Somehow, you acquire what you look at with your glance. Therefore, with your glance you become the owner of an image. Now you have entered into this capitalism of the possession of images, typical of seeing and seizing.

Thus, landscapes, environments, situations, people and things are acquired by glancing. Attention will be paid to some of them, only to those that are going to be cut off from the continuous environment surrounding the passer-by. Unknown people will also be met, and they will be defined or catalogued according to their gestures, physiognomies, clothes and in relation to other expressions, other forms and other clothes previously seen.

Some of these people will themselves rebelling against being trapped by your glance as something they are not, or do not, want to be: this is the moment that a woman will cover her torn stockings; a middle-aged man will hide his belly or an adolescent will untidy her hair, refusing to surrender to the beholder’s prejudice. As Barthes says about those who observe: “they ferociously make an object out of me, they have me at their mercy, at their disposition, classified in their files” (Barthes, 1980: 47).

This will happen until someone who you are observing stops and looks at you, provoking a change in the rules of the game for an instant.

What has happened? This process of change could be explained under the natural game of observation, where two terms are articulated and interacting, while the image is seen to be a kind of revolving door between the one who is looking and the one who is being looked at.

As a consequence of the reversibility of roles, the looked at image was brought to life and the one who was looking became an image for someone. Like in the “image facing the mirror” (Lacan, 1977: 11), and within that mirror people have the chance to face the relation with their own image.

However, the discovery of someone looking at a person who was looking at him or her, could define this set of individuals as snoops. People who look at people, like in a game of mirrors such as in “Las Meninas” by Velazquez, are creating an image of a situation and of a bigger social image.

Nevertheless, it could also be thought that we are in the presence of alienated people; alienation being understood as the prison where one gets trapped when getting mixed up with the images (Lacan, 1964). But, does present life not demand a certain degree of alienation to act without clashing with what is imagined as socially valid? That is to say, is there not a similar mechanism in the relationship of the subject with the image of themselves, their community or their Nation?

Just look for instance at what Foucault states in his book “Discipline and Punishment”, where he develops the way prisons were designed to allow the guard to visually examine the prisoner from all angles, and where that visual examination “combines the hierarchy techniques of the one who vigilates and the punishment that regularizes” (Foucault, 1975: 189). Something that reminds us not only of fiction novels like “Brave New World” by Huxley, or even “1984” by Orwell, but also of aspects of everyday life for many people all over the world where the idea of being observed as a synonym of being controlled imposes a limit on behaviours, parallel to the limit that can be exerted by the moral values of each individual.

For some people, if this limit of the presence of the glance were not felt as censor’s eyes, that might disembody the synchronization of the subjects among them in the organic behaviour of the society. As if this society’s traffic lights were no longer respected, and the rules of the game ceased to be in force; A state that would be reflected in the idea of chaos or fragmentation of the society, instead of a totalling synthesis.

© Sebastian Guerrini, 2009

One comment to “Seeing is believing”

  1. Michael Maciel |

    The ideas you present here in your article lead me to think that the imprisoning glance is a profound affront to us, or would be if we let ourselves feel it, and makes some of us rebel in unexpected ways, ways that not only disrupt the judgment of others but also allow us an escape from that judgement. If people insist on seeing me as “good,” I will find ways to be “bad.” And if that doesn’t work, I’ll go for the enigmatic – anything to escape the death of being pigeonholed.

    To avoid pigeonholing other people, I look with a bias toward the possible, while at the same time allowing what is, without resistance. It’s a slippery affair.