In The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, philosopher and architect Juhani Pallasmaa mourns our ocularcentric culture. By ocularcentric, Pallasmaa means a culture made for the eyes, where sight dominates all other senses, where we experience the world through vision alone rather than an integration of all five senses. Pallasmaa argues that second to vision is hearing. The other three senses are ignored almost entirely. This is pretty radical, especially considering that he’s an architect, an occupation focused keenly on the visual experience. And yet, Pallasmaa argues:
Sight isolates, whereas sound incorporates; vision is unidirectional, whereas sound is omni-directional… Sight is the sense of the solitary observer, whereas hearing creates a sense of connection and solidarity. (49-50)
Reading Pallasmaa, I immediately thought of Walter Benjamin and his argument about the end of storytelling, how as a culture, we have lost our memory of oral narrative, which ultimately leads to an inability to communicate orally. Oral stories are grounded in the audio, but even more importantly, they offer a different way of thinking. To tell a story is an art. Whereas I can write novels and short stories galore, I am a terrible storyteller, by which I mean a terrible story-speaker. Why? It’s a way of thinking to which I am utterly unaccustomed. I have grown up in an ocularcentric world, where weight is put on the written word. What is written is powerful. It is permanent. What is spoken is ethereal. It is gone – and forgotten – as soon as it is spoken.