29 July 2009

Becoming Visionary: Toward Praxis

Filed under: Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 9:13 am

Having recently read most of Peretz’s Becoming Visionary, I wonder how I might move his insights beyond theory and DePalma film studies into practice, both for becoming visionary myself and for helping others to do so. It’s not possible to deploy split screens or jump cuts or saturated set lighting in real vision: cinematic techniques of this sort are the apparatus of becoming-revelatory, of the filmmaker showing others what he has already seen. The question at hand is about seeing rather than showing.

The most persistent theoretical insight offered by Peretz is that becoming-visionary doesn’t rely on the traditional mind-body, real-ideal split of Platonism and its successors. Meaning doesn’t come into the picture from outside the field of action, from some transcendent POV, accessible only through the third eye of the mind, where the fragmented glimpses offered to our finite perceptions are resolved in the big picture of eternity and infinity. Instead, meaning is immanent in the world itself, in the subjects and objects, the forces and trajectories that link everything together. We are blind to ultimate meaning not because the future is hidden under a cloak of darkness but because it’s saturated in the blinding light of infinite possibility. It’s necessary to look into the blindness, to see openings in the saturated field of the present and near future, to detect possibilities rather than certainties. These possibilities have angular momenta of their own; the best we can do is to be aware of them and to react to them as best we can.

Though I think Peretz overstates the case, I’m in general agreement. Meaning is all around us, in part because nature follows its own laws, but mostly because we’re surrounded by other humans who pursue their own meaningful motivations or who are caught in others’ force fields. Instead of trying to see either the deep past of what brought the present situation into play or the long-term future in which all uncertainty is resolved, it’s important to see more clearly inside the limited temporal window that’s open around us. While both past and future recede into blindness, we aren’t just locked into the moment. We can search the present for glimpses of motivation coming up from the recent past and potential consequences likely to unfold in the near future. This sort of vision requires attention to what’s happening around us and then thinking about what it might mean to the various agencies participating in the scene.We split up the saturated field into fragments, then rearrange them in terms that afford us opportunities to react to what we’re experiencing, even to throw our weight behind certain immanent possibilities that suit our purposes.

These insights aren’t novel to Peretz, of course, but let’s assume that they’re valid ones. Is it possible to learn to see the world this way more clearly and more consistently? Is the process of becoming visionary a function, at least in part, of becoming adept at certain perceptual and cognitive and imaginative techniques for looking into and through the glare of the oversaturated present?

*   *   *

Speculative Realism affirms that objects and their properties can be real even if humans don’t know it. Reality operates independently of consciousness. Let’s suppose we adopt the SR variant put forward by Dr. Sinthome that something is real if it is different and if it makes a difference. The multitude of things parading through my visual field can be really different from each other, and can really inscribe differences on my sensory systems, even if I don’t attend to those differences consciously. To bring these already-existing differences into my conscious awareness isn’t to bestow reality on the already-real. At the same time, becoming conscious of a real thing does present that thing with another way of registering its difference and of making a difference in me. The objects populating my visual array present an opportunity for my perceptual and cognitive systems to extract these objects from the oversaturated visual field and to recognize the separations between them as distinctly real objects. In so doing I also give these objects access to my consciousness, offering them an opportunity to make a particular kind of difference that previously had been foreclosed to them.

Of course the object might break through of its own accord from raw sensation into perception into consciousness without my consciously attending to it an pulling it into my awareness. But it is, I think, possible to open the “doors of perception” through some combination of attentiveness and receptivity.

Usually the world doesn’t present itself to me as an oversaturated field. I see the world in terms of my own purposes and intentions. For example, I see the screen before me as a place that’s recording my keystrokes, which in turn are translating my conscious thoughts into text. But the other features of the screen — its luminance, its borders, the font, the scrolling of the cursor from left to right and from top to bottom, its electrical source — I ignore, even though these properties have a direct effect on the display of my typing. I don’t consciously try to ignore these features, nor, I think, do they withdraw from my consciousness. These features continue to have a real effect on me even though I’m not paying attention to them. It’s just that, with respect to my current engagement of the computer, these other features aren’t directly relevant to the conscious use I’m making of the computer screen. If suddenly the screen went black — or white — then my attention would be drawn to the previously-ignored property of luminance and I would focus my intentional consciousness on this property. Heidegger talks about this sort of experience, referring to the “handiness” of things, things as pragmata. Harman says (I believe) that, even when we shift our attention to the non-handy properties of a thing, those previously ignored or hidden properties now surge forward as the object’s “handiness.” Luminance per se becomes the focus of my attention, and I seek pragmatic means of restoring this handy property to my computer screen. Even if I merely focus my attention on the screen’s luminance for no particular pragmatic reason, or detach my consciousness sufficiently from my typing task so that other features of the screen are allowed to register their presence in my perception, Harman contends that I’ve merely shifted or widened my pragmatic frame, and that I’ve still not encountered the reality, the essence of the screen.

