The Eyes Have It – Visual Overshoot?


The wood nymphs vanished as the woods filled with trailer camps.
Water sprites have been crowded out by submarines and scuba divers. – Walter Ong, “World as View and World as Event” 

In view of last week’s discussion regarding the “naturally human,” the question must now be put: To what extent did a reorganization of our Pleistocene-honed sensorium lead to the suppression of “primal participation,” eventually to be lost beneath layers of civilizing enculturation?  If so, what conditions may have led to such a reorganization, and under what organizing principle?  In short, what intervened to come between the inter-animating forces of our hominid senses and the rich plenum of the earthly sensuous?

The answer may be somewhat complicated. Among the issues we need to consider are the shift from nomadic foraging to domestic agriculture, from a pre-conscious engagement with natural periodicities to a strictly unidirectional time-consciousness, from oral to literate culture, from polysemic totemic identifications to the strictly univocal law of identity, from a lived-experience of the earthly sensuous to the ascendancy of vision in a now truncated sensorial hierarchy — what Walter Ong might call a diminishment of the ‘world-as-presence’.

Insofar as [the world-as-presence] is grounded in the senses, it appears to be grounded in all of them simultaneously. We speak of a ‘sense’ of presence, rather than a sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch of presence. (“World as View and World as Event”)

If we are to understand these diverse modulations, we must first entertain the possibility that a shift in food acquisition techniques from foraging to agriculture, from nomadic to domestic life-ways, involved a substantive change in early Homo sapiens’ self-image and relationship to the environment, existentially, perceptually, and epistemologically. Apparently, the encompassing surround of nature came increasingly to be viewed as an external, independent field of objects; a reification arrived at by means of a burgeoning instrumental reason.

Wandering, hunting, and gathering, along with the sensual familiarity of the territory – wild and in the round – was slowly eclipsed, replaced by a situated, stable, and staid observation post, overlooking newly planted fields now spread out before well-trained hopeful eyes, waiting upon the anticipated cornucopia.  Not to be lost sight of here are the numerous visual metaphors that became ever more critical to a domesticated and domesticating life-way, while the other senses seemed to atrophy and fade into the background as so much noise.

There was unquestionably a unique perceptual hierarchy emerging around this transition in food production methodologies, redefining new settled and civilized sensibilities, with a highly stylized vision, a hyper-visualism, perched upon the apex of a new sensorial pyramid – a vision, moreover, busied with diligently planning its next move, and planting its sights on the future.  Yet, as Jonathan Z. Smith unambiguously stated in his monograph of the same name, ‘the map is not the territory’; the visual field, now a predominantly flat-screened projection of objects ‘out there,’ revealed itself ever more clearly as surface appearances, slowly but surely emptied of vitality and deprived of depth, as the eclipsing of the sensorium continued unabated.

Don’t misunderstand me, vision is indeed a noble and wonder-filled endowment, without which our survival as a species might be unimaginable. However, vision is only

the part-function of a whole body which experiences its dynamic involvement with the environment in the feeling of its position and changes of position.  The ‘possession’ of a body of which the eyes are a part is indeed the primal fact of our ‘spatiality’… Without this background of nonvisual, corporeal feeling and the accumulated experience of performed motion, the eyes alone would not supply the knowledge of space… (The Phenomenon of Life, Hans Jonas, p. 154)

We tend to forget that spatiality emerges as we feel our bodies move within a world that reaches out and receives our flesh – that our motility and gestures betray the body as a point of departure on the world, an openness to its presence, an intertwining between our senses and the earthly sensuous that reciprocates and corresponds to our every move.  It is only the chimera of a theoretical interiority, hypothesized by rationalist metaphysics, granting singular and privileged position to sight, that creates the impression of a purely objective world in the first place, as if viewed through a telescope and from a great distance.  But this impression does not correspond to what our bodies tell us every day, even before we open our eyes, extending our feet blindly, only to be met by the ground beneath us.  As David Abrams teases, “Prior to all our verbal reflections, at the level of our spontaneous sensorial engagement with the world around us, we are all animists.” (The Spell of the Sensuous, p. 57)

So why is it that sight alone achieved such a lofty, even commanding, status?  Why is the subjectivity of the body shunned, while vision takes on an independent but truncated life of its own? For whatever reason, we find that in Greek thought, sight had already been elevated – “hailed as the most excellent of senses.”  In fact, visual metaphors constantly emerge to describe the highest activity of mind – theoria.  From Plato onward, all of Western philosophy honors sight, referring to it alternatively as the “eye of the soul” and “the light of reason.”  Aristotle confirms this in the opening remarks of his treatise on Metaphysics:

ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight.

