Plzeňské sympozia

Václav Smyčka

Optical Devices in Literature around the Year 1800

pp. 167–179 (Czech), Summary pp. 179–180 (English)

The study examines the relationship between literature and optical media (zograscopes, peepshows, and magic lanterns) in the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, in other words before the advent of photography and film. It isbased on the theses of the media theorist Friedrich Kittler about the mutual overlap and delimitation between literary imagination, optical devices, and anthropological ideas about human fantasy. It examines these relationships in the works of literature written in Czech and German in the Czech lands during this period, focusing in particular on texts by Christian Heinrich Spiess and the role played in them by the magic lantern. An analysis of Spiess' works (Die Geheimnisse der alten Egypzier, Biographien der Wahnsinnigen, Kriminalgeschichten) and examples from other 19th-century Czech and Czech-German authors (Václav Kosmák, Wolfgang Adolf Gerle, Karel Matěj Čapek-Chod, and others) show that from the end of the 18th century the magic lantern became not only a frequent literary motif, but also a model through which these authors understood the functioning of the human imagination as such. It appears that in Spiess' thought the pathological state of fantasy is related to the normal functioning of the imagination in the same way as a defect in the projection apparatus is related to its normal operation. However, the magic lantern also functions in Spiess' oeuvre as a poetological programme. Spiess sees his own writing as criticism of the work of the optical media, but at the same time develops their specific poeticism and attempts to compensate for it. He also disseminates imagination through multiple intermedial references (optical media supplement fantasy, but are themselves in the course of reading replaced by "internal" literary imagination), and it thus seemingly escapes from its own mediality. ?e study thus demonstrates the complex inter- and trans-medial relationships between literature and optical media well before the announcement of the end of the Gutenberg galaxy.

Key words: medium - magic lantern - camera obscura - peepshow - sketch -
Christian Heinrich Spiess - Friedrich Kittler - substitution

 

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