I See, Therefore I Am


Nobody can actually indicate the distance between the moment the person appeared and the moment a sign indicating a person was coined. It—the creation— must have been the subject of a prolonged evolution. This has undoubtedly played a role in shaping human identity (Who am I?) as well as defining communication with others. Man sees and perceives his own body as well as the bodies of others. The body was the first sign of a person. The somatic sphere—the first non-verbal communication (body language, primeval visual communication) did not finish with its external, surface layer, but it expressed the depth of existence, substance, matter, and in due course, psyche and spirit. For some researchers, including Polish theologian and philosopher Czesław Stanisław Bartnik, the body has been an external word (verbum externum), as well as an internal one (verbum internum)[1]. This dualism was clearly visible when language appeared (spoken and with time, written language) and then when pronouns “I” and “we” as well as “you (singular)” and “you (plural)” manifested. They expressed a kind of self-identification; I/me as a subject was distinguished from among all other beings, a sense of transcendence towards whole reality. They served as a spiritual definition of the self as a person. Other researchers such as the German anthropologist Hans Belting indicate that the body is not a sign or a word but an image. In the anthropological perspective man does not appear “the master and ruler” of his image, but the place for images that occupy his body: man is a prey to images he has created himself even though man continues his attempts to control these images. In our bodies we amalgamate the personal predisposition (sex, age, life history) with a collective predisposition (the environment we live in, lifetime, and upbringing). This double stigma is expressed through the always-changing approval of the image in the external world. We alternately believe and discard them; we worship and love them and then despise and fear them. This can also be observed in today’s media world where our personal sphere in which to consort with images has narrowed. Whenever we turn to images, both predispositions work in conjunction—the individual and collective. The indiviual natural body also represents the collective body; thus, in this sense it is also a collection of images the cultures are composed of[2].

The book of Genesis’ message is as follows: man is the image in everything he is constituted of: in his relation to the world, to others, and to God. This has been referred to in the first chapter, where the description of man’s creation to God’s image and likeness was quoted: “God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. The following elements can be derived from this text: man created to God’s image enjoys the position of the one who rules over other living creatures; the question of image has been confirmed with regards to the sexes; and finally, man created this way has been presented as the addressee of God’s blessing. In the following chapter of the book of Genesis, in the story of Adam’s son’s birth, the word image is used again. It exposes the truth that man is a direct descendent of God, as direct as a son (a child) that descends from his parents. In the quotation, an allusion to the relationship between God and man can be noticed. This is the relationship of son and father. We read: «When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth» (Gen 5, 1-3). And finally, man’s existence to God’s image justifies the ethical norm, the injunction not to kill other men. The value of man’s life depends upon the reference to the Creator: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind”. (Gen 9,6). These passages show that man’s whole existence can only be comprehended upon the reflection of man’s reference to God[3]. This reference can be seen in this concept: created to the image and likeness. However, the image exists alongside the word pronounced by God: «Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”». The word and the image are the source of man’s biblical origin.

The “verbal--non-verbal”, “word--image” dualism has always been present in human history, although in different proportions. What is the image and how do we comprehend it? The discussion is still open. First and foremost, it lacks the elementary distinction like the one between spoken and written language. Photographic or digital images describe specific media which lack a generic notion or idea. Spoken language is associated with the body which makes utterances; written language is liberated from the body. The body-associated act includes the voice and the ear; in the case of writing it is replaced with linear eye-tracking, communication with a technical medium. Until now an argument similar to the one concerning language has not been created with regard to images. Internal and external images, without any diversification, are referred to as “an image”[4]. In our reflection we use the same concept to denote anything visual.

Body language (i.e. what is visible, the image) is said to become more and more predominant over the world nowadays. Is this true that the history of communication and inventions have uncovered a new truth about man? Is the image a better expression of a person (a thought) than the written word?


[1] Cz. S. Bartnik, Personalizm, pp. 61-62.

[2] H. Belting, Antropologia obrazu. Szkice nauki o obrazie [Image Anthropology. Sketches of the Image Science], Universitas, Kraków 2012, pp. 70, 74.

[3] A. Scola, Osoba ludzka, pp. 149-150.

[4] H. Belting, Antropologia obrazu, pp. 35-36.

Autor: Jarosław Jęczeń
Ostatnia aktualizacja: 08.05.2014, godz. 19:27 - Jarosław Jęczeń