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RETURNING THE RADIANT GAZE:

Visual Art and Embodiment in a World of Subjectivity

©Beth Carruthers 2003

       
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We all know the sense of being stared at , when we literally feel the gaze of another – and not only of human others, but of the non-human as well. Visual touching is a subtle thing to our Western selves, yet we acknowledge it when we declare that we feel ourselves undressed by the gaze of another, or when I feel the eyes of the bear on me while walking in the forest.


We are always seen, as well as seeing, “…my body simultaneously sees and is seen. That which looks at all things can also look at itself…” [Merleau-Ponty, 162] This self is also seen by the other, so vision begins with, and returns to, the bodyself as a kind of circuit, a current cycling through self and other. “… the same thing is both out there in the world and here in the heart of vision… It is the mountain itself which from out there makes itself seen by the painter; it is the mountain that he interrogates with his gaze.” [Merleau-Ponty, 166]


My vision extends as my very self, never disembodied, so that when I am attending to the shape and contour of a stone with my eyes, my hand on the paper is translating the story of that stone. I feel this other tactilely - the surface, the texture, the temperature, the form. This stone is telling me about its own stoneness, as distinct from any other stone. The stone is engaged with me.

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