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Reviewed by:
  • Machines à voir: pour une histoire du regard instrumenté (XVIIe-XIXe siècles) ed. by Delphine Gleizes, Denis Reynaud
  • Boris Wiseman
Machines à voir: pour une histoire du regard instrumenté (XVIIe-XIXe siècles). Sous la direction de Delphine Gleizes et Denis Reynaud. (Littérature et idéologie.) Lyon: Presses universitaires de Lyon, 2017. 404 pp., ill.

This anthology, published in the 'Littérature et idéologie' series, which is associated with the Institut d'histoire des représentations et des idées dans les modernités (CNRS/Université de Lyon), presents historical texts relating to some two hundred 'machines à voir', including microscopes, telescopes, magic lanterns, phantasmagoria, dioramas, panoramas, and optical devices. Focusing on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it aims to explore the history of technologically mediated vision. It also traces the functioning of a new visual imaginary at work in the texts that it presents. For example, the cluster of texts concerned with Louis Bertrand Castel's ocular harpsichord has been placed just after a similar cluster on tableaux vivants, in part because Castel construed his invention, which visualized melodies through a display of colours, as a more total form of tableau vivant. Placed as they are in the section of the book devoted to moving images, these texts look forward to the development of cinema, as do those on phantasmagoria. A striking text from 1872 by the projectionist François Moigno describes this beautifully refined but now lost art, which brought figures — ghosts, spectres — to life by projecting them onto the back of a screen by means of a magic lantern. The projectionist was able to give the illusion that these supernatural beings were moving towards or away from the audience by varying the distance of the light source to the screen. In the process, however, the luminosity of the projected image was also diminished or augmented. Each movement of the lantern therefore also required adding or removing translucent pieces of crêpe fabric that were interposed between the lantern and the screen. These filters allowed the projectionist to compensate for the variations in luminosity brought about by the movements of the lantern and thereby maintain the cinematic illusion. The way in which the texts in each section are presented and interlinked by the editors' critical explanations, together with the bibliographies that accompany them, make this volume a very useful research tool. More than an anthology, it is a unique point of entry into a whole archive.

Boris Wiseman
Copenhagen University


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