University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Beyond the Eye: Toward an understanding of non-visual theories and methodologies

Spring 2009
Instructors:  Juliette Cherbuliez (French and Italian) and Michael Gaudio (Art History)

Course Description:

Thomas Reid, philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment, wrote in 1764 that “the Evidence of reason is called seeing, not feeling,smelling, or tasting.  Yea, we are wont to express the manner of the divine knowledge by seeing, as that kind of knowledge which is most perfect in us.” In the art and sciences as they have developed since the Enlightenment, Reid’s visual model has dominated Western understanding of the body’s production of knowledge. This same privileging of the “mind’s eye” with respect to other sense-knowledge hierarchies has also anchored customary divisions between Western and non-western knowledges. While less celebratory of the nobility of vision than Reid, twentieth-century theorists have further posited the gaze, along with the image, as modernity’s basic epistemological paradigm, even as they have indicted this paradigm as a characteristic feature of an imperialist modernity.  Yet even in disciplines that appear to be centered on the visual (Film Studies, Art History), a preoccupation with the sense of sight both limits our understanding of the making and producing of knowledge, and tends to reproduce a model of history that narrates modernity as the optical mastery of the world.

This seminar will be a comprehensive inquiry into the possibilities of a critique of the arts and sciences that is dependent on something other than the paradigm of visuality.  It will also explore the new horizons of knowing that emerge once vision is re-imagined as something other than the privileged site of knowledge and sight as something less imperial than the epistemological sovereign over all the other senses.  We will begin with some of the major readings that established visuality’s modern empire (from Descartes, Locke, and Kant, to Bataille, Lacan and Mulvey), while also exploring the problems this paradigm raises (Martin Jay, Jonathan Crary, Elaine Scarry, Georges Didi-Hubermann). We will then work toward a redefinition of the sensory hierarchy – including  touch (making), aurality (listening), orality (the spoken word or sound, as opposed to the written and silently read text), and taste/smell – in order to move beyond the tyranny of the eye-mind axis (Barbara Stafford, Pamela Smith, Eric Leigh Schmidt). Scholars from across the arts and sciences whose work moves beyond the eye will also be invited to visit and share their insights with the seminar.

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