Blog 7

May 17th, 2011

Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man was a great final book to wrap our class up our class “Techniques of the Observer” because it discussed the idea visibility and invisibility through a fictional story based on a historical American time. The narrator of the book experienced a constant struggle with visibility and his own identity, something even modern readers could relate to.

In the “The Art of Fiction: An Interview” with Ralph Ellison, he explains regarding his narrator: “The major flaw in the hero’s character is his unquestioning willingness to do what is required of him by others as a way to success, and this was the specific form of his ‘innocence.’ He goes where he is told to go; he does what he is told to do he does not even choose his Brotherhood name” (178).  The narrator was “invisible” for most of the book because he was playing the role in which he believed he was meant to play. He had the leadership quality within him, but it could not be expressed to his full potential because he was holding himself back. The fact that he doesn’t even get to choose his new name reflects his invisibility and ability to be manipulated by others. He was only seen as a tool to the Brotherhood, and when he realizes “All boundaries down, freedom was not only the recognition of necessity, it was the recognition of possibility” (499), he realizes that he has been invisible and his identity has been hidden. At the end of the novel when the narrator is “…free of illusion…” (569), is when he is able to break free from the identity that is given to him and becomes visible and accepts his true identity. The narrator proclaims that he is “Fully awake now…(570) and the darkness turned into light (569), he is finally free and visible.

The Ambassadors- Blog 6

April 11th, 2011

After completing James’ The Ambassadors the anamorphosis that appears in Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” seems extremely significant as the representation of what Strether learns throughout the novel. The skull represents death and the constant reminder that death is inevitable, so life must be lived to the fullest. Throughout the novel this is a theme that Strether learns through his experience in Europe and tries to present to other characters in the novel. Strether feels as though it is too late for his life to be lived to the fullest, so he tries to talk little Bilham and Chad into following their hearts and not what is expected of them in order for them to live a more fulfilling life, which Strether now knows is attainable. At a party in a garden Strether speaks to Bilham and tries to enforce the importance of living life, and learning from your mistakes to him. Later in the novel Stether tries to talk Chad into staying in Europe because he knows that Chad could be more free and enjoy life more there, but he is unsuccessful in persuading him to stay.

Strether is not very successful at all in his position as an “ambassador”. Firstly he enjoyed his mission too much, and prolonged his stay purposely so he would not have to return to America so soon. His mission was to bring Chad back so he may marry Mamie and thus bring two families together in a business situation, but Stether talks little Bilham into being with Mamie and even offers him an inheritance. Stether does not even talk Chad into coming back, he tries to talk Chad into staying in Europe, but Chad decides on his own to go back. As an ambassador on a mission to bring Chad back on the terms of his agreement with Mrs. Newsome he fails, but he may be seen as an ambassador for promoting change and living life. Throughout the novel Stether goes through a change and becomes more content with life and even enjoys the beauty of nature which is portrayed when he goes on a trip to suburban France alone. He not only can appreciate natural aspects of life, but he has learned to be alone and be more confident in himself.

As we discussed in class, the men originally assumed to be depicted in Holbein’s painting were later debated upon, and sparked controversy during the time James’ novel was finished. This speaks to the reoccurring theme throughout James’ work regarding appearances and how little they actual mean. These two men and the objects in this painting could be analyzed and interpreted in different ways, forcing the actual meaning the painting to be debatable.

