The experiences which the myth of Hermes relates concern that strange relation between understanding the natureof our engagement with art and coming to understand the character of our predicament as human beings: ourperpetual need for understanding and guidance, our sense of trying to find, follow and keep to a path, theexperience of 'being-drawn-on', of 'being-excited-by' the anticipation of where a dedicated route might take usand, finally, the realisation that as human beings we too are not unlike Hermes who is always on the waysomewhere but with no place of his own to finally dwell in.It is not inappropriate that in order to convey his message to mortals, Hermes used words which, like the gods, arenotoriously difficult to define. Both extendand change their meaning through time and, for some, that ambiguousness is the precondition of literary accuracy.Pannenberg's comment that 'it is only because the words of a language are incompletely defined that propositionscan be formulated with precise definition' encapsulates a potential philosophy of poetry.
The realms of visionoffer analogous instances of this fertile relationship between the clear and the opaque.Alexander Baumgarten, a poet as well as a philosopher, demonstrated how the clarity of a foreground image isdependent upon a
a bringing together, of ambiguous background elements.
Understanding or comingto 'see' what a work addresses is for Baumgarten a hermeneutical phenomenon in that such 'seeing' is madepossible by a secondary field of pre-given understandings or contexts. Nietzsche and Gadamer, respectively, usethe optical terms 'perspective'
when speaking of such fields. Optical scienceeven refers to the capacities of peripheral vision to sharply delimit an object of attention. Indeed, Merleau-Pontyencapsulates the point eloquently when he comments, 'The horizon«is what guarantees the identity of the objectthroughout the exploration [of the gaze].'
The analogous relationship between a word and its semantic field and a seen object and its visual horizon reflectsthe astounding double valence of words which describe perception and cognition. We see an object and yet
ordo not see what a person is getting at. We strive to be as
as we can. If an argument is
we might endeavour to throw some
upon it, hoping to achieve an
insight.A surface may offer a cloudy reflection whilst our
prejudice. We even speak of having our
to a problem so that we might subsequently arrive at another
.Yet, it might be objected, are we not confusing visually related metaphors with the reality of the visual? Should wenot distinguish more rigorously between the speech-created world and the visual world which begins where theword breaks off?There are certain elementary differentiations between sensible and mental phenomena. The seen physical object isa spatial phenomenon whilst that which I might visualise as a spatial object is not itself a spatial object. Beyondthis, however, it is very difficult to demarcate visual-oriented language from that which is purely mental inreference. Though we might speak loosely of the seen-image, the image is never in fact the visually observedobject. Canvasses may be destroyed but not images. Seeing an image is more an instance of
what isevoked by an art work, of having something brought to the mind's eye. Ludwig Wittgenstein insists that perceptioncontains a thought-element (we see something as) whilst thinking contains a perception-element (we imagineinstances).
Indeed, Wittgenstein's remark reflects an ancient ambiguity.In his analysis of Plato's views of perception
Waterfield argues that ClassicalGreek thought contains no definitive evidence to suggest that terms such as
(that which the mind sees) and
(reflection) were exclusively cognitive or perceptual in reference.
Matters areno clearer in Latin. The term 'vision' is related to the verb
(to see), but to see meant not just to follow withthe eyes but also the seeing of something that becomes visible other than by ordinary sight-hence the terms'visionary' and 'seer'.The impossibility of a strict division between perceptual and conceptual terminology might be anathema to thosewho seek the security of precise distinctions. However, in the case of aesthetics, as Baumgarten reminds us,
is of the essence not because aesthetic experience is a tiresome muddle but because it is a productivebringing together, a confusion of thought and perception which enables us to
the idea embodied in a work andto
the work as an instance of that idea. Without such a fusing-with, metaphoric transfer would be impossible.To see a set of scales as the symbolic presence of justice requires a capacity to see a given object as an instance of something that in itself it is not (i.e., a general notion). What damage would the illuminating capacity of art thenincur if a strict demarcation between sight and insight were to be imposed?Two things are clear. Art can neither be a matter of merely producing and looking at tactile sensible objects norcan it be turned into the science of ideas which the Cartesians dreamt of. If art were the former, it would be