"The world is full of light and life, and the true crime is not to be interested in it." A.S. Byatt
"What seems a detour has a way of becoming, in time, a direct route." Richard Powers
I had more fun doing this series than anything else in the past 3+ years here at the Fair. It was a unique opportunity and one that wouldn't have been possible without the blog format. I was able to start down a track and let it run as far as it would go. What seemed like a detour at times had a way of becoming a direct route so that, in the end, the meandering came to encircle epistemology, technology, and the ways we come to define truth. In summary, then, a possible alternative title for it might be the sub-title for Part 3: "But Which Thousand Words is the Picture Worth?"
The order of things toward an answer to that, the run of that track in the 14-part series, as it were, ran roughly like this: Daston and Galison's Objectivity + Errol Morris's series at the NYT on the truth of photography + Richard Powers's Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance + Roger Fenton, August Sander, snowflakes, solar radiation, Iraq, Susan Sontag, Andy Warhol, Stalin and Khrushchev and Kennedy, the A-bomb, Lawrence Weschler, David Foster Wallace, Dostoevsky, John Ruskin, and many more = a world full of light and life. Someday I'll hope to do something with this (14,000 word) series beyond these pages. I was interested in it all.
Preface: Objectivity has a history
Part 1: Some historians of science, L. Daston and P. Galison, wrote a book about it
Part 2: They also noted that "Subjectivity is the precondition for knowledge: the self who knows"
Part 3: Erroll Morris, the filmmaker, was asking similar questions about truth and visual evidence by reference to Crimean War photographs at his blog (also see here), wondering specifically: "Do pictures provide evidence? And if so, evidence of what? And, of course, the underlying question: do they tell the truth?"
Sidebar 1: Then a guest blogger weighed in, writing about "audience" and how that matters for the production of truth
Part 4: This allowed for a connection between Daston/Galison and Morris through the topic of judgment, audience, and truth
Part 5: Soon, with reference to the pathetic fallacy, I posited that Morris's essays about Fenton's Crimean War photographs at a road outside Sebastopol were a precis for studies of science and technology in society
Part 6: Then the problem of "the obvious" came up, wherein those weighing in on truth, evidence, and objectivity wanted to treat the complicated pursuit of knowledge as a straightforward enterprise in certainty
Part 7: Alas, by this point it became clear that the above was little more than a restatement of the central premise in Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, by Richard Powers
Sidebar 2a: Eventually, in this first half of a second sidebar, the visual convergences that were mapping onto the literary and epistemological convergences were coming to the fore. As Powers wrote: "Synchroneity. All times at one. My hobby."
Sidebar 2b: And this part finally expressed the full Weschlerian nature of this series, by reference to Lawrence Weschler's own commentaries on audience, A-bombs, and art
Part 8: In this part, I got back onto the main line to discuss "shadows" and what's visible beneath them. Closing in on a synthesis of all the prior posts, it was also about a relationship between objectivity and subjectivity (is one a shadow of the other?) that echoes with more physical reference (the shadows from the cannonballs) in Morris's Crimean photography-truth mystery (Andy Warhol, Shadows, 1979 (Dia Art Foundation])
Part 9: Making the Powers-Morris connections yet more direct and folding in the objectivity, judgment, and context points from prior parts, this one asked about the difference between seeing things 'as they are' and 'as they ought to be'
Conclusion: This was the end, where, as I noted at the top of this page, what seemed like a detour had a way of becoming a direct route.
Thank you for reading.
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And a lovely route it was too. Happy Holidays Ben!
Pure Bathtub Gin, this one was. Coming over the mountain in the morning.
Quintessential Later Stage Cohen, man among boys, here. Let me know when the book containing this is published.
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