Week 1 – The Gaze

“Indeed a certain power dynamic is inherent within the gaze as a medium and images possess a very commanding presence- there is a perverse pleasure in looking and not being able to look away. Much like the gaze of Medusa turned the onlooker into stone, so too does the image hold the power to immobilise its viewer.” (Reinhardt, 2017)

A gaze is a steady or intent look, one often associated with admiration, surprise or being deep in thought. Within the artistic and political world, the gaze often refers to the Male Gaze, the act of subjecting the object in question with the scrutiny of the male desire. In our first lecture we discussed the history of the male-neutral subject and how the Gaze still influences present day films.

“Man, the molecule of society, is the subject of social science” – (Carey, 1899)

Subject – Someone, normally male, who is conscious and has the ability to be ethical, to feel and desire, and who has the capacity for truth. The dominant figure.

She appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex – absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.’ (de Beauvoir, 1953)

Object – Stereotypically female, has the desires/beliefs of the subject pushed onto it.

Oedipal Complex

Sigmund Freud believed the subject is formed through psychosexual stages of development. It begins with the infant desiring the parent of the opposite sex and finishes with them relating to the parent of the same sex.

Lacan elaborated on this with his ‘Mirror Stage’, which occurs between 6-18 months. This is where the infant (subject) see’s himself for the first time and acknowledges himself as a whole person. He then desires his mothers undivided attention but soon realises his father also holds her desires. This is explained as the mother desiring the fathers penis as she does not have one herself. This causes castration anxiety in boys, as they see their mother without penis and fear that they will lose theirs. According to Freud it causes penis envy in girls, as they want their fathers (symbolic) penis.

Object petit a: 

  • The unattainable desire. Identity is therefore formed through the lack of.
  • Desire even desire of m/other is only constructed by phallic symbolism


Notes from lecture.

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  • de Beauvoir, S. (1953) The second sex. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Carey, H.C. (1899) Manual of social science; being a condensation of the principles of social science of H. C. Carey, LL.D. United States: University of Michigan Library.
  • Reinhardt, J. (2017) “Gaze,” The Chicago School of Media Theory, Available at: https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/gaze (Accessed: 11 January 2017).

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