Interpreting Visual Culture: Explorations in the Hermeneutics of the Visual

By Ian Heywood; Barry Sandywell | Go to book overview

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THE HERMENEUTICS OF SEEING

Nicholas Davey

Vision is always a task, a task of promise.

David M. Levin, The Opening of Vision


On hermeneutics and seeing

With its roots stretching deep into biblical and literary interpretation, what does hermeneutics have to do with the question of seeing and with the experience of coming to see what is in a work of art? In response to this question, we will argue that hermeneutical aesthetics does not entail a 'philosophy of art' but a philosophical meditation upon what happens to us in our experience of art. Our argument will be presented in six stages. The first will propose that rather than dwelling on the 'subjectivity' of our experience of art, hermeneutical aesthetics seeks to illuminate what philosophical and existential determinants shape our perceptions of art. Rather tellingly, the German word for perceive is wahrnehmen, to take or receive as true. Hermeneutic aesthetics focuses on how our experiences of art occasion the appearance of certain truths. A major leitmotif of hermeneutic thought is that certain truths can only be experienced subjectively but that fact does not render them subjective. That what we come to see in art cannot be reduced to mere subjectivity depends upon historical and cultural ideas which transcend the subjective and yet achieve personal perceptual instanciations within aesthetic experience. We shall argue that both art and aesthetics reside in the generative tension between sight and in-sight. The second part is devoted to 'Hermeneutics, Language and Visual Understanding'. Hermeneutics' deep concern with language does not subordinate image to word but applies the sensitivities we acquire from linguistic exchange to reveal how our experience of art is no isolated monologue on personal pleasure but a complex dialogical achievement involving the fusion of the horizons surrounding artist, subject-matter and viewer. Part three engages the theme of 'Perception, Meaning and Art'. For aesthetic experience to have a content which can lay claim to being (in part) objective, it must have an ideational content which transcends the subjective limitations of the circumstance and scope of individual perception. Hermeneutics insists that in any reflection upon our experience of art, we must

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Interpreting Visual Culture: Explorations in the Hermeneutics of the Visual
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Part I - Rethinking the Visual in Contemporary Theory 1
  • 1 - The Hermeneutics of Seeing 3
  • 2 - Specular Grammar 30
  • 3 - Bakhtin and the Metaphorics of Perception 57
  • 4 - Durkheim's Double Vision 74
  • 5 - Readers of the Lost Art 99
  • 6 - Seeing Becoming Drawing 123
  • 7 - The 'Real Realm' 143
  • 8 - The Denigration of Vision and the Renewal of Painting 162
  • Part III - Towards an Ethics of the Visual 183
  • 9 - My Philosophical Project and the Empty Jug 185
  • 10 - 'Ever More Specific' 198
  • 11 - Aporia of the Sensible 218
  • Select Bibliography 251
  • Index 258
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