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3 OCULARCENTRIC! CONCEPTUAL ILLUSTRATION AT WORK IN THE “GREAT LOOP” The framing of life, the need that a picture . . . remain in its frame was over. . . . Now pictures commenced to want to leave their frames. —­GERTRUDE STEIN, PICASSO, 1938 The image is not an idea. It is a radiant node or cluster . . . , a vortex, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing. —­EZRA POUND, “VORTICISM,” BLAST, JUNE 1914 THE NEW PICTORIALISM IN GERMANY Pictured Knowledge did double duty as both an image-­ laden textbook and a modernizing manifesto for image work. But it didn’t revolutionize pedagogy, and it didn’t entirely deliver the goods. Although its section on building character through imagery argues that pictures can contribute to moral, intellectual, and cultural improvement—­ pictures can “challenge thought” and “make you think”—­ the end result disappoints.1 Readers are left with the standard curriculum: a pictorial celebration of progress combined with an uncritical affirmation of the status quo. The new-­ picture pedagogy doesn’t challenge the verities of the pulpit , parlor, legislative chamber, or classroom. Nowhere does the visual 50 | OCULARCENTRIC! instructionist program come close to effecting (or even imagining) any kind of “scopic regime” change—­ a transformation of the dominant practices of image creation, deployment, and reception that fundamentally reshapes the subjectivity of the viewer.2 Which is to say that even though the visual instructionists aimed to reengineer the moral character of their student and working-­ class readers, their founding assumption was that the viewer, the viewed, and viewing are all stable entities. Of all the sections of Pictured Knowledge, only “The Bodies We Live In” exploits some of the affective and conceptual possibilities of image practice as a visual vocabulary of the self in modernity. But even “The Bodies We Live In” falls short. It connects the human body to a utopian (though not particularly radical) social vision: the state-­ building, rationalist , moral reform agenda of American progressivism. Even there the social vision mainly takes place in textual metaphors—­ word pictures that far exceed the metaphors presented in the illustrations. The opposite came to prevail in the works of Fritz Kahn. Kahn’s images exceed the text. Affectively, methodologically, scientifically, quantitatively, and aesthetically, they went way beyond anything published in America. Inspired by advertising, avant-­ garde modernism, and mass entertainment, his visual antics, even reduced to the scale of book and magazine pages, dazzled and troubled his large readership. FIGURE 3.1. “The Lid and Tear Apparatus Is Analogous to a Windshield Wiper with an Automatic Arrangement for Spraying Water on the Windshield,” Der Mensch Gesund und Krank (1939), 2:313. Artist uncredited. National Library of Medicine. This photomontage, rendered in the seamless style of John Heartfield, compares the panes of the divided car windshield to eyes and the wiper fluid to tears. The metallic surface of the automobile and the smooth skin of the face glow in parallel with the shiny luster of industrial modernism. The eyes (and windshield) gaze into the distance, as if a bright, modern future beckons—­ a facial posture typically seen in Soviet and National Socialist iconography. OCULARCENTRIC! | 51 That odd suspension of mixed emotions had an instrumental purpose, and something else. Kahn invited the public to see the modern world through modern eyes, with double or triple vision: to be scientized, maybe burdened, but also seduced. His illustrations asked readers to take a joyride in the industrial body the way you would take a ride in a shiny new car. (Indeed, cars show up in many of the illustrations.) Mostly Kahn’s images refer back to the human body, the body of the reader. This fostered the same empathic identification that advertisers, mass-­ market publishers, and the motion picture industry mobilized: a habitual reflexivity. His pictures were mirrors in a hall of mirrors, a view of views. Many of the best ones refer back to the physiology and subjective experience of seeing in modernity—­ readers seeing themselves seeing. Kahn, of course, was a commercial author who wrote with an eye on the market. He was not a professional pedagogue, and up until 1933, he lived in Germany, not America. His books and articles were tailored to the exigencies of interwar German politics and Weimar culture , and to the opportunities they presented. It was a milieu stocked with a bountiful storeroom of visual strategies to draw on, strategies that were perfectly pitched to an ongoing atmosphere of crisis and transformation. In that fertile environment, Kahn and his cadre of...


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