Blog 7

May 27th, 2011

Throughout our lessons in “Techniques of the Observer” I have (no pun intended) opened my eyes to a whole new spectrum of vision.  Through such studies of Emerson, Turner, Dickinson, Holmes, Trachtenberg, James, and Ellison, I see the importance, the difference and the many levels of vision that control and encircle our lives, especially in literature.  The one thing I love the most about literature and English courses is the constant debate-like atmosphere; there is usually never a clear answer and things are always up for interpretation.  Not only did we learn that in this class, but we learned that through vision – from both the opposers of that view and the ones who believed personal interpretation was the essence of a human being.  I found myself gravitating towards the ideas and mentalities of people like Dickinson, Emerson and Turner; artists who believed you looked at a painting, a photograph and although it may be a direct representation or replica of a real-life image, it is up to the person and how they view it to determine it’s true meaning – a theory Holmes was so against.  He believed, through the camera obscura as well, that what you saw is what the truth was – limiting the ideas and wondrous world of knowledge that came from viewing an image.  Dickinson wrote about being able to interpret the world as you want-  and Emerson used his essay, “Circles,” to create a map of sorts to explain how the eye works.  All of this knowledge truly inspired me and shifted my focus and how I read not only in my other classes, but in my own free time as well.  Vision isn’t just for watching movies and reading books – it’s how we interpret what we see on a daily basis and how we view and shape our lives – something I never really noticed.  This class helped me no longer take vision and the visual aspects of life for granted, and I appreciate it tremendously for that.

Blog 6

May 27th, 2011

I found the book “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison to be a terrific read.  Instead of just giving a run-of-the-mill explanation of class and racial differences, it uses the idea of invisibility to express that gap in our society.  The narrator used other people’s opinions and ideals to seemingly define himself, for he saw himself as invisible.  He didn’t know his own identity because the ones around him never really showed him.  The “Battle Royale” part of the story was probably the most intense and gut wrenching; finally the narrator thinks he is going to be appreciated and understood as a person, but instead he is treated as the exact opposite.  Not only is he blindfolded, a huge representation of the invisibility that followed him around the entire book, but he is made to fight for money against other African American students while the rich white men stand around and shout at them.  He was brought down to the level of an animal; underappreciated and subhuman.  This isn’t what the narrator is, but Ellison uses this moment to explain how the other half saw him – and what he used to define himself which is completely sad and tragic.  After he suffered from amnesia, the narrator couldn’t even remember his own name.  At this point, the doctors use his ethnicity and race to try and define him by asking him questions that only a black child would have really known – something that seems to offend the narrator, who can’t even remember his own name – thus intensifying his true belief that he is invisible.  At the end of the book the narrator is finally, “free of illusion,” (Ellison 569) and finally is able to shake away from the identity he so believed defined him and who he is; he is able to accept himself and the man he has become.

Assignment 2 Proposal

April 28th, 2011

Jackie Weber

Eng 391 Prof. Zino

Final paper proposal

Due: 4/28/11

For my paper I am going to focus on the fourth prompt: “I see what you say.”  I will be focusing on Turner’s paintings in comparison to essays by Emerson and poetry by Emily Dickinson. Between Turner and Emerson, I’m going to focus on the sublime, and the importance of the eye; the eyes interpretation of vision versus the reality.

Thesis: How do Turner, Dickinson, and Emerson use their craft to show their personal views and how they interpret the world?

Main Argument: How different perspectives shape how we view certain, everyday things.

Paragraph 1: Brief intro to my thesis.
– Introduce writings, paintings and main arguments.

My body paragraphs will focus on the argument and each will be dedicated to a specific artist/images.

-Emily Dickinson/a poem
-Turner/a painting
-Emerson/an essay

I will also be incorporating some opposing views as well; i.e. Holmes.

