CFP: Seeing Perception: Images & Texts (Germany) (1/31/06; 11/24/06-11/26/06)

full name / name of organization: 
Dr. Silke Horstkotte
contact email: 

Seeing Perception: Images & Texts (Universität Leipzig, Germany, 24-26
November 2006)

Over the past two decades, matters of seeing and visual perception have
garnered increasing critical attention. With good reason, the visual
has come to feature in several different disciplines as well as in
inter- or transdisciplinary perspectives (such as "visual studies" or
"visual culture"): vision can be, and has been, conceptualised as a
philosophical category, as cultural medium of expression, as instrument
and technology of visualization as well as a means of communication.

Turning away from the "denigration of vision in twentieth-century French
thought" (Jay 1993), studies such as Norman Bryson's (1983) monograph on
the "Logic of the Gaze," Brennan and Jay's (1996) collection of essays
on "Vision in Context" and Jonathan Crary's (1999) book on attention
have contributed to highlight the centrality of visual perception in all
areas of Western culture. A majority of contributions to the field
follow a Foucauldian trajectory in stressing the constructed and
ideological nature of seeing. As Crary puts it, "vision ... is embedded
in a pattern of adaptability to new technological relations, social
configurations, and economic imperatives" (13). On the other hand,
however, James Elkins has described seeing as

irrational, inconsistent, and undependable. It is immensely troubled,
cousin to blindness and sexuality, and caught up in the threads of the
unconscious. Our eyes are not ours to command; they roam where they
will and then tell us they have only been where we have sent them. No
matter how hard we look, we see very little of what we look at. ...
Seeing is like hunting and like dreaming, and even like falling in love.
It is entangled in the passions – jealousy, violence, possessiveness;
and it is soaked in affect – in pleasure and displeasure, and in pain.

As Elkins' title, "The Object Stares Back," implies, there exists a
reciprocal and indeed dialogical relation between spectator and object:
"Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the
seer." (11f) Seeing is therefore closely related to matters of power,
of sexuality (Rose), and to identity itself (Silverman).

The conference Seeing Perception attempts an overview over the main
historical lines of methodological research on vision and perception,
and on the multiple "practices of looking" (Sturken and Cartwright), as
well as proposing new directions of research which are in continuation
of, but nevertheless distinct from, those approaches offered by the
visual studies/visual culture paradigm. Not the image as visible
object, but the visual perception framing and surrounding it with its
restless motion and performance constitutes the focal point of this
conference. Visual perception as we conceive of it need not be limited
to the realm of optics and to optical media; it also determines
processes of reading and constructions of time and space, as well as
bodily experience and processes of cognition. The multiple and varied
treatments these topics have received make it necessary to take stock of
the current state of debates surrounding seeing and perception, and to
inquire into their underlying bases. Thus, we are interested in papers
focussing on questions of theory and method (rather than mere case
studies). Participants are invited from the following disciplines and
fields of study: visual studies; art history; film studies; media and
communication; theory of photography; literature; semiotics;
narratology; philosophy.

We currently envision four conference sections:

The relation of spectator and object
Conceptualizing the relation of spectator and object raises questions of
identity and alterity, self and other, as well as inquiring into the
specific nature of seeing and looking. Formulations such as the "gaze,"
Lacanian (Silverman) or not (Bryson 1983, 1988), fixate that relation by
describing looking as a voyeuristic desire that forcefully moves towards
the image and only partially replaces a desired touch with looking.
Bryson's "glance," on the other hand, describes a respectful and
self-reflexive way of looking and thus keeps the relation of spectator
and object in an unfixable motion.
Going one step further, theorists such as George Didi-Huberman, James
Elkins and W.J.T. Mitchell have furnished the image with its own set of
eyes when they imply that images can be organisms with their own
peculiar life and an at times threatening activity. Gottfried Boehm's
(2004) recent postulate of a new definition of the image no longer
orients itself towards a frame, limiting part or detail, but rather
centres on the intentional focus which the spectator directs at an
imaging field. Conversely, images, with their ordered visuality, can
seem to be 'alive' or even 'look back' at the spectator. We invite
papers that critique the dynamic and dialogical formulation of the
relation between spectator and object, or papers focusing on the
questionable agency of the object.

Pragmatics of the image
It is well known that images can not only be looked at or perceived, but
also touched, used, painted over or destroyed (Freedberg). This line of
research has received increased attention through the study of new media
and media art, of computer games and every kind of interactive image
use. Such a pragmatics of the image is concerned with images as
objects, as well as images as action, event or experience, as creation,
configuration or as a deconstruction of identity (and of alterity). At
the same time, this approach stresses that logical differentiations
between image and medium rely on a concept of perception which includes
imagination, memory, and other practices of image production in which
all meaning-making processes relating to images are based. In this
context, we would like to query how far images can be said to steer or
control perception, and how images translate perception into physical
reactions, social gestures and pragmatic actions.

Perspectives on focalization
The concept of focalization, drawn from narratological theory (Genette),
is one of the key issues in theories geared towards a transmedial
narratology in the sense of a set of universal, media-independent tools
of interpretation. Through its basis in the notion of perspective,
focalization is associated with matters of vision; it has therefore been
proposed as a concept bridging textuality and visuality (Bal), and has
been tentatively used as a tool for analyzing visual artifacts (Yacobi
2002) as well as ones that combine the visual and the verbal
(Horstkotte). However, it remains to be seen in how far focalization
can serve to grasp the inherent problematic of seeing and the visual, or
if it remains a metaphor for more traditional (or simple technical)
concepts such as perspective. In particular, concepts of a 'visual'
focalization will have to explain how different narrative agents
(author, narrator, focalizor) can be separated if we move from the
textual to the iconic paradigm. The distinction between focalizor and
narrator is crucial in narrative; in visual art, however, it is not
always possible to clearly discriminate between a narrative agent and
the represented perspective. How, then, can we move beyond the
constrictions inherent in an overtly technical concept of perspective,
and how can narratological categories such as focalization help us in
analyzing modes of perception both within the image and circulating
around it?

Describing seeing, describing images
The ways in which images are perceived in Western culture are
inextricably linked with verbal and textual structures and ways of
thinking. If words can "cite," but never "sight," as W.J.T. Mitchell
(1994) has it, how can the verbal paradigm deal adequately with matters
of vision and perception? We invite participants to inquire into what
Tamar Yacobi (2000) has termed "interart narrative;" moreover, we are
interested in approaches linking images and texts, as each other's
"other," beyond classical traditions of ekphrasis.

Please email paper proposals (300 words), accompanied by a short bio, by
31 January 2006.
Dr. Silke Horstkotte, Universitaet Leipzig (
Dr. Karin Leonhard, Universitaet Eichstaett-Ingolstadt

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Received on Mon Dec 05 2005 - 13:14:54 EST