header image

Thers a snake in my boot!

IN his essay “Albums on War: Photographs of the Civil War”, Alan Trachtenberg argues the strengths and shortcomings of photography of the civil war.  Trachtenberg claims that because the civil war took place in front of the lens of a camera it is easy to study via photography.  This photography ” does not exaggerate” and offers a “physical presence ..[and] a palpable, cultural, reality”.    Photographs at this time cannot be argued with.  The showed what was their; nothing else, nothing more.  The interpretations, understandings, and motives projected by these photographs however, can cause a far greater problems than say Whitman’s interpretations of the war, and obfuscate the truth just as much.

One of the points I think was most important in Trachtenberg’s essay was that of the detachment of the photograph has from reality.  Along with this is the photograph’s inability to really portray importance; it could also never give an answer to the question “why?”.  It could never even ask why.  Something very present in human writing (Whitman for example)  Trachtenberg discusses the categorization of Brady’s pictures in exhibition.  They were categorized and ordered sequentially, one after another- rows and columns, depending on time and place.  This he says, after, describing a picture of a man killed at Antetiem  “empowers the image”’ not as a picture but as a datum”.  A man’s life was reduced, in the minds of the observers, to that of a stage of life of a fruit fly seen in slide 3.  It is a piece of data voiding it of all emotional reality.

The picture can never, explain the reality of the times, the ambiance, the truth; it is unable to. I’ll take a text every time.

Invisible man

Whilst the narrator, the invisible man was driving Mr Norton, throughout the town,  in the beginning of the novel,  he remembered a photograph that he saw in his childhood.  He remembered that in the photograph their was a black mob, formless, shapeless, and void of any individual identity; a black mass shrouded in dusty clothes that resembled more symbols and signs than any human life.  Next to it was a group of notable white people, clear features, striking poses and smiles ingrained into their confident persona (39).

The image described by the narrator is how the white community black people; a mass instead of a collective of individuals.  The narrator also saw his own people like this, he was the one describing the picture; he was taught to see like this.

The narrator understands that by default he is seen like this.  And throughout the entire narrative he strive to separate himself from the crowd, only to later on understand that in doing so, he simply being pulled in further into the  epicenter of the black blob.  An example of this is with Mr. Norton himself.  The narrator goes out of his way to make himslef known to Mr. Norton; to distinguish himself.  At the end of th novel, when Mr. Norton makes his reappearance, he does not know who the narrator is.  The narraotr unknowinlgy sifted into the black mob in the eyes of Nrton.

This also seen in a different aspect with the narrators affiliation with he brotherhood.  As a way of separating himself, he joins a radical social group.  When he is to receive his new brotherhood name, he does not choose it.  It is given to him.  Again, when moving to distinguish himself, he loses his identity due to his conforming to foreign views and perspectives.

Documenting the Marginal

While trying to understand Cohen and Higonnet’s essay “Complex Culture” I found very interesting their comments on marginal movements/ culture.  They argue that there must be a change in attitude in the studies of cultural phenomena concerning marginal movements.  Scholastic investigators must move away from the tendency to study and or document counter cultural cultural movements simply because they are marginal.  they claim “No phenomenon is historically significant simply because it is marginal (pg. 22)”. I, for one, believe that the obsession with studying and supporting the movements that find themselves in outer peripheries of the accepted social and cultural hegemony is the obsession with progress.  The never-ending interest in progress is absolutely sure that 1) progress must occur (even though progress for the sake of progress surely isn’t progress at all) and 2) Progress is defined by change. If it weren’t it would be stagnation.

Though I do agree the statement made on page 22, I’m not completely convinced that the writers completely agree.  They state that “Power lies neither at the center or at the margin, but as systematic relationships (page 22)”.  However, on the next section of the essay titled “Edges”, the authors claim that scholars of culture will need to pay attention to the edges.  Following that they argue that the edges are where the systems change.  These edges indeed are the marginal, just perhaps not in the way that they envision it (the marginal).  This is perhaps due the trend of rapid cultural changes.

A society that focuses on individualism, progress, and transient schools of thought allows the marginal (counter-cultures and sub-cultures) to be perfectly acceptable leaving it really at the center of culture as pioneers for change.  Traditionalism is really what is being pushed out to the peripheries.  This must be studied.  The new culture produces, as has been seen, a need among minorities, and the academically/scholastically ostracized to develop several stems of fundamentalism which seriously do threaten the progressive culture.

Moving on, it is interesting to be able to study the visual culture of these minorities, of the sub-altern.  As was made an example of in Wilson’s essay “Visual Culture”, the historian can easily analyze the manner in which Victorian popular culture portrayed Jew, Gypsies, Asians, and Africans by studying their visual depictions, and then of course relying on documents that offer an explication of such depictions.  But what I am interested in is the study of the visual documentation made the subaltern.  I am reminded of Charles Taze Russell’s (founder of the International Bible students, now Jehovah’s Witnesses) “Photodrama of Creation” produced in 1912.  By the 20th century Christian Milenialism was very much forsaken by most (save the bible students and Adventists) and Modernism was the absolute bee’s knees.  The photo-drama, however, becomes a perfect example of a marginal movement taking advantage of the culture’s new visual culture and using it to promote itself, to push itself away from the periphery and into the center.


Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar