ocularity

The eyes have it.

But do more eyes have more? How many eyes are enough to make what is seen undeniable? With one eye your initial perception is flat. With two eyes you gain depth. But do more than two eyes give more depth? Is it not enough to see both sides of a thing – do you need to know what’s above and below? In front and behind?

A mountain might look like a nose from one angle and a flat face from another. An action might look innocent from one view and guilty from another. Cities now, in the name of safety, are increasing surveillance, extending the eyes with electronic prostheses: security cameras (or should we call them insecurity cameras, since insecurity is what motivates their placement). The theory of this panopticon is that those who know they are being watched – or may be being watched – will behave themselves accordingly. And if they do not behave themselves appropriately, they will be seen and dealt with.

But behaving themselves accordingly does not always mean behaving themselves innocently. Many people, knowing they’re being watched, behave in highly performative ways that are often less innocuous than what they do unseen. This is what drives “reality TV.” But living in a fisheye lens approaches the unreal; we might more insightfully call it hyperreality TV, a performance of reality based only on references to other performances without a reliable real substrate. Sighting is citing and citing is sighting. Who’s watching the watchers? Other watchers, who are themselves being watched. The surface of reality is formed in the seeing of seeing of seeing of seeing, an infinity of angles on exteriors adding up to a whole hologram.

But can you see beyond the surface? What about what’s within? The third eye is for that: the mind’s eye, the inner eye of the mystics, the ajna chakra that turns away from the panoptical hologram and looks towards the eternal essence, or – in a Buddhist view – the eternal lack of fixed and divisible entity. To see with the third eye is to be enlightened. If we are third-eye blind, we want something else to get us through this semi-charmed kind of life. At the very least, a splinter of the mind’s eye might give a glimpse of an alternative universe.

And are all these angles truly giving truth? Or are they all peeking at different realities? Are all these scopes colliding in a kaleidoscope? How many sightings and citings do you need for definition?

What, in synopsis, is the ocularity of the world?

Ocularity, a word you won’t find in Oxford or Merriam-Webster, appears in Wiktionary with the definition “A measure of the number of eyes needed to see something, i.e. monocular or binocular.” Or, I suppose, trinocular or more. But while we know that there are cases where one eye is not enough, what about cases where two eyes are too many? I don’t just mean things visible only with the third eye. Some polarized reflections, iridescent surfaces, and LED Christmas lights don’t present a consistent vision to both eyes at once. And I walk around with my extended eye, my monocle, my extended I, my camera, and I see things with it and through it that I can’t see the same way with my own eyes because of different angles and depth of field and ability to freeze the moment and…

My extended I? I am J, for James; that’s my initial perception. And J, historically, is an extended I; it wasn’t until a couple of centuries ago that we always wrote the consonantal “j” sound with J and the vocalic “i” sounds with I. Before that, they were interchangeable, and so we had just two I’s, and not – as we do now – one I and one extended I, which is J.

And if I add that extended I to ocularity, I get jocularity. But while this is all fun, I’m not joking – I didn’t invent this word. I just find the citing of sighting exciting. I hope you see it the same way.

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