Hieronymus Bosch's The Conjurer. While other figures observe objects within the painting, the woman in green observes the viewer. The painting thus makes the viewer aware of being on display.

Gaze is a psychoanalytical term brought into popular usage by Jacques Lacan to describe the anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. The psychological effect, Lacan argues, is that the subject loses some sense of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object. This concept is bound with his theory of the mirror stage, in which a child encountering a mirror realizes that he or she has an external appearance. Lacan suggests that this gaze effect can similarly be produced by any conceivable object such as a chair or a television screen. This is not to say that the object behaves optically as a mirror; instead it means that the awareness of any object can induce an awareness of also being an object.


Related concepts

Michel Foucault also had a distinct conception of the medical gaze in his social theories, although the common usage of the term is of the Lacanian one.

In cinema theory, Laura Mulvey identifies the male gaze, in sympathy with the Lacanian statement that "Woman is a symptom of man." This means that femininity is a social construct, and that the feminine object the object petit a, or the object of desire, is what constitutes the male lack, and thus his positive identity.

Bracha Ettinger criticizes this notion of the male gaze by her proposition of a Matrixial Gaze.[1] Here there is no more question of positing a subject versus an object, neither a question of two figures looking at each other and effectively constituting a double gaze. The matrixial gaze is not operative where a "Male Gaze" is placed opposite to a "Female Gaze" and where both positive entities constitute each other from a lack (such an umbrella concept of the gaze would precisely be what scholars such as Slavoj Žižek claim is the Lacanian definition of "The Gaze.") Ettinger's proposal doesn't concern a subject and its object, existing or lacking. Rather, it concerns "trans-subjectivity" and shareability on a partial level, and it is based on her claim concerning a feminine-matrixial difference that escapes the phallic opposition of masculine/feminine and is produced in a process of co-emergence. Ettinger works from the very late Lacan, yet, from the angle she brings, it is the structure of the Lacanian subject itself that is deconstructed to a certain extent, and another kind of feminine dimension appears, with its hybrid and floating matrixial gaze.[2]

History of the concept

Numerous existentialists and phenomenologists have addressed the concept of gaze beginning with Sartre. Foucault elaborated on gaze to illustrate a particular dynamic in power relations and disciplinary mechanisms in his Discipline and Punish. Derrida also elaborated on the relations of animals and humans via the gaze in The Animal That Therefore I Am.

Definitions in cinematic theory

Théodore Géricault's Portrait of a Kleptomaniac.

The gaze is characterised by who is the gazer (viewer):

  • The spectator's gaze: that of the spectator viewing the text, i.e. the reader(s) of the text.
  • The Intra-diegetic gaze: in a text, a character gazes upon an object or another character in the text.
  • The Extra-diegetic gaze: a textual character consciously addresses (looks at) the viewer, e.g. in dramaturgy, an aside to the audience; in cinema, acknowledgement of the fourth wall, the viewer.
  • The camera's gaze: is the film director's gaze.
  • The editorial gaze: emphasises a textual aspect, e.g. a photograph, its cropping and caption direct the reader(s) to a specific person, place, or object in the text.

Theorists Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen posit that the gaze is a relationship, between offering and demanding a gaze: the indirect gaze is the spectator's offer, wherein the spectator initiates viewing the subject, who is unaware of being viewed; the direct gaze is the subject's demand to be viewed.

The Male Gaze and feminist theory

In the essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of the "male gaze" as a feature of power asymmetry. The concept has been strongly influential on feminist film theory and media studies.

In film, the male gaze[3] occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man. A scene may linger on the curves of a woman's body, for instance.[4] Mulvey argues that in mainstream cinema, the male gaze typically takes precedence over the female gaze.

Responses to the male gaze

In feminist theory, the male gaze expresses an asymmetric (unequal) power relationship, between viewer and viewed, gazer and gazed, i.e. man imposes his unwanted (objectifying) gaze upon woman. Second Wave feminists argue that whether or not women welcome the gaze, they might merely be conforming to the hegemonic norms established to benefit the interests of men — thus underscoring the power of the male gaze to reduce a person (man or woman) to an object (see also exhibitionism).

The existence of an analogous female gaze[5][6][7][8] arises when the male gaze is considered. Mulvey argues that "the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze…" Describing Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), by Jean Rhys, Nalini Paul indicates that the Antoinette character gazes at Rochester, placing a garland upon him, making him appear heroic: "Rochester does not feel comfortable with having this role enforced upon him; thus, he rejects it by removing the garland, and crushing the flowers".

From the male perspective, man possesses a gaze because he is a man, whereas, a woman has a gaze only when she assumes the male gazer role, when she objectifies others by gazing at them like a man. Eva-Maria Jacobsson supports Paul's description of the "female gaze" as "a mere cross-identification with masculinity", yet evidence of women's objectification of men — the discrete existence of a Female Gaze — is in the "boy toy" adverts published in teen magazines, despite Mulvey's contention that The Gaze is property of one gender. Moreover, in power relationships, the gazer can direct his or her gaze to members of his or her gender, for asexual reasons, such as comparing the gazer's body image and clothing to those of the gazed at man or woman.

The gaze and psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan argued that the concept of the gaze is important in his "mirror stage" of infantile psychological development; children gaze at a mirror image of themselves (a twin sibling might function as the mirror-image), and use that image to co-ordinate their physical movements. He linked the concept of the gaze to the development of individual human agency. To that end, he transformed the gaze to a dialectic, between the Ideal–Ego and the Ego-Ideal. The ideal-ego is the imagined self-identification image — whom the person imagines him- or herself to be or aspires to be; whilst the ego-ideal is the imaginary gaze of another person gazing upon the ideal-ego, e.g. a rock star (an Ideal-ego) secretly hoping his/her school-era bully-tormentor (Ego-ideal) is now aware of his/her (the rock star) subsequent success and fame, since school times.