Yet, despite Aristotle’s presumption, and as maintained above, the very motility of the body – its ability to move, to act, to reach out and touch – is always, already a “factor in the very constitution of seeing and the seen world themselves, much as this genesis is forgotten in the conscious result.” (Jonas, 152)

Discussing the nurturing and social development of  infants and toddlers among the New Guinea forest-dwelling hunter-gatherer-gardeners on the southern slopes of the Kratke Range just after Western contact in the early 1960s, Richard Sorenson writes,

When babies began acquiring verbal speech, their words and sentences floated out atop a sophisticated body-language already well in place. Even after acquiring spoken language, tactile-talk continued taking precedence in much of daily life. It conveyed affect better. It was faster and more direct. Most of all it touched more deeply and more quickly into the hearts and minds of others. Tactile-talk was affect-talk. It integrated the spontaneous affect of individuals, often many at a time. So adept did young children become at this that they would at times merge actions into wordless synchrony. (Preconquest Consciousness)

So, what turned Pleistocene vision and its co-participating a “sense of presence” into the Holocene enemy of original participation?  What pushed our visual sensibility into reifying and objectifying the world as something out-there and wholly separate from us, like a screen or a spectacle to be observed, a series of objects to be manipulated and controlled – where even other people have become simple “marks” or “targets” that are in our “sights?”  When and why did vision become this hyper-visual villan?

It is likely that such transformation began slowly, proceeding in conjunction with some other key cultural developments, literacy, for example — the externalization and objectification of speech in the written word. As Walter Ong has suggested,

The world of a dominantly oral or aural culture is dynamic and relatively unpredictable, an event-world rather than an object-world… Sound signals the present use of power, since sound must be in active production in order to exist at all…[Ong 1967:112]

There was a power and polysemy in the utterance that was not discernable within the written word. But the visual and, indeed, linear nature of writing and reading, as opposed to the oral/aural surround of speech, certainly contributed to elevating this new hyper-visualism and its specific requirements.

And this leads us to the concomitant birth of a new logistic – a specialized rationale for linguistic-structuring that allowed for the “lawful” codification of an increasingly objective worldview, the “discovery” and investigation of material causality, and correlatively, a growing commitment to unidirectional time.

As Ingold argues,

… the responsibility for reducing the world to a realm of manipulable objects lies not with the hegemony of vision but with a ‘certain narrow conception of thought.’  And it is this conception, too, that has led to the reduction of vision – that is, to its construal as a sensory modality specialized in the appropriation and manipulation of an objectified world. (The Perception of the Environment, p. 287)

Of course, the situation may have been forced by the break-up of pre-urban clans (as discussed last week), the growth of urban life, and the accumulation of newly estranged peoples within the anonymity of the city center.  These conditions demanded a severe change in the nature of human communication, including the removal of any polysemic ambiguity in primal speech, and the articulation of a strictly univocal semantic. Such linguistic conceptualization was only effected with the invention of the syllogism, early on perfected by the Greeks, and applied by legislators, scientists, and other specialists down through the ages. In this newly established logistic hierarchy, universal statements were related to particular circumstances, leading to logical legal and scientific conclusions.

This [tripartite logistic] form becomes a foundation-layer of both the internal and external life of the West. We can call [this] logistic stratum of the univocal linguistic hierarchy the curriculum of the West. [Bram]

This is how natural laws were ‘discovered’, and social laws, born.  It was by means of the syllogism – the core of Western logic – that cause and effect would now be properly related on the horizontal axis of a unidirectional timeline, past actions identified as the causal bases of present or future effects.

And so, it would be under that ever-watchful eye of Father Time – occupying his sacred place in the clock tower at the center of the town square – that the rational business of civilization was to be carried out; marking time, managing resources, assigning liability, measuring risk, buying and selling commodities (including human commodities) in the open marketplace – with the smell of the animate world now receding further from ‘view’. 

The institutionalization of civic life, now regulated by the clock and managed with social and economic laws, would further concretize a growing sense of individual isolation, competitiveness, and the emergence of purely self-regarding behavior that would forever haunt modern human societies.

