Like the rest of the ‘ilias’, Scopophilia is taken from the Greeks. Broken down, it comes from the words scopo, to see, and philo, to love; named for the love of looking, the love of vision. The notion that this even has a name is kind of wonderful, in my mind. I came across the word in the depths of one of my internet wanderings. Just like there is a difference between hearing and listening, there is a difference between seeing and looking. Countless human beings walk around every day with near perfect vision, seeing everything but looking at nothing. The notion of scopophilia is a reminder of not just opening your eyes but taking in what you see and internalising it into an experience.
As a sexual expression, scopophilia refers to when ‘looking’ gets taken to the level of actually deriving pleasure from it; like, from looking at erotic objects: photos, porn, nekkid people and the like. Freud’s two cents associated scopophilia with the anal stage of development (the second phase of Freud’s psychosexual stages, beginning with a kid’s ability to control their asshole – and the ability to give or withhold gifts at will. So in fact, this stage is about controlling behaviours and urges). In terms of 70s cinema, borrowing from the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan and Otto Fenichel, analysists used the word to describe the unconscious pleasurable (and otherwise) processes that happen to spectators when they watch films. Feminist film theory have further delved into the notion of ‘the gaze’ (not to be confused with the more general ‘the gays’); proposing within the whole experience of watching a film, from the themes of films even down to the apparatus used to make them, everything is coded ‘male’ (take a camera, for example, there’s no way that could be an allegory for a pussy).
In the simplest terms, scopophilia could be a synonym for voyeurism.
Nan Goldin‘s latest exhibit, incidentally, is titled Scopophilia; which collects and combines over four hundred of her autobiographical photographs with those taken of works inside the Louvre after hours. With this after hours perspective through Goldin’s lens, the stuffiness and staid tendencies of the Louvre’s classic masterpieces are blown into oblivion. Beauty – and in this case, desire and pleasure – is proved to truly be in the eye of the beholder; and we see via Goldin’s eyes, her rapt joy at capturing the Louvre in the quiet dusk of close. She brings the “mythic features alive”, and gives us a new sense of the potential for gorgeous sensuality in comparing the Louvre’s most prized works with her own; imbuing the viewer with “desire, awoken by the images”. Scopophilia by Nan Goldin is currently at the Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.
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