At this point I’m inclined to say “so what?”.  The distinction between the essence of the screen and the various ways in which I can interact with the screen — from my subjective conscious standpoint this isn’t a difference that makes a difference. Still, I can, through a kind of broadening of my intentional engagement, open the doors of perception beyond the mere recording of keystrokes to some of the other properties of the screen. I may not encounter these properties directly for what they are in and of themselves, but I do encounter them consciously in a way that had previously been inaccessible to me. This isn’t a vacating of consciousness or attention or intentionality, making myself a passive recording surface; it is rather a broadening of my conscious subjective engagement.

Let’s say I allow some previously-inaccessible properties of an object to register their reality in my consciousness, to make a different sort of difference in me. This expanded awareness also has pragmatic consequences: it opens up new possibilities in which I can use this new awareness to make a difference in the world. The differences I make might be consciously intended, or they might occur spontaneously without my conscious intentional mediation. But through allowing changes in my consciousness to happen, my consciousness becomes different, and thereby capable of making-difference, in ways that weren’t there before.

This ties back to the Peretz book. When I’m overly tied into my own immediate pragmatic engagement of the world, real people and objects are making real things happen in my environment. But I’m too locked in: outside of my frame of attention the world is a void. If I let my focus drift outside the frame I’m liable to be blinded, overwhelmed by the glare of too many objects pursuing too many trajectories. Rather than letting my pragmatic intentionality drift away, I need to open that intentionality to more possibilities. People and objects are pursuing their own subjective pragmatic agendas; if I pay attention, if I open my awareness, some of these agendas might register in my consciousness. I might never see the big picture of how everything ties in with everything else; I may never know the true essence of anything or anyone who appears in my environment. But I’ve allowed them to register more of their reality, more of their differences, in my consciousness. And now I achieve a greater instrumental flexibility in using this broadened pragmatic awareness in making differences happen in my environment. It might look to outsiders like I’ve got greater control over the world than they do, but it’s more a matter of exerting leverage in the space-time interval that I occupy, an interval that extends only a short distance in space and time from me in the here-and-now.

*   *   *

I’ve sort of drifted from the original intent of this post, which had to do with specifying a praxis of becoming-visionary. I think it might be possible for one person to serve as a catalyst for another’s attentiveness and receptivity. But first it’s been helpful for me to explore some of the implications theoretically.



  1. Eloise I’m also not sure how one is to deduce where and how exactly to look for the portals, but I have also found it an insight of psychoanalysis that you have to move beyond the position of ”looking for something” that is standing right in front of your nose, the famous purloined letter. You have to also in a way move from being the reflection of other people’s gaze and assume your own creation, produce your own images. Currently at dr. Sinthome’s there this whole debate about how the material suggests to the artist the possibilities in art, because it, too, is a living organism in dr. Sinthome’s system, and so on, but I think the artist is undeniably the top in the buggery of nature, because he simply states the things that cultural theorists stupidly ”analyze” while the magic of the art is precisely in its enigmatic nature, that it does not lend itself to any single reading, and so on.

    So my first thought was that we must have courage to listen to our instincts as well, the way that the third inner eye shows us – perhaps through some form of meditation – prayer – transcendent – Buddhist – whatever New Age form suits you. But meditation is not quite the word, because I think this stance of active production has to be the basis of such vision, a constant heightened alertness. Much as a lion constantly surveys his environment for potential prey, we must be vigilant, Eloise, in the search for openings.

    I fully agree with Comrade Fisher’s analysis though that we are infants trapped in the WIMMERN’s world, a world where the more centralized Phallic power has now been replaced by a myriad of petty little women’s laws, and so Michael Jackson indeed stands as the example of the transvestite child who grew up without any sort of possibility for parental identification.

    Eloise I noticed a palpable absence of decent Christian commenters, could it be due to the OFFENSIVE label on my butt? Perhaps they didn’t know there exists such a thing as a gay pornographer Christian satyrist.


