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Materiality Lost: The Gaze’s Transformative Power

In the epoch of contemporary aesthetics, the pervasive notion extols the supremacy of vision, divorcing the corporeal self from the richness of olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and auditory realms. The intricate dance of light with objects begets an illusion of autonomy, eclipsing the profound joy inherent in multisensory engagement—a call for a sensory renaissance.


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Within the realm of contemporary aesthetics, an omnipresent conjecture asserts the preeminence of vision vis-à-vis its sensory counterparts, ascribed to its intrinsic predisposition for detachment from corporeal objects. This philosophical stance contends that the ocular faculty establishes an ostensibly abstract and purely theoretical rapport with the external milieu, a relational dynamic facilitated by the ethereal essence inherent in light. In his seminal opus, “Lectures on Aesthetics,” the venerable Hegel illuminates our intellectual purview by elucidating the proposition that light, in its quintessentially immaterial incarnation, confers upon objects an autonomy and freedom that is both concomitant and simultaneous, effulgent and pervasive, without the deleterious effect of their consumptive dissolution. This unwavering focus on sight, to the marked detriment of olfaction, gustation, tactility, and audition, has engendered a profound impecuniosity in our corporeal connections with the ambient world within the paradigm of our cultural milieu. As the act of visual scrutiny burgeons into ascendancy, the corporeal instantiation undergoes a metamorphosis, divesting itself of its substantiality and transmuting into an illusory semblance.

The pronounced ascendancy of sight within our cultural zeitgeist, orchestrated to the deliberate exclusion of olfaction, gustation, tactility, and audition, has precipitated an inexorable degeneration in the fabric of our embodied relationships. As the gaze ascends, the corporeal realm, with inexorable gradation, forfeits its substantive corporeality, undergoing a transmutation into a mere simulacrum. This radical alteration is instigated by the preferential elevation accorded to visual stimuli, thereby obfuscating the variegated richness and profound depth inherent in sensory encounters proffered by the residual faculties.

Numerous concomitant elements contribute substantively to the ascendant eminence of vision within the aesthetic paradigm of our contemporaneous epoch. Vision, by its very ontological nature, is inherently objective in virtue of its interaction with the cosmos through the intermediary of luminescence. The ethereal tenor of light affords objects a state of existential autonomy while concurrently suffusing and elucidating them. This unique interaction with the iridescence of light imparts to vision a discernible detachment from the corporeal essence of objects, fostering a milieu conducive to reflective and speculative engagements of a heightened intellectual caliber.

Spatial cognition, in no uncertain terms, constitutes a considerable advantage conferred upon vision within the tapestry of sensory perception. The ocular apparatus’s discernment of depth, distance, and perspective bestows upon the percipient an exhaustive apprehension of the cosmos. Through the medium of visual observation, one can navigate the complex spatial tapestry, comprehending the spatial juxtapositions and interrelationships among objects, the choreography of their spatial alignments, and the intricate dance of forms and configurations. These perceptual insights, replete with ontological profundity, bestow upon vision an air of supremacy and a vantage of privileged eminence within the sensory hierarchy.

Yet, this heightened ocular prowess does not transpire without attendant repercussions. The disproportionate emphasis on vision engenders a tangible estrangement from the corporeal milieu, sundering the intimate affiliations between the corporeal vessel and its circumambient environs. In a societal milieu under the hegemony of visual predilections, the sensorial experiences of olfaction, gustation, tactility, and audition are relegated to the margins, consigned to an undervalued status. The corporeal entity, erstwhile the vanguard of sensory entanglements, detaches itself from its immediate vicinities and adopts the mantle of a passive spectator upon the stage of the world.

This dematerialization of the corporeal entity, a consequence writ large, exerts a palpable influence on our existential odyssey. Once an active participant in the grand tapestry of existence, the corporeal self metamorphoses into a passive recipient of visual data. The haptic gratifications derived from the gentle caress of a textured fabric, the olfactory delectations attendant upon the inhalation of the redolent effluvia of freshly baked bread, the resounding sonority of a melodious composition coursing through one’s veins, and the gustatory rapture derived from the savoring of a palatable repast, all bow in deference to the visual hegemony.

I stand acutely cognizant of the ramifications consequent to this visual hegemony. Notwithstanding my profound esteem for the capacity of visual artistry to foment intellectual arousal and solicit introspection, my perspicuity impels me to articulate the imperativeness of reestablishing equilibrium, of reintegrating a more all-encompassing communion with our sensory faculties. Only through the symbiosis of manifold sensory modalities may we veritably fathom the profundity and intricacy inherent in the human experiential tapestry.

By according due recognition to and embracing the multisensorial fabric of our perceptual apparatus, we transcend the limitations of a vision-centric aesthetic. This paradigmatic transmutation avails art the opportunity to engage the entire spectrum of our sensory proclivities. Artisans, in this reconfigured milieu, can conceive and realize immersive installations that concurrently titillate multiple senses, beckoning us beyond the confines of the ocular and beckoning us toward an integrated odyssey with their oeuvre.

Furthermore, the quotidian tapestry of our lives stands to reap substantial benefits from a rekindled appreciation for senses beyond sight. In actively engrossing ourselves with the cosmos through the kaleidoscope of our sensory perceptors, we cultivate a heightened consciousness, forging sturdier filaments binding us to our circumambient environs. The savoring of nature’s aromas, the discernment of the intricate textures woven into the physical fabric of the world, the attunement of our auricular faculties to the symphonic panorama of sounds encapsulating us, and the gustatory dalliance with the diverse flavors enriching our culinary exploits all constitute the tapestry of experiential joys, reclaiming for us the opulence latent within the sensory realm and the reclamation of our corporeal existence.

The salience and efficacy of visual artistry in the articulation of ideas, emotions, and narratives notwithstanding, the contemplation of this discourse propels me to champion a paradigm of aesthetics that encompasses the entire gamut of sensory experiences. Art, in its transcendent capacity, possesses the ability to surmount the limitations imposed by a singular sense, evolving into a multisensorial tapestry that reverberates harmoniously through the entirety of our being.

The contemporary aesthetic predilection for prioritizing vision over other senses, with its concomitant repercussions—viz., the attenuation of corporeal connections and the atrophy of substance—is palpable. However, the acknowledgment of the distinctive qualities and contributions inherent in each sense augurs for the restoration of equilibrium and the espousal of a more holistic aesthetic disposition. The rekindling of connections with the world, the reinvigoration of corporeal engagements, and the reawakening of the human experience to its fullest magnitude are all predicated upon the integration of diverse sensory experiences. Let us usher in a sensory renaissance wherein the visual is interwoven harmoniously with the olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and auditory realms, permitting art and life to burgeon in their multidimensional splendor.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, “Lectures on Aesthetics” (Germany)
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Phenomenology of Perception” (France)
David Howes, “The Empire of the Senses: A Cultural History of Perception” (Canada)
Don Ihde, “Sensory Experience and the Metropolis: On the Jacobean Sense of Sight” (United States)
Mark Paterson, “The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects, and Technologies” (United Kingdom)
Laura U. Marks, “The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses” (Canada)
David Michael Levin, “The Philosopher’s Gaze” (United States)
Elizabeth Grosz, “Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism” (Australia)
Jean-Luc Nancy, “Listening” (France)
Alva Noë, “Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain. Biology of Consciousness” (United States)
David Abram, “The Spell of the Sensuous” (United States)