The Ambassadors- Blog 5

March 31st, 2011

In Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” there are two men portrayed. One of the men appears to be of a higher class than the other because of his fashion and accessories. From this image the viewer can assume that Henry James’ novel The Ambassadors will have two main male characters. The two globes in the image seem to portray that travel and exploration would is a major theme of the book. The man on the left seems to portray European royalty, whereas the man on the right is more modestly dressed and is more mysterious. This image does not fully explain who the men are, what their relationship is or what “ambassadorial” business they are on.
Reading the first too books of the novel allows me to assume that the man on the right is Mr. Waymarsh and the man on the left is Mr. Strether. After reading I can make this assumption because Strether explains to Miss Gostrey that Waymarsh is much more financially successful than himself. They way the man are positioned is also representative of their friendship. The globes in the painting can also depict the traveling between America and Europe, which we learn is a theme of these first two books. What I previously assumed before reading the first two books, and just by viewing the painting was that these men were European, but the novel explains that they are Americans in Europe.
Holbein’s painting seems to be reflecting themes and characters in James’ novel, yet the painting does not giving away any part of the story. You must read the novel to understand what the symbols in the painting are meant to represent. Like James’ explains his words give a better expression than just simply viewing an image, which could represent a number of things.

Technology, Then and Now.

March 17th, 2011

As Holmes predicted in his essay “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph”, “The consequence of this will soon be such an enormous collection of forms that they will l have to be classified and arranged in vast libraries, as books are now. The time will come when a man who wishes to see any object, natural or artificial, will go to the Imperial, National, or City Stereographic Library and call for its skin or form, as he would for a book at any common library”, which changed object and image accessibility, and sparked debate regarding the individual’s perception. With access to a wider variety of places and ideas through photographic technology, the debate of the positive and negative consequences of this technology undoubtedly changed the culture of the 19th century. Theorists argued that this new technology would drive us further from nature, and the connection to our own consciousness would be disrupted.

This probably sounds familiar to all of us living in the 21st century absorbed and affected by technology on an everyday basis. The extreme use of technology that we live by the day is the source of many debates regarding our generation. Our culture has been affected by technology in regard to our generation’s deteriorating social skills, and the ability to retain information that is so very easily accessible outside of our memory. These are similar arguments to the 19th century arguments on whether or not photographic technology would weaken the individual perception. Today we have to worry about technology weakening our retentive and creative potential. As Rebecca Solnit states in her book River of Shadows regarding Eadweard Muybridge’s work, “The art of the hand had been replaced by the machinery of the camera; the travel of the, foot, human or equine, had been replaced by the pistons of the locomotive; bodies themselves were becoming insulated from nature by machinery and manufactured goods; and memory had been augmented and partly replaced by photography” (18), technology was at that point in time taking over part of the human experience in regard to both mental and physical experiences. This is in essence the same argument that is being debated upon in our present time.

Tim Gunning explains this argument in his essay “Animated Pictures” when he writes, “But the danger inherent in modern life derives from cinema as well. The proliferation of moving images threatens…to destroy rather than preserve memory, substituting widely circulated institutional images for the most personal resources of imagistic recall” (Visual Culture Reader, 101). Gunning is expressing the threat that cinema has on our memory, an argument that today still exists. Our society celebrates the Internet. The Internet provides us with the ability to access information in seconds, communicate with each other and many other everyday tasks as minor as buying groceries. Activities that once broadened our physical, social and intellectual experience are now being replaced and inhibited by the cyber experience, which in turn administers the same fear that the 19th century community felt. Our generation is being driven further from nature and the physical world, and has become dependant on technology.

Blog # 3: James and Carter and the ‘Stream of Consciousness’

