Joanna Zylinska on The Liberation of the I/Eye: Nonhuman Vision

The term ‘nonhuman vision’ may evoke images of CCTV cameras, Google Street View, satellites and drones – that is, processes of perception in which the very act of seeing is performed by a nonhuman agent. The term may also bring up visual acts where the human is still part of the sighting process: endoscopy, microphotography or even night photography, but where a technical apparatus is needed to access realms that remain hidden from human sight. Yet it is not my aim in this talk to celebrate uncritically any such technological enhancements to, or even replacements for, human vision, because, as Donna Haraway bluntly highlights with reference to examples such as office video display terminals and satellite surveillance systems, ‘Vision in this technological feast becomes unregulated gluttony’. Technologically enhanced vision is therefore still human, and most definitely humanist, in that it only reinforces the visual ego-mastery of the observer: it is like the eye of a general scanning the battlefield, only better.

However, just as it is not my intention to gush over technological enhancements to human vision, neither is it to promote any kind of visual luddism as yet another instalment in man’s (or woman’s) struggle against technology. So, even though this talk starts from looking at the machinic aspects of vision that challenge the limitations of the human senses and that produce images which defy human perception, it proposes the concept of ‘nonhuman vision’ as a politico-ethical response to what Haraway calls the god-trick of infinite perception, a gaze of domination and occupation ‘seeing everything from nowhere’. As well as being about perception and vision, my talk will therefore also be about viewpoints, that is about actual points and positions from which what we humans refer to as ‘the world’, or ‘the environment’, is apprehended and from which storied about this world (and about ourselves in this world) are narrated.


Joanna Zylinska is Professor of New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. The author of five books – including Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene (Open Humanities Press, 2014; e-version freely available), Life after New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process (with Sarah Kember; MIT Press, 2012) and Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT Press, 2009) – she is also a co-editor of the JISC-funded project Living Books about Life, which publishes online books at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences. Her translation of Stanislaw Lem’s major philosophical treatise, Summa Technologiae, came out from the University of Minnesota’s Electronic Mediations series in 2013. Zylinska is a co-editor of Culture Machine, an open-access journal of culture and theory and a curator of its sister project, Photomediations Machine. She combines her philosophical writings and curatorial work with photographic art practice.

Image credit: Kamila Kuc, 2011, from Photomediations: An Open Book.

Life Online Today & Tomorrow