Representations’ Beate Fricke receives ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship

Congratulations to Representations editorial board member Beate Fricke. Fricke and Finbarr Barry Flood (NYU) have been awarded an ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship for their research project, Object Histories—Flotsam as Early Globalism.

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Fricke (associate professor in the History of Art Department at UC Berkeley) and Flood (William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of the Humanities at New York University) have received a 2016-2017 ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship. The program provides support to small teams of two or more scholars to collaborate on a single, substantive project.

 

In Object Histories—Flotsam as Early Globalism, Fricke and Flood draw from case studies in the medieval European and Islamic worlds to tackle methodological and theoretical issues of writing histories of flotsam, when the only source one has is a unique surviving artifact, image, or monument divorced from other documentation of its contexts. The authors describe the project as follows:

 

“The past decade has witnessed the proliferation of histories written on and from objects. This reflects a number of significant developments in the humanities, from increased attention to circulation, gifting, and the early history of commodities, to a renewed concern with materiality and the potential agency of material things. Historians of medieval art often face the challenge of writing histories for which unique artifacts, images, or monuments are the only available archives. In these cases, the object functions as its own archive, the absence of related written sources compelling the researcher to pursue compensatory lines of historical inquiry. But how does one choose where to start, which lines to trace, and which to ignore or neglect? The collaboration between Finbarr Flood and Beate Fricke considers such questions in relation to the writing of connected histories focused on medieval flotsam—artifacts or images that appear as unique survivals. It explores the pre-modern reception of such objects, their capacity to stimulate new artistic trends, and the methodological problems inherent in treating artifacts as archives to facilitate the writing of medieval histories in the present.”

 

For more information about Object Histories, visit the ACLS project site.

 

History’s Skin: Bazin and Archival Film

Film as the “Skin of History”: André Bazin and the Specter of the Archive and Death in Nicole Védrès’s Paris 1900 (1947)

by Paula Amad

The essay begins:

About two thirds of the way through Nicole Védrès’s Paris 1900 (1947), a feature-length documentary that combines fragments of nonfiction and fiction footage with a view to delivering a new, cinematic type of history, an old newsreel sequence violently interrupts the otherwise sedate, audiovisual chronicle of the Belle Epoque. The six-shot sequence begins with a full shot of a man, whom the voice-over commentator labels a “modern Icarus,” outfitted in a winged parachute-type suit, making a slow full circle for the cameraman, followed by a distant tilt shot that moves up the length of the Eiffel Tower. In the third and longer shot, the birdman, in the company of two other men, spreads the now unfurled, winglike sections of his outfit (fig. 1) and readies himself for what feels like an interminable fifteen seconds on the balcony edge of the tower’s first tier before finally, after a moment’s hesitation, jumping. We then cut to a distant shot aimed at the first level of the tower and tilt down as the second camera follows the birdman’s descent, his flying suit trailing ineffectually before a small puff of dust is released from the Champ de Mars as his body hits the ground. The sequence ends with a close shot of hands measuring the “six-inch” deep impact of the fallen Icarus, followed by a brief final shot of his corpse being carried away.

The birdman footage appears after a long audiovisual roll call of now celebrated turn-of-the-century figures from the fields of politics (Léon Blum, Charles Maurras), theater (Sarah Bernhardt), opera (Nellie Melba, Victor Caruso), art (Auguste Rodin, Pierre Renoir, Claude Monet), and literature (Willy, Colette, André Gide, Paul Valéry, Jean Cocteau). Yet like so much of Paris 1900’s footage, the birdman’s image appears to carry minimal historical import except as macabre evidence of the era’s aviation mania, elsewhere more playfully or soberly documented with footage of a couple performing an aerial dance and Charles Blériot’s record-breaking 1909 Channel crossing. Conscious of the seemingly trivial remains of history then preserved in film archives, Védrès admitted that “scarcely one percent [of the footage she found] referred to important events.” In light of the minor status of the birdman event historically, we might read the fragment as simply more of the dead skin of film sloughed off by the incessantly updated screens of twentieth-century news media, a phenomenon described by André Bazin, arguably the preeminent film critic and theorist of the past century. Or the fragment might be read as the “accidental accumulation” of tabloid-like evidence that Sir Arthur Elton, a key producer-director in the British documentary film movement, feared the newsreels of the early twentieth century bequeathed to later historians. Or, to take an earlier example, it might be read as the “anecdotal” history of the everyday that Bolesław Matuszewski, a Polish newsreel cameraman, claimed the cinema was destined to archive. To be sure, the birdman sequence shifts the tone of the film from a lighthearted nostalgic skip through the Belle Epoque to a bleak forewarning of the abyss of the Great War into which Europe would soon plunge (the commentator clearly provides the 1912 date of the footage). Yet the fragment still retains an uneasy relation to any straightforward attempt to mobilize archival film as historical evidence. Although it feels significant, it’s hard to say what the image of the birdman’s fall at last means. What might this disturbing early example of a subject dying (to be) on film have to do with film’s, and more specifically the archival compilation film’s, peculiar temporal and ethical registers? Continue reading …

