Vivian Sobchack, “Carnal Thoughts”



Sobchack begins by acknowledging that while film reviews see film as a bodily experience, scholars often do not. Benjamin himself “speaks of cinematic intelligibility in terms of ‘tactile appropriation’ and elsewhere he speaks to the viewer’s ‘mimetic faculty,’ a sensuous and bodily form of perception” 55. She cites Jonathan Crary and Linda Williams as exceptions, as well as Laura Marks’ “haptic visuality.” As Williams points out, we are uncomfortable with the extent to which the ‘low’ genres horror, pornography, and melodrama take hold of and manipulate us as viewers 57.

Our bodily response is unclear, however – “our lack of ability to explain its somatism as anything more than ‘mere’ psychological reflex or to admit its meaning as anything more than metaphorical description” 58. Sensual description in film criticism is considered “excess” (again, think Williams!).

“Contemporary film theory has had major difficulties in comprehending how it is possible for human bodies to be, in fact, really ‘touched’ and ‘moved’ by the movies” 59.

“Film experience is meaningful not to the side of our bodies but because of our bodies. Which is to say that movies provoke in us the ‘carnal thoughts’ that ground and inform more conscious analysis” 60.

“We need to alter the binary and bifurcated structures of the film experience suggested by previous formulations and, instead, posit the film viewer’s ived body as a carnal ‘third term’ that grounds and mediates experience and language, subjective vision and the objective image – both differentiating and unifying them in reversible (or chiasmatic) processes of perception” 60. [re: the chiasmus as suture, the dialectic – what about multiplicity or faceting?]

“The lived body both provides and enacts a commutative reversibility between subjective feeling and objective knowledge, between the senses and their sense or conscious meaning” 61.

Sobchack finds herself sensitized by The Piano – in terms of touch: “my fingers comprehended that image, grasped it with a nearly imperceptible tingle of attention and anticipation and, offscreen, ‘felt themselves’ as a potentiality in the subjective and fleshy situation figured onscreen” 63.  “Those fingers were first known sensually and sensibly as ‘these’ fingers and were located ambiguously both offscreen and on” [suture] 63.

“Our common sensuous experience of the movies; the way we are in some carnal modality able to touch and be touched by the substance and texture of images; to feel a visual atmosphere envelop us; to experience weight, suffocation, and the need for air… smell and taste are less called on than touch to inform our comprehension of the images we see… I did not think a translation of my sense of sight into smell or taste; rather I experienced it without a thought” 65.

“Our lived bodies relate to ‘things’ that ‘matter’ on the screen and find them sensible in a primary, prepersonal, and global way that grounds those later secondary identifications that are more discrete and are localized” 65 [diffuse sensuality].

For Sobchack, then, we exist as both here and there, sensing and sensible, subject and object: “Perception is the flesh’s reversibility, the flesh touching, seeing, perceiving itself, one fold (provisionally) catching the other in its own self-embrace” [think Irigaray, Poulet] 66.

“Meaning, and where it is made, does not have a discrete origin in either spectators’ bodies or cinematic representation but emerges in their conjunction. We might name this subversive body in film experience the cinesthetic subject – a neologism that derives not only from cinema but… synaesthesia and coenaesthesia” 67. [Nabokov, metaphors that cross senses]

“The cinesthetic subject both touches and is touched by the screen – able to commute seeing to touching and back again without a thought and, through sensual and cross-modal activity, able to experience the movie as both here and there rather than clearly locating the site of cinematic experience as onscreen or offscreen” 71.

Of course, as Ricouer points out in “The Rule of Metaphor,” this is not literal – but it represents a confusion of the senses “from the single system of flesh and consciousness that is the lived body” 73. Thus cinema is presentation and representation – a chiasmus [again, suture?] 74.

“Our sense of the literal and the figural may sometimes vacillate… However, insofar as I cannot literally touch, smell, or taste the particular figure on the screen that solicits my sensual desire, my body’s intentional trajectory, seeking a sensible object to fulfill this sensual solicitation, will reverse its direction to locate its partially frustrated sensual grasp on something more literally accessible… my own subjectively felt lived body” 76.

“I will reflexively turn toward my own carnal, sensual, and sensible being to touch myself touching, smell myself smelling, taste myself tasting, and in sum, sense my own sensuality” 77. [faceting – sex imbricated in this?]

“In the film experience, because our consciousness is not directed toward our own bodies but toward the film’s world, we are caught up without thought… in this vacillating and reversible sensual structure that both differentiates and connects the sense of my literal body to the sense of the figurative bodies and objects I see on the screen… my experience of my sensorium becomes heightened and intensified at the same time that it is perceived as general and diffuse” 77.

Thus the fabrics and feelings are “somewhat vague and diffuse… even as it may be quite intense… my gesture of specifically intending toward the screen to rebound diffusely on myself ultimately ‘opens up’  my body to a sensuality that is both literal and figural” 78. For Sobchack, touch is no longer a stretch in film, but a catachresis – not a proper metaphor in that it is a place we are forced to “confront and name a gap in language” like the arm of a chair or head of a pin, because we are supplementing linguistic deficiency 81.

“Reciprocating the figurally literal representations of bodies and worldly things in the cinema, the spectator’s lived body in the film experience engages in a form of sensual catachresis… it fills in the gap in its sensual grasp of the figural world onscreen by turning back on itself to reciprocally (albeit not sufficiently) ‘flesh it out’ into literal physicalized sense” 82. [think Lo-lee-ta]

“As cinesthetic subjects, then, we possess an embodied intelligence that opens our eyes far beyond their discrete capacity for vision, opens the film far beyond its visible containment by the screen, and opens language to a reflective knowledge of its carnal origins and limits. This is what, without a thought, my fingers know at the movies” 84.



Linda Williams, ed., “Viewing Positions”


In the introduction to the edited volume Viewing Positions, Linda Williams refers to both John Berger’s 1972 Ways of Seeing and Laura Mulvey’s 1975 “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” as foundational texts for the established notion of the “male gaze,” in Western art and “classical” Hollywood cinema 1. She continues on to describe apparatus theorists, such as Christian Metz (coiner of the “imaginary signifier”) and Jean-Louis Baudry (“representations experienced as perceptions”), who extend the idea of the disembodied spectator in their work 2.

For Mulvey, whose work became fundamental to feminist film studies, only the cinematic avant-garde offered a way out of this trap, largely by subverting the audience’s pleasure 3. What Williams presents instead is the idea of a freer, more imaginatively productive and more wide-ranging observer, one that can only be partly or occasionally accounted for by the trope of the male gaze (Miriam Hansen compares its outmodedness to bellbottoms; Williams suggests they have returned as postmodern pastiche, and so might the male gaze – as “one among many possible costumes, or roles, to be taken on”) 3.

Williams holds that she remains committed to the importance of “a theoretical understanding of relations between films and viewers,” but would like to expand that understanding through historical, cultural, and gender & sexuality studies 4. The volume explores apparatus theory, historicity, and gender & sexuality (via horror) as approaches to altering the narrowness of “the gaze” 5.


