This article investigates what Walter Benjamin called “the optical unconscious.” Focusing on photography but taking up representations and visual practices ranging from the frontispiece of Hobbes’s Leviathan to audience interactions with Kara Walker’s 2014 public installation, “A Subtlety,” the article examines both the unconscious impulses and desires that guide visual perception and cases in which visual details are not noted consciously but may nevertheless register affectively. The examples make novel sense of Benjamin’s enigmatic term while revealing how the visual construction of race and sovereignty are intertwined in ways involving not only what affect theorists call “side perceptions” but also the unconscious dynamics charted by Freud.

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.