Unreal Nature

February 22, 2011

Out of the Welter

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:53 am

… picking it out of the welter of our ongoing perceptions. This core of glancing — its accusative focus as it were …

Proceeding from the introduction to the first part of the (long) second chapter of The World at a Glance by Edward S. Casey (2007), the following is in answer to the question, “What, then, is the proximal destination of the glance?”:

… Here we must attend to the at-structure of the glance. Not to be confused with what Heidegger calls the “as-structure” (which concerns the interpretation of what we understand), the at-structure refers to the way in which the glance is often a highly directed activity. When we glance, we most characteristically glance at that which is the object of our look, picking it out of the welter of our ongoing perceptions. This core of glancing — its accusative focus as it were — is often surrounded, and sometimes replaced, by associated kinds of glancing: glancing toward, glancing around, glancing over, and so forth. These latter bear on the vicinity of the glanced-at object, its immediate environs. They concern themselves with where this object is located in the overall layout of surfaces: its place-setting, as it were, a margin of nonfocal awareness.

When we glance directly at something, however, our look goes straight to it, whether the object of our glance is human or not. The at-structure of such glancing consists in four moments — moments that in actual experience are often melded together but that we may distinguish as follows:

(i) singling out: this is the moment of decisive delineation whereby we seize upon what we glance at: we literally de-fine it for ourselves, quickly encircling it with our look; what we thus single out provides the answer to the question, “what are you glancing at?”;

(ii) taking up: if singling out is the moment of bare noticing or apprehension, in this second moment we take up the object into our look; this is the phase of making sure that what we glance at does not vanish under our very eyes; but the facticity of grasping the glance is of a distinctly alleviated sort compared with the grasping that seeks to consolidate what is grasped in a decidedly possessive manner;

(iii) taking in: this is the receptive moment that is paired with that of taking up; I take in that at which I glance instead of keeping it at a distance — not so as to possess it but so as to let it exfoliate and resonate within me; the situation is often described by saying that we are “struck” by what we encounter in the glance, surprised by it and sometimes amazed;

(iv) holding: in this moment I hold-in-eye what I behold in the glance; this amounts to a momentary pause in my looking so that I can retain that which I have just seen; it exemplifies the retentional fringe that James and Husserl both ascribe to “primary memory”; it is a matter of maintaining the glanced-at thing in view, however briefly.

This fourfold form of intervention subtends and supports the forthrightness of my glancing. Thanks to it, my glance takes me to the surface of the glanced-at object — right to it without the intermediation of anything but air and light. Here the “to” of direct looking reinforces the “at” of glancing proper to form a redoubled accusative relation. Because of this relation,even the most passing glance moves me onto the surface of the object, allowing me to adhere to it, to be right there and to stay there long enough for the glance to play itself out in that place. In terms of chronometrically ordered time, this may be a very short time indeed, but it suffices for the glance in the realization of its lambent life.

This next bit, below, comes well before the above in this chapter of Casey’s book. I’ve put it last because it’s … gnarly. But I like it enough to want to include it:

… To get close to the glance is not just to get close to the body from which it stems; it is to track down something that is continually falling away from that same body — that escapes it even as it issues from it, streaming off its own body of origin, flying from its own progenitive face. It is comparable to a simulacrum flung off the surface of that from which it derives.

… I am taking “simulacrum” in the Epicurean sense of the word, especially as set forth in Lucretius’s De rerum natura, according to which a simulacrum is a thin film that peels off the surface of a physical thing, thereby linking up with simulacra of other things in causal relations. But more than causal connection is at stake here. If the sense of simulacrum is extended to include Plato’s notion of phantastiké (that is, an imaginative creation that, unlike an icon, does not depend on close formal resemblance), we can envision a quite different connotation whereby that which is cast off takes on a life of its own — heterogeneous, marginal, but also threatening. It is this sense which Deleuze emphasizes in his discussion of the simulacrum in The Logic of Sense, where he says expressly that “the simulacrum is not a degraded copy. It harbors a positive power.” Essential to this power is the speed of simulacra: Epicurus says that they are “as swift as thought,” a phrase that might also apply to glances. Visual simulacra in particular are more rapid-moving than the emanations that come from deep within objects.

… Just as simulacra are able to effect a “reversal of Platonism” thanks to their undoing of the model/copy relation — given that they are no longer representations in any iconic sense — so glances reverse the hegemony of the gaze (which reinstates in the world of vision the situation of a highly valorized paradigm that controls the icons that issue from it). Both simulacra and glance realize “the twilight of the idols.” [Deleuze citing Nietzsche]



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