“Modernizing Vision” – Jonathan Crary: Against Baudry’s assertion that the “cinematic apparatus represents the culmination of the Western philosophical tradition of a transcendental idealist subject,” Crary argues, as he does in Techniques of the Observer, that the earlier half of the 19th century saw a transition to a bodily spectator who was “the key producer – rather than neutral registerer” – of images 6. For Williams, Crary’s argument “radically alters the standard division of 20th-century art into a classical mimesis and an elite, avant-garde modernism that is supposedly alone in its capability of returning the spectator to an awareness of the effects of an apparatus” by blurring “the boundaries between body and image on the one hand, and body and machine for viewing on the other” in a “Foucauldian approach to the discontinuities of the history of vision” 7.

“Phenomenology and the Film Experience” – Vivian Sobchack: Sobchack complicates the divisions between subject and object by arguing that film “is an act of vision with both a subjectivity that views and a view that is seen” 9. Thus watching the cinema is dialectical and, as for Crary, bodily 9.

“Cinema and the Postmodern Condition” – Anne Friedberg: Friedberg claims that “many of the arguments about the detemporalized and despatialized experience of postmodernity are applicable to modernity as well,” tracing a “mobilized gaze” in the form of the flaneur or flaneuse, according mobility to the 19th century female shopper in addition to the male dandy 8. Friedberg: Jameson suggests a link between schizophrenia and postmodern subjectivity (see also A Thousand Plateaus), based on uncertainty about signifiers of language and time, “the mise-en-abime of referents lost in the labyrinthine chain of signifiers” 72.  What Jameson argues for the nostalgia film Friedberg claims (ala Metz’s “discours” taken for “histoire”) is true of the collapse of narrative, production, and projection for all film 73. This is heightened in the 90s with at-home recording, VCR control, and the many showtimes and screens of the multiplex, arranged as so many shop windows to a flaneuse: “As I’ve begun to indicate, both cinema’s and television’s capacity for endless replay and repetition – the remarketing of the past – consists in more than the textual or thematic use of nostalgia, but becomes a commodity form itself” 76.


“Cinematic Spectatorship before the Apparatus” – Vanessa R. Schwartz: Schwartz traces a variety of 19th century Parisian attractions that were “more like real life” than their predecessors, including morgue and wax tableaus demonstrating newspaper fascinations 11.

“An Aesthetic of Astonishment” – Tom Gunning: As in his “Cinema of Attractions,” Gunning argues here that narrative was not the dominant form of early cinema, bur rather “the exhibitionistic display of events and actions” 11. Williams argues that Gunning’s “description of the difference between early cinema’s spectatorial relations and those of classical narrative has recently begun to vie with Laura Mulvey’s classic formulation of the spectatorial relations of classical cinema as one of the most frequently cited concepts in the field,” probably because these ideas underlie classical cinema as well, and do so at least as much as “the gaze” 11. Gunning: “A film like Edison’s Electrocuting an Elephant from 1903 shows the temporal logic of this scenography or display. The elephant is led onto an electrified plate, and secured. Smoke rises from its feet and after a moment the elephant falls on its side. The moment of technologically advanced death is neither further explained nor dramatised. Likewise a fictional film… demonstrate[s] the solicitation of viewer curiosity and its fulfilment y the brief moment of revelation typical of the cinema of attractions. This is a cinema of instants, rather than developing situations” 123. (It would be interesting to compare this to American Psycho).

“Early Cinema, Late Cinema: Transformations of the Public Sphere” – Miriam Hansen: “The spectatorial lessons of early cinema, as Miriam Hansen’s essay so well explains, may have more to do with our own, postclassical and postmodern, sense of existing as heterogenous spectators in an era of fragmented and diverse spectacles that have more affinity to early cinema than to a cinema of classical spectatorship” 12. For Hansen, the aesthetics of “the glance” continue to replace the aesthetics of “the gaze” (this is obviously even more true now) 12. If cinema and mass culture figure in “the structuration of subjectivity” for the Frankfurt School, Hansen argues that the public sphere must be expanded: “The political task of such critique is thus to make connections between isolated fragments of experience – across segregated domains of work and leisure, fiction and fact, and past and present – to identify intersections among diverse and competing publics… The cinema and mass culture can be catalysts for new forms of community and solidarity” (sounds like faceting!) 13. Hansen refers to the recent Frankfurt School critic Kluge: “central to his film aesthetics is a concept of montage predicated on relationality – he refers to montage as the morphology of relations… a textual climbing wall designed to encourage viewers to draw their own connections across generic divisions of fiction and documentary and of disparate realms and registers of experience” (like Bunuel and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou?) 144. “A film is successful in that regard if it manages to activate (rather than merely usurp) what Kluge calls “the film in the spectator’s head” – the horizon of experience as instantiated in the subject. The specific conections encouraged by the film respond to the structural blockages of experience perpetuated by the dominant public sphere, in particular, in the case of (West) Germany, the divisions imposed by the ossified programming structures of state-sponsored television” 144.

This is a “still to some extent modernist film aesthetics” for Hansen 145. If Frankfurt School theory would encourage a study of film reception able to account for personal memory and the unconscious, this might dangerously reduce such phenomena to the idiosyncratic, “missing out on the more systematic parameters of subjectivity that set off the viewer’s memory, the contrast between the nostalgically evoked local theater setting… and the context of electronic and global postmodernity… the likelihood that the viewer in the third row, like the one behind her, may usually watch soap operas… the fact that the viewer belongs to the social group of women – differentiated according to class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generation – which renders her relation to the film shown, probably one version or another of classical cinema, problematic in particular ways” 146. “Indeed, the cinema can, at certain junctures, function as a matrix for challenging social positions of identity and otherness and as a catalyst for new forms of community and solidarity. That this may happen on the terrain of late-capitalist consumption, however, does not mean that we should resign ourselves to the range of existing products and modes of production. On the contrary, the category of the public retains a critical, utopian edge, predicated on the ideal of collective self-determination. (this perspective mandates not only maintaining critical distinctions with regard to the commercially disseminated fare but also envisioning alternative media products and the alternative organization of the relations of representation and reception. In that sense, the concept of the public forestalls the idealization of consumption that has become habitual in some quarters of cultural studies” 146. For Hansen, the spectator positioning of classical cinema was a response to the diverse and unruly audiences of early cinema 147. The preclassical and the postclassical are periods “characterized by a profound transformation of the relations of cultural representation and reception and by a measure of instability that makes the intervening decades look relatively stable by contrast… Both stages of media culture vary from the classical norm of controlling reception through a strong diegetic effect, ensured by particular textual strategies and a suppression of the exhibition context…. a greater leeway, for better or for worse – in interacting with the film – a greater awareness of exhibition and cultural intertexts… Both early modern and postmodern media publics draw on the periphery – then, on socially marginalized and diverse constituencies within American national culture, and today, on massive movements of migration on a global scale that, along with the globalization of media consumption, have irrevocably changed the terms of local and national identity” 149. Hansen concludes that “Drawing a trajectory between these two moments in the history of public life may make classical cinema and the classical mass culture of the New Deal and Cold War eras look more like a historical interlude, a deep-freeze perhaps, than the teleological norm that it has become and that has shaped our approaches to reception. And once we have shifted the frame, classical cinema itself may no longer look quite as classical as study of its dominant mode suggests” 149.


