[My thanks to Patti Digh for providing the idea for the Goedel part of this adventure into Playtex and Logic--she did so because (a) they fit together and (b) girdle/Goedel sounded almost identical to a woman who once lived in Munich!]
In the long history of Holding Things In, perhaps the newest of its
members was upon us only recently. In the long, deep past we have held
our breath, hidden our anger, stowed our emotions, and so on, but it was
only recently that we began to hold our bellies in. One of the masters of Holding Things In for this period turns out to be the sublime logician and re-inventor of modern mathematics (by putting one piece of the great Hilbert to sleep), Kurt Goedel, who towards the mistakenly-self-engineered end of his life, held on to everything, virtually--he organized and filed almost very piece of paper that he came into contact with at any level, became ever more reclusive, and at the end (due to his theories of people/institutions wanting to kill him) refused food and, of all things, water. Surrounded by the smartest people on the planet (including his friends Einstein and von Neumann) up there at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Goedel withered away until he had almost no shadow. It is a bad irony that he could be so inconceivably unmovable and restrained while at the same time, and in the same life, offered such incredible newness to the maths--both ends of the mountain at the same time.
1951, the year in which these girdle advertisements appeared in Life magazine, was also the year that Goedel present us with the Goedel metric, and also in which he received (with Julian Schwinger) the first Albert Einstein award (and of course delivered his famous Gibbs lecture "Some basic theorems on the foundations of mathematics and their implications").
The popular introduction of the girdle I think that
this happened at about the same time for the sexes, only these
conveniences were much more often advertised for women than they were
for men. Slender and non-existent waistlines for women were more of a cultural identifier
than a slim-hipped man, and the ads for his cheaters appeared far less
frequently than those for women.
The first widespread appearance of the girdle for the sake of vanity must have occurred during the 19th century, or perhaps a little later is my best guess--but the first time the device began to appear for the common woman must've come around the time when there was time for leisure, or shopping, or of being seen in public in short intervals. And that I believe is a Victorian-age invention.
But the binder doesn't come into fabulous presence until the distribution of mass population illustrated magazines, or I should say the advertisements that made these magazines possible: production like LIFE (from which these 1951 images come) reached far more women than the popular older periodicals like Harper's Weekly or other polite mid-19th century journals for women. The advertisements were certainly more enticing, the possibilities more rewarding, and the girdle comfort levels far higher than their predecessors, and the availability of disposable income for women far greater--and so incidentals like the girdle became more greatly commodified, and moved into the "essentials" category.
The idea of these ads seem horribly revolutionary: on the one hand, the badly-named and hyphenated Playtex product "Pink-Ice" squeezed women into new tight but malleable molds, while at the same time promised some sort of ballet-like freedom because of it. Like the creeping ("two steps forward and one step back") communism of the time, Playtex promised the possibilities of enhanced freedom through restrictive clothing (in a "peace through strength" vision). In any event, and in spite all of what I just wrote, the pictures are kind of amazing.
[I'm well aware that this may be one of the worst things ever written about Kurt Goedel--the Renault Dauphine of Goedeliana. But it doesn't matter, because in all of his powers, Goedel could absolutely prove that g_d existed, and that I don't.]
And these have smaller fleas to bite 'em, and so on ad infinitum.
--Jonathan Swift, 1733
There are a lot of triangles in this fabulous photo of the construction of the Empire State Building in 1931--a lot. At least fifty--more if you use your imagination or get your pinhole specs out. It is simply an excellent photo in which I'm seeing things of a reducible nature--not in the sense of a Sierpinski triangle/sieve/gasket, obviously--but just a simple exercise along those lines (ha!), experiencing the image by recognizing different sorts of boundaries within it.
[Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections, here.]
This of course is not a story of ancient spacecraft, but it is about Very Large Things being manipulated in space in the days of steam and pre-steam engineering. It is hard to escape the "rocketship" interpretation, as some of the images, sculpted slightly out of context and cleansed of any identifying text and viewed with a squint, look as though they might be large booster rockets being readied for flight. They are of course images of some great and famous pieces of engineering--moving massive obelisks, and moving them in the 19th century and before. And in the case of the Romans, and the original Egyptians, moving them way before our last millennium, moving 200- and 900-ton objects without benefit of very much at all.
