Seeing Through Light

Summarising: Alice Barnaby, Light Touches: Cultural Practices of Illumination, 1800-1900

Barnaby departs from Jonathan Crary’s ‘landmark study’ Techniques of the Observer: On Visions and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. She states that Crary’s description of the changes in techniques of viewing from the Renaissance to the nineteenth-century propounds that as optics developed, it constructed and rationalised vision as something that was ‘calculable and exchangeable’ and that ‘from these practices the modern, fragmented, alien subject is born’. While she finds his argument persuasive, she disagrees with it: she argues that the instruments of optics, with their focus on light did not construct a passive observer who was controlled by predetermined visual effects. On the contrary, she argues, that light, embodied vision. She faults Cracy’s singularly-focused Foucauldian method that views all objects and systems as an interconnected network of power relations that negates the role and agency of the subject and instead, she studies optical devices for the pleasure and the playfulness they elicited, to augment an understanding of the nature of subjection and the role and agency of the subject in it.

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Through the Looking Glass

It is an autumn evening I walk into my flat. It is still early, but I am tired. It is unusual for me to return home before seven in the evening. The day in the office was not unproductive – I got what needed to be done, done, albeit mechanically; however, I was restless. I don’t believe that any one at work noticed – the minute the lipstick slid on as I gazed into the mirror in the tiny foyer by my front door, just before I left home this morning, had conditioned by face to smile. In fact, a number of people commented on how happy and even how calm I looked – my laughter even while It was tinged with incredulity was not fake – honestly, more surprised at my successful deception. I dwelled on how the comment altered my mood; how reflections in another’s eyes controls and even forms one. On entering my apartment, the restlessness that I had quietened, resurfaced with additional vigour. I took a deep breath as I allowed the memories of the previous evening to engulf me. All day, I had wanted to quiet all the voices around me and allow myself the luxury of my private thoughts.

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