"Thought is what sees and can be described visually." --René Magritte in a letter to Michel Foucault.
Visuality can be thought of as sight as a social fact, with its historical techniques and discursive determinations. -- as a set of scopic regimes, of which modernity is one example. (see also vision ) Perspective and Cartesian rationality provided the classical regime of visuality, which was meant to be founded on the geometric certainties of optics.
Sigmund Freud provides a kind of scientific founding myth for the importance of visuality in human society in his exploration of the upright gait. For Freud the assumption of the upright gait made man's genitals, which were previously concealed, visible. (Had women's genitals previously been revealed and were now concealed?) This was accompanied by the devaluation of the intermittent olfactory stimulus which the menstrual process produced on the male psyche, in favor of the continuity of sexual excitation, the founding of the family, and the threshold of human civilization. (Civilization and its Discontents, p. 46-7 n.)(see sexuality.)
One possible contrast to the visual is the order of the sensual, (which distinguishes "seeing" from "viewing.") (see posture )
In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault describes epistemes as systems of visibilities.
According to Gilles Deleuze, "what the Archaeology recognized but still only designated negatively, as non-discursive environments, is given its positive form in Discipline and Punish, a form that haunted the whole of Foucault's work: the form of the visible, as opposed to the form of whatever can be articulated." (Foucault, p.32) In Discipline and Punish, Foucault overcomes this apparent dualism, through the coupling of knowledge and power. If knowledge consists of linking the visible and the articulable, power and knowledge presuppose and constitute each other. (see visible/articulable)
Conrad Fiedler's aesthetic of "visibility" is based on Kant's distinctions between two different modes by which we come to terms with reality: perceptual and conceptual cognition.Jonathan Crary reminds us that "visual modernism took shape within an already reconfigured field of techniques and discourses about visuality and an observing subject." (Suspensions of Perception, intro. p. 6)
Has the era of visible technologies (the machine) been superseded by the era of invisible technologies?
For Paul Virilio, electronic images are "a new form of visibility...replacing the electrification of towns and of the countryside...no longer an image in the representational meaning of the term, but another light, an electronic lighting." ("The Work of Art in the Electronic Age", Block 14, 1988) In Teletheory, Gregory Ulmer proposes videocy (not vidiocy) as the next step in the lineage of orality and literacy. The sheer volume of new technologies devoted to the transfer, transmission, and production of graphics and visual imagery would appear to have given rise to a new cognitive field.