“Paradoxes of Spectatorship” – Judith Mayne: Mayne deals with the gap between the “ideal” viewer (address) and the “real” viewer (reception) 14. For Mayne, fantasy is vital because “its pleasures are the pleasures of mobility, of moving around among a range of different desiring positions,” and she challenges the notion that the binary of sexual difference is the only source of filmic desire 15. Mayne: “the apparagus can have unexpected effects,” though on the other extreme are theories that “mediate any notion of the cinematic institution out of existence,” which “substitutes one monolithic political notion for another. The challenge, then, is to understand the complicated ways in which meanings are both assigned and created” 159.

“In a series of interviews with teenage girls, for instance, Angela McRobbie concluded that their passion for a film like Flashdance had far more to do with their own desire for physical autonomy than with any simple notion of acculturation to a patriarchal definition of feminine desirability. Now it seems to me that one can be stunned by these tentative conclusions only if the model of the cinematic institution one had in the first place corresponded to the conspiracy theory view of capitalism popular in some New Left circles in the 1960s… Unfortunately, this type of work has led to a peculiar reading of the reception of  mass culture, whereby any and all responses are critical ones… power [should be] analyzed rather than taken for granted” 160. “These claims are reminiscent of the kinds of implications in ‘reading against the grain’ arguments about the classical cinema – i.e., that what appears to be a smooth ideological surface is marred, rather, by rebellion, critique, or even implicit rejection of those norms. What the reading of fantasy brings to such claims, however, is the insistence that investment and pleasure in film watching involve a range of subject positions. Apparatus theory tends to pose a spectator so aligned with one subject position that anything departing from that position would have to seem radical or contestatory by definition. The exploration of the classical cinema in terms of fantasy enlarges considerably what possibilities are contained within the fantasy structures engaged by film viewing and in so doing inflects differently the notion of ‘reading against the grain.’ Far from the vantage point of fantasy, the distinction between with and against the grain of the film becomes somewhat moot” 168. Mayne warns against predicating this simply on sexual difference. Instead, she suggests “negotiated readings,” though even these, for her, fall on a too-predictable scale: if “the dominant reading is one fully of a piece with the ideology of the text,” then “the negotiated reading is more ambivalent; that is, the ideological stance of a product is adjusted to specific social conditions of the viewers. The oppositional reading is, then, one totally opposed to the ideology in question” 171. “I do not wish to evoke a traditional and moralistic Marxism whereby art provides us with a glimpse of the truly integrated human beings we will all become in the communist future… the discussion of utopianism seems to fall into exactly the kind of large abstractions – having to do with the ‘human subject under capitalism or patriarchy’ – that McRobbie sets out… to challenge” 175.

“Film theory has been so bound by the heterosexual symmetry that supposedly governs Hollywood cinema that it has ignored the possibility, for instance, that one of the distinct pleasures of the cinema may well be a safe zone in which homosexual as well as heterosexual desires can be fantasized and acted out. ” 176. I am not speaking here of an innate capacity to read against the grain, but rather of the way in which desire and pleasure in the cinema may well function to problematize the categories of heterosexual versus homosexual” 176. “The notion of negotiation is useful only if one is attentive to the problematic as well as utopian uses to which negotiation can be put by both the subjects one is investigating and the researchers themselves… negotiation seems to be a variation of the Marxist notion of mediation – the notion, that is, of a variety of instances that complicate or mediate in various ways the relationship between individuals and the economic structure of capitalism” 177. Mayne uses Greenblatt to point out that the appearance of simultaneity in capitalism is a balance between “drive toward differentiation and the drive toward monological organization,” so that not all presumably “unauthorized” forms of observation are actually radical 178. Cathy Gallagher has pointed out that “under certain historical circumstances, the display of ideological contradictions is completely consonant with the maintenance of oppressive social relations” 179. For Mayne, “the model is no longer the passive, manipulated (and inevitably white and heterosexual) spectator, but rather the contradictory, divided, and fragmented subject” 179.

“The Eye of Horror” – Carol J. Clover: Taking the horror film’s ideal male spectator to hand, Clover argues “not that horror always forecloses voyeuristic pleasure but that the real investment in this genre is in the reactive or introjective gaze that vaginally takes in and absorbs what comes at it” 16-17. In fact, “one of the most important pleasures of film viewing resides in the journey made by one gendered identity (the male viewer) into the position of another gendered identity (the female victim-hero)” 17. Clover: In Peeping Tom, “the tripod is equipped with a hidden, extendable spike and the movie camera with a mirror, neither of which appears in the visual frame of the murder scenes; when Mark moves in for a close-up, the spike pierces the victim’s throat and she sees her own terrified face in the mirror” 185-6. Thus, the girls, according to Mark, see their own deaths – see their own fear. As it turns out, Mark is continuing his father’s work, the documentary of Mark’s entire life, including Mark’s suicide at the hands of the same “magic camera.” Mark shows Helen the studio, where his Freudian repetition impulse to return to the scene of trauma is evident by many reels of film. The movie should “be taken at face value as a commentary not only on the symbiotic interplay of sadistic and masochistic impulses in the individual viewer but equally as a commentary, within the context of horror film making, on the symbiotic interplay of the sadistic work of the filmmaker and the masochistic stake of the spectator – an arrangement on which horror cinema insists” 191. This eye penetrates, but as the target stuck by an arrow at the very start of the film suggests, it is also penetrable (again, Un Chien Andalou!) 197.

Clover also points to Poltergeist, a film in which the absorptive medium of television (vs the phallus of the camera in Demon Seed or Peeping Tom), “does not strike out and penetrate its viewers but instead sucks them in and swallows them up – in images and language that could hardly be more vaginal” 199. Clover refers to Hitchcock’s directions for Psycho – to make the audience itself feel stabed 201. “Horror movies themselves, in short, bear out in both letter and spirit the double gaze of Peeping Tom. On one side is the killer’s (or monster’s) predatory or assaultive gaze, with which… the audience is directly invited to collude… associated with the camera… resolutely figured as male. What is striking about this male gaze, however, is how often it remains at the level of wish or threat – how seldom it carries through with its depredations and, even when it does succeed, how emphatically it is then brought to ruin… the status of a fiction straining to be a fact… On the other side is the reactive gaze. It too is associated with the cinematic or televisual apparatus – but as its object, not its subject. The frequency, in horror, of images of victim-eyes under attack underlines the interest of horror in hurtable vision, vision on the defense. The reactive gaze too invites our collusion through the steady accumulation of ‘normal’ first-person shots… the usual empathic devices. And the reactive gaze too is resolutely gendered – but as feminine, not masculine.” (again, American Psycho) 203.

