IN THE SHADOW OF HER GAZE
Claire Manning IN THE SHADOW OF HER GAZE Copyright ÂŠ Claire Manning 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, coped or transmitted save with written permission from the author or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act, 1988. Photographic credits and art work: Claire Manning
000 What is the nature of the gaze? Is it akin to a ‘great conjuncture of planets’, ‘artist, story, narrator, character’ all delivered at a single stroke? (1) Not one true gaze only multiple shifting possibilities re-aligning in endless permutations
If this has truth, how might it feel to encounter each possible perspective, which thoughts and emotions might be provoked, and what nature of self-hood is encouraged in the one experiencing it? What bearing does it have on the photographic image or to issues of gender and sexuality? In considering these issues this paper is not designed as a totting up to arrive at a point of specificity but to encourage a dispersal of experiences akin to the (constraints , contents of a cabinet of curiosities.(2) It’s delivered as a series of proposals perspectives) from which a piece of art work may be read so one point of view could find itself split, its characteristics divided in a physical manifestation of the dispersal of experience described. The focus of such an encounter is personal so the mode of address is primarily ‘I’, as in me the writer. It is a position capable of transmuting to the ‘you’ of another reader with the slightest shift in perspective.
000 I glance at my reflection in a mirror with the innocent eyes of a baby
I’m youthful and immature I feel confused; I recognise a woman who is not me (3) She is a perfect stranger
000 Now I look with the gaze of the self-aware. (‘separate, heterogeneous, dehiscent’)
I see a curious little figure. She IS me but feels alien with an illusionary depth quite distinct from the bodily self I’m used to experiencing. (4) She’s a disembodied, specular image, but she is a reflection of me never-the-less. The mirror’s effects feel strange. Its actions are ‘monstrous and abdominal’ for it doubles the number of (wo)men at a single stroke.(5) A gateway is constructed; between the ‘visible world’ I experience as tangible physicality and the subtly alienated alternative other refracted by the glass.(6) Do I really see me? She appears identical she mirrors my actions she faithfully reveals life in reverse but could she veer off abruptly in an opposing direction? Is she a mirage; a ghost a ‘symbolic formation beyond the mirror’?(7)
My bodily self to the fore of the mirror feels insufficient and lacking somehow, a brutal inadequate reality I seem unable to dispel despite how hard I try. I sense things are unstable -- shifting -- full of abandonment. (8) I feel little or no mastery
over myself or what happens to me whilst mirror-Iâ€™s wholeness and perfection mocks me with apparent power, replete with the characteristics and qualities I desire.(9) I triumph at the possibilities before me, but a hint of unease persists at the edge of perception Mirror-I appears perfect but is she graspable or will she slip between my fingers? s she truly there or only evanescent (10) a glimmer hinted at in the margins?â€™ Does she offer truth an exterior version of self (11) I am capable of re-finding? Or is she an alienating destination a faceless statue to project onto; (12) an impossible reality?
000 I am now embroiled in the developmental phase Jacques Lacan calls Mirror Stage to see from the perspective of the Lacanian gaze of the self-aware. I see two versions of self Ideal-I Perfect replete with things I wish were true
Real-I frail insufficient
My ego is laid bare, its natural immediacy stripped away to return into itself. (13) I’m conscious of my subjectivity in relation to counter posited objectivity. (14) The mirror reflects my image back to me, fixing it as subject, and subjecting it to the (tosymbolic order) law and to language in a way that is both inalienable and alienating. (15) From the mirror’s perspective do I spy upon it or does it spy upon me?
Are eyes essential to the process of gazing? If so,
the mirror has none of its own, only what I loan it. It is blind. I am invisible to it. Can a reflection look at me or must I look at it? I could say no true exchange takes place, or I might propose a neverending loop is created between the one gazing and the one looking back.
