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Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture (October Books) Hardcover – 4 Feb 2000

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 412 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press (4 Feb. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262032651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262032650
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 18.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,485,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Crary is the historian-philosopher of our spectacle lives." --"Artforum"


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Format: Hardcover
In 'Suspensions of Perception', Crary pursues themes which will be familiar to readers of his earlier text, 'Techniques of the Observer': how perception was analysed and instumentalised by thinkers, artists and scientists in the later nineteenth century. The collapse of classical optics and the rise of more subjective, physiological conceptions of seeing, the major themes of 'Techniques', is here Crary's starting point. He uses the complexities and quandaries of this irreducibly corporeal conception of vision to explore what became a major preoccupation of psychologists and physiologists: the problem of attention. Attention, argues Crary, was an innately bifurcated concept. On the one hand, modern production techniques required a subject capable of focusing mind and eyes on work for as long as was efficiently possible. On the other, modern consumer society required a subject able to constantly absorb and respond to new stimuli in the kaleidoscopic city. To address this fundamentally paradoxical problematisation, Crary provides three long and extraordinarily intricate analyses, using paintings by Manet, Seurat and Cezanne as his springboard. Vision, he argues, was essentially 'unbound' by the discoveries of the earlier nineteenth century; it was no longer a discrete and fixed entity, but rather something more fluid and indeterminate. How then was it to be 're-synthesised' within the new physiological paradigm? How was attention to be secured without inducing pathological states of trance and hypnosis? How could vision and selfhood be kept from atomising in the vortex of modern technologised society? These form just a few of the questions addressed in this absorbing, elegant and subtle work. Crary's latest book has taken a long time to emerge, but it will be an invaluable aid to all researchers of modern viusal culture, technology, psychology and society.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9a30be70) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ada7150) out of 5 stars Perceptive suspense 10 Nov. 2006
By James McArdle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book provides persuasively and exhaustively argued discussions on perception and artworks and instruments from the dawn of the modernist era that aid and, as Crary shows, change perception. The book can be very productively be read alongside "Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography" and other texts by Geoffrey Batchen, and "The Engine of Visualization: Thinking Through Photography" by Patrick Maynard. The camera, they reveal in various ways, is not merely a device, but a construct made with the expectation that it will result in images that are analogous with human vision. The anticipation still exists that the camera obscura, and by implication its modern manifestation in the photographic camera, will replicate and verify what we see. The camera obscura entails a projection of light from real surfaces in ratios of proportion and intensity, on to a flat plane. In the pre-modern reading, the projection, ratio and reduction are evidently mathematical, and commensurable with the reality they conduct. However this point of view is at odds with the modernist view that the apparent geometry of the camera image is coincidental. That is, it does more to bring us closer to the human subjective (where are we?), rather than the abstract objective (where is everything?), in relationships with, and experiences of, space. Jonathon Crary and Geoffrey Batchen debate in various writings the transition between these points of view. Batchen (Batchen, G. (1991) `Enslaved sovereign, observed spectator: on Jonathon Crary, techniques of the observer', Continuum:The Australian Journal of Media and Culture, Vol. 6, No. 2.) critically responds to Crary (Crary, J. (1989) October, 97-107., Crary, J. (1990) Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century, MIT Press, Cambridge., Crary, J. (1994) October, 21-44.) but both agree that around 1800 came a `vast systematic rupture' in the history of theories of vision in which certainties about the nature of vision with the camera obscura as its paradigm, are displaced by what becomes the problem of vision, represented by the steresoscope and, as Crary details, in the work of Paul Cezanne. Jonathon Crary takes the position that the stereoscope replaces the camera obscura as the instrument that encapsulates the spirit of its period, in contrast with (Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers) Descartes' and Diderot's use of the camera obscura as a model for the eye (in Crary, 1998). The stereoscope accepted that vision is a function as much of the mind as outside stimuli. Patrick Maynard refers to these devices as `engines of visualisation', industrialising vision and commodifying it. This is useful sociologically and philosophically, and prompts a re-evaluation of these instruments for their characteristics in aesthetic uses. However Batchen's emphasis is on the evidence of a desire for photography, from which follows the invention of photographic instruments, and their cultural acceptance, producing actual historical discontinuities in perception.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99febea0) out of 5 stars In the Eye of the Beholder 23 May 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A remarkable book that takes the reader on a chronological excursion into the changing ideas of perception during a crucial period in history -- 1870 through the early 1900s. Using three paintings to organize this tour de force examination of prevailing modes of scientific, sociological and psychological thinking of the time -- a Manet, a Seurat, a Cezanne -- he makes convincing arguments as to the inspiration these various discourses may have had on these artists. The larger context he explores, the evolution of the modernist, high-industrial conception of attention and perception, as driven by new technologies and modes of social thinking, has particular relevance today in light of the Internet. Crary is clearly writing for an academic audience here -- his prose style can often be difficult, but there is much here for general reader with an interest in media, perception, history, and in learning how we got to where we are now.
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