the Ambassadors v. the Ambassadors

April 4th, 2011

In “the Ambassadors” by Henry James, we are presented with a lead character, Strether, who’s attributes seem to fall short in comparison to his mind.  James uses Strether’s mind and thoughts as the true focus of his work.  The other characters aren’t really described, and when they are – they are described through the vision and thoughts of Strether himself.  In the painting by Holbein entitled, “the Ambassadors,” we are given an image of two men standing around rather prestigious items, and on the floor lie a skull that has been misshapen.  One could argue that the two men are Strether and his friend Waymarsh (Waymarsh being the fancier dressed one) but that is all speculation.  The items that surround them could also be representations of the men in the novel and their love for certain aspects. The only thing that is precisely linked between the novel and the painting is the title, “the Ambassadors.”  The most interesting and almost confusing part of the painting is the infamous skewed skull which lies by the men’s feet.  This is a perfect representation of “anamorphosis” which is the evolution of one type of organism from another by a long series of gradual changes (worldnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn).  In order for anyone to see this image, they have to see the painting completely from the side to see it truly become a skull; when facing it, it is an unidentifiable object with no true meaning.  Although I have looked it up and there is no true answer to what the skull represents, the wikipedia article on the painting gives it a “memento mori” which is Latin for, “Remember, you must die.”  If that was the intentions of the painter Holbein, and what James has in store for his book, than it is foreshadowing the inevitable death of someone or something.

In “the Ambassadors,” at least within the two books we have read for class, we have to often alternate between the scenario that is going on and the picture that is being painting for us.  The picture of the storyline gives us the stepping stones for the scenes of action that are going to be giving to us.  James uses this system and his beautiful use of the written word to have the reader engage in a specific strategy for reading his works in order to have them open their consciousness and use their center.  The first person and omniscient narrator techniques make us open our center-of-consciousness in order to really grasp and understand what is going on, which I’m sure is exactly what others were doing with the painting by Holbein; opening up their minds to try and see a distinct connection between the painting and the story, which is just unfortunately not possible.

Blog Post 4: Holmes v James

March 17th, 2011

Jackie Weber   Blog Post #4   Senior Seminar 391W

            In Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “The Annihilation of Time and Space,” she brings forth both arguments for and against the theories portrayed by William James.  Most notably in the “against” camp is Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Holmes says, “Form is henceforth divorced from matter.  In fact, matter as a visible object is of no great use any longer, except as the mould on which form is shaped.” (Solnit 21)  Holmes strongly believed that the “fruit of creation” was perceived through the photograph; that no longer did we need to experience the live event or be in the moment of an event to full grasp and understand the true essence of what is going on.  A photograph, as he believed, was a strong enough replica that “matter” didn’t matter.  Capturing the original is to him capturing the essence of a scene.  William James through his theories of “stream of thought” tended to be swayed the other way.  He believed that one must stay true to the raw emotion exhibited through moments.  In regards to the Holmes quote in Solnit’s essay, James would argue that an experience and/or thought cannot be duplicated or ever thought again.  This is exactly the opposite of what Holmes is trying to portray.  In James’ eyes, a photograph is only an imitation of an event.  It’s like being at a wedding, enjoying the fun, the music, the company, the food and the memories of the evening versus seeing photographs of a wedding in an album; you get to see the excitement, but you never got to feel or experience it.  The essence is therefore essentially taken out of the photograph and out of the new viewers’ eyes.  James would argue with Holmes that the loss of humanity within life, the “natural life” would now become insignificant and taken over to become a part of the man-made, technological nature that was coming about during the Industrious Revolution.  To James, we need to be aware of our “stream of thought” and how it works, which includes combining both our thoughts and knowledge, otherwise we fall victim to ignorance in regards to certain aspects of life.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, what words are truly capturing the essence?  A first hand glimpse on an experience creates a definitive answer within a person – something James was adamant about teaching and Holmes was adamant with arguing against.  Another perfect example of James’ opposition to Holmes in Solnit’s paper is the idea of taking the “texture” out of the true view; considering the differences between running your hand under water compared to seeing a picture of running water – the experiences are nowhere near the same. (Solnit 18).  Holmes tended to lean towards the modernity of life, which in essence started to take away from the nature of humans and human life and started to shift true responsibility onto the technologies that were being created – like relying on a photograph from a camera to depict what is supposed to be something real.