Lacan further developed his concept of the gaze, saying that it does not belong to the subject but, rather, to the object of the gaze. In Seminar One, Lacan told the audience: "I can feel myself under the gaze of someone whose eyes I do not see, not even discern. All that is necessary is for something to signify to me that there may be others there. This window, if it gets a bit dark, and if I have reasons for thinking that there is someone behind it, is straight-away a gaze". (Lacan, 1988, p. 215) Thus Lacan would argue that the Male Gaze exists within the mind of the person who feels it on them. The practical implications of this statement reach far, inasmuch as it can be interpreted to the effect that perception supersedes actuality, that schism is actuality, that actuality is false, and that the interlocutor is the only real.

See also


  1. ^ Bracha Ettinger, The Matrixial Gaze. University of Leeds, 1995
  2. ^ Bracha Ettinger, "The With-in-Visible Screen." In: Catherine de Zegher (ed.), Inside the Visible, MIT Press, Boston, 1996.
  3. ^ This is Not Sex: A Web Essay on the Male Gaze, Fashion Advertising, and the Pose, web essay about the male gaze in advertising
  4. ^ Male Gaze in TV and film
  5. ^ Modules on Lacan, On the Gaze
  6. ^ A Female Gaze?PDF (96.7 KiB)
  7. ^ The Female Gaze
  8. ^ Salon Life, The Female Gaze


  • Armstrong, Carol and de Zegher, Catherine, Women Artists at the Millennium. MIT Press, October Books, 2006.
  • Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory — see external links.
  • Ettinger, Bracha, "The Matrixial Gaze" (1995), reprinted as Ch. 1 in: The Matrixial Borderspace. University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
  • Florence, Penny and Pollock, Griselda, Looking back to the Future. G & B Arts, 2001.
  • Jacobsson, Eva-Maria: A Female Gaze? (1999) — see external links.
  • Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen: Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. (1996).
  • Lacan, Jacques: Seminar One: Freud's Papers On Technique (1988).
  • Lacan, Jacques:Seminar Eleven: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. NY & London, W.W. Norton and Co., 1978.
  • Lutz, Catherine & Jane Collins: The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic (1994).
  • Mulvey, Laura: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975, 1992).
  • Pollock, Griselda (Ed.), Psychoanalysis and the Image. Blackwell, 2006.
  • Notes on The Gaze (1998) — see external links.
  • Paul, Nalini: The Female Gaze — see external links.
  • Schroeder, Jonathan E: Consuming Representation: A Visual Approach to Consumer Research.
  • Theory, Culture and Society, Volume 21, Number 1, 2004.
  • de Zegher, Catherine, Inside the Visible. MIT Press, 1996.

External links

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  • gaze — gaze …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • gazé — gazé …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • Gaze — Gaze …   Deutsch Wörterbuch

  • gaze — [ gaz ] n. f. • 1461; p. ê. de la ville de Gaza 1 ♦ Tissu léger et transparent, de soie, de lin ou de laine, à armure complexe, à fils sinueux. Robe de gaze. ♢ Spécialt Bande, compresse de gaze (de coton). « La gaze enveloppait le crâne et… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • gazé — gaze [ gaz ] n. f. • 1461; p. ê. de la ville de Gaza 1 ♦ Tissu léger et transparent, de soie, de lin ou de laine, à armure complexe, à fils sinueux. Robe de gaze. ♢ Spécialt Bande, compresse de gaze (de coton). « La gaze enveloppait le crâne et… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • GAZE — es un acrónimo de ‘gazte ekinzale’ que en euskara significa, joven emprendedor/a. Desde su creación, en el 2008, su objetivo principal ha sido fomentar la cultura emprendedora y el sentido de iniciativa entre la juventud estudiantil de educación… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Gaze — [ˈɡaːzə] oder Mull [mʊl] ist ein leichtes, halbdurchsichtiges Gewebe in Dreher , Scheindreher oder Leinwandbindung, wobei die Fäden in Dreherbindung weniger gegeneinander versetzt sind als in den beiden letztgenannten Arten …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gaze — Gaze, ein dem Flor ähnliches, durchsichtiges, lockergewebtes Zeug, das nur dadurch von jenem verschieden ist, daß es stärkere Faden hat und dieselben weiter von einander abstehen. Man hat seidene, baumwollene und leinene Gaze, glatte und… …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Gaze — Gaze, n. 1. A fixed look; a look of eagerness, wonder, or admiration; a continued look of attention. [1913 Webster] With secret gaze Or open admiration him behold. Milton. [1913 Webster] 2. The object gazed on. [1913 Webster] Made of my enemies… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • gaze — vb Gaze, gape, stare, glare, peer, gloat are comparable when meaning to look at long and attentively, but they vary greatly in their implications of attitude and motive. Gaze implies fixed and prolonged attention (as in admiration, curiosity, or… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • Gaze — (g[=a]z), v. i. [imp. & p. p. {Gazed} (g[=a]zd); p. pr. & vb. n. {Gazing}.] [OE. gasen, akin to dial. Sw. gasa, cf. Goth. us gaisjan to terrify, us geisnan to be terrified. Cf. {Aghast}, {Ghastly}, {Ghost}, {Hesitate}.] To fix the eyes in a… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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