Interpreting Visual Culture: Explorations in the Hermeneutics of the Visual

By Ian Heywood; Barry Sandywell | Go to book overview

3

BAKHTIN AND THE METAPHORICS OF PERCEPTION

Michael Gardiner

The human gaze has the power of conferring value on things; but it makes them cost more too.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value


Introduction

In a recent interview, Emmanuel Levinas suggests that 'there is a dominance in the look, a technical dominance' (1991:16). In so far as the organization of visuality in the modern era is subordinated to a project of mastery, as defined by the intentional, knowing subject, vision is inherently destructive of 'otherness'. As such, it must be replaced by a relation of obligation and responsibility, one that is rooted in the spoken word and touch rather than sight. Levinas's stance here can be said to typify an increasingly influential position in twentieth-century thought that has argued for a strong correlation between vision and the reifying and domineering aspects of modernity, which is felt to denigrate the bodily, affective, and intersubjective qualities of human life. Many leading feminists have taken this line of inquiry one step further, asserting that 'the logic of the visual is a male logic' (Keller and Grontkowski, 1983:207). The hierarchization of the senses in Western culture since the early modern period and the increasing reliance on sight as the foundation of objectivity and certitude has facilitated a detached 'will to knowledge'-in essence, vision is the most 'phallic' of the human senses.

Visualization, understood as the perceptual strategy and technique of modernity par excellence, would therefore seem to involve an irreducible element of domination, a diagnosis typically accompanied by a call to 'de-throne' sight as a privileged sense. More recently, however, it has been argued that such manifestations of 'ocularphobia' effectively negate what is valuable or enriching about the human capacity for sight because they merely reverse the existing hierarchy that favours vision over other senses. Jonathan Crary, for instance, reminds us that while specific perceptual regimes in modernity have sought to 'insure the formation of a homogeneous, unified, and fully legible space', errant and non-oppressive forms of visuality continue to persist at the margins (1988:

-57-

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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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