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Crary Unbinding Vision

Crary Unbinding Vision

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Published by Beata Szulęcka

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Published by: Beata Szulęcka on Mar 04, 2011
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UnbindingVision:ManetandtheAttentiveObserverintheLateNineteenthCentury
jonathanCrary
Oneofthemostimportantdevelopmentsinthehistoryofvisualityinthe nineteenthcenturywastherelativelysuddenemergenceofmodelsofsub- jectivevisioninawiderangeofdisciplinesduringtheperiodfrom1810to1840.Dominantdiscoursesandpracticesofvision,withinthespaceof afewdecades,effectivelybrokewithaclassicalregimeofvisualityandgroundedthetruthofvisioninthedensityandmaterialityofthe
body.'
Oneoftheconsequencesofthisshiftwasthatthefunctioningofvisionbe-camedependentonthecontingentphysiologicalmakeupoftheobserver,thusrenderingvisionfaulty,unreliable,andeven,itwasargued,arbitrary. Fromthemidcenturyon,anextensiveamountofworkinscience,phi- losophy,psychology,andartwascomingtotermsinvariouswayswiththe understandingthatvision,oranyofthesenses,couldnolongerc1aimanessentialobjectivityorcertainty.Bythe1860stheworkofHermannHelm-holtz,GustavFechner,andmanyothershaddefinedthecontoursofa generalepistemologicalcrisisinwhichperceptualexperiencehadnoneoftheprimalguaranteesthathadonceuphelditsprivilegedrelationtothefoundationofknowledge.Anditwasasonedimensionofawidespreadre-sponsetothatcrisisthat,beginninginthe1870s,visualmodernismtook shape.Theideaofsubjectivevision-thenotionthatthequalityofoursensa-tionsdependslessonthenatureofthestimulusandmoreonthemakeupandfunctioningofoursensoryapparatus-wasoneoftheconditionsforthehistoricalemergenceofnotionsofautonomousvision,thatis,fora severing(orliberation)ofperceptualexperiencefromanecessaryandde-terminaterelationtoanexteriorworld.Equallyimportant,therapidaccu-mulationofknowledgeabouttheworkingsofa
fully
embodiedobservermadevisionopentoproceduresofnormalization,ofquantification,of
46
discipline.Oncetheempirical body,thesenses-andvisionin controlledbyexternaltechniques wastheepochalachievemem
of~~-=
nineteenthcentury-aboveall, tavFechner-whichrendered~ manperceptioninthedomainof; musbecamecompatiblewith Thesecondhalfofthenineteenr old,duringwhichanysignificarr .anda
mechanosphere
beganto~ methicknessofthebodywasa
pI
humanvisionintomerelyacom?OCll1 Thisdisintegrationofanindispm;~;'~ teriorbecameaconditionfor cu1ture.Itmaybeunnecessarytoemp ization"Imeanaprocesscompleze ressordevelopment,onewhichis
t
creationofnewneeds,newp~ modalitiesarethusinaconstanz said,inastateofcrisis.Paradoxicż:~~ namiclogicofcapitalbegan
(O
duringstructureofperception
t
emptedtoimposeadisciplin2=--- rhelatenineteenthcentury,
wi
menascentfieldofscientific
psyc::.':.QJ
cameafundamentalissue.Itwasa relatedtotheemergenceofa
.:o
creasinglysaturatedwithsenso contextofnewformsofindus~ dangerandaseriousproblem, źzedarrangementsoflaborthar onecrucialaspectofmoderni seethechangingconfiguratio tractiontonewlimitsandthresho&:s,.ll products,newsourcesofstimularxc., ::espondingwithnewmethodsof inceKant,ofcourse,panoi:- hasbeenaboutthehuman ~nandatomizationofacognirree .teinthesecondhalfofme .rnentofvarioustechniques-
 