In this essay, Paula Amad asks why the notoriously antimontage film theorist André Bazin championed Nicole Védrès’s Paris 1900 (1947), a kaleidoscopic film de montage compiled from scraps of archival film, including footage of a death recorded live. How did archival films and death on film together mediate for Bazin the fatal coupling of “total war” and “total History,” and why were archival films seen by others to raise urgent questions of historical philosophy? She explores here the intensified historical consciousness that developed around archival films and the representability of death after the Second World War. Reinserting documentary as the missing key to Bazin’s so-called realist film theory, she argues that Bazin found in Paris 1900 a new archive-inflected and essayistic model of film’s historicity whose full potential continues to be realized in the explosion of archival filmmaking today.

PAULA AMAD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cinematic Arts at the University of Iowa. She is currently at work on a book dealing with the history of aerial vision from the perspective of motion pictures shot from above.

An English Printer in China

Universal Brotherhood Revisited: Peter Perring Thoms (1790-1855), Artisan Practices, and the Genesis of a Chinacentric Sinology

by Patricia Sieber

from the essay’s introduction:

The case of Peter Perring Thoms, a printer by trade and a China scholar by inclination, invites us to revisit the postcolonial paradigms that stress the instrumental and statist motivations for nineteenth-century British engagement with China. Thoms (1790–1855) was once lauded in pro-Chartist circles as “the best Chinese scholar England has yet produced,” but his legacy has since been marginalized by the “enormous condescension of posterity.” A printer first in the employ of London firms, then a service sojourner for the British East India Company (EIC) in Macau, and eventually an independent master printer with his own workshop in the heart of London’s print trade, Thoms, in marked contrast to the occupational locations of other, better-studied EIC officials, falls under the rubric of an “artisan.” As scholars have cautioned, the notion of an “artisan” is inherently ambiguous and, on account of the wide variety of trades, organizational structures, and skill levels involved, artisans cannot be characterized by a singular “artisan ideology.” However, while some new trades exceeded the standard definition of an artisan—men working for wages who engaged in unmechanized, skilled labor in workshops—Thoms’s occupation as a printer fits squarely within the ambit of artisanhood that endured long after other trades had been consumed by industrialization. Equally important, Thoms proudly defined himself as a printer, viewing his profession not simply as a way to earn a living, but as a social identity that straddled technical skills and broad learning. Thus, as Mark Bevir has theorized, an artisan like Thoms would have been attuned to and confronted with a different set of traditions, practices, and dilemmas than those of the average EIC official, who was typically destined for the South China trade through hereditary appointments designed to augment family fortunes.250px-Page_from_PP_Thoms_Vases_of_the_Shang_Dynasty

Thoms’s pursuit of Chinese literature and printmaking can be situated within the traditions of radicalism and romanticism. Among the circles of the educated laboring classes in Britain, China began to emerge as a trope of collective theorizing, particularly in the lead-up to and aftermath of what we now, pace the British antiwar coalition, have come to call the first “Opium War” (1839–1842). Certain segments among the working orders in Britain viewed the internationalization of commerce as an economic dilemma of foreign competition in the face of increasing mechanization and a highly unstable labor market. However, in the case of Chinese workers, British concerns over job competition did not become acute until the 1870s, and then primarily in the domain of seafaring. Instead, in the 1830s and 1840s, the radically minded laboring classes in England intent on political reform incorporated the Chinese people into their articulation of the paradoxes of political representation: far from being despotic China’s democratic other, the English government and its military were viewed by these men as a coercive institution that brutalized both the English worker and the ordinary Chinese through targeted state-sanctioned violence. Thoms, though deeply enmeshed in questions of fair pay for Chinese commoners in China and issues of anti-imperialist policymaking in England, nevertheless grounded his engagement with China in a cultural frame. In contrast to the jingoistic caricatures found in popular culture or the often high-minded condescension permeating elite discourse in Britain, Thoms opted for a radically convergent view of Chinese and English cultural production that has only recently come into focus again among modern scholars of this period. Continue reading …

In this essay, Sieber argues that Peter Perring Thoms, a printer in the service of the British East India Company in Macau, fashioned a Chinacentric sinology that cannot be readily subsumed under statist and other instrumental forms of Orientalism. Instead, neither a casual “amateur” nor an institutionally sanctioned “professional,” Thoms pioneered a translation model as a “citizen-scholar” intent on establishing literary and artistic excellence as an imaginative locus to forge transnational bonds of anti-imperialist solidarities between the Chinese and the English.

