Oh, Eye See! How Nobel!

I’ve written extensively on all things visual. Not all my texts deal with vision, but I’d wager most of them do. That has to do with the heavy focus on landscape. It sort of comes with the territory, like it or not. For many it’s probably unsurprising, so bringing it might be odd. I’ve commented on it and in connection to landscape, it is not all uncommon to make note of seeing as distinct from vision, the latter a faculty, the former an art, as George Perkins Marsh (10) puts it in ‘Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action’. That is, excuse the pun, a remarkable observation, considering the date of publication. Moreover, Marsh (10) also notes that seeing what’s out there, right in front of us, is a skill, most important, yet particularly hard to train.

Marsh is not the only one to make the distinction, as is evident from much of landscape literature. Anyway, instead of just reiterating what I’ve written in the past, I’ll do something else, in a way more of the same, but rather broadly speaking addressing what’s at stake. This time I’ll focus on Martin Jay’s ‘Scopic Regimes of Modernity’, as included in ‘Vision and Visuality’, and ‘Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought’. I’ll do some bits on the former, then move to the latter because it emphasizes the role of all things visual in speech.

So, let’s get to it. Jay (3) opens up the former, asserting that:

“Beginning with the Renaissance and the scientific revolution, modernity has been normally considered resolutely ocularcentric.”

Jay (3-5) is quick to add that while there arguably is a dominant “visual model of the modern era”, also known as Cartesian perspectivalism, it’s not, borrowing a term from Christian Metz’s ‘The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema’, the one and only scopic regime. It is, nonetheless, the dominant one, the reigning champion, as noted by Jay (5). Now, stating the it is a model or a regime, not to mention the dominant or the reigning one, as I did there, deliberately, of course puts our vision into doubt. Jay (9) summarizes its importance:

“Cartesian perspectivalism was … in league with a scientific world view that no longer hermeneutically read the world as a divine text, but rather saw it situated in a mathematically regular spatio-temporal order filled with natural objects that could only be observed from without by the dispassionate eye of the neutral researcher.”

Jay (9) also makes note of how detached this model is, connecting it to certain bourgeois ethic where the world is seized and hung on to a wall, only to be bought and sold, i.e. a commodity. He (10) also comments on how it set the observer as no one, detached, distanced, disembodied, i.e. what I’d say cleansed or purged of anything subjective. Sanitized would be another fitting word there. Jay actually goes on to discuss two other models, ones that, at least, in part challenge the one characterized here. I guess it’s actually more fitting to call them alternatives rather than merely in opposition of the dominant one. Anyway, so do read the whole thing if interested.

Moving on to the second book, unable to resist them himself, Jay (1) states that:

“Even a rapid glance at the language we commonly use will demonstrate the ubiquity of visual metaphors. If we actively focus our attention on them, vigilantly keeping an eye out for those deeply embedded as well as those on the surface, we can gain illuminating insight into the complex mirroring of perception and language.”

Okay, fair enough, I led you astray, I’m sure Jay is well aware of the word choices in the excerpt I provided above and intentionally uses a number of words related to vision: glance, demonstrate, visual, focus, vigilantly, keeping an eye, illuminating, insight, mirroring, perception. This is particularly funny, if you ask me, so do go on (1):

“Depending, of course, on one’s outlook or point of view, the prevalence of such metaphors will be accounted an obstacle or an aid to our knowledge of reality. It is, however, no idle speculation or figment of imagination to claim that if blinded to their importance, we will damage our ability to inspect the world outside and introspect the world within. And our prospects for escaping their thrall, if indeed that is even a foreseeable goal, will be greatly dimmed.”

Haha! It’s evident that Jay just keeps going, adding word after another, many of them linked to all things visual. There’s just so many of them, too many to keep track, but I’m sure you … here we go again … take a look yourself. Okay, according to Jay (1), there are a total of 21 visual metaphors in the opening paragraph of the book, which I didn’t fully cover. Anyway, as a related matter, in case you didn’t get my humor in the past, where I apologize for some choices of words, especially the ones linked to visual metaphors, this should explain my behavior. It’s just damn hard not to use them, especially when speaking as you simply lack the time you have when writing … say … an essay like this.

Okay, that’s all in English. How about other languages? Jay (2) notes that this applies to other languages as well and points outs that it applies to, for example, German and French:

“No German, for instance, can miss the Augen in Augenblick or the Schau in Anschauung, nor can a Frenchman fail to hear the voir in both savoir and pouvoir.”

