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7. French Visual Humanisms and the American Style

Justus Nieland

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00010.x


The pathos of modernity's mechanical image stems from the way moderns know it to be essentially inhuman but so often ask it to bear a universal humanity. Formed automatically, seemingly devoid of will and intention, photography and cinema exposed modernists to a stratum of perceptual reality heretofore unavailable to the paltry, unassisted eye. In this sense, film, like photography, became a modernist “meta-technology: a medium whose constant subject-matter was the limits of the human” ( Trotter 2006 : 239). Shaking their confidence in naked human perception by revealing its constitutive gaps, repressions, and patterns of attention, such technologies posed a real challenge to modernists, who were anxious about the ways the new media furthered the pervasiveness of mechanism in the social order, and yet were aware that these visual technologies – by destroying the so-called “reality” of the senses – could in fact become a powerful weapon in their battle against mimetic realism. For moderns, part of the alluring modernity of camera vision lay in its role as an inhuman supplement to human seeing, cracking staid codes of vision and opening them to the perceptual experimentation and radical subjectivity we have come to associate with modernism. And yet the modernist inhumanity of the visual media, further eroding the vanishing modern faith in a transparent, objective, and disembodied ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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