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April 2018

Call for Submissions: Special Issue of NCS on "Patchwork, Cut-and-Paste, Reassembly"

This special issue will focus on ideas of reuse and recombination. How were bits and scraps of materials, textual and otherwise, reassembled into new forms in the nineteenth century? To what ends? Essays might consider these issues in relation to images, fabrics, texts, and more. Possible topics could include scrapbooks, patchwork, quotation, citation, illustration, and any and all forms of recombination. Approaches from all disciplines, including literature, art history, history, music, and the history of science and the social sciences, are welcome, as are submissions that cross national boundaries and/or range across the nineteenth century. One particularly exciting feature of Nineteenth-Century Studies is thatthe journal encourages authors to enhance their contributions with pertinent artwork.

Please submit manuscripts of 8,000-12,000 words, following NCS's submission guidelines to guest editor Casie LeGette at legette@uga.edu. Early expressions of interest and proposals of topics are also welcome. The deadline for submissions of full manuscripts is August 1, 2018, but review will begin May 1, 2018 and earlier submissions are encouraged.

December 2017

Now Available: 19th Century Studies, Vol. 27.

The cover of NCS Volume 27

February 2017

Now Available: 19th Century Studies, Vol. 26.

The cover of NCS Volume 26

March 7, 2013
NCS introduces new online reviews feature. See online reviews.
March 1, 2011
NCSA introduces new Nineteenth Century Studies journal Web site.
March 15, 2010
Now Available: 19th Century Studies, Vol. 22.

 

Vistas

Charles Ellis Johnson and the Erotic Mormon Image. By Mary Campbell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Pp. vii-211.

In her book Charles Ellis Johnson and the Erotic Mormon Image, Mary Campbell argues that photographer Charles Ellis Johnson (1857-1926) recreates the Mormon image, one that was generally understood only in relationship to polygamist controversy in the nineteenth century. Looking at his body of work as a whole—both as an official photographer for the church, and as a producer of “spicy pictures” (p. 59) —she offers a rich discussion on the centrality of pictures in creating both the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known also as LDS or Mormons) and the modern American nation (p. 15). To Campbell, the exploitative overtones of Johnson’s image-making, however, were indefinitely tied to the detriment of female bodies, particularly those of the first few generations of LDS women who endured a culture “riddled with silence, concealment, and gender inequality” (p. 144). By understanding the LDS faith as one reliant not only on pictures, but on a technology, Campbell opens a path for reframing the religion in terms of media specificity.

Early in the book, Campbell examines political cartoons to establish the strategies deployed to construct an image of LDS “other” alongside a longstanding political and legal battle over polygamy. By discussing the deeply racial implications of Orientalizing the Mormons, Campbell’s study broadens the conversation, making it not merely about discrimination towards the religion, but also about various instances of racial and religious experience. Campbell looks to Johnson’s travel books and other media as counter-image-making attempts by the LDS Church to assert an LDS gentility and fit masculinity, to “preach” the message that “‘Mormons are intelligent, artistic and refined’” (p. 23). Photography, in particular, functions as a medium for male salvation meant to counter the more harmful propaganda surrounding polygamy. For Campbell, Johnson’s photographic method and production of image was a symbolic reassertion of LDS origin and theology, the subject matter a testimony to a moment of complicated transition from a polygamous to a monogamous lifestyle. As she provocatively characterizes the LDS church as “Stereoscopic Saints” (p. 145), Campbell argues that Johnson’s church-sanctioned work demonstrates the power of images and their mass circulation in constructing an acceptable reputation.

On the other hand, the second half of the book considers Johnson’s erotic images. These exquisite photographs were not only an incredible archival find, but, to Campbell, deepen the gendered implications of LDS image-making. In her fourth chapter on “Mormon Harems,” Campbell compares Johnson’s mail-order erotica to artists and works like Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres’ (1780-1867) and Eugene Delacroix’s (1798-1863) Odalisque paintings, which not only reiterate the colonialist attitudes and “deep taste for all things Eastern” in America (p. 98), but, as Campbell explains, “corporealize…implicit acts of visual domination” that also proliferated LDS doctrine (p. 103-104). While contextualizing them in vaudeville and turn-of-the century entertainment, Johnson’s “spicy pictures” are also read as “eroticized . . . panic” (p. 101) or an “elemental Mormon urge” to still achieve “godhood” at a moment of symbolic “impotence” in the LDS submission to the American government (p. 114, 107). To her, they offered a “synesthetic body” (p. 158) in place of the void left by the abolishment of polygamy while also serving as a haunting visual reminder of the loss itself.

