Playing at Looking, Playing at Being Seen
The recoiling spectator turns away, but flinching from another’s pain can also be a sympathetic gesture. Involuntary flinches may come as a surprise, but they can also be carefully choreographed with an audience in mind. These paradoxes of flinching suggest a way to understand the motif of passionate and performative spectatorship circulating widely in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century culture. The introduction outlines the book’s two arguments. Firstly, theatrical techniques and problems continued to play a role in the way scientists looked at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Secondly, flinches performed by scientific observers and their theatrical counterparts suggest a distinctive pattern of emotional and performative looking (a pattern here described using the German word Schaulust). The introduction also gives an overview of the competing and changing meanings of flinching—from involuntary reflex to moral failure—in the period under discussion.
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