29 April 2016

Thomas Chatterton: Eighteenth-Century Forger

A comment by a dissertation committee member had me going through Charles Kingsley's Two Years Ago looking for bits where people talk about poetry. What I discovered was a conversation between the kindly old Doctor Thurnall, naturalist and physician, and the young John Briggs, would-be poet. Doctor Thurnall tells Briggs he's gotta love nature more to be a good poet:
"Throw away the safe station in which God has certainly put you, to seek, by some desperate venture, a new, and, as you fancy, a grander one for yourself? Look out of that window, lad; is there not poetry enough, beauty and glory enough, in that sky, those fields,—ay, in every fallen leaf,—to employ all your powers, considerable as I believe them to be? Why spurn the pure, quiet, country life, in which such men as Wordsworth have been content to live and grow old?"

The boy shook his head like an impatient horse. "Too slow—too slow for me, to wait and wait, as Wordsworth did, through long years of obscurity, misconception, ridicule. No. What I have, I must have at once; and, if it must be, die like Chatterton—if only, like Chatterton, I can have my little day of success, and make the world confess that another priest of the beautiful has arisen among men."
So this is useful to my purpose (as it suggests a good poet is a good scientist), but I was like-- who the heck is Chatterton? Because obviously I've heard of Wordsworth, but I've never heard of this fella, which maybe suggests Briggs is full of it. (He usually is. He later changes his name to Elsey Vavasour because he believes it's more a proper poet's name.) Thomas Chatterton turns out to be an eighteenth-century poet, born in 1752.

Chatterton's big thing was that he made up a fifteenth-century poet, and most of his poetry was ostensibly work by one Thomas Rowley that he had supposedly discovered in manuscript form. Amazingly, he was only sixteen years old at the time. Born into poverty, he tried to leverage his "discoveries" into acquiring a patron, to little success; he turned to political poetry, and didn't get very far there, either. He committed suicide in 1770 at the age of seventeen.

Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton (1856)

He did come to fame after that; in 1777, a book of the poetry of Thomas Rawley was published by a credulous editor. Word about the forgery spread, but it might not surprise you that the Romantic poets loved this guy. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley all mention him in their poetry or dedicate poems to him. I'm guessing from the tenor of the above passage, though, that Kingsley was not a fan.

28 April 2016

Review: Networking: Communicating with Bodies and Machines in the Nineteenth Century by Laura Otis

Trade paperback, 268 pages
Published 2011 (originally 2001)

Acquired and read December 2012
Networking: Communicating with Bodies and Machines in the Nineteenth Century
by Laura Otis

Laura Otis's monograph explores the way nineteenth-century writers and scientists imagined communications, especially how their conceptions were shaped by the idea of the network, as in both the telegraph and the nervous system. Viewing these two systems as relatable could cause one to see human networks as mechanical: Charles Babbage "approached bodies and machines in the same way, studying patterns of movement and seeking the simplest arrangements of parts that could produce a desired motion" (29). It could also cause you to view mechanical networks as living things; Emil DuBois-Raymond believed that a "telegraph network modeled on an organic system would allow a society to survive-- and conquer-- just as a sophisticated nervous system allowed a living animal to succeed" (49).

Otis moves from this set-up of the issues to discuss the influence of these network theories on nineteenth-century literature. Most notable is, of course, Eliot's Middlemarch and its famous "web." This is often taken evolutionarily, but Otis provides a strong reading of the novels webs of communication. The book ends with readings of literature that's more explicitly telegraphic, most of which I've read: Lightning Flashes and Electric Dashes, Wired Love, and Henry James's "In the Cage." The book then ends by considering the "web without wires" (i.e., telepathic communication) and Dracula. One sometimes wishes Otis could step back more: there are compelling readings of individual texts here (I ought to cite her take on Middlemarch), but the overall "theory" of her argument is not readily apparent. But as an examination of ways of thinking embodied in ways of writing, it rates highly.

27 April 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XX: Batman: Fortunate Son

Batman's back, baby! Forget about your multiversal crises, and sink your teeth into some good old-fashioned street crime...