PATRICIA SIEBER is an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the Ohio State University and the author of Theaters of Desire: Authors, Readers, and the Reproduction of Early Chinese Song-Drama, 1300–2000 (Palgrave, 2003).

The Matter of Character

Plasticity, Form, and the Matter of Character in Middlemarch

by S. Pearl Brilmyer

The essay begins:

George Eliot’s 1874 novel Middlemarch is said to both thematize and foster intersubjectivity through its psychologically rich and detailed portrait of human life. To elide the distinction between the human psychology and what I will refer to as its material substrate—character—however, risks overlooking the extent to which Eliot approaches subjectivity as an impersonal structure formed not just through intentional acts such as thought or speech but through physical actions and reactions as well. Deidre Lynch has shown how the protocols of interiority attributed to the novelistic modes of characterization were not endemic to the novel genre, but emerged, rather, in attempts to “validate and naturalize a concept of character as representational.” Extending and elaborating upon Lynch’s thesis, I show how, in conversation with nineteenth-century materialist science, Eliot pushed back against the interiorized novelistic subject so often attributed to her by producing not only sympathetic and real-seeming minds but also lively and responsive characterological bodies….

The characterological bodies that form the focus of this essay are … not verisimilitudinous human anatomies with faces and limbs. Consider, as an initial example, Eliot’s description of Rosamond’s persistence as that which “enables a white soft living substance to make its way in spite of opposing rock.” Importantly, this description of Rosamond’s tenacity relies not only on the reader’s experience of human intentionality but also on her sensual awareness of the basic properties of matter—in this case, the properties of fluids, which have the capacity to envelop solid bodies due to the sensitivity of their structure to encounter. The descriptive force of the figure inheres in the lively materiality of this “white soft living substance”—its soft texture, malleable form, unexplained animacy. The capacity of Rosamond’s intent to overpower, indeed, literally to engulf that of her father is aligned with the potential of a fluid to envelop a rock, no matter how rigid or firm. Much later in the novel, the narrator explains Rosamond’s behavior with a maxim that harkens back to her plastic quality:

We cannot be sure that any natures, however inflexible or peculiar, will resist this effect from a more massive being than their own. They may be taken by storm and for the moment converted, becoming part of the soul which enwraps them in the ardor of its movement. (714)

As we shall see, few natures in Middlemarch are so inflexible; most are like Rosamond in their affinity with a soft, amorphous matter. Arthur Brooke, for example, is described as “glutinously indefinite” (8). He is “a very good fellow, but pulpy; he will run into any mould, but he won’t keep shape” (65). Sir James Chettam, likewise, is made of a kind of “human dough”; he has but the “limpest personality,” furnished “with a little gum or starch in the form of tradition” (20). Taken separately, such descriptors might read as metaphors for particular personality traits (Brooke is fickle; Chettam, lacking in substance). Taken together, however, they develop a vocabulary for the plasticity of character that—while certainly figural in nature—exceeds the metaphorical in its consistent explanation of characterological traits and behaviors with reference to physical laws. Continue reading …

Brilmyer’s essay tracks George Eliot’s construction of a layer of descriptions of characters as soft matter—as liquids, polymers, and other types of condensed matter in a malleable state—in her 1874 novel Middlemarch, elucidating what she calls a physics of character from within its pages. In so doing, the essay suggests that even the most notoriously “brainy” of novels—on the level of its descriptions—resists a too-easy alignment of its characters with individual human psychologies.

s200_s._pearl.brilmyer S. PEARL BRILMYER is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Oregon and postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin, Germany. She is currently at work on two projects, The Prism I Hold in My Hand, an experimental, excerpted edition of a 1926 novel by the South African writer Olive Schreiner, and a book project about problems of description and characterization in late Victorian fiction and philosophy. A companion article on Eliot and characterization has recently appeared in PMLA 129, no. 1.

