The Composites, law enforcement media and literature

The Composites

The Composites opens up a new space between language and software, harnessing some of the masterpieces of literary fiction (in terms of character names and descriptions of physical appearance – mug-shots basically) and putting these into a ‘law enforcement sketch’ programme. Online since mid-February 2012 it is growing in cult status. Viewers of the site input ideas and suggestions; (‘Many readers believed that Ignatius weighed significantly more than the original composite implied’: see ‘Ignatius O’Reilly’, in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole). In ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ Nietzsche describes how desire grows when one fasts and perhaps The Composites creator is seeking to encourage more appreciation of good literature by showing us what software made for forensic science does to colourful descriptions of personality – i.e. dull everyone down, negate all character into a shady black and whiteness. An early scientific positivist, Francis Galton, founder of eugenics, said: “A composite portrait represents the picture that would rise before the mind’s eye of a mind who had the gift of pictorial imagination to an exalted degree. But the imaginative power even of the highest artist is far from precise, and is so apt to be biased…..the merit of the photographic composite is its mechanical precision, being subject to no errors”. Now in an era of neuro-biological imaging techniques we now need to re-define our terms of engagement. Davis has remarked in interviews that ‘the combination of a law enforcement media and literature is a snapshot of inner space right at a time when literature is experiencing an ontological crisis’. One can’t help but wonder what would Madame Bovary think?
Bronac Ferran