Anamorphosis in Early Modern Literature: Mediation and Affect.
The topic of anamorphosis, a form of visual perspective used to create hidden images that can be found only by viewers' active manipulation or concentration, is a fascinating one. The brave art historian Lyle Massey has recently tackled contextualizing its nascence in Picturing Space, Displacing Bodies: Anamorphosis in Early Modern Theories of Perspective (Pennsylvania State U. Press, 2007). In that work, my willingness to follow the somewhat unsystematic organization of material was regularly rewarded, although I was left with some lingering and some new questions. That is to say, the provocative topic is indeed difficult to discuss cogently; hence my unexcited response to some parts of Jen Boyle's Anamorphosis in Early Modern Literature: Mediation and Affect comes tempered with a ready acknowledgement of the difficulty of discussing this vastly important concept, and of coordinating it with the concepts of mediation and affect, as advertised in the subtitle.
There is a mimetic quality of the rhetorical or presentational strategies of this book and its thesis: "at stake in my exploration of anamorphosis in early modern literature and technoscience is the intimate confusion of mediation via the technical interface and the methodologies of reading mediated bodies in and out of history" (7). The introduction positions its discussion in terms of Samuel Pepys's early modern curiosity in optics (1), Jacques Lacan's psychological interests (2), and Stephen Greenblatt's cultural lens on Hans Holbein's familiar The Ambassadors (3). And all this comes in just the first three pages. Boyle's exploration also integrates primary materials. So much interfacing requires substantial mooring. On the one hand, Ashgate should be commended on its inclusion and placement of figures and illustrations; on the other hand, readers may be disappointed by the quality of some of the illustrations. On the one hand, Boyle's passion for the subjects under review maintained my interest, which, on the other hand, wavered because of presentational choices. A good editor's pen should have been taken to the excessive and distracting use of quotation marks used not for quotations but rather for un-cited quotations or for rhetorical emphasis.
Introductory chapters can be excused for packing in references to multidisciplinary considerations, as authors seeks to hook their readership. Here this maneuver left me at times frustrated rather than illuminated, and I retained my frustration in many of the subsequent chapters. Boyle's multidisciplinary approach is at once this book's greatest strength and weakness. She introduces a number of important considerations and disciplinary contexts but then does not lead her readers to possible applications or resolutions. An early representative example appears in chapter 1, in a two-page paragraph that starts by defining "the word anamorphosis, a Greek neologism" (18), refers quickly to Martin Kemp, lists "Durer, Galileo, Lomazzo, and da Vinci" (19), references Ben Jonson, quotes Andrew Marvell, and then goes on for one more page.
That said, the book has a number of strengths that, overall, made me glad to have read it. The book's general organization demonstrates a care for introducing, arranging, and following the development of anamorphosis from the second half of the seventeenth century to the first part of the eighteenth, and with major figures familiar to readers. Each chapter has a few gems that can be mined from the encyclopedic coverage.
Chapter 1 looks first to the popular genre of perspective manuals, then to specific ways that Lucy Hutchinson's and Thomas Hobbes's writings are in conversation with such works. Boyle aligns Robert Pricke's Perspective Practical (1689) with Hutchinson's translation of Lucretius's De rerum naturum, composed in the 1650s. Boyle does a good job of treating the translation as translation, much in line with David Hopkins's excellent chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius (2007) on "The English Voices of Lucretius from Lucy Hutchinson to John Mason Good."