If Mulvey allows no place for the female spectator and Metz’s “imaginary signifier” makes the spectator a voyeur, both Mulvey and Metz stop short of this at points, Mulvey acknowledging the issue and Metz acknowledging an “introjective looking” opposed to projective looking, a “receiving, recording, sensitive surface” onto which “things are deposited” or “projected” 205. Clover is concerned with complicating how viewers inhabit and critique such gendered forms, lest we work “to naturalize sadistic violence as a feature of masculinity” 214. Actually, the male viewer does identify with the female victim-hero (it would be interesting to think about the androgyny of Sigourney Weaver in Alien or Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween). Perhaps our revulsion at horror is not simply that we fear being made to identify with rapists, but with victims – to be so explicitly and vulnerably gendered as female 216.

“Spectatorship as Drag” – Rhona J. Berenstein: Berenstein suggests that this is not only transgressive for male spectators, but for female spectators as well, who might explore Judith Butler’s notion (“gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original”) as a means of inhabiting or desiring the male aggressor 18. Berenstein also focuses on ways in which gay and lesbian viewers might identify with “a socially marginalized monster” in “the safe zone” of the darkened theater 18. Berenstein quotes Lawrence S. Kubie: “from childhood and throughout life… in varying proportions or emphases, the human goal seems almost invariably to be both sexes, with the inescapable consequence that we are always attempting in every moment and every act both to affirm and deny our gender identities” 239. Part of the fearfulness of the monster is its destablilization of gender norms 239. Freud’s oscillation theory between sadism and masochism, then, could be a fulcrum for reading horror 240.

Drag, in particular, as Esther Newton has pointed out, presents a double bind: the shock of it underscores the “naturalness” of binary gender, but the success of it underscores the performativity of it, undermining that same reality or naturalness 246 (here it could be useful to think of Psycho – the success of drag). In some “Afterthoughts to ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,'” Mulvey writes that  female spectators oscillate between passivity and transvestitism – between identifying with the on-screen woman and the male point-of-view 251. Mary Ann Doane tried to improve this model by pointing out its passivity, in which “female viewing” is “overidentification with women and images” 251. Instead, Doane suggests that the distancing female observer constructs herself performatively with distance from the image. Berenstein then describes Williams’ argument for the sympathy between girl and monster, often based on similarity or lust, “shared difference with the male,” though Berenstein thinks this downplays “desire based on sexual sameness” 252. Sedgwick has pointed out the problem of identifying homosexual desire with identification, rather than difference 253.

Berenstein suggests that the conventional permission for heterosexual women to scream and cower is itself a masquerade, a masking and unmasking of the eyes that mimics what is onscreen 258. Berenstein suggests lesbians may engage in the same over-performance to conceal desire, even as they identify with the aggressive fiend and desire the female victim 260. Masquerade is “an apt response to the images of a genre that consistently trades in ambiguous sexual identities and represents the concept of disguise as a narrative, visual, and marketing trope” 260. “If a heterosexual woman identifies with a heterosexual hero, she identifies against her own constructed identity on the basis of sex (she is not a man) and sexual orientation (in her everyday life, she is not a lesbian)… even more striking if we shift the terms of the participants and position a heterosexual man identifying with a heterosexual woman’s point of view… against his own identity… The pattern continues to shift if we posit a lesbian viewer identifying with a heterosexual male… against herself on the basis of biological sex, she identifies with the hero through the operations of desire… transvestitism not only depends on differences but also accommodates similarities” 260. (Is this problematically flat in terms of how desire functions?)

Whether this has impact outside the theater is unclear for Berenstein, but “the masquerade involves distance from the image not only because womanliness is performed (by the monster, the heroine, and the spectator) but also because the sight of the monster (a figure who resembles a woman but is not one) generates a schism between the performer and the sex role adopted…. Masqureade does not indicate that behind a feminine veneer lies a woman who is a man but that behind the mask resides someone who is not a man and who is terrifying and powerful precisely because she resembles a man but does not possess her father’s penis… the terrors offered by the masquerade of manliness are that behind the mask resides a man who is not a woman but who is feminine nonetheless… Spectatorship-as-drag, therefore, transposes classic horror’s sex and gender ambiguities to the spectating domain… transgressive identifications and desires lurk beneath or on the surface of gender displays… the  lure of conventional roles does not counteract social expectations… classic horror’s transgressive spectatorial pleasures are intimately connected to the genre’s simultaneous support of conventional desires” 261.

Sigmund Freud, “3 Contributions to the Theory of Sex”

transl. 1910

The Sexual Aberrations: 

Freud defines libido as sexual desire, the sexual object as the person from whom the sexual attraction emanates (a fascinatingly passive orientation), and sexual aim as the aim towards which the instinct strives in order to begin discussing deviations 553. Homosexuals are “contrary sexuals, or inverts,” though they can be “absolutely inverted… amphigenously inverted… occassionally inverted” – all components of what we would think of as a spectrum of sexuality from “straight” to “bisexual” to “gay” 554. While some see their sexuality as “a morbid compulsion,” some demand to be treated normally (this seems interesting given that Freud never claims that hysterics demand the same treatment – they want to be cured, for the most part) 554. Freud is especially interested in those he believes have become “inverted” after a painful experience with the normal sexual object” 555.

Freud thinks inversion should not be called degenerative because it occurs in people who are otherwise not deviant, whose mental capacities are undisturbed (even “especially high intellectual development and ethical culture… some of the most prominent men known have been inverts and perhaps absolute inverts”), and was common among ancient and is still in “primitive” cultures 556. Freud also questions naming it as congenital, since though some people “know” their sexuality from youth, it is usually tied to “early affective sexual impressions,” “external influences” such as the army or prison, and hypnosis’ potential as a cure 556. At the same time, some people turn out “normal” despite these things, so Freud wonders if it is neither purely congenital nor acquired, and suggests hermaphroditism as a case of “blurred” sexual characteristics that could help explain this 557. This elucidates the normal for Freud because all humans keep certain traits of the other sex, and “there is an original predisposition to bisexuality” – by which he means physical traits – that ultimately yields to “monosexuality” 558. Ultimately he rejects physical and psychic hermaphroditism and concludes that inversion must be related in some way to development.

Inverts are attracted both to virile and feminine men – Freud mentions the attraction to male prostitutes in drag and to young boys with a “physical resemblance to woman as well as feminine psychic qualities, such as shyness, demureness and the need of instruction and help” 560. The sexual aim likewise is not uniform – whether sex “per anum” or masturbation (or oral sex in women) 562. For Freud, the issue is that “we have assumed a too close connection between the sexual instinct and the sexual object” 562. Freud cites pedophilia and bestiality as examples of people fulfilling their desires insufficiently because of a lack of available options: “we find with gruesome frequency sexual abuse of children by teachers and servants merely because they have the best opportunity for it” 563. For Freud, the causal relation is chance, not pursuit of those professions, and he finds such individuals otherwise mentally normal, in accordance with his ideas about homosexuals as well 563. The mentally ill are always sexually abnormal, but the mentally well are not always sexually normal.

