Caren Kaplan

“The Emotion of Motion: Exceeding the Visual in ‘Aerostatic Spacing’”

Abstract: Aerial imagery arguably took on specifically modern properties once human flight became possible with the advent of aerostation in the late eighteenth century. The view from the basket of a balloon seemed to embody the “ideal mobility of the gaze” as well as the possibility of enhanced military observation. Aerostation offered views that were shocking in their unfamiliarity even as they stimulated all manner of efforts to interpret and regenerate cohesive information and imagery. The experience of weightlessness made possible by lighter-than-air flight along with extreme alterations in the perception of movement, sound, and the scale of distances generated intense fascination, not only for early aeronauts but also for a public highly receptive to news of innovation. Thus, “balloonomania” and the desire for the sight of places strange as well as familiar brought about deeply emotive engagements with this new science of transportation, producing what Derek McCormack terms “aerostatic spacing,” the logics of “envelopment, inflation, and buoyancy” that exceeded purely visual perception. The first views from the early balloons, therefore, were not simply remotely sensed sights. They signaled affective engagement of the senses as a modern way of being in space and time–the emotion of motion–and, thus, complicate our histories of the visual culture of modernity, governmentality, and militarized observation.

Bio: Caren Kaplan is Professor of American Studies and Acting Chair of Cultural Studies at the University of California at Davis. She is the author of Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Duke University Press, 1996) and the co-author/editor of Introduction to Women’s Studies: Gender in a Transnational World (McGraw-Hill, 2001/2005), Between Woman and Nation: Transnational Feminisms and the State (Duke University Press, 1999), and Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minnesota, 1994) as well as two digital multimedia scholarly works, Dead Reckoning and Precision Targets. She is completing a book on aerial views and militarized visual culture.