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"Singular Images, Failed Copies"William Henry Fox Talbot and the Early Photograph$

Vered Maimon

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780816694716

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816694716.001.0001

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The Art of Discovery

(p.39) 2 Imagination
"Singular Images, Failed Copies"

Vered Maimon

University of Minnesota Press

Abstract and Keywords

The second chapter focuses on Talbot’s second major discovery account, his 1844 “A Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art,” which appeared in his book The Pencil of Nature. In this account Talbot attributes his discovery to an unaccountable imaginative thought. The chapter traces the philosophical and aesthetic formulation of the faculty of the imagination in Kant and Coleridge. Finally, it links this analysis of the imagination to the category of the picturesque and to Talbot’s landscape images.

Keywords:   William Henry Fox Talbot, A Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art, The Pencil of Nature, Philosophy, Immanuel Kant, William Coleridge, Landscape, Picturesque

TALBOT’S SECOND SIGNIFICANT ACCOUNT of his discovery, “A Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art,” appeared in 1844 as an introductory text to The Pencil of Nature. This account differs in tone and emphasis from his 1839 account, no doubt because of the fact that it was intended not for the specialized audience of the Royal Society but for a broad audience as part of Talbot’s efforts to familiarize the general public with the calotype, the second photographic process he discovered, in 1840.1 This second account is therefore written not as a scientific paper but as a historical and biographical text in which Talbot presents himself as the discoverer of “the principles and practice of photogenic drawing.”2 In this account, the inductive method is never explicitly mentioned, and although Talbot makes a number of statements evoking the primacy of experiments, he also emphasizes the importance of theory and ideas. Consequently, the discovery process is not presented as a logical process of reasoning, and its object is not a chemical fixing process for images that can be produced with or without the camera obscura. Instead, Talbot focuses on the “original idea,” fixing the images of the camera obscura, which led to his experiments. He dramatizes the specific moment of discovery, which occurred during a vacation on the shores of Lake Como in 1833, in which he tried unsuccessfully (because of his lack of skill) to draw using the camera lucida and then the camera obscura:

Such, then, was the method [tracing the images of the camera obscura] which I proposed to try again, and to endeavour, as before, to trace with my pencil the outlines of the scenery depicted on the paper. And this led (p.40) me to reflect on the inimitable beauty of the pictures of nature’s painting which the glass lens of the Camera throws upon the paper in its focus—fairy pictures, creations of a moment, and destined as rapidly to fade away. It was during these thoughts that the idea occurred to me … how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper!

Such was the idea that came into my mind. Whether it had ever occurred to me before amid floating philosophic visions, I know not, though I rather think it must have done so, because on this occasion it struck me so forcibly.

Such were as nearly as I can now remember the reflections which led me to the invention of this theory, and which first impelled me to explore a path so deeply hidden among nature’s secrets. And the numerous researches which were afterwards made—whatever success may be thought to have attended them—cannot, I think, admit of a comparison with the value of the first and original idea.3

Rather than describing a highly systematic and gradual “method” of discovery that was modeled on an inductive discovery of a scientific “law,” Talbot now recounts a “story” in which an inexplicable stroke of inventive power led to the sudden emergence in his mind of a “new” idea. Thus, what is emphasized is precisely the lack of “method” as a way to insist on the originality of the discovery. That is, it is not the mechanical “law of continuity” that constitutes the reciprocity between nature and human nature that is responsible for the discovery, but precisely the mind’s capacity to transcend experience in a creative way that is epistemologically unaccounted for. What underlies Talbot’s new account is an awakening sense of subjectivity together with an awareness of temporality, a certain movement from the exteriority of impressions and sensations into the opaque interiority of the mind’s independent capacity of reasoning beyond the circular “table of things.”

Nevertheless, when this moment of personal “epiphany” is read in light of the history of Victorian science, it is anything but unique. As Simon Schaffer has shown, the end of natural philosophy was marked by the emergence of new models of scientific discovery that came out of the shift within the philosophy of science from discovery to justification, and out of the institutionalization of science as a professional practice.4 He shows that when a single event is given the status of a discovery, a new fact is replicated and given a specific author. Yet historical and sociological (p.41) studies have shown that these two processes are subject to a series of negotiations inside the scientific community regarding the specific experiments and criteria of adequacy, which could lead to the discovery of different phenomena. This suggests, Schaffer claims, that if “replication and authorship are matters of negotiation, then there is no event which corresponds to an automatic or instant discovery. … Subsequently, the story of that process is rewritten. The lengthy enterprise is telescoped into an individual moment with an individual author.”5 Recently Herta Wolf argued that Talbot “was able to ‘invent’ photography on paper only with recourse to the findings and work of others. But no process requiring a knowledge of such varied fields could have been invented by a single scientist or craftsman.”6 Five years after his first announcement, which was made in haste in order to claim priority following rumors that in France a similar process would soon be announced, Talbot retells the story of his discovery in a way that defines him as the sole originator of the idea, an author, condensing years of research and experimentation into one specific moment. By analyzing Talbot’s second canonical account, this chapter aims not to discredit Talbot’s story of his discovery nor to challenge his priority claims but to locate its discursive and epistemological conditions of possibility in a much broader, yet specific, historical framework than the biographical one.

Significantly, Schaffer states that “where natural philosophers presented their histories as methods for training practitioners in discovery … historians of the sciences from the early nineteenth century separated the disciplined training of scientists from the heroic discovery moment, for which no training was possible.”7 This shift can be seen quite clearly in the differences between the two most important philosophical publications on British empirical science in the early nineteenth century: John Herschel’s Discourse (1830) and William Whewell’s History of the Inductive Sciences (1837), the latter of which was followed in 1840 by his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. Whereas Herschel’s book, as is shown earlier, was written in order to popularize science as an “accessible” practice to every student of natural philosophy, Whewell’s books focused on the “heroic” and unaccountable way in which actual discoveries were made by highly gifted and exceptional individuals whose work nonetheless formed the basis for new research traditions and scientific disciplines. Talbot had known Whewell from Cambridge, as I pointed out earlier; Talbot’s biographer H. J. P. Arnold describes Whewell as a friend and mentions that he was one of the individuals who signed Talbot’s certificate of (p.42) recommendation for the Royal Society.8 Talbot’s correspondence indicates that Whewell’s Philosophy was recommended to him by his friend Thomas Worsley, the Cambridge head of house.9

Schaffer argues that “[t]he end of natural philosophy was accompanied by the appearance of models of discovery which appealed to discipline and to genius, and which have dominated theories of science ever since.”10 At this historical juncture, the emergence of the romantic figure of the (philosophical, scientific, and artistic) genius was inseparable from the epistemological reconsideration of the faculty of the imagination by Kant and Coleridge. Hence the implicit link in Talbot’s account between an “unaccountable” idea and authorship: in the new model of discovery, it is precisely the inability to trace the logical unfolding of the discovery process that grants the discoverer the status of a genius. Thus, it is no longer membership in a specific scientific community that needs to be emphasized by reaffirming its methodological and philosophical premises, but the privileged status of certain members within this community, which differentiates their activities and talents from all the rest.

The implicit evocation of the imagination also explains the second major shift in Talbot’s 1844 account, which focuses exclusively on the images of the camera obscura and on drawing rather than simply copying. Thus, it is not merely a “shadow” that is being fixed but “the pictures of nature’s painting,” that is, nature viewed as a picture. This picture, argues Joel Snyder, is not what Talbot saw in the camera obscura or what was actually seen in his early images, because “this image does not exist in the camera—it exists only in the meeting ground between what continuously appears and changes in flux projected onto the tracing paper and the mind of the man with the pencil.” To see nature as a picture therefore meant to “imagine what was not there to be seen,” that is, to look at nature through a highly cultural set of conventions that formed “picturesque” views.11

These shifts in Talbot’s 1844 account are therefore underlain by different models of reasoning or thinking and different conceptions of nature than the ones evoked in his early account. This is highly significant, because, as is shown earlier, Talbot’s specific mode of conceptualization of photogenic drawing hinges on the epistemological and conceptual premises that underlie his processes of discovery. In this regard, the shift in tone and emphasis in the second account is not simply rhetorical or stylistic but symptomatic, this chapter argues, of the new epistemological conditions through which nature and “man” came to be known in the early nineteenth century.

(p.43) Whewell’s Moral Philosophy of Science

The new model of discovery mobilized in Talbot’s 1844 account received its most sophisticated philosophical and scientific articulation in Whewell’s History and Philosophy, whose respective publication marks the introduction into the British scientific establishment of a compromised Kantian epistemology and an institutionalized form of romantic theories of creativity and intuition. These books, while preserving the ethos of an empiricist form of scientific practice, strongly reject an empiricist epistemology. Thus, as Herschel wrote in his highly critical review of the books, whereas his own work, as the Discourse has shown, is grounded within an empiricist “school of philosophy,” Whewell’s books belong to a “rationalist” one, because he is “disposed” to the writings of “German metaphysicians.” Yet, regardless of these differences regarding the source of knowledge, Herschel emphasizes that Whewell’s historical and philosophical work, much like his own, confirms the metaphysical design argument, where “the mind of man is represented in harmony with universal nature; that we are constantly capable of attaining to real knowledge; and that the design and intelligence which we trace throughout creation is no visionary conception, but a truth certain as the existence of that creation itself.”12 With this statement Herschel makes it clear that, regardless of their texts’ major epistemological differences, they share a common motivation: to show with all means possible that science in no way challenges natural theology but presents another form of “proof” for the validity of its claims. Thus, mobilizing this model of discovery in no way indicates Whewell’s or Talbot’s “conversion” into a “Kantian” or a “romantic” but, as with the allusion to the inductive method in his first account, rhetorically emphasizes the moral and cultural aspects of his discovery as part of an effort to popularize his discovery beyond the scientific milieu. That is, at this historical juncture, emphasizing the creative capacities of the inventor was seen as further emphasizing the continuity and harmony between the mind and nature.

Both Herschel and Whewell tried to create a “public image” for science at a time when its insecure status led, as is shown earlier, both to the constitution of major “lobbying” organizations such as the BAAS, which aimed to promote scientific practice, and at the same time to continuous attacks from Tractarians and romantics. These attacks were meant to challenge the idea that physical science equals knowledge itself and therefore excludes the viability and validity of other forms of knowledge. Whewell thought, Richard Yeo argues, “that current associations between (p.44) physical science, empiricist epistemology, and the principle of utility were producing an image of science hostile to moral and metaphysical enquiry.”13 This was a view that no doubt also underlay Coleridge’s criticism of empiricism, as I will further show, and his efforts to develop his own theories of imagination and imitation. Thus, Whewell’s History and Philosophy were written in order to challenge the popular “mechanistic” and utilitarian views of science by emphasizing the moral and metaphysical aspects of scientific practice.

As Yeo shows, Whewell opposed the prevalent binary between “exact” physical science and “obscure,” less valid moral knowledge by arguing, based on an analysis of the histories of different sciences, that not all of them exhibited the same form of rigorous systematic reasoning. For Whewell, the unity of the sciences, including the moral ones, did not rest on the uniformity of method and substantive natural and mechanical laws, as Herschel’s Discourse argued. Thus, instead of insisting on a separation between methodological concerns and epistemological ones, Whewell emphasized, Yeo argues, that “[t]here was a uniformity in the way knowledge of nature was achieved, not a unity of the laws of nature.”14 For Whewell, the study of the history of science became highly conductive in showing how knowledge had been acquired throughout history as part of an effort to form and ground not simply the “philosophy of science” but a general philosophy of knowledge. For Whewell, all sciences are underlain by what he termed the “Fundamental Antithesis of Philosophy”:

[I]n all human Knowledge both Thoughts and Things are concerned. In every part of my knowledge there must be some thing about which I know, and an internal act of me who know. … In all cases, Knowledge implies a combination of Thoughts and Things. Without this combination, it would not be Knowledge. Without Thoughts, there could be no connexion; without Things, there could be no reality. Thoughts and Things are so intimately combined in our Knowledge, that we do not look at them as distinct. One single act of the mind involves them both; and their contrast disappears in their union. But though Knowledge requires the union of these two elements, Philosophy requires the separation of them, in order that the nature and structure of Knowledge may be seen.15

Whewell’s theory of knowledge, like Kant’s and Coleridge’s, emphasizes that knowledge is possible only through a synthesis between idea and sensation, subjective and objective, theory and fact. Ideas are inherently (p.45) different from sensations; they are not simply accumulated and less vivid copies of sensations, as Hume argued, but they form the transcendental conditions of experience: “We see objects, of various solid forms, and at various distances from us. But we do not thus perceive them by sensation alone. Our visual impressions cannot, of themselves, convey to us a knowledge of solid form, or of distance from us. Such knowledge is inferred from what we see:—inferred by conceiving the objects as existing in space, and by applying to them the Idea of space” (149). On the one hand, fundamental ideas such as space and time precede experience, which can discover general truths but cannot give those truths universality; on the other hand, universal truths, though they borrow their form from ideas, cannot be understood except by the actual study of nature. Thus, the laws of motion are exemplifications of the transcendental idea of causality, but the idea of cause can come to light only in the course of empirical research and the detection of facts.

Whewell’s notion of “fundamental Ideas” is not strictly Kantian, because ideas do not stand for the transcendental categories of understanding; rather, they are dynamic a posteriori truths that became a priori through scientific progress: “It will hereafter be my business to show what the Ideas are, which thus enter into our knowledge; and how each Idea has been, as a matter of historical fact, introduced into the Science to which it especially belongs” (149; emphasis added). As Menachem Fisch explains, although both Kant and Whewell sought how one might epistemologically justify the universal and necessary status of scientific knowledge, their projects were also quite different: “Whewell’s problem was not to determine how experience is possible, nor even how excellent modern science is possible. Whewell took their possibility, indeed actual existence, for granted. His concern, as opposed to Kant’s, was primarily methodological: namely, to determine how, in the course of negotiating the phenomena, such knowledge is obtained.”16 That is, Whewell’s project was conceived not in order to challenge Hume’s skepticism, as Kant’s transcendental philosophy was conceived to be, but precisely, as Herschel stated in his review, to further ground the belief in the “law of continuity,” yet not by adhering to “commonsense” principles but through “solid” philosophical and historical a priori conditions.

Whereas it was through his historical studies that Whewell came to see how scientific knowledge was acquired, it was his theory of knowledge that provided him with a historiographical model for scientific development. Moreover, as Geoffrey Cantor points out, writing History and (p.46) Philosophy simultaneously enabled Whewell to develop his own theory of induction that was radically different from both Reid’s “inductive principle” and Herschel’s “inductive method.”17 Based on his Kantian reformulation of the term Ideas, Whewell calls the inductive process the “Colligation of Facts,” and defines it as an “act of the intellect” through which “a precise connexion among the phenomena” is established. This process starts with a common observation of facts without any “habit of thought exercised in observing,” and is followed by “succeeding stages of science” through which a “more especial attention and preparation on the part of the observer, and a selection of certain kinds of facts” eventually lead to the decomposition of facts (207–8). Facts selected in this process become scientific only if they are organized under fundamental ideas such as time, space, and cause, and analyzed under a specific constructed conception that is a modification of the general and broad fundamental idea. Yet, for Whewell, conceptions are not the outcome of a gradual process of generalization; rather, they are discontinuous junctures within this process:

[T]he first and great instrument by which facts, so observed with a view to the formation of exact knowledge, are combined into important and permanent truths, is that peculiar Sagacity which belongs to the genius of a Discoverer; and which, while it supplies those distinct and appropriate Conceptions which lead to its success, cannot be limited by rules, or expressed in definitions. It would be difficult or impossible to describe in words the habits of thought which led Archimedes to refer the conditions of equilibrium on the lever to the Conception of pressure, while Aristotle could not see in them anything more than the result of the strangeness of the properties of the circle. … These are what are commonly spoken of as felicitous and inexplicable strokes of inventive talent; and such, no doubt, they are. No rules can ensure us similar success in new cases; or can enable men who do not possess similar endowments, to make like advances in knowledge. (210–11; emphasis added)

Whewell thus describes the discovery process as one involving “constant invention and activity, a perpetual creating and selecting power at work.” Moreover, he explicitly states that it would be a mistake to suppose that new hypotheses or conceptions are “constructed by an enumeration of obvious cases, or by a wanton alteration of relations” that occur in previous hypotheses (212–13). New truths are discovered by formulating new ideas in which facts are seen in a new light, not by new modifications (p.47) of old ideas. Far from defining induction either as a logical inference or as a “mechanical” generalization process, Whewell describes it as a creative and interpretive process in which concepts are formed not by structurally capturing what has already been found in the facts but by reading something new into them (“superinducing”) through the imaginative and active act of the discoverer’s mind. Based on his reformulation of induction, Whewell criticizes Bacon in Philosophy for undermining the role of “ideas” and the inventive genius in the process of discovery:

[H]e [Bacon] did not justly appreciate the sagacity, the inventive genius, which all discovery requires. He conceived that he could supersede the necessity of such peculiar endowments. … And he illustrates this by comparing his method to a pair of compasses, by means of which a person with no manual skill may draw a perfect circle. In the same spirit he speaks of proceeding by due rejections; and appears to imagine that when we have obtained a collection of facts, if we go on successively rejecting what is false, we shall at last find we have, left in our hands, that scientific truth which we seek. … The necessity of a conception which must be furnished by the mind in order to bring together the facts, could hardly have escaped the eye of Bacon, if he had cultivated more carefully the ideal side of his philosophy. … Since Bacon, with all his acuteness, had not divined circumstances so important in the formation of science, it is not wonderful that his attempt to reduce this process to a Technical Form is of little value. (232–33; emphases in original)

Whewell’s Philosophy is thus structured around a tension between his recognition that discovery cannot be reduced to a set of methodological rules, and his efforts to extract such rules from the actual process through which discoveries were made in the past. In any case, the sense of a methodological necessity, so prevalent in Herschel’s Discourse—the notion that an adherence to method guarantees both the possibility of discovery and its epistemic validity—is missing from his account. Discovery, in this sense, is an irreducible epistemic process, because it is mainly creative and not logical or rational.