Blog Post 3: Stream of Consciousness

March 8th, 2011

Jackie Weber   Blog Post #3   English 391W Professor Zino

In Rita Carter’s, “Exploring Consciousness” and William James’ “the Principles of Psychology,” the authors are both examining and explaining the range of stages of consciousness.  According to James’ theories, our mind is able to focus on exactly what it finds interesting in viewing and studying while we are consciously perceiving something.  This rang true for me – I often find myself focusing in on what particular part of an image I am looking at – whether it be a photograph, picture or real life view.  Our eye picks up on what exactly we want to notice.  Carter also gets a feel of the incessant stream of consciousness that warps our minds.  She explains through the process of reading that is “present in our perception of everything.” (Carter 24).  When someone is reading, their minds do not pick up on every word, while at the same time highlighting internally words that stick out to us and draw our attention in closer.  Together, both Carter and James acknowledge that our minds are constantly running and working – interrelating and succumbing to the environment around it.  Even while we sleep, our mind is processing different forms and interpretations of reality through our dreams.  Our conscious is able to process for us a plethora of emotions and feelings; it creates our happiness, sadness, anger what have you.  James says in his essay that, “the object is not only apprehended by the mind, but is held to have reality.” (James 288).  This made me believe that not only does our mind work to take in objects and images – but it does it in the most accurate way.  No picture, no photograph can give such a direct image as the mind and the eyes do in the conscious state.  The mind is able to create aspects that it deems to be defining reality – which makes interpretations key in shaping the world.  A point I find thoroughly interesting in James’ essay was the theory that the way our mind is constructed orders a person’s ability to view but after an extended period of time, it becomes harder and harder for a person to distinguish what is actual reality and what is figments of the imagination aiding and molding the thoughts we perceive.  In her essay, Carter quotes Kevin O’Regan, an expert in psychological perception, on what he believes to be the truth behind perception and the conscious.  He believes that everything we perceive is just a grand illusion, but this creates an argument that if it is an illusion we are not interpreting reality.  If one can say that everything we perceive is just a part of this grand magic act – than what is in fact reality?  Is the sky actually blue – or do we just perceive it as such because someone many years ago decided it was blue and we all just liked that answer?  If I say that the sky is purple, is there no room for debate – simply because our perceptions are “grand illusions?”  This theory of O’Regan’s seems pretentious and I enjoyed Carter using it in a way to expand what not to truly believe.  The Anton Delusion I found very interesting – “Can operate very happily as a fully sighted person until they collide with objects that happened not to be in their imaginary picture of the world.” (Carter 18).  This to me rang so very true in what I believe is the conscious working; countless amounts of times I have experienced incidents that I had never witnessed before – shaping and changing the way I see the world and, to be honest, scaring me because it wasn’t something I was used to by any means.  While Carter reflects James in her essay, I found her essay a much easier and enjoyable read.  Both works, however, made me think of the “stream of consciousness” that is found within many writers, most notably Lewis Carroll.  He never feared using his conscious and the stream of words that flowed through it to make up a story or enhance a story – an attribute to the literary field that worked wonders.

