Through the glass darkly
The phantasmagoria of Elephanta
in Empires of light
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As a symbol of opaque darkness, the mysterious subterranean caves of Elephanta haunted the imagination of writers and painters ranging from John Ruskin to Flaubert and were notably memorialised in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. This chapter examines the recruitment of optical devices like the camera obscura and the magic lantern, aimed at solving the caves’ mysteries, suggesting that these instead exaggerated the ghostly character of the caves, undermining the claims of a rational vision in apprehending their complex iconography and architecture, going on to feed a fantastical visual archive of the caves (and, by extension, the Indian landscape) in German cinema of the early twentieth century.

Empires of light

Vision, visibility and power in colonial India


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