If the normal sexual aim is “the union of the genitals” in temporary satisfaction akin to eating, almost everyone indulges in perversions along the way – acts that delay the ultimate aim 563-4. These include “touching and looking” 564 (recall how Crary links sight and touch as senses!)  The kiss, too, is then a perversion. “The perversions represent either anatomical transgressions of the bodily regions destined for sexual union, or a lingering at the intermediary relations to the sexual object which should normally be rapidly passed” 564. This is because we “overvalue” the sexual object (essentially making metonymy the whole – here again, the opposition to the classical Greek logos, where the part articulates the whole, this approach is suspicious). In the male “alone the sexual life is accessible to investigation, whereas in the woman it is veiled in impenetrable darkness, partly because of cultural stunting and partly on account of the conventional reticence and insincerity of women” 565.

Why do mouths appall us in oral sex or toothbrushes, but not in kissing? Loathing stands in the way of the libido, though not in the case of hysterics, who all loathe the penis and can’t get over it 565. The anus, likewise, appalls because it excretes (though girls feel this for the penis and this act is not more common among inverts) 565. These other parts of the body “lay claim to be considered and treated as genitals” 566. In fetishism, a nonsexual part of the body, like feet or hair, stands in for the sexual object (like the totem or idol of “the primitive”). We all pass through this in delayed attainments of the object, but in some, it becomes pathological and replaces the normal sexual aim 567. Feet and hair are appropriate fetishes in fairy tales because the slipper is yonic and hair is pubic for Freud.

Touching and looking both supply anticipation and excitement (heightened by the barriers of social convntion and clothing). The sexual aim is either active or passive, and is characterized and regulated by shame. Pathologically, activity is sadism (masculine) and passivity is masochism (feminine) 569. The latter is further from the sexual aim and may be conditioned by the experience of the former (in combination with castration complex or guilt) 570. S&M desires often both occur in the same individual: “we thus see that certain perverted tendencies regularly appear in contrasting pairs” 571. “In no normal person does the normal sexual aim lack some addenda which could be designated as perverse” 571. Some are “morbid,” however: “those in which the sexual instinct, in overcoming the resistances (shame, loathing, fear, and pain)… lic[k] feces and violat[e] cadavers” 571. The perversion is not “in the content of the new sexual aim, but in its relation to the normal” (another extrapolation) 572. Shame and loathing, which the libido must overcome, precede the sexual instinct.

Sexuality is at the center of all neuroses for Freud, seemingly as both disease and symptom 573. “The hysterical character shows a fragment of sexual repression, which reaches beyond the normal limits… an exaggeration of the resistances against the sexual instinct which became known to us as shame and loathing… an instinctive flight… a complete sexual ignorance” 574. It is coupled with an immense sexual desire, befitting the “pair” theory Freud has already discussed. The hysteric “transform[s] the libidinal strivings into symptoms” so that sex is at the root of seemingly unrelated issues 574. All neurotics are sexual inverts, obsessed with oral and anal sex, and characterized by the odd pairings of loathing and desire, S&M, and looking & exhibiting, and there are usually multiple perversions present.

“Every active perversion is here accompanied by its passive counterpart. He who in the unconscious is an exhibitionist is at the same time a voyeur, he who suffers from sadistic feelings as a result of repression will also show another reinforcement of the symptoms from the source of masochistic tendencies” 575-6.

Freud mentions that the oral & anal fixations are somewhat justified in that they mimic the genitals as “erogenous zones” 577. The eye (from looking) and skin (from touching) can be extrapolated as erogenous zones as well. In perversion, sexuality is like a dammed river – the water finds a way out by other means if normal attainment is impossible 577. The greatest perverts are the result of both congenital and experiential factors – “if constitution and experience cooperate in the same direction” 578.

“By demonstrating perverted feelings as symptom-formations in psychoneurotics, we have enormously increased the number of persons who can be added to the classification or group of perverts… neurotics represent a very large portion of humanity… neuroses in all their gradations run in an uninterrupted series to the normal state… we are all somewhat hysterical” 578.

“There is indeed something congenital at the basis of perversions, but it is something which is congenital in all persons, which as a predisposition may fluctuate in intensity, and that is brought into prominence by influences of life” 578.

(This is like Foucault’s assertion that psychoanalysis pathologizes all of sexuality.) Between the poles of perversion and repression is the normal sexual life 579. If all stems from sexuality, we must attend to the sexuality of the child.

Infantile Sexuality

Children are not asexual until puberty, and we focus too much on heredity over childhood in studying sexuality, Freud explains 580. We find instances of sexuality in children described as aberrations, but no one has “recognized the normality of the sexual instinct in childhood” 580. This is in part due to the amnesia we experience as adults about the first 6-8 years of our own lives, left with “a few incomprehensible memory fragments,” despite knowing from others that “we have vividly reacted to impressions” 581. Why does our memory lag as our experience and judgment blossom? Like neurotics, we repress childhood, as if it were a trauma 582. But if it were not for infantile amnesia, hysterical amnesia could not exist. The sexual life of the child, in fact, is usually visible by age 3 or 4 583.

Education and organically determined forces both bring shame and loathing to the initially uninhibited child over time 583. Though educators pathologize sexuality in the child as “evil,” there are multiple common “interruptions of the latency period” 584. Thumbsucking, based on breastfeeding, often leads to touching and even orgasm, acting as a gateway to masturbation. Autoerotism is striking because it acts out the attempted repetition of this pleasure on the child’s own body 586.

The Transformation of Puberty

Jonathan Crary, “Techniques of the Observer”


Chapter 1: Modernity & the Problem of the Observer

Crary identifies the medieval/Renaissance split, the mid-19th century, and the present as moments of “a transformation in the nature of visuality” 1. The first improves mimesis, the second perfects it, and the third surpasses it. The focus of the book is on the “reorganization of vision” that created “a new kind of observer” in the first half of the 19th century, vis a vis new relations between the body and institutional/discursive power (re: Foucault) 3. Crary calls “the myth of the modernist rupture” the narrative that aligns Manet and the “end of perspectival space” with what would become modernist art, severing it from visual technologies like photography that are considered as a “continuous unfolding of a Renaissance-based mode of vision” 4. For Crary, however, a fundamental shift in modes of vision took place before these changes in art or technology, so that the two realms are “overlapping components of a single social surface” 5. The observing subject is “both the historical product and the site of certain practices, techniques, institutions, and procedures of subjectification” 5.

It’s useful to consider that Crary deliberately uses “observer,” rather than “spectator,” emphasizing the individual’s role in “complying” with certain codes of seeing, whereas the latter is more commonly used to emphasize the passivity of “looking” on as the passive recipient of the mass spectacle 5. In terms of faceting,

“What determines vision at any given historical moment is not some deep structure, economic base, or world view, but rather the functioning of a collective assemblage of disparate parts on a single social surface. It may even be necessary to consider the observer as a distribution of events located in many different places” 6. (Note: read Paul Feyerabend, Problems of Empiricism, vol 2 p 5).

