REPORT ON SECOND BALVANT PAREKH DISTINGUISHED LECTURE

21 December, 2010

The Second Balvant Parekh Distinguished Lecture on “Image Worlds and Image Wars: Interpreting Global Visual Culture” was delivered by Nicholas D. Mirzoeff, Professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University on 21 December 2010 at Dr. I.G. Patel Seminar Hall, Baroda. The event began with a brief introduction of the Centre by the Director, Prafulla C. Kar. Prof. Sitanshu Yashaschandra spoke briefly about Balvantbhai and his philosophy of sharing. Narendra K. Parekh, Member, Board of Trust expressed the wish to see the Centre facilitating the growth and spread of General Semantics, humanities and allied disciplines in the years to come.  

Nicholas D. Mirzoeff, Narendra K. Parekh and Sitanshu Yashaschandra on the dias

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff’s presentation explored several nuances of visual culture historically with an emphasis on the contemporary phenomenon of a flood of images surrounding and submerging us. As a scholar working on the genealogy of visuality, he presented several images that may make one ask: how can you bear to look at all this? Mirzoeff pointed out that ‘there is no choice’ meaning these visuals are everywhere and they in a way invade the realm of our vision. The visual construction of the social world implies a paradox that the visual culture is everywhere and nowhere at once. It is delusive since one experiences everything not just an observer, but feels as if being in the midst of everything. He dwelled on the efforts to enact the transformation of sight into vision and the transitional phases in spectatorship ranging from the look, gaze, surveillance, observation and the like.  In the imaginings of images, the pictorial and the linguistic elements work in tandem as in the contemporary times one can read the image as a text. Mirzoeff observed that the textuality of images is full of possibilities though there were intellectual debates regarding the collapsing of boundaries between seeing and reading the visual.

Professor Mirzoeff argued that visualizing is not simply the production of objects that are visible. He opined that one of the most striking features of the new visual culture is the growing tendency to visualize things that are not in themselves visual. Allied to this intellectual move is the growing technological capacity to make visible things that our eyes could not see unaided. Our culture is increasingly ruled and shaped by images.  Visual culture focuses on the visual as a place where meanings are created and contested. Visuality is that which renders the process of history visible to power. Discussing public responses to a variety of visuals, Mirzoeff emphasized the fact that there is a kind of insensitivity created by the proliferation of visuals. Visuality visualizes conflicts. He also brought in the idea of power/knowledge into the discussion saying that one sees and understands what it allowed to see. The policing mechanisms operative in and around the visual definitely pose a challenge to the right to look.

Many eminent Barodians, young students and scholars came to listen to Professor Mirzoeff. The Lecture was followed by high tea.