Between Immersion and Media Reflexivity: Virtual Travel Media in the 19th Century
Deviating from Oliver Grau’s notion of the panorama’s immersive features, this article will discuss the receptive impact of virtual travel media of the 19th century in a more ambivalent and nuanced manner by employing two theoretical texts by Walter Benjamin, Clemens Brentano and Heinrich von Kleist. In Berlin Childhood around 1900 Benjamin draws on and reflects his childhood experience of the Kaiserpanorama in Berlin. Brentano and Kleist’s text elucidates the authors’ ‘strange feeling’ towards Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Monk by the Sea. What both texts share is a fundamental experience of ambivalence regarding the topographies depicted in both media. Other than merely being ‘enchanted’ and taken into a far distant land, it is precisely the mediality of the Kaiserpanorama and the Friedrich painting that provides a more complex experience, oscillating between distance and familiar terrain, between immersion and media reflexivity, between past, present and future. After introducing and discussing both theoretical accounts, I will apply their receptive principles to the analysis of the virtual travel media panorama and early cinema.
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