I can add that this applies to Finnish as well, so it’s not only an Indo-European thing. I was recently in a job interview (I didn’t get, in case you wonder), and they asked me: ‘missä näet itsesi viiden vuoden päästä?’ In other words, for those who can’t crack the code, the interviewers asked me where the classic question: where do you see yourself in five years? I responded with something obscure, as far as my own … erm. … line of thinking permitted me to answer such a hilariously banal question. I think my answer was rather Deleuzian, something about how you need to keep going, if not there, then somewhere else, not too locked on there, otherwise you might get stuck there. If only I could have had a good conversation about the differences of being and becoming and how I se… I mean align myself with the latter. I think it would have been dishonest to state anything specific but also too … outlandish … for the interviewers for me to opt for some Deleuzian parlance. Anyway, there is (assumed) linkage between seeing and knowing, the eye and the mind, as noted by Jay (9) in the first book. It also applies to Finnish. To list some, with a bit of effort: ‘en näe siinä ongelmaa’ (I don’t see a problem with that), ‘näkemykseni mukaan’ (in my view), ‘pitää silmällä’ (keep an eye on), ‘tarkkasilmäinen’ (keen eye, perceptive, able to notice things), ‘ensisilmäyksellä’ (initially, at first glance) and ‘tulevaisuuden näkymät’ (prospects).

I happen to write quite a bit in English so I come across visual metaphors quite often and the examples are easy to provide. In fact, it’s the other way around. They are so abundant that it’s hard not to use them, hence the pun warnings here and there. Just the reporting verbs when writing an article, how does one avoid using words and expressions like, including but not limited to, demonstrates, examines, inspects, notes, observes, provides insight, speculates, surveys and views? Okay, I can use, say, someone analyzes, asserts, states or comments, to name some that came into my mind quickly, but that’s quite limited and bound to push someone to comment how drab the language is then. There is also a bit of a difference between, say, stating something like ‘in my opinion’ and ‘in my view’. At least for me, the former just seems more subjective and, well, opinionated, whereas the latter, well, it seems at least more distanced, making note of the possibility of a certain degree of subjectivity, but also less opinionated.

While this essay is evidently largely critical of understanding seeing as something neutral or objective, I think it’s worth pointing out that, for example, Jay is not altogether hostile to vision. In the second book, Jay (5-6) notes that human vision is not the same as the vision of other animals, having developed to how it is, in general, due to the upright human posture. He (6) makes note of infantile synesthesia, pointing out that some infants may encounter initial sensory confusion as, it is argued, that sight develops after other senses, namely smell and touch, only to become the superior sense for the child, far ahead of hearing. He (6-7) also points out the complex nature of human vision, as discussed in one my earlier essays, making particular note of how the human eyes saccade, moving ever so slightly across the visual field, and how it is countered by “vestibulo-ocular reflex”, adjusting automatically to the movement of the head so that the field of view isn’t all choppy. Just imagine if your eyes couldn’t position accordingly when your head moves or tilts. He (7) also stresses that while fixing the gaze is indeed possible, focusing on something particular, it is tiresome and eventually intolerable. In other words, the eyes, while there for you, as a faculty, if you will, they are rather complex, to say the least. That said, after all the concessions made, Jay (8) notes that human vision is not without its blind spots (quite literally so as he also notes in the same paragraph):

“[W]e are often fooled by visual experience that turns out to be illusory, an inclination generated perhaps by our overwhelming, habitual belief in its apparent reliability.”

I think it’s worth emphasizing the very final bits here, the apparent reliability. As Jay (6) points out, human vision is the dominant sense, far ahead of the other senses, so, in a way, it’s hardly surprising that we consider it particularly reliable, at least far more than, say, our sense of smell. Just imagine attempting to track something on the basis of smell, competing against, for example, a dog. Sure, we might find the person who ate garlic if close by, but when was the last time they employed a human sniffer at the customs? I’ve employed it a couple of times now, on purpose, so, as indicated by Jay (8), there is something of a relationship between language and sight, along the lines of mental images that we … erm. … imagine. Even that is coupled with vision. It is also the case with its Finnish equivalent ‘kuvitella’, having to do with ‘kuva’ for an image or a picture, resulting in ‘mielikuva’, a mind picture. Jay (9) emphasizes the importance of this, arguing that:

“Although perception is intimately tied up with language as a generic phenomenon, different people of course speak different tongues. As a result, the universality of visual experience cannot be automatically assumed, if that experience is in part mediated linguistically.”

