Thoughts on Composition

We walk around not knowing our composition. The funny part is that even if we saw our own intellectual and spiritual composition written out on paper, we would most likely not recognize it as our own constitution. We would most likely be oblivious that we were looking at our “formula” conveniently written down on paper, in case some industrious (and technologically advanced) scientist wanted to use this recipe to produce a good approximation of our being. This sci-fi scenario presumes that in the future there is such a thing as a “manufacturing psychiatrist,” a mind-maker who can produce (after the manner of Watson with his infamous boast) any sort of human being, once the constitutive elements are known. This is, of course, patently ridiculous. I hope it is clear that I am using a far-fetched metaphor to get at an everyday truth. To give an example: if I told you I was feeling weak and I lay down on some  linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, wood flour, pigments and ground limestone, you might wonder in what strange place I was. Was I in an art gallery or a museum? Was this strange mixture of substances a work of contemporary conceptualism, an artist attempting to reground us in the earth by placing it in a privileged space where seeing is deemed paramount? Well, no. That is actually just the formula for producing linoleum. So if I lay on those substances, I could have just been sinking to my own kitchen floor. The trick is in the way the substances are fused. Literature fuses. I think many use literature in an attempt to discover their own formulary constitution, and possibly, to change it. The gedankenexperiments which occur in the pages of a book, virtual or otherwise, are a safe place in which to assay our surprisingly ufamiliar composition and discover the strange, almost chemical alliances which form the compounds of our personality. After all, how often will a great (and often a disturbing) book make us say, “I didn’t realize _____ was in me, until I read that.”

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