Two of the great examples are the pair of obelisks that the Romans moved from Heliopolis to Alexandria, where they stood for another 2000 years. Over time there was only one standing, and that one wasn't doing so well by the end of the 19th century. The fallen obelsik was taken to London in 1877; the other, the standing obelisk, was given to the United States by the Khedive of Egypt two years later, in 1879. The man in charge of this second operation was Lt. Commander Henry H. Gorringe, U.S.N., who had the very tricky job of lowering the monolith, bracing it for transport by sea, fitting it out for a ship, and then transporting it to Central Park and raising it again. He was able to accomplish this feat with the "fragile" 100-ton object in just a year.
This next image is more classical and probably iconic, at least in the history of science world, and is found in the superb book by Domenico Fontana, Della Transportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano (published in Rome in 1590 and again in 1604):
They really do have a certain modern taste for interplanetary access, at least to me. That aside, it is interesting to consider what this vastly heavy movement must've looked like to people long ago, when big machines with enormous powertrains (like this 1,200 ton capacity 300'-tall mobile crane)could be hauled into service to do their end in manipulating highly problematic and very heavy things in space. To think of moving these very heavy objects with steam (or less) was a daunting task, and to see these images showing the progression of movement of these things must have been enormosuly satisfying.
Where is the center of the Earth, of religion, of the United States, of the universe, of art, of consciousness, of seriousness, of complexity?
The center of stuff throughout history has been an almost entirely shifting matrix, a collection of vortices coming from Jupiter’s strongbox–a three dimensional representation of the location of their shifting centers over time would make an interesting Fibonacci-like display, I think.
The question may seem meaningless at first, but people have long asked it of nearly everything within their experience, trying to find the center of their world and universe, of their selves, of their religion, of their country, of politics, of art and music, and on through the Encyclopedia of Things that Could Have a Center.
Take for example the questions of where the center of the Earth, or solar system, or galaxy, or universe might be? There have been answers to these question more often than not over time, though the answers have been shifting. The center of the Earth has certainly stayed more-or-less constant over thousands of years, though the stuff in the center has been swarming with change, from being hollow, to being filled with magma, to being a solid magnetic core, to being occupied by Mole Men, to housing the seat of the Inferno, or to be simply located on the surface of the sphere at Jerusalem (as the old T-maps have shown for hundreds of years), and on and on. Working backwards, the center of the universe has drastically changed over time–for thousands of years, it was assumed that the Earth was the center of all things, until it wasn’t (that beginning mostly with Copernicus, and then challenged with Galileo’s use of the telescope and his discovery of an order of magnitude more stars, etc.). And then William Herschel beautifully represented the shape of the galaxy in 1782, placing our solar system in a far from central location. The center of the universe’s fate changed along with that of the Earth, incredibly so beginning with the Big Bang and then with the possibilities of their being a universe without boundaries. And then of course there’s multiple universe theories, and worm holes, and the space time continuum, which complicates things even further, making the discussion of a “center” pretty much nonsensical.
Simpler things can be as complicated–where is the center of the United States? If we measure the center for the lower 48 states, it will be different than if we included the two far-flung states, or protectorates like Puerto Rico. The geographical center is one thing; another might be where the population center might be–that has made a beautiful map published over time by the U.S. Census Bureau (Department of Commerce), showing the star of the center moving not-so-slowly westward into Ohio over the last 20 censuses or so. And where is the heart of the country? Where is the heart of the West? Better yet, where is the center of the West (or North, or South, or Mid-West)? To answer where the center of these places might be you’ve got to first locate where those geographical ideas begin and end, which for many is a tricky subject, making it a matter of opinion as to where the center of these places might be.
The center in art had been a findable thing for some time, though more recently people like the Impressionists and Kandinsky have shown that the center might not exist, and it might not exist along with anything that is recognizable as a form of nature, representation and the center falling away completely. Perhaps this is like finding the center of a decade or year or month, or week or day or second. The parameters keep getting both smaller and larger, the ability to measure halves of things or the center of a second growing almost incalculably small, small enough to reveal that in this Zeno-paradoxical way, that there is no center because there are no boundaries; getting half-way to something into infinity doesn’t tactually get you there.
