Abstract

This essay offers an encounter with Bruno Latour’s account of ontological pluralism by way of a close reading of the Livre des propriétés des choses, Jean Corbechon’s fourteenth-century French translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s encyclopedia. Engagement with Latour’s Inquiry into Modes of Existence enables a new reading of medieval encyclopedias that takes seriously Latour’s suggestion that premodern cosmologies retain importance for modern ecological thought while simultaneously challenging his arguments about the rigidity of ontologies based on ideas of nature, substance, and matter. This essay argues that the Livre deploys precisely such an ontology in dynamic and flexible ways. The varying visual programs in Livre manuscripts each configure the encyclopedia’s ontology differently, either making humans privileged observers of nature or positioning them as subject to its laws while adopting varying solutions for communicating ontological contentions to readers.

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