Abstract and Keywords
Offers an introduction to the notion of Asia-as-technê, which is defined as a desire to embrace “Eastern” aesthetics as a means of redeeming “Western” technoculture. The example of David Hockney's “polaroid solution” to the dilemmas of Western mechanical art is introduced and charted through his attention to Eastern aesthetics. Heidegger's definition of “technê” is described as an impulse more complex than traditional antimodernism and is introduced as an underlying impulse within Western dissatisfaction with technological being. Finally, many of the machine anxieties present at the 1893 World's Fair are introduced as a way of introducing the chapters that follow.
Somewhere on the way, in passing from the scientific facts and distinctions to the traditional philosophical foundations of modern Western culture, a mistake was made. We must find this mistake. —F. S. C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West (1946)
A root word of technology, technê, originally meant “art.” The ancient Greeks never separated art from manufacture in their minds, and so never developed separate words for them … The real ugliness is not the result of any objects of technology … The real ugliness lies in the relationship between the people who produce the technology and the things they produce. —Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
The writers and artists described in this book are joined by a desire to embrace “Eastern” aesthetics as a means of redeeming “Western” technoculture.1 The assumption they all share is that at the core of Western culture since at least the Enlightenment there lies an originary and all-encompassing philosophical error, manifested most immediately in the perils of modern technology—and that Asian art oers a way out of that awful matrix. That desire, I hope to demonstrate, has informed Anglo-and even Asian-American debates about technology and art since the late nineteenth century, and continues to skew our responses to our own technocultural environment. Although the “machine” has for over a hundred years functioned as an almost religious object of enthusiasm and veneration, American art and literature have been shaped as much by resistance to technology as by submission to it—and, with startling frequency, that resistance has taken the form of an investment in what I call Asia-as-technê: a compelling fantasy that would posit Eastern aesthetics as both the antidote to and the perfection of machine culture.2
None of the figures I examine in this book question the pervasive influence of technological developments on Western life and culture (and, as such, are largely guilty of what historians of science call “technological determinism”3); each of them, however, looks to the East for more organic, less oppressive ways of living with machines. As a way of illustrating how these two impulses—lamenting technology's corrupting power in the West and seeking remedial technologies from the East—frequently coincide, allow me to begin with a preliminary, somewhat extended example. Between 1998 and 2001 British artist David Hockney submitted the entire history of Western art to a kind of aesthetic Turing test, and, according to his analysis, a surprising number of the old masters tested positive for cyborgism. “Turing test” is not his phrase, of course, but the basic idea—determining whether or not in the art of the old masters we have been all along communing with “machines” rather than sentient, creative beings—is nonetheless at the heart of his investigation.4 The essence (p.2) of Hockney's argument, articulated most elaborately in his volume Secret Knowledge (2001), is that hiding within the ghostly realism of Western art (and, as we shall see, in stark contrast to the art of the East) there is a machine—or rather a whole panoply of optical technologies and mechanical methods that were lost or perhaps purposefully hidden from the historical record.5 As Hockney tells it, the reason so many of the old masters achieved such startlingly realistic effects was that their techniques for representation extended far beyond the powers of observational “eyeballing” (SK, pp. 184–185). Whereas art historians had already, if intermittently, acknowledged the occasional use of perspective machines and optical devices (pantographs, drafting grids, mirrors, camera obscuras, camera lucidas, and so on; Figs. 1.1–1.2), no one had ever claimed that these technologies were so central to Western artistic tradition, or that they were in use as far back as the early fifteenth century.6
Hockney's goal, in other words, is to demonstrate that the real culprit of artistic realism—the undercover use of optical technologies—has been hiding in plain sight all along. For Hockney, the moment of the originary crime (and, for reasons we will elaborate shortly, he really does think of it as something like a “crime”) occurs very specifically in the late 1420s, when Van Eyck's starkly lit oil paintings show a dramatically “realistic” break from the flattened frescos and tempura techniques of previous artists. If we compare, for instance, the two paintings in Plates 1–2, something dramatic does seem to have happened between them, the Van Eyck suddenly “alive” with deeper color and shadows. But of course, as in any classic detective story, guilt
What follows in Secret Knowledge is a stunning recreation of the scene of the “crime.” Enlisting the help of University of Arizona physicist Charles Falco (who plays a mustachioed Watson to the artist's Sherlock), Hockney makes the “scientific” case that since there is a convex mirror in the background of Van Eyck's 1434 masterpiece The Arnolfini Portrait (Plates 3–4), it stands to reason that he must have had a concave mirror, and concave mirrors, it turns out, are not only good for burning Roman ships (as Archimedes is supposed to have done) but also for projecting images inside a camera. Indeed, if one bothers trying it out (a normal shaving mirror will do), it works surprisingly well.8 We are suddenly reminded, then, that the “camera” existed centuries before photography, the latter being a chemical invention, not a fundamentally structural one. The word “camera” is the Latin equivalent of the English “chamber,” and the curious visual effect of a pinhole projection into a dark chamber or room, due to the fact that light rays passing through the pinhole are crossed and so appear upside down on the opposite wall or screen, was known already to Aristotle and Euclid.9 To stand in one of these dark rooms, in other words, is to be inside a camera. Specifically, then, Hockney argues that Van Eyck must have used a concave mirror to project the most visually stunning elements of the Arnolfini Portrait onto a screen inside a camera (that is, his darkened art studio), which would have not only allowed him to see the scene in two-dimensional form (something any regular mirror would have done), but also to set up a kind of beautiful, ghostly image that could then be painted over—fixed, as it were, by a paintbrush rather than, as would come centuries later, chemicals or digital code.
