Prosthetic Vision and Postmortem Cinema

in Screen Bodies
Anthony Enns Dalhousie University, Canada

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The nineteenth-century science of “optography” was based on the idea that an image of the last thing seen at the moment of death would be imprinted on the retina. This idea was inspired by the invention of photography, which reinforced the mechanistic notion of the eye as a camera, and it was frequently criticized in nineteenth-century literary texts, in which eyes more often record images generated from within the mind. Belief in optography began to wane at roughly the same time that cinema became a popular form of entertainment, but it continued to appear in several films in which severed eyes function as cameras or optical implants are used to record visual impressions that can be viewed after the death of the subject. This article examines how these optographic narratives continued to reinforce the mechanistic notion of visual perception on which film technology was thought to depend.

Contributor Notes

Anthony Enns is an associate professor of contemporary culture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His edited collections include Screening Disability (2001), Sonic Mediations (2008), and Vibratory Modernism (2013). His work in film studies also has appeared in the journals Screen, Journal of Popular Film and Television, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Popular Culture Review, and Studies in Popular Culture, as well as the anthologies The Scary Screen (2010) and A Companion to German Cinema (2012).

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