Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 6 No. 11, May 2002



Cathryn Vasseleu

When Too Many Puns Are Never Enough:

A Response to Wurgaft's and Shaw's Reviews of _Textures of Light_




Benjamin Wurgaft

'How Heavy Light Can Be'

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 6 no. 9, May 2002


Joshua Shaw

'Struggling to See the Light'

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 6 no. 10, May 2002


_Textures of Light_ is a book that has inspired more than its fair share of puns. I am pleased, four years after its publication, to be able to make light of the titles of two reviews that sport a couple more. It is also gratifying to see that the book has received such different treatment by Benjamin Wurgaft and Joshua Shaw -- aside, that is, from their common penchant for titles with dubious puns. It is the *raison d'etre* of book reviews to promote the reading and discussion of books themselves, and Joshua Shaw's review is as boisterous as Benjamin Wurgaft's is generous in their framing along these lines.


At the time that I was writing this book it was being argued (most comprehensively by Martin Jay) that a variety of critiques -- including those of Irigaray, Levinas, and Merleau-Ponty -- had contributed to a loss of faith in the epistemological powers of vision. For me, these critiques demonstrated that when the beams of knowledge begin to peter out, the task of creative visualisation is taken up by some philosophers as much as it is by some artists and scientists. Amid debates about machine vision, optico-electronic tele-communication, and the virtuality of media, others have reinforced the merits of taking this position in relation to these philosophers. Irigaray's contribution to the history of ideas about light and vision is now being regarded as such, and taught to student artists and architects; and the work of Levinas and Merleau-Ponty is considered at length in discussions about the haptics of technologically-mediated vision. At the same time philosophy, or any one philosopher, should never be regarded as a stop-gap for what is perhaps the hardest task of every discipline (including philosophy). That task, which no discipline can do on its own, is the generation of space for the ongoing rethinking of its own grand narratives and basic concepts.


Joshua Shaw's comment that I show 'how vision is dependent on, but not necessarily reducible to, the texture of light or the touch of light on the eye' is not quite accurate, particularly the suggestion that I equate the texture of light with the touch of light on the eye (see the first paragraph, and also the last paragraph of section 2 of his review). However I am grateful to him for making these comments, not least because they give me the opportunity to try and clarify what textures I am referring to in _Textures of Light_. I actually say that when vision is conceived of in terms of an opposition between the intelligible and the sensible, the point at which light contacts the eye is the point where it loses its intelligibility, and becomes associated with the non-rational subjection to feelings such as being penetrated, dazzlement, ecstasy, and pain. This for me is a complicated scenario that reflects the entanglement of touch within the history of metaphysical vision.


The touch of light that is limited only to the eye, in this reductive way, is my point of departure for a re-negotiation of tactility first, and its connections to vision second -- through an interpretation of Irigaray's readings of Merleau-Ponty's and Levinas's readings of this history. These multiple readings in themselves represent a labyrinthine structure to negotiate. In response to discussions of the book's structure in both reviews -- the way I tackled it was to discuss Irigaray's work in relation to metaphysics in the introductory and concluding chapters, and her readings of Merleau-Ponty and Levinas in the final sections of each of the central parts of the book. These central parts are otherwise devoted to themes in Merleau-Ponty's and Levinas's work, respectively, that are relevant to my broader argument.


To my knowledge, Irigaray does not refer to 'the texture of light', or discuss such a thing in relation to her own project. It is the book's premise that each philosopher presents a light of a different texture, in their own way, through their varied considerations of the correlations and lapses between touch and vision. This brings me to Benjamin Wurgaft's question about Levinas's place in the book. Wurgaft's question follows from his insight that Levinas's inclusion may appear odd, given the turn away from visuality in his ethical philosophy. I thank Wurgaft for recognising the need to ask and address this question in the interests of clarifying my aims. Levinas is indispensable to my comparative analysis of tactility and its relation to an ethics of vision, not only for his account of the caress (as Wurgaft points out), but also, I would like to add, for his critique of Merleau-Ponty. My own reading of a tiny fragment of the ongoing history of philosophy -- just two essays by Irigaray -- involved piecing together some of the not always discernible threads of a much richer conversation between these three philosophers (and many others) about metaphysics and its ends.


University of Technology

Sydney, Australia



Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 2002


Cathryn Vasseleu, 'When Too Many Puns Are Never Enough', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 6 no. 11, May 2002 <>.





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