In her last chapter, Campbell compares a photograph titled The Stereograph as Educator (1901) with an anonymous image of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith (1805-44), translating the Golden Plates, a process that resulted in the foundational text the Book of Mormon. This comparison draws out the similarities of the conditions of possibility—including accessing knowledge—that these forms of mediation provide. Through its ability to transport and even “reincarnate” the viewer (p. 158), she sees Johnson’s stereoscopic imaging as an alternative to the reality of the LDS condition—a saving grace—in both the conception of the religion and in its evolution, perhaps even a logical conduit to alternate realities and kingdoms embedded in its doctrine. While Campbell sees Johnson’s photographs as both index and icon, she also pays close attention to how vision and theologies are framed by technologies like the stereoscope.

Though clearly a contribution to both artistic histories of Mormonism and American art, it is difficult to deny the inevitable provocation in Campbell’s characterization of the LDS as predominantly occularcentric, where vision lies at the heart of not only its doctrine, but also becomes its very culture. Such classification does not seem to include the deeply sonic and haptic parts of the religion that creep up alongside much of her narrative. Yet there still exists a blatant insistence on the centrality of vision, a pitfall that can have its own hierarchical dogma (see Martin Jay or Jonathan Sterne, for example). At times, Campbell alludes to the aural, mentioning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s efforts to build image (through sound!), discussing the “voice” of both pictures and the women at the time, and even referring to a photograph as a “pictorial psalm” (p. 151). In a way, these seem like missed opportunities to further unpack the multi-sensorial mediation of salvation and doctrine within Mormonism.

Nevertheless, Campbell’s work serves as an example of how to deepen the conversation—of telling the history while also unfolding the embedded stakes of mediation. Through compelling juxtapositions of Mormon objects to artists and works of the time, she brings LDS art into more mainstream threads in the art historical canon and further expands it to take seriously work that has for so long existed on the margins. Rather than seeing works of art by an LDS artist sanctioned by the Mormon church as a reflection of the religion, she applies theoretical and contextual analysis to make Johnson’s images speak of a moment in American and global history. While Campbell’s work on Johnson opens avenues for discussing LDS subculture and helps bolster art history within Mormon studies, it also offers a methodology for approaching Mormon art that bridges disciplines. In the ever-growing tendency towards the multidisciplinary within academia, Campbell serves as an effective model for considering (or rather reconsidering) the role media have played in creating an image.

Amanda Beardsley
Binghamton University
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The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature. By Benjamin Morgan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. Pp.Vi + 368, 30 halftones. $35.00 (paperback).

Benjamin Morgan’s The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature employs a wide range of disciplines, such as “poetic theory, evolutionary biology, philosophical materialism, quantitative analysis, physiology, associationist psychology, and socialist aesthetics” (p. 13), to explain the complicated relationship between art and science in the nineteenth century. The book is divided into two parts, with five chapters that progress chronologically from the mid-nineteenth century to New Criticism of the twentieth century before concluding with an epilogue. In his introduction, Morgan deploys five vectors of aesthetic thought and practice, including form, response, materiality, practice, and empathy, to map the “intersection of scientific and artistic materialisms” (p. 13) across divergent disciplines.

Chapter one considers nineteenth-century Britain’s efforts to cultivate an “empirical science of beauty” (p. 29). Morgan characterizes how Victorians eschewed “their gray reputation of sober rationalism, to reappearing as a culture that at once celebrated and anxiously deplored the vibrant intensities of the senses” (p. 12). He considers the ways in which British industrialism inspired new theoretical approaches to art and the “role it could play in an emerging technological and scientific modernity” (p. 32). In contrast with John Ruskin’s (1819–1900) concept of theoria, which suggested that perceptions of beauty were relative to one’s moral and religious nature, emerging nineteenth-century scientists and writers asserted that “aesthetic experience was not . . . a moment of spiritual elevation,” but rather a moment in which “the body of the viewer and the matter of the artwork come into contact” (p. 12). Morgan analyzes the theories of sound and color proposed by George Field (1777–1854) and David Ramsay Hay (1798–1866) and traces their lineage to various members of the Edinburgh Aesthetics Club, which included John Addington Symonds, Sr. (1807–1871), Thomas Laycock (1812–1876), and E.S. Dallas (1828–1879), who measured human bodies to determine a mathematical pattern for beauty. For these theorists, “superstructures such as culture or society were understood as secondary determinants of aesthetic judgement” (p. 29). Morgan evidences the sharp antagonisms between mathematical rationalism and sensual perception, particularly at an historical juncture in which everchanging conceptions of the natural world might lead to a “definitive explanation of the human experience of beauty” (p. 33). He also offers a brief but evocative critique of Hay’s mathematical aesthetic and its relation to “scientized aesthetic theories” that inculcated “value-laden hierarchies of race and gender” (p. 65).