I wager, then, that it is in this ancient ascendancy of sight, and the modern establishment of a hyper-visualism born of a new logistic, that the experience of primal participation was finally buried underneath the accreted layers of the ‘curriculum of the West’ — never really extinguished, but simply muted along with the richness and depth of the earthly sensuous upon which it depends.

Finally, maybe now we can better appreciate the ineluctable pull of the ubiquitous, brightly glowing computer screen, and its representation of a remote world out-there, a fully-externalized, albeit virtual reality, where we can enter into disembodied relationships, engage in private war games, or deliver live drone attacks on foreign soils without ever once moving our bodies, touching the ground, getting our hands dirty, or otherwise sensing the taste of blood on our tongues, the smell of earth in our nostrils, hearing the cries of the dying, or feeling the brush of naked flesh against flesh.

35 Responses to The Eyes Have It – Visual Overshoot?

  1. marlena13 says:

    You often hear and smell the lion long before you see her…..
    Also, Ive noticed lately that the ancient Greek idea of the “sacred sperm” has been returning. The idea that the sperm is literally a seed, and is only planted in a woman, with no contribution from her, she is just a receptacle, and any harm to the sacred sperm is also harm to the male. Since they could only see the sperm and not the egg, they assumed that the sperm was the all, and hence “sacred” Nor can they see their various gods, who thus get assigned various frightening and terrible powers. I have often seen people taken completely unawares by a sudden thunderstorm, while if they had been paying attention could have smelled the storm, and heard the birds telling of its coming.

  2. Antonio Dias says:

    Growing up in our modern culture, learning English from watching television, I thought I knew how to see. When I began to study painting it didn’t take long to realize I had no idea how to see.

    In learning to draw and to paint I found that I actually lived in a world of volume that was not just a concept, but a felt experience, connecting vision with tactile and kinetic senses into an experienced whole. Any attempt to make sense of a sheet of paper or a canvas demands being able to experience the wholeness of the world, the way everything is both flat as a sensory fact and also “out there” within an articulated space of light and form and color. And that none of these exist independently of the others.

    I learned painting from people schooled in Impressionism through abstract Expressionism, but what I learned is there as much or more so in Lascaux. I don’t see this as an artifact of civilization. On the other hand I do see the version of “unschooled” sight I was raised in, and that surrounds us now, as such an artifact in the ways you describe it here. There is just the same sort of squandering and adopted ignorance that is the hallmark of the civilized in a lazy sight that can scan a screen, or a book, or a menu, or a contract, or gaze across a field at the “hands;” that is only sight by name.

    I would just caution maintaining a distinction between this and vision, and sight, as they were experienced and as they can be experienced. I would say this lazy seeing is privileged in civilization. Part of that unearned privilege is to conflate it with sight as it was, and as it can be.

    This applies directly to our experiences of visual art. It can be almost impossible to extract our experiences of art from the cultural rituals of the worship of power. This privileged form of lazy sight is the foundation upon which art criticism on almost every level, from “I know what I like!” to being “In.” There can be ways to learn from art from any period if we are able to discern its connection not just with the power gradients of its day, but also in how it relates to the various ways of seeing. John Berger is a great introduction to this field.

    A core insight for me is that any way forward – and I agree with you that in many ways this must also be a way back – cannot be reached by cutting away any part of what it is to be human. On the contrary, that it must be a process of radical integration. We cannot afford to see like a philosopher, they all had their heads so far up their asses they wouldn’t have recognized a visual experience if it had bitten them. Plato is the grandfather of this at once privieged and at the same time denatured form of seeing.

    There are repositories of experience all around us, hidden in plain sight. You’ve mentioned certain meditative and physical practices. There are also refuges in which other aspects, remnants of our feral sensorium, remain. Dancers who know how to move and to move in relation to others. Hunters who can inhabit a land and meet its creatures. Craft people who can interact with stone or wood or metal. They are all isolated and their pieces of the whole are in need of reintegration, but the parts are there.

    • kulturcritic says:

      I agree Antonio about “lazy” seeing in our world. As Ingold and I both suggested, vision became diminished (truncated) in the wake of the development of a certain way of thinking based upon the syllogism; the changes were all tied up in a knot that may have begun with the shift to serious agriculture, urbanization, and the loss of movement, wandering, leading to ignorance of the body, and its other sensorial dimensions.

