Thinking and the “Violent Visual Impact”

Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word (Eerdmans, 1985), page 221:

We are arriving at a purely emotional stage of thinking. In order to begin reacting intellectually, we need the stimulus of an image. Bare information or an article or book no longer have any effect on us. We do not begin reflecting on such a basis, but only with an illustration. We need violent visual impact if thought is to be set in motion. When we jump from image to image, we are really going from emotion to emotion: our thought moves from anger to indignation, from fear to resentment, from passion to curiosity. In this manner our thought is enriched by diversity and multiple meaning but is singularly paralyzed with respect to its specific efficacy as thought.

One thought on “Thinking and the “Violent Visual Impact”

  1. Very interesting thought on thoughts. I have been experiencing and thinking about this for a few weeks now. I have started to notice how swamped my thinking time has become with multiple images from media (Television, radio, internet, mobile, etc). Meditation, pondering, focussed thinking, had all but disappeared from my life, to my detriment. Problem solving, rational arguments, thought processing abilities had all reduced to the point where theology that I was once confident of knowing had been lost and was difficult to reason. Significant doubts started creeping in, challenging my faith, and I found myself less able to cope with this. It has been a struggle to recover from this and to fight to focus my thoughts once again on one train of thought, at will. Things are starting to improve with practice (meditation/focussed thoughts).

    I am also concerned that, during TV programmes (e.g. documentaries) my emotions are strongly engaged only to be swept away instantaneously by adverts for stuff, then to swing back with the same strong emotion again as the programme resumes. It is a roller-coaster. In order to “cope” with this, I have found myself seeking to dampen my emotions and empathy towards those suffering in the programme. Worryingly, this has dampened my ability to empathise with suffering (and celebrating) people in real life. I find it hard to “weep with those who weep” etc. I have become numb to the emotions of others and my love for them has consequently become colder. This is another fight I am engaged in, choosing not to watch TV so extensively and to silence the TV sound while the adverts are on, choosing instead to pray to God for people who are suffering.

    When we live in a fallen world, we are surrounded by the enemy at all times. We are also fighting the sinful nature within. We need healthy active minds to help us do this effectively. Perhaps this is what God meant when he said “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”. It takes discipline and determination, moment by moment.

    Thank you again for this post. I hope this helps others arrest their cognitively-hijacked thinking before our minds become too dead to be any good.

    C Whitla

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