Comic trade paperback, 90 pages
Published 1999

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2015
Batman: Fortunate Son

Writer: Gerard Jones
Artist: Gene Ha
Colorist: Gloria Vasquez
Letterer: Willie Schubert

Year Four, Summer
This is a weird book, no doubt about it. A rock musician that Robin's really into commits a crime, or seems to, Batman decides the team will investigate, as a favor to Robin. It turns out that Batman utterly despises rock music, and he and Robin (quite temporarily) split up. It also turns out that in additional to homicidal maniacs (right down the hall from them, in fact), Arkham Asylum houses rock managers who did too much drugs. Also also: the ghost of Elvis Presley, but blond, and only ever referred to as "God"!

Yet... I cannot imagine a better story of Batman and rock music. The weirdness of the story doesn't bother me, because it's operating by its own rules; this is a heightened world where rock music is powerful, where it instigates riots and sweeps people up at the drop of a beat. It's weird and kind of mystical without being magical or fantastical. People can be hypnotized by it, and terrible crimes can be committed by its adherents, all because of the music. It can do great good, but also great evil, and people will do anything to harness its power. You might now be saying, "this world sounds an awful lot like our world." That's the point!

Of course Batman hates rock music, then. Even at its best, it's disorderly, it's suspect. You don't need the scene where young Bruce Wayne is told to turn off that rock music, because it's time to go to the theatre, to make him hate it. Rock is about changing the world, but through disorder. It's accomplishing what Batman stands for the most, through means that are utterly alien to him.

Click to enlarge, duh.

I should also say that I really liked the look of Gene Ha's art, though his storytelling was often confusing. He draws Batman like a guy in costume, if that makes sense; you can tell his suit is something he's wearing, especially his cowl, not something that magically molds into his body. I don't think that approach would work for every Batman story (it's hard to imagine it in my next read, Batgirl: Year One, for example), but it is the right approach for this one, a story which emphasizes the fragility of who Batman is and what he does.

Next Week: And then there were three... the Bat-Family grows again in Batgirl: Year One!

26 April 2016

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XXXI: The Unifying Force by James Luceno

This is it! It took me a year and a half to reread the series in chronological order, but I've finally come to the end of The New Jedi Order. I have to say it hasn't held up: I remember liking much more of it than I did on this reread. Its highs are still great (Edge of Victory, Star by Star, Traitor), but when you're not always eagerly picking up the latest installment to find out what happens next because you do know what happens next, the repetitiveness, aimlessness, rough edges, and dull characterizations become much more apparent.

Hardcover, 529 pages
Published 2003

Acquired December 2003
Previously read February 2004
Reread September 2015
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: The Unifying Force
by James Luceno

Year Five of the Invasion (Months 1-3)
The New Jedi Order goes out much as it began, which is to say: blandly. Given a nineteen-book series with tons of characters to wrap up, Luceno devotes significant chunks of time early in the novel to Boba Fett and Judder Page, neither of whom have appeared in these books before. A lot of the novel feels oddly low-key: Zonoma Sekot appears in the sky over Yuuzhan'tar/Coruscant, but no one seems particularly worried about or interested in what ought to be an ominous moment. Luceno has obviously read Traitor, unlike Walter Jon Williams, but I'm not sure he gets it any better. He can bog anything down in procedural details, even the wrapup to a four-year galaxy-spanning epic, unfortunately.

Next Week: A new reading adventure begins: twelve novellas for twelve Doctors, as I finally hit up the prose fiction celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who!

25 April 2016

Review: The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner

Benny Summerfield meets Irving Braxiatel and the Doctor meets Sherlock Holmes in my reviews at Unreality SF this week, of the audio adaptations two-fer Theatre of War and All-Consuming Fire.

Trade paperback, 301 pages
Published 2005 (originally 1883)
Acquired and read March 2016
The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner

I was a bit surprised at this novel: it's published in 1883, so the same year Wilkie Collins finished Heart and Science, and the year after Thomas Hardy wrote Two on a Tower. Yet its much more prescient of modernism than either of those late Victorian works, reminding me more of early James Joyce or E. M. Forster than Schreiner's actual contemporaries. It has a fragmented, difficult style, but one appropriate to its subject matters, about the difficulties of coping with massive complex systems like religion and patriarchy while living on the fringe of the massive complex system that is empire-- though Schreiner is seemingly way less interested in interrogating its complications than she is those of gender and religion. I liked it, but I wanted to love it; I frequently enjoyed the detached narrative voice, but sometimes found it more difficult than I felt was necessary. There was some engrossing stuff (the horrific victimization of children by Bonaparte Blenkins), some funny stuff (Bonaparte's more comedic escapades) some great stuff (Bonaparte's final comeuppance), some intriguing stuff (young Waldo's adventures in the world), some startling stuff ("'Waldo,' she said, 'Lyndall is dead'" is such a powerful sentence), and some weird and offputting stuff (most of the last couple chapters). Probably worth another read someday, and I would certainly teach it; I don't think I've read another book quite like it.

