Wednesday, January 23, 2008

No Ideas but in 3-D

3-D seems to be making a come-back in Hollywood, but if you prefer what I call “the other 3-D”—those low-tech experiments more enamored of technological deadends than jumping on supposed futuristic bandwagons (e.g. the stereoscopic works of Zoe Beloff and Vladmaster)—you will enjoy the Paterson stereoscopes in the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery. Just type in “Paterson” as your keyword. There is no way to synthesize these images into their intended depth here. Without the prerequisite googles of wood and ornamented tin, one can instead think of dopplegangers on winter days. Who are these various men—some clearly Whitmanesque and pensive, others shady and melancholic, another with a head as big as Peter the Dwarf's . . . and why are there always two of them? The falls breed doubles, if only the represented and its real. On the backs of these slides (not pictured—a double repressed!) there are various bits of doggerel that I guess work as a kind of soundtrack, helping one to resurrect an even fuller phantasm of the absent falls. To wit: “Where mighty rivers mountain-born/Go sweeping onward dark and deep,/Through forests where the bounding fawn,/Beneath their sheltering branches leap” etc. etc. Note that many of these scenes were fixed in (double) time by Paterson’s stereoscope artist “Doremus”—J. P. Doremus, that is, perhaps a close relative to P. Doremus, undertaker (see p. 192, Book IV), unless this is another case of doubles. An undertaker moonlighting as a stereoscope artist (or, probably more appropriately vice-versa) seems as conceivable a combination in the 19th century as a graphic designer in an emo band would be for our gentler era. The Doremus family makes another cameo appearance in Book I (p. 33), where Williams inserts a catalogue of the posthumous effects of Cornelius Doremus (d.1803) and their market value. Perhaps Williams liked the Doremus clan because their name, in Latin, meant something like “We will endure” or, if you want to give their name the geological resonance that Williams may have enjoyed “We will be hard.” In fact, on the back of some stereoscope slides (click verso), Doremus gives us a listing of Paterson views for sale, and the format is much like that of Williams’ geological cross-section passage. It is interesting to think of the accumulation of “views” of the Passaic—from bad poetry to unfocused instamatic shots—as a kind of geological stratigraphy.
By the way, as you know, I have a soft-spot for these Web 2.0 do-hickeys as used above, but I’m really annoyed how widgets no longer loop infinitely, but just stop dead and require you to click again, or . . . horrors . . . enter your email information. The way that block in the corner pulses asking you to be my friend, my fan: unless you find your place apart from it, you are its slave! Its sleeper!

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