A question of perspective

I was teaching about the cultural implications of visual perspective recently and how the perception, and expectation, of visual perspective locks the spectator into a particular mode of seeing.

Willow avenue

It assumes that what is seen is what is known, and what is unknown is beyond the range of sight (vanishing point).

Sight is a faculty; but even more so, a facility. Visual regimes, like knowledge regimes, are not often willing to acknowledge their limits, not of the faculty (sight/knowledge) itself, but of the necessity of the regime in the first place.

One of the hardest things to do is to explain to students, and people in general, how what they accept as ‘natural’ is more often naturalised instead.

The fourteenth Dalai Lama explains it in much clearer terms. In this passage, he is speaking to Howard Cutler, a trained psychiatrist, of the limits of Western psychiatric practice based on rationalist knowledge regimes:

In Western psychology … I think there may be a tendency to overemphasize the role of the unconscious in looking for the source of one’s problems. I think that this stems from some of the basic assumptions that Western psychology starts with: for instance, they do not accept the idea of imprints being carried over from a past life. And at the same time there is an assumption that everything must be accounted for within this lifetime. So, when you can’t explain what is causing certain behaviours or problems, the tendency is to always attribute it to the unconscious. It’s a bit like you’ve lost something and you decide that the object is in this room. And once you have decided this, then you’ve already fixed your parameters; you’ve precluded the possibility of its being outside the room or in another room. So you keep on searching and searching, but you are not finding it, yet you continue to assume that it is hidden somewhere in the room!*

Anyone who’s ever lost and tried searching for their keys shouldn’t find this story too difficult to relate to.

What are we searching for today and where do we think it is located?

*HH Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler. The Art of Happiness (London: Coronet, 1998), p. xvi.

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2 Responses to A question of perspective

  1. Micah Tillman says:

    Is it possible for a thing to acknowledge its own limits? Or is it not necessary for a thing to see beyond its limits to realize what it limits are?

    Thanks for an intriguing post!

  2. hitchhiker72 says:

    I guess it is not so much for a ‘thing’ to acknowledge its limits as it is for us, as human individuals, to do so. I didn’t phrase that properly. It is human beings that create systems — of thought, of perception, and of social organisation — and I guess it is up to us to recognise our own limits as well!

    Thanks for your comment.

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