A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
I have been collecting images of mechanical men/robots pre-singularity antiquarian-quaint displays of advanced technical humans. This is an unusual one that may or may not fit this, though there is a suggestion of MassiveMan in the gigantic metallic fist, which is supposed to show a successful combat of people over nature via the advancing bliss of explosives. I'd just like to post this here before I lose it...
Which is a detail from St. Nicholas magazine, 1911:
Somewhere between walking and bicycles Mr. Richard Gornall found a mechanical need to fill what may or may not be an imaginary gap. He invented or suggested the Gornall Pedo Motor, which appeared in the pages of The Scientific American on February 14, 1880 (page 107), along with a great wood engraving. Gornall said that his invention, which "accelerates the motion of walking", would "occupy the immediate position between the roller skate and the veliocepede". The walking heel-toe motion was supposed to transfer power via a rotary drive to the rear wheel, thus creating in a way a mechanically powered roller skate. The invention sounds not-so-great, but the image is certainly pretty.
I've addressed the ideas of early mechanical men elsewhere in this blog (just enter "robot" in the site search box at left and you'll find two or three dozen related posts on the subject), but failed to include this very fine and early example by William Heath in his March of Intellect series (printed from 1825-1829).
He was particularly bitter about what he saw as an aristocracy of official ruination, and created an unusual steam-driven mechanical man with a book-driven intellect that swept up the great "rubbish" and "dust" of society. At the top of this early robot (preceding the invention of the term by about 100 years) was a pile of books with a "crown of many towers", which was London University, beneath which was a set of gas-light eyes, iron arms, and legs made of printer's tools, sweeping away useless and insulting lawyers and jurists and their legal wigs and obsolete and repetitive rules, medical quacks, and the dust of other official abuses, "sweeping rubbish from the land".
Another near-robotic image by Heath is his pre-Rube Goldberg automatic house, a central feature in the March of the Intellect No.2 (1829) which features fantastic flying machines hovering and screaming past the house.
[Source: Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University libraries, here]
It isn't a robot unless you consider the entire house as a host for all of the things going on inside itself, and then you have something else entirely.
Following this blog's series on the History of Holes and the History of Dots will be a new series: the History of Tubes, the first note of which is on the flying tubes of TomorrowWorld. Today's installment is a simple picture post:
Nothing quite says "bizarro" like the bizarre1--and there has been plenty of that on this blog. There have been a number of places that I have identified as Bizarro Worlds, but so far it seems that the only self-proclaimed Bizarro World is this one, from the Superman2 comic book--a place that was the opposite of the Superman-y traits that made Superman Superman. Somehow to equate bizarreness on this world everything appeared as geometrical shapes with basically no sphere or rounded edges. (How Braque or Picasso and company would have reacted to this is unclear.)
It is evident that Bizarro World inhabits a place in the universe that allows for bizarre things to happen, a sort of bizarrograviation, that also allows for shadow to be cast in space without regard to light source.
It is a lovely to addition--if only by this brief note, to a continuing series on Extra-Earths. This is an Earth, and it is Extra, hence: Extra Earth. Some of the other Extra-Earth posts include:
1858 W. Bagehot Lit. Stud. II. 194 The bizarrerie of Mr. Dickens's genius.
A. In Nietzschean thought (also with capital initial): an ideal superior man of the future who transcends conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values; = Übermensch n. More generally: a man of extraordinary power or ability; a superior being. Cf. superwoman n.In later use sometimes influenced by sense 2.
1894 Forum May 302 The ‘cosmic, super-man’ of the future.
1903 G. B. Shaw Man & Superman 196 We have been driven to Proletarian Democracy by the failure of all the alternative systems; for these depended on the existence of Supermen acting as despots or oligarchs.
1909 T. Common tr. F. Nietzsche Thus spake Zarathustra ii. xxvi. 108 Never yet hath there been a Superman. Naked have I seen both of them, the greatest man and the smallest man... Verily, even the greatest found I—all-too-human!
1925 H. V. Morton Heart of London 110 Above the kneeling priests is the Pharaoh, that ancient superman.
1969 G. Jackson Let. 28 Dec. in Soledad Brother (1971) 179 How could there be a benevolent superman controlling a world like this.
2008 K. Hawkins Talk of Town 241 Poor Nick. He's determined to be a superman and resist emotional entanglements that could cloud his judgment.
2010 M. G. Kendrick Heroic Ideal ix. 161 The Zarathustrian vision of a post-Christian faith rooted in the real world and dedicated to the creation of the superman, inspired a whole generation of radical Russian artists and Marxists.
