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Object Stares Back

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  259 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
This arresting, provocative book on how we see--reminiscent of Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses--mixes science, philosophy, psychology, and art history, and offers startling, insightful observations likely to alter forever the way we perceive the world. 87 photos & illustrations.
Hardcover, 271 pages
Published January 1st 1996 by Simon & Schuster
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(showing 1-30)
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Jun 19, 2015 Jaclyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book about the act of seeing and how it affects both the object seen and the one seeing. Very philosophical at parts, and he had some interesting points about how opting not to see (i.e. with sexually charged objects) is itself a way that the act of seeing transforms both subject and object.

Lots to digest and I think I would have enjoyed this book best in a university class, with a professor parsing the ideas down for us, and classmates bouncing insights off each other.
Jan 19, 2012 Patricia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There are no words for how much I disliked this book.
Apr 20, 2015 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm glad I read The Object Stares Back. It's beautifully but densely written and I confess I didn't work as hard at understanding the book as it merited. I decided to read it with the attitude that if I took away two or three ideas it would be worth my time. The book is about how we see, seeing as a selective act (for example when we walk into a room to actually see anything we have to not see everything around it), seeing as an aggressive act, as a reductive act. How people in different culture ...more
Apr 24, 2011 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philosopher Immanuel Levinas in arguing against the primacy of "being" in favor of ethics was once asked, "Attention to the other, can it be taught?" He replied, "In my view, it is awakened in the face of the other." Elsewhere he said, "The face is underneath the 'face' one puts on things." The questions of obligation and desire that spin off from this almost spiritual stance form the substance of art historian James Elkins' essays on sight collected in The Object Stares Back.

Elkins is clear and
Sep 05, 2013 Jesse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was intrigued to find an art historian discussing the concept and implications of seeing. This book gave me lots to think about.

In the opening paragraph of his Introduction, Elkins proposes a generic assumption about using our eyes: "At first, it appears that nothing could be easier than seeing. We just point our eyes where we want them to go, and gather in whatever there is to see. Nothing could be less in need of explanation. The world is flooded with light, and everything is available to b
Abner Rosenweig
Jan 16, 2016 Abner Rosenweig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Elkins provides a sensitive, literate inquiry. By paying careful attention to language, he almost transcends the linear logic of prose to get at the complex, ambiguous nature of seeing. Sometimes he writes in a free, stream-of-consciousness way, and his musings can become oddly tangential, but he's always honest, humble, and sincere, and often he pierces through the obvious to capture the subtle ineffability of his subject.

Some of the most stimulating parts of the book for me were the discussio
Jul 13, 2007 Dave-O rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Elkins' thoughts on sight and seeing is a multifaceted deconstruction on how we view and are viewed by objects we encounter. It's a subject that we take for granted and draw large assumptions about. Elkins proposes seeing as a metaphor for the life cycle: we awake groggy-eyed like a newborn, go through our day with vigor and energy observing and absorbing, and return to darkness in sleep like blindness and death.

Tied together with many personal anecdotes with flowing use of language, the book is
May 04, 2009 Z rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished reading The Object Stares Back; On the Nature of Seeing by James Elkins. It’s a very interesting bit of philosophical work about eyes and vision. I really enjoyed it. I am very happy I stumbled across it at that book sale at the Oglethorpe library. I suggest it to anyone who might enjoy exploring the links between thought and vision and other such things.

Certain parts of it hit me more than others. I took the liberty of underlining those parts. If you own the book and are not bor
Feb 15, 2010 Guy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A very thought-provoking book, that I promise will leave you wondering and thinking about what you see--and don't see--in your everyday environment. Part philosophy, part psychology, and part neuroscience, this book never ventures into territory too far beyond the author's expertise (art history and criticism) but opens up new vistas for those of us interested but not experts in those fields. I found it fascinating--and be patient: the difficult first chapter is by far the hardest part. Slog thr ...more
Sep 28, 2008 Conor rated it it was ok
Recommended to Conor by: Myopic Books
Shelves: read-non_fiction
This might be a good complementry text for a 200 level college course on a lot of things, but it wasen't the phenomenology of vision or the neurological study of it I was hoping for.

It definitly has those elements, but falls far short of being as challenging as some of the books and thinkers if refrences. Moreover, since neurology and neuropsycology are such fast moving fields now, the book could stand an update.