Crary’s mode seeks to outline the “hegemonic” transformation of how the “observer was figured” in the nineteenth century, largely from the shift from the camera obscura of the 17th and 18th centuries to the stereoscope of the 19th century 7-8. Oddly enough, the “realism” created by the stereoscope and similar instruments is constituted from “a radical abstraction and reconstruction of optical experience, thus demanding a reconsideration of what ‘realism’ means in the nineteenth century” 9. Further, Crary maps a development of the “subjective vision… the productivity of the observer,” which was suppressed by the 17th and 18th centuries, brought to light by visionary Romantics (see M.H. Abrams – “The Mirror & the Lamp), and brought to bear on the potential for individual “seeing” in the 19th century, making that subject both “a product of and at the same time constitutive of modernity” 9.

Crary cites Baudrillard (“measurable in terms of objects and signs”) and Benjamin (“the phantasmagoria of equality”) on the need to measure and quantify the happiness capitalism was meant to guarantee in visual terms (what Adorno calls “Anschaulichkeit,” the reification of the visible 139 AT) 11. For Baudrillard (like Benjamin in “Mechanical Reproduction”), the serial production of objects creates a world in which there is no longer original and counterfeit, analogy, or reflection, but sheer equivalence 12. Crary goes so far as to make photography and money equivalent as well, in that they “are equally totalizing systems for binding and unifying all subjects within a single global network of valuation and desire. As Marx said of money, photography is also a great leveler, a democratizer, a ‘mere symbol,’ a fiction ‘sanctioned by the so-called universal consent of mankind'” 13.

Crary’s book, however, precedes photography itself, contending that the stereoscope and phenakistiscope entail “an uprooting of vision from the stable and fixed relations incarnated in the camera obscura” 14 (shift from geometrical to physiological optics 16). He cites Foucault on how “dispersed mechanisms of power coincide with new modes of subjectivity” in the 19th century to emphasize the importance of “normality” and “codes of behavior” 15-16. The limits of such “norms” were tested with “retinal afterimages, peripheral vision, binocular vision, and thresholds of attention… imposing a normative vision on the observer” 16. (See Foucault: “Our society is not one of spectacle but of surveillance… we are neither in the amphitheatre nor on the stage but in the Panoptic machine” D&P 217, as well as Deleuze’s Foucault 46 and Rajchman’s “Foucault’s Art of Seeing” 1988.) For Crary, “spectacle” and “surveillance” can coincide before the full emergence of the 20th century spectacle, namely in the “discipline or mode of work” that visual consumption itself becomes in the early 19th century 18.

If, for Debord (18), visuality, the most easily deceived sense, severs itself from touch, once the most precious of senses, this autonomizes sight, isolating vision and giving its objects “a mystified and abstract identity” 19. In The Arcades Project, we see Benjamin, a 20th century observer mapping 19th century developments, observe

“a convergence of new urban spaces, technologies, and new economic and symbolic functions of images and products – forms of artificial lighting, new use of mirrors, glass and steel architecture, railroads, museums, gardens, photography, fashion, crowds. Perception for Benjamin was acutely temporal and kinetic; he makes clear how modernity subverts even the possibility of a contemplative beholder. There is never a pure access to a single object; vision is always multiple, adjacent to and overlapping with other objects, desires, and vectors” 20.

In this world, modernity “coincides with the collapse of classical models of vision and their stable space of representations… observation is increasingly a question of equivalent sensations and stimuli that have no reference to a spatial location” 24. (Think about how this would relate to Jameson & postmodernism.) At the same time, situating visuality in the individual body opens it up for training, control, and prevention from distraction – “disciplinary techniques” through which capitalism resorts vision to “time, to flux, to death” 24.

Chapter 2: The Camera Obscura & Its Subject

“It has been known for at least two thousand years that when light passes through a small hole into a dark, enclosed interior, an inverted image will appear on the wall opposite the hole” 27. But from the 1500s to the 1700s, the artifact itself of the camera obscura “coalesced into a dominant paradigm through which was described the status and possibilities of an observer” 27 – “in both rationalist and empiricist thought, of how observation leads to truthful inferences about the world” 29. (Think about how this relates to Kant’s idealism and the essential unknowability of the object, versus the potential universality of the comprehending subject.)

By the 19th century, for Marx, Bergson, and Freud, the camera obscura becomes a tool to conceal or disguise truth 29. What changed? Well, if the camera obscura defined hegemonic vision as individuation and askesis (isolated, witndrawn from the world into darkness), it is also a representation of a “metaphysic of interiority,” a “free sovereign individual” and a “decorporealize[d] vision” 39. How? As Nietzsche holds in The Will to Power, “the senses deceive, reason corrects the errors; consequently, one concluded, reason is the road to the constant; the least sensual ideas must be closest to the ‘true world.’ It is from the senses that most misfortunes com – they are deceivers, deluders, destroyers” 40. (Again, recall Kant’s disinterestedness.) Newton, Locke experience this, as Descartes does: “solely an inspection by the mind” in a dark, introspective space, for one knows the world “uniquely by perception of the mind” – one can see how this will lead to the cogito, also essentially idealist in nature 41.

Crary calls this “a radical disjunction of eye from observer,” not least because Descartes also advocates making a dead human or animal eye into the lens of a camera obscura through dissection and experimentation, what Crary calls “an infallible metaphysical eye more than… a ‘mechanical’ eye” 48. Knowing that the “cone” or “cylinder” of rays that allows vision fixes on a certain point to create harmony from chaos 51, the camera obscura offers a “monocular aperture,” a “perfect incarnation of a single point,” versus the “awkward binocular body of the human subject” 53.

“By insisting that knowledge… is built up out of an orderly accumulation and cross-referencing of perceptions on a plane independent of the viewer, 18th-century thought could know nothing of the ideas of pure visibility to arise in the 19th century. Nothing could be more removed from Berkeley’s theory of how distance is perceived than the science of the stereoscope. This quintessentially 19th-century device, with which tangibility (or relief) is constructed solely through an organization of optical cues (and the amalgamation of the observer into a componnt of the apparatus), eradicates the very field on which 18th-century knowledge arranged itself” 59.