Whewell’s historians Fisch, Yeo, and Schaffer emphasize that it was through his friendship with two of Coleridge’s followers, William Rowan Hamilton and Julius Charles Hare, that he became exposed to the more moderate aspects of Coleridge’s epistemology and politics.18 Cantor explains that Whewell’s attitude toward romanticism changed: whereas (p.48) initially he was critical of Coleridge’s metaphysics, from 1833 onward he became sympathetic to Coleridge’s philosophy and modeled his notion of a scientific genius and the intuitive process of discovery on Coleridge’s core aesthetic and epistemological terms and ideas.19 Cantor also points out that Whewell’s effort to construct a historiographical model that both describes and conceptualizes scientific development was part of a collective effort by a group of liberal Anglican historians to integrate historical facts and theories. Although their historical accounts were defined in opposition both to the rationalist tradition, which emphasized the accumulation of empirical knowledge, and to the speculative tradition, represented in England by Coleridge and Wordsworth, which emphasized grand historical schemata over facts, they were nevertheless much closer to the romantics.20 This group, inspired by new German scholarship, particularly the work of Barthold Niebuhr, included Thomas Arnold, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and Whewell’s friends in Cambridge Hare and Connop Thirlwall. All these scholars emphasized the interpretative nature of history writing and the role of the historian’s imagination in imposing order and unity on historical facts. Liberal Anglican historians also rejected the idea of progress and accepted the romantic view of history as “the natural, law-like unfolding of a nation’s inner dynamic; an unfolding which did not presuppose progress since a nation finally decays and becomes extinct.” In order to oppose deterministic and utilitarian views of historical development that underlay rational historical accounts, they “emphasized the moral and intellectual characteristics exhibited by each nation through its history,” as well as imaginative individuals who both “reflected a nation’s values and shaped its history.”21

Rationalist histories of science, such as Joseph Priestley’s The History and Present State of Electricity (1767), described the gradual growth of science as marking the progress of the human mind and emphasized the “instrumental” aspect of discoveries as well as the employment of inductive generalizations. Whereas these histories excluded the achievements of individuals in favor of an “accumulation of facts,” Whewell’s History focused on the achievements of a gifted discoverer as a “product of his time and as a moral agent.” Following the romantic idea of a poetic genius, Whewell argued that creativity and intuition were crucial to explain great discoverers, such as Newton and Kepler. He emphasized that discoverers possessed the highest intellectual and moral qualities of their time and were therefore model figures for the development of a nation. Thus, as Cantor explains, with History Whewell shifted the history of (p.49) science from matter, the “knowledge of the external world,” to the mind, “the internal world.” By outlining the achievements of the individual human mind, the history of science became “a form of moral discourse.”22

This romantic model of scientific discovery became, in Whewell’s hands, a political weapon against a populist utilitarian view of science, such as that advocated by Babbage and Herschel. It led him, as is shown earlier, to develop an elitist view of scientific practice in which a few gifted individuals are the founders of disciplines and are distinguished from the mere “practitioners of science.” Thus, in the BAAS meeting in 1833, Coleridge decried Humphry Davy’s suggestion that mere researchers in scientific disciplines would be named “philosophers.” This name, Coleridge claimed, should be applied only to an elevated elite and not to an army of experimenters. In response to this debate, Whewell coined the term scientist as a specialized designation that distinguishes the professional practitioner from both the amateur “man of science” and the scientific genius. Schaffer has shown how “Whewell’s vocation was the search for an appropriate role for the intellectual élite” based on Coleridge’s idea of a national “clerisy” as a body that would aim at balancing through reform the different social forces, both the “permanent” and the “progressive” ones, and would embody the intellectual accomplishments of the nation.23 In this regard, it is clear that, as a historian and a philosopher, Whewell positioned himself not in the role of a practitioner of science like Herschel but in the new role of what Schaffer and Yeo call a “critic” of science, a position that enabled him to judge, as could be seen in his criticism of Babbage’s views of mathematics, the moral values of scientific practice. And because there was no model for such a role in the scientific community at this time, Whewell found it in the romantic poet, particularly in Coleridge, who conceived himself as a poet and a critic, and in criticism as a distinct intellectual activity.24

It is clear that Talbot’s introduction to The Pencil of Nature, “A Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art,” is discursively informed by the model of discovery that Whewell’s History presents, in which the history of science is described as the history of personal discoveries, and discoverers are considered to be the founders of disciplines and research schools. Just as Talbot presents himself as the discoverer of “the principles and practice of Photogenic Drawing,” he also defines his discovery account as the “history of the art.” Moreover, as I will show in the following chapters, in The Pencil of Nature, Talbot discusses the role and status of the photographic document in relation to precisely a romantic form of (p.50) historicism. And of course the shift in his accounts from an “external” form of reasoning based on “mechanical” and “impersonal” progressive stages of “generalization” to an “internal,” individual, and creative process of intuitive thinking is highly significant in light of his emphasis on the camera obscura.

Talbot’s professional and personal contacts with Whewell were more limited than his relations with Herschel, although all of them belonged to the “Cambridge network.” Yet the point that needs to be emphasized is that although Whewell’s work gave the most sophisticated and comprehensive account of the scientific discoverer as genius, its redefinition of the discoverer was in no way unique at this historical juncture. Its specific discursive importance lies in the way it points to the infiltration of romantic ideas of creativity and genius into the scientific establishment during a time when its philosophical empiricist premises were challenged. That is, Whewell’s books had a double role: on the one hand, they retained and further grounded the religious and moral convictions guiding scientific practice in Britain; on the other hand, they challenged its epistemological foundations. This, again, further demonstrates not only the highly inconsistent meaning of the term induction during this time but also the inconsistent way in which Talbot defined photogenic drawing itself: as a “shadow” and a “natural wonder” that “proves” the premises of natural philosophy and the “law of continuity,” and as an idea of a “picture of nature” that exists in the imagination of the discoverer but is triggered or “realized” in his encounter with nature.

The romantic definition of the discoverer as genius also underlay David Brewster’s historical and biographical studies Life of Newton (1835) and Martyrs of Science (1841). Brewster, who was a much closer professional colleague of Talbot, as is previously shown, was part of a different, if not opposed, scientific establishment from Whewell’s. Nevertheless, as Schaffer shows, he also emphasized, with regard to Kepler’s work, that “the influence of imagination as an instrument of research has, we think, been much overlooked by those who have ventured to give laws to philosophy.”25 By emphasizing the role of the imagination, both Whewell and Brewster responded to Kant’s definition of genius in his Critique of Judgment (1790) as the talent (or natural gift) that gives the rule to art. Works of genius could not be copied or imitated and become a rule for others to follow; thus, science could not be carried out by genius. Based on this characterization and delimitation of the term genius to artists, Kant famously argued that Newton cannot be considered a genius (p.51) because he presented his discoveries as an outcome of a logical process of reasoning. Reclaiming the imagination and intuition within the realm of science enabled Whewell and Brewster to emphasize the religious and moral aspects of scientific practice by granting discoverers the status of genius.26

Within the British scientific establishment, it was Humphry Davy, springing from his relations with Coleridge, who, in his chemical experimental and philosophical works, presented himself as a scientific genius.27 Talbot was, of course, familiar with Davy’s chemical experimental work and mentions him in his first account as a “distinguished experimenter” and the coauthor, together with Thomas Wedgwood, of the 1802 essay “An Account of a Method of Copying Paintings upon Glass, and of Making Profiles, by the Agency of Light upon Nitrate of Silver,” which documented a failed attempt to copy and fix with solar light preexisting images, including the ones formed in the camera obscura.28 It was Davy and his investigations of chemical affinity that offered a much more “heroic” model of a natural philosopher than the one suggested by Herschel and Babbage. As Christopher Lawrence points out, in many of his lectures at the Royal Institution Davy stated that to discover the animating powers of life, or “nature’s hidden operations,” necessitates a genius. In 1802 Davy publicly confronted the romantic poets’ view of chemistry as a lower-order activity when compared with poetry. Davy argued that “[t]he son of true genius… in the search of discovery … will rather pursue the plans of his own mind than be limited by the artificial divisions of language.” Thus, chemistry could “exhibit to men” that system of knowledge “which relates so intimately to their own physical and moral constitution.” He also emphasized that when engaging with nature in this way, the mind of the natural philosopher must be active and creative.29

This necessary relation between the creative power of the discoverer’s mind and nature’s own creations, which “impelled” him, as Talbot states, “to explore a path so deeply hidden among nature’s secrets,” evokes a mode of inquiry that connects nature and human nature along much more subjective and dynamic lines than the static and mechanical “law of continuity.” Talbot also explicitly mentions the creative role of the imagination in his comments to Plate 4, “The Open Door,” in The Pencil of Nature, in which he mentions the picture’s capacity to “awaken a train of thoughts and feelings, and picturesque imaginings.”30 These statements and Talbot’s description of his discovery process point, I argue, to the importance of the imagination within the new epistemological conditions (p.52) of knowledge. And it is primarily within Kant’s and Coleridge’s philosophical projects that the epistemologically destabilizing faculty of the imagination becomes also an aesthetic principle of both creation and judgment. Emphasizing the role of the imagination leads Kant and Coleridge not only to reconsider the role of the genius but also to redefine the relations between nature and the newly constituted entity “man.” It is thus within new aesthetic theories of the imagination and their critical vocabulary, which includes ideas such as the beautiful, the sublime, and the picturesque, that the specific idea of a “picture of nature” and its relation to the camera obscura can be explicated. The following sections explore the newly defined faculty of the imagination and its philosophical, aesthetic, and critical status before turning to a concrete analysis of Talbot’s conceptualization of the photographic image as a “drawing” of nature.

Furthermore, within the context of the book as a whole, and not just this specific chapter, my detailed analysis of aesthetic terms and concepts aims to reconsider the relations between photography and aesthetics. My discussion is meant to challenge reductive accounts of aesthetics in the theory of photography based, for example, on Clement Greenberg’s discussion of Kant in some of his writings to support his emphasis on medium specificity and opticality.31 The relevance of aesthetics to the history of photography must be separated, I contend, from questions of medium and from photography’s artistic status in relation to painting. Instead, what must be addressed are the complex relations, as I further show, between photography’s inconsistent epistemological status at this historical juncture and the emergence of aesthetics at the end of the eighteenth century as a paradoxical form of knowledge that constantly undermines the continuity and universality of knowledge.

Kant’s Secret Art of Knowledge

The emphasis in new models of discovery on irreducible subjectivity, the idea of “genius,” and “unregulated” temporality, or a moment of “epiphany,” and, correspondingly, the shift from the exteriority of sensations and impressions to the interiority of the discoverer’s mind point to the emergence of a certain zone of opacity within the highly illuminated and transparent “table of things.” Instead of the circular “law of continuity,” what is underlined is an “event” that gains its power because it ruptures representation by introducing a gap between nature and mind, being and thought. Paradoxically, by the time nature inherently became an image, a “sun-image,” it was no longer conceived to be an image. Whereas under (p.53) the classical episteme and the logic of representation, as can be seen in Talbot’s earlier account, the character and status of phenomena were conceived as inseparable from the methods through which it was possible to study nature, such that the observable empirical fact was always a part of a scientific classification “table” and simultaneously a visible “image” of a divine design, with the emergence of the modern episteme at the end of the eighteenth century, Foucault argues, nature became separated from thought and unfolded in its own space. Within new knowledge formations, time, and not the spatial table of representation, came to define the status and mode of being of things, as Foucault states:

History in this sense is not to be understood as the compilation of factual successions or sequences as they may have occurred; it is the fundamental mode of being of empiricities, upon the basis of which they are affirmed, posited, arranged, and distributed in the space of knowledge for the use of such disciplines or sciences as may arise. … History, from the nineteenth century, defines the birthplace of the empirical, that from which, prior to all established chronology, it derives its own being. It is no doubt because of this that History becomes so soon divided … into an empirical science of events and that radical mode of being that prescribes their destiny to all empirical beings, to those particular beings that we are. … Since it is the mode of being of all that is given to us in experience, History has become the unavoidable element in our thought.32

To conceive of living beings as “historical” or as formed in time means to move beyond the visible, observable table into the “dark” side of internal, invisible, and dynamic forces that animate nature and operate independently from any theological or metaphysical convictions. Most important, to conceive of nature as formed in time also means, as is shown in the previous chapter, to acknowledge change as the underlying condition of natural and material systems of production; hence the new emphasis in scientific practice and new physical theories, such as the wave theory of light, on continuous temporal processes rather than on a Newtonian ontology of substances and particles, and on ways to “tame” change in order to oppose the common view of science as challenging theology, as Babbage’s project of the “mechanization of intelligence” demonstrated.

It is thus precisely the assumed sense of continuity and transparency that underlies the classical episteme, the inductive belief that the same form of genesis, from simple to complex, applies both to human nature, (p.54) in the movement from sensations to ideas, and to natural phenomena, in the progress from facts to laws, that seems inadequate as a foundation for valid and universal knowledge. To know, therefore, means no longer to observe and compare what is presented to the “mind’s eye,” that is, to the faculty of understanding that “tames” the inadequacies and contingencies of sensorial experience but precisely to form a link between the density of sensorial subjective experience and the inherent opacity of nature, because, as Foucault states, living beings have

withdrawn into their own essence, taking their place at last within the force that animates them, within the organic structure that maintains them, within the genesis that has never ceased to produce them, things, in their fundamental truth, have now escaped from the space of the table; instead of being no more than the constancy that distributes their representations always in accordance with the same forms, they turn in upon themselves, posit their own volumes, and define for themselves an internal space which, to our representation, is on the exterior. … [The] space of order is from now on shattered: there will be things … and then representation, a purely temporal succession, in which those things address themselves (always partially) to a subjectivity, a consciousness, a singular effort of cognition, to the “psychological” individual who from the depth of his own history… is now trying to know. (239–40; emphases added)

Between being and thought, subject and object, things and words, a new space is opened in which the very conditions of knowledge are at stake. Thus, for Foucault, Kant’s critical philosophy marks the threshold of modernity, because it questions the limits of representation and the conditions that define its universal valid form. Kant’s transcendental philosophy shows that judgments regarding the universality of phenomena and experience cannot be derived from experience or empirical observations but must be grounded for their validity on an a priori foundation beyond experience. Kant’s philosophy therefore formulates a transcendental field in which the nonempirical but finite subject determines, in its exterior relation to objects, all the formal conditions of experience in general. The constitution of “man” as both the subject and the object of knowledge marks the major “event” of the modern episteme, according to Foucault, and with it the possibility of a new mode of philosophical reflection, what Kant calls “critique,” which is precisely concerned with the relations between the empirical and the transcendental conditions of knowledge, (p.55) that is, with the formation of a discourse that separates the transcendental from the empirical while being directed at both (320).

Foucault famously defines the new epistemological figure of “man” as an “empirico-transcendental doublet,” “since he is being such that knowledge will be attained in him of what renders all knowledge possible” (318). The constitution of man is a logical necessity, because it is within this “anthropological form” that the empirical comes to stand for the transcendental to the extent that the transcendental repeats the empirical. The constitution of man therefore necessitates a specific “analytic of finitude” through which the transcendental conditions of knowledge will be revealed or extracted out of empirical contents given to knowledge. Foucault shows that this analysis was conducted in two forms, either through a physiological model, which locates the conditions of knowledge in the body, or through a historical model, in which these conditions appear as part of an eschatological narrative. This analysis explains the emphasis within Whewell’s project on “history” as way to inquire how “real” knowledge is obtained by individual discoverers, as well as, consequently, the reason that, once Talbot focuses his account on his role as an “original” discoverer, he presents his account and The Pencil of Nature in general as outlining the “history” of the new art. That is, it is within a historicist form of knowledge that the anthropological figure of “man” becomes necessary.

Yet although the transcendental conditions of knowledge make all knowledge possible, they nevertheless remain outside the domain of experience and thought. Thus, man is a mode of being, Foucault explains, that always remains open, never finally delimited, extending from that part in himself that remains unknown: “[I]t is now a question not of truth, but of being; not of nature, but of man; not of the possibility of understanding, but of the possibility of a primary misunderstanding; not of the unaccountable nature of philosophical theories as opposed to science, but of the resumption in a clear philosophical awareness of that whole realm of unaccounted-for experiences in which man does not recognize himself” (323; emphasis added). Instead of the sovereign transparency of the classical cogito, in which being is thought and thought is conceptualized as self-consciousness, the modern cogito suggests new relations between being and thought: “In this form, the cogito will not therefore be the sudden and illuminating discovery that all thought is thought, but the constantly renewed interrogation as to how thought can reside elsewhere than here, and yet so very close to itself; how it can be in the forms of non-thinking. The modern cogito does not reduce the whole being of things to thought (p.56) without ramifying the being of thought right down to the inert network of what does it not think” (324). Thus, the very possibility of thought in the modern episteme lies in inscribing within itself a space that cannot be thought, what Foucault calls the “unthought.”

It is this epistemological problematic that explains the central role of the faculty of the imagination in Kant’s and Coleridge’s critical philosophies. The imagination is symptomatic of the loss of representation as a ground for knowledge and of the philosophical effort to provide a new foundation for knowledge. It marks the eclipse of representation, because it is a synthetic faculty whose primary function is to link the transcendental principles of understanding to empirical sense perception, but whose very existence marks the impossibility of an epistemological synthesis of knowledge outside the space of representation. That is, the imagination becomes necessary precisely because nature and man no longer occupy the same space, and thus the validity of knowledge can no longer be grounded metaphysically through the circular law of representation. Knowledge is now located within “man,” whose sensorial “physiological” density and inherent historicity challenge any claim for the universality of knowledge. Hence, the inherently aesthetic faculty of the imagination points to the creative unaccountable potential of the genius and at the same time exposes man’s inherent limits, as manifested, for example, in the concept of the sublime, what Foucault calls “finitude.” This also explains the emphasis in romantic aesthetic theory on the unity between man and nature as a goal to be attained, not a condition that can be safely assumed.

In this formulation, the imagination is not primarily a trait or a quality that marks the gifted genius’s originality but what epitomizes the highly ungrounded new conditions of knowledge.33 These conditions led to the fluctuating definitions of the imagination’s mode of operation in both Kant’s and Coleridge’s theories. Kant’s scholars often debate the inconsistencies between his formulation of the imagination in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and the Critique of Judgment (1790).34 In opposition to the first critique, where one fundamental faculty dominates the other, the Critique of Judgment focuses on their relations and their ability to enter into a “spontaneous harmony,” or a conflict in which they push one another to a limit. This indeterminate and unregulated relationship between the faculties becomes, Gilles Deleuze argues, “the foundation of romanticism.”35 And it is Kant’s reformulation of the creative imagination in the third critique that explains the epistemological and aesthetic ramifications of the figure of the genius in the romantic project.

