On screen and soundtrack, The New World stages internal relations and disjunctions while revealing them to be constitutive of a cinematic world. Yet the purpose of the film is precisely not to articulate a defensible thesis about “worldhood.” It is to effect nothing less than a conversion of the gaze—a purpose inimical to an academic industry that takes positive knowledge as its goal.
So one easy way to put it would be to say that for many people, photography perfectly embodied the theory and practice of the postmodern, whereas for some people, it created the possibility or felt necessity for a critique of postmodernism. Or, to put the point in terms of intentionality: for many people, the photograph embodies the critique of the intentional that we find in theorists as different as Barthes and Derrida, Crimp and Rancière; for others it embodies something like the opposite – the opportunity to re-imagine intentionality.
The hypothesis of neurovisuality may allow a general theory of visual culture to be coordinated with a general science of vision. Possibly it can help make sense of unresolved problems in art history, including the question of the “power of images” and their “agency” in human perception.
Charles Palermo writes: Things remain visible to people outside the visuality within which they were intentionally produced, though what is visible in an artifact in this context (or what is visible about it) may differ from what is visible in the context of visuality. By the same token, people can succeed to many visualities, though both Wölfflin and Panofsky were somewhat uncertain (on different grounds) about just how far it is possible to do so when we are dealing with visualities constituted in the past and accessible to us only in things made to be visible within them that happen to have survived into our own visual world. Whitney Davis elegantly lays out the relation of visuality to history in this passage, early in his impressive account of what he calls “neurovisuality.” As his references to Heinrich Wölfflin and Erwin Panofsky suggest, there are important ways in which the problems he elaborates are continuous with old problems in the field of art history. Crucially, in the current context, he addresses himself to the problematic notion that people can look at a work of art made in an earlier epoch and find that “what is visible” in those works is not what they…
It thus seems as if the very problem which is at the center of the mind/brain debate, namely, the nature of intentionality, is now being offered as the solution: the claim is that intentional agency just is the biological process that can produce the desired-for “gaps” or differences that characterize freedom.
At the core of Knossos and The Prophets of Modernism lies the problem of historical interpretation. The excavation and reconstruction of the palace at Knossos—paid for and overseen directly by Evans—unveiled extraordinary murals and colorful columns to the public. But as Gere makes clear, the palace was in fact rebuilt in modern concrete, the first such structure on the island. What at first glance appears to be the oldest monument on Crete, turns out to be one of its most modern. Similarly, modern artists simply reimagined many of the famous artworks in the palace taking small fragments of originals as their inspiration
…we can reason our way out of a deontological stance into a utilitarian one. In fact we moderns are called on to do that every day. But the cognitive load required to apply the brakes on our fast and frugal heuristics is intense. So the stories I love most offer some kind of relief from the rational self-restraint I’m forced to exercise all the time—on the road, in the office, at home.
…if we’re thinking like Mark Johnson, we can simply add these examples to our bucket of evidence that the human mind is structured by our bodily orientation in space, and hence so is our art. Put that way, the difference between having an account of the meaning of the work and having an account of its causes is not only easy to see, but, I would argue, an easy strike against the kinds of neuro approaches I’ve been describing thus far.
Cognitive scientists have found out quite a lot about the psychology of intention. We humans are intentional to our core. Do we come into the world trailing clouds of glory? Maybe. But we definitely come trailing clouds of concepts. Far from experiencing the world as “one great blooming, buzzing confusion,” babies start detecting patterns only a few hours after birth. They segment, they process, they subdivide. They prefer their native language to a foreign tongue. They know about object solidity and object permanence. And by the age of roughly a year old, they have a fully developed Cartesian worldview, seeing objects and agents as distinct. Why should this matter to literary theorists? (Is the baby father to the man?) After all, by the time they go to graduate school, babies have long since become immune to the brute lure of intentionality. They have laid down complex pathways on their innate concepts. They reason counterfactually, wreath their ideas in the flowers of prosody, willingly suspend their disbelief, and wrinkle their brows in ironic suspicion. And by the time they are middle aged and have come to appreciate that the world is, in fact, a great blooming, buzzing confusion, their infant categories are…
On this question Einstein and Kahnweiler held diametrically opposed positions. Moreover–and this is my main interest–their respective positions correspond to successive phases in the developing neuroscientific understanding of the visual brain. Kahnweiler’s interpretation of cubism was shaped by the neuroscience of his day while, remarkably, Einstein’s account of seeing, as he believed it to be embodied in cubist paintings, anticipates by half a century a fundamental breakthrough in the neuroscientific understanding of vision.