Betty Mohammad

Senior Seminar

May 17, 2011

Final Paper

“Reality Changes with Time”

When writers such as Henry James and Oliver Wendell Holmes came up with different theories of what the truth to the eye is in the 19th century, they created more confusion for the world. In his piece “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph” (1859) Holmes says, that the photographs we see are mirror images of the real object and that through the stereoscope and photographs we can form a definite meaning and understanding of the image in both our minds and eyes. James on the other hand argued that the true meaning of any one thing cannot be found through a single mirror image. James believed in order to understand a single image one must look at the image as an illusion not a representation.  James also believed that the truth can only be imitated by someone or something other than the genuine subject itself. James’s story “The Real Thing” helps him prove his point of why the Monarch’s failed to present the “real” them while the low class servants were able to successfully imitate the “real” them.  To add to the confusion, 20th century critic, Jonathan Crary, criticized Holmes’ idea of the stereoscope as well as James’ idea of subjective vision.

“The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable. There is such a frightful amount of detail, that we have the same sense of infinite complexity which Nature gives us. A painter shows us masses; the stereoscopic figure spares us nothing—all must be there, every stick, straw, stratch…(Holmes 5) In this passage from his piece “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph” (1859) Holmes describes the a use of the stereoscope. The stereoscope was an invention that came about in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone and then later reinvented by Holmes. The object of the stereoscope was to show images in a three dimensional view and give the viewer an illusion of depth.  The stereoscope offered a sense of depth and image realism.  Holmes found that the stereoscope was the best invention of the 19th century because it helped viewers come close to the reality of the object in view. When looking into the stereoscope Holmes believed one can see the object as if the object itself is in front of him, every single detail can be depicted.

The stereoscope is one of the three inventions that Holmes discusses in his piece.  Holmes writes about the roles of the inventions in the society that led to the formation of the stereoscope. Holmes a believer of Nature writes “the triumph of human ingenuity is the most audacious, remote, improbable, incredible,–the one that would seem least likely to be regained, if all the discoveries man has made. It has become such an everyday matter with us, that we forget its miraculous nature, as we forget that of the sun itself, to which we owe the creations of our new art,” (Holmes 1). Holmes takes his readers through the journey of the inventions that lead to the formation of the famous stereoscope. He introduces each man made invention and how it was only completed with the use of nature. Holmes introduced the daguerreotype, which produced miniatures of images. The pictures only developed when it met with light. After the introduction of the daguerreotype Holmes talks about photography in which you get “ [a] negative is now to give birth to a positive,” (Holmes 3).  Photographs use the method of reversed pictures that get turned into natural pictures. After following similar steps of the daguerreotype the photograph meets with the light and forms bigger versions of images. With the images drawn out of the daguerreotype and photographs people were able to obtain an exact likeness of themselves.  These forms of images were often bringing out the naturalness of the subject being photographed. Images were seen as an “imitations” of the subject. In other words when images were produced through these two inventions a mini version of the objects were produced, these images were an exact copy of the object.

The “stereoscope is an instrument which makes surfaces look solid. All pictures in which perspective and light and shade are properly managed, have more or less of the effect of solidity; but by this instrument that effect is so heightened as to produce an appearance of reality which cheats the senses with its seeming truth,” (Holmes 4). Here Holmes is saying that the way the eye and the brain work in forming a meaning for what it sees is the same way the stereoscope tends to work. The images are seen through both eyes and each eye sees a different version of the same object and together it creates a third kind of image of the object and that object is now used as an explanation to the brain of what the object is and does.

“Form is henceforth divorced from matter. In fact, matter as a visible object is of no great use any longer, except as the mould on which form is shaped. Give us a few negatives of a thing worth seeing, taken from different point of view, and that is all we want of it. Pull it down or burn it up, if you please. We must, perhaps, sacrifice some luxury in the loss of color; but  form and light and shade are the great things, and even color can be added, and perhaps by and by may be got direct from Nature,” (Holmes  10). When applying this passage to the stereoscope you can learn that like form and matter being different from one another and yet working hand in hand is similar in the usage of a stereoscope. Holmes says that matter is only important in forming shape.  If you look at an image what it is made out doesn’t matter as much as how it forms in your eyes. Like when looking at an image from a different angle in the stereoscope it will give you a different perspective of the image. This way the form the image makes in your eyes is the way your mind will understand the image.