I might loan it to someone if they're curious about vision but don't know where to s
Jan 13, 2014 Vin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fairly dry, philosophical look at the nature of "vision & seeing." There were some interesting parts, particularly the chapter on Faces. But to me this seemed like "seeing for pussies." I take a pretty unflinching look at the world (and death and genitals and the sun), so this seems like a lot of extra fluff. Also I'm one of those weirdos who is more "auditory" than "visual" so the two paragraphs about noise & hearing were quite interesting.
Jan 06, 2016 Ashley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Object Stares Back, was a required reading for an Anthropology course I recently took. I absolutely loved this book, and it has inspired me to begin reading more non-fiction science books. :) You will learn how to better see the world around you. My favorite part about this book is the fascinating photographs, as well as Elkins' writing style. 10/10.
Jan 10, 2011 Murray rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first was reading this book I did not enjoy it and found it a little tedious. But now, even years later, I find myself remembering and sharing many of the things discussed in this book. It changed the way I thought about a lot of things. Every time I hear the phrase "Just looking" I think about this book.
Feb 10, 2010 Anda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I liked a few chapters a lot. Very philosophical and reminded me of my college days studying art history. But a bunch of this book was muddled junk and not worthy of more than skimming. Some chapters were 5 stars and others were 1 star, so I gave it an average rating. I might be a little harsh because I'm obsessed with good art history writing.
Tara Brabazon
Apr 06, 2011 Tara Brabazon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that questions the processes involved in seeing and understanding. Elkins' task is to problematize the supposed ease at which we see. Most fascinating is how Elkins argues that blindness is attendant to seeing. This is a highly interdisciplinary monograph of great use in not only Art History, but Media Studies, Cultural Studies and media literacy paradigms.
Jan 10, 2017 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An analysis on the impact and implications of seeing, the book is an incredibly interesting perspective on vision. Though he forms his ideas from medical and psychological facts as well as much philosophy, John Elkins is frequently loftily intellectual in his writing in an incredibly thoughtful way.
Apr 15, 2009 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thanks to Fiona for this one! Another studio reference. I am endlessly facinated by how our physical senses acting as filters impact our deeper understanding of the world and our beliefs. This attempts to explore what we see when we see.
Dec 03, 2007 Linda rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: deep see people
had to stop for a while on this one - takes time to absorb and digest. Meditative in parts.
"Seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer."
I like to go back to this one from time to time and catch a little more...i want to be certain i really SEE it.
Apr 10, 2011 Jenn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible read for anyone who's interested in the theory of sight, perception, and cognition. As a poet, it's a beautiful book full of inspiration to look at everything from a different angle and deeply.
Aug 29, 2007 Derek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is very heavy. It is difficult to understand. I have to re-read everything many times. there are many tough concepts that are difficult for me to wrap my mind around.
That said...
I love it!
Farhan Hussain
Nov 20, 2013 Farhan Hussain rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting ideas
Apr 17, 2011 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was part of my visual communication and culture syllabus. I LOVED this book. Elkins has a cool conversational tone... and its as much philosophical as it is instructional.
Nov 28, 2008 Rob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In The Object Stares Back, Elkins will change the way you see the world, and pretty much blow your mind.
Sam Bruskin
Mar 12, 2013 Sam Bruskin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i want to add that this is one of the scariest books i've ever read. he does go as deep as the intricate relation been the photograph and death.
Apr 03, 2007 Jackye marked it as to-read
lisa long
A superb piece of interdisciplinary writing, wide-ranging and intimate. Would make good reading in a Gallatin class.
Some very interesting insights into sight ;-)
Sarah Canavan
Oct 27, 2007 Sarah Canavan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: things with eyes!
this was awesome!
Jun 21, 2007 Ali6 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Got bored with this book and didn't finish it.
Colleen rated it liked it
Oct 29, 2012
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James Elkins (1955 – present) is an art historian and art critic. He is E.C. Chadbourne Chair of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also coordinates the Stone Summer Theory Institute, a short term school on contemporary art history based at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
More about James Elkins...

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“In my living room there are two large bookcases, each one eight feet tall, and they have about five hundred books between them. If I step up to a shelf and look at the books one by one, I can remember something about each. As a historian once said, some stare at me reproachfully, grumbling that I have never read them. One may remind me vaguely of a time when I was interested in romantic novels. An old college text will elicit a pang of unhappiness about studying. Each book has its character, and even books I know very well also have this kind of wordless flavor. Now if I step back from the shelf and look quickly across both bookcases I speed up that same process a hundredfold. Impressions wash across my awareness. But each book still looks back in its own way, answering the rude brevity of my gaze, calling faintly to me out of the corner of my eye. At that speed many books remain wrapped in the shadows of my awareness--I know I have looked past them and I know they are there, but I refuse to call them to mind.” 10 likes
“Seeing is metamorphosis, not mechanism.” 7 likes
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