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 29 July 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  2. I just reread this post and found myself glazing over at my own words. This is the danger for me of trying to write theoretically about praxis: it gets too tangled up in abstractions. I don’t think I said anything more useful here than I did in my relatively brief observations about Miller’s Crossing, embedded in the Blow Up and Out thread rather than compulsively assigned to the post on Miller’s Crossing. The specific features of a movie, like the specific features of an individual, are more usefully engaged than the theoretical principles. Still, thinking through the connections between Peretz and objects was useful to me. And I’ll probably stick with this line of thinking for at least another post.

    I agree about the instinctive engagement, but part of my question is whether this instinct can be taught. My recent project of helping with the lighting on a movie set reinforced the idea that instinct is partly the compilation of step-by-step procedures repeated so often as to become second nature — “like riding a bike” is the usual analogy. Presumably a novice filmmaker can learn some things from watching a master filmmaker’s movies, but other things can be learned by watching him on the set actually making a movie.


    Comment by john doyle — 29 July 2009 @ 4:01 pm

  3. As for film-making, when I once asked my animation professor what he thought about the ”explosion of cinema” by interactive media and the like, he asked me whether the new productions use THE CUT. I had to admit that they do, which means that cinema isn’t really dead, it’s just a lot of PoMo blah blah blah.

    Ah Eloise, things change and yet they remain the same.


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 29 July 2009 @ 4:18 pm

  4. I rarely visit some of the blogs on my blogroll. This one happened to have a post relevant to cuts and perception. Apparently cuts induce not only renewed interest but short-term disorientation. The disorientation can be useful if the filmmaker’s intent is to jar the viewer out of complacency. Deterritorializing the scene can open the doors of perception to other possibilities lost in the blind spot.

    And have you seen/heard this and this, VOPR? It’s David Lynch on vocals on these two tracks from this project.


    Comment by john doyle — 30 July 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  5. I’m in a giddy gay mood so I went to see Bruno for a second time, because believe it or not, the movie is funny. And especially in its unrestrained, ”psychotic”, offensive parts full of ass. What makes the shtick work is Baron-Cohen’s incredulity, i.e. he plays Bruno as if the queen weren’t aware of the mess she’s causing, but it develops mid-way into a serious satire of homophobia. I think if in 2005 we went this far with COLIN, it would have been much funnier, but the director wanted to make a Pixar movie out of a gay TV series…

    Noticed that two great directors came up with new movies in the meantime, one by Bertrand Tavernier and the other by Andre Techine (whose Deneuve movie is one of the best things I saw in this century).

    I will return with more thoughts when I’ve slept.


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 30 July 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  6. So let’s say that the cinematic cut adds interest by drawing the viewer’s attention to the difference while also briefly disorienting the viewer by changing the scene or the point of view. Does this sort of move work in psychological practice as well? Say the client is talking about some topic or other, with the psychologist encouraging continuation of the topic through nods, questions, reactions, interpretations, and what have you. Suddenly the psychologist introduces a cut: he shifts POV on the current topic of conversation, or he shifts the client’s attention to another topic altogether. The client becomes more interested, though in a slightly disoriented way.

    The cut keeps the client from thinking that he has captured the entirety of the scene within the frame he’s currently occupying. It’s actually a mere fragment, revealed by framing other fragments and showing these to the client. The cut might also keep the client from believing that the psychologist’s third eye can see the Truth behind what the client shows him. What the psychologist shows through the cut isn’t the big picture, hidden from ordinary view but available to the visionary. Instead, the psychologist exposes the client to a series of alternative small pictures. The client, no longer locked in one POV focused on one scene, begins to open his eyes to the openness of the world as it presents itself to him. Interpretation and construction of meaning are immanent in the world but not necessarily continuous and unified.

    And the cut itself, the break in space/time between views: what vision does it impart? It’s a glimpse of the blindness inherent in the real and what Peretz calls “a moment of blindness in the eye” — of the formless but formative void that persists in the spaces between things. The void is what cuts things apart from the undifferentiated blur and separates them from each other. The fragmented persistence of the void holds at bay the blinding light of a timeless and eternal but static and dead Paradise. From Peretz, p. 134:

    “But the editing cut does not just indicate and effect a moment of blindness, but also effects the opening of a new vision, a nonobjective vision, a vision from elsewhere, opening from the blinding of the objective eye. For through this cut, the viewer becomes exposed to the haunting otherness as if it is ‘looking’ at him, casting a look… from the outside that is the cut itself… the eye without an objective source, the eye of the frame’s absolute outside…”

    I’m sure there’s a whole cinematic theory of the cut that I’ve not read but that would further inform its translation into psych praxis.