(p.57) Yet differences also exist between the two editions of the Critique of Pure Reason, as Kant seems to broaden the role of the imagination from an associative empirical faculty to a synthetic transcendental one. In the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant describes three forms of synthesis that make experience and knowledge possible. He explains that synthesis is necessary because of the successive order in which discrete representations appear; that is, because Kant defines time as a transcendental category, he needs to show how it is “formed” or “produced” in the very act of perception. As Deleuze explains, in Kant’s philosophy, time is no longer subjected to movement or, in Foucault’s terms, to the “law of continuity” that precedes time, but it becomes a unilinear element of thought itself that “imposes the succession of its determination on every possible movement.” Hence the paradox of historicism in which everything changes in time, but time itself does not change or move; “it is an immutable form that does not change.”36 The synthesis of the imagination is described in the first edition as reproductive and associative because it is meant to link present and past presentations on the basis of a transcendental principle (time or space) without which no coherent experience is possible. This form of synthesis is differentiated, on the one hand, from the more basic synthesis of intuitive apprehension that combines successive separate impressions into a single representation, and, on the other hand, from the “higher” synthesis of conceptual recognition that imposes unity among perceptually separate yet similar representations.37

In the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, published six years after the first one, Kant differentiates between the synthesis of the reproductive imagination that is subject “solely to empirical laws, viz., to the laws of association,” and that therefore “contributes nothing to the explanation of the possibility of a priori cognition” but belongs to psychology (192), and what he calls the “figurative” synthesis of the transcendental productive faculty of the imagination. The imagination is described not simply as a “reproductive” faculty that (re)presents an object in intuition without its being present but also as one that “forms” objects of intuition so that they will correspond to the concepts of understanding. The imagination, like the transcendental faculty of understanding, becomes an “exercise of spontaneity, which is determinative, rather than merely determinable, as in sense; hence this synthesis can a priori determine sense in terms of its form in accordance with the unity of apperception” (191). What Kant now emphasizes is the fact that because the imagination mediates between sense and understanding, it actually partakes of both; (p.58) thus, it remains unclear whether the imagination is an independent faculty or whether it simply has a specific role or function within the existing faculties.38

Later in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant further elaborates on the transcendental mediating function of the imagination. Assuming that the pure concepts of understanding are different from empirical intuitions, Kant needs to explain in what way intuition subsumed under a category or how a category can be applied to appearances, that is, how the transcendental and the empirical can be linked. This necessitates a “power of judgment” and a mediating “third something” that “must be homogeneous with the category on one hand, and with the appearance, on the other,” both intellectual and sensible (210–11). Kant defines this form of presentation “transcendental schema” and argues that it is always a product of the imagination. He emphasizes that the “schema” is different from an image. Thus, for example, rather than presenting an image of the number 5, Kant supposes “that I only think a number as such. … Then my thought is more the presentation of a method for presenting—in accordance with a certain concept—a multitude in an image, than this image itself” (213; emphasis added). Schemata are thus not images of objects but “pure sensible concepts” that function as possible rules for the synthesis of the imagination. Whereas the image is a product of the empirical faculty the imagination, the schema of sensible concepts is a product or “a monogram of the pure a priori imagination through which … images become possible in the first place” (214; emphasis added). The imagination, explains Rudolf Makkreel, makes possible the transition from a logical meaning to an objective one, from the logical possibility of objects to the objective reality of objects. In this regard, the schemata, by specifying the possible empirical predicates of the object, “realize the categorical forms by anticipating possible objects of experience while at the same time they restrict them by selecting what type of empirical concepts are eligible to be applied to such objects.”39 In this formulation, the imagination determines the transcendental conditions for the realization of the categories by defining in advance the forms of empirical objects that could correspond to the forms of the categories. The significant point of Kant’s analysis is that the imagination is defined no longer as an “image-making” faculty but as a formal analytical one. In this part of his discussion of the imagination, Kant unexpectedly states, in a way similar to Hume, that schematism is “a secret art residing in the depths of the human soul, an art whose true stratagems we shall hardly ever divine from nature and (p.59) lay bare before ourselves” (214). Like Hume, he emphasizes the necessity of the imagination but also the impossibility of understanding and explaining its operations, which in this statement border on the “mystical” or “metaphysical.” The imagination makes experience and knowledge possible, but it belongs to what Foucault defined as the “unthought.”

Yet it is ultimately in the Critique of Judgment that the imagination’s role becomes not simply productive but also creative as part of its mutual “free play” with understanding. Here Kant links the imagination to reflective judgment, in which a particular is given but no universal concept exists under which it can be subsumed or contained, in opposition to determinative judgment, in which the universal is given. Reflective judgments are meant to suggest the unity and systematization of nature not through the categories that establish the possibility of the universal laws of nature but through the principle of purposiveness, in which the unity of nature is judged only in terms of empirical contingent laws. This principle enables the subject to systematize the inherent diversity of nature in a way that is commensurate with the faculties. A reflective judgment is thus merely subjective because it establishes “a law for its reflection on nature,” not for nature itself.40

For Kant, judgments of taste are reflective judgments, because the feeling of pleasure they evoke cannot proclaim an a priori necessity or an objective necessity, yet the capacity to make these judgments is a universal one and calls for a universal validity, what he calls “common sense.” Kant challenges the aesthetic theories of Edmund Burke and David Hume in which judgments of beauty relate either to specific qualities of objects or to their effect on the mind. He aims to show that these judgments are not individual and “psychological,” because although they are empirical and contingent, they are nevertheless grounded in the subject’s transcendental principles and operations of the faculties. Reflective judgments of taste are made not out of a sensation or of a cognition that relates an object to a concept (it is divorced from knowledge) but out of the subject’s feeling of the harmonious operations of his own faculties. Thus, “what is merely subjective in the presentation of an object … is its aesthetic character” (28; emphasis added).

When judging an object beautiful, the imagination creates a form of unity without presupposing a determinate concept, yet it does so in harmony with the general lawfulness of understanding. This “free lawfulness” is aligned with the free lawfulness of understanding, which assumes a form or a principle of purposiveness in the object but without a specific (p.60) purpose. The feeling of pleasure thus emerges out of the subject’s recognition of the indeterminate activity, a “free play” of the two faculties that is nonetheless attuned, that is, reciprocal and harmonious, with cognition in general (63–64). Thus, the imagination becomes a semiautonomous faculty in the third critique that produces independent forms of intuitions and unities yet always in harmony with the abstract lawfulness of understanding. And although the indeterminate unity that the imagination creates can only be sensed and not known, because it is not related to a concept, nevertheless, as Makkreel argues, it does have an epistemological significance, because it contributes to the systematization of experience by linking the lawfulness of nature with the laws of freedom that Kant outlined in the Critique of Practical Reason (1788): understanding (natural philosophy) and reason (practical moral philosophy), sensible and supersensible knowledge.41

Thus, after analyzing the imagination’s relations with understanding as part of his definition of the beautiful, Kant discusses its relations with reason as part of his designation of the sublime, as that which cannot be exhibited or contained in any sensible form but only through the supersensible ideas of reason. The sublime exposes the inadequacy of the imagination to exhibit a whole of incomparable magnitude, its inability to synthesize out of successive impressions a unity, but only in “one instant” that “cancels the condition of time in the imagination’s progression” and thus does “violence to inner sense” that is dependent on temporal succession for the constitution of experience (116). That is, by excluding the linearity of time, the object can be no longer synthetically “produced” in the successive act of perception but only registered as a disruption. Yet this inability and violence trigger the subject’s consciousness of the unlimited and infinite powers of reason to transcend “any standard of sensibility” and therefore reassures the subject of “the superiority of the rational vocation of our cognitive powers over the greatest powers of sensibility” (112, 114). Thus, again, the sublime “must be sought only in the mind of the judging person” and not in any natural object, as Burke suggested, by the simultaneous feeling of displeasure and pleasure that emerges out of the conflicted yet ultimately harmonious relation of the imagination with reason.

It is within his analysis of aesthetic reflective judgments that Kant’s definition of genius needs to be understood. And although Kant defines genius exclusively within the realm of fine art, this discussion actually forms a very small part of the Critique of Judgment that is concerned not (p.61) with art but with the ability to “think” aesthetically without determining concepts or specific rules, an ability that Kant locates exclusively in the subject. In this regard, Kant further elaborates and transcendently grounds Alexander Baumgarten’s definition of aesthetics not as a discourse of art but as a form of sensorial knowledge that is not subjected to conceptual knowledge and therefore should be judged not as a “lower” form of cognition but as one that contains its own independent criteria of perfection that need to be met if beauty is to be perceived. Baumgarten thus emphasizes the ability to create sensorial unity out of percepts, not qualities of things, through the richness and vividness of a singular perception. And although, for Kant, aesthetics is not a form of knowledge or a science but a mode of judgment, nevertheless he also emphasizes the independence of reflective judgments from determinative ones that are based on concepts. This understanding of aesthetics is crucial, as I will further show, for an understanding of the aesthetic terms through which photogenic drawing was conceptualized as a picture and a visual image.

Kant defines the genius as “the talent (natural endowment) that gives the rule to art” (174). Given that art, on the one hand, presupposes rules without which its products cannot be recognized, but on the other hand is subjected to a judgment of beauty that cannot be derived from a rule, it follows, for Kant, that it is the natural qualities of the subject that give rule to art. Thus, genius consists in the ability to produce something without any determinate rule, concept, or specific skill. Originality is thus the major trait of the genius and consists in his inability to describe or analyze his product. Thus, it is “as nature that it gives the rule”: “[H]e himself does not know how he came by the ideas for it; nor is it in his power to devise such products at his pleasure, or by following a plan, and to communicate [his procedure] to others in precepts that would enable them to bring about like products” (175; emphasis in original). In this regard, the genius’s products are exemplary, and although they can inspire other geniuses to follow or can give rise to schools, they cannot be imitated. Kant is inconsistent as to whether the works by genius can be imitated, but he definitely rejects the view that they can be copied or “mechanically imitated”: “For in mere imitation the element of genius in the work—what constitutes its spirit—would be lost” (187).

A genius is thus determined by his “spirit” (Geist), an aesthetic animating principle that consists in the ability to present “aesthetic ideas” that the productive imagination creates and for which no concept can be adequate. It is in his discussion of “aesthetic ideas” that Kant emphasizes (p.62) the productive power of the imagination and its freedom, not simply its “lawfulness,” when “it creates … another nature out of the material that actual nature gives it.” The imagination frees itself from the empirical law of association and “molds” nature into “something that surpasses nature” (182). Thus, on the one hand, the imagination, like reason, forms ideas that transcend experience, yet, on the other hand, these ideas are “inner intuitions” or “pure sensations” that cannot be contained in any concept. The imagination animates reason, “makes reason think more,” and “quickens the mind” by opening it to a “multitude” of presentations. Thus, the aesthetic imagination, as opposed to the one described in the Critique of Pure Reason, which is under the constraint of the understanding, “is free, so that, over and above that harmony with the concept, it may supply, in an unstudied way, a wealth of undeveloped materials for the understanding” (185). The genius has the ability to understand the free play of the imagination and to communicate it in a concept to which no rule applies.

Whereas Hume describes the imagination as an empirical “psychological” faculty that introduces “fictitious” resemblances unwarranted by the law of association, Kant analyzes it as a transcendental faculty that actively forms the contents of sensation in accordance with the categories. Kant celebrates the formative powers of the imagination in the third critique, where the freedom of the imagination seems to further affirm the idea of freedom that underlies practical reason, and to enrich experience. The figure of the genius thus manifests the new conditions of knowledge that are now located in “man,” who has the ability to create “another nature.” Nature is thus no longer simply a transparent “image” of the divine design but a synthetic formal product of sensibility and understanding, a schematic “monogram” that, as a “pure sensible concept,” is both intelligible and sensible. It is a monogram that, more than illuminating the conditions of knowledge, in fact highlights the inherent opacity or “secrecy” of both nature as a “thing-in-itself” and the mind of the genius, whose creations cannot be explained through any rule or law. This, as Coleridge’s romantic philosophy makes clear, enables the operations of man and nature to be aligned or “linked” but not unified. At the same time, this account of the faculty of the imagination complicates any straightforward notion of what a “picture of nature” might be at this historical juncture, because, contrary to the premises of representation and its exclusion of resemblance and the “fictions” of the imagination, what can be seen and known (in and outside the camera obscura) cannot be separated from what can be imagined.

(p.63) Coleridge’s Philosophical and Aesthetic Method

In his seminal The Mirror and the Lamp, M. H. Abrams argues that the Copernican revolution in epistemology “was effected in England by poets and critics before it manifested itself in academic philosophy.”42 This again suggests that Whewell’s theory of induction and his notion of a scientific “genius” were formed in response to Coleridge’s aesthetic theories, which introduced or disseminated German philosophy into Britain.43 Significantly, historians of photography such as Geoffrey Batchen and Anne McCauley have already identified Coleridge’s significance for the conception of photography. Batchen in particular argues that Coleridge’s thinking is “exemplary” of the shifts transforming European epistemology and strongly emphasizes the importance of his philosophical work and his conception of nature to the protophotographers, namely, Davy and Thomas Wedgwood, with whom he had personal relationships. He outlines the biographical relations and personal correspondence between Coleridge and Wedgwood in order to show how Coleridge’s views on representation, and in particular his insistence on the “interactive relation between nature and the viewing subject,” informed the protophotographers’ conception of photography.44 Here I focus specifically on Coleridge’s theory of the imagination as symptomatic of the new conditions of knowledge that are evoked in Talbot’s 1844 discovery account with its emphasis on subjectivity and temporality. The function of the discussion that follows is not to argue that Talbot was a “romantic,” and in fact there are no biographical indications that he was specifically interested in Coleridge’s philosophy or poetry (Coleridge died in 1834, ten years before the publication of The Pencil of Nature). Yet romantic ideas and categories do underlie many of Talbot’s comments in this book and are constantly referred to in early reviews of photography. There are, however, many indications that Talbot was also very much interested in the work of Sir Walter Scott, whose novels were of major interest to romantic historians, as I show in chapter 4. What I suggest in this chapter is that the shift in Talbot’s account is symptomatic of a new set of epistemological and aesthetic concerns that are discursively responsible for the inconsistent way in which he came to conceptualize photogenic drawing. At the same time, I wish to rethink the relations between photography and aesthetics at this historical junction beyond the binary that is often addressed by historians of photography between art and technology.

Coleridge’s seminal definition of the imagination appears in his Biographia Literaria (1815–17), in which he reconsidered his early political (p.64) and philosophical affiliations.45 In the 1790s Coleridge was affiliated with a group of political and scientific dissidents who demanded, following their enthusiasm for the French Revolution, a republican political reform in England. He was part of a Unitarian circle that centered on Joseph Priestley, who rejected Newton’s dualistic ontology of matter and force and the theological distinction between matter and spirit in favor of a monistic and materialistic theory of nature now defined as a substance endowed with active powers of attraction and repulsion. For Priestley, both body and mind were aspects of force and not distinct antithetical entities, as force accounts for all physical reality, and he adopted David Hartley’s theory of association, as it was grounded in a strictly physiological and neurological account of perception and mental activity. This Unitarian circle included, among others, the brothers Thomas and Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Beddoes, a physician related to a group of radical physicians in England who openly advocated John Brown’s theory of life based on the excitability of the animal body. Beddoes was an advocate of German philosophy and in 1793 published one of the first English accounts of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. He founded the Pneumatical Institute as a hospital for the treatment of patients by the inhalation of gases, and it was through him that Davy met Coleridge in 1799, after the latter returned from a trip to Germany. An underlying concern of this group was the idea of an “active universe” sustained by one power that permeates both mind and matter. This stance was opposed to the views of the scientific and philosophical establishment in Britain, which followed Newton’s dualistic conception of inert matter and active forces.

Coleridge adopted Hartley’s and Priestley’s physiological and neurological theory of association, in which all sources of ideas come either from direct sense experience exciting the nerves or from a coalescence of nerve vibrations throughout the body. These theories were part of an effort, as James Engell states, to expand associationism “from a limited and mechanistic aspect of the intellect to an organic, encompassing psychological principle informing aesthetics, criticism and ethics. The progress of associationism can be seen as the drama of empiricists seeking to widen their horizons, to include more of the complexities of experience, yet always to explain these complexities and nuances by as simple and empirical a principle as possible.”46 The promise, for Coleridge, in these material associationist theories was the unification of body and soul, matter and spirit, through the idea that matter was not inert but animated and therefore spiritual.

(p.65) It was these early affiliations that led to Coleridge’s explicit embracing of German idealism in the Biographia Literaria. For him, idealism presented a much more sophisticated account of this philosophy of identity than associationism and a stronger case for rejecting empiricism in favor of Kantian transcendentalism, as Nigel Leask explains: “Coleridge’s lifelong struggle against philosophical dualism, his attempt to formulate an identity between spirit and matter (increasingly in conflict with his need to postulate a transcendent and personal deity), found common cause with the idealist’s bid to overcome Kant’s dualistic ‘distinction of powers.’”47 Unity was now to be grounded on spirit as the eternal productivity from which matter evolves, and not in matter from which the spirit arises. As Coleridge explicitly states in the Biographia Literaria, “But as soon as it [materialism] becomes intelligible, it ceases to be materialism. In order to explain thinking, as a material phænomenon, it is necessarily to refine matter into a mere modification of intelligence, with the two-fold function of appearing and perceiving.”48

Following Johann Fichte and Friedrich Schelling, Coleridge felt that Kant’s transcendental philosophy, while locating the possibility of experience in the nonempirical self, fell short of providing a basis for the romantic idea of nature as an active organic whole, because it upheld the distinction between “things-in-themselves” and the way they appeared to the categories. Schelling thus insisted that Kant’s dualism between subject and object, self and the physical world, is illusionary, and, based on Fichte, he argued that the unity and identity of self-consciousness as “I think” form the first principle of human knowledge. This unity could be achieved only in the form of infinite and pure activity of the self as part of a dialectic between the conscious self and the not-self. Unity turns into identity between subject and object in the form of the Absolute as a primary homogeneous and undifferentiated One, a spiritual principle in which duality is contained as a twofold movement from difference to unity and unity to difference.49

Schelling grounded the possibility of the physical world and of science within the activity of the nonempirical intellectual self. Thus, his philosophy, like Kant’s, is transcendental, because the real is subjected to the ideal. Yet, for him, Naturphilosophie, as a philosophy complementary to transcendental philosophy, explains the ideal through the real by discovering the same principles of infinite productive activity in nature. Nature as pure activity forms the unconditional ground for nature as determined or finite product, precisely as the intelligent self, the “I Think,” forms the ground (p.66) for the passive empirical self. Yet nature as pure productivity is accessible only to intellectual intuition, as it is not a sensible object. The distinction between productivity and product explains the prevalence of polarity concepts in Naturphilosophie. Productivity contains within itself the concept of restraint, by which it is able to generate determined objects. Nature as a product is the result of the active interaction between these opposing tendencies. And because these two tendencies are equal, they need to be thought of as alternately dominant.50 As scholars have shown, the concept of polarity underlies the early terminology of photography, in particular the terms negative and positive.51

Schelling’s idealism provided the philosophical ground not only for Coleridge’s theory of the imagination and poetic creation but also for his renunciation and criticism of Hartley’s materialist theory of association. Yet his criticism is directed less to the materialistic ground of Hartley’s theory and much more to its mechanical logic, that is, to the way its adherence to Newtonian ontology and science necessarily leads to a highly “mechanical” associationist epistemology: “the law of association being that to the mind, which gravitation is to matter” (1:67). For him, both are reductive, because they are grounded in empiricism: “Under that despotism of the eye … under this strong sensuous influence, we are restless because invisible things are not the objects of vision; and metaphysical systems, for the most part, become popular, not for their truth, but in proportion as they attribute to causes a susceptibility of being seen, if only our visual organs were sufficiently powerful” (1:74; emphasis in original). These statements show how Coleridge’s romantic project is emblematic of the shift in the conditions of knowledge in the early nineteenth century, because it is precisely the reducibility of being to representation and the subjection of vision (or “taming” of the senses) to the principles of association and understanding that are criticized. Consequently, it is the “dark,” invisible side of nature and being as a constellation of forces that becomes the object of knowledge.

Coleridge shows how associationism is modeled after the mechanical laws of motion: “In our perceptions we seem to ourselves merely passive to an external power, whether as a mirror reflecting the landscape, or as a blank canvas on which some unknown hand paints it” (1:66). In associationism, ideas are conceived like atoms and temporal relations are addressed as empirical, that is, as the outcome of repeated experiences and not as conditions of experience. Ideas can be accumulated only as the linear continuous effects of their direct cause; they do not contribute any (p.67) motion of their own in a reciprocal response to a primary cause, thereby qualitatively modifying its effects.