Milton is showcased in two chapters, one on "John Milton and the (New) Media Image: Affect and the Anamorphic Imaginary" and another on "The Observer in Milton's Garden and the Body of Anamorphosis." The first is strongest in its focus on Milton's heated response in Eikonoclastes to the ghostwritten defense of Charles I, Eikon Basilke (1649), as articulating the fears attendant on the manipulability of perspective, through visual, rhetorical, and other presentational tricks. Certainly, the second chapter provides a new and valuable lens through which to read the difficult scene at the end of Paradise Lost book 2, the allegory of Satan, Sin, and Death. We can make sense of the "allegory in the midst of epic" (100) by noting how carefully Milton leads us into it what Boyle calls a "fade-in": "Before the Gates there sat / On either side a formidable shape" (2.648-49). Her close reading of the subsequent scene cogently explains the passage as a verbal form of anamorpohosis and encourages readers to view the passage as a careful destabilization of what they think they know about these figures. While Boyle respectfully cites a number of good readers of this scene--John Broadbent, William Empson, Roland Frye, and others--the best parts of Stanley Fish's Surprised by Sin continually sprung to my mind in this section.
A chapter on "Margaret Cavendish's Double Perception: Affective Technics and Biopolitical Fictions" seems to follow on Milton's articulation of the fears about the manipulability of perspectives of a present political reality to Cavendish's imagining of implementing a new program for intellectual inquiry (82). The playful nature of anamorphosis is aligned with the playful narrative voice and characters that are the hallmark of Cavendish's Blazing World. I am particularly interested in how Boyle's thesis will affect my next reading of the tour de force layering of voice in Ovid's Metamorphoses.
With the fifth chapter, on "Projecting the Modern: New Perspectives, the Spaces of Nationalism and Anamorphic Territory," Boyle shifts from the fantastical and divine settings of chapters 3, 4, and 5 to the more realistic but still distanced ones in Robinson Crusoe. Boyle aligns the thrilling anamorphic process of power and fear in Crusoe's description of the "prospective glass" and of key scenes, such as Crusoe's discovery of the footprints in the sand. Chapter 6, "Affect and Perceptual Technics in Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year," makes sense as a conclusion to the study as it focuses on a text whose setting was very realistic for its original readers. In the face of large-scale death, the ways in which "science and literature formed a conjunction in relationship to new technologies of perception amid theories of body and mind" (139) is given its due importance via its practical application.
In this review, I have primarily focused on some of the chief strengths of each chapter. Readers will readily see, however, that Anamorphosis contains a number of word- and sentence-level errors, indicative most likely of too great attention to shortening production time. Some can be fixed quite simply, as with replacing the plural verb "exhibit" for the singular "exhibits" (33). Others require a bit more work. No doubt, Boyle errs when she designates "French Jesuit Niceron" (19), since he belonged to the Minim order. However, in Aspects ofHobbes (Oxford U. Press, 2003), Noel Malcolm importantly calls attention to the "role of religious orders ... especially Jesuits and Minims" (209) to the development of anamorphosis, and notes "the credit given by Niceron to a Lyonnais Jesuit for his prior work" (214). So, correction and elaboration would work hand in hand to provide denotative accuracy and to nuance the global argument. Similarly, the misplaced comma in the following fragment is coupled with incorrectly designating Charles Is execution rather than Eikon Basilike's publication as "In February, 1649" (49).
I have a sense that Anamorphosis could have been a great book with one more concerted--dare I say--revision, in both its meanings: reconceptualizing the best framing for the book, and spot-checking and fixing errors. The errata pages that were common in early modern British writings are no longer standard, even though errors persist. I am not advocating that we restore errata pages, but rather that we do something about the errors that readers note in current publications--such as in book reviews--with the new publishing practices now available to us, such as on-demand and electronic publishing, so that works like Anamorphosis can more fully make the contributions to scholarship that they aim to make. I myself have benefitted from book reviews that have called attention to errors: the paperback version of my Concise Companion to Milton (Wiley Blackwell, 2010) integrates all the changes I gleaned from my own (pained) detection of errors and those of others in the hardback edition (2007). Similarly, some journals now electronically post articles well in advance of their publication in material form, resulting in the practice of digital publication correction. With new modes of publication, we are getting closer to achieving the ultimate benefits that thinkers have envisioned since the scholarly societies of ancient Greece and China, to John Milton's Areopagitican call for "much arguing, much writing, many opinions."
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2012|
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