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“Learn to see here, in order to hear elsewhere.

Learn to hear oneself speaking, in order to see what others are doing.

The others, the elsewhere of our here.”

—Anne-Marie Miéville / Jean-Luc Godard, Ici et ailleurs (1976)

We are still trying to learn to see, but now, in light of the previous lessons, the task has become rather more complicated. It is not simply a matter of training our sense of sight, or of exercising care when criss-crossing between words and images. Learning to see involves a more general kind of attentiveness: not only in the self-centered sense of paying attention to what is immediately around us, but also in the more transindividual, decentered sense of finding ourselves in tension with what is not immediately there. Learning to see opens us to our other senses, yes, but it also dislodges us from the present-tense feeling of self-sufficiency and certainty.

The statement from Ici et ailleurs—these are the final lines of the film, spoken by Miéville—is both categorical and circuitous. Unless we learn to see here, we will be unable to hear what is going on elsewhere. (The switch of senses is significant: she does not say that we should learn to hear here in order to hear elsewhere, because what we can hear here is, first of all, simply ourselves.) So unless we learn to hear ourselves—to learn to see the distance between ourselves and our words—we will be unable to get outside our own “here” and learn what others are doing. Finally, unless we learn to encounter that elsewhere and those others, our sense of everything will be faulty. When we ask what it means to understand a “situation,” the twists and turns of this statement should come to mind.

Attentive seeing and hearing is not passive. It does not merely wait for the world to present itself. It goes out from itself, looking and listening, in order to do something with what it sees and hears. Seeing and hearing “pass to the act” only when they involve thinking. Because seeing and thinking do not always become active in this sense, because they do not always involve thinking in this sense, we have to learn how to make it happen.

The philosopher Bernard Stiegler recently told me: “To learn to see, one must learn how to show what one has seen.” This statement succinctly clarifies what is at stake in these lessons: to pass from seeing to showing is to pass—by thinking through images—to an action capable of changing the situation.

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(Does it matter that the elsewhere addressed in the film is called Palestine?

Is Palestine one of our elsewheres, or one of our heres?

What have you heard,

what have you seen,

what do you know,

of the people who live there?)

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