Differences in selfhood reveal themselves, perpetuated as fixed and unalterable oppositions.(17) The connection between interior and exterior selves is now apparent breaching selfhoods of Real-I and Fantasy-I, highlighting inadequacies between the fantasy and the demands I place upon it and delivering a traumatic divide that allows the Other to establish itself. (18) .The ideal-I revealed is akin to a (misrecognised) self, recognised . The entire endeavour suggests I gain self-knowledge, but truthfully the experience cannot occur unless I already have an understanding of myself.(19) The only hint of real truthfully delivered is as the result of a kind of déjà vu colliding with ‘the erratic hallucination’, manifesting itself as a kind of
‘imaginary echo which arises as a response to a point of reality that belongs to the limit where it has been excised from the symbolic’.(20) My life is now captive, snagged by the ‘narcissistic illusion’ which promises ideal-I whilst only ever delivering inadequate reality. (21)
000 I look from the Lacanian perspective of the other. A voice
echoes inside my head. (think)
I am uneasy; is what I say in relation to what I see before me purely my own thoughts? I suspect it is not; I ‘cannot speak without hearing’ myself and when I hear what it tells me I ‘cannot listen […] without becoming divided’. (22) My voice is no longer my own but resonates with the words and values of the Other. The ‘language of human society’ echoes through me, colouring my experience, giving cultural conventions, rules, and psychological pressures the space to speak. (23)(24) Power moves through me transferring authority from those who have an abundance to those who have little.(25) It is a gift from the State and the powers that be that I’m unable to control or prevent happening; I am a pawn armed with a force of exertion not my own.(26) 000 I look from the point of view of the Lacanian Imaginary to weave a narrative narratives?) about the photograph I see.(27)
What circumstances brought this woman to this specific place to be arrested in
such a pose? I fantasise the youthful face I see is my own. I imagine I am the person who takes the photograph. These fantasies and the many others I tell myself are in the nature of misremembered continuities and wholeness; memories of a lost form or experience constituted retrospectively via ‘deferral, lag, displacement and detour’.(28) Ultimately, they are flawed.
000 I look with the Lacanian gaze of the Real. I could say, I see myself not seeing, but what do I not see? How can I find anything of the Lacanian Real to grasp in an image? I cannot point to this or that in a picture and declare it a manifestation of the Real. I could infer its presence from the disruption it causes which operates as a kind of haunting that hovers subtly at the edge of my perception (29)
I hear a note of discord chiming in a location where it has no place to be
It is an ‘unbearable and unsymbolizable limit’ I sense but can never actually grasp. (30)
The Real compels me to find objects to love but the objects I desire fail to deliver, insufficient to the pressure of fantasy that drives me towards them. Despite this I’m driven to repeat, trapped in an everlasting loop. (31)
000 I see with the Lacanian Symbolic gaze; I am seen seeing myself not seeing. (32) Within this, what remains concealed is the Real and the one watching me fail to find it is the Other, a notion arranged ‘around the abstract and all-powerful’ paternal metaphor of the ‘Name of the Father’.(33) This patriarchal motif represents the voices of ‘culture, ideology, hierarchy, […] patriarchal law’, and ‘the posttraumatic time of individual anxiety, desire, and speech’. (34) The entire endeavour leaves me in a traumatised state of fragmentation split between dual selfhoods where what is at stake is absolute loss and castration. In the attempt to repair the threat this makes to my selfhood I endeavour to ‘assume language and identity to manage […my] environment and speak […my] desire’, but the task is impossible. (35)
000 I look with the gaze of desire. I ask myself, why look at a photograph at all -- why not simply look away? I’m drawn to it, attracted to the ‘cloud of possibility’ it offers I might otherwise name desire.(36) It visits as an impact from outside but feels as if it comes from within.(37) I recognise the photograph as an object, but not objectively, analytically, neutrally.(38) It offers a shaky anchor to prop up my world but the instant I think of it with desire ‘it bobs and weaves, becomes unstable, mysterious, and recalcitrant, seeming more like a fantasy than the palpable object’ it seemed when I very first laid eyes on it.(39)
I am innocent, naïve, simple; primal. My gaze is drawn to
Form Shape Materiality pattern of lines variations in tone and colour Visceral physical textures seduce me with their odours, tastes and cold,dry,hard,jagged,ridged,rough,smooth,soft,slick,slippery, sounds. I am compelled to touch sticky,warm,wet .
