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Self-Gaze

The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch

le regard [the gaze] in the philosophical sense is an individual’s awareness of ‘the other.’ By ‘the other’ a myriad of concepts can be meant. It might be one’s awareness of other people, other things, even awareness of oneself.

The Look

Jean-Paul Sartre, in Being and Nothingness (L’Être et le néant – 1943), devoted much space to what he termed ‘the look’ and the way in which being in the gaze of someone else affects us. He gave by way of example the transformation which occurs when we see a mannequin which we briefly mistake for another person:

While they believe it is a person, their world is transformed. Objects now partly escape them; they have aspects that belong to the other person, and that are thus unknowable to them. During this time one can no longer have a total subjectivity. The world is now the other person’s world, a foreign world that no longer comes from the self, but from the other. The other person is a “threat to the order and arrangement of your whole world…Your world is suddenly haunted by the Other’s values, over which you have no control.”

When they realise it is a mannequin, and is not subjective, the world seems to transfer back, and they are again in the center of a universe. This is back to the pre-reflective mode of being, it is “the eye of the camera that is always present but is never seen.” The person is occupied and too busy for self-reflection. This process is continual, unavoidable, and ineluctable.

Jean-Paul Sartre – Being and Nothingness

This transformation we experience, when under anther’s gaze, is crucial in the forming of relationships. For often our attraction to another person does not emanate from an intrinsic part of their self (long hair, blue eyes etc.), but from how we feel about ourselves when under their gaze. This is a state in which we suspend our subjectivity of self, and instead come to identify with ‘the look’ another person holds for us.

Writing for the Gaze

In writing, this manifests as how we feel about our verse when under the gaze, or in social media terms, the like of another. If well liked, we come to identify what we wrote with being good. This has the effect of narrowing our gaze onto the elements of our writing which find flavor in another. In its most extreme conceptualisation, it results in a loss of autonomy as we become aware of ourselves as a visible object and ends by writing to avoid our neurosis: fear of rejection.

While there is much benefit to be accrued in writing effectively for your audience, it does come with some drawbacks when this descends into a lack of autonomy. Most notably, that it can reduce our subjective and objective capacities to judge our writing. In time, we become locked into a style and this can ultimately lead to both burn out and learned helplessness. In that we cease to innovate and produce new and crunchy verse, always falling back on tropes which worked in the past.

Self-Gaze

Ultimately, to survive and flourish as a writer of distinction, it is critical to evolve and develop the capacity for ‘self-gaze.’ By that I mean that I need to ensure I can assess the quality of my work, sans the likes of others. Not indifferent to them, you understand, but so as to find both a subjectivity and objectivity of self.

In this condition, it is possible to find a subjectivity and objectivity of the written word and know I am on the right track, even if my work is temporarily out of fashion.

Good night and good luck.


The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch is licensed under Public Domain.

This post is day 091 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. If you want to get involved, you can get more info from 100daystooffload.com.


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