The Eye and the Gaze
In our relation to things, in so far as this relation is constituted by the way of vision, and ordered in the figures of representation, something is transmitted, from stage to stage, and is always to some degree eluded it—that is we call Gaze.


You can be made aware of this in more than one way. Let me describe it, at its extreme point, by one of the enigmas that the reference to nature presents us with. It is a question of nothing less than the phenomenon known as mimicry.


A lot has been said about this subject and a great deal that is absurd—for example, that the phenomenon of mimicry can be explained in terms of adaptation. I do not think this is the case. I need only refer you, among others, to a short work that many of you may already know, Roger Caillois’ Méduse et compagnie, in which the reference to adaptation is criticized in a particularly perspicacious way.


On the one hand, in order to be effective, the determining mutation of mimicry, in the insect, for example, may take place only at once and at the outset. On the other hand, its supposed selective effects are annihilated by the observation that one finds in the stomach of birds, predators in particular, as many insects supposedly protected by mimicry as insects that are not.


But, in any case, the problem does not lie there. The most radical problem of mimicry is to know whether we must attribute it to some formative power of the very organism that shows us its manifestations. For this to be legitimate, we would have to be able to conceive by what circuits this force might itself in a position to control, not only the very form of the imitated body, but its relation to the environment,- from which it has to be distinguished or, on the contrary, in which it has to merge.


In short, as Caillois reminds us very pertinently, on the subject of such mimetic manifestations, and especially of the manifestation that may remind us of the function of the eyes, that is, the ocelli, it is a question of understanding whether they impress—it is a fact that they have this effect on the predator or on the supposed victim that looks at them—whether they impress by their resemblance to eyes, or whether, on the contrary, the eyes are fascinating only by virtue of their relation to the form of the ocelli. In other words, must we not distinguish between the function of the eye and that of the gaze?


This distinctive example, chosen as such—for its location, for its facticity, for its exceptional character—is for us simply a small manifestation of the function to be isolated, the function,
let us say the word, of the stain. This example is valuable in marking the pre-existence to the seen of a given-to-be-seen.


There is no need for us to refer to some supposition of the existence of a universal seer. If the function of the stain is recognized in its autonomy and identified with that of the gaze, we can seek its track, its thread, its trace, at every stage of the constitution of the world, in the scopic field. We will then
realize that the function of the stain and of the gaze is both that which governs the gaze most secretly and that which always escapes from the grasp of that form of vision that is satisfied
with itself in imagining itself as consciousness.


That in which the consciousness may turn back upon itself—grasp itself; like Valery’s Young Parque, as seeing oneself seeing oneself—represents mere sleight of hand. An avoidance of the function of the gaze is at work there.


This much we can map of this topology, which last time we worked out for ourselves on the basis of that which appears from the position of the subject when he accedes to the imaginary forms offered him by the dream, as opposed to those of the waking state.


Similarly, in that order, which is particularly satisfying for the subject, connoted in psycho-analytic experience by the term narcissism—in which I have striven to reintroduce the essential structure it derives from its reference to the specular image—in the satisfaction, not to say that diffuses from it, which gives the subject a pretext for such a profound meconnaissance—and does its empire not extend as far as this reference of the philosophical tradition represented by plenitude encountered by the subject in the mode of contemplation— can we not also grasp that which has been eluded,
namely, the function of the gaze?


I mean, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty points this out, that we are beings who are looked at, in the spectacle of the world. That which makes us consciousness institutes us by the same token as speculum mundi. Is there no satisfaction in being under that gaze of which, following Merleau-Ponty, I spoke just now, that gaze that circumscribes us, and which in the first instance makes us beings who are looked at, but without showing this?


The spectacle of the world, in this sense, appears to us as all-seeing. This is the phantasy to be found in the Platonic perspective of an absolute being to whom is transferred the quality of being all-seeing. At the very level of the phenomenal experience of contemplation, this all-seeing aspect is to be found in the satisfaction of a woman who knows that she is being looked at, on condition that one does not show her that one knows that she knows.


The world is all-seeing, but it is not exhibitionistic—it does not provoke our gaze. When it begins to provoke it, the feeling of strangeness begins too.


What does this mean, if not that, in the so-called waking state, there is an elision of the gaze, and an elision of the fact that not only does it look, it also shows.? In the field of the dream, on the other hand, what characterizes the images is that it shows。


It shows—but here, too, some form of ‘sliding away’ of the subject is apparent. Look up some description of a dream, any one—not only the one I referred to last time, in which, after all, what I am going to say may remain enigmatic, but any dream—place it in its co-ordinates, and you will see that this it shows is well to the fore. So much is it to the fore, with the characteristics in which it is co-ordinated—namely, the absence of horizon, the enclosure, of that which is contemplated in the waking state, and, also, the character of emergence, of contrast, of stain, of its images, the intensification of their colors—that, in the final resort, our position in the dream is profoundly that of someone who does not see.


The subject does not see where it is leading, he follows. He may even on occasion detach himself, tell himself that it is a dream, but in no case will he be able to apprehend himself in the dream in the way in which, in the Cartesian cogito, he apprehends himself as thought. He may say to himself, It’s only a dream. But he does not apprehend himself as someone who says to himself—After all, I am the consciousness of this dream.


In a dream, he is a butterfly. What does this mean? It means that he sees the butterfly in his reality as gaze. What are so many figures, so many shapes, so many colors, if not this gratuitous showing, in which is marked for us the primal nature of the essence of the gaze? Good heavens, it is a butterfly that is not very different from the one that terrorized the Wolf Man—and Maurice Merleau-Ponty is well aware of the importance of it and refers us to it in a footnote to his text.


When Choangtsu wakes up, he may ask himself whether it is not the butterfly who dreams that he is Choang-tsu. Indeed, he is right, and doubly so, first because it proves he is not mad, he does not
regard himself as absolutely identical with Choang-tsu and, secondly, because he does not fully understand how right he is. In fact, it is when he was the butterfly that he apprehended
one of the roots of his identity—that he was, and is, in his essence, that butterfly who paints himself with his own colors—and it is because of this that, in the last resort, he is Choangtsu.


This is proved by the fact that, when he is the butterfly, the idea does not occur to him to wonder whether, when he is Choang-tsu awake, he is not the butterfly that he is dreaming of being. This is because, when dreaming of being the butterfly, he will no doubt have to bear witness later that he represented himself as a butterfly. But this does not mean that he is captivated by the butterfly
—he is a captive butterfly, but captured by nothing, for, in the dream, he is a butterfly for nobody. It
is when he is awake that he is Choang-tsu for others, and is caught in their butterfly net.


This is why the butterfly may—if the subject is not Choangtsu, but the Wolf Man—inspire in him the phobic terror of recognizing that the beating of little wings is not so very far from the beating of causation, of the primal stripe marking his being for the first time with the grid of desire.


Next time, I propose to introduce you to the essence of scopic satisfaction. The gaze may contain in itself the objet a of the Lacanian algebra where the subject falls, and what specifies the scopic field and engenders the satisfaction proper to it is the fact that, for structural reasons, the fall of the subject always remains unperceived, for it is reduced to zero.


In so far as the gaze, qua objet a, may come to symbolize this central lack expressed in the phenomenon of castration, and in so far as it is an objet a reduced, of its nature, to a punctiform, evanescent function, it leaves the subject in ignorance as to what there is beyond the appearance, an ignorance so characteristic of all progress in thought that occurs in the way constituted by
philosophical research.



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