The main motivation behind Coleridge’s criticism of empiricism is moral, because, for him, the most significant outcomes of a reductive mechanistic philosophy are its determinism and its exclusion of subjectivity and free will: “Thus the whole universe co-operates to produce the minutest stroke of every letter, save only that I myself, and I alone, have nothing to do with it, but merely the causeless and effectless beholding of it when it is done. Yet scarcely can it be called a beholding. … The sum total of my moral and intellectual intercourse, dissolved into its elements, is reduced to extension, motion, degrees of velocity, and those diminished copies of configurative motion, which form what we call notions, and notions of notions” (1:82; emphases in original). Coleridge analyzes the basic empiricist premises of associationism, in which, as in Hume’s Treatise, perception is described as a copying process composed of autonomous and impersonal forms of representation that are organized according to the universal principles of association. Thus, in opposition to the definite and predictable notion of human nature as a “mechanical” outcome of representation, Coleridge proposes an individual free subject with synthesizing or amalgamating faculties who functions as the source of knowledge; yet, for him, this subject is not merely an abstract “formal principle,” as it is for Kant, but a moral agent. This again explains the special appeal of his ideas to Whewell, because it is precisely these qualities of the discoverer that needed emphasis in light of the legacy of British empiricism with its emphasis on a continuous “ladder of reasoning” and the popularity of utilitarian and materialist views of scientific practice during the 1830s.

For Coleridge, it is precisely the faculty of the imagination that manifests the inherently irreducible element in the subject as a creative free being, but ultimately one who, for Coleridge, is subjected to the divine Creator. In the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge explicitly states that he deduced the faculty of the imagination out of Schelling’s philosophy of identity. Yet throughout the book Kant’s formulation of the imagination as a mediating third faculty between sense impressions and the abstract concepts of understanding is evoked as well, and also Kant’s oscillating views of the imagination as partly empirical and partly transcendental: “There are evidently two powers at work, which relatively to each other are active and passive; and this is not possible without an intermediary faculty, which is at once active and passive” (1:86). Coleridge in fact turns the tension in Kant’s philosophy into a critical principle through which (p.68) the poetic imagination may be differentiated from the imagination as an element of perception, as well as genius from talent, and imagination from fancy.

Nevertheless, the concluding definition of the imagination at the end of the first volume of the Biographia Literaria is presented as a philosophical “deduction” from Schelling’s transcendental philosophy and dynamic natural philosophy. Coleridge begins the deduction with direct reference to Schelling’s and Fichte’s intellectual self as the ground for the identity of subject and object and therefore as the source for all being. Like Schelling, Coleridge opposes transcendental philosophy and natural philosophy as the two possible philosophies, and points to their unification not only in the act and evolution of self-consciousness as the highest principle of knowledge, but also in God: “The result of both the sciences, or their equatorial point, would be the principle of a total and undivided philosophy. … In other words, philosophy would pass into religion, and religion become inclusive of philosophy. We begin with the I KNOW MYSELF, in order to end with the absolute I AM. We proceed from the SELF, in order to lose and find all self in GOD” (186). This statement, embedded as it is within Schelling’s philosophical program, also marks Coleridge’s departure from German romanticism, in which Naturphilosophie was meant to supplement religion, not to dissolve into it. Coleridge attempts to “Christianize” Naturphilosophie, because the idea of nature as self-subsistent could not be tolerated within the British context and was opposed to Coleridge’s own religious convictions. Raimonda Modiano explains: “As much as Coleridge was attracted to the dynamic view of nature as formulated by various Naturphilosophen, he remained apprehensive of the pantheistic pitfalls of their system. Coleridge tried to devise a system in which a dynamic conception of nature’s polar activity and intrinsic unity could be maintained side by side with a belief in a Christian God. This led Coleridge to a Trinitarian theology … as a foundation for a new version of dynamic philosophy.”52 Coleridge intended to construct a unified philosophical system in which the real and the ideal in nature would be both identical and hierarchical in order to sustain religious belief. This again explains the attraction of Coleridge’s ideas to Whewell and Coleridge’s efforts to reconcile empiricism and transcendentalism in order to further enforce the design argument.

Nevertheless, what is mostly stressed in the Biographia Literaria is the idea that intelligence is a principle of ceaseless productive activity that provides the ground upon which natural philosophy and transcendental (p.69) philosophy are unified. The struggle between equal and indestructible forces is “inexhaustibly re-ebullient,” and thus it is development as eternal growth that forms the core of Coleridge’s conception of nature and of the imagination as a creative faculty in opposition to inert matter and fancy:

The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed or dead.

FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it blends with, and is modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.53

The primary imagination forms an unconscious part of every synthetic act of human perception. Thus, seeing itself is a creative act, as it necessarily partakes in the eternal act of creation in the Absolute spirit. Human perception is the empirical, sensual correlative manifestation of the primary force of the imagination, which in itself is nonsensual, nonempirical, and nonsubjective, as it stands for the identity and unity of subject and object. The secondary imagination addresses the specific nature of conscious poetic creation, as it points to the critical function of the imagination as a transformative force that uncovers the dynamic unity of the contingent world beyond its “fixed and dead” appearances. The secondary imagination is described as a “formative” force that has the ability, as Kant stated, to transcend experience, whereas “fancy” is what Kant defines as the “reproductive” imagination, which is subjected to the laws of association and therefore suggests nothing new to understanding or reason.

Yet what make Coleridge’s definition of the imagination so decisive are its internal inconsistencies, as the organic and moral unity that the faculty (p.70) is meant to achieve is constantly denied and deferred. In the primary imagination, the term repetition serves only to reintroduce the gap between the human and the divine that the imagination is meant to bridge. Then, in the secondary imagination, unity is presented as a compromise, that is, the imagination is both the cause of constant division and the principle of eventual fictive cohesion. As Forest Pyle states, “[R]eaders of Coleridge are confronted with the prospect that the presumed coincidence of subject and object, on which ‘all knowledge rests,’ and the promised unification of the two subjects of autobiography are but the illusory effects of a surreptitious desire.”54

Moreover, Leask shows that this definition of the imagination presents a retreat, within Coleridge’s intellectual biography, from an engagement with the historical and the political in the realm of the aesthetic. Art now transcends the world by offering a reconciled, totalizing alternative to everyday reality: “[T]he spirit no longer partakes of the Reality which it renders intelligible, and… which renders it intelligible.”55 Thus, Coleridge’s definition of the imagination presents a unique articulation of the romantic desire to achieve unity, and at the same time conveys his recognition that this unity is untenable because of the very conditions of knowledge. That is, the very formation of the imagination as a synthetic faculty that fuses together the empirical and the transcendental serves only to reintroduce the gap between these two poles of experience and knowledge. The imagination can transcend experience, but it cannot resolve its basic antinomies.

Yet this recognition did not prevent Coleridge from outlining an ambitious intellectual project, which aimed at the unification of all knowledge under the idea of the Trinity through the mutual transformation of philosophy and science, as he states in his “General Introduction; or, Preliminary Treatise on Method” (1818), or as it later appeared in The Friend as “Essays on the Principles of Method”:

Religion therefore is the ultimate aim of philosophy, in consequence of which philosophy itself becomes the supplement of the sciences, both as the convergence of all to the common end, namely, wisdom; and as supplying the copula, which modified in each in the comprehension of its parts to one whole, is in its principles common to all, as integral parts of one system. And this is METHOD, itself a distinct science, the immediate offspring of philosophy, and the link or mordant by which philosophy becomes scientific and the sciences philosophical.56

(p.71) Coleridge’s unified system of knowledge was meant to reconcile man’s moral freedom and the transcendence of God with the reality of external nature. For him, the term method stands for much more than any specific scientific method; it provides the philosophical means to reach this desired state of reconciliation and unification of all knowledge. It is thus formed as an instrumental “science” to link a dynamic conception of nature with a transcendental philosophy. While Coleridge’s understanding of science as it is revealed in this essay is radically different from that of the scientific establishment in Britain, nevertheless it is still embedded within the same moral and cultural concerns as those of the scientific establishment, because it also aims to ground knowledge by unifying it under one principle or method in a way that will not challenge religion.

As part of his method, Coleridge differentiated between “law,” which stands for an original creative idea that originates in the mind and is not abstracted or generalized from observation, because its object is the nonsensible principle underlying nature’s productivity; and “theory,” which is conceived as the outcome of an enumerative form of generalization, because its objects are the sensible objects of nature. Corresponding to law and theory are the two “fashionable” sciences of chemistry and botany, both crucial to Talbot’s early experiments and images, as I will further show. Whereas botany is based on artificial classification and on the conception of nature as a visible product, chemistry is the science of nature as dynamic creativity and pure potentiality. Chemistry is the model for Coleridge’s conception of science and for the idea of a philosophical genius as a figure complementary to the poet:

[W]ith the knowledge of LAW alone dwell Power and Prophecy, decisive Experiment, and, lastly, a scientific method. … Such, too, is the case with the assumed indecomponible substances of the LABORATORY. They are the symbols of elementary powers, and the exponents of a law, which, as the root of all these powers, the chemical philosopher, whatever his theory may be, is instinctively labouring to extract. This instinct… is itself but the form, in which the idea, the mental Correlative of the law, first announces its incipient germination in his own mind: and hence proceeds the striving after unity of principle through all the diversity of forms. … This is, in truth, the first charm of chemistry, and the secret of the almost universal interest excited by its discoveries. … It is the sense of a principle of connection given by the mind, and sanctioned by the correspondency of nature. Hence the strong hold which in all ages (p.72) chemistry had on the imagination. If in SHAKSPEARE [sic] we find nature idealized into poetry … so through the meditative observation of a DAVY, a WOOLLASTON … we find poetry, as it were, substantiated and realized in nature.57

Ideas are derived from the mind of the philosopher as genius and enable him to discover the invisible powers underlying phenomena. Through this statement one can see the importance of Davy’s work to Coleridge’s conception of science and method. As Trevor Levere points out, Coleridge and Davy’s friendship informed their respective practices.58 The very idea of a philosopher-scientist, Levere argues, was suggested to Coleridge through his encounter in the Pneumatic Institute with Davy, who, along with practicing science, wrote poetry. By the same token, Davy, as was stated earlier, modeled his conception of the natural philosopher as genius on the ideal of the romantic poet, and formulated his ideas regarding the importance of chemistry within the sciences based on Coleridge’s definitions of poetry.59

In light of these statements, it becomes clear that the idea of a “philosophical genius” had a specific meaning in the context of chemistry as an emblem of romantic science and as a constitutive field of knowledge for the conception of photography. Chemistry exemplified the realization of creative synthetic ideas in nature and thus the necessary link between the potential and the actual, the nonsensible or intelligible and the sensible. Yet, as with the imagination, the possibility of synthesizing different levels of knowledge also simultaneously exposed the gap between them. This gap is implicitly evoked in Talbot’s account by his emphasis on a temporal and conceptual discontinuity between the actual moment of discovery in which the “original” idea appears and the series of experiments that follow. Coleridge in fact described the relations between idea and experiment in similar terms: “[A]n idea is an experiment proposed, an experiment is an idea realized.”60 And the very formation of the first idea is described as a synthetic process through which the idea is initiated in the discoverer’s mind but can emerge only through an encounter with nature, where it can be realized or recognized in “the pictures of nature.” Thus, at the moment of discovery, the photographic image is an unrealized potential, an imaginative possibility that cannot at this point be realized or even specified, precisely as Snyder argues. As the product of a genius, it is an “aesthetic idea” not because it outlines a specific form of an image but precisely because it lacks a determinate concept. This again suggests (p.73) the discursive inseparability of Talbot’s conception of the photographic image and the epistemological and philosophical premises informing his model of discovery.

In Talbot’s 1844 account, photogenic drawing is a synthetic and imaginative effect of an irreducible reciprocal process between a creative mind and productive nature, an idea realized in nature. That is, it is conceptualized not as a “natural magic” that confirms the premises of the inductive method and the law of representation but as an idea through which the inherent opacity of nature and its active forces also underlies the mind’s operations. Nature and “man” are unified under these romantic premises but in a way that ultimately points to the gap separating them. This suggests that the role of the camera obscura and the connection to drawing need to be reconsidered in Talbot’s account, because it is clear that, as an “imaginative” effect or an “aesthetic idea,” photogenic drawing is anything but a “fixed” image, largely because the epistemological status of the camera-obscura image as a “picture of nature” significantly shifts within romantic aesthetic theories, as Jonathan Crary has shown in his Techniques of the Observer.61 This becomes quite clear once the critical aspects of Coleridge’s theory of the imagination are examined. More than a viable epistemological or philosophical possibility for unifying man and nature, the imagination becomes a critical tool in aesthetic theories. It is thus through an analysis of this new aesthetic critical vocabulary, so pervasive in early reviews and writings on photogenic drawing, that the epistemological status of the photographic image as an imaginative effect and as a trigger for “imaginative” picturesque feelings can be understood.

The Life of the Imagination

Significantly, for both Kant and Coleridge, the faculty of the imagination was linked to the biological, physiological, and philosophical idea of “life.” Foucault in fact points to the differences between the classical episteme and the modern one by pointing out that “[w]hen the Same and the Other both belong to a single space there is natural history; something like biology becomes possible when this unity of level begins to break up, and when differences stand out against the background of an identity that is deeper and, as it were, more serious than that of unity.”62 The deeper and invisible “identity” Foucault refers to is the concept of “life” that marked the fact that the study of nature is based no longer on atoms and predictable mechanisms but on vital processes that cannot be fully accounted for. Foucault’s analysis of the modern episteme is informed by François Jacob’s (p.74) The Logic of Life, in which he argues that what counted in the nineteenth century were no longer external differences but resemblances in depth; thus, in order “to maintain the cohesion of the organism … there had to be a particular quality, there had to be life.” Yet, although life is the source of every living being, it cannot be reduced to biological, physical, or chemical functions; it is an obscure force, Jacob states, a “vital principle” that differentiates and separates the living being from the inanimate object, based on the notion of forces, not matter. “Vitalism [operates] as a factor of abstraction” that is as “necessary for the establishment of biology as mechanism [was] for the Classical period.”63

Makkreel shows that the idea of life informs Kant’s Critique of Judgment and provides an important perspective from which to understand the reflective functions of the imagination. He points out that the subject’s feeling of life conveys, for Kant, an overall sense of vitality that encompasses both biological and mental life. In its “free play” and spontaneity, the imagination enhances the sense of life and existence in the subject by triggering its capacity to be affected. For Kant, “life” marks the capacity for self-determination based on an internal principle of purposiveness. In the third Critique, he links aesthetic judgments to teleological judgments that attribute to an organism an immanent purposiveness in which every part is both an end and a mean. Makkreel thus argues that in aesthetic judgments, “the imagination does more than represent and enhance the feeling of life; the general formative power of the imagination can be interpreted to be a manifestation of life itself.”64 That is, as a power of life, the imagination becomes a “transcendental condition for both the power to move and to be moved, and allows us to interpret the aesthetic feeling of life as a transcendental point of unity for both the active power of the understanding and the receptivity of sense.”65 In this regard, the sense of harmony that is evoked in aesthetic judgments suggests a vital immanent principle of overall synthetic, indeterminate unity.

Like Kant, Coleridge defines the imagination as a formative life force and a transcendental principle of unity. In his Theory of Life, Coleridge defines life as “the principle of individuation” and a “power which discloses itself from within as a principle of unity in the many” or “unity in multeity.”66 Life is a force that discloses itself in a range of different phenomena as that which both divides (like polarity in magnetism) and connects (like electricity).67 Similarly, he defines the imagination in the Biographia Literaria as an echo of the divine act of creation that “dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, (p.75) yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed or dead” (1:202; emphasis added). The imagination is a ceaseless act of differentiation that unfolds in time. It is conceptualized as a force, a “synthetic and magical power” that, “first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, control … reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete.”68 Like the life force, the imagination exhibits the same unresolved tension between unity and multiplicity.69

This “vitalist” or “organicist” turn in romantic theory defines, Abrams argues, the central epistemological and aesthetic premises of romanticism. Abrams shows how in romantic theory the mind is conceived as a living organism or a living plant through which impressions are not passively impressed, as in empiricism, but metamorphosed or synthesized into a living whole. The idea of the plant emphasizes growth as a dynamic process, and the notion of immanent assimilation through which the plant makes itself is opposed to the idea of the machine, in which parts are added but not synthesized and whose source of energy is external.70

These ideas form the basis of the central opposition in Coleridge’s aesthetic theory between mechanical copying and organic imitation. Although, for Coleridge, the function of art as a form of mediation between man and nature is to imitate nature, he has a very specific definition of what imitation is: “[I]mitation, as opposed to copying consists either in the interfusion of the SAME throughout the radically DIFFERENT, or of the different throughout a base radically the same” (2:72). In imitation, he claims, a sense of difference is essential for aesthetic pleasure, whereas in a copy it is considered to be a defect, because it needs to be seen as if it came out of the same mold of the original. A copy can be mistaken for the real thing and can lead to delusion, but an imitation always sustains a sense of difference; thus, the audience consciously chooses to be deceived.

Coleridge exemplifies the idea of mechanical copying through visual verisimilitude: “Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be a fashioning, not a creation. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words, to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of a fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colors may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their (p.76) mouths” (2:83–84; emphases in original).71 Copying is always external and artificial, whereas imitation is organic, because it implies the conformity of all external parts to an essential principle, a necessary movement from external manifestations to a primary productive power.

Corresponding to the difference between copying and imitation is the difference between observation and mediation. Observation consists of parts and fragments that are added into an accurate copy, whereas mediation assumes a selection of a certain part by the poet that is generally true to nature, as it expresses a philosophical problem. Thus, in imitation the “essence must be mastered—the natura naturans, & this presupposes a bond between Nature in this higher sense and the soul of Man.”72 Imitation necessitates a withdrawal from nature in order to approach it with a form of responsiveness or intuition that is addressed not to external qualities but to principles of life and growth that are present both in nature and in the poet, who possesses the power of imagination:

[T]he Artist must first eloign himself from Nature in order to return to her with full effect.—Why this?—Because—if he began by mere painful copying, he would produce Masks only, not forms breathing Life—he must out of his own mind create forms according to the several Laws of the Intellect, in order to produce in himself that co-ordination of Freedom & Law… which assimilates him to Nature—enables him to understand her—. He absents himself from her only in his own Spirit, which has the same ground with Nature, to learn her unspoken language, … [n]ot to acquirelifeless technical Rules, but living and life-producing Ideas, which contain their own evidence and in that evidence the certainty that they are essentially one with the germinal causes in Nature, his Consciousness being the focus and mirror of both—for this does he for a time abandon the external real, in order to return to it with a full sympathy with its internal & actual.73

For Coleridge, imitation is a realization of a possible principle. He defines essence as “the principle of individuation, the inmost principle of the possibility, of any thing, as that particular thing. … Existence, on the other hand, is distinguished from essence, by the superinduction of reality” (2:62; emphases in original). Because man and nature partake in the same principle as the imagination, it is also defined as a principle of growth through differentiation, and every act of imitation is necessarily a form of realization. Resemblance is thus no longer one of the determining (p.77) principles of associationism as a copying process of sensations; rather, it is a process of adaptation to a force of life inherent in being and thought. Thus, it is simultaneously a principle of production and a condition for intelligibility. Poetic creation as realization is what enables the poet to understand nature and himself through their mutual participation in the same life principles:

They and they only can acquire the philosophic imagination, the sacred power of self-intuition, who within themselves can interpret and understand the symbol, that the wings of the air-sylph are forming within the skin of the caterpillar; those only, who feel in their own spirits the same instinct. … They know and feel, that the potential works in them, even as the actual works on them! In short, all the organs of sense are framed for a corresponding world of sense; and we have it. All the organs of spirit are framed for a correspondence world of spirit: though the latter organs are not developed in all alike. But they exist in all, and their first appearance discloses itself in the moral being. (2:167)

This redefinition of resemblance explains Coleridge’s hostility, throughout his aesthetic writings, toward visual verisimilitude. In many of his statements, visual verisimilitude not only exemplifies but embodies copying, for example, when he emphasizes the difference between imagination and fancy after quoting Milton: “This is creation rather than painting, or if painting, yet such, and which such co-presence of the whole picture flash’d at once upon the eye, as the sun paints in a camera obscura” (2:128; emphases in original). Yet this statement makes it clear that it is not the visual itself that is the source of hostility but the suggestion that creation is temporarily and conceptually separated from intelligibility through its subjection to external nongenerative and “accumulative” forms of representation; it is precisely the simultaneous coexistence of the sensible and the intelligible that is evoked in this statement, a whole in which parts are united in the same way that the imagination synthesizes sense and understanding.

