Serres on Composition before Latour

Bruno Latour’s excellent ecological praise of composition (“compositionalist manifesto”) was inspired by Michel Serres’ book The Five Senses, in which we read (p. 239 of the Continuum edition):

Creativity is as old as the landscape, lost Antiquity and the senses. Redeemed all at once and integrated through the word.

Do not seek to know how to look at a landscape – compose a garden instead. Learn the aesthetic error of submitting everything to a law: levelling the local event produces boredom and ugliness, a world without landscapes, books without pages, deserts. Take everything away and you will not see. To see space demands time, do not kill time. Avoid the symmetrical error of being satisfied with fragments. A lack of story is as tedious as a singular law, and produces even greater ugliness. Composition requires a tension between the local and the global, the nearby and the far-off, the story and the rule, the uniqueness of the word and the unanalysable pluralism of the senses, monotheism and paganism, the international expressway and remote villages, science and literature. Hold the bridle of the galloping horse firmly, keep a tight rein to prevent his shying, expect a long and steep path. Watch closely, anticipate. Philosophy sometimes requires syntheses. Go visiting.

Suddenly, at the same time, you see both miniature and panorama.


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