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Figure 1. Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), Sharpshooter, 1863, oil on canvas, 12 ¼ x 16 ½ inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Barbro and Bernard Osher, 1992.41

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The Blindness of Technologized Vision

For the first time during the Civil War, army doctors treated homesickness as a deleterious illness that affected the troops as they camped far from their loved ones. Homesickness can in many ways be defined as visual, and the thought of one day seeing far away people rings out in soldiers’ letters. Aides-memoires such as daguerreotypes or tintypes kept soldiers’ visual memories alive in their homes, while those on the front might have carries likenesses of wives, sweethearts, or mothers with them. But despite its underlying visual qualities, homesickness is, at base, about the absence of persons and scenes one most desires to see. Homesickness is based on a kind of interrupted vision, a blankness on the retina, filled in with snatched glances at a tintype in its protective case or re-imagined with the eyes closed. It is in light of this visually impenetrable homesickness that I reinterpret Homer’s 1863 painting Home, Sweet Home, which one reviewer described as possessing a “hearty, homely actuality.”

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Figure 3. Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1010), Home, Sweet Home, c. 1863, oil on canvas, 21 ½ x 16 ½ inches. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1997.72.1

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09/04/2016 · Fiction

After a keen reconnaissance from the safe seclusion of a clump of young pines Searing ran lightly across a field and through an orchard to a small structure which stood apart from the other farm buildings, on a slight elevation. This he thought would enable him to overlook a large scope of the country … Searing looked across the open ground between his point of view and a spur of Kennesaw Mountain, a half-mile away. A road leading up and across this spur was crowded with troops—the rear-guard of the retiring enemy, their gun-barrels gleaming in the morning sunlight.

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Bierce would probably have greatly appreciated—if in an ironical fashion—the disapproving review his 1892 collection of war stories received in the Atlantic Monthly, an apotheosis of the optimist’s rejection of the cynic: “It has never been our fortune to read a collection of tales so uniformly horrible and revolting. Told with some power, and now and then with strokes of wonderfully vivid description, with plots ingenious in their terror and photographic in their sickening details, we must pronounce the book too brutal to be either good art or good literature.”

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twelve miles from here, my age and my youth met—the latter a trifle wan, ghostly, and absent-minded, inhospitable to questioning. What I mean is that I was in Oakland (Md.) forty-odd years ago, as a young soldier … This country has been Dreamland to me ever since. I know I should not have sought it again, to dispel the illusions, but I just to; and I mean to go over all my old campaigning routes and battle grounds…

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FIgure 4. Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), Trooper Meditating Beside a Grave, c. 1865, oil on canvas, 16 x 8 inches. Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska. Gift of Dr. Harold Gifford and Ann Gifford Forbes, 1960.298

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Figure 2. Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), Skirmish in the Wilderness, oil on canvas mounted on masonite, 18 x 26 ¼ inches. New Britain Museum of American Art. Harriet Russell Stanley Fund, 1944.05