Unreal Nature

August 5, 2017

Fix the Observation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… it aims to observe something and fix the observation, to “formalize” it.

This is from the chapter on ‘Photographing’ in Gestures by Vilém Flusser (2014):

… If we want to find out what is “really” going on, we must instead observe the gesture naively, as though we knew nothing about it and were seeing it for the first time.

Although this appears to be very simple, it is difficult. We have before us an ambiguous situation. Let’s say it’s a social event. A man is sitting in a chair smoking a pipe. There is another man in the room holding an apparatus. Both are behaving in an unusual way, if by “usual” we mean appropriate to the event. The man smoking the pipe seems not to be doing it so as to smoke but for some other reason. Although we might find it difficult to say why, it seems to us that he’s “playing” at smoking.

[line break added] The man with the apparatus, conversely, is moving around the area in a most peculiar way. If we set out to describe his path, then for us he becomes the main point of the scene, and the smoker becomes the explanation for the way he is circling around the middle of the image. That is noteworthy, for it shows that the situation is determined not so much by the relationships among the constituent elements as by the observer’s intentions.

… The center of this situation is the man with the apparatus. He is moving. Still, it’s awkward to say of a center that it is moving in relation to its own periphery. When a center moves, it does so with respect to the observer, and the whole situation then moves as well. We must therefore concede that what we are seeing when we watch the man with the apparatus is a movement of the whole situation, including the man sitting on his chair. It is difficult to admit this because we’re accustomed to believing that someone who is sitting is not moving. Because we believe it, we think we’re seeing it.

In fact, when we turn our attention to the man on his chair, we see that the situation is still and the man with the apparatus moves within it; should we turn our attention to the man with the apparatus, conversely, the situation begins to move, and the man on his chair becomes the fixed element in a changing situation.

… the following problem appears: the man with his apparatus is the center of the situation only for us, watching him, not for himself. He believes himself to be outside the situation, for he is watching it. For him the man on the chair, at the center of his attention, is the center of the situation. And we, too, are located in the space, watching the man with the apparatus. We are part of the situation for him. That could mislead us into supposing that there are two different situations, one in which the man with his apparatus, whom we transcend, is at the center and another in which the man on his chair is at the center and in which we are involved.

[line break added] The two situations are different yet bound up with one another. But there is actually only one situation. We can confirm this because we are able to step away from our observer role and look at the situation from within it, which the man with the apparatus can do as well. By looking at his gestures, we can actually notice that he himself is not aware of some of his movements.

This view of ourselves in a situation (this “reflexive” or “critical” vision) is characteristic of our being-in-the-world: we are in the world, and we see it, we “know” about it. But to say it once more: there is nothing “objective” about this. The gesture with which we release ourselves from a particular role and which is just as available to the man with the apparatus remains bound to a “place” from which we can assert that we are experiencing the same situation twice. This “place” is the basis for a consensus, for intersubjective recognition.

… In contrast to the majority of other gestures, the point of the photographic gesture is not directly to change the world or to communicate with others. Rather it aims to observe something and fix the observation, to “formalize” it.

… three aspects can be distinguished but cannot be separated from one another. A first aspect is the search for a place, a position from which to observe the situation. A second aspect is the manipulating of the situation, adapting it to the chosen position. The third aspect concerns critical distance that makes it possible to see the success or failure of this adaptation.

My most recent previous post from Flusser’s book is here.

-Julie

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