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Stories of the eye/I: Visual arts and the crisis of the subject of vision in Western philosophy

Traverso, Antonio J. (2003) Stories of the eye/I: Visual arts and the crisis of the subject of vision in Western philosophy. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis discusses philosophical and artistic subversions of the Western epistemological paradigm known as ocularcentrism, which maintained its dominance from ancient to modern philosophical thought. This model implied the establishment of the primacy of vision to the detriment of other aspects of human experience. Some crucial ideological and ethical consequences of this bias include the metaphysical split between subject and object, the metaphor of thought as an abstract non-sensorial vision, and the estrangement of the subject from the lifeworld of the community and its confinement in the observation tower of solipsism.

Because concepts of vision and subject were always intimately intertwined, it may appear as if the recent dethroning of this metaphysical dictate had motivated for the first time the collapse of the Western model of subject as individual observer. However, the thesis supports the view that the ocularcentric model of knowledge while unmistakably hegemonic was never all-pervasive and that, far from constituting a recent theme, the crisis of the subject of vision has always been a foundational element in Western philosophical thought.

Consequently, the thesis claims that there have been alternative understandings of vision coexisting in critical tension with the hegemonic model. A gradual opening of vision has tended to reincorporate temporality and worldly involvement to produce embodied vision.

The thesis goes on to argue that the reconsideration of vision in terms of its opening, in both earlier and more recent philosophical articulations of subjective experience, becomes productive when applied to the analysis of visual art in which visual detachment and subjective stasis open up to embodiment and temporality. The thesis demonstrates this through the critical interrogation of a series of visual representations of the subject of vision, from Renaissance self-portraiture to contemporary cinematic, digital, and photographic-performative visual art. The thesis offers analyses of Albrecht Diirer's portraits, the films of Andrey Tarkovsky, political digital art produced in Australia and England in the late 1990s, and visual body art from the period of Chile's military dictatorship.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to author: if you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library’s Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Grehan, Helena
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