Julian Barnes, in his Levels of Life (2013), notes the unique artistic perspective on 19th century ballooning of Odilon Redon. In 1878 Redon completed a charcoal drawing, Eye Balloon. Here is Barnes’ description:
At first sight it seems just a witty visual pun: the sphere of the balloon and the sphere of the eye are conflated into one, as a vast orb hovers over a grey landscape. The eye balloon has its eyelid open, so that the eyelash makes a fringe round the top of the canopy. Dangling from the balloon is a cradle in which squats a rough hemispherical shape: the top half of a human head. But the tone of the image is new and sinister. We could not be further from ballooning’s established tropes: freedom, spiritual exaltation, human progress. Redon’s eternally open eye is deeply unsettling. The eye in the sky; God’s security camera.
Today, the Snowden disclosures continue piling up, and debates over the mass surveillance state remain acute. This essay from the autumn of 2013 finds the emotional force of the NSA revelations in a long-established Western artistic and intellectual tradition of mass surveillance and a corresponding fear and resistance.