An essay on the current state of the theory of the gaze, and a critical assessment of its recent development.




The End of the Theory of the Gaze

Unpublished essay (2002-present)

This is an introduction to the state of theorizing on the gaze. My argument is that writing on the gaze is divided into largely separate literatures, and that it might be interesting to try to bring them together. I divide discussion of the gaze into gender and ethnicity discourse (the filmic theory of the gaze), positionality discourse (perspectival accounts), and psychoanalytic discourse (principally Lacan).

The essay discusses works by Vermeer, Emanuel de Witte, Taddeo Gaddi, Xia Gui, Juran, Courbet, Fra Angelico, Duchamp, Velazquez, Saenredam, Tintoretto, Titian, Yinka Shonibare, Barbara Kruger, Martin Jay, Fred Wilson, as well as non-Western examples such as the feathered serpent in Teotihuacan and the taotie reliefs on Chinese bronze vessels.

Theorists include Laura Mulvey, Edward Snow, Svetlana Alpers, Roger Caillois, Judith Butler, Michael Fried, Norman Bryson, Brian Rotman, Vredeman de Vries; concepts include the suture, libidinal economy, "to-be-looked-at-ness," the "looker" in Dutch painting, the aoristic mode, deictic representations, the painter-beholder, the "beholder tout court," the Lacanian "stain," the taotie.

I use this essay in university classes on visual studies; the pdf is highlighted with the essential concepts. The text is 38 p. long.