Multiple Points of View



  • Holbein's "The Ambassadors"
  • Stan Douglas - "The Sandman" (The moving subject)
  • Campus/ Three Transitions
  • Zbig Rybzinski
  • Guy Vardi's project


Orpheus' Gaze and Lacan's Map


The Gaze of Orpheus (Maurice Blanchot)

The split in the Orpheic world is predetermined: there is light and there is darkness; life (above) and death (below). "The power that causes the night to open", the force that enables Orpheus to cross the boundaries of light and life, and to descend to Eurydice, according to Blanchot, is that of art. And yet, he continues,

Orpheus has gone down to Eurydice: for him Eurydice is the limit of what art can attain; concealed behind a name and covered by a veil, she is the profoundly dark point towards which art, desire, death, and the night all seem to lead. She is the instant in which the essence of the night approaches as the Other night. (p.99)

Rendering this dark point, the lure, the point in which the artist's control is undermined, is also the object of the work of art:

Orpheus' work does not consist of securing the approach of this "point" by descending into the depth. His work is to bring it back into the daylight and in the daylight give it form, figure and reality. Orpheus can do anything except look this "point" in the face, look at the center of the night in the night. (p.99)

The superimposed triangles depicted by Lacan in his article on the gaze figure the path undertaken by Orpheus, as well as the evasion, at each end, of the object of (artistic) desire:

(figure 1)

Rather than obtained, the object of desire is always displaced. Drawn from darkness to light, its absence or invisibility is re-articulated as a gap, a notion of loss, a signifier, within the frame of language, within a poem of lament.

Whether looking back into the darkness or blindly entering light, Orpheus never sees his Eurydice outside her daily mask or beyond appearance, never, that is, sees her in accordance with his impulse which

[...] does not demand Eurydice in her diurnal truth and her everyday charm, but in her nocturnal darkness, in her distance, her body closed, her face sealed, which wants to see her not when she is visible, but when she is invisible, and not as the intimacy of a familiar life, but as the strangeness of that which excludes all intimacy; it does not want to make her live, but to have the fullness of her death living in her (p.100)

Ordinary, social life merely fragments and stifles the desire to assimilate with, or possess the other's otherness as such; it attempts to decode that which is sought after as incomprehensible, to grasp or control that which is desired as undefined. The turning away from light and from language is desire's "only way [to] approach [its object]: this is the meaning if concealment revealed in the night" (Ibid., 99).

Both directions, down into the darkness and back into the light, are determined by desire. Yet, concealment is exposed at each end. It is depth that the subject desires, a perception of itself through the gaze's depth of field. But "Depth [ the three dimensional world which as such embodies Orpheus' descent] does not surrender itself [to a] face to face" (surface) encounter. It does not yield to the eye's perception in the dark, or to the mind's construction in the light. On the one end, the eye, entering the realm of the gaze, becomes an object, thus losing itself to itself as subject/ as eye. On the other, it is reduced to a geometrical point: a subject, a Cartesian consciousness trapped within its own bounds.

Between these two modes, between perception and consciousness, says Lacan, the encounter with the real is forever missed: Eurydice slips back into the night.


The Eye and the Gaze (Lacan)

The Eye - my point of vision - is absent from the world's view of it (the Gaze); within the image constructed by the Gaze, I am reduced to a mere object, articulated in terms foreign to my own. Similarly, the gaze at me, from within my own view point, can never be grasped in terms transcending my own perspective, can never be deciphered - seen - from without: a night within the night.

The world of the other (the underworld) dissolves differences. It creates a context in which the "I" / eye cannot maintain its distinctiveness or its faculty (as subject) to impose distinctions and to grasp (desire's goal); a context from which it is missing, as subject.

In the visible, upper world, on the other hand, the artistic effort to reconstruct a form, to bring Eurydice unveiled into the light, operates, still in the service of desire, in a direction counter to assimilation (unification); a direction which reestablishes difference, absence and split through a mask, through language.

Through one point of absence (bottom line) control is undermined; through the other (top line) it is established. Within the one end the eye (the subject, Orpheus) is lured and annihilated; through the other a lure is constructed, a disguise. In both instances evasiveness defines and is defined by the notion of desire, the desire of the other's desire of the self: the frustrated path from a lost self to the lost other, and back to a once again (this time deliberately) lost, masked, self; a yearning for the "essentially missed encounter", an impossible appropriation of otherness as such. (The Four Fundamental Concepts, 53).