Interestingly, for Crary, this is deeply tied to the idea of the senses not being severed from one another, but part of the same apparatus: “From Descartes to Berkeley to Diderot, vision is conceived in terms of analogies to the senses of touch” 59 – “the certainty of knoowledge did not depend solely on the eye but on a more general relation of a unified human ssensorium to a delimited space of order on which positions could be known and compared” 60. (Think of the ‘synesthesia’ of Faulkner’s Compsons – Benji smells cold, Quentin sees with his hands, etc.) Chardin’s still lifes, then, are “both the product of empirical knowledge about the contingent specificity of forms” and “an ideal structure founded on a deductive rational clarity” – they are “not about a surface design, but rather a permanent space across which are distributed ‘the non-quantitative identities and differences that separated and united things'” (in-qtd. Foucault The Order of Things 218) 62-3. Interestingly, for Crary this also confirms

“the 18th-century preoccupation with ensuring transparency over opacity… to confirm the unity of a single homogenous field in spite of the diversity of media and possibilities of refraction within it. Dioptrics (science of refraction) was of greater interest to the 18th century than catoptrics (science of reflection)… It was crucial that the distorting power of a medium, whether a lens, air, or liquid, be neutralized, and this could be done if the properties of that medium were mastered intellectually and thus rendered effectively transparent through the exercise of reason… vision and touch work cooperatively… the coidentity of idea and matter and their finely set positions within a unified field discloses a thought for which haptic and optic are not autonomous terms but together constitute an indivisible mode of knowledge… vision performs like the sense of touch, passing through a space of which no fraction is empty” 64.

Chapter 3: Subjective Vision & the Separation of the Senses

Crary begins by Goethe experimenting with retinal after-images in by staring at a bright circle of light allowed through a camera obscura, then sealing the hole and staring at the darkest part of the room for colored circles in a “post-Kantian” mode of experimentation that is both rationalist (empirical) and Romantic (autonomous) 69. Here, “the human body, in all its contingency and specificity, generates ‘the spectrum of another colour,’ and thus becomes the active producer of optical experience” 69. This is related to Kant in that representations do not conform to the things as they are, but to our perception of them as subjects (though it differs from Kant’s universality, as well as his emphasis on outline over color) 69-70. Thus vision itself becomes an object of knowledge rather than a form of knowing 70, and “the kind of separation between interior representation and exterior reality implicit in the camera obscura becomes in Goethe’s work a single surface of affect on which interior and exterior have few of their formare meanings and positions… color… [is] cut off from any spatial referent… the body itself produces phenomena that have no external correlate” 71.

In Foucault’s terms, this means that the body itself is the site of the structures of knowledge, not separate from it – in Maine de Biran’s work, the “immediate awareness of the presence of the body in perception… the simultaneity of a composite of impressions inhering in different parts of the organism” 72.

“Although formed by Kant’s aesthetics and epistemology in fundamental ways, Schopenhauer undertakes what he calls his ‘correction’ of Kant: to reverse Kant’s privileging of abstract thinking over perceptual knowledge, and to insist on the physiological makeup of the subject as the site on which the formation of representations occurs… what Kant called the synthetic unity of apperception, Schopenhauer unhesitatingly identifies as the cerebrum of the human brain” 77.

Adorno will critique this idea for its assumptions that such perceptions are authentic and its avoidance of the instrumentalization of the body, Nietzsche for retreating from the body’s sexual potential 77-8. Schopenhauer followed the scientist Bichat in atomizing the body and its life and death into separate parts and functions (faceting?) 78. This connects back to Foucault – when sovereignty fades in favor of discipline (biopower of populations to be controlled), life is the new object of power (re: History of Sexuality – also, the proliferation of scientific discourse and enumeration here81. The wave theory of light also challenged theological and scientific images of light as rays in earlier, more classical forms of optics, and stimulation of the eye demonstrated “false” reactions to “light,” making man the purveyor and victim of such knowledge 86. “The issue was not just how does one know what is real, but that new forms of the real were being fabricated, and a new truth about the capacities of a human subject was being articulated in these terms” 92.

This gets related to Marx (labor division akin to sense division), though “the problem for Marx under capitalism was not the separation of the senses but rather their estrangement by property relations; vision, for example, had been reduced to the sheer ‘sense of having'” 94. Marx actually anticipates a kind of modernist aesthetic of sheer separation and disinterested perception, where the eye revels in sight free of objects of exchange value 94. This appreciation is similar to Ruskin’s “innocence of the eye,” and Helmholtz holds that “Everything our eye sees it sees as an aggreate of coloured surfaces in the visual field – that is its form of visual intuition” 95. For Crary, this is not so much innocence as

“a vantage point [for the eye] uncluttered by the weight of historical codes and conventions of seeing, a position from which vision can function without the imperative of composing its contents into a reified ‘real’ world. It was a question of an eye that sought to avoid the repetitiveness of the formulaic and conventional, even as the effort time and again to  see afresha dn anew entailed its own pattern of repetition and conventions And thus the ‘pure perception,’ the sheer optical attentiveness of modernism increasingly had to exclude or submerge that which would obstruct its fucntioning: language, historical memory, and sexuality” 96.

The flip side of “liberating sensation from signification” is control:

“a comparable neutrality of the observer that was a precondition for the external mastery and annexing of the body’s capacities, for the perfection of technologies of attention, in which sequences of stimuli or images can produce the same effect repeatedly as if for the first time…”It was the remaking of the visual field not into a tabula rasa on which orderly representations could be arrayed, but into a surface of inscription on which a promiscuous range of effects could be produced” 96.

Chapter 4: Techniques of the Observer

While subjective retinal afterimages were classically reduced to “spectra” or “mere appearance,” Goethe and his generation make them appear less as deceptions than as constitutive of  human vision 97. The “presence of a sensation in the absence of a stimulus” cut sight from its external referent in vital ways, focusing on a process unfolding over itme 98. Schelling argued that “our knowledge is piecework, that is, it must be produced piece by piece in a fragmentary way… a series of processes following one another, in which the later always involves the earlier, brings each thing to maturity” 99. (This sounds a lot like Genette’s theory of narrative.)  Both Goethe and Hegel see perception dialectically, as the interaction of forces and relations, rather than contiguous and stable sensations a la Locke 100. For scientists like Hebart, “the mind does not reflect truth but rather extracts it from an ongoing process involving the collision and merging of ideas,” a concept deeply tied to his somewhat creepy interest in instilling moral ideology pedagogically 101-2. (Jan Purkinje’s drawings of afterimages are strikingly crystallographic 103.)

The afterimage becomes key for the thaumatrope (“wonder turner” c.1825), a disk with an image on each side that is held on two strings and can be twirled to create a coherent picture 105 – a device that “made unequivocally clear both the fabricated and hallucinatory nature of its image and the rupture between perception and its object” 106. Roget demonstrated how this could lead to manipulations of temporal experience itself (train wheels seen moving through a fence) 106. This leads to the phenakistiscope (“deceptive view,” c. 1830),comprised of either one disk (facing a mirror) or two, and acting like a flip book, where the eye comprehends “continuous movement” through a series of slits in the turning viewing disc in the 8 or 16 pictures in the segments of the second disk 109. Horner’s zootrope (“wheel of life,” c. 1834) reproduces this effect in a cylinder, thus enabling multiple viewers (a precursor to spectacle?) 110. Crary would like to consider these not as “nascent forms of cinema” only, striving for “higher standards of verisimilitude,” but as devices with singular features 110. They at least created a feedback loop between entertainment and scientific knowledge-gathering: “This is where Foucault’s opposition between spectacle and surveillance becomes untenable; his two distinct models here collapse onto one another” 112.