The center of balance, the center of levity, of concern; the center of emotion–another center that has been mapped all over the human body, from the heart to the head to the limbic system to a confusion of freudian desires to an inelegant and intractable collection of stimuli and response. The center becomes more of a belief-but even there, center can have no more a constant than change. The center of Christianity may be Christ (though it wasn’t always so, witness the Mary Cults through the first few centuries of Christianity), but then you have to understand which Christ it is coming from which Bible, the center becoming more a concern of interpretation and spread over many Christian groups than one solid center. And when you spread the field to include all religions and you expand the center notion to a primum mobile or collective or whatever, then the center gets very big—and in some religions, it is nothing but the center.
It seems to me that if the issue of finding the center of big and small things alike is difficult, then why does it seem so easy for people to determine and adhere (and sometimes to believe in at all costs) to expansive ideas like “normalcy”?
A history of normalcy is one that looks at the things deemed to be “normal”, or standard, or acceptable at one time that became not so over the course of time. Buying and selling human beings, women and their children being property of the husband, Chinese immigrants in America not have (any) legal rights, classification by skin color or sex or financial status or political belief are a few good candidates (among thousands) for this history. It is an interesting proposition to think about—what things around you, or better yet, what thing you think or say or do, that look good and acceptable today might look embarrassing and unacceptable thirty years hence. In 1935 one issue might’ve been accepting the codified behavior of treating women as less than equal of men, deserving less in the workplace (if they were in the workplace), less rights in the courts, less deserving of equality in general; by 1965, this viewpoint may have well been in the minority; by 1995 it begins to look fossilized; by 2025 it might well be unbelievable. What are the issues of 2010 that could be the equivalent of the 1935 issue?
I'm just wondering why it is that even when people cannot find the center of almost everything that has ever been, that a strict and damningly judgmental regimen of "normalcy" can be so easily instituted, and enforced? This especially since part of the code of adjudicated normalcy for one generation seems mostly gone by the next, that the important becomes trite, and the socially disgusting becomes acceptable. Just as the concept of the center becomes elusive, so too does the standardized idea of normalcy become vaprorous over time.
Its easy to assume a modern prejudice regarding the interior decoration of 1910-1940 school rooms, allowing a certain conceit and picturing them in shades of gray, the images formed being "colored" by the images of those things that we have seen, almost all of which have turned up in black-and-white photographs or movies. But of course we know that this can't be true, and that Humphrey Bogart didn't always wear a gray worsted in his movies, and didn't move that gray suit through gray rooms. Its just that the image-formation is influenced by what we've seen, and since what we've seen of these rooms is mostly without color, then our images are difficult to assemble outside black-and-white. This applies to just about everything from that era, which explains why it is such a glorious shock to see motion pictures or photographs of (say) New York City street scenes from 1944. (And why is it such a jolt to the visual system to learn that police cars in Chicago during the 1933 World's Fair were orange?)
This cartoon appears in Punch in 1879, and it clearly show's the bitey Mr. Punch's proclivities towards the rise of the "music of the future". Over the years Punch had seen little value in the new music possibilities, the form and function of which is on display in this kinetic appreciation of a hyper-functioning orchestra. There is a considerable stab made at Richard Wagner (as we can see in the scores on the floor), the composer who perhaps (along with his considerable supporter, Franz Liszt) was at the deepest heart of the publishing end of the "music of the future".
Wagner published his views on the development of music and art in general for the future in Das Kunstwerke der Zukunfts (1849), and then more specifcally to music in Zukunfstmusik ("La Musique de l'Avenir") in 1850. But little of that feels like very much to me at all, given the other work he was completing in 1850--Das Judenthum in der Musik. In some circles the work is translated as "Jewishness in Music" and also "Judaism in Music", but this is far too polite--what Wagner was talking about was "Jews in Music" or "The Jew in Music", as it was a savage attack on the place of Jewish people in music and of Judaism as a whole. It is a virulent and nasty work, first published anonymously to protect Wagner's "freedom" (as he called it) and then again--unable to leave it alone--in 1869, proudly under his own name. The work is widely seen as a hallmark of German antisemitism and an embarrassment to Wagnerians, and in some editions of Wagner's complete collected works, it is forgotten. On the other hand, it wasn't just here that Wagner's antisemitic views are made known--he was a prolific writer, and his work against the Jews appeared numerous times in newspapers and other periodicals, playing the same tune.
