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?
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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.
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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.