ways_of_seeing_john_berger[1]

ways_of_seeing_john_berger[1] - 1 Seeing comes before words...

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Unformatted text preview: 1 Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words. but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge. the explanation. never quite fits the sight. The Surrealist painter Magritte commented on this always-present gap between words and seeing in a painting called The Key of Dreams. 1 Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words. but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge. the explanation. never quite fits the sight. The Surrealist painter Magritte commented on this always-present gap between words and seeing in a painting called The Key of Dreams. 7 ,.., I m iri-< o " o :IJ m J> ~ (J) OJ-< ~ J> Gl :IJ ~ The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe. In the Middle Ages when men believed in the physical existence of Hell the sight of fire must have meant something different from what it means today. Nevertheless their idea of Hell owed a lot to the sight of fire consuming and the ashes remaining - as well as to their experience of the pain of burns. When in love, the sight of the beloved has a completeness which no words and no embrace can match: a completeness which only the act of making love can temporarily accommodate. Vet this seeing which comes before words, and can never be quite covered by them, is not a question of mechanically reacting to stimuli. (It can only be thought of in this way if one isolates the small part of the process which concerns the eye's retina.) We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach - though not necessarily within arm's reach. To touch something is to situate oneself in relation to it. (Close your eyes, move round the room and 8 notice how the faculty of touch is like a static. limited form of sight.) We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things a-nd-ourselves. O~rvision is continually active. continually moving. continually holding things in a circle around itself. constituting what is present to us as we are....
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ways_of_seeing_john_berger[1] - 1 Seeing comes before words...

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