Temptations of the Viewer: Looking at St. Anthony

Presence Through Absence: Thresholds and Mimesis in Painting

by Beate Fricke

The essay begins:

An aged and venerable man in a black habit is sitting in the country with a book in his hands. Slightly confused about whom this might be, but intrigued by the idyll, the viewer leans in to take a closer look at the label on the wall of the museum in Brussels where the painting hangs.  FrickeFig2Next to this exquisite painting he reads its attribution to the southern Flemish school of the first quarter of the sixteenth century, and its subject: “La tentation de saint Antoine” and on the line below that, “De bekoring van de heilige Antonius.” Still unsure whether the French “temptation” is in fact the same as the Flemish “enchantment,” the modern view returns his gaze to the painting. Analogies to other paintings that clearly depict Saint Anthony sweep away his initial doubt about whom the painting shows—it is Saint Anthony (and not another prophet or saint, for example, Job).

In the foreground, Anthony sits atop a small hill in a kind of garden with a variety of plants. Placed next to him are a shiny jar and a plate, probably both made of brass. Behind him a bright hillside undulates with lighter colored grass; at the bottom of the hill lies a body of water, possibly a pond or small creek. The bridge on the right side of the panel leads through a roofed gate; a herald is stepping through it. Through the opening of the gate and above the flowering hedge on either side of it we see an enclosed strip of lawn. Two trees, browsing animals, and the front side of a house at the edge of the forest all enclose the area against the darker background. An old picket fence leads the beholder to assume that a kitchen garden is located to the right side of the house. In the shadowed semidarkness to the left of the house a path leads into the forest.

What we see at first glance—this peaceful landscape and the silence of the reading or meditating hermit—appears on further inspection rather uncanny. Continue reading …

In this essay, through a close reading of a little-known painting of the Temptation of Saint Anthony, Beate Fricke proposes that every convening of images inspired by the viewing of a picture is a unique “event,” a transformation that occurs during the act of perception, in which various images can be seen as an assemblage generated by one picture. The analysis of such assemblages provides insight into the making and reception of the image, as well as the potential variance between the artist’s making and viewer’s reception. Further, such analysis reveals a structure of “thresholds” within the picture, a structure that refers to inherent principles of representation and mimesis.

BEATE FRICKE is Associate Professor of Medieval Art at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Fallen Idols, Risen Saints and co-editor of Bilder und Gemeinschaften, Studien zur Konvergenz von Politik und Ästhetik in Kunst, Literatur und Theorie, a volume on the contribution of images to the formation of communities from late antiquity to the twenty-first century, and The Public in the Picture, essays on the beholder in antique, Islamic, Byzantine, and Western medieval and Renaissance art. Currently she is preparing a monograph called Beautiful Genesis: Creation and Procreation in Medieval Art.

Monumental Legacy: Robert and Michael Heizer

Monumentality as Method: Archaeology and Land Art in the Cold War

by Robert J. Kett

The work of a father and son—archaeologist Robert Heizer and land artist Michael Heizer—is the subject of Robert Kett’s analysis of cross-generational practices of knowing and making. While the elder Heizer is known as a methodological and technological innovator in Cold War archaeological practice, his son is a prominent figure in an art movement highly critical of modern forms of knowledge and experience. Looking past this apparent disjuncture, this article examines the unexpected continuities in both men’s methods, as evidenced in Robert Heizer’s study of the Olmec site of La Venta in the 1960s and Michael Heizer’s massive late twentieth-century earthworks inspired by ancient societies. Olmec-head-6-88x88

The essay begins:

In February 2012, a 340-ton boulder made an eleven-day journey from its source in a Riverside quarry to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The huge stone had been hand selected by land artist Michael Heizer for use in his work Levitated Mass. A massive rerealization of a piece first conceived in the late 1960s and completed on a smaller scale in 1982, the work would suspend the boulder atop a concrete trench in LACMA’s “backyard,” inviting reflections on not only the work’s monumentality but also its relation to the Los Angeles urban context against which it was placed. Power lines and traffic signals had to be temporarily disassembled to make room for the almost 300-foot rig as it delivered its massive cargo. Streets were lined with spectators, news crews, and public utility employees all along its more than 100-mile route. The sheer size of Heizer’s intervention and the infrastructural interruptions it required led to a degree of public attention rare for other works of art. Levitated Mass, now completed and in place, has become famous and can be found in newspaper articles and blog entries, YouTube videos, and endless photos where subjects hold the massive rock in the palms of their hands through tricks of perspective.

Two years earlier, Heizer’s work was also evident in another monumental event at LACMA. The exhibition Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico brought ceramics, carved jades, and monumental statuary from archaeological sites in southern Mexico to Los Angeles. Two colossal basalt heads included in the exhibition had been set on angular, patinaed steel supports designed by Heizer. The supports continued a dialogue between the ancient works of the Olmec and the contemporary art world that began as soon as the Olmec were rediscovered in the early twentieth century. Heizer had been asked to build these supports as part of a larger effort to promote synergies across the museum’s modern and ancient offerings, but more importantly as a means of acknowledging a peculiar coincidence of lineage. His father, Robert Heizer, was an archaeologist who investigated the Olmec site of La Venta for two decades. Read more

Michael Heizer’s show “Altars” is on view at Gagosian Gallery, New York, through July 2.