My desire feels less about the object itself and ‘more a drive that moves beyond its objects, always operating with them and in excess to them’ with designs both to ‘preserve and destroy’.(40) The object itself is significant; if not, my gaze wouldn’t desire it enough to linger. (41) However, my preoccupation exists in relation to the repetition of another scene and it’s this state of reoccurrence that allows me unconsciously to recognise my desire.(42) Every act every thought echoes others that preceded it or is the faithful presage of other future possibilities that will repeat it to a vertiginous degree Nothing is not as lost in the maze of indefatigable mirrors Nothing happens only once (43) Nothing is preciously precarious
000 I look with the gaze of lack. I sense a persistent undercurrent; what an image offers never lives up to what it delivers, a form of deficiency perhaps in the state of missing from its place. (44) My eyes embroil me in misrecognition. The ‘labyrinth is clearly the one whose thread […I was given at the start], but through a fluke this lost thread has dissipated the (a labyrinth’s walls into reflections’ that transmute everything I desire into a lure promise) that only ever results in lack(45) I
patriarchal gaze. I find myself living in ‘a culture governed by the invisible but
avoid looking at images with a gaze not ‘ordered by sexual imbalance’
orientated power perspective where pleasure in looking is divided
The photograph is a talisman that wards off loss or death but which also castrates what it depicts from its context in space and time, visually consuming most of the original event. Each photographic moment forces my eye into a relationship of ego-identification with the camera, oscillating ‘between voyeurism and narcissism; between a gaze that seeks to control what I see and identification with that object’.(48) Initially what I see gives me pleasure but it’s quickly frustrated as I cannot access the reality represented. I am split by desire and disassociation; left disrupted.(49)
000 I look at a photograph with a fetishistic gaze to see ‘an erotically endowed object’ I could control but which paradoxically seems to possess me, a seduction that avoids confronting the trauma representing my own fundamental lack. (50)(51) I look with a displaced gaze which disavows the insufficiency I am aware of but refuse to acknowledge; a look that says (52)
yes, I know, but…
Do I have any control over the fetish? Yes in that I create my own fetishes, but no in that each fetish has a self-autonomy that exceeds the boundaries and conditions of both its maker and making leaving me unable to dominate my own creation. (53) Inviting a fetish in risks ensnarement in a trap of my own making, ‘taken in by the creatures of […my] own hands’. (54) Of course, I could destroy what I make and free myself. However, if not the fetish gains entry to the inner self where it may profitably be wielded either by creator-I, or more sinisterly by wider society as an alien fetishistic Other returned ‘in the frightfully complicated form of a social multitude’.(55) (and the Other)
The fetish demands questions be answered; who ‘acts and who is mistaken about the origins of action, who is master and who is alienated or possessed’?(56) 000 I see from the point of view of the feminised gaze. (young
What I desire from the images I look at is the promise of woman as perfection face, unlined eyes, slim neck) so I seek out images that are idealised, passive, and dependent; woman as sexuality. She is a female I wish to identify with and whom I aspire to
be. Assuming such perfection offers female-I the ‘passport to visibility in a maledominated world.’(57)(58) 000 I see from the perspective of the masculinised gaze. I seek re-enforcement of my own sense of personal innate power and self-idealism so I demand that the image reassures me. I desire possession of the womanly perfection it offers.