      • relentless says:

        Synaesthesia! It ‘ain’t’ a disease as the shrinks and the establishment indoctrinateds want us to believe. All senses one (and more than the meager 5 our brainwashings have succumbed to)! i’ll venture into more primality tomorrow, and how it’s assisted my primal backbreeding of plants, music, and really, breathing in concert and cadence WITH the Earthly entirety, not with this silliness of domesticated static. Synaesthesia is much like the air, the sonic ambience, the scent of life all experienced as a simultaneous masterpiece of authenticity of so much of all we’ve been missing, ‘ignoring.
        Also, there’s a great interplay in the movie ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring,’ about Vermeer and his ‘servant’ Griet (actually quite a few), when Vermeer asks her what color are the clouds…at first Griet says…”White,” hesitates, then says, “No, blue, grey, yellow…” Vermeer waits a moment, then says: “Now you understand.” As there are more to the color of clouds than what we’ve been told, there is more to everything, synasethetically, than what our inculcated very closed minds allow to enter, to become, once more permeable without the crutches of civilized distortion.
        Great post this week Sandy…for me, your best.

        • kulturcritic says:

          Yep – Synaesthesia, that ain’t no illness; the disease is this flat, lifeless, manufactured world that we inherited with logic and law but no sensation, other than linear, visual stimulation!

    • marlena13 says:

      of course!! all that involves soooo much of our being:) It’s like for many centuries a small group has been uncomfortable with the reality of being alive, in a body that thay have sought to cut us off from it. Kind of like the bunch that has decided “independent thought” is a mental illness? They must live horrid fear filled brutish lives

      • relentless says:

        Yes, M, and what is the purpose, really, of shrinks, er, psychiatrists, etc.? To cure you of your antisocietal self, your ‘abnormal behaviors’ that do not align with the linearities of their (not mine) culture, and send you right back into the nightmare world called civilization…to have you, this round, willingly accept the charade, with their blessings that it’s ok to be a cog. And, if that doesn’t work, there’s always the lobotomy. Perhaps the shrinks should be on the couch, eh? But then, who’d be the one in the chair? Not i, not i, for that would just be playing into the Potemkin Mindsforeverset.

  3. Murph says:

    Sandy

    I am presuming you now of Copi’s “Symbolic Logic”? A pretty comprehensive treatment of symbols and language.

  4. Malthus says:

    Our ansesters have left their memories in us. On top of these memories we have piled concepts that were considered necessary for ego survival in a world of illusion created for us by us to the detriment of that which we evolved with for millions of years. None of our ansesters could have understood one word that you have so well written. It is difficult for anthropologists to understand the human brain before agriculture as the only thing to go on is in the art found in caves and on rocks what type of trash and tools they left behind, and looking at it from a modern “civilized” perspective does not even come close to how our ansesters perceived even though we know they had the same sized brain. In creating our illusions our brains adapted easily to the new perspectives we created when we turned inward to a me and everything else not me. Metzinger calls it the ego tunnel and it shuts everything out of cognition that it considers irrelevant to our survival. Thus missing much of the rich environment we are a part of. Something our ancestors understood without a need for an explanation in words. At least that is my theory. My question has been for sometime Sandy, is it possible to allow the conscience and awareness to open up to the preagriculture world and still remain in this modern of culture? Do we need to break up society into small units and bands to understand what you are writing about and something many seek? People have tried it with meditation, and other various forms of brain manipulation and with hallucinatory substances. I even wonder if the people that are still hunter gatherers in isolated parts of the world perceive as our ansesters did. Really interesting Sandy.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Malthus:

      Richard Wolff, Original Wisdom, was living among the Malaysian Sng’oi in the 1950s. Richard Sorenson, who I quote in the article, writes about H/Gs in the 1960’s and after. Daniel Everett, Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, was living among the Pirahas in the Amazon in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I think it is very likely that some remaining, remote tribes operate with a similar consciousness. As for us, I think we can participate that consciousness because the equipment is all still within us, if you will. But, I believe it is hard to break through the barriers that have been created to mute the original equipment. Particularly difficult to overcome is the logic, language, and temporal flow of civilized, or (post-conquest) consciousness,including its epistemological reifications of self and world as separate, and their psychological ramifications. But, there are moments in which we all glimpse it; and I dare say there are some people today (civilized) who experience both. ALSO!!! I will confirm what Antonio referred to above, creative people also have the ability to experience such (liminal or consubstantial) states of awareness and express them in music, art, poetry, etc. I think some of the great musicians of the West, including Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and others, fit into this category. sandy