Holmes’ use of the stereoscope was seen as one of the most concise inventions of the 19th century. Holmes believed that the stereoscope could best describe to people the use of vision and give an understanding of what they are seeing during that period of confusion. When Holmes brought out his ideas of why the stereoscope was such an amazing invention he based his theory of seeing on the use of the stereoscope. He felt that the images or objects seen through the stereoscope help the viewer see the image as close to reality as it possibly can. The viewer is seeing the image as if he or she is actually there or near the image itself.  Holmes felt that the reality shown by the stereoscope is so accurate that nothing can change it. So, Holmes’ idea of how to perceive the meaning of an image differed from Henry James, who felt that looking at an image whether it is through a stereoscope or not one cannot see the entire meaning of the image.

James a writer of the 19th century failed to understand Holmes definition of what the eye sees and what it should preserve. James felt that Holmes’ saying that an image seen through a stereoscope gives an in-depth feel to the image and makes it seem real to the viewer was inaccurate. James felt that was inaccurate statement because James felt that one can’t look at the image in just one part and understand it, he felt that an image should be looked as an entire piece from beginning to end and understand the story the images tells.  Like in his story “The Real Thing” as well as in The Golden Bowl, James uses the idea of malleability, irony, and emblems to prove to readers and viewers that there is more to an image. The meaning behind the picture is understood with the use of these ideas of James, therefore he believed seeing the images or objects as an illusion rather than an exact representation is the way the truth behind the image can be understood.

When James presented his short story “The Real Thing,” he tried to prove that what we always see isn’t always the truth. He says that there is always something hidden in the image that is the truth. Right from the start of his story we get a sense of irony. The fact that the rich, high class, aristocracy couple are named Monarchs. In other words they were already being labeled as this high class couple. This had an effect on the couple because not only were their names labeling them but they were so used to being high class that they couldn’t show to the painter that this is how they really are as a person. The Monarchs were so used to having the best life and being looked up to. They held high standards. They felt that they can easily portray to the painter to paint them as their rich selves.  In a conversation between the monarchs and the painter we see that:

Painter: “Have you had any kind of practice?”

They hesitated–they looked at each other. We’ve been photographed–IMMENSELY,” said Mrs. Monarch.”

She means the fellows have asked us themselves,” added the Major.

Painter: “I see–because you’re so good-looking.”

“I don’t know what they thought, but they were always after us.”

“We always got our photographs for nothing,” smiled Mrs. Monarch. (The Real Thing James 193).

From this passage James tells readers that already the Monarchs are so used to pictures and from this he is making the assumption that they are used to constantly portraying themselves in front of others as these rich high class people that they have adapted that role of what it means to be rich.  They aren’t being their real selves instead they are being what others believe is meant to be rich and high class people. This is where we can say that James says the use of illusion is better than representation. With all the different ways of thinking in the world there are so many different meanings of one thing so to look at a painting as an illusion is better than looking at it as if it were a mere imitation. Looking at James’ painting as an illusion will let the viewer see and interpret what the image is presenting and allow the mind to make sense of it.

When James introduces the characters of Miss Chrum and the butler he says they are able to present the real thing that the Monarchs have been trying so hard to bring out. James says that Miss Chrum can be made into anything while Mrs. Monarch is someone that is already made. Mrs. Monarch is the real thing but she is also seen as the same thing. She can’t get out of the label that is placed on her therefore she is not able to present what the painter wants to see. Miss Churm is able to impersonate a rich Mrs. Monarch with ease. The painting that the painter worked on over and over again seemed to look just fine when he painted Miss Chrum as the rich one while he could never get it right when he painted Mrs. Monarch. In art when a painter wants to capture something real or natural often times that would mean they would have to play with the ideal thing and that can often be done when an imposter imitates it like Miss Chrum imitating to be rich.

