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Principles of Cerebral Mechanics
By Charles Cros
Translated, with an introduction, by Doug Skinner

Though a lesser-known work among the scientific writings of Charles Cros, Principles of Cerebral Mechanics is a visionary work that further establishes the author’s standing as the inventeur maudit of his time. First presented to the Academy of Sciences in 1872, it wasn’t published until 1879, and then only in fragmentary form as the journal in which it appeared folded before it could publish it in its entirety, and what Cros claimed to be the only manuscript copy had been thrown into a fire by his mistress during a lover’s quarrel.

Setting out to understand the mechanics of perception, the organs of which at the time were too small and inaccessible to be studied directly, Cros instead attempted to reverse engineer the sensory organs. Whereas his previous inventions in the realms of audio recording and color photography had focused on technology for the senses, with this ambitious essay Cros turned to conceptualizing the technology of the senses themselves: rather than the transmission of color to the retina, here he instead attempted to conceive of how color was transmitted from the retina to the brain. By approaching the human brain as a ěmechanism of registrationî and conceptually dissecting it into the gears of an image recorder, Cros’s essay can be set alongside the groundbreaking work of such revolutionary figures who transformed modern vision as Étienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge.

Charles Cros (1842–1888) was as much Renaissance man as he was počte maudit. A bohemian poet who drank with Verlaine and at one point provided housing to Rimbaud, he also developed the comic monologue as a theatrical genre, and invented both the gramophone (which he named the ěpalČophoneî) and color photography (though he failed to patent either before Thomas Edison or Louis Ducos du Hauron), among other such inventions as a non-metallic battery and a musical stenographer. “The freshness of his intelligence was such that no object of desire seemed utopian to him a priori,” André Breton wrote of him, adding: “The pure playfulness of certain wholly whimsical portions of Cros’s work should not obscure the fact that at the center of some of his most beautiful poems a revolver is leveled straight at us.”

November 2021
4.5 x 7, 120 pp.
$13.95 US
978-1-939663-79-5

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