22 April 2016

The Reeve-Era Superman Opening Credits

Recently, I was listening to my soundtrack collection, when the opening track to Superman III (1983) came up. Now, this is not a great film by any means, but I maintain that the first half is fun, especially the scenes between Clark Kent and Lana Lang, perhaps the most Christopher Reeve ever got to do as Clark, as opposed to Superman. The opening track is called "Main Title (The Streets of Metropolis)," and it plays over hijinks as Clark commutes to work at the Daily Planet:

It's by Ken Thorne, though he's imitating the stylings of John Williams. I find the whole sequence sort of bizarrely charming, in a slapstick sort of way, capturing a lot of the moral simplicity of the old Superman movies. (I haven't seen Batman v Superman, so I'm not going to slam it, though of course the fact that a big Superman fan such as myself didn't see it is itself a slam of sorts.)

One notes the way the names fly up from the bottom of the screen, over the action; I think this is supposed to be somewhat reminiscent of what is undoubtedly the greatest film opening credit sequence of all time, that of the original Superman: The Movie (1978). Seriously, watch it on full screen and turn up the volume:

Chills, man, chills. Every single time I watch it, and for every single name that flies in with that funny little noise. You know I didn't see this movie until I was in high school, but it's seared itself into my brain as if I saw it when I was five years old. I'm not sure why there's the prologue about the Daily Planet's Depression-era reportage, though.

The credits for Superman II (1980) are not quite as awe-inspiring, but playing John Williams's Superman march over a synopsis of the previous film gets me revved up a lot, too:

I also have a fondness for the opening credits to Supergirl (1984), with music by Star Trek's best composer, Jerry Goldsmith. Apparently they were hella expensive: those flying names are physical models:

You can see that they were really trying to create something as impressive for Supergirl's first film as they had for Superman's though, I don't think they quite succeeded.

But by the time Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) came out, everything about the Superman films, including the opening titles, even if they did get the composer of the original Star Trek theme, Alexander Courage, to do the music this time. Seriously, the credits look like you could have knocked them out in twenty minutes on an Apple IIe:

I feel like I would be embarrassed if I had seen that in the theater. "This is what I'm paying money for!?" (The movie does have its moments, though. Or rather, a moment. I will always love the bit where Superman says in complete seriousness, "It's common knowledge that you hate children and animals, Luthor." Gene Hackman just shrugs.)

Of course, the nostalgia-fest that was Superman Returns (2005) went back to the original source here, with a set of titles that updated the original with modern effects technology:

Plus some really swell Marlon Brando narration. As this was the only one of these movies to come out during my adult life, it's the only one I got to see on the big screen, and I will always love it for giving me my only chance to see the sheer spectacle of classic-era Superman credits in their intended glory.

21 April 2016

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: When All Men Starve by Charles Gleig

Hardcover, 192 pages
Published 1898 (originally 1897)
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
When All Men Starve: Showing How England Hazarded Her Naval Supremacy, and the Horrors Which Followed the Interruption of Her Food Supply
by Charles Gleig

To be fair, this book sounds from its title like it ought to be awful: another in a long stream of didactic Victorian books about political economy, imperial power, and land ownership. But to my surprise it wasn't. Charles Gleig, who apparently mostly wrote YA naval adventure tales, turns out to have a less obviously moralizing tone than many of his contemporaries. He's pretty sarcastic about the amount of money that goes into the imperial project, and about how the British upper classes overlook the plight of the lower classes, and how the middle classes have been bamboozled into siding with the upper.