Suddenly, for Hockney, the entire history of Western art becomes a story of covert technologies. The montage-like discontinuities and depth-of-field distortions seen in so many classic works (heretofore explained as the mere piecemeal staging of an artist's subjects over time) become evidences of a secret lens-and-mirror apparatus, influencing everything from Filippo Brunelleschi's invention of linear perspective to the stark chiaroscurism of Caravaggio and the rapid and painterly precision of Diego Velasquez. Whether or not one accepts Hockney's thesis, there can be no denying that it offers a provocative means of reexamining the history of Western art.10 Seeing through the paintings into the skeletal secrets of their mechanical origins, we “begin to look at paintings in a new way” (SK, p. 131). Indeed, when one considers the possibility that artists were cleverly (masterfully? secretively?) arresting a projected, analog image, doing the work, that is, that chemicals and digital sensors would later do, the figures in the paintings somehow become even more ghostly and present.11
The most provocative aspect of Hockney's thesis, however, is not that it over-turns sacred assumptions about the almost supernaturally mimetic powers of the Western old masters. On the contrary, Hockney goes out of his way to argue that “optics don't make marks” (even sporting a garish T-shirt with that phrase boldly printed on it in the BBC documentary on his work), which is to say, even with the (p.4) assistance of optical technologies, the artist's hand was still inside the machine, still in control, setting up the scene, applying paint, positioning lenses, making all sorts of artistic decisions about composition, color, lighting, and so on.12 Hockney's overarching argument, in other words, is not that the old masters “cheated,” but rather that this development introduced a “crime” of a different magnitude. The real scandal for Hockney has something more to do with the very ideological assumptions regarding the portrayal of “reality” by means of linear, geometrically fixed perspective and the modeled, shadowy forms of chiaroscurism. According to Hockney, it is this increasingly calculative, enframing, and mechanistic approach to portraying the world that is the real crime:
In a perspective picture, your viewpoint is fixed because the space is drawn from a single spot…. Histories of perspective generally suggest that anything that came before was “primitive” or that there had been a struggle to achieve perspective—and that once mastered it conquered the world. It was the “correct” way of depicting the world, whereas other graphic conventions were not. (SK, p. 204)
The supposedly linear “progress” of the invention of linear perspective, in other words, is a deception. The ideology of the perspectival window is less a reflection than it is an alienation of our natural experience, a “prison” wherein the “tyranny of the lens” has “pushed the world away,” and “separated us” from “our environment” (SK, pp. 230–231).
What leads Hockney to these conclusions—the real motivation, that is, behind his exposé of the machine at the heart of Western art—is a particular vision of Asian aesthetics, which enters his argument as a means of providing a series of alternative, nonalienating techniques for depicting the world and our experience of it. A full decade before taking up these arguments in Secret Knowledge, Hockney produced an hour-long documentary film titled A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China; or, Surface Is Illusion but So Is Depth (1988) detailing the striking differences in artistic strategies between a highly perspectival scene by Canaletto during the Renaissance (Plates 5–6) and a seventy-two-foot-long Chinese landscape scroll from the seventeenth century (Plates 7–8).13 In Secret Knowledge, Hockney returns to the results of this comparative analysis: “Eastern cultures,” he explains, developed methods of artistic representation that were “anything but primitive.” Indeed, such methods allowed for “very sophisticated representations of space, closer in fact to our physical experience of moving through the world” (SK, p. 204). Observing, for instance, the “principle of moving focus” found in the Chinese landscape scroll, Hockney argues (in a subtle jab at the window-like linearity of the Western codex) that the only “limitation” of such an art form is that “it cannot be shown properly in a book” (SK, p. 230). Unfettered by the fixed positioning of “Alberti's window,” however, the Chinese scroll allows one to “take a stroll through a landscape with which you are quite connected,” to “meander” and “move down to the water's edge,” to “look down on the lake … descend onto a plain, then up into mountains again” (SK, p. 230). Throughout the art of Japan, China, and India (at least until very recently), Hockney contends, the deceptive and constraining optics of shadows and fixed perspectivism were never allowed to visually dictate one's experience with art and nature. By contrast, the West, in its obsession with “windows,” “geometry,” and “machines,” has become trapped by its own mechanistic ideologies of disenchantment; hence, the need for someone like Hockney to articulate the original sin at the heart of the dilemma, to refocus our attention on the great art of the East so as to redeem us from our corrupt, (p.5)
One is reminded, however, that Hockney's own art—indeed, the art for which he has become most famous—is hardly antitechnological. Beginning with his work in the United States in the early 1980s, Hockney began exploring precisely this principle of “moving” perspective (echoing the modernist innovations of the cubists and vorticists) through various experiments in photo-collage. In works like Ian with Self-Portrait (1982) and Henry Moore (1982) and Still Life, Blue Guitar (1982, Plate 9), the Polaroid camera's white-frame images are placed together in a flat, ordered grid, while the scenes depicted offer not a single “window,” but multiple shots of the same scene, with shifting focus and slightly skewed continuities. Hockney's most famous collage, Pearblossom Hwy., 11–18th April 1986 (Plate 10), creates an even more multifocalizing effect, with almost all traces of receding perspective flattened onto a choppy plane of multiple points of view. Here the so-called vanishing point in traditional perspective refuses to vanish, seemingly jutting out from the bottom of the collage into the viewer's space. In Walking in the Zen Garden at the Ryonji Temple, Feb. 21st 1983 (Plate 11) the traditional contracting lines of perspective are even reversed, coming closer together as they come toward the viewer. However, the point in all of these works for Hockney is not to celebrate or return to some “primitive” aesthetic culture. On the contrary, his is a Polaroid solution to the machine/art dilemma of Western art, relying directly on (p.6) what were then new and cutting-edge technologies (as would his later efforts in fax and computer art) to bring us to that supposedly more authentic, Eastern ideal.14 The implicit idea, in other words, is that there is something already highly civilizational and modern and yet somehow more organic and healthy about Eastern aesthetics, something that must be embraced so as to counter the very dilemma created by that most modern of Western creations, the machine.