1856 may have been the first time that these 150+ lakes and islands of the Western and Eastern Hemisphere were ever been printed on the same page and in the same scale exclusive of their associative land masses and placed contiguously, side-by-side. They were, of course, seen in a common perspective before on any world map, but I think that this is the first year in which the islands and lakes of the world were displayed without oceans and land masses, and the effect is a little odd. If you take away the color and the text the image takes on a very definite biological flavor (I keep thinking of that tiny bone in the ear for the small lakes…) In any event it is far easier to compare these features without the distractions of the non-lakes and non-islands clouding and confusing our perspective fields.
This was also the beginning of the heyday of publishing comparative this-and-that in atlases: from 1840-1880 or so was the period in which the majority of descriptive comparatives were published. This is when you would see comparatives of the lengths of rivers and the heights of mountains and waterfalls beautifully displayed in atlases. I don’t know what happened after then, but the publication of this sort of data really fell off, with the heights of mountains/lengths of rivers stuff relegated to filling the empty areas in double-hemisphere world maps Here’s a relatively early image of this type called “A View of the Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers and Heights of the Principal Mountains in the World”, published by Orr & Smith in London (1836), featuring 44 rivers and a hundred or so mountains. It is a lovely and graphically pleasing work, and an early effort in displaying the dissected river and mountains in such a forensic-like way.
This I think is my favorite genre of specialty map, and I plan to write on them in great detail (and heavily illustrated) in just a bit; but, for now, I’d just like to surface this map by George Colton, and admire it, and try to imagine the kind of impact it must’ve had on people back there in 1856 who were seeing this sort of data displayed so for the first tine. It would have been a huge revelation to see the lakes and islands compared side-by-side; it was a fresh, new idea, and an insight in how to look at things in general.
This wonderful bit of Found Surrealist artwork is part of a series of patent drawings by Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of many things (including the Maxim Gun, which was the first portable fully automatic machine gun, but not the electric light bulb as he claimed, and many many other things) for a hollow spherical structure made to deceive, thrill and confuse the people inside the structure with parabolic mirrors. An amusement. This is not out-of-keeping for Maxim, as he also designed a "Captive Device Flying Machine" for amusement parks that every kid today would recognize.
But I do like this drawing, the third of four for the patent application, and I guess it gives a pretty good approximation of what folks might see inside his amusement palace of combined optics and sensory confusion.
Here's the cross-section of the structure:
Which is a detail from the set of patent drawings for
This is the fourth installment in as many days (starting here) on the artwork of the great proto-Surrealist, J.J. Grandville. Today's quick post (again from his Un Autre Monde, 1844) isn't so much fantastical as the other work pictured here, but it is subtly unusual. It is my experience in looking at prints and other artwork for the last 30 years or so that antiquarian images looking straight and directly down froma height are very unusual--so too for the next thing closest to it, looking down from a slightly oblique angle. Grandville does this often in his work, and I think gives another insight into a brain that was just seeing (most) things differently. [Here's a link for some posts on looking straight down, here and here, for example.]
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1788 Johann Geiler von Kayserberg’s Navicula Penitentie (Augsurg, printed by Johann Ottmar, and printed in 1511) is a remarkable book in many ways, but what I’m concerned with here is the fantastic woodcut illustrating the title page. The book itself is a collection of penitential sermons against moral corruption in his Strassburg community—the sermons won him wide respect and some considerable fame as an orator, writer and theologian—but it is the woodcut of the ship (I’m sorry to reveal) that distracts me more. It is evidently the earliest depiction of a fully-rigged and outfitted ship, with great and accurate detail, far beyond what had been published in the previous 50 or so years of movable type printing. Presumably what we are seeing is Geiler preaching to ship full of what seem to be clerical/clergy folks rather than sailor—clearly Geiler is approaching the upper class here in the ship and not the working man.
I think that Geiler had Sebastian Brant’s 1494 Ship of Fools in mind when the great Hans Burgkmair (the “H.B” who signed this work of art) produced this seafaring image for him. Also Geiler’s publication date of 1511 is shared with Erasmus’ fantastically influential (and leading-to-the-Protestant-Reformation) book The Praise of Folly. (It was written very quickly, in about a week, and centered around conversations he had with his good friend Sir Thomas More; the Latin title of the book is a bit of a wink and a nod to More, Moriae Encomium.) The Fool, the Feast of the Fool, the Feast of the Beasts and so on were all very old institutions that allowed and tolerated the caricature and criticism of church and power structure officials—and this at a time in the Middle ages and Renaissance when such free speech by non-Fool types was strictly unacceptable. In the same work by Brant (“Of Useless Books”, thankfully found with all 117 of the images from the work at the University of Houston library ) we find the following image of the sage Fool.shorn of his headdress, sitting in the library, wearing glasses, and reading, surrounded by disheveled books that were clearly being used and consumed by the supposed clown. To me it shows the substantiation of the wisdom of the free-thought folly speech of the Fool, who, although clothed ridiculously, was a thoughtful, careful, well-read individual whose message much resembled the messenger.
