Monday, April 5, 2010

Subjectivity: Psychoanalysis, Identity Formation, Feminist Critique

Jacques Lacan: “The Mirror Phase”

Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”

Jonathan Weinberg, “Things are Queer”

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”

Margaret Olin, “Gaze”

The readings for this week are associated with the ideas of subject identification and that of the “Gaze”. These seemed like to aspects of theory that would differ in many ways but after analysis I came to realize their connection with one another. Lacan’s essay was a bridge between a few of the essays that seemed like they had no connection with each other, so I’ll use his as a starting point.

Lacans essay is an interesting take on how a subject at a young age learns to identify itself though a mirrors reflection. Referred to as the “Mirror Phase” a young child will notice its own reflection which then allows for the realization of its own complete form. Lacan thinks that this is crucial for the subject’s development or maturation. Through the gaze of looking in the mirror the child will form an idea of themselves as an “Ideal –I” which creates the instance of the ego. Lacan uses the term “imago” to better explain how an insect’s maturation into a complete adult form will derive from the visual action of a similar self, which then will create a socially ready being. The function of the “imago” and the function of the mirror phase “is to establish a relation of the organism to its reality” It is the transformation of the subject from its innerworld (Innenwelt) to its surrounding world (Umwelt).

After reading Mulvey’s and Olin’s essays I had a better understanding of Lacans analysis of the mirror phase. It was interesting to see how it was referenced in “Visual Pleasure of Narrative Cinema”. Mulvey describes in her essay “cinema’s skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure”, that of which Hollywood arose. She described the pleasure structures of looking which consisted of scopophilia and the grouping of narcissism and the ego. Cinematic scopophilia is when another person is used as an object for sexual stimulation through sight. Narcissism and ego in cinema is the subject’s fascination with the identification of a character that is in its likeness. This character in the film or on stage is holding the gaze onto the object of desire that the audience member is also holding. The woman on the screen functions on two levels, the erotic object for the characters and the erotic object for the spectators. The woman character is unimportant to the development of the story and is only crucial in how she inspires the hero through love or fear. The gaze of the “screen surrogate” is more powerful than the spectator’s gaze, which gives the illusion of control over the woman to only feed the ego ideal of the audience member. Mulvey claims that this display comes out of an anxiety of castration and the two ways of dealing with this is active scopophilia and fetishistic scopophilia. Although Mulvey doesn’t use the term active scopophilia, I felt it necessary to use Olin’s terminology for clarity.

For active scopophilia, or the demystification of the woman, “Vertigo” was a good example of how a woman is put under the magnifying glass and examined to the point of finding guilt. Fetishistic scopophilia silences the woman for worship and isolates her from happening. The narrative stops and the man hold’s the gaze.

Olin had many parallels to Mulveys essay which allowed for a better understanding of the gaze and how it functions across not only in cinema but in other media as well. Im interested in the gaze of the spectator and its impact on itself as subject and on the object being gazed upon. Olin evaluates the impact the gaze has back onto the subject as spectator. The gaze is a double sided term, someone to gaze at and someone to gaze back. Through all the negative connotations that the gaze implies it was interesting to see that the gaze of a work can have positive meaning. The photograph “The Sharecroppers Wife” was an example of how the gaze differs from generation to generation. The gaze of a pin-up girl and “The Sharecroppers Wife” might look the same but they have different meanings. Her look is an empowering gaze that allows us to offer her respect. Im glad the use of suture was brought about because how often are we in control of the gaze. Our own gaze is denied if through the editing process it reveals that were are looking through the gaze of the character or even director. “Suture” is the viewer’s unawareness of the gaze that is constructed for them. Though the suture can be broken if the viewers are aware of their gaze on the screen if the character acknowledges the audience. Olin takes Mulvey’s analysis of scopophilia a step further just in clarification of vocabulary in the diagram below.

Weinbergs essay “Things are Queer” is an interesting analysis on subject identification with sexual identities. He uses Duane Michels example that “the world is queer” to show how terminology and labels of identities that are socially constructed are used to group people in specific circles in which there are no boundaries. It seemed important to note that the term heterosexuality came after homosexuality. That “the dominant culture needs an Other”. The term Queer should encompass a large group of sexual identities. Weinberg states “that queer studies potentially shifts the emphasis away from specific acts and identities to the myriad ways in which gender organizes and disorganizes society.”

While on the subject of socially constructed labels of identity, Butlers analysis of gender formation makes several points of our role in perpetuating this. Gender identity is constituted through a stylized repetition of acts. The gendered subject is the product of actions that provide an illusion of a gender that is socially constructed. One has to become a woman as opposed to just growing older. To become a woman a person must follow historically what has been done to gain that status of woman as opposed to the natural fact of just always being a woman. There is a set of social constructions that one must obey in order to cross the threshold into becoming a woman. That’s where the idea comes from that the body is a “historical idea” as opposed to a “natural species”. If the body is a historical idea then it will reproduce the historical situation. This occurs because in contemporary culture gender is a performance that if not portrayed within the confines of societies standards, the body is punished. Acts of gender creates the idea of gender.

1 comment:

  1. Garrett, I thought it was interesting to see what you wrote about Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and Judith Butler's “Perfomative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.”
    As a female, I have a specific reaction to these readings because I identify with the female point of view. Obviously, you, as a male, most likely have your own, possibly differing, point of view on these articles. Mulvey made pretty clear distinctions between the powerless female and the voyeuristic and sexually objectifying male. As a female I was angered by the patriarchal society Mulvey described. Also, I felt restless and bound by the performative acts that Butler argued had formed the social constructs surrounding the idea of "Woman." My question for you is what was your gut reaction as a male to these articles? Do you agree with Mulvey's descriptions of the male and female? Its tricky dealing with gender relations when articles like these reveal possibly uncomfortable truths. Perhaps having an open discussion between the sexes could bring a better awareness of opinions on both sides of the fence.