As the technological singularity (the “Polaroid-ness” if you like) of Hockney's Polaroid solution already indicates, the key term for the figures described in this book is not Luddism but technê—a word which to the ancient Greeks meant both “art” and “technology.”15 Martin Heidegger's particular use of the term hovers constantly in the background of this book, not so much because he developed his concept of technê while dabbling in Orientalism (as interesting as that is), but rather because it reflects a general, therapeutic effort to explore alternatives to the overtechnologization (what he called the Gestell or “enframing”) of Western modernity.16 Specifically, in “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger returns to the etymological roots of “technology” in an effort to rescue forms of thinking and handicraft from the systemic metaphysics of modern machine culture—in short, to distinguish between what we might call the modern “techno” and the originary technê. As he explains, “There was a time when it was not technology alone that bore the name technê. Once, the revealing that brings forth truth into the splendor of radiant appearance was also called technê. Once there was a time when the bringing-forth of the true into the beautiful was called technê. And the poïesis of the fine arts was also called technê.”17 Not simply a return to Nature, then, the move toward technê was for Heidegger (or at least “late Heidegger”) an attempt to resurrect some ancient skill or craftsmanship, and to identify—against the e cient and inhumane technologies of modernity—an ontological aesthetic more conducive to a more romantic concept of organic wholeness.18 Put another way, to argue for the value of Asia's technê, as the figures in this book do, is not (or not only) an ethnographic effort to account for difference but a kind of moral aspiration, identifying within the “other” a tradition of technological experience fundamentally untainted by the mechanical enframings of the Anglo-American disenchantment of nature. Unlike the more typical protocols of Orientalist discourse (in which the East is either characterized as stagnantly “tech-less” or else dangerously imitating Western technoculture19), the advocates of Asia-as-technê described in this book asserted that the technologically superior West had too aggressively espoused the dictates of industrial life, and that it was necessary to turn to the culture and tradition of the East in order to recover the essence of some misplaced or as-yet-unfulfilled modern identity.
The fantasy of Asia-as-technê has become so ingrained in Western cultural discourse, it is often taken to be as commonsensical as it is important to “our” need to be rescued from technological oppression. Take, for instance, Hubert Dreyfus's nuanced and very careful elaboration of Heidegger's notion of technê. In a rigorous reading of “The Question Concerning Technology,” Dreyfus explains that the principal objection to the modern experience of “being” offered in Heidegger's essay has to do with what Dreyfus identifies as the “technological paradigm” that dominates our current ontological condition: “the technological paradigm embodies and furthers our technological understanding of being according to what does not fit in with our current paradigm—that is, that which is not yet at our disposal to use efficiently (e.g. the wilderness, (p.7) friendship, the stars)—will finally be brought under our control, and turned into a resource.”20 Dreyfus then explains that while Heidegger attempts “to point out to us the peculiar and dangerous aspects of our technological understanding of being,” this warning should not be read as opposition to technology as such: “he is not announcing one more reactionary rebellion against technology, although many take him to be doing just that. Nor is he doing what progressive thinkers would like to do: proposing a way to get technology under control so that it can serve our rationally chosen ends” (“HC,” p. 359). Heidegger's is no antimodernist philosophy, in other words. The threat posed by the technological paradigm is an “ontological condition” requiring an entire “transformation of our understanding of being,” rather than a mere reaction against the modern devastation of nature caused by modern technology (“HC,” p. 361; emphasis in original). What Heidegger says we need is, in Dreyfus's words, “a way we can keep our technological devices and yet remain true to ourselves” (“HC,” p. 362). It might help, he continues, if we had some “illustration of Heidegger's important distinction between technology and the technological understanding of being” (“HC,” p. 363). Here, Dreyfus argues, “we can turn to Japan”:
In contemporary Japan traditional, non-technological practices still exist alongside the most advanced high-tech production and consumption. The TV set and the household gods share the same shelf—the styrofoam cup co-exists with the porcelain tea cup. We thus see that the Japanese at least, can enjoy technology without taking over the technological understanding of being. (“HC,” p. 363)
The point here, according to Dreyfus, is that the “Japanese understanding of what it is to be human” (so different from “us” in the West “who are active, independent, and aggressive—constantly striving to cultivate and satisfy our desires”) is somehow both highly technological and organic, mechanical and holistic (“HC,” p. 351). The “Japanese, at least,” got it right. If it seems that a number of stereotypes have gone unexamined here (and this in an essay remarkable for its rigorous thought otherwise), it is worth pointing out that Dreyfus may not have felt the need to stop and ponder the historical context of these assumptions precisely because they seem so obvious and necessary. Perhaps Dreyfus was already familiar with, among others, Arnold Pacey's attempt to philosophize an “ethical view of how technology should be used” in The Meaning in Technology (1999). “Daoist sentiment,” Pacey writes, “which is not against technology, but which avoids the attempt to conquer nature by means of massive forms of construction, may be a philosophy that can be adapted to address some of our present dilemmas.”21 It is the civilizational (and especially aesthetic) alterity of the East held up again as the last remaining path to an organic modern life—a path that that will lead us to salvation, as Pacey's title suggests, in technology, not from it.
