A Brief History of "Gaze"

A Brief History of "Gaze"

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Title: A Brief History of "Gaze"
Author: Folkart, Barbara
Abstract: In a recent article I demonstrated, with the case of "interpellate" and its fellow-traveler "hail", how one specific translation of an essay by Louis Althusser contributed to the formation of the contemporary Anglo-American academic register—in particular to the subset of academic discourse I referred to as “profspeak”. In the present essay I attempt to elucidate the far more complex process by which the word "gaze", itself an artifact of less-than-felicitous translations of Foucault and Lacan, has come to be a register-marker of contemporary academic discourse. Here, too, it can be shown that translation has played a very significant role. The antecedent of all these Anglo-American "gazes" is the notion of "regard", central to the conceptual fields developed at length in the writings of Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, and Lacan. Throughout these writings, "regard" is used fluently and colloquially; nowhere does it exhibit the rigidly constrained semantic and combinatorial properties of an actual term. Yet translators such as Hazel Barnes (Sartre), Alphonso Lingis (Merleau-Ponty) and Alan Sheridan (Foucault and Lacan) consistently treated the word as a unit of translation unto itself, forcing it into highly unidiomatic TL collocations and thus creating a term where none existed as such in the French texts. But translation alone cannot explain why there are so many more "gazes", in contemporary academic discourse, than there were "regards" in the great French texts. Translation merely served to “seed” the process, by providing a free-floating signifier whose odd combinatorial behaviour and term-like rigidity were an invitation for meaning to rush in, triggering the processes of “creative exegesis” and “conceptual drift”. A whole “industry of the gaze” has evolved, ultimately percolating down to the lowliest strata of profspeak. While not sufficient to account for the entire process, then, translation seems nonetheless to have played a crucial role in the dynamics of theorization: without the seeding effect of the rigid translation equivalent "gaze", the edifice built over the past few decades by Anglophone theorists of all stripes might not have been quite so grand.
Date: 2007
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/20493

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