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Seeing Things:
Preface to Scopophilia

by Gerard Malanga

It is expectable, even reassuring, that a term so quaintly suggestive as "voyeurism" should be taken from the French, like they say, and that it should only become at home in our language as recently as the late '20s. (The OED gives as date 1929.) This peeking, taking looks at, beholding unaware, even spying (as in "spyglass") has old associations with the sexual informing of our humanness. Thus Adam and Eve first "see" their nakedness in the Garden of Eden and it becomes the burden of self-consciousness ever after. Just as they saw themselves, we see others, with that insistent presence of the sexual in any recognition of those ones, whoever they are, out there, apart from ourselves. So it is our habit to respond to this dimension, this potential and presence, of person primarily; and if we are cautious, shy ourselves of observation, possibly we are fearful we will forfeit authority and become equal game.

In the intriguing range and particularity of this book—its persons in all respects—the act of looking is the necessary center insofar as the art of photography so depends upon and defines how it is we see, and think we see. Because each image is specific, outside the time or circumstance in which it occurred, a determined possession has already been accomplished, something taken from the otherwise seemingly random and hardly to be recollected flux. So even the most chaste instance of such seeing—the impromptu wedding photograph, the children, the girl or boy friend, even or particu-

Gerard Malanga, Scopophilia (New York: Alfred van der Marck, 1985).


larly one's dog—would be counterpart of those here, made to serve a far more intensive ambition possibly, the will to possess beyond any moment of time the scene of one's proposed pleasure and its increasingly pathetic artifacts, the fading subject.

I know the parallel in writing. Despite what the rhyme says, names do indeed "hurt" and possess equally, and one may make of any innocent bystander a means to a complex end just by saying, "you are here. . . ." That is, one says so, and so it is. One takes them unawares.

Because those here collected speak with such apt instance, and are also masters of their authority, better to let this brief note and introduction move even more personally. What is it one feels so questionable in peeking—as if to look before a permission, without requisite provision, acknowledgment, much like opening a Christmas present too soon? I am sure that the occasions are far more invested, again as those making so much clear here make very evident as well. I've certainly looked when I wasn't meant to, with or without discovery, or with an invitation I of course presumed. Often I was simply afraid to, was displaced, wanted myself to be seen, seen to, taken apart as a part. The enclosure of such obvious grounds of human interest by dictates of propriety and good taste may be legitimate—"legit" feels more accurate —but the illegitimate, that which has only its singular existence for birthright, so echoes and persuades. Feelings can be made to seem characteristic improprieties, at least with respect to rational intent. Yet they must have our attention too, want all that may insist upon response to be acknowledged, admitted. They preempt thinking, by making it think twice.

Therefore Dig this , as they say, what's so hidden from us, buried, so covered over with whatever clothing, that we of necessity must gain means to get to it despite the "no-man's-land" we are forced to traverse or the fact that we will have no one to speak for us, if discovered. Unforgettable, sad story woman told me years ago, she was a New Zealander, of her English mother-in-law who had never seen her husband naked, until at last, when he was old and dying, she had the job of bathing him. Were eyes, then, hostile to sight (sex?) so that they were better cast down or removed? There is D. H. Lawrence's story of the blind man who touches with the power of seeing.

W. C. Williams had the repeated phrase, "No ideas but in things,"


to which one wants to add, "nor people either. . . ." One has to look, whatever the cost. The ingenuous diversity of means here evident makes clear that to look is not the end in view simply. To see something is where it's always at.

Ithaca, N. Y.
April 28, 1985


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