As I hope to demonstrate in this volume, to tell the story of Asia-as-technê alters the entire landscape of Anglo-American modernism and its global continuities in postmodern culture. Concerns that had appeared primarily local, national, or otherwise overdetermined by transatlantic discourse are suddenly, intensely transpacific as well, thrown into the much more complicated, tangled mesh of global modernisms.22 As such, the chapters in this book are in constant dialogue with transpacific studies of Asian-American cultural production and with the burgeoning fields of technoculture, media theory, and communication studies, searching for more engaged modes of hybrid disciplinarity throughout.23 Much of what made this interdisciplinary reading necessary was the simple fact that all of the writers and artists (p.8) depicted here were hyperaware of both the ethnic and technological conditions of their work. Put another way, to read these authors and artists responsibly required taking into consideration both the highly self-reflexive attention they gave to technique—in every sense of the word—and the resulting racial and cultural identities they associated with that technique.24 In chapter 2, for example, I show how the attention given to new technologies of bookbinding during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries caused designers and even many authors to begin questioning the aesthetic demands of mass production and to turn to Eastern modes of design as a way of restoring the “fallen” art of the book. In chapter 3, I argue that the career of the most popular American author of the 1910s, Jack London, was powerfully shaped by an incessant “machine” anxiety, influencing not only his socialist writings on Western industrialism and literary production, but also his highly influential and contradictory responses to Japanese and Asian-Pacific “others.” Chapter 4 turns to one of the most canonical texts of Anglo-American modernism, Ernest Fenollosa's The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry as edited by Ezra Pound, demonstrating that whereas the ideograph had for Fenollosa served as a corrective to the aesthetic dilemmas initiated by Western machinism, Pound read precisely the opposite into Fenollosa's essay, offering the Chinese character as a correlative to modern machine energies, thereby shaping much of Anglo-American modernist art according to the contradictory vortices (and political dilemmas) of a retrospective futurism. In chapter 5, I argue that the efforts of the most widely read Asian-American author of the 1930s and 1940s, Lin Yutang, to design and build a Chinese typewriter both informed his own literary production and harnessed several decades of Asian/American thinking about the role of technology in international discourse. The internationally popular “Oriental detective” film genre I analyze in chapter 6 has to be understood against the backdrop of not only presumptions about the inherently aesthetic qualities of Asian culture (portrayed in contrast, constantly, to the overmechanized wasteland of the Anglo-American metropolis), but also the Hollywood studios' cinematic techniques of corporate “authorship.” Chapter 7 introduces the notion of technê-zen, which, I argue, serves as the overarching ethos of global capitalism, shaping everything from theories of corporate management to the digital products we have come to rely on in our everyday experience—much of which can be traced back to the questions of East–West technê raised in Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. My final chapter, “The Meeting of East and West,” summarizes the longer trajectory of Asia-as-technê, detecting its influence in a series of movements in early twentieth-century architecture (in Frank Lloyd Wright's Japan), postwar philosophy (F. S. C. Northrop's cybernetic comparativism), and contemporary art and electronic culture (the “Buddha Machines” of FM3 and Wang Zi Won). The scope here is expansive, but my objective is not to provide a complete taxonomy of Asia-as-technê in all its modes throughout the twentieth century. Indeed, readers familiar with these intersecting discourses may wonder why some authors or works of art are not more thoroughly analyzed (much more could be made, for instance, of Asia-as-technê in the work of Joseph Needham, Pearl Buck, Marshall McLuhan, Gary Snyder, and so on). Put simply, rather than attempting a thorough analysis of every moment of Asia-as-technê—an impossible task, in any case—this book attempts to identify and read closely moments of critical convergence, wherein concerns over modern technology, Anglo-American rationalism, and Asian aesthetics are concentrated in particular periods and texts, which may then open up spaces for the elucidation of these intersecting concerns in corresponding figures.
Having acknowledged as much, I hasten to add that there are important reasons for examining the specific moments and figures represented in this book. As we shall see in several chapters, for instance, one extremely important event in the development of this discourse occurred with the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893, an event I turned to initially with some trepidation. Surely, I thought, there could be nothing so shopworn and overdetermined as to posit 1893 as the de facto birth of the twentieth century, that moment when American exuberance over corporate and technological progress reached fever pitch.25 In delving into these archives, however, what I found in Chicago 1893 was evidence of something quite different from the typical story of wholesale enthusiasm over the new machines of modern life. Consider, for example, this famous passage from Robert Herrick's early twentieth-century novel, Memoirs of an American Citizen, quoted frequently in histories of the Chicago Exposition to illustrate just how overwhelmingly positive the experience was for its visitors:
The long lines of white buildings were ablaze with countless lights; the music from the bands scattered over the grounds floated softly out upon the water; all else was silent and dark. In that lovely hour, soft and gentle as was ever a summer night, the toil and trouble of men, the fear that was gripping men's hearts in the markets, fell away from me and in its place came Faith.26
There are hints here already that not all is as it should be (“toil and trouble,” “fear gripping men's hearts”). But observe what Herrick's protagonist says next: “Nevertheless, in spite of hopeful thoughts like these, none knew better than I the skeletons that lay at the feast.” What, I wondered, were these skeletons?
