Relationship btw Sartrean existentialism & Bruno Latour’s Compositionism? Is Latourean compositionism an inhuman compliment to Sartre’s humanism?
Prepping for class on Thursday, I was reviewing Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism,” and I came to this passage:
“The moral choice is comparable to the construction of a work of art…I mention the work of art only by way of comparison…does anyone reproach an artist, when he paints a picture, for not following rules established _a priori_? Does anyone ever ask what is the picture that he ought to paint? As everyone knows, there is no pre-defined picture for him to make; the artist applies himself to the composition of a picture, and the picture that ought to be made is precisely that which he will have made. As everyone knows, there are no aesthetic values a priori, but there are values which will appear in due course in the coherence of the picture, in relation between the will to create and the finished work…We are in the same creative situation. We never speak of a work of art as irresponsible…There is this common between art and morality, that in both we have to do with creation and invention. We cannot decide a priori what it is that should be done…Man makes himself; he is not found ready-made” (Sartre, EH).
Which made me think, “Huh, sounds sorta like Latour.” For example:
Latour, Compositionist Manifesto:
Even though the word “composition” is a bit too long and windy, what is nice is that it underlines that things have to be put together (Latin componere) while retaining their heterogeneity. Also, it is connected with composure; it has clear roots in art, painting, music, theater, dance, and thus is associated with choreography and scenography; it is not too far from “compromise” and “compromising,” retaining a certain diplomatic and prudential flavor….Above all, a composition can fail and thus retains what is most important in the notion of constructivism (a label which I could have used as well, had it not been already taken by art history). It thus draws attention away from the irrelevant difference between what is constructed and what is not constructed, toward the crucial difference between what is well or badly constructed, well or badly composed.
What is to be composed may, at any point, be decomposed.In other words, compositionism takes up the task of searching for universality but without believing that this universality is already there, waiting to be unveiled and discovered. It is thus as far from relativism (in the papal sense of the word) as it is from universalism (in the modernist meaning of the world—more on this later). From universalism it takes up the task of building a common world; from relativism, the certainty that this common world has to be built from utterly heterogeneous parts that will never make a whole, but at best a fragile, revisable, and diverse composite material.
…for compositionism, there is no world of beyond. It is all about immanence…
compositionism would probably be more comfortable with the words’-pre-naturalism’ or –‘multi-naturalism’. Nature is not a thing, a domain, a realm, an ontological territory. It is (or rather, it was during the short modern parenthesis) a way of organizing the division between appearances and reality, subjectivity and objectivity, history and immutability…
to shift from a nature always already there to an assemblage to be slowly composed
it is not enough for us to rejoice in the discovery of the humble human or social dimension of scientific practice. Such an attitude would simply show a belief in the debunking capacity of critique…
“For purely anthropocentric—that is, political—reasons, naturalists have built their collective to make sure that subjects and objects, culture and nature remain utterly distinct, with only the former having any sort of agency” (484)
o “this inanimism [enlightenment] is the most anthropocentric of all the modes of relation invented, across the world, to deal with associations between humans and nonhumans” (483) à it is humanism after all
o animisms/myth: “but if there is one thing they never do, it is to deny the gap between causes and consequences or to circumscribe agency by limiting it to human subjectivity” (483)
The continuity of all agents in space and time is not given to them as it was to naturalists: they have to compose it, slowly and progressively. And, moreover, to compose it from discontinuous pieces”
Latour would probably argue that the existential/Sartrean project is fundamentally subject-centered, and he is trying to de-center “the (human) subject”. The subject-centrism of Sartre’s project is what makes it a “humanism.” Latour is trying to think outside subject/object metaphysics.
…Which is a way is what Beauvoir does, with concepts like ambiguity, situation, etc. She could be read as pushing subject/object metaphysics to the point of breakdown. Beauvoir’s work is also quite subject-centered: she wants to know what we ought to do, what our responsibilities are to one another, etc.
I will have to think through this all much more carefully…Hopefully someone has already written the article on this that will school me on my mistaken hunches. If not, I’ll have to do the work and transform the hunches into some actually well-grounded scholarship…