    Comment by john doyle — 31 July 2009 @ 7:53 am

    • This reminds me a bit of Paul Watzlawick et. al.’s ‘brief therapy’ (see e.g. Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution). The idea was to break out of therapeutic double-binds in which the problem becomes the definition of the problem as the problem (roughly, as I recall) by ‘changing the game’, in Wittgenstein’s sense, which might well be an analogy to a jump-cut.


      Comment by Carl — 31 July 2009 @ 8:32 am

  7. Carl, I suspect that you and I are fairly comfortable with Watzlawick et al.’s approach to reframing as a sort of social constructionism:

    “To reframe, then, is to change the conceptional and/or emotional setting or viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and to place it in another frame which fits the ‘facts’ of the same concrete situation equally well or even better, and thereby changes its entire meaning… What turns out to be changed as a result of reframing is the meaning attributed to the situation, and therefore its consequences, and not its concrete facts.” (p. 95)

    This is an explicitly dualistic orientation, where mind imposes meaning(s) on matter. Reframing via cinematography can’t invoke alternate meanings directly, being a nonverbal medium. All it can offer is literally a different view of the situation. Camera angle, lighting, lens width, etc. — these things have effects not on the objects presented on screen nor on the ideas of the viewers but on the way the scene is presented to the viewers’ vision. If through changed POV the viewer comes to assign a different meaning to the scene, presumably it’s not because they’ve thought about it differently but because they’ve literally seen it differently. This is integral to Peretz’s case for the immanence of meaning, emerging from the “concrete facts” of the world rather than being imposed on them through some sort of Platonic/Cartesian “third eye.”

    I see no reason to throw in with the social constructionists or the “visual realists.” Most of the concrete facts we encounter in everyday life consist of fellow humans and human artifacts. Humans are meaning-creating engines; artifacts are built with intentionality and utility. Through social interactions further meanings emerge as if by invisible hands that often operate outside of our conscious awareness. I.e., we live in a socially-constructed world fully saturated with multiple meanings — multiple sociocultural realities — even before we impose our own meanings on it. If we can look at the world differently, maybe some of these already-existing meanings intrinsic to our socially-constructed world will make themselves more visible to us.

    So I think the “cut” analogy works both ways, provoking changes in our own meaning-creation capabilities as well as in our ability to detect existing meanings. Does that work? I’m prompted now to look again in more detail into the book — thanks Carl.


    Comment by john doyle — 31 July 2009 @ 1:07 pm

    • Well said, John. We make our worlds but not in conditions of our own choosing, as Marx put it. Thanks too for picking up on reframing – it’s the key point here and I managed to forget it until after I hit submit.


      Comment by Carl — 31 July 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  8. When I think about alternate realities it’s usually in terms commensurate with Watzlawick et al. — the same stuff framed in different networks of meaning. From a realist’s POV, if a reality is stuff embedded in meaning, and if meaning is imposed by human thought, then what can be said of the raw stuff stripped of human meaning? Presumably the stuff is no longer part of any reality. Does that mean that it’s no longer real? This is the big problematic that the SR gang addresses in various ways.

    In a social constructionist cinema the shift in POV reveals two alternate realities enclosed in two different frames, while the discontinuity and momentary blackness of the cut offers a glimpse of the unreality of raw unframed stuff that haunts all social constructions.

    In the social constructionist psychology of Lacan the same effect is put in play. Freudian slips, tics, and so on are interpreted as revealing something of the uncanny unreality of the Real. Zizek plays this game at the level of social criticism: between the negation and the negation of the negation some glimpse of the unreality of the Real might show through. Derrida plays the same trick with deconstruction, where the flip between one reality and its inverse opens up the lacuna between them, the gap of difference that exposes the unreality of that which isn’t embedded in thought and language. For Badiou it’s the void of undifferentiated mulitplicity. And so on — it’s the Cut. A speculative realist cinema/psychology/etc. would need to put forward an alternate theory of the Cut.