The problem was not just that the mechanical world of the fair was sometimes dangerous—as, for example, when a young woman got stuck in between the doors of an elevator as it began rising in the Home Insurance Building; or when some exhibitors in Electric Hall thought it would be funny to wet the ground in front of their dynamo and shock passersby with hundreds of volts of electricity (including, apparently, a crying baby and an elderly woman whose “form grew rigid” as the volts shook her body).27 Nor was it just that the machines themselves were so screechingly loud and unpleasant that viewers could rarely stay for long in Machinery Hall.28 The real problem (the real “devil” in the White City) was that the machine had become so vast and systemic that no one could fully understand, much less control, its relentless advance. In the 1880s and 1890s Americans saw the rapid mechanization of the agricultural, packing, and mining industries, a dramatic acceleration of railroads and speculative finance (including the Panic of 1893), the widespread use of new technologies of communication (telegraphs, typewriters, telephones, and so on), and a massive increase in factory machinery, worker exploitation, and urban poverty. All of it seemed to indicate that these new advances in mechanization were causing their own brand of gilded turmoil. Even rural American areas seemed to be in danger of being swept up in the coming wave of machine culture.29 As Herrick would write regarding another of his protagonists in Chicago,
He took the cable car, which connected with lines of electric cars that radiated far out into the distant prairie. Along the interminable avenue the cable train slowly jerked its way, grinding, jarring, lurching, grating, shrieking—an (p.10) infernal public chariot. [He] wondered what influence years of using this hideous machine would have upon the nerves of the people.30
Here Herrick's protagonist betrays a striking familiarity with Max Nordau's Degeneration, a trenchant critique of urban life that would appear in English in 1895, citing a host of new diseases attributable to “the present conditions of civilized life,” including conditions known as “railway-spine” and “railway brain,” which supposedly developed as a consequence of “the constant vibrations undergone in railway traveling.”31 These thoughts reflect, in any case, a vision of Chicago that, as we shall see in chapter 3 especially, gave lie to the glories at Jackson Park: “The saloons, the shops, the sidewalks, were coated with soot and ancient grime. From the cross streets savage gusts of fierce west wind dashed down the avenue and swirled the accumulated refuse into the car, choking the passengers, and covering every object with a cloud of filth…. It was the machine that maddened him.”32 For many middle-class Americans, this growing anxiety about the machine and the “industrial traffic” of American urban centers even manifested itself in depressions known as “neurasthenia,” with symptoms including everything from headaches and “wretchedness,” to “morning depression” and intestinal discomfort.33 As one Arts and Crafts activist put it, “the introduction of machinery with its train of attendant evils has so complicated and befuddled our standards of living that we have less and less time for enjoyment and for growth, and nervous prostration is the disease of the age.”34
In terms of the effects of these new mechanical wonders on the arts, there were apparently even more immediate dangers. Indeed, if there was one thing that everyone at the Congress of Art Instruction at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 could agree on it was that the machine had done something horrible to art. All of the speakers invited to address the artists and educators who had gathered at the event to discuss art instruction had something to say about it.35 L. W. Miller, the principal at the School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia, for example, spoke on the need for “artistic as distinguished from mechanical methods,” by which he meant not only methods of copying and mimetic representation but also a whole “habit of mind … mechanical because, like the work of a machine—however accurate and even delicate it may be—it is not self-directed, and its product is not the embodiment of an original conception.”36 In Western art and culture, Miller continued, we have been far too eager to “pin our faith to the mechanical,” which “cramps the mind instead of expanding it.”37 J. M. Hoppin, professor of art history at Yale, similarly argued that the “present tendency in our country is decidedly scientific, to the exclusion of art and to the benefit of trade,” and that new methods of mechanical reproduction had endangered the status of art: “when art loses the sense of beauty [it] loses its vocation, and it might as well be science at once … till it sink into the material, into, say, the literalism of photography.”38 Mary Dana Hicks, the director of art instruction at the Prang Educational Company in Boston, agreed, contending that drawing should not be an “external and mechanical thing,” but rather a “means of broadening the horizon of the pupil and leading him onward and upward by contact with a broader and higher mind.”39 Professor J. Ward Stimson, head of the Institute of Artist-Artisans in New York, noted, “art must be vital, not mechanical or imitative,” and so we must move “away from present mechanical, materialistic, and imitative processes” of art instruction.40 In short, the general consensus was that to talk at all about art and the machine was to raise the specter of mass reproduction and a whole series of associated industrial dilemmas.
(p.11) The one exception to this argument against “mechanical methods” at the meeting was the British artist Aimee Osborne Moore, who, embarrassingly enough, had brought a machine with her to the conference. “I may as well say at once,” she confessed after taking the podium, “that mechanical help is to come in somewhere.”41 Holding up her apparatus (a wooden frame with an open space on its left side covered by a transparent gelatin to which was attached an elastic string, and under which a wooden arm extended forward and then angled up toward an eyepiece; Figs. 1.5–1.6), Moore began detailing what she called the “philographic method” of teaching art. This particular device, she explained, combined the perspective machines employed by Leonardo, Albrecht Dürer, and others, and the principle of the pantograph artists and drafters had been using for centuries to create scaled copies of their subjects. Even Moore, however, felt compelled to defend her mechanical device in terms that underscored the other participants' wholesale insistence on the seemingly intractable dichotomy between art and modern machine culture:
We use these instruments chiefly as tests of freely done drawings because it is not reasonable to expect the hand and eye which did a certain work to have the further accuracy necessary for immediately judging and testing that work; and we maintain that the use of such helps, by enabling the beginner to attack much more difficult subjects than he could do otherwise—namely, the drawing of irregular organic forms—prevents his being himself a machine, as he is apt to be when tied down to the constant repetition of inorganic geometrical forms.42
What this effort to avoid “becoming a machine” had to do with Asian aesthetics will become obvious in the chapters that follow (as we shall see in chapter 4, Ernest Fenollosa was himself a participant at the conference). But it is worth pointing out here that both Hockney's dilemma and his implied solution were already on the ground, running, when this Congress of Art Instruction met in 1893. As Professor
(1) . For the sake of readability, I will refrain hereafter from placing “East” and “West” in scare quotes, with the assumption that I am using these terms as cultural constructs rather than ontological essences. I should also mention at the outset that while “techne” (without the circumflex over the “e”) is currently an acceptable way of transcribing TέχVη into English, I have chosen to use the more traditional form technê precisely because, as we shall see, it was the more exotic, “lost” sense of the word that captivated the authors and artists I analyze in this book.
