Devices and Desires
Whatever else mirrors, telescopes, microscopes, camera obscuras, vues d’optiques, magic lanterns, and “wondrous strange” phantasmagoria did, they took involuntary possession of our attention. Formerly unimaginable aspects of the material world were suddenly seized and magically “given” to the viewer. These startling devices thus were not merely ocular, or even oracular, but epistemic. Their visceral as well as psychological effect was to target and overwhelm our perceptual and cognitive faculties with forceful and confusing—because wildly-enhanced or anamorphically-skewed—images. Baffling description, they illuminated, yes. But they also bedazzled, bedazed. This essay looks at what makes these Early-Modern devices relevant today. Affective neuroscience is showing that the foundations of human and animal emotions are not just lodged in a pleasing sympathetic or empathetic mirroring but in a readily surprised or shocked emotional infrastructure. What can this mean in an era when devices not only target specific areas of the brain for marketing purposes but promise total immersion?
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