Coleridge evokes the camera obscura not as a model of visual accuracy, given that he excludes accuracy from imitation, or as a model of understanding in which the intelligible always precedes and “tames” the sensible, but precisely to emphasize the inseparability of the sensible and the intelligible in imitation understood as realization. Coleridge’s romantic theory thus points to the shift in the epistemological and aesthetic function (p.78) of the camera obscura in the early nineteenth century. As Jonathan Crary has argued, a distinction needs to be made “between the enduring empirical fact that an image can be produced in this way and the camera obscura as a historically constructed artifact. For the camera obscura was not simply an inert and neutral piece of equipment or a set of technical premises to be tinkered with and improved over the years; rather, it was embedded in a much larger and denser organization of knowledge and of the observing subject.”74 Crary shows that the primary function of the camera obscura was not to generate pictures; in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the camera obscura was the dominant model to explain human vision and to ground the validity of observations about the world. As a philosophical model, the camera obscura, an isolated “dark chamber,” presented a model of self-contained and “enclosed” passive subjectivity. Thus, a “decisive function of the camera was to sunder the act of seeing from the physical body of the observer, to decorporealize vision. The monadic point of view of the individual is authenticated and legitimized by the camera obscura, but the observer’s physical and sensory experience is supplanted by the relations between a mechanical apparatus and a pre-given world of objective truth.”75 The camera obscura exhibited a disembodied model of vision through which the distracting activities of the senses were excluded in favor of an optical mechanism.

Similarly, Foucault shows that in representation, the observation of things is always predetermined by an analysis that “is anticipating the possibility of naming; it is the possibility of seeing what one will be able to say, but what one could not say subsequently, or see at a distance, if things and words, distinct from each other, did not communicate in a representation.”76 This suggests that the transparency of seeing and vision is grounded not in any notion of sensorial immediacy but in the preestablished metaphysical transparency of the “law of continuity” that binds together nature and human nature, being and thought. Foucault thus explains that, in the classical paradigm, to observe, as Bacon argued, means to see systematically, that is, to see independently from the confusion and inherent temporality of sensorial experience a structure or “law” divorced from the empirical abundance of natural phenomena. Similarly, the validity of the observer’s experience in the camera obscura is predicated on the exclusion of his sensorial experience and is therefore grounded in the preestablished relations between a mechanical apparatus and the natural world. In its mechanical structure, the camera obscura embodies “that translucent necessity through which representation and beings (p.79) must pass—as beings are represented to the mind’s eye, and as representation renders beings visible in their truth.”77 The mind’s eye is simply reason or the regulated faculty of understanding, and therefore the validity of visual observations is grounded in the subjection of vision to the metaphysical condition of continuity, as the “commonsense” “inductive principle” indicates.

Contrary to the notion of the “mind’s eye,” Coleridge links the image in the camera obscura to an overwhelming sensorial and corporeal experience, “the whole picture flash’d at once upon the eye,” and to an intensified temporal sense of simultaneity, both an “at once” and a “co-presence.” In a similar formulation, Coleridge states that “[t]he power of Poetry is by a single word to produce that energy in the mind as compels the imagination to produce the picture.”78 The image in the camera obscura thus no longer validates observation and representation by severing the subject’s sensorial experience but locates the possibility of knowledge precisely in the subject’s body and powers of imagination. By the 1820s, Crary argues, vision “had been taken out of the incorporeal relations of the camera obscura and relocated in the human body,” and within the new field of physiological optics, “the constitutive role of the body in the apprehension of a visible world” was emphasized in what he calls “subjective vision.”79 The camera obscura thus becomes a poetic and aesthetic emblem for the productive imagination as the only faculty that can link and synthesize the sensorial and intelligible faculties of the subject for a profound moment. As an aesthetic emblem, the camera obscura becomes not a mechanical apparatus that displays the premises of representation but, following Kant, a sensorial organ that embodies “what is merely subjective in the presentation of an object … its aesthetic character.”

By the same token, the image of the camera obscura is conceived to be not a copy of external objects but a symbol. That is, the image is not simply what one literally “sees” in the camera obscura or an “image” of the divine design, a “natural magic”; as the product of the transcendental imagination, it is, as Kant defines, not strictly an image but a scheme or a “monogram,” a “pure sensible concept” belonging both to sensation and to understanding. This explains why Coleridge privileges the symbol over allegory: in the former, there is no “disjunction of faculties,” as it is always a part of the whole it represents, whereas in the latter, objects of sense are represented by abstract terms that bear no essential “organic” relation to them but only an arbitrary one. For Coleridge, as Thomas McFarland points out, the symbol is not simply a rhetorical trope whose (p.80) meaning is restricted to the realm of language or an “unmediated” object of sense;80 it is a “synthetic” object that is defined by the “translucence of the Special in the Individual, or of the General in the Especial. … Above all by the translucence of the Eternal through and in the Temporal.”81 Nevertheless, as much as the symbol suggests a synthesis, it also manifests an unbridgeable gap between oppositions that remain sustained but temporarily suspended in a moment of simultaneous recognition. In this regard, the symbol does not resolve the opposition between the empirical and the transcendental but manifests the new conditions of knowledge in which an image is no longer conceived as a copy, the most basic unit of a reproductive perceptual process that is based on resemblance and gradual accumulation. Rather, the image is now conceived as one that is inseparable from the empirical and contingent conditions of its production, which simultaneously form the conditions of its intelligibility.82

Yet ultimately, for Coleridge, intelligibility transcends creation and differentiation, because at a certain point in this ceaseless temporal process, it is the artist’s own idealized consciousness that is constituted as the “focus and mirror” of a divine order: “In nature there is no reflex act—but the same powers without reflection, and consequently without Morality. (Hence Man the Head of the visible Creation—Genesis.)”83 As scholars have shown, as much as Coleridge was attracted to Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, he resisted its pantheistic tendencies because of his religious convictions.84 Rather than fully advocating the identity of thought and being, he formulated a hierarchical order in which nature and life are subjected to reason or God, thus compromising his vitalism with his idealistic rationalism. By the same token, Coleridge “tamed” the disseminating and differentiating power of life as a temporal force of ceaseless creation when he subjected it either to a cyclical natural order or to a teleological “evolution” in which “Man” is the ultimate goal of creation. Thus, within Coleridge’s philosophical project, “life” as an inherently creative force of production “retreats” into an atemporal source or origin through which the “Same” is privileged over difference, as Foucault explains: “It is no longer origin that gives rise to historicity; it is historicity that, in its very fabric, makes possible the necessity of an origin which must be both internal and foreign to it: like the virtual tip of a cone in which all differences, all dispersions, all discontinuities would be knitted together so as to form no more than a single point of identity, the impalpable of the Same, yet possessing the power, nevertheless, to burst open upon itself and become Other.”85 The “Same” is simply “Man,” who becomes (p.81) a form of identity against which everything is judged and reduced, as well as a condition for knowledge and what marks its limits. Still, even in this form of transcendence, “Man” is an empirical entity, as opposed to the universal “human nature,” which in its inherent density is connected to a specific sensorial apparatus and grounded within a particular biography and history. This suggests that although in Coleridge’s philosophical and aesthetic project the associationist epistemological premises of empiricism are challenged, his project consists not in a complete rejection of empiricism but in the preliminary outlining of a new form of empiricism that is grounded in vitalist, rather than mechanical, ontology.86 This new form of empiricism, in which nature cannot be idealized because of its unlimited capacity to inscribe time and to manifest difference, and therefore to resist any sense of “origin” or identity, is, I argue in the next chapters, precisely what marks the “mode of being” of the early photographic image.

The correspondence between the faculty of the imagination and the idea of life as formulated by Coleridge shows that his aesthetics was grounded in the new epistemological concerns that came to redefine what an image was in terms of its double relation to both nature and thought. At the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, aesthetic romantic distinctions and concepts such as genius, symbol, imagination, “mechanical copying,” and “organic imitation” were formulated as part of epistemological projects that challenged the associationist premises of British empiricism. Thus, the inconsistency in Talbot’s accounts pertains to a broad set of concerns that discursively informed his attempts to define the specificity of the new image. In light of the differences between his accounts and the analysis of the specific historical conditions informing them, it becomes clear that, as with the evocation of the inductive method, emphasizing the centrality of the camera obscura and its image to the discovery process in no way confers a determinate or “fixed” conceptual or epistemological status to photogenic drawing.

By the 1830s and 1840s, the camera obscura came to embody a significantly different set of philosophical and epistemological concerns from those in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Whereas previously it exemplified a model of universal knowledge grounded on the subjection of vision to the faculty of understanding, now it came to suggest the inseparability of any act of understanding from the sensorial and generative mechanisms of man as the subject of knowledge.87 Thus, the early (p.82) history of photography cannot simply be aligned with or “added” to the history of the camera obscura as part of a teleological, linear universal quest after visual verisimilitude, as historians of photography have often suggested.88 Just as the cultural meanings and epistemological status of the camera obscura changed within new formations of knowledge, the precise relations between the image produced with it and Talbot’s “original idea” are anything but specified in his account. That is, there is no indication that the camera image and the image Talbot conceived or “imagined” are identical on any level (technical, conceptual, formal, or visual). And although the photographic image seems to continue the Western tradition of privileging the visible as a ground for “truth,” it accomplishes this out of reasons that are incompatible with the ones that informed the camera obscura; as Crary argues, “[V]ision can be privileged at different historical moments in ways that simply are not continuous with one another.”89 The discursive genealogy presented here suggests that the specific epistemological and philosophical premises underlying Talbot’s new model of discovery, with its emphasis on subjectivity and temporality and on concepts of genius and originality, imagination and “pictures of nature,” make the precise conceptual identity of the image, as well as its epistemological and aesthetic status, hard to define at this early historical juncture of the “invention of the art.”

And although Talbot’s account and certain comments in The Pencil of Nature emphasize the idea of nature conceived as a picture, this in no way suggests the conceptual, formal, or visual conformity of the early photographic image to preexisting pictorial conventions of representation, such as the picturesque, or its “automatic” appropriation of the philosophical and epistemological premises that informed these systems of representation. In fact, contrary to what Snyder suggests, it was not so easy to decide how to “imagine” the picturesque at this historical juncture, because by this point it was considered to be not simply a defined pictorial style or set of conventions but a highly unstable aesthetic category that triggered debates surrounding beauty, taste, judgment, and, not surprisingly, the faculty of the imagination. It is in light of these debates that Talbot’s efforts to conceptualize photogenic drawing as a “picture of nature,” as well as his explicit evocation of the picturesque, need to be considered.

Picturesque Imaginings

Talbot’s moment of “epiphany” occurred, according to his account, while he was unsuccessfully trying to draw a sketch of the landscape of Lake (p.83) Como in Italy. In his account, he emphasizes his lack of knowledge of drawing and the fact that the operation of the camera obscura “baffles the skill and patience of the amateur” who aspires to create a “mere souvenir” in which the “outlines of the scenery” will be depicted on paper. He also defines a picture, somewhat nominally, in terms of drawing: “The picture, divested of the ideas which accompany it, and considered only in its ultimate nature, is but a succession or variety of stronger lights thrown upon one part of the paper, and of deeper shadows on another.”90 His invention is therefore conceptualized as a “photogenic drawing” because it is a form of drawing that does not necessitate any skill; as he states in his comments to Plate 17, “Bust of Patroclus,” the “royal road to drawing” was found as “sundry amateurs have laid down the pencil and armed themselves with chemical solutions and with camera obscura. Those amateurs… who find the rules of perspective difficult to learn and apply… prefer to use a method which dispenses with all that trouble.91 Photogenic drawing was thus conceived as a new form of drawing and simultaneously as a “negation” of drawing.

Like drawing, photography as conceived by Talbot was meant to be a cheap, simple, and portable enjoyable pastime for the amateur. As Ann Bermingham has argued, “Without the commercial reconstruction of the amateur… as one who practices art as a hobby, and the reconfiguration of the art-going public as one that seeks out art as a form of entertainment, Talbot’s amateur would not exist.”92 That is, it is the century-long popularization of drawing as a “polite art” that enhanced aesthetic taste and sensibility and thus formed an important part in the class identity of the middle and upper classes in England in the eighteenth century and nineteenth century, which made possible the association in Talbot’s account between the gentlemen amateur, drawing, and the sketching of nature.93 As Bermingham shows, landscape sketching was the genre that was favored by the amateur draftsmen, following, among other things, the immense popularity of Rev. William Gilpin’s picturesque tours and sketching books, as well as the constitution of landscape as a professional pictorial genre and the importance of landscape gardening in the early nineteenth century. She emphasizes, as other scholars have also pointed out, that the picturesque landscape was an ideological cultural artifact that was meant to mask the recent transformation of rural nature due to industrialization and to “parliamentary acts of enclosure and the political agendas that attended it.”94 The picturesque marked what Bermingham calls “the landscape of sensibility,” which displayed general and unifying (p.84) views of nature and was therefore different both from the “landscape of sense,” as a topographical and factual transcription of specific sites, and from the “landscape of sensation,” which focused on the particular conditions under which landscape was seen and the perceptual experiences of the artist.95

By emphasizing the touristic pleasures of exploring, viewing, and surveying, picturesque travel and sketching manifested a shift, Bermingham argues, from “actual ownership to imaginative appropriation” and a specific kind of disinterested pleasure that “now [had] more to do with the exercise of imagination and taste over natural objects than with owning and exploiting them.” It was through this “disinterested” form of visual or imaginative appropriation that Whigs challenged “the ancient and conspicuously rural Tory belief in the right to govern through landed wealth alone.”96 At the same time, it was Gilpin’s picturesque tours, published between 1782 and 1802, that promoted a collective sense of “civic virtue” and nationalistic sentiments by exposing large audiences to the “beauties of native British scenery.” In this regard, the cultivation of taste and artistic sensibilities, in a way parallel to the pursuit of amateur scientific activities such as the collection of data that Herschel promoted, was meant to improve the amateur’s moral, cultural, and social standing. Yet the immense popularity of the picturesque also marked the intensified commercialization of culture in the early nineteenth century and the democratization of taste, both crucial for the public reception of photography.

Talbot’s amateur is prefigured in, among other sources, Gilpin’s Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty, On Picturesque Travel, and On Sketching Landscape (1792), which is specifically addressed not to the “master artist” but to the amateur who only wishes to amuse himself by creating not finished drawings but sketches that will fix in the memory specific scenes and that could also be shared with others. Throughout his book, Gilpin emphasizes that picturesque travel is purely for pleasure and self-amusement, as opposed to utilitarian forms of travel or scientific investigations of nature. And although this form of amusement can lead to moral and religious reflections that “Nature is but a name for an effect, Whose cause is God,” this in no way can be guaranteed, “for we dare not promise him more than picturesque travel, than a rational, and agreeable amusement.”97 Gilpin instructs the amateur to focus solely on the general characteristic outlines of the scene, on a general and broad view in which the aim is to “survey nature; not to anatomize matter,” to examine parts but never to “descend” to particles (26; emphases in original).

(p.85) These instructions derive from the way Gilpin defines the picturesque as a specific kind of beauty “which please from some quality, capable of being illustrated by painting” (3; emphasis in original). He differentiates this kind of beauty from the “beautiful” as defined by Burke in his A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). In contrast to Burke, Gilpin emphasizes that “ideas of beauty vary with the objects, and with the eye of the spectator,” and “thus the painter, who compares his object with the rules of his art, sees it in a different light from the man of general taste” (3). Gilpin thus shows that there is a difference between objects that “please the eye” in their “natural state” and objects that please in a representation, whether in nature or in art. Thus, smoothness, as Burke showed, is an essential quality of a beautiful object, but Gilpin shows that in a picturesque representation, which is concerned with how things appear not how they are, it is actually roughness or ruggedness, the breaking and fracturing of surfaces and objects which pleases most: “Turn the lawn into a piece of broken ground: plant rugged oaks instead of flowering shrubs: break the edges of the walk: give it the rudeness of a road; mark it with wheel-tracks; and scatter around a few stones, and brushwood … and you make it also picturesque” (8). The emphasis in picturesque representation should be not on the resemblance or “likeness” to “real objects,” Gilpin states, but on their transformation into pictorial “effects” that please the eye through contrast, “variety,” and, most important, an atmospheric play of light and shade, because the richness of light “depends on the breaks, and little recesses, which it finds on the surfaces of bodies.” This emphasis explains why ruins and old structures that exhibit irregular surfaces are favored in picturesque representation, and also natural objects such as lakes, which are smooth in reality but rarely in appearance: “[W]ere it spread upon the canvas in one simple hue it will be [a] dull, fatiguing object. But to the eye it appears broken by shades of various kinds; by the undulations of the water; or by reflections from all the rough objects in its neighborhood” (22).

For Gilpin, a picturesque representation thus shifts between “infinite variety,” suggested by rough objects, and a sense of compositional harmony, which “consists in uniting in one whole a variety of parts” (19). And he points out that this sense of unity and harmony is rarely found in nature but has to be “constructed” or imposed by the traveler or sketcher by adding or eliminating objects in the scenery and applying Gilpin’s famous “four-screens” compositional scheme, as he describe it in his Observations on the River Wye (1782): “Every view on a river … is composed of (p.86) four grand parts; the area, which is the river itself; the two side-screens which are the opposite banks, and mark the perspective; and the front-screen, which points out the widening of the river.”98 It is this kind of formulaic instruction and the highly generic list of picturesque objects that led commentators to ridicule Gilpin’s writings and ultimately to criticize his reductive definition of the picturesque. In comparison to later, more philosophical and theoretical writings on the picturesque by Sir Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight, Gilpin’s tedious instructions seem artificial, mere “surface effects” that signal an external and artificial concern with the merely visible character of objects.

Yet Gilpin’s resistance to the theorization of the picturesque and to an engagement with broader questions of taste comes out of his skepticism and “commonsense” religious convictions, as he explicitly states after he fails to explain why it is that only rough objects are suited for picturesque representation: “Inquiries into principles rarely end in satisfaction. Could we even gain satisfaction in our present question, new doubts would arise. … What is beauty? What is taste? … Thus, in our inquiries into first principles, we go on, without end, and without satisfaction. The human understanding is unequal to the search. In philosophy we inquire for them in vain—in physics—in metaphysics—in morals. … We are puzzled, and bewildered; but not informed, all is uncertainty” (30–33). It is these formulations that connect Gilpin’s essays to Herschel’s Discourse, which is also addressed to the “student of natural philosophy” or amateur “man of science” and evades any in-depth discussion of the sources of knowledge or “efficient causes.” For both, it is a specific practice that is the focus of their investigation, a practice that is intentionally defined as open to every member of society because it necessitates no special skills or prior knowledge.

