Andermann affirms in his brilliant study on the uses of visual cultures as state policy in Argentina and Brazil at the end of the nineteenth century that maps, archives, and museums work a 'civilized' visuality on the 'bare life' of local cultures. This history of violence reveals how the technological gaze colonizes spaces and everyday practices, and reactivates the instruments of imperial capital.
The Optic of the State traces the production of nationalist imaginaries through the public visual representation of modern state formation in Brazil and Argentina. As Jens Andermann reveals, the foundational visions of national heritage, territory, and social and ethnic composition were conceived and implemented, but also disputed and contested, in a complex interplay between government, cultural, and scientific institutions and actors, as a means of propagating political agendas and power throughout the emerging states.
The purpose of these imaginaries was to vindicate the political upheavals of the recent past and secure the viability of the newly independent states through a sense of historic destiny and inevitable evolution. The careful presentation of artifacts and spectacles was also aimed abroad in order to win the favor of European imperial powers and thereby acquire a competitive place in the nascent global economy of the late nineteenth century.
The Optic of the State offers a fascinating critique of the visual aspects of national mythology. It exposes how scientific and cultural institutions inscribed the state-form in time and space, thus presenting historical processes as natural “givens.”
The questions raised by Andermann convert The Optic of the State into a stimulating point of departure to continue deepening and debating the subject of the complex and sinuous relationships between visuality, knowledge, and power in a key period of Latin American history.
Written in impeccable style with a taste of the lavish chronicle, 'The Optic of the State' is a book you won't want to put down. Its research is rigorous throughout, and even where the documents are not new themselves, they are being revisited with great originality.
'The Optic of the State' convincingly argues its central hypotheses through an examination of primary sources, which represents an 'itinerary of procedure' (De Certeau) of rigorous archival work. At the same time, the book does an admirable job of providing historical contexts, in no small part thanks to fascinating and well-crafted anecdotes.
Jens Andermann is reader in Latin American and Luso-Brazilian Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the coeditor of Images of Power: Iconography, Culture and the State in Latin America.