The key word here is mediation. As Jay points out, how it works is, somewhat obviously, affected by language, which, is not the same all across the board. I did cover the language or languaging vs. languages and I won’t go deep into that here, but even if we assert outlandishly that there is only language, not languages, it still doesn’t remove the actualized differences, the ones that for some reason or another result in people considering there to be multiple languages. That would still hold. Anyway, Jay (9) continues:

“Natural science, therefore, itself suggests the possibility of cultural variables, at least to some degree. It implies, in other words, the inevitable entanglement of vision and what has been called ‘visuality’ – the distinct historical manifestations of visual experience in all its possible modes. Observation, to put it another way, means observing the tacit cultural rules of different scopic regimes.”

I guess I could still object to the use of culture, which, I’m not particularly fond of, namely due to its rather glacial … erm. … nature to use another often used by equally glacial word, here used for the added humor marked by the contradiction, defining culture as having to do with nature. Anyway, joking and nitpicking aside, Jay makes an excellent point, one that survives the one or more languages debate. It seems fair enough to state that observation is affected by who we’ve become and I use we, not because I want to sneak culture in through a back door, but because something tells me that we don’t learn (to use) language just by ourselves. I’m not ever sure how one could test that properly, to bring up a child without bringing it up from day one. There’s also the … cough cough … minor inconvenience that we are not going to conduct tests on that, for rather obvious reasons. I haven’t done the reading for this or conducted any relevant experiments, nor will I, except maybe for the reading part, but I reckon that this is the case even with animals. Okay, maybe, say, a dog might be able to bark and/or growl on its own if raised in lab conditions, yet something in me is saying that it would struggle if it was introduced to other dogs, at best just barking or growling randomly at them, at least initially. I have no idea nor how would I even know the difference between sensical bark and a nonsensical bark.

Getting back on track here, Jay (9-10) adds another layer to the mix, pointing out that while we no longer think that light emanates from the eyes, we still like to think that … sorry for the pun … there is more than meets the eye. Okay, Jay (9-10) doesn’t muck about like that, but rather states that just the gaze and the look of the eye have something to them, something active (10):

“Common phrases such as ‘a piercing or penetrating gaze,’ ‘melting eyes,’ ‘a come-hither look,’ or ‘casting a cold eye’ all capture this ability with striking vividness.”

He (10) adds tears to the mix and notes that it’s something particular to humans, only to add that:

“[T]he eye is not only, as the familiar clichés would have it, a ‘window on the world,’ but also a ‘mirror of the soul.’ Even the dilation of the pupil can unintentionally betray an inner state, subtly conveying interest or aversion to the beholder.”

Ah yes, how our eyes betray us. I remember reading about the dilation of pupils, how they, at least supposedly, convey interest, and then checking on the dilation of pupils, wondering if there’s something to it. As someone who knows a thing or two about photography, which is, more or less, modeled after the human eye, as discussed in a previous essay, I have to point out that the dilation of pupil may also have to do with low light, you know, like in dim lit bar, on a romantic dinner at a restaurant or somewhere outdoors in the evening or at night, otherwise you’d have hard time seeing much. This works the other way around too, so if you focus on the eyes of your lover on a very bright day, the chances are the pupils are not dilated. Apparently there’s more to pupil dilation than just light or the lack thereof, and no, not only that of chemistry of the pharmaceutical kind, so I’m not saying there’s nothing to it, but rather that not every dilated or non-dilated pupil indicates interest or the lack of it. Anyway, Jay (10) also makes note of the so called ‘evil eye’, how gazing can not only seem friendly but also hostile or disapproving. I wonder how much the face or the head, as well as the overall posture has an effect on it though. I mean it seems a bit off that we’d think of that without the other parts, as if the eyes themselves, hovering in the air, dismembered from the body, make us think their gaze is disapproving.

Jay (11) adds that there’s even more to this, that gazing extends from actually being observed to the imagined observation, hence panopticism as in Bentham’s panoptic prison. He (11) notes, however, the spectrum is quite wide, some may be rather paranoid of such, which is, arguably, the point of panopticism, but others thrilled by it, exhibiting themselves not only to others but also to potential others. He (11) also notes that the lack of attention, i.e. being feeling as if invisible, is also a thing. There’s actually quite a bit more to all of this, as explained by Jay (12-13), including but not limited to the religious aspects of it, some revering it in the form of extraordinary seers, others, namely the monotheists, considering it idolatry and ocular desire.