000 I look from the position of the surety of the stereotype to see something that seems to conform to expectations -- a photograph offering a passive, idealised (perfect, whole ready for possession) image of woman -- but when I look closer I realise my error; (violence) passivity is replaced by resistance , wholeness is supplanted by fracture; the stereotype is undermined, subverted, reversed. Possession transmutes into lack, pleasure is denied, and castration is delivered to deposit my emotions in anxiety, revealing how vulnerable sexual and gender identity stereotypes are to challenge and reverse.(59) Such tactics of strategic mimicry offer a means of escape where woman is no longer the victim of mime but becomes its subversive instance, coopting masculine discourse to repeat it with the intention of disrupting it, reinvesting its power in its replacement; the feminine. (60) The strategy however is not without danger for it risks the perpetrator becoming trapped within the repetition, duplicating it ‘until it becomes entirely sterile’, the promise of escape only an illusion leading to a dead end where what snagged one in the first place is simply perpetuated.(61)
Gender’s inability to deliver the secure foundation its stereotype promises is the very ‘condition for its symbolic and practical transformation.’ (62) However, sexual and gender identity is secure enough to absorb extensive assaults on its values -perhaps greater attacks than I am able to devise for it -- before the stereotype is forced to concede and transform into something else.(63)
000 I look from the perspective of mastery. I recognise that the ‘confirming and caring economy of love’ within the patriarchal society is bound to ‘an economy of aggression’ where ‘to love an object is to attempt to master it, to seek to destroy its alterity or Otherness.’(64) Antagonism doesn’t oppose love but is integral to it allowing ‘the pressure of desire’s aggression to be discharged within a frame of propriety’.(65) It positions sexuality as masochistic because despite how I experience it desire has the ability to ‘overwhelm thought, shatter intention, violate principles, and perturb identity.’(66) To act, in fact, as if it were ‘a law of disturbance unto itself to which […I] must submit in order to become the subject of my own unbecoming’.(67) I look with a gaze that’s purely optical to see a photograph -- a portrait -- that obeys accepted optical conventions to offer a face, with the result I see fleshy, real features as opposed
contradiction manifests itself. No actual bodily features are in front of me, only a representation; a sign embodying a performative gesture directing attention towards the event that created it.
I am conscious the masculine and feminine perspectives are forced into perpetual,
irreconcilable opposition to each other; the sublimation of one seems essential to elevate the other, a ‘universal battlefield where Death is constantly at work.’ (69) Within such a system male privilege is sustained by female subjugation and fuelled by difference and inequality, and the imbalance in sexual difference generates the forward pressure driving the desire to appropriate. (70) Sexual difference with an equality of force produces insufficient movement, so without inequality and struggle inertia and death seem to follow; a fragility of desire that must pretend to kill its object.(71) 000 I look from the perspective of Lacanian castration. Sexual difference is not divided by strict biological gender so an individual may choose to adopt either a masculine or a feminine viewing perspective in the situation they find themselves in. Both genders experience the lack and loss that accompanies the feminine subjugated position but the nature of repression felt by woman is different to that of man. It’s less painfully contradictory and doesn’t encourage the creation of a ‘mirage of identity’ where any hint of failure produces ‘anxieties of adequacy and dramas of failure’, and doesn’t expect one to operate as an imposter with little room for play in order to successfully obscure any difference between penis and Phallus.(72) As gendered woman I am permitted to operate within a female masquerade where I may be forced to don the mask of feminine desire but I am permitted to reveal the artificiality of my position. (73) The photograph is a product of its own inscription; a selfreflexive
photographer and camera met in the same place to trap a causal pictorial reality. It captures the moment when that
face was present in this way at one specific moment in time, revealing a real where
Objects reach out to touch the surface of the photograph leaving their own traces proof of that thing’s being (74) even if not of its truth The experience is special. I’m given a sense of the event that created the index in such a way I’m able to forge a specific connection rooted in the real it offers. However, I also feel disappointment; I cannot inhabit the originating event to take part in it nor experience what it felt like to be there. Despite my frustration, the photograph creates a (avestige) trace of documentary weight rooted in history.
As gendered woman, I am subordinated by the threat I represent to the authority of the Phallus and penis, but I am also ‘the excess, the irreducible difference, that cannot be managed by the regime’ and which exceeds the order and control of the Symbolic, creating the very opportunity for instability.(75) Woman is a risk: one with wherewithal to escape control.
000 I look with the gaze of female fantasy to identify with the photographic portrait offered both as desiring subject and as an object of desire, inhabiting it and reading it simultaneously from multiple imaginary vantage points. (76) My choices are unlimited -- I could identify with the one depicted, or the one taking the photograph, the one who looks, or the one who eavesdrops -- the only boundary is
my own imagination.(77) Such fantasies allow me to connect with different aspects of my ‘senses and sense of power’ to experience paradoxical attachments within a ‘space of desire’ that give seeming coherence to inherent contradictions. (78) I look from the perspective of collage
I cut I reduce things to bits and pieces choice bits and nasty pieces I dismember (79) I split up It 'is strange how the passage of time turns every work -and so every man -- into fragments. Nothing whole survives -just as a recollection is never anything more than debris, and only becomes sharper through false memories.’ The
undertaking, no matter how monumental at inception, but such detritus holds means of enlightenment and change, capable of infinite variation and adaptability to new usages, revealing possibilities previously hidden from my gaze.
