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.

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3 Responses to “Blog Post 4: Holmes v James”

  1. Dominique on March 29, 2011 1:14 pm

    Great, Jackie. Can you tie all this to Benjamin’s argument?


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