James uses the idea of malleability in the story when he describes the meaning of real to him. For something to be malleable, it means that thing can be molded to encompass many sues, It contrasts natural proficiency. The use of the servants to be able to take up on the roles of rich models for the painter proves his point. The servants were malleable in that they were able to leave their identity behind and take on the role of something totally different from them. They were able to mold into the characters the painter wanted out of them.

James says that in order to understand one part of an image you must look at something in its entirety. Like at the end when you look at the painting you can look at just the image and tell which one is the rich one but that’s not the entire truth of the painting. The painting is tricking the viewer to believe something that isn’t true. In the story that James writes if you look at the story as a whole and not just one part you will get that same sense of trick as a reader. It’s a fiction story trying to tell the reader of how to perceive the truth.  The whole story the reader is being told that it’s hard to find the real thing in images and paintings yet the story itself is a fake story. So if a reader looks at the entirety of the story they can see that just like the painter tricked the viewers to see what he wanted them to see the same way James tricks readers to read a fiction story that talks about something that helps identify him to see something real. How can readers see or believe something from a made up story is the question that readers need to think about. And that proves the point that James has been trying to make all along. That if a writer can trick its readers than a painter can trick its viewer then who really knows the truth?

Another famous story of James that captures the use of the human perception is the Golden Bowl. This is a story that is based around the use of an emblem. An emblem is an image or symbol that is used as a representation of an idea. In the Golden Bowl the golden bowl is used as a symbol of adultery. The bowl becomes symbolic to the relationship between that of the main character and the way she perceives things around her. Maggie who is married to the prince of Italy is unconscious of her best friend Charlotte’s affair with her husband Prince Amerigo. Throughout the entire book Maggie is oblivious to the affair and is instead thinking of getting Charlotte married to her father. When Prince Amerigo and Charlotte are out to purchase Maggie a wedding gift they come upon this bowl but the prince finds the bowl to have a flaw. Later on in the book Maggie ends up at the same shop and wants to buy the same bowl but when she finds out how expensive it is she decides not to buy it. The shop owner feels bad for saying the price higher than it actually was and decides to take the bowl to Maggie and there the shop owner reveals that the price he set for the bowl wasn’t really that high and if Maggie wants the bowl. As the shop owner leaves he sees the photos of the prince and Charlotte and tells Maggie of the intimate conversation the two had that day at his shop.

Maggie who was already somewhat suspicious of the affair was now given a confirmation. Maggie didn’t want to ruin her marriage or her father’s, so secretly she tried to end the affair and have Charlotte and her father move away. The prince saw Maggie as a stronger woman and his desire for her grew more because of her efforts to save her marriage. Maggie broke the golden bowl as a symbol to the end the affair and relationship between her husband and Charlotte. Throughout the entire book the bowl had significance to the entire plot of the story. The style used by James here in this story plays well in the idea of introducing how one perceives what the truth is. The golden bowl was used as an emblem and in this story it played in the sense of a sort of abstraction to the relationship of the prince and Charlotte that was hidden from everyone.

“One welcomes illustration, in other words, with pride and joy; but also with the emphatic view that, might one’s “literary jealousy” be duly deferred to, it would quite stand off and on its own feet and thus, as a separate and independent subject of publication, carrying its text in its spirit, just as that text correspondingly carries the plastic possibility, become a still more glorious tribute,” (James Golden Bowl). James mentions photographs by A.L. Coburn in the New York Edition to prove his point of how a symbol or a photograph at the beginning of the story helps set an idea of what the entire story will be about. When he refers to the use of photographs in literature he says that there are positives and negatives to having a photograph. While it’s good for a reader to be able to view the art work while reading the story however the negative is that when one looks at the photograph then it takes away from the story. Similar to the use of a photograph that sets the main point of the story James bases his story of the Golden Bowl on the use of an emblem, an object that stands as a representational piece of the main point of the story.

Like James has said over and over again that in order to understand something one must look at it as a whole, the symbolic bowl can be seen as just a bowl if you look at it but when one looks at the bowl in relation to the prince and Charlotte one can pick up the story of the affair. The golden bowl is seen as a representational piece of art or in other words a realistic piece of art that represented a hidden truth. Like in James’ many stories the distinction of the truth being hidden this story follows the same theme.

