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October 11, 2008, 2:30 PM

From Looking to Voyeurism

Participants: Mary Ann Doane, Katherine Frank, Dany Nobus (moderator), Saul Robbins, Sarah Stanbury

A person who spies on others in a prurient fashion can be considered a voyeur. An artist might also play the role of voyeur, while gathering material for a creative project. Voyeurism, then, contains elements of both the pathological and the aesthetic, accentuating the fragile line between sociopathy and art. In psychoanalytic terms, scoptophilia (or what Freud termed Schaulust, the pleasure of looking) encompasses looking and curiosity, which may become affected by sexual and aggressive impulses. Developmental issues and conflicts may also influence how the mind processes what comes in through the eye. Whether it's a bystander pausing to stare at an accident, or Jimmy Stewart's character in Rear Window witnessing the strange goings-on in the apartment across the way, the act of looking contains both eroticism and mystery. This panel will explore looking, from the perspectives of psychoanalysis, neuroscience, art and film.

Mary Ann Doane is George Hazard Crooker Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. She is the author of The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive, Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis, and The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940s. In addition, she has published a wide range of articles on feminist film theory, sound in the cinema, psychoanalytic theory, television, and sexual and racial difference in film.

Katherine Frank is a cultural anthropologist currently studying the meaning and negotiation of sexual exclusivity in contemporary relationships. In addition to her work on monogamy, she has also written on the sex industry, pornography, feminism, eating disorders, and reality television. She is the author of G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire and a co-editor of Flesh for Fantasy: Producing and Consuming Exotic Dance.

Dany Nobus is Chair of Psychology and Psychoanalysis and Head of the School of Social Sciences at Brunel University, London, where he also directs the MA Program in Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Society. He is the author, most recently, of Knowing Nothing, Staying Stupid: Elements for a Psychoanalytic Epistemology.

Saul Robbins is a photographer interested in the ways in which people move through, relate to, and occupy their surroundings, especially the intersection of private and public experience in the urban environment. His photography has been exhibited internationally and published in The New York Times, TAM, The CPW Photography Quarterly, Zeek, Wired, Aufbau, San Francisco Photo Metro, and Berlin Tagesspiegel. He has work in the collections of Alliance Capital, Hunter College, and Oregon's Portland Museum of Art, among others. Robbins was the curator of Regarding Intimacy at The Karl and Bertha Leubsdorf Gallery at Hunter College, and co-curator of No Live Girls, an installation of artists' videos at The Lusty Lady in San Francisco and Seattle. In 1998 he was awarded a NICA Stipendium to study on exchange at Berlin's Hoch Schule der Kunste.

Sarah Stanbury is Professor of English at the College of the Holy Cross. She has written on space and embodiment in fourteenth-century texts as well as on ocular rapture in medieval religious writings and contemporary film. She is the author of Seeing the Gawain-Poet: Description and the Act of Perception and, most recently, The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England.


Discussion Board

This forum allows for an ongoing discussion of the above Philoctetes event. You may use this space to share your thoughts or to pose questions for panelists. An attempt will be made to address questions during the live event or as part of a continued online dialogue.
Philoctetes says:
Dr. Nersessian, in response to this roundtable, I wanted to ask you to clarify the difference between pathology and addiction. For example, because of the wide availability of erotic images on the Internet, voyeuristic behavior is probably much more common than it was in the past. But is this behavior a pathology, or an addiction fueled by availability? As another example, would you describe an addiction to cigarettes, which is often a simple function of their availability, as pathological? Does a certain kind of pathology make someone more susceptible to addiction? How would you diagnose the pathology of a cigarette smoker differently from someone who habitually engages in "looking" on the Internet?
Edward Nersessian, M.D. says:
You ask difficult but interesting questions. The first answer would be that there is a lot we don't know. I think addiction and any kind of pressured, repetitive behavior have something in common with all compulsive behavior at the neurobiological level, but beyond that, the psychological underpinnings and the dynamic meaning of the symptoms are different for each condition or group of symptoms. It has always seemed to me that a condition like anorexia nervosa starts as a psychological problem but that the restriction of food and especially serious weight loss over a period of time causes alterations in the brain that can be said to become independent of the psychological conflict and take a life of their own. In that way, one could say that an anorexic patient has become addicted to starving himself or herself. I give the example of anorexia because it may be that after repeated exposure, let us say to internet porn, a compulsion settles in with brain alteration that also takes a life of its own. If the porno watching is not compulsive, repetitive and uncontrollable, then I don't consider it an addiction, and without knowing the person involved I could not prima facie say it is or is not pathological.
As to question of availability, I don't think availability causes addiction but rather it causes repeated use which in turn through neurochemical alterations causes addiction.
I hope this answers your questions; if not, I will be happy to pursue this discussion.

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