2012-13 Pembroke Seminar

"Economies of Perception"
Timothy R. Bewes
Chesler-Mallow Senior Faculty Research Fellow, Pembroke Center
Professor of English, Brown University

“Economies of Perception”

What are the economic dimensions of perception? Does it make sense to speak of the “distribution” of perception? Is perception anything other than a given of human social existence?

Across the disciplines, contemporary thinkers and scholars are paying renewed attention to perception, in particular, to the economic and political conditions of perception, to the inequalities that are implicit within the category, and to the possibility of forging modes of critical engagement that do not depend upon or reiterate perceptual structures. Recent work on affect and the emotions, on new technologies, on contemporary aesthetics, on the neurosciences, and on the ethics and politics of alterity has found itself increasingly alert to the processes of organization, distribution and individuation that are occluded in any straightforward understanding of subjective perception. 

In 2012-13 the Pembroke seminar explored many aspects of a differentiated approach to the economies of perception. Questions addressed included the following: Can the feminist critique of vision and visuality, and of the implication of a centered, universal subject, be generalized to perception as such? How dependent is the concept of representation on an unreflective understanding of perception? Does a more complex theory of perception require us to dispense with representation entirely? To what extent are challenges to representation explicable as attempts to establish art and literature on grounds other than perception? What forms of dialogue are taking place between current scientific approaches to perception and older philosophical ones, such as Merleau-Ponty’s insistence on the “embodied” quality of all perception, or Bergson’s category of “universal” or “pure” perception? Are there any grounds for discarding what seem to be the very conditions of human social being – the apparatus of self and other –in a new orientation towards or understanding of perception? What are the implications of any such reorientation for political and subjective agency?