The images in Brant's book are so singular and many of the titles so captivating I've included many from the list from Houston's table of contents, below:
Of Useless Books the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Beggars Albrecht Dürer Of Good Counselors the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Bad Women Albrecht Dürer Of Greed the Gnad-Her-Meister Power of Fatuity Artist unknown Of Newfangled Ways the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Star-Gazing Albrecht Dürer Of Old Fools the Haintz-Nar-Meister Wanting to Know All Regions the Gnad-Her-Meister Of Training Children Albrecht Dürer Not Wanting to be a Fool Albrecht Dürer Of Trouble-Making Albrecht Dürer Not Understanding Raillery Albrecht Dürer Not Following Good Advice Albrecht Dürer Wanting to Escape Consequences of Evil Albrecht Dürer Of Bad Manners Artist unknown Not Providing in Advance Albrecht Dürer Of True Frienship Albrecht Dürer Quarreling and Going to Court Albrecht Dürer Disdain of the Holy Scriptures the Gnad-Her-Meister Of Crude Fools Albrecht Dürer 12 Of Hasty Fools Artist unknown Of Becoming a Cleric Albrecht Dürer Of Wooing Albrecht Dürer Of Great Boasting the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Arrogance Toward God Albrecht Dürer Of Gamblers the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Foolish Plans Albrecht Dürer Of Oppressed Fools Albrecht Dürer Of Gluttony and Rebelling Albrecht Dürer Highwaymen and Lawyers Albrecht Dürer Of Useless Death the Haintz-Nar-Meister Foolish Messengers Artist unknown Of Serving Two Masters the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Cooks and Waiters Albrecht Dürer Of Much Babbling the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Peasants' Squandering Albrecht Dürer 2 Of Finding Treasure Albrecht Dürer 7 Contempt of poverty Artist unknown Not Practicing What You Preach the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Persisting in Good Albrecht Dürer The Teaching of Wisdom Albrecht Dürer Not Preparing For Death Albrecht Dürer Of Overestimating One's Fortune Of Too Much Care the Haintz-Nar-Meister r Of God's Plagues and Punishments Albrecht Dürer Of Unnecessary Wishes the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Foolish Trading Albrecht Dürer Of Useless Studying Albrecht Dürer Of Jabbering in the Choir Albrecht Dürer He Who Judges Others Albrecht Dürer Of Overbearing Pride Albrecht Dürer Of Seeking Postponement Albrecht Dürer Expecting Inheritance Albrecht Dürer Of Guarding Wives Albrecht Dürer Giving and Regretting It Albrecht Dürer Fools, Far, Near, and Forever Albrecht Dürer
It is intriguing to see ideas are communicated when drawn as a series of events on a single piece of paper--a single-panel, progressive illustration showing the sequential development of an idea. This thought struck me while looking at some of the work of J.J. Grandville (above, "Les Metamorphoses du sommeil", from his book Un Autre Monde, a proto-surrealist work printed in 1844) ) and caused me to think about how old this idea might be, how far back it stretched into the sciences and literature. And right now, I really don't have the answer.
Again, what I'm thinking about is a single-sheet describing an action or thought--not like what might be the earliest example of the "comic book" the Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1827) by Rodolphe Toepffer (Geneva, 1799–1846) but more like Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McKay (the following example from 1905). The difference between the two in composition is simply that McKay in his Sunday comics efforts would develop the story on a single sheet of paper, so that you are in a way watching the story unfold as a motion picture would; and in the case of Toepffer, the story is told more in a conventional graphic novel way--in a book over dozens or hundreds of pages, with one illustration per page. (I wonder about including Egyptian and Mixtec hieroglyphics, but I don't think that they apply.)