I don’t intend to cover all Jay has to say on the topic, there’s just too much on it, but instead link it to landscape research. That said I think it’s still worth adding that Jay is particularly self-aware of all kinds of contradictions in his presentation. For example, he (17) concedes that he is beholden by a certain faith in illuminating or clarifying ideas, opting to embrace a markedly visual approach in his own study and making use of more or less visual concepts such as totality. He (17-18) comments on his own visual figures of speech, synoptic, survey and mapmaking:

“But as any honest geographer will readily admit, mapmaking cannot escape the bias – both in the literal sense of a slanted perspective and in the metaphorical one of a cultural prejudice – of the mapmaker. There is no ‘view from nowhere’ for even the most scrupulously ‘detached’ observer.”

Moreover, he (18) goes on to add that he is guilty of not only embracing a visual approach, but also of paraphrasing. I’ve covered the latter to some extent in a previous essay, so I won’t go into that, again, as it would deviate from the overall topic here quite considerably. Maybe I’ll dedicate something on this in yet another text, but we’ll see how things pan out. Anyway, I read Jay (18-19) as pointing out paraphrasing, providing a synopsis or a summary are problematic as they seem to provide something that could be criticized for resulting in totalities, which, as mentioned earlier on by Jay (17), is yet another visually loaded word, hinting towards an “absolute God’s-eye view” or, following Jean Starobinski, “le regard surplombant”, “the look from above[.]” Making note of all this, borrowing from Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jay (18) offers horizon as his preferred alternative here, which is, well, still somewhat totalizing and yet another visual metaphor. He (18) argues that it works from a vantage point, as horizon is always perceived from a certain point, whereas the absolute or total view doesn’t necessitate any position, nor can horizons be fused to create totality. In his publication ‘Truth and Method’, Gadamer (301-302) discusses various situations, extending to past situations, i.e. history, and states that (301):

“To acquire an awareness of a situation is, however, always a task of peculiar difficulty. The very idea of a situation means that we are not standing outside it and hence are unable to have any objective knowledge.”

As a result, he (301) adds:

“We always find ourselves within a situation, and throwing light on it is a task that is never entirely finished. … The illumination of this situation – reflection on effective history – can never be completely achieved; yet the fact that it cannot be completed is due not to a deficiency in reflection but to the essence of the historical being that we are.”

So, there’s this perpetual or infinite deferral of completion, if that even makes sense. I mean completion or total illumination can never be achieved because it always builds on this and/or that. Gadamer also points out that it’s not that we don’t get it, that we fail to look back, but unless I’m mistaken it’s that looking back that is affected by who looks back. Anyway, Gadamer (301) reiterates this:

To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete. All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pregiven[.]”

Now, I’m honestly not familiar enough with Gadamer, nor Hegel to whom he refers to in this context, and I probably wouldn’t even bring them up here if were not for Jay, but, perhaps going against them, I would emphasize the final two words, historically and pregiven because historical is not the same as universal and pregiven is, at least for me, just another word for a priori. Anyway, moving to horizon, Gadamer (301) presents it alongside situation:

“Every finite present has its limitations. We define the concept of ‘situation’ by saying that it represents a standpoint that limits the possibility of vision. Hence essential to the concept of situation is the concept of ‘horizon.’ The horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point.”

He (301) then expands the notion:

“Applying this to the thinking mind, we speak of narrowness of horizon, of the possible expansion of horizon, of the opening up of new horizons, and so forth. … [T]he word has been used in philosophy to characterize the way in which thought is tied to its fine determinacy, and the way one’s range of vision is gradually expanded.”

Then he (301-302) exemplifies it:

“[On one hand] [a] person who has no horizon does not see far enough and hence over-values what is nearest to him. On the other hand, “to have a horizon” means not being limited to what is nearby but being able to see beyond it. A person who has [a] horizon knows the relative significance of everything within this horizon, whether it is near or far, great or small. Similarly, working out the … situation means acquiring the right horizon of inquiry for the questions evoked by the encounter with tradition.”