anetandthe
'er
intheLateCentury
[~=em:s
inthehistoryofvisualityintheenemergenceofmodelsofsub-li&:i;lillIesduringtheperiodfrom1810 .cesofvision,withinthespaceof classicalregimeofvisualityand
.ty
andmateriaIityofthebody.! rasmatthefunctioningofvisionbe- iologicalmakeupoftheobserver, -andeven,itwasargued,arbitrary. amountofworkinscience,phi-
[O
termsinvariouswayswiththesenses,couldnolongerclaiman ~stheworkofHermannHelrn-
I«x:=ers
baddefinedthecontoursofa -?Erceptualexperiencehadnoneof _elditsprivilegedrelationtothe edimensionofawidespreadre- e187os,visualmodernismtook ionthatthequaIityofoursensa- -stimulusandmoreonthemakeup wasoneoftheconditionsforantonomousvision,thatis,fora esperiencefrornanecessaryandde- -~yimportant,therapidaccu-
r----
2"S
ofa
fully
embodiedobserver~tion,ofquantification,of
UNBINDINGVISION
47
ipline.Oncetheempiricaltruthofvisionwasdeterminedtolieinthe
.»
thesenses-andvisioninparticular-wereabletobeannexedand trolledbyexternaltechniquesofmanipulationandstimulation,This -theepochalachievementofthescienceofpsychophysicsinthemid- eteenthcentury-aboveaUtheworkofthescientist-philosopherGus- Fechner-whichrenderedsensationmeasurableandembeddedhu-perceptioninthedomainofthequantifiableandtheabstract.Vision.becamecompatiblewithmanyotherprocessesofmodernization. Thesecondhalfofthenineteenthcenturywasacriticalhistoricalthresh- d,duringwhichanysignificantqualitativedifferencebetweena
biosphere
anda
mechanosphere
begantoevaporate.Therelocationofperceptioninto:hethicknessofthebodywasapreconditionfortheinstrumentalizingof .umanvisionintomerelyacomponentofnewmechanicarrangements. Thisdisintegrationofanindisputabledistinctionbetweeninteriorandex- terierbecameaconditionfortheemergenceofspectacularmodernizing culture.ItmaybeunnecessarytoemphasizethatwhenIusetheword"modern- ization"Imeanaprocesscompletelydetachedfromanynotionsofprog- ressordevelopment,onewhichisinsteadaceaselessandself-perpetuating creationofnewneeds,newproduction,andnewconsumption.Perceptualmodalitiesarethusinaconstantstateoftransformationor,itmightbe said,inastateofcrisis.ParadoxicaUy,itwasatthismomentwhenthe
dy-
namiclogicofcapitalbegantounderminedramaticallyanystableoren- duringstructureofperceptionthatthislogicsimultaneouslyimposedor attemptedtoimposeadisciplinaryregimeofattentiveness.Itwasalsointhelatenineteenthcentury,withinthehumansciencesand,particularly,thenascentfieldofscientificpsychology,thattheproblemof
attention
be-cameafundamentalissue.Itwasaproblemwhosecentralitywasdirectly relatedtotheemergenceofasocial,urban,psychic,industrialfieldin- creasinglysaturatedwithsensoryinput.Inattention,especiallywithinthe contextofnewformsofindustrializedproduction,begantobeseenasadangerandaseriousproblem,eventhoughitwasoftentheverymodern-izedarrangementsoflaborthatproducedinattention.Itispossibletoseeonecrucialaspectofmodernityasacontinualcrisisofattentiveness,to seethechangingconfigurationsofcapitalismpushingattentionanddis-tractiontonewlimitsandthresholds,withunendingintroductionofnewproducts,newsourcesofstimulation,andstreamsofinformation,andthenrespondingwithnewmethodsofmanagingandregulatingperception. SinceKant,ofcourse,partoftheepistemologicaldilemmaofmoder- nityhasbeenaboutthehumancapacityforsynthesisamidthefragmenta- tionandatomizationofacognitivefield.Thatdilemmabecameespeciallacuteinthesecondhalfofthenineteenthcentury,alongwiththedevel- opmentofvarioustechniquesforimposingspecifickindsofperceptual
 
48
BODIESANDSENSATION
synthesis,fromthemassdiffusionofthestereoscopeinthe1850Stoearly formsofcinemainthe1890s.Oncethephilosophicalguaranteesofany aprioricognitiveunitycollapsed,theproblemof"realitymaintenance" becameafunctionofacontingentandmerelypsychologicalfacultyof synthesis,whosefailureormalfunctionwaslinkedinthelatenineteenth centurywithpsychosisandothermentalpathologies.Forinstitutionalpsy- chologyinthe1880sand1890s,partofpsychicnormalitywastheability tosyntheticallybindperceptionsintoafunctionalwhole,therebywarding offthethreatofdissociation.Butwhatwasoftenlabeledasaregressiveor pathologicaldisintegrationofperceptionwasinfactevidenceofafunda- mentalshiftintherelationofthesubjecttoavisualfield.InBergson,for example,newmodelsofsynthesisinvolvedthebindingofimmediatesen- soryperceptionswiththecreativeforcesofmemory,andforNietzschethe willtopowerwaslinkedtoadynarnicmasteringandsynthesizingofforces. Theseandotherthinkerswereadjacenttoanemergenteconomicsys- temthatdemandedattentivenessofasubjectintermsofawiderangeof newproductiveandspectaculartasks,butwhichwasalsoasystemwhose internalmovementwascontinuallyerodingthebasisofanydisciplinaryat- tentiveness.Partoftheculturallogicofcapitalismdemandsthatweaccept as
natural
therapidswitchingofourattentionfromonethingtoanother. Capital,asacceleratedexchangeandcirculation,necessarilyproducesthis kindofhumanperceptualadaptabilityandbecomesaregimeofreciprocal attentivenessanddistraction. Theproblemofattentionisinterwoven,althoughnotcoincident,with thehistoryofvisualityinthelatenineteenthcentury.Inawiderangeof institutionaldiscoursesandpractices,withintheartsandhumansciences, attentionbecamepartofadensenetworkoftextsandtechniquesaround whichthetruthofvisionwasorganizedandstructured.Itisthroughthe frameofattentiveness,akindofinversionofFoucault'spanopticmodel, thattheseeingbodyisdeployedandmadeproductive,whetherasstu- dents,workers,consumers,orpatients.Beginninginthe1870Sbutfullyin the1880s,therewasanexplosionofresearchandreflectiononthisissue; itdominatestheinfluentialworkofFechner,WilhelmWundt,Edward BradfordTitchner,TheodorLipps,CarlStumpf,OswaldKńlpe,ErnstMach, WilliamJames,andmanyothers,withquestionsabouttheempiricaland epistemologicalstatusofattentiveness.Also,thepathologyofasupposedly normativeattentivenesswasanimportantpartoftheinauguralworkin FranceofsuchresearchersasJ.-M.Charcot,AlfredBinet,PierreJanet, andTheoduleRibot.Inthe1890s,attentionbecameamajorissuefor Freudandwasoneoftheproblemsattheheartofhisabandonmentof
TheProjectJoraScientificPsychology
andhismovetonewpsychicalmodels. Beforethenineteenthcentury,ofcourse,attentioncanbesaidtohave beenatopicofphilosophicalreflection,andindiscussionsofthehistorical
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