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Optical Mediation and the Uncanny: Ambivalence and Illusionism, Sec. 1

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Organizer: Dominique Jullien

Co-Organizer: Peter Bloom

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Our recent collective experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to come to terms with a hyper-mediated, indirect, remote mode of perception and interaction. It has also led to a mistrust of perception and vision. Arguably, this crisis has become intensified as a local and global phenomenon, but has also been part of a longstanding historical predicament involving technologies of mediation. The “constructedness of vision” (J. Crary) provides access to questions that address the theoretical rootedness of our contemporary situation by reference to historical technologies of sensory mediation, which bring about a questioning of presence, meaning and subjective stability.  Engaging with these themes, in this seminar we consider how optical technologies, beginning in the late 18th century, generated a mediated, constructed experience of reality that concurrently bred ambivalence, in the form of regressive nostalgia for an idealized, simpler, unmediated time for instance, alongside a fascination with illusionism. The privileged status of print culture has been threatened, but literature nevertheless has found new synergies and renewed creativity by interacting with newly dominant visual media. We explore how technologies of optical mediation provide a point of entry into pre- and post-Freudian discussions of the uncanny that M. Warner has described as that which crosses ​​“the ambiguous, terrible, and enthralling borderland between animation and lifelessness” (Phantasmagoria). Examples may range from Gothic automata stories to modern robot tales, stage illusions and magic in popular performance genres such as phantasmagorias and féeries, to special effects in early cinema, or contemporary considerations of AI. We invite proposals that engage with (but are not limited to) some of the following themes and questions: • Historical approaches to mediated illusionism and anti-illusionism in magic performances, theater and early media • The uncanny, secular magic, and magical thinking • Technologies of perceptual mediation and strategies for “re-enchantment of the world” (J. Landy & M. Saler) • The Freudian civilized/primitive dichotomy and its questioning in modern consciousness • Ambivalent (euphoric/dysphoric) responses to technological hyper-mediation • Transmedial responses to technologies of sensory mediation (in particular optical mediation) in the cultural continuum

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