B. With capital initial. (The name of) an almost invincible superhero having the power to fly and typically depicted wearing a tight blue suit with a red cape; a person likened to this superhero.The character first appeared in 1938 in a U.S. comic strip by writer Jerry Siegel (1914–96) and artist Joe Shuster (1914–92) and has since been the subject of radio and television series, as well as numerous films.
1938 Action Comics June 1 So was created..Superman! champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!
1940 Time 26 Feb. 44/3 Last week Superman took to the air in earnest, as a three-a-week serial.
1958 Times Lit. Suppl. 1 Apr. p. xx/4 The impression remains of a sense of values associated with ‘Superman’ and American comics.
1968 S. Ellin Valentine Estate iii. iv. 142 ‘How the hell did he come to miss me?’.. ‘You're Superman,’ the first man answered. ‘Bullets bounce off you.’
1980 F. Weldon Puffball 77 ‘Now it's our turn.’ ‘I don't want it to be,’ she said, as if he, like Superman, could turn the world the other way.
1995 FourFourTwo Oct. 135/1 Presenting Shearer as a goalscoring Superman seems a bit OTT.
I think that a pre-proto-neo-antiquarian or whatever Cubist representational form is very clear in the 1812 engraving, which was a relatively simple formulaic presentation of ship/sail construction found in Rhees' Encyclopedia. "Clear" of course to someone here in the print's future, seeing what that form could actually become apart from showing the naval necessaries. But it always puzzles me how an image like this could appear and someone didn't take the next step and turn the thing into "art" of some sort. That would all happen soon enough, the loosening of form and its representation via impressionistic and geometrical ways--Mr. Turner was already 37 years old when this print was published, and on his way (at least intellectually) to his magnificent Romantic career.
Why wasn't this art in 1812, aside from people not being quite ready for it? Maybe there is no other "thing" apart from that. It would take nearly another hundred years before the representational form of say a ship was lessened and stripped away, softened , modified, rubbed, erased, into something that is the object but really isn't.
Perhaps what we have here is a peep (like with Durer's geometric man) into the future at modern art, a dissonance between abstraction and realism. There is a regeneration of form taking place in this image, but it is only something on its way to creating a more idiomatic engineering representation of naval needs, and not a new art form--that would have to wait for Braque and Gris and Leger and Delauny and Villon and Picabia and Duchamp and the rest. So this pre-non-Cubist engraving is not a key to a new vocabulary of vision--it is just a drawing of ship's sails.
Here's another example of pre-modern art peeping out from the pages of this same encyclopedia, this one being a Prehistoric Rayograph, or a proto-non-photographic example of Man Ray, but from 1810 (and which I wrote about here):
Which is a detail from:
The engraving below is another fine example of futuristic bubbles, this one a possible example of Steampunk Dada, and appears innocently (and beautifully, and importantly) in Architectura Hydraulica (1740),
and titled "Demonstration of Friction". I've simply inverted it and
removed some of the numerical notation--and then, suddenly, it becomes a
sort of Steampunk Balloon Machine--a lovely collection of small
balloons lifting large wheels and cogs, assembling some sort of
something in mid-air, demonstrating very little friction, of lightness
Seems to me that if you look hard enough that these examples are, well, kind of everywhere. They just aren't yet what they could've been.
Here's another example: Geology of Images: Finding Pre-biotic, Neo-Dadaist Images in Antique Astronomy Prints (here)
The Burroughs Adding Machine company did about as much as anyone to objectify the worker in America during the 1880-1915 period, making the worker a part of a machine within the machine. In a way it was like creating the Ford assembly line for people sitting down.
The company was founded on the work of William S. Burroughs' grandfather, William Seward Burroughs (1857-1898 and native son of Rochester, NY), who created a mechanical calculator to help him add long columns of numbers in his job as a bank clerk. American Arithmometer Company was founded by him and others in 1886, later evolving into Burroughs Adding Machine Company (1904), Burroughs Corporation (1953), and then into Unisys (combining with Sperry Univac in 1986) before sliding away.
In any event the adding machine connected millions of people to a mechanizing process of what had previously been a mental operation--the flywheel in the side of the head of the clerk/accountant in this add for Technical World (More Fascinating than Fiction) for August 1915 wasn't too terribly far from the truth. Interesting that on the other side of the head of this fellow, behind the other ear, is a pencil.