March 7th, 2011

In both Rita Carter’s discussion of consciousness in 2002 and William James’ in 1890, the thought process is highly examined and they both explain the various levels of consciousness. Interestingly, they also both discuss the process of perception and how thoughts “melt into each other like dissolving views” (279), as explained by James in his book Psychology. James explains that our consciousness chooses what it is interested in perceiving when we are consciously looking at something. James uses his “’the-pack-of-cards-is-on-the-table’” (278) example as such an instance. James uses the phrase “time-parts” to explain the continuous stream of thinking that occurs when an object is being perceived, and how that continuous stream is broken up into individual sections. He accompanies this theory with a diagram where thoughts are continuous yet broken down into seconds, and then goes on to explain “Immediately, after 0 [seconds], even before we have opened our mouths to speak, the entire thought is present to our mind in the form of an intention to utter that sentence” (280). Carter also touches upon this continuous “stream” of consciousnesses when she explains in “Exploring Consciousness”: “Just as we enjoy an illusion of spatial completeness of visual consciousness, so we also feel as though experiences in continuous in time. This is reflected in the words ‘flow’ and ‘stream’ that we commonly use to describe it. Yet even this smooth progression turns out to be illusionary” (23). She explains that as we reading words on a page they seem to be continuously flowing thought are mind and consciousness, but they are really broken down into groups for “a series of ballistic jumps called saccades each of which traverses the space of three or four words” (23-24). Carter then goes on to explain that this process of reading, which “are present in our perception of everything” (24) can be scientifically proven by using a “computer controlled tracking device” which can track your eye movements when reading.
Although James and Carter explain this break in consciousness or perception differently, they both are arriving at the same point that we unconsciously are merging individual thoughts or words together to construct one seemingly continuous thought. I wrote “interestingly” earlier when introducing this idea because James brings up a theory in his “time- parts” explanation in 1890 which are discussed and scientifically proven in 2002, as explain in Carter’s piece.
In terms of visual perception and the role it plays in consciousness, I found Carter’s explanation of the rare condition known as “Anton’s delusion” (18) very interesting. Carter explains this is a condition where a person who is suddenly blinded continues to believe that they can see. This person can act as a fully sighted person, continuing to believe they can see, until of course they bump into something or can recognize that they are not actually seeing what everyone else is. Carter explains that “The difference, then, between the person with Anton’s delusion and one with normal vision shows only in their interaction with the world. The former will trip over things rather more often than the latter on account of their sigh being wholly illusionary rather than mainly so. But their visual experience will be similar” (19). This phenomenon is extremely interesting because what Carter is implying is that most of our visual perception is illusionary. Which reminds me of what our class has been discussing since the beginning of the semester- is what we perceive reality?

Importance of the Image Context

February 21st, 2011

While reading both Whitman’s account of the civil war in his entries in Specimen Days and Trachtenberg’s argument regarding Brady and Gardener’s civil war photographs, the popular phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ kept coming to mind.

Whitman’s entries are remarkable because no image is accompanied with them, yet the reader could easily imagine what Whitman as an observer of the events is seeing or has seen for himself. In his entry titled An Army Hospital Ward Whitman writes “Let me specialize a visit I made to the collection of barrack-like one-story edifices, Campbell hospital, out on the flats, at the end of the then horse railway route, on Seventh street. There is a long building appropriated to each ward. Let us go into ward 6. It contains to-day, I should judge, eighty or a hundred patients, half sick, half wounded. The edifice is nothing but boards, well whitewash’d inside, and the usual slender-framed iron bedsteads, narrow and plain. You walk down the central passage, with a row on either side, their feet towards you, and their heads to the wall. There are fires in large stoves, and the prevailing white of the walls is reliev’d by some ornaments, stars, circles, &c., made of evergreens… Most of them are entirely without friends or acquaintances here—no familiar face, and hardly a word of judicious sympathy or cheer, through their sometimes long and tedious sickness, or the pangs of aggravated wounds” (Specimen Days, p. 31). The descriptiveness of Whitman’s words provides the reader with not only an image that can be constructed in their mind efficiently, but the words also convey a feeling in which Whitman is expecting us to acknowledge. Through his words he is not only forcing us to envision the scene, but to experience the scene by relating to the emotions that he himself is feeling. An image could have been very easily taken of the scene Whitman is describing, but if there were no words to accompany it than we would not know what we would have been intended to see, or why this scene was chosen and what we should be taking from it. This is part of the argument that Trachtenberg makes in his chapter Albums of War.

