Curious Visions of Modernity
Enchantment, Magic, and the Sacred
by David L. Martin
About The Book
Rembrandt’s famous painting of an anatomy lesson, the shrunken head of an Australian indigenous leader, an aerial view of Paris from a balloon: all are windows to enchantment, curiosities that illuminate something shadowy and forgotten lurking behind the neat facade of a rational world. In Curious Visions of Modernity, David Martin unpacks a collection of artifacts from the visual and historical archives of modernity, finding in each a slippage of scientific rationality — a repressed heterogeneity within the homogenized structures of post-Enlightenment knowledge. In doing so, he exposes modernity and its visual culture as haunted by precisely those things that rationality sought to expunge from the “enlightened” world: enchantment, magic, and wonderment. Martin traces the genealogies of what he considers three of the most distinct and historically immediate fields of modern visual culture: the collection, the body, and the mapping of spaces. In a narrative resembling the many-drawered curiosity cabinets of the Renaissance rather than the locked glass cases of the modern museum, he shows us a world renewed through the act of collecting the wondrous and aberrant objects of Creation; tortured and broken flesh rising from the dissecting tables of anatomy theaters to stalk the discourses of medical knowledge; and the spilling forth of a pictorializing geometry from the gilt frames of Renaissance panel paintings to venerate a panoptic god. Accounting for the visual disenchantment of modernity, Martin offers a curious vision of its reenchantment.
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