Everyday we move through a world filled to the brim with images. It is no longer only a world of objects, people and places that we can reach out and touch. The world is now a multiverse of virtual, intangible scenes beamed to us on all kinds of magic windows: TVs, lap-tops, digital phones. These ubiquitous screens have become secondary organs of the body. Thanks to them we now have thousands of eyes!
But vision is more than sight. Vision is a process of the whole body. When we see something we react! Our pulse quickens. We feel desire or fear. We respond. Vision is a process of the cultures, communities and conditions in which we live. What we see is as much about what there is in the world as about what we feel and think about it. My prejudices and beliefs influence not only how I will interpret an event, but what I see when the event is occurring.
I like the phrase “the powers of vision” because it hints at the tremendous force that is wrapped up in seeing, in looking and in experiencing all the things we encounter during our lives. The powers of vision are physical: the eyes, the psychological and cognitive capacities of the brain and all the myriad ways these are connected to the rest of our bodies.
The powers of vision are cultural and historical too. We SEE things as we do because of what we have learned and also how we have imagined them. I am intrigued by how these types of VISION work together to create the reality that we experience.
* In the film “Svengali”, the title character is a powerful hypnotist who uses his penetrating gaze to control a young woman whom he will eventually turn into a famous singer. In the most famous scene Svengali stands at his window and stares out over the windswept city. The camera becomes his point of view and the audience travels on the beams of vision that emanate from his magical stare. This is a very old idea. For centuries (perhaps millenia) people believed that the gaze could kill. Early theorists of vision postulated that rays of light came out of the eyes themselves. Like the arrows of desire these luminous streams were what allowed people to see the world- in the beginning we had headlights!