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Willingness to Squint







The image to the rightmost side of the banner up top is one I created as a visual referent for an idea that I call the willingness to squint.  I find the idea a necessary parallel to a surplus of meaning, and I am indebted in the naming of this idea to many conversations and great times with educator and social justice advocate Jacob Waxman of Boston, MA.

The image, if you have not yet seen it, is an inverted, cropped, pixelated, version of Alexander Gardner’s famous 1863 portrait of Abraham Lincoln.  It can best be seen when squinting, and some may have still have a difficulty seeing it unless it is viewed “correctly” right-side-up.

What I’m after here is the fact that the effort of squinting to “clarify” the image is on the viewer to do, and that when it is done, though the vision is blurring, the referent is becoming clearer.  The argument could readily be made that the image isn’t Lincoln, but rather a collection of 200 or so square pixels.  In this vein, the problem at hand has been present in art and aesthetic theory for years, peaking perhaps with Rene Magritte’s The Treachery of Images.

I use the Squint image to show, by extension, the ways in which the world can become hollow if we focus only on the exterior existence of things.  Were someone to make the “it is only 200 squares” argument, they’d be right in concrete terms but they’d be denying the meaning the squares could represent.  I do not believe that the squares must be made to resemble Lincoln, though the refusal to squint is an interesting issue.

To deny the image beyond is to deny metaphoric, and consequently, diaphoric language. Conversely though, making the choice to alter one’s perception/perspective does not guarantee new meaning.  Sometimes squinting just makes things blurry.  The work before us it seems is to discern where and when the times will rise in which we would be of service to offer an interpretation of the image beyond, to offer readings that open into prophetic and theopoetic spaces rather than prescriptive and prosaic-logical schemas.