Jay (18) not only mentions horizon, but also the fusion of horizon, which may seem a bit murky without familiarity with Gadamer (305) who explains that a horizon isn’t fixed or isolated, but rather continually tested in relation the past and “the tradition from which we come.” More specifically, Gadamer (305) states:

Rather, understanding is always the fusion of these horizons supposedly existing by themselves. … In a tradition this process of fusion is continually going on, for there old and new are always combining into something of living value, without either being explicitly foregrounded from the other.”

Jay (18) points out that what he takes from the fusion, as mentioned earlier, is that even when horizons are fused, it’s still a just fusion of a number of horizons, which do not combine into an all seeing perfection, a “God’s-eye view” as he puts it. He (18) adds that it’s not that it’s useless to take different perspectives into consideration, far from it, but rather that attempting to reconstruct a true or objective view is futile. He (18-19) explains that having worked with others, in dialogue, successful or not, he has experienced fusion or some sort of transformation, having had to interact with other horizons. Of course, as I’m hardly an expert in Gadamer, I’m not sure how liberal Jay is on his use of horizon here, but I think he manages to make the point that what we see, as well as think, often if not typically associated with one another, as pointed out in the first text examined in this essay, is hardly objective, yet not exactly subjective either, but rather co-created, what I would call collective.

How is this all related to landscapes? Well, I have covered that in previous articles, particularly when examining the texts of Denis Cosgrove, as well as Maurice Ronai. Anyway, still on Jay, in the second book, he (51) argues that the Renaissance (re)discovery of the linear perspective, a veritable invention when applied, as discussed in some of my previous essays, made it possible to render “three-dimensional space on to the two dimensions of the flat canvas.” More importantly, he (51-52) notes that it was particularly important in denarrativizing painting, severing the aesthetic from the religious, becoming “the naturalized visual culture of the new artistic order.” Even more importantly, he (52) emphasizes that art now functioned similarly to that of science, as mannerly, ordered, coordinated and uniform, becoming an “eternal container of objective processes.” In other words, the introduction of the linear perspective into painting more or less purged it from its previous narrative properties, I guess what one would hold as subjective, resulting in something that appears as an objective depiction of space. Jay (54) refers to John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ in which Berger (16) summarizes this aptly:

“The convention of perspective, which is unique to European art and which was first established in the early Renaissance, centres everything on the eye of the beholder, it is like a beam from a lighthouse – only instead of light travelling outwards, appearances travel in. The conventions called those appearances reality.”

So, simply put, what meets the eye is reality itself. That’s it. Anyway, Berger (16) continues:

“Perspective makes the single eye the centre of the visible world. Everything converges on to the eye as to the vanishing point of infinity. The visible world is arranged for the spectator as the universe was once thought to he arranged for God.”

God sees it all, no matter where, but once God got killed, as Nietzsche put it, that only gets shifted elsewhere. It was already established by Jay (17-18) in the first book that there is no God’s-eye view, but that matters not when it comes to this. Jay (54-55) adds in the second book that this resulted in an synchronic stasis, cutting it off from the passing of time, as well as anyone specific, which I think Jay aptly summarizes via Norman Bryson (94), who, in states in ‘Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze’ that:

“In the Founding Perception, the gaze of the painter arrests the flux of phenomena, contemplates the visual field from a vantage-point outside the mobility of duration, in an eternal moment of disclosed presence; while in the moment of viewing, the viewing subject unites this gaze with the Founding Perception, in a perfect recreation of that first epiphany. Elimination of the diachronic movement of deixis creates or at least seeks, a synchronic instant of viewing that will eclipse the body, and the glance, in an infinitely extended Gaze of the image as pure idea: the image of eidolon.”

I think it’s worth noting that deixis is the fancy word for certain spatial and/or temporal conditions that are required to make sense of things. Jay (56-57) adds in the notes that in this context it has to do with the body of the painter. I’m not familiar with eidolon, beyond it apparently having to do with image, but that’s hardly helpful as that would result in the image of image, unless it means copy of the original image. In the introduction to ‘Simulation and Social Theory’, Sean Cubitt (2) states that it is generally translated from Greek to Latin as simulacrum, so in a way my guess is correct. Cubitt (87) actually refers to the very same piece of text quoted above, clarifying that in Bryson’s use eidolon or simulacrum is that image that is so severely disconnected from its origin that the origin is irrational or, I guess, irrelevant, not of particular importance that is. Cubitt (87) states that:

“Bryson argues that the painter’s freezing of the action destroys its credibility as a depiction in favour of presenting the spectator with a spectacle.”

