Curious visions of modernity : enchantment, magic, and the by David L Martin

By David L Martin

Rembrandt's well-known portray of an anatomy lesson, the shrunken head of an Australian indigenous chief, an aerial view of Paris from a balloon: all are home windows to attraction, curiosities that remove darkness from whatever shadowy and forgotten lurking at the back of the neat facade of a rational international. In Curious Visions of Modernity, David Martin unpacks a set of artifacts from the visible and ancient records of modernity, discovering in every one a slippage of clinical rationality--a repressed heterogeneity in the homogenized buildings of post-Enlightenment wisdom. In doing so, he exposes modernity and its visible tradition as haunted through accurately these issues that rationality sought to expunge from the "enlightened" global: attraction, magic, and wonderment. Martin strains the genealogies of what he considers 3 of the main specific and traditionally instant fields of recent visible tradition: the gathering, the physique, and the mapping of areas. In a story corresponding to the many-drawered interest cupboards of the Renaissance instead of the locked glass circumstances of the trendy museum, he exhibits us a international renewed in the course of the act of gathering the wondrous and aberrant items of construction; tortured and damaged flesh emerging from the dissecting tables of anatomy theaters to stalk the discourses of scientific wisdom; and the spilling forth of a pictorializing geometry from the gilt frames of Renaissance panel work to venerate a panoptic god. Accounting for the visible disenchantment of modernity, Martin bargains a curious imaginative and prescient of its reenchantment.

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The regime of wonderment was predicated upon the idea of collection: a collection of complex relays and circuits between light, beauty, and divinity that had the power to “throw” subjects into communion with God. Within this setting, then, collection was replete with miraculous associations, being nothing so much as an active engagement with the sacred. • • • • • Could there be a more accurate portrayal of Benjamin’s collector than the twelfth-century figure of Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis? Suger’s passion for beautiful things was not an idle delight or sensual pleasure in material wealth; rather, what made an object worthy of collection was its ability to transform and transcend the earthly.

48 This sense of wonderment was not produced merely through church reliquaries; rather, every aesthetic experience of the church conspired toward this end. 5 “Treasures of Saint-Denis,” from Michel Félibien, Histoire de l’abbaye de Saint-Denis (Paris,1706), plate I V. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Representing an early “Enlightened” survey of extant treasures at the time of publication, Félibien nonetheless remains our best pictorial guide to the wondrous objects housed at Saint-Denis.

It is not that I am suggesting that the medieval church was a site totally devoid of sovereign claims; that the offertory was in no way connected to a temporal economy of earthly financial gain (though I do wonder what our histories of the church would look like if this logic were not so obvious, or transparent, to us). However, the “completeness” of the medieval church as a discursive site for the production of pious subjectivities in commune with the sacred does seem to sit in sharp contrast to the multiplicity of registers at work in Clearwater.

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