In 1893 George Moore unrolled his papers and derived this wonderful mechanical man, a gas-fired steam-boiler-driven, half-horsepower, six-foot tall 5-mph dromedary. It was made of "heavy tin", had spikes on its heels for added traction, a fire-funnel surrounded by water and connected in some way to a small but powerful motor. The exhaust of course would exit through the nostrils. Or, in another version, the exhaust would come out via the machine's cigar.
I found these images browsing through The Illustrated London News for April (date obscured) 1853. In my experience seeing articulated, steam-driven robots in the mid-19th century is pretty unusual. There's an earlier image (from about 1849) that shows a robot like the one pictured above, though it was actually a man in a robot suit, a person driving a machine--the image above of "the Stream Ploughman" is clearly a stand-alone robot, as we can see through the thigh area, though it does have human attributes, like a semi-face and the capacity to whistler while it worked.
The name of Flavius Vegetius is not so much popularly known today, though his influence is felt through the hands of other, more famous, writers and thinkers. He was seen as the most adept writer on the Roman mind in warfare, and his De re militari libri quator... was his masterpiece. It was reprinted in 1532 by Christian Wechel from sources reaching back to the original, which was written around 390 ACE, and found a wide readership not only for its authority on all things military/Roman but also for his iconic insights and aphorisms on warfare in general. It was Machiavelli who came under his spell and who adopted some of Vegetius, who became further disseminated through the military followers of Machiavelli, and so on.
I came to this work much more simply than all of this - I liked this image of the underwater warrior, who was somehow able to breathe while submerged. I get the importance of this sort of undercover, guerrilla maneuver, but what I really like was the rarity of seeing a Renaissance illustration of human submarine life, which is pretty uncommon. Also, the use of the lines to represent the underwater quality of the image—giving the woodcut an overall grey tone—is also very scarce in the history of illustration, at least before 1600. And very neat! One of the hallmarks of this printing of Vegetius was the liberal use of white space in many of the (119) woodcut illustrations, though it is clearly not on display in the woodcut that I’m sharing here.
There's the Big Bang, Big Ten, big fall, big dream, Big Band, big shot, Big Apple, big picture, Big Bird, Big Brother (and Sister), Big Lebowski, Big Sur, big year, Big East, Big Kahuna, big ego, (really) big show, big money, Big Shot and big deal, and many others, all sorts of "big" things. And then there are the Really Big things, like these astoundingly big things from the pulpy covers of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, from the 1940's to 1971. [The source for all of this artwork is at Coverbrowser.com, here.]
I suspect that J.J. Grandville must be remembered as the proto-father of the proto-Surrealists, and probably more. He was a very prolific illustrator during his short life (1803-1847), producing many images across a very wide field of imagination that would probably be referred to as speculative fiction. Early in his stunted career he had some considerable influence as a satirical punisher in a number of superior-level magazines before a censorship law prohibiting such social observations criminalized that sort of imagination, and so Grandville moved on to illustrating some great classics in literature.
In 1844 Grandville (a pseudonym for Jean Ignace Isidore Gerard) published his (literally) fabulous Un Autre Monde, a very creative work of transformation and visionary exploration, which was a parody and critique of the worlds of the present and the possible. Its sharp edge ha been lost to time as much as most any satire or caricature of a dusty political past might be (like farming jokes and James Buchanan in 1861), but when you look at the hundreds of illustrations for this work (as well as its underlying ideas) that is really all you need. The images speak for themselves, and can speak to most anything, in any language. This is one of the place where Grandville has writ his name large in the pre-history of Surrealism, an Andre Breton/Ernst Mach approach to lit and art about 70 years early.
The images are simply fantastic. And you might be ready to see them--with modern eyes--when you read the subtitle head for his book, which reads so: Un Autre Monde/Transformations, Visions, Incarnations, ascensions, locomotions, explorations, peregrinations, excursions, stations [I'm not sure what this translate to], cosmogonies, fantasmagories, reveries, folatreries ["follies"], lubies ["fads"], metamorphoses, zoomorphie, lithomorphoses, metempsycoes, apotheos, et autre choses... By the end of the title, the reader would suspect that something was "coming".
And so I'm going to post a number of different bits on the images from Un Autre Monde--the first gathering some views of musicians and instruments which take on a definite steampunk variety. Next we'll have a look an interesting use of perspective as Grandville looks almost straight down on his subject--but not quite so, which to me is quite surprising; then there will be posts on weather morphologies, metallic pyramidal flowers, meta-artists, and of course flying machines.
Numerous Grandville images may be found at Visipix; a full set of Un Autre Monde's illustrations at Flickr, and a full copy of the book at the Internet Archive.