- A Pedagogy of Observation: Nineteenth-Century Panoramas, German Literature, and Reading Culture by Vance Byrd
By Vance Byrd. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2017. x + 203 pages + 20 b/w and 8 color illustrations. $100.00 hardcover, $95.00 e-book.
In A Pedagogy of Observation. Nineteenth-Century Panoramas, German Literature, and Reading Culture, Vance Byrd explores how in the first half of the nineteenth century, panoramas had a significant impact on German and Austrian cultures and contributed to the emergence of panoramic literature. These circular paintings of city landscapes, natural environments, and historic events were a popular attraction throughout Europe and transported audiences into alternative realities. With its ideal of comprehensive overview—the "nature at a glance" (3)—and its faithful reproduction of details whose elucidation required an informed gaze, the aesthetics of panoramas gave rise to new modes and new arts of observation, and to a new visual language. Panoramas, Byrd points out, should not be dissociated from the texts and paraphernalia that surrounded them. They required keys and guidebooks in order to be "read" adequately. In addition, audiences often heard or read about panoramas before actually experiencing them. In that regard, the panorama as a "diffuse category" (5) referred not only to the medium itself, but also to its discursive environment, metaphorical resonances, and cultural implications: "Medium and metaphor in one, the panorama was both a physical object and a set of practices that advanced a literary pedagogy of observation" (3). Furthermore, this British attraction underwent a dual process of "domestication." First, the aesthetics of panoramas entered bourgeois interiors through decorative practices such as wallpapers and winter gardens. It offered new means of (self)-representation and new forms of engagement with unknown or challenging environments—exotic places, distant pasts, and the complexities and potentialities of modern life. Second, panoramas were turned into distinct elements of German culture.
Chapter One, "Reading Panoramas," illustrates how panoramas, as a "highly scripted experience of spectatorship" (8), relied on printed materials to train the gaze and teach audiences the proper way of reading them. Chapter Two, "A Domestic Spectacle: Panorama Entertainments and Fashion Journals," discusses the role of periodicals and fashion journals in turning panoramas into a German commodity suited for bourgeois audiences. For instance, Friedrich Justin Bertuch's Journal des Luxus und der Moden (1786–1827) promoted panoramas as fashionable entertainments that could be integrated into everyday bourgeois life. The journal also celebrated German panoramas such as Breysig's Panorama of Rome (1800) as a national achievement. Chapter Three, "The Panorama and the Limits of Representation," explores the domestication of panoramic aesthetics in Ludwig Achim von Arnim's novella Der Wintergarten (1809). The winter garden and its panoramic depiction of Alexander von Humboldt's ascent of the Andean volcano Chimborazo offered an escape and counterpoint to the challenges of everyday life and Napoléon's recent occupation of Berlin. It also fostered a new sense of national dignity as Humboldt emerged as a symbolic counterweight to Napoléon and as an embodiment of Prussian intellectual dominance. Chapter Four, "The Urban Apartment as Panorama: E.T.A. Hoffmann's 'My Cousin's Corner Window'," examines how in Hoffmann's short story the panoramic point of view became a privileged vantage point and a key plot element in the [End Page 688] creation of urban literature. From the elevated perspective of the corner window, the characters provided detailed individual sketches in the physiognomic tradition while maintaining a controlling panoptic point of view. The story also reflects on the transformations of authorship and the literary market. Chapter Five, "The Photographic Sketch and Panoramic Observation," turns to the collective volume edited by Adalbert Stifter, Wien und die Wiener in Bildern aus dem Leben (1841–1844), a collaborative project that sought to capture the essence of Viennese urban life. Stifter's panoramic approach is part of a conservative agenda celebrating the dominance of the Habsburg empire. Although Stifter privileged the panoramic mode over the promises of early photography, he nevertheless expressed misgivings about panoramas as a popular entertainment for commoners.
While panoramas were ultimately replaced with photography and cinema, they...