This course examines discourses surrounding vision, perception, and representation with the aim of developing a critical understanding of these complexities. Vision and perception are complex fields shaped by demands to convey information, desires to induce feelings of pleasure or repulsion, schemes to enhance consumption, and motivations to maintain or challenge hierarchies of power. The past 150 years have witnessed a revolutionary transformation in visual perception. Following the development of linear perspective during the Early Modern era, the invention of the photographic camera has led to a series of new technologies that have transformed our understandings of subjectivity, power, and politics. We will account for the historical trajectory within which these discourses and practices have arisen through the examination of developments such as one-point perspective, the camera obscura, photographic and cinematographic cameras, the physiological and psychological science of optics, theories of the unconscious, and digital imaging. In reading the works of historians, theorists, and critics who have studied such topics as the gaze, the spectacle, and surveillance, we will also consider how we might conceptualize the visual to account for its multiple and seemingly contradictory modes of interpellating and policing subjects. Students will sharpen their research, verbal and written skills through weekly readings, discussions, and response papers, and the development of a research-based paper on a topic of their choice related to visual perception.
In this section we will examine a broad range of subjects within visual culture with an emphasis on photography, film, and new media, but also including scientific accounts of the physiology of visual perception, social and political interrogations of surveillance, psychoanalytic accounts of the gaze, and literary representations of vision. In our discussions we will also consider the ways in which understandings of race, gender, and sexuality condition and shape the power to look, that which is perceived, and the theories that attempt to capture the complex relationships between vision, representation, and perception.
• Oliver Sacks, “To See and Not See”inAn Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical
Tales (New York: Vintage, 1996), 108-152.
• Jonathan Crary, “Modernity and the Problem of the Observer” and “The Camera Obscura and Its Subject” From Techniques of the Observer : On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA:MITPress,1990),1-66.
• Richard Dyer, “The light of the world” from White (London: Routledge, 1997), 82-144.
• René Descartes, “Optics” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (London: Routledge, 1998), 60-65.
• Karen Barad, “The Ontology of Knowing, the Intra-activity of Becoming, and the Ethics
Of Mattering” from Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 353-396 [esp.369-384].