The Optical Body

  • Suzannah Biernoff
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


W e saw in the last chapter that sight could provide a secure foundation for scientific knowledge by virtue of its privileged relation to the mind and its conformity to mathematical principles. As such, medieval optics played an important part in the rationalisation and disembodiment of vision; distancing the eye from the inchoate and obscuring matter of the flesh. This chapter will approach the optical gaze from a different direction. Instead of asking how Bacon’s optics anticipates modern science, I will consider its residual affinity with carnal vision. Indicative of this affinity between thirteenth-century science and other medieval discourses of vision is the reciprocity implicit in Bacon’s synthesis of intromission and extramission optics; his emphasis on physical contact so that looking becomes analogous to touching; the idea that we are altered in every act of perception; and finally the inescapable presence of ocular desire. In light of these more foreign aspects of the optical gaze, we can begin to rethink the relationship between the subject and object of vision, and between science and sight.


Visible Object Visible World Psychical Distance Oedipus Complex Sensitive Force 
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© Suzannah Biernoff 2002

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  • Suzannah Biernoff

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