One saw nothing happening there, for nothing ever happens there. Until it does.1
In my never-ending search for other ways of looking and other ways of making images, I came across this quote by Anne Carson. The explorative realm of what it means to look suddenly became full of adventure and seemed to comprise the importance of that which could be.
The way we see the world is influenced by what we know or what we believe in. There are many possible perspectives from which to look at a thing, a landscape, a person, a story, yourself. Unfortunately, we poor myopic humans lack the gift of birds of prey, with their long-range sight, and the talents of houseflies, with their panoramic vision. Through our large brains, however, we are at least aware of the limits of our seeing. With a humility rare in our species, we acknowledge that there is much we cannot see and therefore devise ways to observe the world.
Infrared satellite images, optical telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope bring vastness into our visual sphere. By means of electron microscopes, we roam the remote universe of our own cells. But on the middle scale, that of the naked eye, our senses seem strangely dulled.
King Lear wonders how the blind Earl of Gloucester sees the world, and Gloucester replies: “I see it feelingly.”
It is difficult to look and to see at the same time. Only genuine attention is able to rival the most powerful magnifying lens. Intimacy offers us a different way of looking, when visual acuity is not enough. And if you look long enough at what seems ordinary, it often becomes strange and unfamiliar, as every child learns when they repeatedly say their own name out loud. To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees, said Paul Valéry. Learning to see is perhaps more listening than looking.
Where the people in the photograph by Paul Nougé are looking, there is nothing to see, yet all sorts of things are vibrating. Beyond what we see, into the unseen; a deeper insight that touches on our imagination. Our field of vision is not demarcated by an edge, but presents itself as an infinitely explorable openness.
If our looking is limited to our eyes, we are seeing blind. Only when we surrender fully and long enough to what or whom we observe does the world break open. Anne Carson said it first.
- 1. Anne Carson in Men in the Off Hours (2000).
Image: Paul Nougé, La naissance de l’objet [The Birth of an Object], 1930
With Thanks to Trevor Perri and Mari Shields.
In its new section Passage, Sabzian invites film critics, authors, filmmakers and spectators to send a text or fragment on cinema that left a lasting impression.