      • javacat says:

        Sandy, Could you explain liminal and consubstantial? I need a little context. 😉

        • kulturcritic says:

          Liminality is a term that refers to a loosening of boundaries or structures, socially, psychologically, epistemologically; it can also refer psychologically to a state of semiconsciousness, a loss of normal cognition. Consubstantial means being of one substance, boundary dissolution between two discrete or seemingly discrete entities. Like when you take communion in the church, you are dissolving the boundary between you and the savior. It also refers, theologically to the relation between God the father and the Son, they are of one substance (consubstantial), at least that was some Church Father’s opinions. Hope that helps.

  5. kulturcritic says:

    Relative to the question posed above by Malthus, and others, regarding the possibility of recovering that primal participation, and the sensual awareness that goes with it, I quote again from Richard Sorenson:

    “We of Western training may find it virtually impossible to see how truth can be demonstrated without recourse to symbols that are logically controlled. When I first came face-to-face with these experientially-based modes of cognition wherein logic was irrelevant, they slid right past me. I did not even see them. Even when I did begin to catch on, I tended to doubt such perceptions once I was again within the confines of Western culture. It took years of repeated, even dramatic exposure before these initially fragmentary mental graspings were able to survive re-immersion in Western culture. Experiences repeated, however, eventually make their mark and I began to question whether symbolic logic was actually the only means to get at truth. Now I rather think that alternative routes to truth may exist within the immediacy of a type of experiential awareness that perhaps moves in extra-sentient directions not yet brought into the realm of our modern sense-of-truth24 My slowness in this matter leads me to believe it may take modern humankind some time to identify and make use of these perhaps more rarefied mental capabilities.”

    • relentless says:

      Murph & Sandy–both your comments strike passionately that synaesthetic chord within me, these ongoing and growing permeable membranes allowing a deeper reconnection. Closing in by opting out, no longer willing to play by the civ-monster’s rules of engagement. Finally, after millenia of civilized incompetence (thank you Hammurabi, Descarte, Bacon, et al), it seems a few in the current generation(s) are at last catching a few clues. Reminds me of paraphrasing Laurel and Hardy, replacing Hardy with the Kulturcritic Crew and Laurel with civilization: “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
      So, i’ve essentially killed off all the philosophers and gurus and their
      “‘ergos, therefores and hences,” replacing them with my once 9-year old non-indoctrinated, direct perception-laced mind after a half-century or so hiatus of near worthless babble from the civ-monster.
      Seems a far better means of recovery of saneness. i was so ‘in love’ with the World then, before the civ-world absconded with my life, and that beautiful World has returned with a most fine vengeance.
      Must depart the inbrednet for now, and soon, forever, to once again communicate directly without the zeros and ones of the delusional screen worlds. Yes, you can ‘return’ again, perhaps on slightly different terms with authenticities, but it is possible to sensually touch, taste, feel, smell, see AND intune yourself with a different World than the one we’ve been presented with.
      Thank you all. “You’re the ones you’ve been waiting for.”

    • Antonio Dias says:

      There are two sets of extenuating circumstances at work to dilute Sorenson’s insistence of its impossibility. First, he refers repeatedly to the changes in cognition surviving recontact with western culture. That should be less of a factor as western culture makes itself scarce. The other is that an academic’s experience of turning direct experiences into abstractions would make him a poor candidate. His “slowness” is neither surprising nor would it necessarily carry over as a universal characteristic.

      An important lesson here, one you are constantly pointing out, is to privilege direct experience over abstractions. That should also apply when looking at references to past or present pre-civilized cultures in books.

      On so many fronts we find partial, fragmentary scraps of useful intelligence – in its actual and not GI meaning – caught within overall viewpoints that no longer apply. It’s up to us to wrest them out of their failed contexts and see how they might go together.

      • kulturcritic says:

        Antonio and Relentless – I agree with you both; there are innumerable avenues available to reawaken the sense of participation (liminality, consubstantiality…) that was buried with the emergence of this strait-jacketed consciousness… enjoy the trips… and make sure to pass on your insights and experiences as they accumulate.