(2) . For accounts of Anglo-American enthusiasm for technology, see Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870–1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); David E. Nye, American Technological Sublime (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996); and Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990). On technology as an Anglo-American religion, see David F. Noble, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention (New York: Penguin, 1999); and Siva Vaidhyanathan, “Rewiring the ‘Nation’: The Place of Technology in American Studies.” American Quarterly 58.3 (2006), pp. 555–567.
(3) . On the question of technological determinism, see Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism, ed. Merritt Roe Smith and Leo Marx (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994).
(4) . On the Turing test, see Ray Kurzweil and Mitchell Kapor, “A Wager on the Turing Test,” Parsing the Turing Test: Philosophical and Methodological Issues in the Quest for the Thinking Computer, ed. Robert Epstein, Gary Roberts, and Grace Beber (New York: Springer, 2009), pp. 463–464.
(5) . David Hockney, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, New and Expanded Edition (New York: Viking Studio, 2006). Subsequent references are to this edition, hereafter cited as SK. The controversy regarding Hockney's thesis began as early as December 1–2, 2001, when a special symposium on his ideas was held at NYU. Optical scientists Christopher Tyler and David G. Stork offered the most aggressive attacks, with Stork publishing, among dozens of other rebuttals, a short follow-up piece, “Optics and Realism in Renaissance Art,” Scientific American, December 2004, pp. 76–83.
(6) . Most art critics prior to Hockney already had some idea that artists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries like Johannes Vermeer and Joshua Reynolds were at least fascinated with and perhaps even actively incorporating optic technologies into their methods of representation, but no one had ever argued that these techniques were as old as early fifteenth-century paintings by Jan Van Eyck. See, for example, Martin Kemp, The Science of Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), and Philip Steadman, Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). In the revised edition of SK, much of his correspondence with Kemp (who alternates between enthusiasm and caution regarding Hockney's ideas) is reprinted in the back of the book. Hockney also relies heavily on Steadman's experiments in his book and the subsequent BBC documentary on it.
(7) . All of these potential explanations are offered by Stork in “Optics and Realism,” p. 83; it is worth noting here that oil as a medium did in fact allow for new ways of “seeing,” not only because colors could be more carefully blended and nuanced, but also because oil dried more slowly than tempura, which meant that for a longer period of time what a painter might see was a potentially “unfinished” canvas, opening up the possibility of revision in ways that artists would have never had available to them previously.
(8) . Or, at least, works surprisingly well with the highly reflective modern concave mirrors available today. As Stork, Tyler, and others have pointed out, one cannot be certain as to whether or not such a crisp reflection was available by way of the concave mirrors Van Eyck would have had access to.
(9) . J. J. Stamnes, Waves in Focal Regions: Propagation, Diffraction, and Focusing of Light, Sound, and Water Waves (New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 1986), pp. 4–5.
(10) . That opponents like Stork have become so exercised in their responses should also not obscure the fact that their answer to Hockney is, in essence, a “probably not.” It will take much more than visual evidence within the paintings themselves (something like a heretofore undiscovered document) to go much further than these positions will allow. Much of the confusion is a result of Hockney putting all his optics eggs in the one concave-mirror basket; it makes for very good cinema, but not very thick description.
(11) . Much of the controversy stems from the fact that Hockney's hypothesis also radically disrupts the traditional distinction between painting and photography. See Walter Benn Michaels, The Shape of the Signifier (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 95–96; and Kendall Walton, “Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism,” Critical Inquiry 11.2 (December 1984), pp. 250–251.
(12) . Even given his acknowledgment of these talents, Hockney is still arguing something radically different from traditional art practice. Whereas the old masters had been praised for their ability to see and reproduce their models on a two-dimensional surface, Hockney would have us praise the old masters' abilities to bring together set designs, lighting, choreography, and even narrative; Hockney's old masters are not “artists” really, but rather Hollywood film directors (who call out “freeze!” rather than “action!”).
(13) . Hockney's argument in the film self-reflexively addresses four distinct points of view: 1) the scene observed by viewers watching the film (made, interestingly enough, by rolls of celluloid that, however similar to the Chinese scroll, proceed according to a strict linearity—even when it “appears” to be going in reverse); 2) Canaletto's Capriccio: Plaza San Marco Looking South and West, painted in 1763, which is perspectivally correct to a fault; 3) the seventy-two-foot-long Chinese scroll by Wang Hui titled The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour (1698), which Hockney finds a brilliant synthesis of space and time; and 4) a second Chinese scroll painted some seventy-five years after Wang Hui's, titled The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour (1770) by Xu Yang, created after Western missionaries had arrived with “Western ways of seeing.” Hockney sees this final scroll as a regression of Wang Hui's spatial brilliance (the perspectival machine having entered the garden of China). See A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China; or, Surface Is Illusion but So Is Depth, a film written by David Hockney and directed by Philip Haas (Milestone Films, 1988).
(14) . For more on Hockney's fax and computer art, see Paul Melia and Ulrich Luckhardt, David Hockney (New York: Prestel, 2011), p. 196; and Sarah Howgate, Barbara Stern Shapiro, and Mark Glazebrook, David Hockney: Portraits (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 223–233, 244.
