This article considers the ontology of the British journalist
GK Chesterton with respect to its implications
for the interpretation of visual texts, referred to here as
the ethics of speculation. This exploration takes place
under the assumption that Chesterton’s ontology, as
that which relates to understanding the meaning of
things, and his ethics, as that which examines the uses
and abuses of things, have a dialogical connection.
While Chesterton is not formally considered a philosopher,
art historian or visual theorist, it is proposed
that his ideas as an post-Victorian cultural commentator
remain relevant to visual theory today. Unfortunately,
Chesterton does not explicate his ontology systematically;
this paper suggests that it may be considered in
the light of three interlinking considerations: the
riddle, the answer and the romance of being. It is in
contemplating the interrelationship between these
three considerations of being that specific ethical implications
concerning visual interpretation become evident.
In order to unpack the finer points of this ethics
of speculation, reference is made to a single photograph
taken during the South African War, A few dead
British soldiers in the aftermath of the Battle of Spioenkop,
24 January 1900.