Monday, May 25, 2009

John Berger's "Seeing comes before words"

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But, there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled”.

“We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach – though not necessarily within arm’s reach. To touch something is to situate oneself in relation to it. We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves. Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are.

Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen. The eye of the other combines with our own eye to make it fully credible that we are part of the visible world.

If we accept that we can see that hill over there, we propose that from that hill we can be seen. The reciprocal nature of vision is more fundamental than that of spoken dialogue. And, often dialogue is an attempt to visualise this – an attempt to explain how, either metaphorically or literally, ‘you see things’ and an attempt to discover how ‘he sees things’. ”*

*Berger, John Ways of Seeing, British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, 1972

Photo : Dhuba Ati Gaon in Assam

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