PRINT January 1994


Downcast Eyes

WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF the recent outpouring of books on the subjects of visuality and visual culture? No longer confined to studies of visual art, or to specific visual media such as film, photography, video, or TV, the new studies survey literary and philosophical texts, psychosocial constructions of visual experience, and what might be called “vernacular practices” of the visual in public and private life. Books with such titles as The Dialectics of Seeing, Visual Theory, The Optical Unconscious, Vision and Visuality, Techniques of the Observer, The Reader’s Eye, and Signatures of the Visible line the shelves in bookstores, and refuse to remain in traditional locations like“art history,” “literary criticism,” or “media.”1

It is tempting to characterize this development as a shift from an emphasis on “image culture” to “visual culture,” a transfer of attention from the object of vision

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