What seems like an early ready-made example of the sequential imaging of an idea on one piece of paper might be from the great William Harvey's De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (On the Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals), which was printed in 1628, and which in an iconic display shows Harvey's demonstration of blood operating in a closed system, and circulated by the heart, and undergoing a "a motion in a circle".
Is this detail a peek at the boundary of The Modern?
Are we seeing the boundaries of the new art? I'm not saying that this is the boundary, or the outermost, or the inner--but it is there, somehow, marking a line between the old and the revolutionary new, a line in the sand in the history of art.
The 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt almost seems to be among the earliest images of a synthetic human, a human no longer solely interacting with its environment, but also now becoming a part of it, the subject losing a part of itself to be a segment of design. The painting was also moving away from solely representational work, with Klimt allowing the expression of his painting to take over the recognizable subject. The subject and the idea of representational painting would disappear completely in just a few years' time with the appearance of Kandinsky's watercolor (Untitled) (1910). Klimit himself would continue his experimentation with The Kiss, which he worked on from 1905-1908.
It is interesting to me to see how the subject and environment of a painting become one, as in the work, for examples of Ferdinand Leger, like his Nudes in the Forest (1909/10):
and Jacques Villon Soldiers on March (1913)
and Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind I (1911)
annd Michael Lerionov Blue Rayonism (1912)
Lyonel Feininger Umpferstedt I, 1914
These more so than the earliest non-representational artists, like Franz Kupka's Noctures (1911), or Gino Severini Hierogyphic of the Bal Tabarin (1912); and not in the very suggestive work of Vlaminck's La Partie en Campagne (1905) or Matisse's Joie de Vivre (1905) or even Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). The Klimt just seems to me a blending of subject and the rest of the painting, and not in a Cubist or Constructivist or non-representational sort of way.
The 1895/1896 issues of Nature magazine are compliantly normal until the first weeks of 1896 when the first of a flood of articles is published about the astonishing discovery of 50-year-old Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. The English-language popular science journal announcement of his December 28, 1895 “Ueber eine neue Art von Strahlen" ("On a New Type of Ray"), appearing 16 January 1896, began the introduction of a new state of human experience. His experiments—built upon the work of J. Plucker (1801-1868), J. W. Hittorf (1824-1914), C. F. Varley (1828-1883), E. Goldstein (1850-1931), Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), H. Hertz (1857-1894) and the odious Phil Lenard (1862-1947 and who didn’t die soon enough)—revealed as much to humans as did the experiments and inventions of Hooke and Leeuwenhoek on the invisible worlds revealed by the microscope. There are more than 150 articles on the Roentgen (and soon to be “X-“) Ray, all published within 12 months of the original announcement, almost all excitedly, trying to comprehend, elucidate, expand, verify, this new world.
[The news of the discovery is first and most popularly reported in the January 6, 1896 London Standard: “The noise of war's alarm should not distract attention from the marvelous triumph of science which is reported from Vienna. It is announced that Professor Routgen (sic) of the Wurzburg University has discovered a light which for the purpose of photography will penetrate wood, flesh, cloth, and most other organic substances. The Professor has succeeded in photographing metal weights which were in a closed wooden case, also a man's hand which showed only the bones, the flesh being invisible”. By the end of the month the news was completely absorbed, worldwide.]
I looked at the advertising in these issues (my copies of Nature for these decades generally have the original paper wrappers for the weeklies, complete with ad copy), looking for the first time that a Roentgen machine was offered for sale to the general public. As it turns out, they popped up 12 March 1896 (once), 19 March (twice), and then about once a week for the rest of the year. A little surprising, I think, a little light to my Monday-morning quarterback’s eye—I expected more; bigger, more, splashier. But the ads are small and sedate, hardly similar to the discovery they represent.
The rest of the world, the rest of the advertising world, stayed the same--the Roentgen discovery and the enormous possibilities and promises of his “new photography” lived in their own unique sphere, unencumbered by their sassy new brother. This mild response seems dimmer still when you compare it to that which greeted other (relatively) simple but still major advancements in the world of photography. Take for example Etienne Marey, who was a technoid and physician who was able to capture motion of all sorts--he was able to develop a picture so to speak of the movement of blood in the body via his instrument to calculate blood pressure, and he also created a shotgun-style camera that made the world's first high-speed photographs of movement. And so it cane to pass that in the late 1870's and early 1880's people were instantly able to see what a horse looked like when it galloped or what the body did *exactly* when jumping over a chair. When you couple this with fourth-dimension material one wonders why it took several more decades to bump into these images in the art of 1907+.