The starting point for the novel is conflict between English and Boer settlers in South Africa that allows the Germans to land on a pretext of peacekeeping, doing so unimpeded because Britain pursues a diplomatic, rather than military solution. Soon, it's too late, and Britain is not just fighting Germany, but France and Russia have seized the opportunity and are demanding British withdrawal from the Mediterranean. Gleig isn't interested in your typical jingoistic future war, though: this is not The Next Crusade or even The Three Days' Terror. Rather, he focuses on the effect of the war on an already strained domestic situation: war mean no exports, which means no profits, which means mass unemployment.
The remedy [to the bread famine], hinted unpatriotic Socialism, was to make peace. War might be glorious, but what was glory upon an empty stomach?
     But as yet there was no general desire for peace. The nation hurled defiance at all accursed foreigners, and would yet find a Nelson to drive the Allies from the seas. […] Let Labour eat his turnips and be patient; above all, let him trust in the failing wisdom of the Government and all would be well. (76-7)
Because the government ignores the people (Gleig is particularly scathing of Radicals who are not actually radical), things spiral out of control at home while war is waged abroad. A Socialist leader, Jim Scalds, is arrested after a speech in the town of Braiding; the people riot, and when the police accidentally kill a rioter, things really go nuts.

The Justice of the Peace who arrested Scalds is hung, but a man named Robert Margrave, a former major in the "little wars" unites the rioters under his control. Gleig doesn't flinch from the violence, but he also doesn't revel in it; the book mostly reports it matter-of-factly, and I think it does a good job of expressing sympathy for the working-class position, unlike many of Gleig's contemporaries.
That regrettable excesses were committed, that violence and bloodshed marked the overthrow of the old order in Braiding, has to be admitted; but there is no evidence connecting Robert Margrave with the acts of violence perpetrated by his undisciplined followers, whilst, on the contrary, the rapidity with which some semblance of order was restored sufficiently indicates the force of character possessed by the man who dominated and guided the coming rebellion. (147)
The rebels aren't met in London by the military, but the police, and Gleig is most regretful over the horrific massacre that results: "one is forced to admit that the massacre left an indelible stain upon the character of the British rough" (178). Six thousand policeman are killed, but only one-third die in the actual battle: the others are killed afterward, while trying to flee. Buckingham Palace is burnt down, but the mob lets Westminster stand, apparently conscious that the only thing worse than the current government is no government: unlike many of his contemporaries, Gleig gets that these people aren't actually anarchists; they only want a just government. Margrave, though he is praised for his ability to channel the mob throughout, cannot control the revolution in those early days in London.

That's where the book ends, with the mob dancing around the embers of Buckingham Palace in a pretty haunting scene: "So they dance on, till the grey dawn steals up from the east and the burnt palace looms black and haggard in the cold light of morning" (192).

One thing I should note is that the book is fun and playful in its construction of future history; there are lots of footnotes, some of which cite what I think are real books, but many of them must be fake because they're things like London during the War by Andrew Slang and Chronicles of the Revolution by Professor Ducky. (I bet these are references to real writers, because Gleig likes doing this kind of thing; for example, the book transforms the real Sir Compton Domville into "Sir Dompton Colville" or Sir John Hopkins into "Sir John Skipworth."*) He's not the only person to do this kind of thing, but he's more playful than most, even establishing that "Alfred Norrison" (i.e., Arthur Morrison of A Child of the Jago fame) wrote novels about the events he's chronicling.

I particularly liked this skewering of writers of military fiction:
The English are a pugnacious race, yet how few Englishmen care very greatly to study those minutely detailed descriptions of sea fights which are to be found in the pages of James, Brenton, Laughton, Colomb, or even Mahan. The picturesque pen of a Froude, the robust irony of a Stevenson is needed to pierce the smoke of battle and show us the deportment of the dramatis personæ; otherwise the average citizen is sadly prone to yawn over whole pages of tactics and military manœuvres. (96)
He uses this as an excuse to not engage in such minute chronicles himself. Thank goodness, because he's right: they're dead boring, and his take is much more interesting.

* Thanks to Jess Nevins for pointing this out.

20 April 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Prose Fiction #10: Project Crisis!, Part LII: Countdown [novelization]

I keep trying to catch up on audio drama reviews and not entirely succeeding, but here's a review of The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 5 at Unreality SF. Meanwhile, I'm switching gears away from Final Crisis, but on the way I'm stopping to read another prose tie-in:

Trade paperback, 321 pages
Published 2009

Borrowed from the library
Read September 2015
Countdown by Greg Cox

Cox's novelization of 52 was not as good as the comic series on which it was based, but his novelization of Countdown is better. Mostly, this is down to the quality of their respective source materials: 52 was a good comic, and one of the things that made it good was its huge span, in terms of both time and characters, which was hard to pare down for a 300-page novel in a way that kept the story effective. One of the many things that made Countdown to Final Crisis bad was its aimlessness, its repetitiveness, its plot-lines that went nowhere, or issues that served only to repeat the content of previous issues. Judicious cutting could only make it better, not worse.

So, tons of the original comic is gone here, to good effect. First off, two whole plot-lines are just removed: there's no Karate Kid and Una search for a cure to the OMAC virus, and there's no Pied Piper and Trickster on the run for the murder of the Bart Allen Flash. These were probably the worst of the various threads of Countdown, so no loss there. This leaves four primary plot-lines: Holly Robinson and Harley Quinn among the Amazons, Mary Marvel trying to tame the power of Black Adam, Donna Troy and Jason Todd searching for Ray Palmer, and Jimmy Olsen investigating the death of the New Gods. These plot-lines still aren't great, but they are better, because Cox deletes a lot of terribleness. There's no tie-ins to wider DC universe events, like Amazons Attack! or the death of Bart Allen. Donna and Jason only visit a couple parallel Earths, and never encounter Monarch. There are no cutaways to the incoherent meetings of the Monitors. Jimmy Olsen doesn't learn ten times over that his powers only activate in situations of danger. OMAC doesn't eat Apokolips. Earth-51 isn't destroyed even once, much less twice.

Cox manages to give everything some focus: instead of being hunted by Donna and Jason because of something something morticoccus virus, Ray is seemingly recruited because he's needed to save Jimmy in the final battle against Darkseid. The whole book becomes about driving to that moment, to stop Darkseid from acquiring all the powers of the Gods and controlling the imminent Fifth World. (I'll be curious to see if Cox's novelization of Final Crisis makes any explicit links to the events of Countdown.)

If this all seems like damning with faint praise, well, it is. There's still no substance here. Mary Marvel still behaves stupidly for no apparent reason. Jimmy Olsen's romance with Forager is still pointless. Jason and Donna still stand around for most of the book. I did kind of like the Holly/Harley plot, but it's not much to write home about, either. How have they changed as people? Have we even learned anything about them? These aren't characters, they're ciphers being pushed around by a pointless plot.

It does read quickly, though.

Proposed Countdown novelization drinking game: drink every time a main character meets someone and thinks to themselves, 'I thought [x] was dead, but I guess I heard wrong/I saw wrong/they got better.'

Next Week: I return to the early days of Batman in Project Gotham!

19 April 2016

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XXX: The Final Prophecy by Greg Keyes

Mass market paperback, 305 pages
Published 2003

Acquired 2003
Previously read November 2003
Reread September 2015
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: The Final Prophecy
by Greg Keyes

Year Four of the Invasion (Month 12)
This is probably the best of the post-Traitor books in The New Jedi Order, though it's also the weakest of Greg Keyes's four contribution to the saga. Jaina ends up involved in some wacky space war escapades that feel like they're there to take up page count, but the core of the book is the adventures of Jedi Knights Corran Horn and Tahiri and Yuuzhan Vong Nom Anor, Nen Yim, and Harrar trying to get to Zonoma Sekot, which might hold the key to defeating the Yuuzhan Yong. All three Yuuzhan Vong characters have reason to be disaffected with the leadership of Supreme Overlord Shimrra, but different reasons. Keyes is as always great with characterization, and particularly his handling of the Yuuzhan Vong stands out: all three characters might be rebels, but none of them are "good guys" as a result, and they all come to their rebellion from different perspectives still influenced by their culture. His achievement is especially notable with Harrar, who had been a paper-thin villain in James Luceno's books, but little else, prior to this.

The problem is that the action feels inconsequential; some things happen that are of importance to The Unifying Force, but the stakes aren't very high. It's a shame that this was Keyes's last Star Wars book, as I thought he, Troy Denning, and Matt Stover were the big discoveries of The New Jedi Order. Denning and Stover went on to write many more Star Wars novels (as did, alas, Luceno), but Keyes moved on to original projects after this. Though these days he's writing tie-ins to properties like Interstellar, X-COM, Independence Day, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Elder Scrolls, so I feel like returning to Star Wars would be a step up.

Next Week: I wrap up this long odyssey through The New Jedi Order in The Unifying Force!

18 April 2016

Review: Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation by E. H. Gombrich

Trade paperback, 466 pages
Published 2000 (originally 1960)

Acquired September 2015
Read March 2016
Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation
by E. H. Gombrich

I don't remember why I asked for this book any more, other than that it has something to do with how we see, an issue that permeates many of my interests in teaching and scholarship. I ended up being surprised, then, in that it had a lot to do with my interest in literary realism and what it means to be "realistic": something I often emphasize in my teaching is that being "realistic" is usually a set of codes and tropes. Like, George Eliot considered herself to be realistic in Adam Bede in the 1850s. But modernism in the early twentieth century was also about being realistic, but "realistic" for Virginia Woolf was a very different set of things than it was for Eliot. E. H. Gombrich's books is about the history of "realistic" art, and something he captures very well is that "realistic" has always been a set of conventions: we very rarely draw from life; rather, there are certain ways that we signal "this is drawn from life" even as it is drawn from artistic convention. The Pre-Raphaelites and the Impressionists were both aiming for realistic, they just had different ways of creating the illusion of realism. Or as he himself puts it: "in all styles the artist has to rely on a vocabulary of forms and that it is the knowledge of this vocabulary rather than a knowledge of things that distinguishes the skilled from the unskilled artist" (293).

The peak of the book is really Chapter IX, "The Analysis of Vision in Art," where Gombrich unites the previous eight chapters to deliver a series of key insights. (The following two chapters kind of feel like filler.) First is that the "achievement of innocent passivity" is probably impossible: everything we see is filtered through our preconceptions: "Whenever we receive a visual impression, we react by docketing it, filing it, grouping it in one way or another, even if the impression is only that of an inkblot or a fingerprint" (297). All perception is relative. Gombrich argues that even John Ruskin, who was a book advocate of the idea of the "innocent eye," actually understood this: he "demands a willingness to use a pigment which in isolation still looks unlike the area to be matched in order that it may look like it in the end [i.e., in the completed picture]" (310).

I liked Gombrich's point that all representation thus becomes referential, and I think something similar is true in literature. Each artist and each artistic movement learns to see "reality" from the previous one: "If Constable saw the English landscape in terms of Gainsborough's paintings, what about Gainsborough himself? We can answer this. Gainsborough saw the lowland scenery of East Anglia in terms of Dutch paintings which he arduously studies and copied. [...] All paintings, as Wölfflin said, owe more to other paintings than they owe to direct observation" (316-17). In literature, the postmodernists owe the modernists owe the naturalists owe the realists owe the romantics and so on, each one deriving their attempts to depict "reality" from each other more than reality itself.

The result of this in art (and, I suspect, in literature) is that "when complete fidelity to visual experience had become both a moral and an aesthetic imperative" (311), everything fell apart: "if you were really faithful to your vision in every detail the equation would not work out: the elements will not fuse in the end into a convincing whole" (312). This gives us both alternate attempts at representing the real, and also movements like cubism, which "kicked aside the whole tradition of faithful vision and tried to start again from the 'real object' which they squashed against the picture plane" (312). But Gombrich is careful to assert that art is not subjectivity all the way down: we absorb some subjecivities into our vocabulary because they say something compelling to us about reality:
There is such a thing as a real visual discovery, and there is a way of testing it [...]. Whatever the initial resistance to impressionist paintings, when the first shock had worn off, people learned to read them. And having learned this language, they went into the fields and woods, or looked out of their windows onto the Paris boulevards, and found to their delight that the visible world could after all be seen in terms of these bright patches and dabs of paint. [...] The impressionists had taught them, not, indeed, to see nature with an innocent eye, but to explore an unexpected alternative that turned out to fit certain experiences better than did any earlier paintings. [...] As Oscar Wilde said, there was no fog in London before Whistler painted it. (324)
Which, I would once again hold, is true of good literature as much as good painting. This book has a lot to say about visual illusion, but it's also a very good introduction to the importance of conventions in all forms of art, both the perpetuating of them and the upending of them.

(The reproduction of images in my copy, a 2000 "millennium edition" and 14th printing, was often muddy. I don't know if the book looked like this originally in 1960, but it was sometimes difficult to make out the details Gombrich's text was alluding to.)