Mimicry, like art, says Lacan, is not concerned with harmonizing with a background. Rather, by veiling his eye, by assuming a shape other that his own, the artist (Orpheus) affects difference in order to accommodate the eye to the gaze, in order to control "that which defines [the self] in the light". In other words, mimesis reestablishes the lack marked by the object of desire, hence forming a new level of deception or lure; an imitation of the lure of the night in the night. This time, however, it is a lure designed for the spectator:

(figure 2)

In the picture, says Lacan, you look at me from the place from which I see you. By "situating [itself] in the picture as a stain", by inscribing [itself] in it as absence", the artist's eye (i.e. the editor's hand; the composer's voice) controls the spectator's gaze. No longer is it merely absent from a picture imposed upon it, it is also absent from a picture it constructs as a lure for another's eye.

"Orpheus' mistake, then" - Blanchot concludes - "would seem to lie in the desire which leads him to see Eurydice and to possess her, while he is destined only to sing about her. He is only Orpheus in his song, he could have no relationship with Eurydice except within the hymn".
And yet,

[...] in the song Eurydice is also already lost and Orpheus himself is the scattered Orpheus, the "infinitely dead" Orpheus into which the power of the song transforms him from then on. He loses Eurydice because he desires her beyond the measured limits of his song, and he loses himself too, but this desire, and Eurydice lost, and Orpheus scattered are necessary to the song. (The Gaze of Orpheus, 101)

At the upper end of the Lacanian figure (above), pressed outside, the "I"/eye of the poet can only enter the picture implicitly, can only be signaled at through a stain upon the constructed image, a dark point, a signifier. Only thus can its control be asserted. The eye which composes, and the "I" which speaks, in order to maintain the appearance of possession, in order to enable action of / through speech, must be veiled by it, must be lost from and within the song.

Mimesis - an abandoning or a separation of the self from itself - is effective as a lure for the spectator's gaze, only by concealing the split by its product - a mask. One can act (attain a goal) only by stepping into the light, into language; and it is there that appearance -- the self as other, as sign -- is forced into being. This is the realm of the Gaze, and the only place where interaction (through signifiers and code) can occur. This is the function of discourse, of song, of text. The reconstructed lure, through mimesis, effects a shift from one dependence (Orpheus' dependence upon Eurydice) to another (his audience's, the mimetic reader, dependence upon him, the poet):

[The Artist] invites the person to whom this picture is presented, to lay down his gaze there as one lays down one's weapons. (The Four Fundamental concepts, p.101)


Suspension of Disbelief

It is the spectator who is now willingly absorbed, through the artist's veiled eye, within the latter's gaze. Yet it is only through an agreement between them that this lure -- the lure of the mimetic text -- can be effective. In order that both artist and spectator be effaced, as signifiers, within the work of art, a set of rules guiding their selective inattention (to their own context and to the stain as a mark of the author's controlling hand) must be established: the stain is a sign the spectator must ignore for deception (fiction) to operate.

"There is something", says Lacan,"whose absence can always be observed in a picture - which is not the case in perception. This is the central field, where the separating power of the eye is exercised to the maximum in vision" (Ibid., 108). Composition, the mark of the absent self/eye of the author, is the stain which works in the mimetic text as a lure into the gaze. It is the means by which the eye, while concealing itself, also signifies itself as absent. Thus it maintains its position (as lack) within the gaze it constructs, and undermines the threat of its unmarked absence within an image rendered by mere perception. Yet for the lure to be effective, a set of rules must be formulated in order to suspend detection of this mark, in order to conceal the sign of the hand behind the artifact. These rules must govern the interaction, through the text, between author and reader.

The mimetic text urges the reader to submit herself to a world without fractures, a world of mimicry, of concealed differences; where the "I" forms an integral part of the multi-angles of the gaze, a position it is granted through the spectator's "willing suspension of disbelief". The split, the mark of the author's absence, the mark of the artifact, must be concealed within that which it breeds - the mimetic text.





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