As a side note, well a relevant one, but a bit off the mark of clarifying a Greek word, Cubitt (88) adds to the overall discussion of how mind and vision are connected by pointing out, in summary of Richard Rorty’s ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature’, that one of the key words, reflection, is clearly a visual metaphor which separates the mental from the physical and thus inventing the mind as separate from the physical world. Moreover, Cubitt (88) adds that once mind is separated from the world, it is put to the task of doing all kinds of questions, which it then would solve via representation, resulting in the mind functioning as a mirror, reflecting the physical world. In his own words, Rorty (163) states that:

“[T]he way to have accurate representations is to find, within the Mirror, a special privileged class of representations so compelling that their accuracy cannot be doubted. These privileged foundations will be the foundations of knowledge, and the discipline which directs us toward them – the theory of knowledge – will be the foundation of culture.”

If this bewilders you, I believe Rorty is speaking of the quest for truth, the truth and nothing but the truth, the objective truth, beyond any doubt. Anyway, he (163) continues:

“The theory of knowledge will be the search for that which compels the mind to belief as soon as it is unveiled. Philosophy-as-epistemology will be the search for the immutable structures within which knowledge, life, and culture must be contained – structures set by the privileged representations which it studies.”

I’d love to get stuck on this, but even this is a but much, not to handle, but to include as a side note. Where was I? Oh, yes, the Bryson quote. Right, so, in summary, Bryson (94) is stating that gaze generalizes the observer or spectator, stops the passing of time and reduces space into a simulacrum. In a way, summarizing Jay (58), the linear perspective offers a flat version of reality.

Returning to the earlier comment made on Cartesian perspectivalism, Jay (58-59) points out that perspectival paintings, i.e. landscape paintings, became commodities to be circulated on the market, and, following Raymond Williams’ ‘The Country and the City’, disconnected land from its uses, such as working on fields, turning it to something to be enjoyed from a distance, “an aesthetically ‘pleasing prospect’”, “the real estate version of perspectival art.” It’s worth noting that Jay (57-59) addresses his own views, point out that he does not see perspectival art as some specific capitalist plot, but rather entangled in it. I guess you could characterize it as a tool or a medium, one among others, as means to certain ends. Jay (59-60) points out the usefulness of perspectalist art, this time in reference to William Ivins, who, in ‘On the Rationalization of Sight: With an Examination of Three Renaissance Texts on Perspective’, assumes “unity between a technique of representation and vision itself.” Ivins (9-10) addresses perspective:

“Important as this is to picturemaking in the narrowest sense, it is doubtless even more important to general thought, because of the premises on which it is based are implicit in every statement made with its aid. Either the exterior relations of objects, such as their forms for visual awareness, change with their shifts in location, or else their interior relations do. If the latter were the case there could be neither homogeneity of space nor uniformity of nature, and science and technology as now conceived would necessarily cease to exist. Thus perspective, because of its logical recognition of internal variances through all the transformations produced by changes in spatial location, may be regarded as the application to pictorial purposes of the two basic assumptions underlying the great scientific generalizations, or laws of nature.”

In other words, as noted by Jay (59), perspective is equated with the faculty of vision. The link between perspective and science via geometry is as evident as it gets as defined by Ivins, to the extent that if one were to challenge it in art, which, at least in the text quoted above, is not of particular importance to him, would result in taking on science and technology as well. Now we can’t have that now, can we? That’d be outlandish! Skipping quite a bit here, I assume you can read for yourself, and on to the directly relevant part, Jay (63-64) states that:

“The nonpassive dynamic of modern science was also defended by such empiricist advocates of the scientific method as Francis Bacon, who defiantly claimed that ‘I admit nothing but the faith of the eyes.’”

Indeed, pics or it didn’t happen, as they say to counter unsubstantiated claims. I have encountered this as well, and no, not only in the everyday sense of that, but also relevantly to the topic, when arguing a case, as if photographic evidence is something that automatically validates a claim, one that could be made and successfully argued for even as a hypothetical. If I can provide the example in words, like written here, black letters on a white background, in a certain font, forming words, and then addressing that example, that should be sufficient. For example, if I point out that the streets signs in Turku that contain both Finnish and Swedish, for example ‘Hämeenkatu’ and ‘Tavastgatan’, are indexical of the presence of groups of people in a certain geographical area, that ought to hold regardless of whether I provide a photo of such signs. It’d be a different story if I’d be claiming that, say, it’s a thing that signs only contain Finnish in Turku, despite the requirement for them to contain the information in Finnish and Swedish. Appearance and apparition are two different things, at least to my knowledge they are. Then again, what do I know? All hail the Emperor! Jay (64-65) actually makes note of this, albeit strictly speaking he is not taking a stance, for or against, but noting that it may well be the case, going from dialogue to monologue to visual observation and evidence. I would say it is, albeit I concede I may simple be wrong.