Objects that attract my desire allow me to assume a stable identity; one created retrospectively so I know who I am by interpreting where my desire has already taken me.(81) However, ultimately it never leads to ‘the thing that will repair the trauma’ but only to what it can get, directing me to scenes that promise traction to help ‘anchor myself in space and time’ but which ultimately always fail to deliver. (82) They represent ‘multiple strands of causal narration’, an overdetermination that requires one ‘to see oneself and one’s objects of interest as the point of convergence of many forces’.(83)
Fragments are at once both tragedy and a promise. Collage divides form and temporal location and is a gesture of violence as well as healing. If I include the original photographs
event and the new object made, positioning the results in the territory of memento mori or talisman. In contrast, if I use digital montage I cultivate a distancing that displaces the photograph from the real to the virtual world, distancing it from the original event, placing focus on form and concept.
The ability to view one’s environment as the focus of convergence of multiple forces of causal possibilities indicates an openness to flexibility in movement. This strength renders woman better placed than man to perceive multiple perspectives, embrace change, and avoid limiting herself to entrenched customs and stereotypes.
000 I look from a position that sees a society that’s different; new. It’s one where love does not conjure its opposite but invents, valuing non-sameness, embracing otherness without feeling threatened, ‘delighting to increase through the unknown that is there to discover, to respect, to favour, to cherish’. (84) This is a nonpatriarchal perspective where neither partner to the arrangement succumbs and one recognises the other ‘in a type of exchange in which each would keep the other alive and different’.(85) It offers an otherness that thrives on uncertainty, with an exhilarating need for discovery, and is open to questioning and exchange without making assumptions about where the dialogue begins or ends. (86) It’s not a phallocentric system where desire is a loss that returns reward to the male in terms
(virility, authority, power, money, pleasure)
of increased masculinity to reinforce narcissism and win socially defined success.(87) Rather, it embraces a female sense of return where the nature of my reward focuses on ‘pleasure, happiness, increased value, enhanced self-image’ and I make no attempt to recover these expenses to myself. (88) Such a female sense of return retains desire as its engine but how it plays out shifts to remove aggression and the need for one party to ‘die’. It’s a nature of return which is more modest and less self-serving where difference and openness are embraced and a single discourse is supplanted by thousands of different kinds (subversive or otherwise) of voices whom are all embraced.(89) This position can only be achieved by abandoning rules to welcome change and uncertainty within one’s personal values, a flexibility in approach which as woman is well-within my grasp.
000 The various perspectives of the gaze offered in this paper are each pure points-ofview with unique characteristics and impact in terms of the way they may feel for the one experiencing them. However, real life is unlikely to play out in such a pure, unadulterated form thus any experience delivers a blend of differing perspectives; Life is a labyrinth of labyrinths one sinuous spreading labyrinth encompassing everything (90) past and future included
Not of the body; a maze of the mind. There is no secret self hidden within to govern our actions; self-hood is a series of
‘imaginary acts and […] errant impressions’. (91) Life consists of repetition; mental experiences re-enacted to our own imprecise combination with varying emphasis and conditions each time.(92) Only death halts the experience, but if I cannot profitably stop the cycle I am able to influence its shape by appreciating my motivations, the falsehoods I tell myself, and the external pressures exerting influence on me. Each proposal I offer represents a point of pressure affecting my experience but if I choose I may turn the tables to co-opt it as a force for disruption and change. No solutions can be guaranteed but the seeds of change lie within my grasp.
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IN THE SHADOW OF HER GAZE
In the Shadow of Her Gaze asks questions about the nature of the gaze. Could
possibilities? If this is true, what different perspectives are possible and how might it feel to encounter each? What bearing, if any, does each have on the photographic image or to issues of gender and sexuality?
This paper is an experiment -- an endeavour -- to provoke the very emotions it describes. As a result, the experience of reading it is not intended to be passive but asks the reader for active participation. It is a creative piece of writing poised mid-way between written document and art work.
Published on May 25, 2014
'In the Shadow of Her Gaze' asks questions about the nature of the gaze. Could it, perhaps, be something with multiple shifting possibiliti...