(15) . Throughout the twentieth century, questions about the value of machine culture were often introduced by reminding readers that the Greek word technê meant “art.” As we shall see, this was true of poetic, critical, and philosophical figures like Ezra Pound, in his Machine Art and Other Writings (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), pp. 23–25; (p.241) Marshall McLuhan (see Donald F. Theall, The Virtual Marshall McLuhan [Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001], pp. 13, 43, 75–76, 101, 116, 139, 172, 271); Daniel Bell, “Technology, Nature, and Society,” Technology and the Frontiers of Knowledge (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1973), pp. 23–72; Richard McKeon, Selected Writings of Richard McKeon, Volume 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 169; Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: Bantam, 1974), p. 283; and, more recently, Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time 1 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), pp. 1–18.
(16) . In 1946, still reeling from the embarrassment of the de-Nazification proceedings, Heidegger retreated to his mountain cabin in Todnauberg where he began translating the Daodejing with another visiting Chinese student, Paul Shiyi Hsiao. Hsiao's reminiscences on the weeks spent translating show that Heidegger was fascinated by the text, and especially Chinese characters, but that he would often take liberties with the original that made his partner in translation feel anxious. See Paul Shihyi Hsiao, “Heidegger and Our Translation of the Tao Te Ching,” Heidegger and Asian Thought, ed. Graham Parkes (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1987), pp. 93–104. We will return to Heidegger's fascination with the Orient in chapter 5.
(17) . Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 34. This differentiation between “techno” and technê is, in essence, what Heidegger means when he claims (somewhat more cryptically), “technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology” (p. 4). I hasten to add that my use of Heidegger's term should not be read as unqualified admiration for his philosophical conclusions. Indeed, as has been well documented, Heidegger's refusal to philosophically consider his own role in the justification of the highly mechanized slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust makes him, perhaps, one of the least qualified philosophers to offer more therapeutic and organic models of consciousness within the realm of technological systematicity. See Berel Lang, Heidegger's Silence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).
(18) . On the question of late Heidegger, see Arnold I. Davidson, “Questions concerning Heidegger: Opening the Debate,” Critical Inquiry 15.2 (Winter 1989), pp. 407–426.
(19) . The specific name for this latter discourse is “techno-Orientalism.” First employed by David Morley and Kevin Robbins in their discussion of Japan's technological dominance in the 1980s, the phrase refers specifically to fears that the East will appropriate, or even improve upon, the technologies of the West, to supposedly dangerous consequences, a dynamic that informed many of America's fears of Japan in the first half of the twentieth century; see David Morley and Kevin Robins, Spaces of Identity: Global Media, Electronic Landscapes, and Cultural Boundaries (New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 169. It is important to note, however, that while techno-Orientalist discourse featured, at various times, somewhat prominently in the Anglo-American imagination, the figures examined in this book (excepting, for reasons we shall see in chapter 3, Jack London) would have understood their arguments as, if not antipathetic, at least secondary to this idea. Asia-as-technê, in other words, was more technê-Orientalism than techno.
(20) . Hubert Dreyfus, “Heidegger on the Connection between Nihilism, Art, Technology, and Politics,” The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, ed. Charles B. Guignon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 358; subsequent references are to this edition, hereafter cited as “HC.”
(21) . Arnold Pacey, Meaning in Technology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), pp. 135, 217.
(22) . My debt to the transpacific field of Asian/American studies will be obvious in the chapters that follow, but to point to only a few of the critical works that have helped shape this study, see Colleen Lye, America's Asia: Racial Form and American Literature, 1893–1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); Pacific Rim Modernism, ed. Mary Ann Gillies, Helen Sword, and Steven Yao (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009); (p.242) Sinographies: Writing China, ed. Eric Hayot, Haun Saussy, and Steven Yao (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008); Christopher Bush, Ideographic Modernism: China, Writing, Media (New York: Oxford University Press 2010); David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); John Eperjesi, The Imperialist Imaginary: Visions of Asia and the Pacific in American Culture (Lebanon, NH: Dartmouth University Press, 2005); Yunte Huang, Transpacific Displacement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Rob Wilson, Reimagining the American Pacific (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000); Rey Chow, The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); J. J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought (New York: Routledge, 1997); and Bruce Cumings, Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendency and American Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).
(23) . This book will also continue a conversation with a number of classic works on the ambivalence with which Anglo-Americans responded to technological experience, including Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1934); Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York: Oxford Press, 2000); Alan Trachtenberg, Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965); and Cecilia Tichi, Shifting Gears: Technology, Literature, Culture in Modernist America (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1987); Perhaps the most immediately relevant work is Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981). I should mention here that the problem I have with Lears's periodizing notion of “antimodernism” is not only that the term can sometimes be confusing (obscuring, as it often does, Lears's own thesis that these reactions to the second industrial revolution served as a catalyst for the transformation to modern American capitalism), but, more critically, that the sweeping nature of Lears's category tends to overemphasize the notion that these crises were understood as primarily temporal (i.e., a condition of abstract, technological “modernity”) rather than as geographically and culturally specific (i.e., a philosophical dilemma unique to Anglo-American racial experience). Thus, Lears frequently overgeneralizes the “reaction” to modernity in ways that group together what are often contradictory responses, even as he limits these reactions to the bounded, local concerns of white-male elites during the Gilded Age, far removed from the commotions of popular culture. This is not to say that I intend to entirely undo Lears's notion of the antimodern (there are times, in fact, when I will use the term to refer to reactions against what was understood to be the specifically temporal crises of machine-induced “progress”); rather, my goal is to show that the turn to Asian aesthetics as a means of advancing Western technoculture is both more complicated and widespread than Lears's antimodern thesis would indicate, something that continues to shape our responses to technocultural experience today.
(24) . On “technique” as not only “craft” or “gadget,” but also the whole post-Enlightenment question of technological experience, see Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), pp. 3–22.
