the enlightenment dream, Man arrives at the centre of the universe.
Our eyes, mere tools, assist us in observing, from a safe distance,
the mechanics of the world and the heavens – affirming, once again,
that vision itself is of the mind. This insistence on distancing ourselves
from the world promoted a disembodying, disembodied vision, and linear
perspective - a celebration of distance - rose to prominence, becoming
the true, the enlightened way of seeing.
But Decartes’ world is a solitary place where the very existence
of everything outside of the subject mind is suspect. There is no place
in a disembodied world for the agency of the other. When we see only
ourselves reflected, separated from the community of others and of the
world, we make ourselves alone.
During the 20th century, a critical response to the longtime primacy
of a subjective, controlling and objectifying vision developed and rose
to dominance. In the latter half of the twentieth century, art and cultural
theory were swept by a tsunami of extreme antiocular criticism, including
the ideas of Sartre, Lacan, Fouault and Debord. Vision came to represent
all that was most tainted and oppressive as, in the words of Martin
Jay, “The evil eye emerged from the realm of superstition to become
the ruling metaphor of social control and political oppression at its
most insidious.” [Jay, 378]
This critique ironically remains located firmly within the ubiquitous
authority of dualistic thinking, as a perversely objectifying analytic
vision becomes an ever more powerful tool in the critique of the visual.