In chapter two, Morgan considers how literary and scientific writers, such as Alexander Bain (1818–1903), Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), Walter Pater (1839–1894), Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), and Grant Allen (1848–1899), influenced aesthetic science by rescaling and physicalizing the “primary units of analysis of aesthetic thought, turning from the human faculties to the nervous system and from the artwork to its material elements” (p. 88). These intellectuals crafted a materialized aesthetic theory that became either a “touchstone” or “flashpoint” for subsequent efforts to develop a science of beauty (p. 90). Their aesthetic visions breached the boundaries of individuated subjectivity by destabilizing the “distinctions between interior and exterior” (p. 98), human and nonhuman, past and present.

Chapter three begins Part II of the book, which focuses on “enmindedness” (p. 173) or Morgan’s “outward” turn. For psychologist James Sully (1842–1923), much like Pater, aesthetic experience enabled a new relationship between the mind and perceptual objects wherein “physical things can become objects of sympathy and love” (p. 134). Through Pater and Sully, Morgan exemplifies Victorian awareness of a “processual model of the mind” that regarded “higher-order thought [as] the product of an interaction between an organism and an environment” (p. 136). Pater characterizes this interaction as a “‘process of brain-building by which we are, each one of us, what we are’” (qtd. p. 152). Morgan suggests that Pater advanced a new configuration of the “social” that encompassed “[both] things and persons alike” (p. 172).

Morgan begins chapter four by posing a question: “what happens when somatic aesthetic experience is situated within particular social contexts?” (p. 214). In responding to this question, Morgan considers the work of Victorian designer William Morris (1834–1896), whose art was “a sort of automatic output from the embodied mind” (p. 203). Morris emphasized the “ways in which thought happens not as a disembodied mental activity but as concrete interactions between bodies and things” (p. 175). Many contemporary scholars, including Morgan, regard Morris’s conception of the “materiality of language and of art as an aspect of his socialist politics” (p. 175). Morris applied physiological aesthetics to his critique of the selfish individualism and division caused by the free market and its supporting ideological and institutional structures. Morgan aligns himself theoretically though not fully with Morris who envisioned an aesthetic mind unencumbered by individualism and “instead turned ‘outward’ into physical processes” (qtd. on p. 177). For Morris, boundaries were an effect of language rather than a limiting characteristic of the physical world and the “networks that contain and connect persons, things, bodies, and experiences” (p. 190).

Critic Vernon Lee’s (1856–1935) theory of physiological empathy is discussed in Morgan’s final chapter. Morgan explains how empathy “configures the relationship between mind and body . . . depicting bodily changes as taking place before . . . [or] directly causing aesthetic feelings” (p. 231). In difference to other physiological aesthetics that “disaggregated complex artworks into lines, curves, and angles,” Lee focused on how the “body synthesizes formal qualities as feeling” (p. 242). By unconsciously connecting with art, spectators might trigger similar memories of embodied aesthetic reactions. This empathic critical response “works across and between the arts,” but it does not erase the differences between them (p. 242). Although Lee’s aesthetics was denounced by New Critics like I. A. Richards (1893–1979), Lee and Richards each aspired to construct a “systematic, autonomous method” (p. 244) of literary criticism despite their contrasting views on the relation between reader, writer, and text. Lee was unable to reconcile the contradiction between “inhabiting a text from within” and “analyzing its structure or its place within a structured field from without” (p. 252). As Morgan notes, Lee’s approach became an alternative to more conventional forms of close reading.

Morgan’s study concludes with an epilogue in which he describes Oscar Wilde’s (1854–1900) The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) as the “period’s most renowned aesthetic object” (p. 255). Morgan offers insightful commentary on nineteenth-century aesthetic theory, and he seldom misses an opportunity to expound on his theory of “outwardness.” The Outward Mind is a well-delineated historical and theoretical map for navigating the study of Victorian aesthetics.

John C. Murray
Curry College
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