Wikipedia Ideas

March 2nd, 2011

the Sublime Turn

Visual Culturalists

Horizon Line

Transparent Eyeball

Blog Post #2: Connecting Visual and Literary Observations

February 22nd, 2011



Through his journal entries in, Complete Prose Works, Walt Whitman attempts to capture the memories of a historic moment through his writings; through his imagery, his literary techniques etc.  He describes in intimate details his time spent as a war nurse during the Civil War.  In correlation to the article, Albums of War: On Reading Civil War Photographs by Alan Trachtenberg, Whitman’s entries give off a very interesting debate tacking actual visual observation (i.e. a photograph, a stereograph) against observations through literary works – observations that one must create internally through their mind and imagination.  Whitman used his diary as a way to express his true and very personal views on the Civil War.  He was a supporter of the Union, but altogether believed the war itself was something that was inevitable.  He laughed at the naivety of the citizens – especially in the North – for they believed this infamous war would last merely months.  Whitman uses colorful metaphors and spiteful imagery to enhance the experience and assessments he racked up during this time.  In Trachtenberg’s article he discusses the significance of the photographic works like those of shutterbugs Mathew B. Brady, Alexander Gardner, and George P. Barnard.  Trachtenberg discusses the impact each picture had in truly expressing the atmosphere of the Civil War.  And while Brady seemed to be more of a “face” to Civil War photography than the true backbone and essence, Barnard and Gardner used their works in a way to show the raw emotions and feel of the bloodied battlefields.  These images were created in an attempt to influence and shape history; they were a way to elongate such a historical moment into the precursor of generations to come.  In the same way, that is what Whitman was trying to do as well – but instead of using actual visual representation to be observed – he wanted his audience to be able to envision and interpret the actuality of the scenes he witnessed however they wanted to see it.  He even goes as far as to set up the entire surroundings of his subject – but at the same time, leaves a bit of vagueness – that way the reader has a plethora of options in construing the situations at hand.  While he does divulge frequently into his own personal opinions, he is as well trying to create a world where history and literature are connected; almost as if literature can mend and shape history, at least the understandings of it through our own psyche.  Trachtenberg’s article takes more of a literal and clinical view than Whitman’s does, but he is in the same respect trying to determine how photography shapes our views and observations of the subjects at hand.  The photograph gives us a direct and realistic image; it is exactly what the person saw when they took the picture.  In the article Trachtenberg uses the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes to express an ideal view on photography: “Undeniably, Holmes writes, the photographs represent actuality; better than the hand of a fallible human artist the ‘honest sunshine’ provides at least ‘some conception of what a repulsive, brutal, sickening, hideous thing’ war is” (AT 295).  Here the debate is enhanced; does photography and its actuality to a particular moment give a more truthful and accurate historical lesson, or does the representation of a moment through the interpretations of someone else (in this case Whitman) give a better understanding to those who were there to partake in it?  Which method of vision allows the viewer to get the real story of a moment in time – like the true foul nature that defines war?  In my own personal opinion, I feel as though both the written word and the actuality of a photograph together create the true essence of retelling history.  Trachtenberg combines the ideas of abstract and objective imagery when discussing how the captions and explanations of photographs by Barnard and Gardner affected the core of the photograph.  When this combination is done correctly, Trachtenberg points out that, “The text weaves the image into its own narrative of the eye of the [Battle of Bull Run], a moment of light-hearted innocence, the laughing young soldiers ‘hardly realizing in the contagion of their patriotic ardor the grim meaning of real war’” (AT 301).  The combination of both theories truly gives the most accurate depiction of a scene.  While a photographer captures the reality of a group of soldiers laughing at any given moment, the writer throws in the insight that out there beyond the scope of the camera, the truth of war is staring them dead in the face.

Blog Post 1: Turner as a modern artist

February 7th, 2011

Jackie Weber    Blog post #1                  Senior Seminar 391W    Professor Zino

J.M.W Turner became one of the most prominent artists of the new Romantics movement; his works were sometimes seen as controversial due to his brush strokes and the ideals he was trying to portray on his canvas.  He modernized his works through his love for painting landscape art, opposed to the historical artwork of his time.  He wanted to show his love for humankind by incorporating them into his images of destruction – but at the same time he wanted to show how as people, we are completely vulnerable to the “sublime” and to mother nature.  Turner used a new way of thinking to form his paintings; he wanted his paintings to show how the eye interprets vision.  This created a huge turn in the history of visual culture.  Turner was coming from a culture that used a very innovative, yet very straight forward way of viewing art work.  The Camera Obscura was a way people could view art work, or create their own; the box itself created the images upside down, but the colors and the lighting was the same.  This was one of the foundations for the creations of the camera.  Turner took these straight forward images and turned them on their head.  For starters, his paintings are abstract.  They are hazy and sometimes hard to really comprehend at first since there is a lot going on and he uses very loose brushstrokes.  But, Turner knew that in order to keep the observer interested, you would have to keep the observer guessing, so one would need to be innovative and creative.  Jonathon Crary says in his essay, Vision and Visionality, “This collapse of the camera obscura as a model for the status of an observer was part of a much larger process of modernization, even as the camera obscura itself was an element of an earlier modernity” (42).  The camera obscura was highly new and bold thinking for its time, but it only makes sense that as the world moves along and new generations take over, that our views and our opinions differ as well.  But as much of a modern artist one can consider Turner, couldn’t it be said that any new artist that breaks through the “typical” or the “usual” be considered a modern artist/poet/writer?  As said in chapter three of the Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture Reader, there has always been some type of visual stimulus that would marry its ability to represent their ideals.  As the world grows and the technology becomes more advanced, we have new ways to view things.  Crary believes that in order to continue on with the fascination of the observer, one must continue moving forward.  If the only way we had to view images was through the camera obscura, I’m sure no one would use it; it would become a dying form.  Turner took those facts and decided to create what he thought the world looks like- which to some wasn’t’ the same, but it worked for him.  Film might be one of the most innovative creations, and is something that may always be used; “Film seems especially well integrated into not only teaching but professional scholarship” (chapter 3).