Given that Talbot’s “moment of discovery” is framed around his failure as an amateur to create a sketch of nature and that he also defines a “picture” in terms of drawing, it is valid to argue that when he mentions “the pictures of nature’s painting,” he means not any straightforward view of a particular scenery but nature as it appears in picturesque representation. This argument finds further support in Talbot’s comments and in the plates in The Pencil of Nature. His comments are informed by the motivation and the vocabulary of Gilpin’s popular writings. For example, in his comments to Plate 6, “The Open Door” (Figure 2.1), he states, “A painter’s eye will often be arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable. A casual glean of sunshine, or a shadow thrown across his (p.87)

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Figure 2.1. William Henry Fox Talbot, “The Open Door,” salt print from a calotype negative, Plate 6 from The Pencil of Nature, 1844.

Royal Photographic Society, National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.

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Figure 2.2. William Henry Fox Talbot, “The Cloisters of Lacock Abbey,” salt print from a calotype negative, Plate 16 from The Pencil of Nature, 1844.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.

path, a time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken a train of thoughts and feelings, and picturesque imagining.”99 His text for Plate 16, “The Cloisters of Lacock Abbey” (Figure 2.2), reads, “By moonlight, especially, their effect is very picturesque and solemn,” and for Plate 10, “The Haystack” (Figure 2.3) he writes, “Contenting himself with a general effect, he [the artist] would probably deem it beneath his genius to copy every accident of light and shade. … Nevertheless, it is well to have the means at our disposal of introducing these minutiæ … for they will sometimes be found to give an air of variety beyond expectation to the scene represented.”100

(p.88) As Martin Kemp has shown, Talbot was familiar with the written vocabulary of the picturesque, and his images indicate a familiarity with drawing manuals and the specific formal and iconographical features of the picturesque: reflections in water, trees, old architectural structures, rural figures and objects, and asymmetrical massing of light and shade. Kemp’s point is not to prove the “direct influence” of drawing manuals on Talbot but to outline “the ambience of taste and sensibility” within which his ideas of a picturesque picture took shape.101 In fact, many of Talbot’s images can be read as applying the “rules” of the picturesque, in which he found a “readymade,” a preexisting model for “a picture of nature” that now had to be “translated” from manual drawing into “photogenic drawing.” In The Pencil of Nature, Plate 15, “Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire” (Figure 2.4), in particular faces this challenge: the abbey appears as an unexpected scene rising before the eye of the picturesque traveler, and with different plants partly covering its walls it is seen as a “rough” object forming a part of a scenery rather than an isolated “smooth” object. The pond at the foreground shows the reflection of the abbey, and the surrounding trees and bushes add a variety of broken surfaces and the play of light and shade. The composition seems nonetheless unified and harmonious because of the asymmetrical point of view, which is clearly divided into three receding plans that shift from dark areas at the foreground to lighter ones at the background.

Early reviewers of Talbot’s images also noticed their “picturesque effect.” The Literary Gazette’s reviewer of Talbot’s forthcoming exhibition of photogenic drawings in May 1840 at the Graphic Society stated

ImaginationThe Art of Discovery

Figure 2.3. William Henry Fox Talbot, “The Haystack,” salt print from a calotype negative, Plate 10 from The Pencil of Nature, 1844.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.


ImaginationThe Art of Discovery

Figure 2.4. William Henry Fox Talbot, “Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire,” salt print from a calotype negative, Plate 15 from The Pencil of Nature, 1844.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.

that the display would include positive camera images of “views of Lacock Abbey…; of Bowood; of trees; of old walls and buildings, with implements of husbandry; of carriages; of tables covered with breakfast things; of busts and statues,” as well as “botanical specimens and copies of ancient records.” This list includes typical picturesque subjects and, according to the reviewer, also typical sensibilities:

Among the curious effects to be observed is the distribution of lights and shades. The former, in particular, are bold and striking, and may furnish lessons to the ablest of our artists. The crystal bottles on the breakfast-table are also well worthy of attention; their transparency is marked with singular truth: but indeed there is nothing in these pictures which is not at once accurate and picturesque. The Album, and separately framed specimens, were to be shewn at the Graphic Society; where, no doubt, they would meet the same admiration with which we inspected, and excited the same sense of their value as hints and models upon many points connected with perspective, chiaroscuro, and minute detail, combined with great general effect.102

Yet it is clear from this review that the images also exhibited a sense of empirical accuracy, an emphasis on details, as Talbot’s earlier quotation indicates, that could possibly function as “models” for artists but were perhaps not in themselves “picturesque.” The review implicitly refers to the fact that because negatives had to be made in full sunlight, prints often resulted in high contrast and lacked tonal variations. Reviewers (p.90) constantly pointed out that photographic images lacked “artistic character” and were not “true to nature.” The reviewer of the Athenæum, for example, shows how photographs failed to conform to pictorial conventions of representation:

The Calotype, and indeed all the photographic processes on paper which we now use, are defective in another point, and that is an important one, as far as the artistic character of these pictures is concerned, and it also detracts from their truth to Nature. The great charm of the natural landscape, or of the artist’s painting, is the gradual fading of tints in distance—the softening of the scene as it recedes from the eye of the observer: in those Calotype pictures, we see this but to a slight extent; and where the view is extensive, this beauty is lost. … When… we proceed to take our positive copies, the result is the reverse; the dark objects of the foreground in the primary picture become light ones … and the faint objects of the distance comparatively dark.

There is another physical difficulty under which all photographic processes suffer. These pictures are formed by the chemically active rays which are reflected from the illuminated object, and these rays vary in quantity considerably with the colour of the reflecting body. If we place, side by side, in the sunshine, objects coloured blue, green, yellow, and red, and attempt to copy them by the camera with any photographic material, it will be found that the blue will make the most decided impression, but the yellow will scarcely leave an outline of its image. This, in practice, will give exaggerated effects to the chemical picture.103

Photographs on paper looked artistically “unnatural” because they were monochromatic and inconsistently grainy or sharp, they exaggerated light and darkness gradation (which resulted in either “burned-over” exposed areas or completely undifferentiated black areas), they distorted the laws of aerial and linear perspective, they were insensitive to green, and they were strangely cropped. All these problems made Talbot’s early photographs look not very picturesque or pleasing. For example, in Lacock Abbey in Reflection (Figure 2.5), the abbey and its reflection appear not as two separate surfaces that introduce “variety” but as one flat black area with no details or a sense of tonal and textural differentiation; the tree at the foreground, rather than giving a sense of receding distance between one bank of the pond to the other, appears awkwardly big and flat, parallel to the picture plane.


ImaginationThe Art of Discovery

Figure 2.5. William Henry Fox Talbot, Lacock Abbey in Reflection, salt print from a photogenic-drawing negative, ca. 1840.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.

In the case of An Aged Red Cedar on the Grounds of Mt. Edgcumbe (Figure 2.6), although the object, an old cedar, is supposedly a perfect picturesque object with its falling and spreading branches and the irregular texture of its trunk, nevertheless it does not appear at all as a “picturesque representation.” The tree is depicted from a frontal, almost centralized, point of view with no foreground, and the vegetation behind the tree appears to be on the same picture plane as the tree itself, with no clear spatial differentiation; thus, both the tree and its surroundings look parallel to the picture plane, the treetop is cropped, and traces of the brush spreading the emulsion on the paper can be seen at the lower part of the image.

Kemp also notices these diversions from picturesque conventions and argues that they mark a growing awareness of “a new kind of aesthetic” that is specific to the “empirical process of recording an image.”104 Although certain features of the images analyzed here can definitely be attributed to contingent technical difficulties, there are many other images that consistently display a compositional and formal logic that is not picturesque. Thus, frontal, centralized views with a limited foreground in which trees are seen as parallel to the picture plane, rather than receding from it, appear in many of Talbot’s images. For example, in Oak Tree, Carclew Park, Cornwall (Figure 2.7), the centralized and frontal view, the cropped treetop and side branches, and the elimination of the horizon make the oak appear less as an object and more as an irregular spreading “pattern” of black-and-white shapes and lines.


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Figure 2.6. William Henry Fox Talbot, An Aged Red Cedar on the Grounds of Mt. Edgcumbe, salt print from a calotype negative, ca. 1841.

Copyright the British Library Board (Talbot Photo 2 [231]).

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Figure 2.7. William Henry Fox Talbot, Oak Tree, Carclew Park, Cornwall, salt print from a calotype negative, 1841.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.

The same sense of patterning also appears in Oak Tree in Winter (Figure 2.8), in which it is precisely not the “variety” of textures and broken surfaces of the oak that are displayed and visually emphasized but the tree as a black abstract and flat silhouette. This image, although made with a camera, looks very similar to Talbot’s cameraless botanical images, which will be analyzed in chapter 3. What is displayed in these images is not a visual transformation or translation of a “real” oak into a pictorial effect but a transcription of different light intensities into a black-and-white flat pattern.


ImaginationThe Art of Discovery

Figure 2.8. William Henry Fox Talbot, Oak Tree in Winter, salt print from a calotype negative, ca. 1842–43.

Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

As Wolfgang Kemp has shown, within the history of photography it is possible to see how picturesque images that originally emphasized the “personal view of the observer” later developed into a display of autonomous compositional studies in which, because “the picturesque requires a closer view, the tendency seems almost inevitably to be to abandon the objects themselves in favor of the ‘pattern.’” Thus, it is precisely the picturesque, according to Kemp, that triggered a “process in photography whereby the structures of the object would become the structures of the image.”105 This tension is best seen in a striking image by Talbot, Winter Trees, Reflected in a Pond (Figure 2.9).

Here again, what is meant to a be a typical “picturesque representation” becomes something completely different because of the frontal yet oblique point of view and the cropping, which not only make the trees seem parallel to the picture plan but also create a strange sense of continuity between the trees and their reflections, a sense not of “variety” but of “doubling,” of repetition; that is, what is suggested is not textural irregularity and differentiation but “dematerialization,” a process whereby the spaced line of trees becomes a homogenizing “gridlike” structure of the (p.94)

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Figure 2.9. William Henry Fox Talbot, Winter Trees, Reflected in a Pond, salt print from a calotype negative, ca. 1841–42.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.2).

image, as both the trees and their reflections look flat and dark, as they are not sufficiently visually distinguished.

These formal attributes were recognized by different writers. For example, the reviewer of the Art-Union stated that the use of photographic images should be reserved for “cases in which fidelity of transcript is of greater value than artistic excellence. Take for instance the books of patterns sent round by various modellers and manufactures. … The Talbo-type would ensure fidelity of detail without any sacrifice of the general character of the design.”106 These views of the photographic image as exhibiting a new form of visual abstraction are compatible with Talbot’s own remarks in The Pencil of Nature. In his comments to Plate 2, “View of the Boulevards at Paris” (Figure 2.10), he emphasizes the condition of visual indifference, as the camera “chronicles whatever it sees, and certainly would delineate a chimney-pot or a chimney sweeper with the same impartiality as it would the Apollo of Belvedere.”107 Thus, in his description of the image, Talbot demonstrates how empirical accuracy in terms of both time and place is transcribed into visual equivalence: “The time is afternoon. The sun is just quitting the range of buildings adorned with columns: its façade is already in the shade, but a single shutter standing open projects far enough forward to catch a gleam of sunshine. The weather is hot and dusty, and they have just been watering the road, which had produced two broad bands of shade upon it, which unite in the foreground.”108 More than it depicts, the photographic image (p.95)

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Figure 2.10. William Henry Fox Talbot, “View of the Boulevards at Paris,” salt print from a calotype negative, Plate 2 from The Pencil of Nature, 1844.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.

transcribes, as objects are reduced to the conditions of their illumination in the form of basically equivalent “bands” or areas of light and shade. These “bands” form abstract patterns, and it is not the specificity of the object (its broken surfaces, textures, and colors) that counts in the representation but the homogenizing conditions (in terms of tonality, contrast, and flatness) of its photographic transcription.

Yet it is perhaps in relation to issues of temporality that Talbot’s images suggest something altogether different from a “picturesque representation.” With its emphasis on ruins, the picturesque is often seen as concerned with time and change. Thus, in his comments to the first plate of The Pencil of Nature, “Part of Queen’s College, Oxford” (Figure 2.11), Talbot notes, “This building presents on its surface the most evident marks of the injuries of time and weather.”109 Yet ruins, like any other picturesque objects, function primarily as “pictorial” and compositional effects, similar to light and weather changes. Time in the picturesque becomes less a mode of being in which all empiricities exist, as Foucault defines the modern episteme, and more a perceptual mechanism that registers external changes on largely immobile surfaces. Time becomes a form, or a sign that confers a certain immobility to picturesque representations, a sense of timeless, harmonious existence that is conveniently located in a remote, unidentified, and ahistorical agrarian “past.”

Alternately, in some of Talbot’s images, because they could not be composed in a way similar to a sketch, time is “arrested” more than composed as an “external” immobile form. For example, in Scene in a Wood (p.96)

ImaginationThe Art of Discovery

Figure 2.11. William Henry Fox Talbot, “Part of Queen’s College, Oxford,” salt print from a calotype negative, Plate 1 from The Pencil of Nature, 1844.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.

(Figure 2.12), the point of view from which the trees, the play of light and shade, and the path are seen suggest a place in a particular time of the day rather than a harmonious, atemporal “composition.” In its abrupt cropping, the image is felt to be a part of a continuum, not a reduced abstraction forming a whole. What is communicated is a casual scene that a traveler found himself in, not in front of.

An even stronger sense of presence and immediacy is communicated in “A Breakfast Table,” Set with Candlesticks (Figure 2.13). Given that Talbot made a number of images of a table set for eating, it is easy to see how

ImaginationThe Art of Discovery

Figure 2.12. William Henry Fox Talbot, Scene in a Wood, salt print from a calotype negative, ca. 1842.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.


ImaginationThe Art of Discovery

Figure 2.13. William Henry Fox Talbot, “A Breakfast Table,” Set with Candlesticks, salt print from a photogenic-drawing negative, March 1840.

Copyright the British Library Board (Talbot Photo 10, f. 13).

exceptional this image is. For example, in An Elegantly Set Table (Figure 2.14), the table is photographed from a slightly high angle, which allows for an overall centralized view of the objects on the table; the sense is of an inventory, of a visual equivalence in which the camera “chronicles whatever it sees,” and time is not arrested or composed but avoided all together. Yet, in “A Breakfast Table,” because of the low angle and the closer proximity of the camera to the table, as well as the abrupt cropping of the image on its left side and the fact that the table is set for only one person, the objects become not equivalent components of an inventory or general

ImaginationThe Art of Discovery

Figure 2.14. William Henry Fox Talbot, An Elegantly Set Table, salt print from a calotype negative, ca. 1841–42.

National Media Museum, Bradford, U.K./Science & Society Picture, London.

(p.98) pictorial effects but ciphers of time not arrested but anticipated. In their proximity and slight blurriness, the objects address themselves to a “body,” a “subjectivity” whose presence is anticipated in the structure of the image but also deferred. In both these temporal modalities, the sense of an empirical sensorial “density,” of a particular biography, is evoked in a way that seems integral to the image’s organization rather than preceding it.

In light of this analysis, it is clear that, for Talbot in 1844, the phrase “picture of nature” was broad and general enough to bring to mind the picturesque in the sense of nature conceived as a picture, and at the same time to suggest a radically different visual logic and consequently different applications for his process. Hence, it is precisely because some of the images in The Pencil of Nature displayed a familiar “repertoire” of picturesque subjects that the sense of discrepancy was noticed in the first place. That is, the notion of “picturesque representation” was simultaneously evoked and denied. Yet it is precisely this difference between the pictorial conventions of the picturesque and a photographic “picture of nature,” as manifested, for example, in Winter Trees, Reflected in a Pond (Figure 2.9), between roughness or irregularity and immateriality, variety and repetition, that in fact connects Talbot’s images to the epistemological problematic that lies at the center of the terms representation and landscape as these are used by writers on the picturesque. Thus, once the picturesque is understood to be not simply a set of generic rules but a highly indeterminate aesthetic term at the center of debates surrounding taste and beauty, a whole new set of concerns emerges that further complicates any fixed notion of what a “picture of nature” might be in relation to photogenic drawing. Perhaps what a striking image like Winter Trees, Reflected in a Pond demonstrates is thus not inadequacy but a constant circular oscillation between what can be sensed and what can identified, what can be seen and what can be imagined, what is an impersonal “law” of human nature and what is irreducibly subjective. And it is precisely this sense of circularity, of doubling, a kind of an epistemological “hall of mirrors,” that writers on the picturesque found themselves struggling with.

The picturesque is a “middle” destabilizing aesthetic term. Whereas Gilpin defines it as a specific kind of beauty, Uvedale Price, in his An Essay on the Picturesque (1794), defines it as an independent third category between the beautiful and the sublime. His discussion of the picturesque is made in the context of landscape design, and in his book he argues that the study of painting can improve the design of “real landscape.” Richard Payne Knight, the third major writer on the picturesque, discusses the (p.99) term in his An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (1805), where he also defines the picturesque as an independent category; nevertheless, he challenges Price’s and Gilpin’s assumption that the picturesque marks the specific attributes of external objects by arguing that it exists in the modes and “habits” of viewing and considering objects, that is, in the associative operations of the mind. Thus, the debates that followed between the 1790s and 1800s were not about generic conventions and rules but about the very nature of aesthetic judgments: What is taste? Are there any universal laws or rules regarding taste? Is beauty a quality of an object, an effect on the mind, or purely a product of the imagination? By being assigned a middle position between the more established categories of the beautiful and the sublime, the picturesque triggered questions about the aesthetic itself and not just about painterly genres and forms of representation.

This is perhaps the reason Christopher Hussey, in his canonical study on the picturesque, suggests that it is an intermediary term that marks the shift from classic to romantic art, from reason to imagination. The picturesque, he argues, “was necessary in order to enable the imagination to form the habit of feeling through the eyes.”110 In another canonical study on the picturesque, Martin Price has argued that, as a third term, the picturesque is a highly “unstable term,” because “once the appeal of the picturesque is given moral or religious grounds, the picturesque moves toward the sublime.”111 He demonstrates this argument through John Ruskin’s famous distinction between “lower surface picturesque” and the “noble picturesque.” Whereas the first is merely concerned with the external visible character of objects without any regard for the “real nature of the thing” as an expression of pathos and human suffering, in the second, particularly as seen in J. M. W. Turner’s paintings, external elements are subordinated to “the inner character of the object.”112 In Ruskin’s formulation, the “noble picturesque” marks the moral attitude of the artist and his capacity for empathy. Thus, once the visual serves only as a trigger to the invisible, then, as Price suggests, the picturesque begins to exhibit the traits of the romantic symbol.