I’m not going to go through everything Jay has on this, I mean the book has about ten chapters, which I covered, in part, being quite selective, only the introduction and chapter one. There’s, for example, a fascinating chapter on Foucault (and Debord), but that’s beyond this essay. Instead, I reckon it’s better to finish this off with a return to all things landscape. Not long ago I ran into an essay written by Cosgrove for the republication of ‘Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape’ where he reflects on his own work, a bit over a decade or so later from the original publication. He (xiv) refers to the original introduction in which he (1) summarizes that:

“[T]he landscape idea represents a way of seeing – a way in which some Europeans have represented to themselves and to others the world about them and their relationships with it, and through which they have commented on social relations. Landscape is a way of seeing that has its own history, but a history that can be understood only as part of a wider history of economy and society; that has its own assumptions and consequences, but assumptions and consequences whose origins and implications extend well beyond the use and perception of land; that has its own techniques of expression, but techniques which it shares with other areas of cultural practice.”

So, just as Jay (57-59) puts is, more or less, landscape is, in its perspectivalism, a way of seeing, but it’s not outside other developments that took place alongside it. Anyway Cosgrove (1) continues:

“The landscape idea emerged as a dimension of European elite consciousness at an identifiable period in the evolution of European societies: it was refined and elaborated over a long period during which it expressed and supported a range of political, social and moral assumptions and became accepted as a significant aspect of taste. That significance declined, again during a period of major social change, in the late nineteenth century.”

Cosgrove looks back at his own work, finding a number of flaws or problems in it, among them a problem that relates to this statement in the original work, which he opted not to touch in the republication. He (xx) notes:

“In the book I claim that landscape as an active concern for progressive art died in the second half of the nineteenth century, after the last flourish of Romanticism, and that its ideological function of harmonising social-environmental relations through visual pleasure was appropriated by the discipline of Geography.”

He (xx-xxi) realizes that this is theoretically neatly put, but lacking in historical actualities. However, he is not saying that he got it wrong, per se. He (xxi) comments that:

“[C]apitalist modes of productive organisation had come so completely to dominate European societies, I argued, that the moral power of landscape had to be exhausted.”

After this, he (xxi) adds:

“My interpretation of the impacts of photography on landscape representation seemed, when I was writing the book, to offer convenient technical support for this claim. I do not now believe that much of this stands up to either theoretical or historical scrutiny. My claim that Romanticism was itself little more than an ideological expression of capitalist social relations and urban industrialism exemplifies the constraints that the book’s theoretical model tends to impose on a much more richly textured feature of modernising European societies.”

Here, as well as in the following few sentences, he points out that he had managed to oversimplify things to certain extent. So, addressing this, he (xxi) notes:

“[It] ignores the active role played by the imaginative creation of new identities, which often drew upon landscape images … in shaping territorial and political structures such as the nation state, in which capitalist production has been obliged to operate for much of the past two centuries. Relations between landscape and Romantic nationalism have a complex history which extends over most of that period and has been a focus of some of the most exciting work by students of landscape since 1984[.]”

My examination of this is, of course, in further retrospect than his own retrospect, so I don’t see how this could be glossed over. It would seem a bit of a jerky jump to go from having impact to suddenly no impact. What if, what if landscape, as an idea shifted, instead of declined, or shifted alongside its decline, but never really going away? Well, I think this is what Cosgrove is attending to in his essay, looking back at what was missing in his original text. Anyway, I’ll let him (xxi) further explain:

“The emergence of Geography as a scholarly discipline in many European counties was itself very much an expression of Romantic nationalism … and geography’s iconic elevation of specific national landscapes may be read as an extension of the moral discourse to which landscape art had already been couple during the eighteenth century[.] … Contrary to the claim that Geography replaced landscape art however, Romantic nationalism found intense artistic expression through landscape representation in precisely those fin-de-siècle years of the nineteenth century when the text requires that landscape art lose its appeal.”