The presence of photography during the civil war and the ability to capture history in an image record is an astounding achievement in technology and Trachtenberg is not arguing that. What he is arguing is the relation of the photographs that are included in Brady and Gardener’s collections. Trachtenberg is arguing that an individual image or group of images cannot simply establish or communicate an intention without any specific direction. Pictures with no direction attached to them can be interpreted in a variety of ways (hence ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’). Trachtenberg writes “The Gardener text is more helpful, though here too the explicit message remains invisible in the image, while the actual even recorded in the image- a group of soldiers in a particular landscape having their photograph taken remains unacknowledged and explained” (301). Just by seeing the image of the group of soldiers we may be able to derive the who, the where, the when, and while those answers are all interesting and important the why is what is missing. Why is this image of these particular soldiers on that particular day is included and more important than an image that could have been taken 10 minutes before that.

In Whitman’s entries the why is often self-evident. We understand why Whitman is explaining what is his explaining and we understand what he wants us to understand, and what he feels about it although there is not a physical image. In the case of Brady and Gardener, their works are clearly of the war, but their individual subjective intentions of the images as single or as a group can be interpreted differently.

Mind over Matter in Emily Dickinson’s Poem “What I see not, I better see”

February 21st, 2011

During the first read of Emily Dickinson’s poem number “869” or “What I see not, I better see” it is observed that the speaker is partial to the minds imagination over physical imagery. The irony of being able to see more clearly in the dark than in light is present in the first line of the poem: “What I see not, I better see” (1). This favor for darkness over light can be a direct response to the photographic culture that was appearing at that time. Since a photograph is produced as a negative, which becomes clear when exposed to light, light is what provides the reality of the image. Dickinson in her poem is commenting that this reality is not true reality, and ironically reality is clearer in the darkness of your own mind.

Dickinson makes it clear that she values her own minds perception over the perceptions that can physically be absorbed with her senses when she writes: “For frequent, all my sense obscured” (5). This line reflects Dickinson’s argument that we can trust what we seen in our own mind because our senses sometimes fail us, and we can not be certain to whether or not what we are seeing is reality. What we can trust is our own perception that is clear in our mind. Dickinson writes: “Till jealous Daylight interrupt-/ And mar thy perfectness” (11-12) she is expressing the relatable feeling of the morning soiling a pleasant dream, and using that analogy for what the photographic culture is doing: replicating copies of reality in the attempted to provide a subjective experience, which Dickinson denounces as a capability.

The Observer – Blog 1

February 7th, 2011

In Jonathan Crary’s essay “Modernizing Vision” he explains that the camera obscura became a model of vision “for how observation leads to the truthful inferences about an external world” (Crary 31). The camera obscura provided a new capability of capturing a moment of time in what was assumed to be a specific instance. Crary suggests that the camera obscura “was an apparatus that guaranteed access to an objective truth about the world” (31), yet this new way of “seeing” enlightened observers to look beyond the rigid act of imitation and discover an even more modern way of observing. Observers began to realize that an external force like the camera obscura, although undoubtedly a technological advance, was extraneous in the process of seeing. As research progressed during the 19th century and more in depth operations of the senses were being discovered, the importance of observing shifted from what was being observed to who was conducting the observation. Each individual person’s eyes can observe differently without an outside object’s assistance. The act of observation relies heavily on who is doing the observing, and the space and time in which the observation is being assumed. In Emerson’s “Goethe; or, the Writer” when discussing his admiration for Goethe he explains that “He sees at every pore, and has a certain admiration for truth”(Emerson 754). Seeing out of every pore is how the entire of body of that particular observer becomes the instrument in which significant observing may be accomplished. Emerson also writes: “Eyes are better, on the whole, than telescopes or microscopes” (754), which is also indicative of the individual being fully equip to observe without an outside source. There is no argument here whether or not technological advancements in film and photography have changed the way we observe, but the point is that the observation is dependent on the observer. Emerson argues that poets have a more clear perception of nature, but who is to say what is real and what is truth? We all have our own instruments of “seeing”, and we can all look at the same image or read the same text and draw different observations.