Measuring Shadows

Measuring Shadows-page-001

“Measuring Shadows” on Penn State University Press’ Website


• Re-envisioning the Evil Eye: Magic, Optical Theory, and Modern Supernaturalism- J.H. (Yossi) Chajes, University of Haifa

“Re-envisioning the Evil Eye,” will explore the intersection of optical theories and concepts of the evil eye in Jewish culture. Pointing out the significance of extramission theories of vision to an understanding of the way in which the evil eye was conceived, the lecture will emphasized the haptic notion of sight shared by premodern theorists of vision. Contact between the seer and the object of vision was thus presumed. The lecture will then move on to an examination of modern attempts to maintain the plausibility of the evil eye despite radically different, passive, and brain-centered understandings of vision. Chajes’s argument, in short, is that the evil eye moved from the realm of the natural to the realm of the supernatural as a result of the near-universal acceptance of modern optics even in traditional Jewish settings.

• “With the eye of Faith”: Aemilia Lanyer’s Religious and Feminine Sight in Context- Yaakov Mascetti, Bar Ilan University

The religious lyrics of Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve DeusRex Judaeorum, published in 1611, present the reader with a distinctively gendered re-narration of the Passion and the Fall, where the visual perception of women and that of men is starkly different. Throughout the her work, the poet repeatedly laments the visual incapacity of men to perceive the light of Christic truth, exposing their predilection for a mere physical perception. Lanyer (1569–1645) associates this perceptive failure with the fact that men are “double-hearted,” prone to disjoint the inner conscience from the exterior manifestation of intentions, and to the fact that they cleave subjective understanding from the objective truth of things. Men, Lanyer states, glorify the visible and the material, the “outward beautie” of things as they appear, and re-define the inner sphere to a series of virtues invisible to the eye, emotions and fantasies that have hardly any relations with the objective reality of facts. Lanyer’s poetry acknowledges this epistemological disjunction and endorses it, reclaiming to her feminine sensibility the capacity to merge the subjective with the objective, while reclaiming aggressively the sense of sight as the means to perceive both the physical appearance of reality and its spiritual essence. Within the context of philosophical disputes at the beginning of the seventeenth century over the nature of vision and optics, with the publication of Johannes Kepler’s Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena in 1604, Lanyer’s poetry presented sight in religious terms as the glorious means through which a woman could aspire to gain an essential understanding of things. My lecture shows how, while Kepler proposed a model of vision which separated the physical perception of things from their subjective understanding, making the act of seeing imprecise at best and deformed at worst, and turned it into an impersonal act which was absolutely unrelated to the observer’s consciousness, Lanyer’s poetry specifically presented sight as the means for the reader /observer to internalize the text / thing perceived and attain a state of communion with it. Presenting the feminine visual perception of the crucified Christ as an intentional act of cognition and acquisition of a sacramental form, Lanyer, I argue, reached back to antiquated perspectivist and Aristotelian models of vision. Against the background of what Raz Chen-Morris and Ofer Gal have described as the “slipping out of [the human observer from] optics” and the “divorce of optics from theory of vision,” Lanyer’s struggle with a concept of sight that objectifies the contemplated scenes and turns the individual into a de-personified spectator and her eye into a “camera obscura,” acquires, I think, supplementary shades of meaning. For Lanyer, both the observer and the reader were called to approach reading as an act of religious contemplation performed with the eyes but ultimately accomplished within the individual’s religious fantasy: in her poetry Lanyer offered a verbal representation of Christ’s “perfect picture” (SDRJ 1326), a scene visible only with the “the eie of Faith” and thus a glorified projection within the soul of the observing individual.