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To look and see and not agree

The inventor of "alternative looking" must have been the first man to come up with the shattering notion that somebody else might just possibly have a different point of view from his own. I feel sure he must have had severe doubts on the subject. Wouldn't it mean that his own viewpoint was somehow suspect? if his view of things was true, how could another, different, view be anything but false? Or vice-versa? Of course it isn't often that other ways of looking at things are actually worthy of much attention. Our own view is virtually always right . . . as I'm sure you will agree. (If you don't, I shall take no notice anyway.) So "alternative looking" may have had a rather rocky beginning. Since then, however, it has gained much ground, and today if you don't look at the world in a way that is radically divergent from everyone else then you are liable to be thought at best a poor conversationalist and at worst an unoriginal dim-wit.

After all, if someone puts forward a strong case for looking at something in a particular way, and you say, "yes, yes, that's exactly the way I see it," you have produced a sure-fire talk-stopper. Perfect accord kills communication dead. the trouble with the world today is that people don't communicate. We need to communicate in order to understand each other's differences. But if we don't have any differences in the first place, what on earth is the point of communicating? The great thing, then, is to foster differences as much as possible so as to make communication meaningful. Different points of view keep the art of communication alive. . . .

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"Alternative looking" -- think of its possibilities. If someone looks at the world the right way up, try looking at it upside down. If they look through rose-tinted spectacles, look through blue. Try a worm's eye view. A bird's eye view.

Have you ever thought how dully most of us look around us? We just look at things. We could look through, look into, look towards, look up to, look out of , look under, look over, look back at, look away from, look up from, look down from. Instead of merely looking, why don't we peer, peep, gaze, stare or glance? Goggle, gape or gawk? Spy, speculate, squinny or scan? What we all need is a fresh focus. Inspection, surveillance, observation, perlustration -- all these come under the banner of alternative looking. We can be eagle-eyed, hawk-eyed, fish-eyed, ferret-eyed, ostrich-eyed. . . .

Ostrich-eyed? Certainly. Contrary to centuries of tradition, the ostrich is no head-buryer, no evader of issues. He has the largest eyes of any land animal , and he uses them with periscopic alertness. Thus, presumably, the length of his neck.

The verb "to look" is a strange bird. Perhaps because we use our eyes to catch signals, we also see eyes as signals. Certainly looking denotes not only seeing, but also being seen: we look intently -- so we look intent. We look with surprise, so we look surprised. The subjective and objective are inextricably intertwined in the looking business.

What does a painter do when he is painting a self-portrait? He looks at himself looking at himself. He looks at his look. His eyes meet . . . his eyes. His appearance to himself is directly responsive to the pleasure or displeasure he feels as a result of looking at himself. Like a hall of mirrors this could easily become a chain reaction.he dislikes what he sees, and when he sees his own face not liking what it sees, he likes it even less, and his face shows it. Or he likes what he sees, and the delighted look that instantly suffuses his face, increases his delight, which lights up his face more, and so on. What is extraordinary, either way, is that this reflective process doesn't ultimate in -- explosion.

Perhaps we don't completely, in the end, associate that face in the mirror with ourselves. We eye it as a stranger. It might as well be someone else I'm looking at -- someone intelligent and sensitive, certainly, good-looking like myself, an artist perhaps. . . . I wonder who he is? His head is a great deal smaller than mine. Odd, really.

Amazing. What a sight. There must be something better than looking at that all morning. Is it any wonder Rembrandt looked progressively disillusioned? Looking at yourself isn't nearly alternative enough.


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