On Almost Bumping Into Someone When Walking Around a Corner

You’re on the way to work, and you’re in a hurry. You walk quickly down the street, focused on getting to your destination.  Then, appearing out of nowhere like an ethical policy in a Conservative party meeting, someone comes from around a corner, walking directly into your path and almost bumping straight into you.

You look at each other, fury in your eyes, and you place the blame on the other individual. Perhaps you even tut, or mutter something to yourself, as you step aside and continue your rushed journey. Perhaps you detect a momentary trace of anger in their face too, and this makes you more annoyed with them. Certainly you feel an (albeit minor) wrong has been committed against you.

But a moment’s reflection as you walk along leaves you feeling a little differently, a little disappointed in yourself for getting so angry, perhaps even a hint of fear that the other person heard your tut, as you realize that they were in precisely the same position as you. The corner has hidden a reality of perspective; you realize that from their perspective, quite literally, you were them, and they were you.


Speaking of perspective in his ground-breaking study of Walter Benjamin called ‘Ways of Seeing’ theorist John Berger comments that:

According to the convention of perspective there is no visual reciprocity. There is no need for God to situate himself in relation to others: he is himself the situation. The inherent contradiction in perspective was that it structured all images of reality to address a single spectator who, unlike God, could only be in one place at one time.

The corner-incident forces the unfortunate bumper into precisely this realization. As you walk away you realize that it has been your mistake to imagine all images of reality, in this case the street you saw in front of you, was addressing you as a single spectator; it was precisely the same for another. But it’s more than just a reminder that you are only one of an infinite number of subjective positions. The incident shows you that at a visual level a trick is played, and that your own way of seeing is constituted by another imaginary one in which the look comes from a privileged and all seeing position.

Lacan explains this way in which your own gaze is constituted by an imaginary all-seeing gaze which precedes the way you yourself see.  This might be thought of as the imaginary third position of the one who has seen the incident coming, from a birdseye view perhaps (situating the all-seeing in the position of God) or perhaps from the subject-position of the viewer in this image:


What this shows you is that even long after God, the way we view our world is still structured by an imaginary omniscient and all seeing Other, which is capable of structuring how we ourselves see. When you bump into someone at the corner, you realize, perhaps unconsciously, that you aren’t in charge of your own perspective.

Its such a big issue, some Japanese architects have designed corners to make it impossible.

If you want to force others into this unsettling experience, you might follow this wiki guide, entitled ‘How To Look Like You’ve Appeared Out of Nowhere’


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