This may explain the ambivalence of the romantic poets toward the picturesque. Recent studies have shown how the picturesque informed Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s early correspondence and writings and their fascination with nature and traveling.113 In a famous statement in the second volume of the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge defines the picturesque as a form of unity in relation to the “grand,” where the parts are (p.100) perceived without a whole; the “majestic,” where the sense of the whole is so strong that the parts are abstracted; and the “sublime,” where neither the parts nor the whole is perceived but instead a boundless and endless unity. Thus, it is only in the picturesque “[w]here the parts by their harmony produce an effect of a whole, but where there is no seen form of a whole producing or explaining the parts of it, where the parts only are seen and distinguished, but the whole is felt.”114 In the picturesque, the relations between the parts and the whole are balanced in a way that is not very different from an organic form of unity in which the whole is immanent and is evoked in the very process of imitation. J. R. Watson also finds correlation between the way Coleridge defined the imagination as a modifying faculty and his interest in the shifting effects of nature, its transformation under different light conditions.115

The idea that in the picturesque nature is defined as a highly malleable entity that is unified only under the gaze of the traveler or poet appealed to Coleridge’s romantic emphasis on imitation as a form of creation, not copying.

Yet there is no doubt that the sense of unity evoked in the picturesque, with its focus on the strictly visible and ultimately generic, fell short of the romantic poets’ cult of originality and genius. Thus, after demonstrating a manifest interest in the picturesque, Wordsworth came to famously denounce it in book 12 of The Prelude, where he criticizes his mind’s domination by the “bodily eye,” “the most despotic of our senses,” which led him to focus on the purely external and to lack a sense of humility before nature,

  • giving way
  • To a comparison of scene with scene
  • Bent overmuch on superficial things
  • Pampering myself with meager novelties
  • Of color and proportion; to the moods
  • Of time and season, to the moral power
  • The affections and the spirit of the place
  • Insensible.116

Thus, on the one hand, by shifting the emphasis from formal attributes of objects to their effects on the mind or the complex interaction with the “eye of the observer,” writers on the picturesque opened a field of investigation in which the aesthetic becomes a specific form of experience; (p.101) yet, on the other hand, this experience was still defined in general “psychological” or associationist “mechanical” terms that were challenged by Coleridge in the Biographia Literaria and by Kant in his Critique of Judgment. The picturesque suggested the irreducibility of nature to representation and the active role of the mind in shaping sensations and impressions, yet by insisting on the primacy of the visual and on painting, it was ultimately seen by the romantics as still contained within the epistemological premises of natural philosophy.

Recently the critical and conceptual status of the picturesque has been significantly reconsidered in light of postmodern theories of art, which challenge the philosophical premises of Kantian and post-Kantian aesthetics with its emphasis on the genius and notions of originality and spontaneity.117 In this framework it is precisely the generic form of representation that Gilpin popularized that is analyzed as demystifying any transcendental view of art. At stake in this account is the constant shift in picturesque theories between art and nature and the inconsistent use of the term landscape as both an attribute of nature itself and of its mode of painterly depictions. The idea that nature can be formed into a picture suggests, Rosalind Krauss argues, “that through the action of the picturesque the very notion of landscape is constructed as a second term of which the first is representation. Landscape becomes a reduplication of a picture that preceded it.”118 Yet because Gilpin also insists on the active role of the observer in the formation of a harmonious view and on the singular shifting conditions of his perceptions, Krauss points out that what the picturesque ultimately reveals is that “the ‘singular’ and the ‘formulaic’” are “conditions” of each other: two logical halves of the concept landscape. The priorness and repetition of pictures is necessary to the singularity of the picturesque, because for the beholder singularity depends on being recognized as such, a re-cognition made possible only by a prior example.”119 Krauss points to a major paradox of Gilpin’s writings on the picturesque: on the one hand, he emphasizes that “[t]he more refined our taste grows from the ‘study of nature,’ the more insipid are the works of art” (57) and that “the picturesque eye abhors art; and delights solely in nature” (26); yet, on the other hand, the very possibility of picturesque beauty depends on seeing nature according to the rules of painting. The long tradition of classical landscape painting by Claude Lorrain, Salvator Rosa, and Gaspar Poussin made it possible to view nature as a “landscape,” that is, as a representation, but ultimately art always falls short of providing the kind of pleasure that nature provides: “The art (p.102) of painting, in its highest perfection, cannot give the richness of nature. When we examine any natural form, we find the multiplicity of its parts beyond the highest finishing” (72). Representation is thus both the condition through which nature is seen as unified and legible in the picturesque and what marks the inherent limitation of any form of representation of nature. Representation, as a procedure of reduction and generalization, always stands in a negative relation to the infinity of nature and God, yet it offers the only possibility for understanding and appreciating the working of the divine creator. Correspondingly, the term landscape marks both the inherent “representability” of nature, that is, its ability to be formed into a picture that exhibits “variety,” and nature’s own “infinite variety,” which escapes representation. As Gilpin states, “[O]bjects in themselves produce infinite variety. No two rocks, or trees are exactly the same. They are varied a second time, by combination; and almost as much, a third time, by different lights, and shades, and other aerial effects” (42; emphases in original).

It is the legibility of nature that is at stake, its ability to exhibit a certain “lawfulness” through an arbitrary or even “mechanical” system of representation that, as in the inductive method, is concerned not with causes but strictly with “effects” or “rules.” Thus, much as Herschel defined the “eye” of the natural philosopher, to which every object is a “wonder because it elucidates some principle, affords some instruction, and impresses him with a sense of harmony and order,”120 Gilpin argues that “the picturesque eye … in quest of beauty, finds it almost in every incident, and under every appearance of nature. Her works, and all her works, must ever, in some degree, be beautiful.”121 Nature must be beautiful, that is, harmonious and unified, in the same way that it must exhibit the “law of continuity,” because representation in these circular forms of knowledge and appreciation is both a precondition and an end.

This suggests that the “picturesque eye” is ultimately a “disembodied eye” that marks a specific “habitual” or professional form of perception (besides the painter, also the architect and stonemason find beauty where no one else will), and not an individually original or “subjective” one in the Kantian sense of the romantic genius. As Kim Ian Michasiw has argued in a revisionist essay, “[T]he picturesque was and should be an external set of standards rather than a subjective apprehension leading to judgment.”122 He points out that Gilpin’s texts, in their consistent upholding of the amateur and their complete refrain from the figure of the genius, resist the hegemony of the romantic subject and are therefore (p.103) inherently “anti-aesthetic.” What is also missing from Gilpin’s accounts is the reciprocal and mutually constitutive relation between the genius poet and nature, precisely the sense of an organic from of unity and totality. The whole that is imposed on the parts of nature marks an accumulation of segments or, as Michasiw states, “an assemblage rather than a centered totality,” because “any unity is only a function of design, of the artifices with which the perceiving consciousness yanks a recalcitrant and multiple actuality into line.”123 Missing from Gilpin’s account is precisely the identity between the constitutive generative and productive principles underlying nature and the creative mind of the genius: “The singularity of the landscape proves the efficacy of the rules, but the rules prove nothing about the nature or essence of the scene.”124 Nature exists as a representation, but this condition marks not the poet’s consciousness or nature’s essential identity but precisely the partiality and “artificiality” of any picture of nature as a unified whole.

In this regard, Gilpin’s insistence on effects, Michasiw argues, should not be confused with “affect,” because effect is “an arbitrary imposition deriving from the relations between the individual sketcher’s technique and her or his response to a scene. … It seeks only to record the scene’s identity and is not an attempt to register and to evoke whatever passional response occurred in the viewer.”125 That is, the sketch registers and displays not the subjective emotions and state of mind of the observer, as in romantic poetry, but his drawing capacities and mastery of the compositional and iconographical rules that Gilpin listed. Yet this argument ignores the fact that, for Gilpin, the picturesque was not only an “art of drawing” but also a form of beauty and travel; thus, some of the pleasures and responses he describes in his writings go far beyond the simple application of rules, as he states: “We are most delighted, when some grand scene, tho [sic] perhaps of incorrect composition, rising before the eye, strikes us beyond the power of thought—when… every mental operation is suspended. In this pause of intellect; this deliquium of the soul, an enthusiastic sensation of pleasure overspreads it, previous to any examination by the rules of art. The general idea of the scene makes an impression, before any appeal is made to the judgment” (49–50; emphases added). Gilpin relates this state of mind to the imagination, for example, when this intensified sense of pleasure is triggered not from nature but from a work of art: “[T]his has sometimes an astonishing effect on the mind; giving the imagination an opening into all those glowing ideas, which inspired the artist; and which the imagination only can translate” (50). All (p.104) this suggests awareness on Gilpin’s part of precisely the “affects” of nature and art on the observer, and although these are not described in subjective, individualistic terms, they still suggest a sensorial, almost embodied form of response to nature that is not bound by or derived from the rules of picturesque composition.

Given that picturesque scenes are always artificially composed, Gilpin also encourages the amateur to create “scenes of fancy” in which “The imagination becomes a camera obscura, only with this difference, that the camera represents objects as they really are: while the imagination, impressed with the most beautiful scenes, and chastened by rules of art, forms its pictures, not only from the most admirable parts of nature; but also in the best taste” (52; emphasis added). Like Coleridge, Gilpin links the workings of the imagination to the camera obscura; yet in light of the preceding analysis and the terms Gilpin uses in this quotation, it is clear that he conceives the operations of the faculty of the imagination in a radically different manner than Coleridge. For Gilpin, as well as for other writers on the picturesque, in particular Knight, the imagination is an empirical, associative faculty, as it is for Hume, and not a transcendental, synthetic one, as it is for Kant and Coleridge. In the second half of the eighteenth century, as James Engell has shown, associationism “increasingly magnified the idea of the imagination.” Associationists such as Abraham Tucker, Archibald Alison, and Knight “lifted the concept of the imagination to a new and more sophisticated plane.” From the 1770s onward, the imagination became in associationist psychology a “perceptive and connecting activity” that, within the aesthetic realm, acquires a certain amount of independence from qualities of external impressions. Thus, as Engell emphasizes, “Associationist psychology and aesthetics did not simply flare up in the last half of the eighteenth century and then rapidly subside to make way for a ‘more romantic’ mood.” Rather the movement continued throughout the Romantic period.126

The increased role of the imagination in the formation of aesthetic judgment underlies associationist theories of taste and is crucial for an understanding of Knight’s complex definition of the picturesque in his An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste. Knight’s discussion of the picturesque forms a small part of his ambiguous program to outline a general theory of taste partly in response to Hume’s suggestion that beauty “is no quality in things themselves: it exists merely in the mind, which contemplates them, and each mind perceives a different beauty.”127 Knight’s study thus focuses on the physiological principles behind judgments of (p.105) taste as way to show that although judgments of taste are personal, they still derive from physiological and associative mechanisms whose mode of operation can be explicated and generalized. Based on these distinctions, Knight discusses the picturesque as a form of physiological, sensorial beauty and as an associative one.

In the first part of his Inquiry, titled “On Sensation” and dedicated to the different senses, Knight discusses the picturesque under “sight.” Sight is produced out of the “irritation” of the optic nerves caused by light reflected from objects. The eye sees only variations of light and colors, and it is “only by habit and experience that we form analogies between the perceptions of vision and those of touch, and thus learn to discover projection by the eye: for, naturally, the eye sees only superficial dimension; as clearly appears in painting and all other optical deceptions, which produce the appearance of projection or thickness upon a flat surface” (59). As a flat surface, a painting exposes the sensorial mechanism of sight because although “imitations of painting extend only to the visible qualities of bodies, they show those visible qualities fairly and impartially—distinct from all others, which the habitual concurrence of other senses has joined with them in the mind” (66–67). Painting uncovers “habit” and the association of qualities related to other senses to what is strictly visible. Knight thus challenges Burke’s suggestion that smoothness is the defining characteristic of beautiful objects. He shows that smoothness is related not to sight but to touch and therefore cannot be a cause of visible beauty; thus, what Burke wrongly defines as “smoothness” is actually only the “most sharp, harsh, and angular reflections of light” from “cut glass or polished metal.” A visible form of beauty is thus one that is abstracted from all “mental sympathies” and processes of association, what derives strictly from “harmonious, but yet brilliant and contrasted combinations of light, shade, and colour; blended, but not confused; and broken, but not cut, into masses: and it is not peculiarly in straight or curve[d] … objects that we are to seek for these; but in such as display to the eye intricacy of parts and variety of tint and surface … almost all objects in nature or art, which my friend Mr. Price so elegantly described as picturesque” (69–70). As a specific form of visible beauty, the picturesque exposes the epistemological “fictions” that are integral to habitual perception, such as distance, volume, and space. As Knight states, “The imitative deceptions of this art unmask the habitual deceptions of sight” (70). That is, there is no way out of deception for the human senses; there are only different forms of deception, some simply more pleasing than the others.

(p.106) Whereas in this part of Knight’s discussion, painting merely exemplifies sensorial perception, in the second part of his Inquiry, titled “Association of Ideas,” the picturesque is defined literally as “after the manner of painters.” In this part Knight focuses on what he calls “improved perception,” that is, precisely those forms of habitual associations that are “independent of the organs of sense” from which they derive. He discusses the picturesque as part of his analysis of the imagination, which he defines, similarly to Hume, as a habitual process of association of ideas that “has become so spontaneous and rapid in adult persons, that it seems to be a mechanical operation of the mind, which we cannot directly influence or control” (132). In general, Knight argues, pleasures in the arts arise “from our associating other ideas with those immediately excited by them,” and therefore on this level picturesque beauty is perceivable and pleasing only to “persons highly conversant with the art of painting” (142), in particular, to those who are familiar with the schools of “Venetian,” “Flemish,” and “Dutch” painting, which are concerned not with “copying” or “exact imitation” of what “the mind knew to be, from the concurrent testimony of another sense,” but strictly with the “true representation of the visible appearance of things.” Given that the eye sees “minute” parts only in “masses” and not individually, in this form of painting “massing gave breath to the lights and shadows, mellowed them into each other, and enabled the artist to break and blend them together” (146). Knight argues that this form of depiction is picturesque because only in it “painters adopted some distinct manner of imitating nature which is appropriate to their own art” (147).

Thus, only people familiar with the inherently painterly way of representing nature will feel pleasure in viewing those objects in nature as part of a reciprocal perceptual process through which “[t]he objects recall to the mind the imitations, which skill, taste, and genius have produced; and these again recall to the mind the objects themselves, and show them through an improved medium—that of the feeling and discernment of a great artist” (149). What Knight is describing is a circular process through which natural objects remind the “skilled” observer of paintings by the genius artists, and these in turn enable him to see nature through the eyes of a painter. The important epistemological implication of this definition, as David Marshall has shown, is that “the picturesque landscape does not exist except insofar as the beholder perceives its relation to painting in a relay of resemblances.”128 There are no inherent qualities in the landscape that make it “picturesque”; only the independent associations of (p.107) the beholder make a landscape seem “picturesque” as he experiences it through the eyes of a “great painter.” Thus, in Knight’s associationist psychology, the picturesque exemplifies both the deceptions of the senses and the “fictions” of the imagination. What he describes as an endless relay of associations is not very different from Hume’s “hall of mirrors” in which the imagination fabricates a “principle of association,” causality, that is supposed to guard its operations. In the same manner, picturesque painting “fabricates” a way of seeing nature that ultimately becomes the condition under which it is possible to judge nature as picturesque. The object of judgment is inseparable from the aesthetic criteria that are set to judge it.

Whereas Gilpin defines the picturesque as an interaction between the amateur observer and nature in which the term landscape signals both the primacy of representation and its inherent limitation as a form of appreciation and knowledge in the face of the infinity of nature, Knight defines it as an associative imaginative process that occurs strictly in the mind of the “skilled” observer in which past impressions are recalled or triggered in the encounter with nature. Thus, what underlies both definitions of the picturesque is a radical sense of epistemological instability, a certain indeterminacy and circularity between object and subject, nature and art, original and copy, perception and imagination. And it is precisely this sense of instability that is evoked in Talbot’s extraordinary Winter Trees, Reflected in a Pond (Figure 2.9), where the image, more than “representing” nature, “doubles” or repeats it. That is, in its continuous oscillation between material object and dematerialized pattern, projection and flatness, legible “horizontality” and destabilizing “verticality,” the image does not exemplify a “picturesque representation” but manifests, formally and conceptually, the underlying instability of aesthetic judgments with their ceaseless uncertainty as to what is actually seen and what is imagined, what belongs to nature and what to man. Thus, as the reviewer of the Literary Gazette suggested, the photographic image functioned as a model of representation, what Talbot called “pictures of nature’s painting.” In this model, nature is reduced to a “picture,” but one that ultimately exposes the image’s limited and “deceptive” status as a product of the imagination. Yet the sense of circularity and “doubling” is also radically intensified in Winter Trees, Reflected in a Pond because the image itself was a copy from a negative. The photographic image embodied the condition of nature as representation but also of representation as nature not because the image resembled nature or was made by “nature’s hand” (p.108) but rather because it displayed nature as unbounded by repetition and difference instead of “infinitely varied,” as Gilpin suggested. This condition is even more explicit in Talbot’s botanical images, as I will show in the next chapter.

The discursive and philosophical genealogy presented in this chapter proposes that by conceptualizing the photographic image as a form of drawing and linking it to the camera obscura, Talbot’s account did not grant a “fixed” conceptual, aesthetic, or epistemological status to photogenic drawing. This is, first, because in the model of discovery he employed, with its emphasis on originality and genius, photogenic drawing is conceived as a synthetic and imaginative effect of an unaccountable process of interaction between nature and the creative mind of the discoverer. What underlies this process is precisely the discontinuous gap between man and nature, the opacity of nature and the unregulated creations of the genius. As a product of the creative imagination, photogenic drawing is an “aesthetic idea,” an idea without a determinate concept.

The second argument outlined here is that at this historical juncture the camera obscura was no longer conceived to be a mechanical apparatus that displayed the premises of representation that, by excluding sensorial experience and regulating appearances, validate knowledge. Instead it manifested the operations of the productive imagination whose creations cannot be sufficiently differentiated from those of nature itself. Thus, in both romantic and associationist aesthetic theories, the creation of a “picture of nature” consists no longer in “copying” it but in reconceiving it through the operations of the imagination as part of a specific form of ungrounded and unstable experience. Within a romantic framework, nature is no longer conceived to be an “image” of the great design but a “synthetic” symbol or monogram that simultaneously reveals and transcends the underlying antinomy of the modern episteme of knowledge between the empirical and the transcendental, the sensible and the intelligible. Alternately, in associationist theories of taste, a picturesque representation marks a highly regulated and generic “picture of nature,” but one in which the epistemological status of the term nature or landscape is constantly oscillating: it is either a copy of a preexisting representation or an original experience that can be recognized only in the form of a copy.

With a radical form of skepticism on one side and Kantian subjective “formalism” on the other, the epistemological status of photogenic drawing is anything but secure, because it enters either into a deceptive “hall (p.109) of mirrors” or into the opaque and “unthought” anthropological territory of “man” as an “empirico-transcendental doublet.” In this regard, it is precisely the early history of photography that significantly defamiliarizes contemporary historical and theoretical accounts of photography in which it is granted an “identity” or “essence” as a modern form of “irrefutable” evidence and authentication. These formulations find no support in the “origins” of the early history of photography, as scholars often argue by isolating specific statements from their historical conditions of enunciation. In fact, not only was Talbot’s conceptualization of photogenic drawing inconsistent at this point, but the models of discovery he employed connected the early photograph to new forms of knowledge, modes of experience, and systems of representation that problematize any straightforward notion of what a “picture of nature” might be. The “birth” of photography therefore marks the emergence not of a defined and secured epistemological figure but of a highly unstable and elusive one that is much closer to the “fictions” and deceptions of the imagination than to the determinate judgments of reason.

