Alison Ravenscroft's The Postcolonial Eye: White Australian Desire and the Visual Field of Race raises important questions about the limits of 'white' vision, understanding and knowledge in relation to an Indigenous Australian culture and perspective that, in Ravenscroft's words, is 'profoundly, even bewilderingly strange and unknowable within the terms of settlers' epistemologies' (1). In its readings of a selection of Indigenous-authored texts and its analysis of photographs of Indigenous subjects, The Postcolonial Eye productively draws on psychoanalytic and other critical frameworks. Especially key is its use of Lacan's reading of anamorphosis - a projection or perspective that draws attention to a highly contingent and oblique angle within the visual field. In a lecture on art and psychoanalysis, Lacan glossed anamorphosis as 'any kind of construction that is made in such a way that by means of an optical transportation a certain form that wasn't visible at first sight transforms itself into a readable image' (35). A famous example of anamorphosis is the figure of the skull, a memento mori in Hans Holbein's painting 'The Ambassadors' (1533) which, placed at the bottom centre of the composition, is only intelligible from a particular vantage point. For Ravenscroft, anamorphosis is a technique through which we can fathom the 'visual antagonism or non-reciprocity between two points of view' and which, pointing to the 'necessarily partial, incomplete and subjective quality of perception' figures the 'annihilation of ourselves as all-seeing subjects' (22-23). In doing so, Ravenscroft argues for the presence of the 'anamorphotic' in literary texts (Alexis Wright's Plains of Promise and Carpentaria and Kim Scott's Benang in photographs featuring Indigenous people, in Rita Huggins's biographical stories and in Ruth Hegarty's memoir. The latter two texts point, Ravenscroft suggests, to blind spots in the viewing position of white subjects.
Review of The Postcolonial Eye: White Australian Desire and the Visual Field of Race, by Alison Ravenscroft.
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