The Eye, Jouissance, and the Gaze

In reading Chapter 4 of Lacan and Contemporary Film, the discussion of the “beauty’s eye” in relation to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut seems to denote a more foundational (albeit philosophical) understanding of how epistemology is what connects “the eye,” jouissance, and Lacan’s “gaze.” To be clear, these three elements come to bear in what can be called “the epistemological situation”–a situation that is best articulated by Aristotle in Book Alpha of Metaphysics. 

In pursuing this line of inquiry, Aristotle begins Metaphysics proposing the following (as translated from the Greek by Richard Hope): “All men naturally have an impulse to get knowledge. A sign of this is the way we prize our senses; for even apart from their utility, they are prized on their own account, especially sensing with the eyes” (980a21). Here, what Aristotle describes is a connection between knowing–the overall notion of epistemology itself–and “natural impulses.” Clearly, for Aristotle, these “natural impulses” are rooted in a Lacanian kind of jouissance–the “desire to know,” as it has been alternatively translated, is a desire to encase an object as an Kantian object of understanding, an object, once understood, once categorized in an Aristotlean fashion, that lends jouissance to the knower. In this sense, the relationship between the knower and the known (a Kantian object of understanding) is situated in jouissance–this is at the heart of the epistemological situation: an event (of Deleuzean immanence, perhaps) where an epistemological object, once known, fundamentally changes the knower. That change is jouissance as well, because the enjoyment the knower gets from an epistemological object is through the possibility of knowing it–that is, an enjoyment that manifests itself in the degree to which the knower “knows” an epistemological object and can say, with an extent of certitude, verification, and truth-correspondence, that anything can be ultimately “known.” Here, jouissance is a kind of satisfaction with “the known.”

With that said, Aristotle contends that the “senses”–or simply perception–are the means by which “the impulse” to know is satisfied through jouissance. But, Aristotle is careful to prize the eyes as the manner through which an epistemological object is encounter by the knower and processed to the point of being “known.” It may be argued that Aristotle’s prizing of the eye as the gateway towards epistemological jouissance is simply a way to confront Plato’s lack of specifics of the definition of perception (particularly in Theaetetus). However, it is much more than that. Aristotle has articulated that the eye is not only the gateway to the process of “knowing” but the Lacanian have itself makes it possible for “the known” to have distinctly existential value.

This underlying need for existential value through jouissance is especially articulated in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time as “Freude”–Heidegger offers to following: “…Along with the sober anxiety which brings us face to face with our individualized potentiality-for-Being, there goes an unshakeable joy in the possibility” (358 in the Macquarrie-Robinson translation; 310 in the original German). Through Heidegger, it is possible to argue that the jouissance we get from allowing “the eye” and “the gaze” to process an epistemological object is a “Freude” that existentially confronts the anxiety pervading the epistemological situation–the anxiety (Kierkegaardian in nature, even) of encountering Being.

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