In postmodern and poststructuralist theories, the imagination has become a major target of critique precisely because of its anthropological and humanist associations within romantic aesthetic theories that focus on the heroic “creative individual.”129 Yet the imagination is not simply an attribute of specific individuals but a specific modern epistemological condition that marks the impossibility of fully grounding the validity and universality of knowledge. Thus, by linking the early conceptualization of photogenic drawing to the faculty of the imagination, I am making a claim not about its artistic status (through its relation to painting or the “genius artist”) but about its aesthetic one. As is pointed out earlier, the term art in the titles of Talbot’s accounts refers to a form of craft and a skilled trade, not to any liberal concept of “Fine Art.”130 What I am proposing in this book is to reconsider the relations between photography and aesthetics through a genealogical “excavation” of the early modern meaning of aesthetics as a paradoxically sensible and “empirical” form of knowledge that resists the determinative “transcendental” claims of conceptual knowledge. In Kant’s formulation, aesthetics marks the subjective conditions of reflective judgments and not simply a “disinterested” theory or discourse of art, as has been suggested in postmodern theories of art in which the reproducibility of photography is considered to be inherently “anti-aesthetic” because it challenges any modern or romantic notions of originality and spontaneity.131

(p.110) Yet once aesthetics is defined as an epistemological condition in which, as Deleuze argues, the faculties encounter their own limits and negations because they operate outside of determinate concepts, then its relevance and viability as a tool of analysis changes with regard to the history of photography. As my analysis has shown, Talbot’s efforts to conceptualize photogenic drawing in relation to existing concepts such as inductive method, drawing, camera obscura, and picturesque resulted precisely in a recognition of limits, as none of these concepts could at this historical point “secure” or “stabilize” meaning and epistemological status. Thus, based on this genealogy, I argue that in Talbot’s accounts, photogenic drawing emerges as an image without a concept. This condition becomes quite crucial once the temporal aspects of the early image are considered within the broader framework of nineteenth-century historicism.


(1.) Talbot’s second photographic process, the calotype, was a “developed-out” process in which, after a short exposure time, an invisible image is formed and (p.229) later developed by chemical means (using gallic acid, the chemical agent Talbot claimed he discovered in 1840). It was this second process that greatly facilitated the application of his processes to the camera obscura. These terms are used by Larry Schaaf in his The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), 17–22.

(2.) William Henry Fox Talbot, “Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art,” in The Pencil of Nature (1844–46; repr., New York: Da Capo Press, 1969), n.p.

(3.) Ibid., n.p. (emphasis added).

(4.) Simon Schaffer, “Scientific Discoveries and the End of Natural Philosophy,” Social Studies of Science 16, no. 3 (August 1986): 387–420.

(5.) Ibid., 397.

(6.) Herta Wolf, “Nature as Drawing Mistress,” in William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography, ed. Mirjam Brusius, Katrina Dean, and Chitra Ramalingam (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Center for British Art, 2013), 120.

(8.) Arnold also mentions a number of social gatherings surrounding the BAAS meetings in which the two participated, as well as a professional scientific correspondence. See H. J. P. Arnold, William Henry Fox Talbot: Pioneer of Photography and Man of Science (London: Hutchinson Benham, 1977), 65, 80, 82, 313.

(9.) Letter, Thomas Worsley to Talbot, January 29, 1840. This letter is transcribed as document no. 4009 in the website The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot, http://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/letters/transcriptDocnum.php?docnum=4009.

(11.) Joel Snyder, “Enabling Confusion,” History of Photography 26, no 2 (Summer 2002): 159.

(12.) John Herschel, review of History of the Inductive Sciences and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, by William Whewell, in Quarterly Review 68 (1841): 182.

(13.) Richard Yeo, “William Whewell’s Philosophy of Knowledge and its Reception,” in William Whewell: A Composite Portrait, ed. Menachem Fisch and Simon Schaffer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 178.

(14.) Ibid., 198.

(15.) William Whewell, Selected Writings on the History of Science, ed. Yehuda Elkana (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 139–40 (emphases in original). Subsequent citations of this source appear parenthetically in the text.

(16.) Menachem Fisch, William Whewell, Philosopher of Science (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 126–27. On the way Whewell came to develop his theory of ideas and his familiarity with Kant’s writings, see Donald H. McNally, “Science and the Divine Order: Law, Idea, and Method in William Whewell’s Philosophy of Science” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 1982), 141–52.

(17.) Geoffrey N. Cantor, “Between Rationalism and Romanticism: Whewell’s Historiography of the Inductive Sciences,” in Fisch and Schaffer, William Whewell, 70–74.

(18.) On Whewell’s relations with Hamilton and Hare and the influence of Coleridge’s ideas on his work, see Yeo, “William Whewell’s Philosophy,” and Simon (p.230) Schaffer, “The History and Geography of the Intellectual World: Whewell’s Politics of Language,” both in Fisch and Schaffer, William Whewell, 175–99 and 201–31, respectively. See also Fisch, William Whewell, Philosopher of Science, 63–68.

(19.) Cantor, “Between Rationalism and Romanticism,” 77. On the way Coleridge’s ideas informed Whewell’s model of discovery, see McNally, “Science and the Divine Order,” 152–60.

(21.) Ibid., 77.

(22.) Ibid., 80.

(24.) Ibid., 230–31. See also Richard Yeo, Defining Science: William Whewell, Natural Knowledge, and Public Debate in Early Victorian Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 70.

(26.) On the relations between science and romanticism in the context of natural philosophy, see Stefano Poggi and Maurizio Bossi, eds., Romanticism in Science: Science in Europe, 1790–1840 (Dordrecht, Neth.: Kluwer Academic, 1994); David M. Knight, Science in the Romantic Era (Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate, 1998); and Andrew Cunningham and Nicholas Jardine, eds., Romanticism and the Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). On the centrality of the idea of the genius to natural philosophy, see Simon Schaffer, “Genius in Romantic Natural Philosophy,” in Cunningham and Jardine, Romanticism and the Sciences, 82–98.

(27.) On Davy’s scientific work, see Trevor H. Levere, Affinity and Matter: Elements of Chemical Philosophy, 1800–1865 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971). On his relations with Coleridge, see Trevor H. Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 20–35. See also Ferdinando Abbri, “Romanticism versus Enlightenment: Sir Humphry Davy’s Idea of Chemical Philosophy,” in Poggi and Bossi, Romanticism in Science, 31–45.

(28.) Thomas Wedgwood and Humphry Davy, “An Account of a Method of Copying Paintings upon Glass, and of Making Profiles, by the Agency of Light upon Nitrate of Silver,” in Photography: Essays and Images, ed. Beaumont Newhall (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980), 15–16.

(29.) Christopher Lawrence, “The Power and the Glory: Humphry Davy and Romanticism,” in Cunningham and Jardine, Romanticism and the Sciences, 213–20.

(31.) See, for example, Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” in Art Theory, 1900–2000, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 773–79.

(32.) Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1966; repr., New York: Vintage, 1994), 219 (emphasis added). Subsequent citations of this source appear parenthetically in this passage of the text.

(33.) For general books on the imagination, see Mary Warnock, Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); James Engell, The Creative Imagination: Enlightenment to Romanticism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University (p.231) Press, 1981); and Richard Kearney, The Wake of Imagination: Toward a Postmodern Culture (London: Routledge, 1998).

(34.) On Kant’s definition of the imagination and the debates surrounding it, see Rudolf A. Makkreel, Imagination and Interpretation in Kant: The Hermeneutical Import of the “Critique of Judgment” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); Sarah L. Gibbons, Kant’s Theory of Imagination: Bridging Gaps in Judgment and Experience (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994); and Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, trans. Richard Taft (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990).

(35.) Gilles Deleuze, “On Four Poetic Formulas That Might Summarize the Kantian Philosophy,” in Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 34.

(36.) Ibid., 28–29.

(37.) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996), 150–60. Subsequent citations of this source appear parenthetically in the text.

(38.) On the complexities and tensions of this definition, see Gibbons, Kant’s Theory of Imagination, 14–53.

(40.) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), 25. Subsequent citations of this source appear parenthetically in the text.

(42.) M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), 58.

(44.) Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997), 60–62, 84–90. In her essay “Talbot’s Rouen Window: Romanticism, Naturphilosophie, and the Invention of Photography,” Anne McCauley also discusses the common philosophical concerns of Coleridge, Davy, and Wedgwood. See History of Photography 26, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 124–31. McCauley emphasizes the sense of subjectivity that is evoked in this image.

(45.) On Coleridge’s theory of the imagination, see I. A. Richards, Coleridge on Imagination (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1960); John Spencer Hill, Imagination in Coleridge (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1978); Nigel Leask, The Politics of Imagination in Coleridge’s Critical Thought (Basingstoke, Eng.: Macmillan, 1988); and Forest Pyle, The Ideology of Imagination: Subject and Society in the Discourse of Romanticism (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995), 27–58.

(48.) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, vol. 1 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 91 (emphasis in original). Subsequent citations of this source appear parenthetically in the text.

(p.232) (49.) On Schelling’s criticism of Kant, see Barry Gower, “Speculation in Physics: The History and Practice of Naturphilosophie,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 3, no. 4 (1973): 307–10.

(50.) Ibid., 317.

(51.) Reese Jenkins argues that the conception of photography was informed by the romantic view of polar forces, most clearly in terminology like positive and negative, which were suggested by Herschel. See his essay “Science, Technology, and the Evolution of Photography,” in Pioneers of Photography: Their Achievements in Science and Technology, ed. Eugene Ostroff (Springfield, Mass.: Society of Photographic Scientists and Engineers, 1987), 18–24. Geoffrey Batchen also claims that magnetism informed Talbot’s conception of photography, in his Burning with Desire, 149–57.

(52.) Raimonda Modiano, Coleridge and the Concept of Nature (Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1985), 139.

(53.) Coleridge, quoted in ibid., 202.

(56.) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Essays on the Principles of Method” in The Friend, in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, vol. 4 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969), 463 (emphasis in original).

(57.) Ibid., 470–71 (emphasis added).

(59.) Levere emphasizes the importance for Coleridge of Davy’s lectures at the Royal Institution: “Coleridge, looking back to his attendance at Davy’s lecture, recalled … how chemistry could break down accustomed artificial divisions of thought. He often used chemistry and chemical processes as images for human psychology. This was possible in part because he believed that chemical changes, reactions leading to products, could themselves only be described metaphorically.… The structure of chemical metaphor—combination, exchange, saturation, affinity—embedded in the language and grammar of chemistry, reflected for him … the structure of human thought and human language.… The metaphor that Coleridge drew from chemistry was not mechanical.… [He] kept mechanics distinct from chemistry, and used chemistry to illustrate the difference between synthesis and juxtaposition.… Imagination was the synthetic power in mind. Chemical metaphor could thus take one beyond the psychology of association to creativity in thought and language.” Ibid., 28–29.

(61.) Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), 25–66.

(63.) François Jacob, The Logic of Life: A History of Heredity, trans. Betty E. Spillmann (New York: Pantheon, 1982), 90–92 (emphasis in original).

(p.233) (65.) Ibid., 105–6.

(66.) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hints towards the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory of Life (New York: Harper, 1853), 1:386–87 (emphases in original). On Coleridge’s Theory of Life, see R. Male, “The Background of Coleridge’s Theory of Life,” Studies in English 33 (1954): 60–68; and Alice D. Snyder, Coleridge on Logic and Learning (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1929).

(67.) Applying Schelling’s idea of polarity, Coleridge argues that there are two tendencies in nature: detachment (like gravitation) and attachment (like chemical reduction). Thus, each element in nature can manifest either unity and identity with nature (for example, metals) or separation from the life of the universe (as man exhibits). The most general law of this tendency is “polarity, or the essential dualism of Nature, arising out of [its] productive unity, and still tending to reaffirm it, either as equilibrium, indifference, or identity.… Life, then, we consider as the copula, or the unity of thesis and antithesis, position and counterposition,—Life itself being the positive of both; as, on the other hand, the two counterpoints are the necessary conditions of the manifestations of Life.” Coleridge, Hints towards the Formation, 391–92 (emphasis in original).

(68.) Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, vol. 2, in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate, vol. 7 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), 15–16. Subsequent citations of this source appear parenthetically in the text.

(69.) On the relations between Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and his Theory of Life, see Timothy Corrigan, “The Biographia Literaria and the Language of Science,” in Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1986).

(71.) The words fashioning and creation appear in Greek in the original text.

(72.) Coleridge, Lectures, 1808–1819, on Literature, vol. 2, in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. R. A. Foakes, vol. 5 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 220–21 (emphases in original).

(73.) Ibid., 222 (emphasis added).

(75.) Ibid., 39–40.

(77.) Ibid., 311 (emphasis added).

(80.) Thomas McFarland, “Involute and Symbol in the Romantic Imagination,” in Coleridge, Keats, and the Imagination: Romanticism and Adam’s Dream, ed. J. Robert Barth and John L. Mahoney (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990), 29–57. McFarland’s essay was written in response to Paul de Man’s famous attack on Coleridge’s definition of the symbol and his defense of allegory in his “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” in Interpretation: Theory and Practice, ed. Charles S. Singleton (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969), 173–91.

(p.234) (81.) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lay Sermons, in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. R. J. White, vol. 6 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972), 30.

(82.) Jonathan Culler proposes a similar argument when he attributes the shift in literary sensibilities from allegory to symbol to the shift that Foucault outlined in The Order of Things from natural history and classical taxonomy to new botany and biology, “in which hidden properties become the most significant and the true defining characteristics of the organism. Instead of imposing on visible relations a nomenclature which made fauna and flora moments of an allegory of order, the new organicism tries … to establish the correspondence between exterior and interior forms which are all integral parts of the animal’s essence.” Jonathan Culler, “Literary History, Allegory, and Semiology,” New Literary History 7 (1976): 262.

(84.) Raimonda Modiano argues that Coleridge tried to devise a system in which a dynamic conception of nature’s polar activity and intrinsic unity could be maintained side by side with a belief in a Christian God. He thus intended, among other things in his Theory of Life, to construct a unified philosophical system in which he could point not only to the identity of the real and the ideal in nature but also to the continuity between the two based on hierarchical differences that separate them. Modiano, Coleridge and the Concept of Nature, 139–40. See also Thomas McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969).

(86.) Romanticism is often identified as an important predecessor to the work of vitalist philosophers such as Henri-Louis Bergson. See Jack H. Haeger, “Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Romantic Background to Bergson,” and George Rousseau, “The Perpetual Crisis of Modernism and the Traditions of Enlightenment Vitalism: With a Note on Mikhail Bakhtin,” both in The Crisis in Modernism: Bergson and the Vitalist Controversy, ed. Frederick Burwick and Paul Douglass (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 98–108 and 15–75 respectively. See also George Rousseau, “Science and the Discovery of the Imagination in Enlightened England,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 3, no. 1 (Autumn 1969): 108–35.

(87.) Geoffrey Batchen also shows, through the personal correspondence between Coleridge and Wedgwood, that “the camera whose images were the ‘first object’ of Wedgwood’s desire was not the same instrument that had so preoccupied artists in previous centuries.” Batchen, Burning with Desire, 90. He argues that historical transformations in the meaning of the camera obscura and of mirrors, from direct and unmediated reflections of reality to dynamic metaphors manifesting the new and uncertain relations between observer and observed, informed the protophotographers’ conception of photography as “an apparatus of seeing that involved both reflection and projection.” Geoffrey Batchen, “Desiring Production,” in Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), 22.

(88.) See, for example, Helmut Gernsheim’s discussion of the camera obscura and his determinate assertion that “the photographic camera derives directly from (p.235) the camera obscura,” in his The Origins of Photography (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1982), 7.

(91.) Ibid., n.p. (emphases in original).

(92.) Ann Bermingham, Learning to Draw: Studies in the Cultural History of a Polite and Useful Art (London: Yale University Press, 2000), 241.

(93.) On the way issues of class are interrelated with issues of gender in Talbot’s account, see Steve Edwards, The Making of English Photography (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 27–28.

(94.) Bermingham, Learning to Draw, 77. On the ideological and political motivations behind picturesque landscape, see John Barrel, The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting, 1730–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980). Talbot’s own estate, Lacock Abbey, was directly affected by the acts of enclosure during the 1830 Swing Riots, in which the poor protested their deteriorating living conditions. See Arnold, William Henry Fox Talbot, 55–57.

(96.) Ibid., 91.

(97.) William Gilpin, Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty, On Picturesque Travel, and On Sketching Landscape (London: R. Blamire, 1792), 47. Subsequent citations of this source appear parenthetically in the text.

(98.) William Gilpin, Observations on the River Wye (Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1991), 8.

(100.) Ibid., n.p. (emphasis added).

(101.) Martin Kemp, “Talbot and Picturesque View,” History of Photography 21, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 274–76.

(102.) Anonymous review of Talbot’s 1840 exhibition, Literary Gazette, May 16, 1840, 315–16 (emphasis added).

(103.) Anonymous review of The Pencil of Nature, Athenæum, February 22, 1845, 202 (emphasis in original).

(105.) Wolfgang Kemp, “Images of Decay: Photography in the Picturesque Tradition,” October 54 (Autumn 1990): 112.

(106.) “The Application of the Talbotype,” Art-Union, July 1, 1846, 195.

(108.) Ibid., n.p.

(109.) Ibid., n.p.

(110.) Christopher Hussey, The Picturesque: Studies in a Point of View (London: Cass, 1927), 4.

(111.) Martin Price, “The Picturesque Moment,” in From Sensibility to Romanticism, ed. Frederick W. Hilles and Harold Bloom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 262.

(p.236) (112.) John Ruskin, Modern Painters, vol. 4, part 5 (New York: Willey & Halsted, 1857), 6.

(113.) See J. R. Watson, Picturesque Landscape and English Romantic Poetry (London: Hutchinson Educational, 1970); Matthew Brennan, Wordsworth, Turner, and Romantic Landscape (Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1987); and Alan Liu, Wordsworth: The Sense of History (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1989).

(114.) Coleridge is quoted in Watson, Picturesque Landscape, 111.

(115.) Ibid., 113–18.

(116.) Wordsworth is quoted in ibid., 94.

(117.) See the collection of essays The Politics of the Picturesque, ed. Stephen Copley and Peter Garside (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), in particular the essays by John Whale, “Romantics, Explorers, and Picturesque Travelers,” and Raimonda Modiano, “The Legacy of the Picturesque: Landscape, Property, and the Ruin,” 175–95, 196–219, respectively.

(118.) Rosalind Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986), 163.

(119.) Ibid., 166 (emphasis in original).

(120.) John Herschel, A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 15.

(122.) Kim Ian Michasiw, “Nine Revisionist Theses on the Picturesque,” Representations 38 (Spring 1992): 92.

(123.) Ibid., 88.

(124.) Ibid., 89.

(125.) Ibid., 91.

(127.) Hume is quoted in Richard Payne Knight, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, 2nd ed. (London: Luke Hansard, 1805), 16. Subsequent references to Knight appear parenthetically in the text.

(128.) David Marshall, “The Problem of the Picturesque,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 35, no. 3 (Spring 2002): 430.

(129.) On postmodern theories’ parody and criticism of the imagination, see Kearney, Wake of Imagination, 251–95.

(131.) See the collection The Anti-aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Port Townsend, Wash.: Bay Press, 1983).