    Comment by john doyle — 31 July 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  9. K-punk has a new post up about Philip Dick’s novel Time Out of Joint. At the end of the book the main character hitches a ride out of his home town, leaving it for the first time. As he gets to the outskirts the town’s infrastructure precipitously drops away, revealing that the whole town is an elaborate ruse, a front, as in The Truman Show, The Matrix, and other homages to Dick. “Welcome to the desert of the Real,” says Baudrillard (and Morpheus). Everyday life is an illusion covering over the Void that underlies it.

    This sort of becoming-visionary is more aligned with the Platonic third eye, where materiality is meaningless and can only be understood by seeing beyond the material world to another dimension that makes sense of it all. Of course it’s a paranoiac variant on Plato, but still. Dick explicitly identified himself as a gnostic, with various demiurgic levels bridging the gap between the material and the ideal. He thought he could get past the paranoiac and illusory intermediate states to something more like bliss. Time Out of Joint ends with the main character heading into the desert of the real without knowing what he will find out there. Is it even more nightmarish when, surrounded by the constraining saturation of the everyday and the zombiesque people who occupy it, you realize that this IS the Real?


    Comment by john doyle — 2 August 2009 @ 7:52 am

  10. this ingenious dutch piece says it all


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 2 August 2009 @ 9:35 am

  11. You’re right, VOPR, it is an ingenious exploration of the frame and the cut. In English, “vent” usually means an opening; in French, “vent” means the wind. I’m guessing that the word has both meanings in Dutch.


    Comment by john doyle — 2 August 2009 @ 5:03 pm

    • I loved it, and passed it along to Rachel. Thanks, Dejan.

      John, given the little girl’s levitation trick, perhaps a bit more of the latter…


      Comment by Carl — 2 August 2009 @ 6:48 pm

  12. As this article suggests, if you want to become visionary you need to pay attention. As has been lamented, the contemporary music-video style of cinematography, with its rapid-fire cuts and repeated POV shifts, both compensates for and mimics the audience’s ADD.


    Comment by john doyle — 3 August 2009 @ 4:47 am

  13. Eloise the article is a lament, the rapid-fire cuts will soon be replaced by the more theatrical 3D in which space comes to the fore, etc, and besides, there’s no going back to goddamn Mona Lisa and Mona Lisa wasn’t much in the first place, as I had the chance to personally assure myself at Le Louvre.

    Vent also means ”guy” in Dutch, and the wordplay is in any case something anal, because the Calvinists here love ass and fart jokes (you realize of course it’s about shit metonymically replacing money). But see I don’t think the artist could compile two semiotic expressions and did this completely intuitively, as a fart joke. Still I think the visual metaphor created is a quite good example of what Peretz is talking about.


    Comment by Dejan — 3 August 2009 @ 4:26 pm

  14. Slow looking + rapid cutting = visionary cross-training. I find it hard not to glaze over at art museums: it’s just too much. One painting at a time please.

    “Only an irrational civilization, and one devoid of the taste for pleasure, could have devised such a domain of incoherence. This juxtaposition of dead visions has something insane about it, with each thing jealously competing for the glance that will give it life. They call from all directions for my undivided attention, maddening the live magnet which draws the whole machine of the body toward what attracts it… However vast the palace, however suitable and well-arranged, we always feel a little lost, a little desolate in its galleries, all alone against so much art. The product of thousands of hours’ work consumed in painting and drawing by so many masters, each hour charged with years of research, experiment, concentration, genius, acts upon our senses and minds in a few minutes! We cannot stand up to it. So what do we do? We grow superficial. Or we grow erudite.”

    – from “The Problem of Museums” by Paul Valéry


    Comment by john doyle — 3 August 2009 @ 8:37 pm

  15. Dejan, I just read your treatment of Almodovar’s latest movie, which I don’t believe has been released yet in the US. The lead character’s being blind certainly suggests the visionary theme in what Peretz regards as the old-school Platonic sense of being able to see beyond the material world into eternal truths. But it sounds like what this character sees are fictional stories. Fiction becomes more real than ordinary reality for this character (who of course is a fictional character in Almodovar’s fictional film). But then, within his fictionalized persona, the character tells the story of his prior real life. Real life told as a story inside a self-consciously fictional reality — clearly Almodovar is messing with the real-fictional distinction that’s taken up some serious air time in the speculative realism debates.

    Oh and also, the character’s fictional persona is named Harry Caine — this must be an allusion to Orson Welles’ two characters Harry Lime (The Third Man) and Citizen Caine. Last night I watched Touch of Evil, in which Welles’ character limps and walks around with the aid of a cane.


    Comment by john doyle — 27 September 2009 @ 5:55 am

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