Panagia, Davide. “The Viewing Subject”

Panagia, Davide. The Political Life of Sensation. Durham And London, Duke University Press, 2009.

To remember:

  • in producing an effect of ‘seeing,’ the painting in question constitutes itself as a force, thereby distributing a series of visual effects (98).
  • the self-referentiality of representation … insists on an order of mimesis that is not likeness but intensity … ‘representation is the result of contact; vision is touch’ [Marin] (98).
  • assumptions about conceptual artistry … are indebted to a narratocratic regime of perception that presupposes a strict correspondence between human organoleptic arrangements and the creation of ideational artifacts (98).
  • To the extent that political theory is a visual practice, the movements of our eyes, mouths, and hands when reading, speaking, and writing presuppose distinct postures of attention vis-à-vis the world and others (98).
  • [dynamics of capture:] capture complicates the inherited convictions of narrotocracy that sight grants us vision, and, by implication, it also complicates the relationship between viewing and narrative movement (99).
  • there are a multiplicity of habits of viewing that constitute an ethopoesis of the visual (100).
  • scopophilia (the desire to see)
  • it is precisely the absence of action that makes [paintings, other still representations] so significant; in action’s absence another force swarms to fill the void, “the force of painting as a set of colors unleashing visual effects” [Marin] (101).
  • “representation is not so much a distanced contemplation as a potency of effort” [Marin] (103).
  • an engagement with an art object involves an engagement with the dynamics of representation … the “effects of seeing” [Marin] … the effects of viewing–and not simply with the figural representations themselves or the stories that the images might or might not be telling (105-6).
  • In art, and in painting as in music … it is not a matter of reproducing or inventing forms, but of capturing forces” [Deleuze on Bacon] (107).
  • render forces and … make palpability a condition of viewing (108).
  • The disfigured body is a disorganized body, an indistinct or indeterminate body, whose only resource is sensation: “a wave flows through it and traces levels upon it; a sensation is produced when the wave encounters the Forces acting on the body, an ‘affective athleticism’, a screaming breath” (109).
  • this zone of indistinction–where there is a disorganized body whose provisional organization endures only as long as the sensation itself (109).
  • Without the assurance that the eyes grant us sight and our skin offers us touch, we can no longer assume that we know how to read and write, how to tell a story (109).
  • [Deleuze’s] Haptic visuality [:] … the “effects of seeing [Marin] … “opticality” [Fried] … relies on collapsing the experience of seeing and that of touching … but it is also … a mode of perception that, through visual tacticality, makes narrativity insufficient to aesthetic experience [and] compels contact with the patina of the painting; “the viewer perceives the texture as much as the objects imagined” [Deleuze] (109).
  • The difference, then, between haptic and ocular visuality is a matter of degree: whereas in ocular visuality, distance matters, so that the separation between viewer and object viewed is a buffer that supports the certitude of subjectivity itself … in haptic visuality, one relies on that distance in order to collapse it, to bring the body closer to the point of … actually entering the painting (110).
  • the experience of capture results from the separation between the object and the viewing subject (110).
  • The distance that constitutes the practice of viewing … enables its own collapse by capturing the viewer … rendering him or her a “participant in the scene” [Suzuki, The Ring] (111).
  • what is ultimately horrific … is precisely what can be felt but not seen (115).
  • Once we stop reading with our eyes and start touching with our vision, we discover that the film moves along because it is being projected (116).
  • The metaphorical or metaphysical elision of the gap between object and viewer through the metaphorical or metaphysical elimination of the spectator thus crucially produces the eradication of the site of testimony and story-telling … aesthetic experience no longer must be mediated by narrative; rather it is immediate and makes us “a participant in the scene” (118).
  • The ability to combine mimesis and kinesis is guaranteed by, among other things, the interplay of three types of succession: literal, imagistic, and structural (119).
  • The capacity to capture, which contributes to the experience of immediacy, occurs at several levels and through the convergence of multiple organs of perception (119).
  • The narratocratic commitment ultimately overlooks the kinesthetic elements that contribute to organolepsis. [Two problems:] readerly posture of attention is inattentive to the political life of sensation that resides in the dissensual moment of haptic visuality … [and] the reliance on narrative succession as a mode of theoretical engagement is also insufficient given the condition of modern democratic citizenship [citizen as viewing subject, not reading subject] (120).
  • viewing is not limited to mere seeing … viewing is a relay-practice at once internal and supplemental to the regimes of perception that govern visuality (121).
  • There is a presumed correspondence between the eyes and seeing, hands and touching, that delimits the spatiotemporal organization of daily living (121).
  • the privilege given to narrative as the mode of political engagement coincides with an eschatological cosmology that, in turn, rests on a tight set of correspondences between organolepsis and perception (122).

To consume:

  • David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature
  • Louis Marin, To Destroy Painting
  • Deleuze, Francis Bacon, Cinema, Difference and Repetition, “Bartelby; or, The Formula”
  • Laura Marks, “The Skin of the Film”
  • Michael Fried, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration, Absorption and Theatricality, “Barthes’s Punctum”
  • Vivian Sobchak, The Address of the Eye


  • What happens when we operate outside of the narratocratic regime? And is this a characteristic of being human? This want for story? Is it excessive to cast as an oppositional force? Or is it actually imposed/socially constructed?

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