        • Malthus says:

          Strangers in a strange land overcoming the linear time line train of logic, academics, scientific method, and civilization “progression,” that is doing its best to keep everyone in line by constant subtle suggestions and half truths of what is considered correct and appropriate to participate in the game. Perhaps a good definition of zombie hood, perhaps not. Everybody here has gone into the depths of memories both with intuition and nonlinear approach. Thank you Sandy for providing the space for all of us to work through the questions.

  6. In my observation, the level of a maturity of a person, is how connected he remains with his childhood wonderment. Isnt’ the evidence of our primal and intuitive nature engrained in our childhood whims, adventurousness, wonderment – our feeling of the infinite? I think all one has to do to see whether they’ve been egregiously acculturated is whether they can no longer sympathize with a child’s honesty and awe. It’s not that we grow up, but that our spirit is squelched.

  7. Brutus says:

    I’ve delayed commenting on this post because while it offers insight and erudition to our ongoing discussions, I nonetheless regard it as a misfire. Specifically, it seems to me heedless to continue to seek inflection points in human history that explain how we got to where we now are. You admit in para. 2 that the answer to such a question is complicated but commit to one primary way of connecting the dots: the ascendancy of sight as the primary mode of perception.

    I admit that I have traveled this same path: identifying inflection points and interpreting human culture in terms of before and after. Such binary thinking is very seductive, and we all do it; it’s part of our cognitive inheritance, in fact, to construct such dichotomies and argue for them. But while I agree with the specific arguments of your post, I can’t help but to sense that it yet fails as a unifying explanation.

    To my knowledge, no one has yet compiled a history of consciousness, and to do so from our particular historical vantage point would be impossible, anyway, since we can’t enter into alternative consciousnesses (others claim otherwise). But there are lots of turns in the story that are missing from your analysis, meaning that there are multiple inflection points along a rather circuitous route that only looks like continuous history from our within time-boundedness. Both interiority and intersubjectivity have waxed and waned through the last three (or thirteen!) millennia, and I suspect they will continue to do so as long as our biology allows for flexibility in the way cognition is handled. Let me point to two rather significant developments that place stronger inflection points somewhat later than the shift from HG to agrarian society.

    I’ve argued repeatedly that the major enabling factor behind modern consciousness was the development of the subject/object or self/other distinction in ancient Greece, which gave rise to rationalism. However, as classical Western cultures and their administrative governments collapsed into feudalism for more than a thousand years, roughly 500 to 1200 C.E., interiority disappeared and rationalism became literalism — what we know as Church Aristotelianism and Scholasticism. A variety of heretical movements toward the end of that period, including gnosticism, Cabalism, and Catharism, regained to some degree the inwardness, and paradoxically, the selflessness that characterize pre-conquest consciousness we are considering. Those heresies were ruthlessly persecuted by the Catholic Church through the Inquisition but later coopted and transformed.

    What interests me is that while those heresies initially sought union with the infinite and the loss of self (echoes of Eastern religious influence here), sight and vision were strong cognitive metaphors almost wholly absent in the West during the Dark Ages. The two important protosciences were astrology and alchemy, which had significant supernatural and transcendent practices, notably, gnostic five-body practice. But the Enlightenment (lifting the darkness of the Dark Ages — another visual metaphor) and Scientific Revolution that followed separated magical thinking from science and in doing so destroyed the heretical gesture of reunion with revelation. Among science’s primary tools were the telescope and the microscope, which solidified the pose of objectivity as filtered through the lens of vision. (Curiously, true perspective in drawing and refinements in making of silver-backed mirrors both date from the early Renaissance.) After that, the auto-catalyzing effect was unstoppable, and many of the hallmarks of the Modern and Postmodern Eras center around visual manifestations such as artificial lighting, photography, cinema, television, and the now the Internet, which began as a textual medium but is quickly reorienting itself toward animation and video.

    I don’t have a conclusion, really, but wanted to add this to the discussion, much of which comes from Morris Berman’s book Coming to Our Senses. Sorry about the excess length and modest hijacking of your blog.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Brutus – I believe you are correct, there was an interesting diversionary move in the Middle Ages. However, I think your erudite discussion of inflection points merely confirms my assumption about complexity. I speak very specifically about the shift in thinking that occurs in Greece, and I have spoken in the past about the birth of rationalism and the scientific method, both of which as you confirm, further increased our dependency on sight and vision and their capacity for reification. Whether or not I am engaged in binary thinking, well I will leave that determination to folks like Prof. Berman who are perhaps more knowledgeable than I on the subject. For a more thorough analysis of this transformation in the history of Western Civilization, I STRONGLY recommend Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. If you read that, we can have a better discussion later. And, it is OK to hijack my blog… remember: “Everyone has a right to your opinion.” LOL sandy

    • Brutus,

      Would you say that there is a difference between binary thinking and complementary thinking?