And what indeed was normal in these pages? Magic lanterns and magi lantern slides appear at all levels; the gorgeous Wimshurst machine gets heavily advertised; the redoubtable Negretti & Zambra advertised all manner of excellent scientific instruments (biographs, thermogrphs. Nadeer Bros. advertised a pretty standard cell, and the ancient Crossley displayed their “new” oil engines, “suitable for all classes of agricultural work”. J.H. Stewart was selling their semi-automatic electric arc lamp, while across the page was Newton & Company’s “Newtonian” arc lamps for lanterns (“self feeding and focus keeping”). Microscopes and prepared slides abound, and Thomas Bolton advertises discretely and effectively for their “living specimens for the microscope”.
The Physical Review, the American upstart in the science world advertises that its third volume was available, while its distant cousin, the Psychological Review, advertised its own third volume. Booksellers seem to take the most space, thank goodness.
There are a few medical throwbacks: Epp’s Cocaine takes out occasional tenth-page ads for their “cocoa-nib extract, tea-like” selling its ‘gentile nerve stimulant”. Right underneath is “Holloway’s Pills”, promising to cure biliousness, sick headache, indigestion, and all (?!) internal complaints. These are brilliant simple samples of the skeleton of science in world-dominant Great Britain, in a world dominated at that time by H.A, Lorentz, Ernst Mach , Roentgen, Korteweg, de Vries, Bateson, Jean-Baptiste Perrin, Pierre Curie, Zeeman, Becquerel, Joseph Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, Marconi, Ramsay, Fitzgerald. And so on.
Nothing offered for sale here offered any significant clue to the pregnant world of modernity that was nearly there—the world would become ‘modern” almost immediately following Roentgen, with revolutionary, epochal changes in art (in non-representational form more so than Impressionism), theater, literature, music. Just about everything changed (except politics). But there is no hint to paradigm shift hidden in the ads, just as they were with the machines selling the promise of Roentgen’s “new photography. There’s something about the fine glass, superb turning of the screw, and a perfectly oiled gear though that makes this sort of perfection seem so lonely in the world of larger change. Bertha, Roentgen’s wife, sat for 15 minutes while her husband passed his rays through her hand; she ran from the room once she saw the results, revealing her very bones and no doubt a strong sense of the
fragility of life, and the strong presence of death. Many had the same reaction to the Kandinsky's shapes and Malevich’s white circles and red rectangles and Ibsen’s drama and Einstein’s dancing dust and the rogue syncopation of jazz. It is probably a very natural reaction to try and protect established memory—but memory should be more flexible than that, I think, to keep a healthy mind.
Sometimes when you look hard enough you will see (if not actually "find") what you're looking for; determined to make a discovery, you can sometimes force yourself into believing that what you're seeing is what it was that was needed to be seen .
The microscopical world of astonomical antiquarian prints is an interesting one--and in some ways, modern ways, are on the Robert Hooke/Micrographia magnitudes for the remarkable magnified worlds that their detail reveal--but mostly right now I'm interested in the odd/beautful designs that are hidden in larger scientifc engraved presentations.
[Even in fairly famous scientific images lke the one above--explaining the rainbow--there are all manner of unexpected artistic finds outside of their significant scientific contributions.]
These images from the title of this post, on the other hand, are just simply "there"--all you need is a little magnification and some sharp vision, and the things come to life. When looking hard at these images and seeing the teaming non-representational artforms that swim through so many of them it seems remarkable to me that these things weren't seen as art before Kandinsy finally "discovered" this artform in 1911.
(For example Mr. Marey produced a very remarkable Nude descending-like series of photographs 40 years before Duchamp--but the Marey images were observed scientifically, and I'm unaware of anyone who ever wrote an artistic appreciation of that work before 1900. [Marey left, Duchamp right.] But that is another story.)
For us today with almost 100 years of Kandinsky/Klee/Duchamp/Braque/Malevich under our belts it is relatively easy to see the artfullness of the pieces and bits of these engravings--not so a hundred-plus years ago, and harder yet for 200+.
For example, there are some things that take on an absolutely pre-biotic flavor, like material that we'd come to see a half-century ago, as in these details from an 1850's French lithograph on nebualae: