Cover of Projecting Spirits by Pasi Väliaho
Projecting Spirits
Speculation, Providence, and Early Modern Optical Media
Pasi Väliaho


June 2022
272 pages.
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Hardcover now $65.00 (50% off)
Paperback now $16.00 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503630857
Paperback ISBN: 9781503631939
Ebook ISBN: 9781503631946

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Winner of the 2023 Limina Award for the Best International Cinema Studies Book, sponsored by the CINEMA & Cie. International Film Studies Journal.

The history of projected images at the turn of the seventeenth century reveals a changing perception of chance and order, contingency and form. In Projecting Spirits, Pasi Väliaho maps how the leading optical media of the period—the camera obscura and the magic lantern—developed in response to, and framed, the era's key intellectual dilemma of whether the world fell under God's providential care, or was subject to chance and open to speculating.

As Väliaho shows, camera obscuras and magic lanterns were variously employed to give the world an intelligible and manageable design. Jesuit scholars embraced devices of projection as part of their pursuit of divine government, whilst the Royal Society fellows enlisted them in their quest for empirical knowledge as well as colonial expansion. Projections of light and shadow grew into critical metaphors in early responses to the turbulences of finance. In such instances, Väliaho argues, "projection" became an indispensable cognitive form to both assert providence, and to make sense of an economic reality that was gradually escaping from divine guidance. Drawing on a range of materials—philosophical, scientific and religious literature, visual arts, correspondence, poems, pamphlets, and illustrations—this provocative and inventive work expands our concept of the early media of projection, revealing how they spoke to early modern thinkers, and shaped a new, speculative concept of the world.

About the author

Pasi Väliaho is Professor in History of Art and Visual Studies, University of Oslo. His last book was Biopolitical Screens: Image, Power, and the Neoliberal Brain (2014).

"This commanding, erudite history of the 'magic' that goes with optical technologies makes a major and enduring contribution to visual studies, to the history of science, and to the political economy of images."

—Tom Conley, Harvard University

"Moving seamlessly from early modern sources to current media studies theories, this book adds subtlety and nuance to our understanding of the ways optical instruments and visual metaphors shaped cultural sensitivities, modes of thought, and economic practices."

—Raz Chen-Morris, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Pasi Väliaho provides a captivating take on projection. Projecting Spirits includes a historically rich and deep understanding of the connection between images and economies of both money and souls. As it maps how the virtual and the imaginary become effective anchors of the real world, this wonderful book amounts to nothing less than a project about time: an invention of such a future that becomes a speculative project."

—Jussi Parikka, Aarhus University and FAMU, Prague

"Projecting Spirits provides a thought-provoking window into a rarely explored aspect of early modern visual culture."

—Paul E. Sampson, H-Sci-Med-Tech

"Drawing on a wealth of different sources in multiple languages and from subjects not often brought together in a single argument, Väliaho has written an important and compelling book about the early modern cultures of projection."

—Paula Findlen, Material Religion