      I don’t think there’s a problem with identifying inflection points per se, provided that we understand there are multiple inflection points in any given branch of civilization and that they may interact and intersect with each other in different ways in different places and different times in history. From this perspective, Sandy’s post identifies one such point. Your lucid account of Europe’s transition from the medieval/Hermetic/alchemical paradigm to the Enlightenment/rationalist/scientific paradigm identifies another.

      I’m a big fan of Berman, btw. David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous, which Sandy references, is a good source for the development of an emphasis on visual consciousness; it covers some of the same ground as Coming to Our Senses and The Re-Enchantment of the World, but from a different angle and with some slightly different conclusions.

      • Brutus says:

        Purely on definitions of the words themselves, I’d say binary is more divisive and antagonistic, whereas complementaryis about different or similar things that fit together. However, I’m not wedded to the idea. My comments on this blog are complementary to Sandy’s posts, which doesn’t preclude me from sometimes objecting to certain ideas, though we (Sandy and I) agree far more than we disagree.

        You and Sandy both clearly take my main point, which is that multiple inflection points (rather than one, as suggested in Sandy’s post) got us to where visual stimuli overwhelm all others and therefore shape our cognition and consciousness in ways that may be, shall we say, suboptimal. I’m obviously reinforcing the conclusion, though I approach it somewhat differently.

        Berman is the scholar on the subject of consciousness I track most closely (dunno that I’d call myself a fan or a friend as we use those terms today), but he has turned his attentions elsewhere. I apparently need to consider Sorenson and Abram (and others).

        • kulturcritic says:

          Brutus, I never suggested ONE inflection point. I was very clear that it was a complex transformation, over many millennia, no less. Walter Ong is another important one for you to read – The Presence of the Word

  8. Malthus says:

    this strange. I look at the books you recommend Sandy and some of them bring the subject of religion into the discussion and that immediately tells me not to read it. I myself do not comprehend the concept of a “god,” i.e. religion. Don’t even comprehend a little of a god concept. It is not that I do not believe in god. The concept of a “god,” it doesn’t fit anywhere in my consciousness or unconscious. And to attempt to understand human history one seems to need an understanding of the term. Maybe its the definition that throws me off. I have no intuition about the subject even. Nothing. I get mystery and unknowing and even knowing. No where is there anything remotely god. Except maybe dog spelled backward. I do know that I am not alone in not even understanding the concept which could be good or not. Anyway look forward to your new post tomorrow. I know I am not socio pathetic either. Hahaha. Have a good day

    • kulturcritic says:

      Malthus – Don’t get thrown off by the issue of religion. You must look at religion to understand some of the issues, and there is something about the religious yearning that hearkens us back to some lost integration. Also, do not confuse any of this with the World Religions, particularly the Abrahamic faiths (Xity, Judaism, Islam). If you refuse to read anything that mentions religion, you will be worse off. Wait for the post at midnight. sandy

    • From a phenomenological perspective, ‘god’ doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with ‘religion’. Religion can largely be understood as a particular human response to ‘power’ in a very general sense. Most human religions in the course of human history do not have a figure anything like the ‘god’ envisioned by the Abrahamic faiths (or Western rationalist Deism, for that matter).

      For further reading I can recommend Gerandus van der Leeuw’s Religion in Essence and Manifestation: A Study in Phenomenology. It is quite old, hard to find, and while some of its information is outdated (do not rely on it as a good source of information on Buddhism, for example), Van der Leeuw nails the dynamics underlying all religious experience, IMHO. It’s well worth tracking down and working through.

      • kulturcritic says:

        Van der Leeuw, Wow!! Haven’t read him since 1977!! Great stuff.. I also enjoyed, and found more up to date, Mircea Eliade, eg. Cosmos and History. I also studied shamanism with him at U of Chicago back in the day. What fun.

  9. kulturcritic says:

    Speaking of visual overshoot!!!

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