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Images of Knowledge

The Epistemic Lives of Pictures and Visualisations

Edited By Nora S. Vaage, Rasmus T. Slaattelid, Trine Krigsvoll Haagensen and Samantha L. Smith

The authors consider the relationship between knowledge and image, though multi-faceted, to be one of reciprocal dependence. But how do images carry and convey knowledge? The ambiguities of images means that interpretations do not necessarily follow the intention of the image producers. Through an array of different cases, the chapters critically reflect upon how images are mobilised and used in different knowledge practices, within certain knowledge traditions, in different historical periods. They question what we take for granted, what seems evident, what goes without saying. This approach spans across established categories such as «scientific imaging», «religious images» and «artworks», and considers how images may contribute meaning across such categories.
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On Hands That Make Us See: Tobias Healing His Father’s Blindness


On Seeing, Touching and Knowing

When we talk about images we refer primarily to the sense of sight; an image is a visual object, it is the outward appearance of something. If we follow this notion we could argue that the idea of an image producing knowledge could in fact be reduced to the view that what is seen is known. Seeing has long been associated with knowing, and common phrases we use every day underline this idea: we often say “I see” for “I understand” and “to look into” to mean that we want to comprehend an idea or the way something works. This traditional metaphor, adopted by figures such as Plato and Euclid, stems from the ancient understanding of seeing as a form of touch, namely the extramission theory, a theory of vision which advocated that the eye (or mind) reaches out with rays of light to touch its subject and in turn makes an impression on the viewer.1 In this process, seeing is never a disinterested glance; the viewer is connected to its object in a relationship in which subject and object affect and shape each other. The theory of extramission was held by some up until the seventeenth century and is still embedded in the language we use today.2 The use of the phrases “to grasp an idea” or “to attain knowledge” stemming from the Latin tangere meaning to touch, begin to show the ways in which this tradition has made its...

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