Other examples include the kaleidoscope (1815), which for Baudelaire dissolved unitary subjectivity, as well as Daguerre’s diorama, which forced the reader to walk or at least turn her head to comprehend its whole 113. By the 1840s, “the multiplicity [of the kaleidoscope] that so seduced Baudelaire was for [Marx and Engels] a sham, a trick literally done with mirrors. Rather than producing something new the kaleidoscope simply repeated a single image… ‘composed entirely of reflections of itself’… symmetrical repetition” 114. Inventor Brewster saw the kaleidoscope as a means of producing natural symmetry for new art – “it will create in an hour, what a thousand artists could not invent in the course of a year… with a corresponding beauty and precision,” but for Marx and Engels it proves “the appearance of decomposition and proliferation,” and the appearance alone 116. The real focus of the chapter is in fact the stereoscope:

“a major mode of experiencing photographically produced images… its conceptual structure and the historical circumstances of its invention are throughly independent of photography. Although distinct from the optical devices that represented the illusion of movement, the stereoscope is nonetheless part of the same reorganization of the observer, the same relations of knowledge and power, that those devices implied” 118.

Again, Brewster helped invent it (also Wheatstone, c. 1830), though it was not popularized until the 1850s and after 118. It focuses on the synthesis in the optical chiasma, “the point behind the eyes where the nerve fibers leading from the retina to the brain cross each other, carrying half of the nerves from each retina to each side of the brain” 119. Thus he focused on an “object placed so near the eyes that to view it the optic axes must converge… a different perspective projection of it is seen by each eye, and these perspectives are more dissimilar as the convergence of the optic axes becomes greater” 120. Thus for Crary “its ‘realism’ presupposes perceptual experience to be essentially an apprehension of differences… the observer to the object… [as] disjunct or divergent images” 120. Again, the fusion takes place as process, over time 120.

More than a simple superimposition, the stereoscope relies on rapid alternation of the optic axes successively, so that there “never really is a stereoscopic image… it is a conjuration, an effect of the observer’s experience of the differential between two other images” 122 (dialectical?). This raised the image, for Brewster, to the level of tangibility – the eye produces depth out of 2 flat images (vs the 2 similar retinal images produced to view 1 flat image or the 2 dissimilar retinal images for 1 solid object) 124. For the full effect of 3D in the stereoscope, there must not be simply a view with natural perspectival recession, but

“objects or obtrusive forms in the near or middle ground; that is, there must be enough points in the image that require significant changes in the angle of convergence of the optical axes. Thus the most intense experience of the stereoscopic image coincides with an object-filled space, with a material plenitude that bespeaks a nineteenth-century horror of the void; and there are endless quantities of stereo cards showing interiors crammed with bric-a-brac, densely filled museum sculpture galleries, and congested city views” 125.

For Crary, the “planar” arrangement of these shapes like “flat cutouts” among one another creates “a vertiginous uncertainty about the distance separating forms… some superficial similarities between the stereoscope and classical stage design, which synthesizes flats and real extensive space into an illusory scene… but… the movement of actors… rationalizes the relation between points” 125.

“In the stereoscopic image there is a derangement of the conventional functioning of optical cues. Certain planes or surfaces, even though composed of indications of light or shade that normally designate volume, are perceived as flat; other planes that normally would be read as two-dimensional, such as a fence in a foreground, seem to occupy space aggressively. Thus stereoscopic relief or depth has no unifying logic or order…. a fundamentally disunified and aggregate field of disjunct elements… a localized experience of separate areas. When we look head-on at a photograph or painting our eyes remain at a single angle of convergence, thus endowing the image surface with an optical unity …[vs] an accumulation of differences in the degree of optical convergence… a patchwork of different intensities of relief within a single image…” 125-6

“…part of the fascination of these images is due to this immanent disorder, to the fissures that disrupt its coherence. The stereoscope could be said to constitute what Gilles Deleuze calls a ‘Riemann space,’ after the German mathematician… ‘Each vicinity in a Riemann space is like a shred of Euclidian space but the linkage between one vicinity and the next is not defined…. Riemann space at its most general thus presents itself as an amorphous collection of pieces that are juxtaposed but not attached to each other'” 126.

Overall, this demonstrates a reorganization of space therefore not unique to painting, though that medium also mixed flat and molded shapes (think Cezanne) 127. Crary calls this literally obscene – scene-shattering of the theatrical setup of the camera obscura, and indicative of Benjamin’s idea that the need to possess the object in the image and its reproduction was increasing all the time 127. “It is no coincidence that the stereoscope became increasingly synonymous with erotic and pornographic imagery… the very effects of tangibility that Wheatstone had sought from the beginning were quickly turned into a mass form of ocular possession… in part responsible for its social demise as a mode of visual consumption… it became linked with ‘indecent’ subject matter” 127. Crary aligns this, like 3D movies, with an uneasy limit of “acceptable verisimilitude,” since the stereoscope presents to each eye the projection on a plane surface of the object as it appears to that eye, rather than the object itself, or its holistic representation 127-8. It is “the technical reconstitution of an already reproduced world fragmented into two nonidentical models, models that preced any experience of their subsequent perception as unified or tangible” 128.

The Wheatstone model, with its mirrors and angles, laid bare the device of fragmentation, while later models enabled viewers to feel they were looking directly in 129. As Marx discusses with the tool, for Crary the new 19th century visual devices make man into a metonym of the machine. “The content of the images is far less important than the inexhaustible routine of moving from one card to the next and producing the same effect, repeatedly, mechanically… transubstantiated into a compulsory and seductive vision of the ‘real'” 132. The ‘real’ becomes nothing more than mechanical reproduction, then.

After 1850, “phantasmagoria” (Adorno, Benjamin) take over – the “magic lantern” shows that emphasize the sui generis mode of the image and efface the machine (suture?) 133. Spectacle and pure perception both entail “a fully embodied viewer,” but ultimately they triumph through the denial of the body “as the ground of vision,” Crary concludes 136.

Chapter 5: Visionary Abstraction

Turner’s paintings problematize the “loss of a fixed source of light, the dissolution of a cone of light rays, and the collapse of the distance separating an observer fromt he site of optical experience” 138. The scientist Fechner sought to quantify sensation and succeeded in measuring it via the external stimulus for the first time 145. Sensation proceeds at regular intervals, and stimulus at first exceeds its capacity. Psychophysics and other sciences “beginning with the prefix psycho are part of this strategic appropriation of subjectivity” 148. As money moved things from qualitative to quantitative, so the real is “less useful” than that produced by a “more adaptable, autonomous, and productive observer… to conform to new functions of the body and to a vast proliferation of indifferent and convertible signs and images” 149. The “immense legacy” of the 1830s and 40s is “all the industries of the image and the spectacle in the 20th century” 150. “What is important is how these paths continually intersect and often overlap on the same social terrain, amid the countless localities in which the diversity of concrete acts of vision occur” 150.