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Invisibility Studies

Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture


Edited By Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel

Invisibility Studies explores current changes in the relationship between what we consider visible and what invisible in different areas of contemporary culture. Contributions trace how these changes make their marks on various cultural fields and investigate the cultural significance of these developments, such as transparency and privacy in urban architecture and the silent invasion of surveillance technologies into everyday life. The book contends that when it comes to the changing relationship of the visible and the invisible, the connection between seeing and not being seen is an exchange conditioned by physical and social settings that create certain possibilities for visibility and visuality, yet exclude others. The richness and complexity of this cultural framework means that no single discipline or interdisciplinary approach could capture it single-handedly. Invisibility Studies begins this conversation by bringing together scholars across the fields of architectural history and theory, art, film and literature, philosophy, cultural theory and contemporary anthropology as well as featuring work by a collective of artists.
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1 Glass Glimpsed: In, On, Through and Beyond


—in memory of Linda Munk

Inserted in a wall, a sheet of glass brings together two spaces, inside and outside; or, silver-backed and itself acting as a wall, glass creates an illusion of two spaces, both of them inside. Like a wall, glass blocks physical access between one space and another; it prevents touching and smelling, and to some degree inhibits hearing and heating. But unlike other materials used in a wall, glass admits visual exchange. One can see through glass, though one cannot walk through it, nor reach through it. This may seem the merest platitude, yet glass was not always thus: its transparency is of recent date. The mirrored space is inhabited by the body that looks. By the mid-nineteenth century, the quality of both the glass and the reflecting surface was sufficiently refined for one to see an entire world in a mirror, a reverse image of our own, a ‘looking-glass world’ as in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass of 1871.1

A Metaphysics of Glass

Two thousand years ago neither the glass nor its backing were of such reflective power or optical scope. Thus the mirror could be invoked by St Paul, not as affording access to a parallel universe, but as illustrating the ← 5 | 6 → impairment of our vision of the Divine: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly.’2 The Greek phrase suggests that a mirror would offer only a defective and inadequate resemblance of what it...

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