So, no, as Cosgrove explains, landscape didn’t exactly go anywhere, it just eventually had less to do with the canvas. Moreover, he (xxii) counters the decline on canvas, noting that:

“The art of the final years of the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth centuries includes some of the most enduring of Europe’s landscape images, many of them exploring the spatialities and environmental relations of modern life[.]”

He (xxii) also notes that landscape has sort of re-emerged in postmodern culture, as one avenue to be re-explored, of course not in the same way as before, but the point being that it hasn’t gone away altogether as there hasn’t been hostility towards landscape but rather indifference towards it. He (xxii-xxiii) goes on to add that while technologies were developed, such as photography and aerial photography, the “appeal of a landscape aesthetics” did not go away. He (xxiii) notes that:

“British debates over planning and controlling the impacts of a modern industrial state and post-war reconstruction at mid-century turned in very considerable measure on maintaining continuity in the appearance of the land, not merely for aesthetic ends but out of a sustained and widely-held belief that orderly landscape was both cause and consequence of a morally ordered civic society seeking to negotiate the changes wrought by modern living[.]”

I’d say that while the technologies changed, landscape as a way of seeing still impacted them, at least to some degree. He (xxiii) continues with examples:

“[E]igteenth-century English parkland often acted as a template for a resolutely progressive landscape design code. And Stalinist Russia, despite a triumphalist rhetoric of the onward march of Modern Socialism to communist victory over a subordinated nature, and the inscription of technological reason across a waywardly picturesque landscape, actively encouraged conventional landscape representations by Socialist Realist painters as the official image of Russian countryside[.] German National Socialist and Italian Futurism negotiated in similar but diverse ways equally complex paths between Modernist aesthetics and appeals to the spiritual power of landscape[.]”

So even as the things changed and keep changing, landscape persisted and persists due to its versatility, adapting and lending itself to different uses. This is how it is a medium. In Cosgrove’s (xxiii) words:

“[O]nly a superficial reading of cultural history would suggests that the mechanistic and inorganic aspects of technology have actually resulted in a lessened appeal of landscape.”

If landscape is thought only as something confined to being rendered on canvas, painted by famous people way back then, I’m not exactly surprised if people burst to laughter when its importance is argued to them beyond this. I may have pointed out this before but initially, with no familiarity with any of this, it does seem absurd that people were mesmerized by some paintings and that it would have any relevance these days, I mean it’s just some art, on some wall, in some gallery. The point being here that it would seem that landscape has gone away, fizzled away and only seen as a motif in art galleries, and that it only remains in a neutral everyday sense, referring to open expanses out there. I think Cosgrove acknowledges the same problem. Anyway, he (xxiii) continues:

“Photography, which I deal with in these pages only in its impacts on nineteenth-century landscape, has been central to the promotion and recording of landscape during the twentieth century. … And this is due not merely to the work of art photographers … but to the much more demotic medium of film.”

Of course, this was written before the introduction and popularization of digital imaging, but that doesn’t change his argument. Instead, it arguably only reinforces it, life through the frame of a viewfinder and now, in the absence of viewfinders, life through the frame of the screen of some device that has a camera. It would be inaccurate to state that now everything has a camera. That said, try getting a smart phone or a tablet, a hand held device with a screen that is, that does not come with a camera. Cosgrove (xxiii-xxiv) goes on to add that this extends to from still photography to video and arguably still applies today, considering that digital cameras tend to be video capable as well. In summary, going against his own work in the past, Cosgrove (xxiv) argues that landscape is alive and well:

“Twentieth-century technologies of vision and representation have been coupled with other technical achievements, transforming, but not extinguishing, the appeal of landscape and its power to articulate moral and social concerns.”

Indeed, landscape may have escaped the canvas, but it has not disappeared, having latched itself to rolls of film and digital sensors, as well as persisting in the minds of people, in a rather Cartesian sense of it. As examined in this essay, landscape, as a way of seeing, is particularly hard to shake off because it is tied to perspectivalism, which is the backbone of the scientific method. Descartes may not exactly be someone read attentively by scientists, if at all, I mean hardly, nor is there much reason for that to be the case these days but Cartesian perspectivalism still lingers as noted by Jay in his texts. It’s also just not landscape that is hard to shake off, it’s all the visual metaphors that crop up on a daily basis, as also discussed by Jay. I’m sure I forgot something, got something wrong, glossed over something and/or oversimplified something in this essay, but that’s just how it is. I wish I could go on tangent after tangent, addressing what I leave out, but these would never get finished otherwise.


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