Chapter 1 begins with a multi-disciplinary look at Western understandings of the nature of vision. Here, Pattison suggests that “vision and sight have become reified and separated off from the other senses. (p. 19)” Most Westerners, he says, privilege sight above other modes of perception, and this has led to excessive distance between viewers and objects. A solution to this challenge is proposed in chapter 2 with his suggestion of the “loving gaze” of haptic vision. This is a vision that incorporates modes of encounter with visual artefacts that engage other senses, especially touch.
Pattison then moves from ways of seeing to the things seen – particularly visual images. He begins chapter 3 by discussing the nature of the image, proposing a complex system of understanding based on a series of thirteen “Images are…” statements. In chapter 4, Pattison takes on what he sees to be a logocentricity present in intellectual communities despite the ubiquity of visual images. Arguing that the privileging of words over images is both arbitrary and unhelpful, he suggests that “practices of looking at, valuing, and understanding visual images as the equal and necessary complement of words and concepts are still underdeveloped. (p. 103)”
Such practices of looking are the subject of chapters 5 and 6. In these chapters, Pattison explores “some of the factors that allow visual images to be perceived as powerful, or ‘auratic’. (p. 108)” In chapter 5, the focus is on the contextual, personal and social aspects of these factors, and in chapter 6, the focus shifts to those aspects which might be inherent in visual objects themselves.
In chapter 7, Pattison shows how it is that contemporary Western perceptions have come to emphasize the object/human divide, revealing an irony to the common accusation that our society is overly ‘materialistic.’ He shows that this divide is not absolute by looking to historical and contemporary examples of objects understood to display personlike qualities (e.g. miracle attributions to visual artefacts).
Chapter 8 begins to tie the author’s argument together in his pursuit to “commend the need to enter into deeper, more personlike (sic) relationships with artefacts. (p. 8)” It is here that questions of ‘personhood’ are explored, with the potential of seeing that category extended to visual objects.
In Chapter 9 Pattison moves from description to prescription, arguing against common objections to more person-like relations with artefacts and suggesting that such relationships will make human existence “richer, differently meaningful, and less based…[on] consumption. (p. 220)
The idea of ‘haptic vision’ returns in chapter 10 as a part of Pattison’s prescription of practicing the ‘loving eye,’ and a ‘joyful attachment.’ The goal in these practices is to receive teaching, inspiration, enjoyment and a drawing “nearer to reality” (p. 235) from the visual artefacts around us
It is only in the eleventh and final chapter that Pattison, a theologian, addresses religion. He begins to counter some challenges that might be brought from the perspective of Christianity. He suggests a potential theology rooted in part in the doctrines of creation and the incarnation which could make room for more person-like relations with visual artefacts.