The Senses of Modernism: Technology, Perception, and Aesthetics

By Sara Danius | Go to book overview
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2

Novel Visions and the Crisis of Culture

The Cultivation of the Interior in
The Magic Mountain

Who can still believe in the opacity of bodies, since our sharpened
and multiplied sensitiveness has already penetrated the obscure
manifestations of the medium? Why should we forget in our cre-
ations the doubled power of our sight capable of giving results
analogous to those of the X-rays?

UMBERTO BOCCIONI ET AL., “FUTURIST PAINTING:
TECHNICAL MANIFESTO,” 1910

In the mid-nineteenth century, the artist's eye begins to claim sovereignty with unprecedented energy.1 Indeed, in the period that sees the emergence of mechanical devices for reproducing visual phenomena—from the camera to the X-ray machine—the artist's eye increasingly claims autonomy from the habits of artistic perception inherited from the tradition, and above all from scenarios of rational, instrumental, or generalizing knowledge.2 To move from Claude Monet's sunstruck haystacks to Man Ray's somber rayographs, from Eugène Atget's deserted Parisian streets to Umberto Boccioni's speed-infused sculptures, is to bear witness to the stunning diversity of the modernist conquest of the visual. No longer located in the ideality of the sense of sight, visual perception is now grounded in the bodily being of the individual in all its ostensible immediacy. Vision is celebrated for vision's sake. Aisthesis is invented anew.3

In Techniques of the Observer, Jonathan Crary argues that the model of vision that modernism deploys, whether implicitly or explicitly, takes as

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