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Osservazioni sull’inconscio ottico

Bertelli, Linda Osservazioni sull’inconscio ottico. aut aut, 372. pp. 133-156. ISSN 0005-0601 (2016)

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This essay is based on an analysis of the notion of “Optical Unconscious” by Walter Benjamin. It seeks to present an interpretation of this notion in connection with the historical relationship between the birth of cinematic technology on the one hand and research conducted during the same period in the field of physiology investigating human and animal movement on the other hand. To this end the essay analyzes the following three concepts: (a) alienation, (b) automatism and (c) invisibility. (a) In "Minutiae, Close-up, Microanalysis", Carlo Ginzburg formulates an analogy to describe the “optical unconscious” and juxtaposes it with a page from Marcel Proust in which the alien gaze of the narrator parallels the imperturbable lens of a camera and he experiences the physiognomy of the objects in their anonymous being. Through reference to this passage, I seek to prove that the meaning of the photographic image does not reside in its ability to reflect its object as something real and familiar, but rather in its ability to alienate this object and make it foreign to the observer. (b) This paper will link this impersonality of the subject to the concept of automatism and analyze this link through William K.L. Dickson’s "Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" (1894) as an example of the many images of the time that depicted an involuntary movement on the part of the represented subject, namely an action or series of actions beyond the subject’s control. I assert that this idea of displaying the ordinariness of an involuntary action constitutes a specificity that both photographic and cinematographic technology are based on. (c) The comprehensive meaning of the represented subject therefore depends on the device, otherwise it would have been doomed to invisibility. In order to clarify what kind of invisibility is at stake here, my study takes a step back to examine the historical origins of the photo-cinematographic tools used in experimental physiology and the role that representation came to have (the idea of the autonomy of the representation). Finally, in order to clarify these hypotheses, this essay analyzes the case of the French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey. By studying physiological theories on motion at the end of XIX Century, the article seeks to bring the relationship between photography and cinema back to its historical origins and highlight moments of intersection.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
T Technology > TR Photography
Research Area: Economics and Institutional Change
Depositing User: Linda Bertelli
Date Deposited: 28 Nov 2016 16:31
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2017 08:08
URI: http://eprints.imtlucca.it/id/eprint/3602

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