Project Fetishing the object of your eye

This project involved reading sections from the course reader by Freud and Fenichel on the psychology and philosophy of looking. The next step was to answer a number of questions. My thoughts are set out below for each of the questions.

How does what you have read help your understanding of why and how we look at things in a ritualised way – for instance going to an art gallery?

From what I read there seems to be a number of factors at work.

In the first instance it is possible that some people who visit galleries and other venues where looking is ritualised, do so because they have fetishised the objects on display. A person gains satisfaction from looking at the art, photographs, museum pieces etc because these objects have come to stand for something missing in their lives. The element which is missing could in theory be anything. It could be that the objects on display represent experiences not attainable by the individual – for example expeditions to exotic places that the individual could never afford or summon up the courage to visit or the creation of photographs or art which the individual does not have the skills to complete themselves. So in this regard, the objects stand in for an unfulfilled or missing experience in the life of the viewer.

The essays also indicate a second factor. As a human being our first instinctive reaction when we look at the external world is to seek to imitate it. This process is called identification. We wish to share in the experience of that which we look at. This is why in many religions it is an impious act to look at God face to face. To look at God implies identification with God or likening oneself with God. In venues for ritualised looking, the exhibits are objects held in the highest esteem in whatever discipline is under display. Those looking at these treasured exhibits are most likely seeking to share in the experience (and genius) of those exhibiting.

These points illustrate why someone might go to a venue for ritualised looking and how they might look at the exhibits, but it does not answer the question of why such venues are created in the first place. I can only surmise that there are very many people who fetishise or seek to identify with the objects under display. So much so that the creation of venues to facilitate looking has been recognised as a need by society as a whole.

Do the articles suggest to you reasons for staring at someone being at best bad manners and at worst threatening?

The essays suggest a number of factors to support this view.

There is considerable evidence that looking has an unconscious significance of devouring.Very often sadistic impulses are involved in such looking.  So when we look at someone this could be an indication of our wish to devour them or even to destroy them. This is most definitely threatening and much worse than bad manners.

Looking also has associations with magic and hypnotism. In a magic glance one can render the subject incapable of movement or to turn them to stone. The hypnotist is able through looking to complel the subject to do his/her bidding. I suspect that this is what is behind the term ‘evil eye’. Psychologists suggest that such an eye is another symbol for the terrible devouring female genital. Both of these situations are detrimental to person being looked at.

Can you make any suggestions as to the reasons for some people’s need to avidly watch television?

I suspect that substitution of things missing in their lives with the experiences of others which they see on the television is at the heart of this. People have fetishised TV programmes. The experiences of TV personalities replace the ‘missing’ experiences in their own lives. Identification is another factor in play. Viewers wish to share in the experiences they witness on TV – violence, sex, celebrity etc etc are objects of desire.

What visual fetishes have you noted in everyday life – your own or others?

When I look at my own situation, I seem to have a particular predilection to buying photography books. I have in fact become a collector of such books. I had put this down to the fact that photography is a major preoccupation of mine. But why do I collect so many books? Could it be that they are a substitute for my own lack of photographic skills? Have I fetishised photography books. I also seem to buy lots of clothes. Often, these are really clothes to be worn by younger people. Am I using these clothes as a substitute for something else. If so what? Could it be that I want to be perceived as cool and as I am not I buy cool clothes as a substitute.

Why are people so keen to display wedding portraits or family portraits?

I wonder if this is because people fetishise such images which generally display happy and harmonious times because their real family and married lives are far from harmonious. The family portrait and snapshots are often fictions. The family fighting in the car all the way to the seaside pictured later on the beach all smiling…..what is reality? People want to feel that their family life is going well and perhaps they live this through the fiction of the family album.