
might need to refuse entry into "reasonable" discourse. In such instances, he advises a
disciplined politics of toleration. An extensive body of Dalit scholarship has emerged in the
last generation, spurred no doubt by the troubling experiences of minority cultures in South
Asia, as well as by the rise of postcolonial studies. In Castes of Mind, Nicholas Dirks offers a
comprehensive account of the categorization of caste during the colonial era, explaining
particularly how it was integrated into the development of bourgeois Indian modernity.
SeeCastes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton UP,
2001). Debjani Ganguly's ethnography of the ex-untouchable Mahars in western India forms
the basis for an argument that deconstructs the totality of caste structure, insisting upon caste
as heterogenous and variegated categories that cannot be encompassed by totalizing
narratives of modernity. See Caste, Colonialism and Counter-Modernity (New York:
Routledge, 2005).
30. See Edward W. Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard UP,
31. Tejaswini Naranjana provides an excellent analysis of alternative modernities in her
reading of gender and nationalism among Trinidadian Indians. See "'Left to the Imagination':
Indian Nationalisms and Female Sexuality in Trinidad," Alternative Modernities, Ed. Dilip
Parameshwar Gaonkar (Durham: Duke UP): 248-71.
32. Of course, the terrain outlined in points I and II is the subject of Edward Said's classic
study, Orientalism. While that work provides a broad analysis of how an Orient comes to be
represented through the imperialist imaginations of European scholars, it is in later works
that Said offers systematic approaches to remedying the problem of Eurocentrism in
contemporary scholarship.
Copyright 2008 PMC and the Author
Postmodern Culture > Volume 18, Number 2, January 2008