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.

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2 Responses to “The Observer – Blog 1”

  1. Dominique on February 8, 2011 7:02 pm

    Hi Cassie–great first post! You draw an important link between Emerson, Goethe, and Turner when you observe that “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.”

    The next step is to tie that back to Crary’s critique of our historical narratives about vision. He criticizes those who trace all of 19th century visual culture back to the camera obscura model because he says it doesn’t account for the way the entire body (for better or for worse) is implicated in the visual process. In what sense is the body involved? (See the discussion in chapter 13 of the reader about the stereoscope.)

    I’m curious to see what you think about the physiological and cognitive aspects of seeing that Hoffman describes.


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    The Observer – Blog 1 at Cassie’s Senior Seminar Blog

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