ROBERT J. KETT is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine, and currently works in the Getty Research Institute’s Department of Architecture and Contemporary Art. Beginning in the fall of 2015, he will be a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

New Issue, Representations 130

REP130_Cover.inddRepresentations 130

BEATE FRICKE    Presence Through Absence: Thresholds and Mimesis in Painting

PATRICIA SIEBER    Universal Brotherhood Revisited: Peter Perring Thoms (1790-1855), Artisan Practices, and the Genesis of A Chinacentric Sinology

S. PEARL BRILMYER    Plasticity, Form and the Matter of Character in Middlemarch

PAULA AMAD    Film as the “Skin of History”: André Bazin and the Specter of the Archive and Death in Nicole Védrès’s Paris 1900 (1947)

ROBERT J. KETT    Monumentality as Method: Archaeology and Land Art in the Cold War

Representations’ Andrew Jones receives Guggenheim

Congratulations to Representations editorial board member Andrew F. Jones.

 

Jones, professor and Louis B. Agassiz Chair in Chinese in the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department at UC Berkeley, has been awarded a 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship. Jones was selected as one of 175 scholars, scientists, and artists across the United States and Canada who have shown “prior achievement and exceptional promise” in their work.

 

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At Berkeley, Jones teaches modern Chinese literature and media culture. His Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music (Cornell East Asia Series, 1992) was the first book-length study of the emergence of Chinese rock music in the years before and after the Tiananmen movement of 1989. Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age (Duke University Press, 2001) explored the cultural history of modern Chinese music, tracing its emergence from out of the complex musical and media topography of colonial Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. With the support of the Guggenheim foundation, he will complete a book entitled Circuit Listening: Chinese Popular Music in the Transistor Era, which will listen to the sonic history of the long global 1960s from the perspective of a place that is usually dismissed as marginal to the musical revolutions of those years. The book will attempt to write China back into the narrative of how we hear the explosion of new popular musics for which these years are famous; and by the same token, reinsert the “global” into our sometimes hermetic sense of Chinese cultural history in those years.

The Beast in the Blood

The Beast Within: Animals in the First Xenotransfusion Experiments in France, ca. 1667-68
by Peter Sahlins

The essay begins:

The first practical experiments in transfusing animal blood into humans for therapeutic purposes—to cure sickness, especially madness, and to prolong life—took place in Paris in 1667 and 1668, and they worked. Or not. From the beginning, the experiments were shrouded in the competing claims of a highly public controversy in which consensus and truth, alongside the experimental dogs, lambs, and calves, were the first victims. “There was never anything that divided opinion as much as we presently witness with the transfusions,” wrote the Parisian lawyer at Parlement Louis de Basril, late in what became known as the “Transfusion Affair,” in February 1668. “It is a topic of the salons, an amusement at the court, the subject of philosophical dissertations; and doctors talk incessantly about it in all their consultations.” At the center of the controversy was the Montpellier physician and “most able Cartesian philosopher,” Jean Denis (1635–1704), recently established in Paris. With the experienced surgeon Paul Emmerez (?–1690), Denis performed transfusions, using primitive instrumentation, of small amounts of blood from the carotid arteries of calves, lambs, and kid goats into the veins of five ailing human patients between June 1667 and January 1668. Two died, but three were purportedly cured and rejuvenated. The experiments divided the medical establishment and engaged a Parisian public avid for scientific discoveries, especially medical therapies to cure disease and to provide eternal youth. For a moment at least, the Transfusion Affair fashionably eclipsed comets within an emerging “science for a polite society” in the late 1660s, and the attention of Paris turned to the therapeutic uses of animal blood, and of animals more generally. Continue reading …

PG204-540x362 copyThis article examines the attitudes toward animals and animal blood on both sides of the transfusionist debate and the resulting insistence on the “beast within” human nature that found a renewed expression at the beginning of the Classical Age.

 

PETER SAHLINS is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, where has taught courses on early modern France and Europe since 1989. His past work focused on boundaries and identities, nationality and citizenship, and environmental history. His forthcoming book, The Year of the Animal: 1668 and the Origins of French Modernity (Zone Books) considers the unexpected appearance of animals on the French historical stage in and around 1668—in philosophy, medical practices, natural history, literary conversations, and visual culture—as a critical moment in the history of mechanism and absolutism in France.