The Premise of Fidelity
Science, Visuality, and Representing the Real in 19th-Century Japan
Stanford University Press 2012
New Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ScienceNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network June 22, 2013 Carla Nappi
Zograscope. Say it with me: zograscope. ZooooOOOOOoooograscope.
There are many optical wonders in Maki Fukuoka’s new book The Premise of Fidelity: Science, Visuality, and Representing the Real in 19th-Century Japan (Stanford University Press, 2012), the zograscope not least among them. The book opens with Fukuoka’s account of stumbling upon a manuscript of a botanical work called the Honzo shasin (1826) while on a trip to Leiden to see a Japanese zograscope, a device that enhanced the sense of depth when looking through it at otherwise flat pictures. Much of the book centers on the history and work of a small community of nineteenth-century scholars called the Shohyaku-sha, the group that produced the Honzo shashin and were interested in the study of materia medica. This focused case study allows Fukuoka to simultaneously stay anchored while opening up to an expansive history of transformations in modes of understanding visuality and evidence of knowledge of the natural world in Tokugawa Japan. As the book guides readers through the changing meanings of the word shashin, a term used to mean “photography” in contemporary Japanese, it demonstrates how knowledge of the spheres of textual knowledge, visual illustration, and physical plant specimens mutually reinforced one another while practitioners of the visual arts sought to define and secure relationships of “fidelity” among these very different media. This fundamentally trans-disciplinary book offers much of interest to historians of East Asia, of science, and of art: histories of public exhibitions, of natural history, of photography, of anatomical dissection, of translation and typography, and much more can be found within the pages of The Premise of Fidelity. And if I haven’t already mentioned it, there’s also a zograscope. What more reason would you need to read it?