Per Dejan’s suggestion I secured through inter-library loan a copy of Eyal Peretz’s 2008 book Becoming Visionary: Brian DePalma’s Cinematic Education of the Senses. Most of the book is devoted to extended treatments of three DePalma films: Carrie, The Fury, and Blow Out. The introductory chapter establishes the theoretical context for discussing the films. My interest in the book lies less in film theory than in a possible psychological and artistic praxis of “becoming visionary.” So we’ll see how that goes.
Peretz begins by describing Plato’s distinction between an object and its image. The image is accessible to the senses; behind the image are those properties of the object that are closed to the senses. These “real properties” can be reached only through the mediation of the realm of Ideas, where the meanings of things reside. The image is a kind of poor copy of the real thing, pointing beyond itself to an excess that’s inaccessible to sensation and perception. Another kind of non-sensible “eye” is required to see this excess, which is the intellect.
There’s a materialistic tendency to reverse Platonism by affirming the sensory order of reality while disavowing the separate realm of “objective” or ideal meaning. What Peretz wants to do is to retain the Platonic distinction between image and meaning without assigning them to two separate realities.
Peretz contends that, in parallel to the philosophical tradition, there’s an alternative artistic construal of the split between sense and meaning. The artist, claims Peretz, reveals that the sensory opening onto the world has at its center a blindness to what’s already there, something that blocks clear vision. Art doesn’t try to eliminate this blindness or to bypass it through another channel like intellect or insight. Instead, the artist enters into the blindness itself, opening it up, activating the blindness itself.
“The artistic tradition tries to bring about a visionary eye that sees out of blindness, that senses its opening out of a closure beyond it, rather than conceptualizing a non-sensual eye that perceives objects of a superior kind.” (p. 12)
This isn’t just a blindness to what’s out there in the world; it’s also a blindness to one’s self. And the source of this blindness? Peretz says that it’s the inescapable human position as “a being inscribed in time.” By being embedded in the present we are blind to time itself, and especially to the future. According to this formulation, the future is what “makes sense” of the sensible world in which we’re immersed, but this future is unknown and unknowable to us.
In more traditional explorations of the artistic tradition the future already exists, such that each of us is embedded in an unfolding destiny to which we are blind. There may be visionaries who can see through the blindness into the future: seers, prophets, gods, visionary artists, omniscient narrators of stories.
In some contemporary variants of the artistic tradition future time can never be glimpsed through the blindness because the future does not yet exist. Instead of seeing destiny, the artist looks into an impenetrable and undifferentiated whiteness, a “haunting no-thingness traced in the field of vision and of the world… a blind spot with no content, with no object.” The excess beyond the sensory image resides beyond anyone’s understanding, outside of meaning. To gaze into the whiteness is to confront the incompleteness of the world, an incompleteness caused by the future’s absence from the present. The present isn’t informed by a meaningful future when all accounts are settled and all loose ends are tied up. Instead, the present is haunted by the multiple trajectories of the present that lead into a future that doesn’t yet exist.
The beyond of meaning, therefore, doesn’t transcend the sensory order of the present time. It’s immanent to sensory reality, continuous with the present in a way that fades to the nonexistence of an open future. Paradoxically, it is this impenetrable open future that gives the present world its meaning: the world, by its very nature, is open to transformation. What the contemporary artist sees in the blind spot is a blindness inherent in the world itself, which is the world’s futurity:
“not the fact of the future as something we can predict, but the fact that the world is transformable in essence and open to unpredictable change, an openness that is part of what the world is… [W]hat one is blind to is thus simply the future or futurity, its potential openness.” (p. 14)
It is this seeing into the blind spot, becoming aware of the world’s open futurity, that Peretz calls “becoming visionary.”