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Problem of the Gaze

Problem of the Gaze

By Ishita Jha

Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist

Just yesterday this incident occurred when a person I know pointed to a person on the street and remarked about how fat she was. I was instantly extremely irritated just like all the other times when I am assigned some restrictive label by a stranger or a friend or even somebody close to me. The awarding of the label or the adjective which is isolated from the real existence of myself as a being by a person unaware of the whole situation who just wraps an “image” of me to throw it to me through words or even by a look not only makes me uneasy in company but angers me about which I would like to talk about in a more general and elaborated way. There is a reason why I like solitude in spite of the obvious reasons one might have. I fear the presence of another consciousness that looks at me, who with its judging gaze has the power to cling to me. I don’t want that, there is something about it that makes me shudder.

Let’s talk about this gaze of the other presence which has the capability to make one be ashamed of oneself as one “appears” to that presence. The gaze of the person is objectifying because it views another simply as one considers a title or form without knowing the content. When we notice ourselves as being perceived we come to objectify ourselves in the same way. By the very being there of the other person I am catapulted in a position of blaming or passing comment on myself as an object. A person due to this gaze that without context has reduced him or her to a mere characteristic could feel irritability or anger at the portrait which gives it perhaps an ugliness or baseness which was not in the conception of “self”.

I am not afraid of the baseness that the portrait unjustly shows, it’s the act that allows the person to show it to the object of its gaze. Whether base or beautiful, the being becomes an essence defined by somebody else and that is what I resist. This continual of unsolicited gaze which continues might lead one to recognise the self the way the other sees it as; creating a very gradual subversion of self- identity. An existence that starts to become a being only through another is dehumanized and robbed of its inherent freedom to simply exist. You see how this makes me shudder? I see such lives all around me with a dependent consciousness whose essential characteristic is to exist only for another, living constantly under the gaze of people. A person can’t appear as an object in one’s consciousness, its very being is the fundamental barring of objectivity. Due to the look of another there comes a recognition of the fact that the freedom has escaped in order for one to be transformed or rather reduced into an object. The “objects” then too fix the people as objects when they look at them. In answer to the gaze of the other, people will declare themselves as “free” and try to objectify the individual who objectifies them thus reminding us of patterns observed in our society. Race issues being one example.

It is a cycle that doesn’t stop, it makes me sick. I am afraid that one day my being might become slowly dependent at something which is not mine. One day I might be placed at that position of affirming oneself as a being whose eventuality is entirely built upon the interpretation of the other person. The values of others become a haunting presence, not going away, present and judging, forcing us to see our simple gestures condemned or exemplified that for us are just a part of “self” -independent and free.

 I don’t want to be reduced to the level where I become happy or fear or feel shame according to the opinion of another which is an accepted standard in our society.People may say immediately in a response to me that just by a gaze “How can you be hurt? You are too serious!” For them I really have no reply but to affirm that I am serious, I always have a purpose, everything is important to me, and everything is significant and great in some way. I therefore elaborated so much on the “gaze” so as to explain in detail the uneasiness or even the anger it sometimes instigates in me. The anger is not only due to my reduction, it comes from contempt at people who objectify without context. But largely from people who are devoid of self, having come to see themselves as how others “look” at them. So when somebody makes an offhand remark about me or makes me an object of scrutiny especially for some trivial thing it drives me to a rage because I hate to be affected by it at some level. I sometimes almost become susceptible to that image drawn by people for me that consists of certain adjectives and it makes me angry at myself mostly. I won’t apologize saying that after all I am a human being because I support the claim of atheistic existentialism, so I believe there is no human nature as there is no god to have a conception of it. For me there is no human nature present in every man that is “the realisation of a certain conception which dwells in the divine understanding” (Existentialism is Humanism, Sartre). So yes “I” apologize for the fact that I am not entirely immune to the objectifying look, I confess it is hard sometimes.

Now elaborating on the reason why the scrutiny affects me so is because of what I believe in and am. The thing I prize the most in me is my desire, a desire that was born within me without the presence of any gaze, any motivation to display, to stun, to regale, to excite. I have never understood myself in relation to anyone else, to amount myself as a part of anything is something I don’t do. I have never been the person to live “for others”, the concept disgusts me. The image of servility of spirit it brings is something I don’t want ever to be a part of, the most prized quality I strived to stand true to always was the devotion of my desire for the sole purpose of its fulfilment. My goal in life is the fulfilment of the desire. I can’t function through others, I can’t be concerned with them in my motive, in my thinking and in my desires. My goal is not to achieve approval or fame or ostentation because it never was in the first place born blindly directed by others, for others. The dependence of people’s goals and passions on others is a fact I abhor in them, their lives seem barren and shallow. Now I hope you see the point I am trying to make how truly it makes me shudder, the objectification. It makes me shudder because in its process, it makes people dependent in complete contrast to the individuality I hold dear. People don’t exist for themselves anymore, they see themselves as people see them or objectify them. They become just an empty hulk of opinions. I fear this very degradation because as I said that the fact that I get angry by others’ looks it shows that I am not completely immune to what they think or say. I have a fault despite the purity of passion, despite the being I make myself to be. People have been taught dependence as a virtue, a virtue which makes them voluntarily enslave themselves. It has been taught in the name of morality to exist for others, to be truly self- LESS. So why will anybody be really enraged at objectification? If objectification lets you literally exist for others by believing and allowing the self to be seen as they see you, in others and in their opinion. Then it’s great, morality exists in all its servile empty glory. Right? But it enrages me. Because I am angry, angry at the lessening of me as I am objectified, angry at the one objectifying carelessly, angry of the creation of “objects” who are defined by a succession of adjectives fading in and out of an unformed mass, angry at me for letting the objectifying opinions to seep in me, angry at the people seeking validation in others’ looks.

I may seem as a hater of mankind, a hater. My friend thinks I say “hate” too much. But I guess I am better off than the self-less humanitarians who apparently love anything but really nothing. I am angry because I believe we are less than what we could be. I hate people devoid of “self” because I can’t accept the horrible fact with serenity. It enrages me not only for me but for the mankind that could-have-been. Yes according to what I said, I shouldn’t care about how people seek themselves in others but I do. I simply do. I think mankind is capable of more, of individuality, of greatness. I don’t mean to impose upon this thinking, but I just wish that this is how things could be. Objectification will always exist, it’s the natural way people work. I don’t blame or condemn. But letting it dominate, letting one perceive oneself as one is being perceived is a fault I wish no-one would commit. You exist in you, for you. The simple desires and goals of a person should always be completely his or hers, unaffected and pure.

 Ishita is a student of English Literature at Ramjas college of Delhi University. She has an inherent urge to argue and an opinion about everything and anything. She is interested in literature, politics and philosophy and would love to dedicate her whole life to academic research. Usually she can be found in a tranquil corner absorbed in her books. Not only wanting to spend her career pondering over literary theories she wishes to bring about a change in people’s mentality about various cultural and social issues that have become rigid. Very passionate about issues of gender and caste discrimination she is ruthless when encounters outlooks entrenched with ossified traditions. She has interned with Teach for India and works in Enactus Ramjas which helps her to impact lives emotionally and financially. Loves travelling, heated discussions, integrity and opinions backed by research. Can be contacted at [email protected]

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