Curious Visions of Modernity: Enchantment, Magic, and the Sacred

Martin, David. 2011. Curious Visions of Modernity: Enchantment, Magic, and the Sacred. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262016063 [Book]

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Rembrandt’s famous painting of an anatomy lesson, the shrunken head of an Australian indigenous leader, an aerial view of Paris from a balloon: all are windows to enchantment, curiosities that illuminate something shadowy and forgotten lurking behind the neat facade of a rational world. In Curious Visions of Modernity, David Martin unpacks a collection of artifacts from the visual and historical archives of modernity, finding in each a slippage of scientific rationality--a repressed heterogeneity within the homogenized structures of post-Enlightenment knowledge. In doing so, he exposes modernity and its visual culture as haunted by precisely those things that rationality sought to expunge from the "enlightened" world: enchantment, magic, and wonderment.

Martin traces the genealogies of what he considers three of the most distinct and historically immediate fields of modern visual culture: the collection, the body, and the mapping of spaces. In a narrative resembling the many-drawered curiosity cabinets of the Renaissance rather than the locked glass cases of the modern museum, he shows us a world renewed through the act of collecting the wondrous and aberrant objects of Creation; tortured and broken flesh rising from the dissecting tables of anatomy theaters to stalk the discourses of medical knowledge; and the spilling forth of a pictorializing geometry from the gilt frames of Renaissance panel paintings to venerate a panoptic god. Accounting for the visual disenchantment of modernity, Martin offers a curious vision of its reenchantment.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Research Office > REF2014


November 2011

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Date Deposited:

06 Jan 2012 12:45

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 10:53


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