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?