“Its “realism” presupposes perceptual experience to be essentially an apprehensive of differences. The relation of the observer to the object is not one of identity but an experience of disjunct or divergent images,” (Crary ) 20th century critic Jonathan Crary writes that the divergence the viewer’s eye finds in the images stands to be the “reality” the painter is trying to bring forward. Crary said the human perception changes in time and with the advancement of technology. Crary argues that vision should be seen through the history and the historical process of the ways in which vision is formed. Crary says vision and visuality changes according to the change in the human perception. In his book Techniques of the Observer he points out the use of the camera obsucara and stereoscopes.

“Clearly the stereoscope was dependent on a physical engagement with the apparatus that became increasingly unacceptable, and the composite, synthetic nature of the stereoscopic image could never be fully effaced,” (Crary). Crary criticizes the use of the stereoscope not being something that can be a hundred percent accurate. Holmes had said that the stereoscope presented images and objects that were actual solid copy of the image. Holmes felt that having the stereoscope was a great invention because it lets the viewer see the objects reality without having the need to see the object up close or in person. Crary argued in this passage saying the stereoscope failed half the time and wasn’t reliable the majority of time.

“Photography defeated the stereoscope as a mode of visual consumption as well because it recreated and perpetuated the fiction that the “free” subject of the camera obscura was still viable,” (Crary) Crary says the use of photography and art defeated the stereoscope because the photographs allowed the viewer to see what was hidden when looking through a stereoscope. What is meant by this is that the stereoscope was an invention that allowed one to see the images as if it were something real but when photography came around people realized that photographs followed in the steps of the camer obscura but worked with the new advancement of technology. Criticizing the work of James in The Real Thing and The Golden Bowl, Crary says that photography has advanced through the years and what was observed once can be viewed very differently now. James repeats in both his stories that looking at the meaning behind the story is the best way to acquire the truth and or the real meaning behind the image rather than just looking at the image through a general perceptive and assuming it to be telling you what you think is the truth.

James and Holmes each look at human perception through a different window. While one believes that looking at images through a stereoscope is what the eye see is what the eye gets the other says that what the eye sees can be a trick to believing the truth the image wants you to see. Holmes writes on the use of the stereograph and how the stereoscope brings the image the viewer is viewing so close to the viewer that it seems as if the image it “out there.” Holmes felt the stereoscope captured every single detail of the image and therefore was presenting the viewer with the closest replica of the object.

James’ view on the idea of realism differed to that of Holmes. James said the real thing is something universal and it cannot be contained through just one look at the image. The image will have to be looked as a whole in order to be understood. In the attempts of trying to prove his point James uses the story The Real Thing, where with the use of irony he proves that the real thing can be made up through the eyes of the creator. He uses the painting of the Monarch’s and how they fail to present the “real thing” even though they were the real thing. The painter then ends up using the servants as imposters because James felt that only an imposter can fill the gaps of reality because the real person is so used to being themselves as how others see them that they forget what they really are. James says to look at a painting as if it were an illusion not a representation, in other words this means looking at the Monarch’s as an illusion of royalty rather than a representation would have made the painting work out.

The understanding of the human perception in the 21st century still stands in the confusion of what to see and what to believe. From the studies of writers, painters, and inventors of the 19th century the views of observation differed according to each person. Oliver Wendell Holmes used the stereoscope to present his view of what the real thing is and how it should be. Holmes stuck with the belief that realism can be presented by the use of a stereoscope. Henry James felt that one didn’t need an invention to figure out the truth of a painting. James felt there was no definite form to realism but that realism is found through the understanding of the relationship of the painting and the story it presents. 20th century critic Jonathan Crary agreed that inventions and the use of the human mind is a successful method of finding out the truth but the perception of the truth changes with time.

Work Cited

Crary, Jonathan. “Techniques of the Observer.” The Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture Reader. Vanessa R. Schwartz and Jeannene M. Przyblyski. New York: Routledge, 2004. Pg.82-91

“The Stereoscope and the Stereograph.” The Web. 18 June. 1859.

Wegelin, Christof and Wonham Henry B. eds. Tales of Henry James. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 200. Print.