(25) . For accounts of technological enthusiasm at the World's Fair in Chicago, see Stanley Appelbaum, The Chicago World's Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record (New York: Dover Publications, 1980), p. 47; James Wilson Pierce, Photographic History of the World's Fair and Sketch of the City of Chicago (Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Co., 1893), pp. 216–219; Finis Farr, Chicago: A Personal History of America's Most American City (New York: Arlington House, 1973), p. 186; Nye, American Technological Sublime, pp. 147–148; and David E. Nye, Narratives and Spaces: Technology and the Construction of American Culture (New York: Columbia Press, 1997), pp. 115–122; Cumings, Dominion from Sea to Sea, p. 131; Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Hill & Wang, 2007), pp. 41–42.
(26) . Robert Herrick, Memoirs of an American Citizen (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1905), p. 192.
(27) . “Elevators Go Wild,” Chicago Daily Tribune (November 15, 1893), p. 8; “Shocking,” Chicago Daily Tribune (October 22, 1893), p. 35.
(28) . As Bolotin and Laing explain, “The grand section of Machinery Hall assaulted fairgoers' ears with the clanking and grinding of its mechanical wonders … Although the displays were interesting, the noise was almost unbearable and most spectators did not linger long inside” (Norman Bolotin and Christine Laing, The World's Columbian Exposition: The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 [Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002], p. 87).
(29) . Just eight days after the fair began the Chemical National Bank of Chicago, which had set up operations inside the administration building at the fair, suddenly failed, as did hundreds of others (and more than eight thousand businesses) all over the nation. Rumors that the secretary of the treasury might begin redeeming paper money in silver instead of gold caused widespread anxiety among investors. In early June, long lines formed outside all of Chicago's banks, with depositors waiting long past midnight for their turn to withdraw as much gold as the banks were willing to release; see Farr, Chicago, p. 188. Massive labor unrest had also plagued Chicago since the Haymarket riots only six years before, caused in large part by workers' fears that, as one labor group later stated, “machinery is introduced faster than new employments are founded” (The Forum 43 [September 1897], p. 29). See also Rosenberg, America at the Fair, pp. 16–17; George E. Weddle, “National Portraits: The Columbian Celebrations of 1792–3, 1892–3 and 1992 as Cultural Moments,” The Cultures of Celebrations, ed. Michael T. Marsden (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Press, 1994), pp. 119–120; Harper Leech and John Charles Carroll, Armour and His Times (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1938), pp. 229–230.
(30) . Robert Herrick, The Web of Life (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1900), p. 198.
(31) . Max Nordau, Degeneration (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1895), p. 41.
(32) . Herrick, The Web of Life, pp. 199–201; emphasis added.
(33) . Adrien Proust and Gilbert Ballet, The Treatment of Neurasthenia (New York: Edward R. Pelton, 1903), p. 7; John Harvey Kellogg, Neurasthenia; or Nervous Exhaustion (Battle Creek, MI: Good Health Publishing, 1916), p. 44; Tom Lutz, American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 1–30.
(34) . Quoted in Lears, No Place of Grace, p. 69.
(35) . The Department of Congress of Art Instruction was held as part of the International Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, from Wednesday July 26 to Friday July 28, 1893. All three sessions were held in Hall No. 8 of the Art Institute at 9:30 a.m. See Proceedings of the International Congress of Education of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July 25–28 1893 (New York: National Educational Association, 1894), pp. 455–456; all talks from these proceedings are from this edition hereafter cited as PICE.
(36) . L. W. Miller, “Importance of the Aesthetic Aim in Elementary Instruction in Drawing,” PICE, p. 465.
(37) . Ibid. Henry T. Bailey, the supervisor of drawing for the state of Massachusetts, similarly criticized “mechanical” methods of art and mass production. “Could anything be more deadly,” he asks, than to strive for a “servile” and “mechanical” representation of nature? “Such technique is false; it robs the drawing of truth, and annihilates individuality in the artist” (Henry T. Bailey, “Drawing from the Flat to Learn the Technique of Representation,” PICE, p. 460).
(38) . J. M. Hoppin, “Methods of Art Education for the Cultivation of Artistic Taste,” PICE, pp. 483, 485.
(39) . Mary Dana Hicks, “Does Art Study Concern the Public Schools?” PICE, p. 491.
(40) . Professor J. Ward Stimson, “Discussion,” PICE, pp. 462, 470.
(41) . In the published record of the Congress of Art Instruction Moore's first name was actually misprinted as “Annie” rather than “Aimee”; see “The Self-Correcting System of Drawing,” PICE, p. 502. A more detailed description of Moore's apparatus can be found in (p.244) John Forbes-Robertson, “The Philographic Method of Drawing,” The Magazine of Art (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1893), pp. 317–319.
(42) . Emphasis added; “Whether we like and admit it or not,” she goes on to argue, “it is very clear that machinery, in the shape of photography, has been doing its very best during the last fifty years, even in the so-called arts of design, to replace human handiwork—far worse, to supersede the human eye” (PICE, p. 502). Lamenting attempts by contemporary artists to replicate the “inhuman perspective” of the “wide-angle lens” (“most glaringly,” she says, “in France”), Moore argues for a return to the originary, “enlightened machines” of the old masters, which will allow students to achieve a more “natural” representation of “organic forms,” and free them from the impending dangers of modern machine culture. Moore is strategically ignoring the similarities between the fixed perspectivism of her pantograph and traditional (non-wide-angle) camera lenses, but this is precisely what allows her to maintain the conference participants' assumption that the machine had somehow damaged art.
(43) . PICE, pp. 469–470; emphasis in original.