Unreal Nature

January 25, 2020

Owned By a Few

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… we encounter the techniques used to enhance what was seen, might be seen, would be seen, and should be seen.

This is from Observing By Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century by Omar W. Nasim (2013):

… in addition to the significant social and cultural, religious and moral, and of course, aesthetic spheres, multiple scientific contexts are revealed by following the way an image and its many reproductions were used by astronomers and by scientists in general. In some ways the images were used as proxies for an object, as a means of “virtually witnessing” what otherwise could be seen only through the large telescopes owned by a few. There were also questions about the best ways to orient, present, and look at the images so as to properly see the phenomena thus secured. The images were meant to visualize explananda for scientific theory, which depended chiefly on the appearance displayed.

Bearing in mind that many of the published images constituted what scientists regarded as their finished, stabilized visual results, worthy of the attention they might receive as “immutable mobiles,” the widespread privileging of published visualizations of scientific phenomena is justifiable and understandable.

… My work, dealing with sketches found in the unpublished observing books, is not committed to the same approach. But to use the metaphor of language for the visual productions in the sciences, one may say, with all due caution, that I am concerned with the alphabet (working images) and the grammar (procedures) that make visual language possible.

The principal focus of this book will be on exploring the ways handmade drawings were produced, bit by bit, within the private observing books. Turning to the internal, material contexts of an observational program, we encounter the techniques used to enhance what was seen, might be seen, would be seen, and should be seen. So, for example, the multiple preliminary sketches of the same object in the observing books were often drastically different, but they were never used to prove that an object had actually changed.

My most recent previous post from Nasim’s book is here.

-Julie

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