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Ph D Research Proposal 'Psychoanalysis And Vision A Study Of Medusa, Otherness And The Politics Of Looking' Notes

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PhD Research Proposal (draft) Psychoanalysis and Vision: A Study of Medusa, Otherness and the Politics of Looking. My chosen topic will explore the symbolic functions of the Medusa from a gender studies perspective, analysing the concept of this snake-haired creature and its petrifying gaze, and considering what emblematic meanings the Medusa may embody. In particular, it will ask what it means to look upon (or to refuse to look upon) the Medusa and what constitutes the fear-inducing nature of this figure, with the concept of the female as 'other' being of key significance. I will approach the topic primarily from a psychoanalytic stance, particularly in relation to the castration threat embodied by the female and the methods that are conventionally used in order to control and contain this threat. However, in addition to Freud's reference to the Medusa as castrated figure,1 my thesis will also explore Creed's argument that the terror-inducing nature of the Medusa may actually be due to her potential to serve as castrator.2 Likewise, I will examine Freud's and Slater's3 contrasting interpretations of the symbolic meaning behind the petrifaction of the male, and consider how these relate to Buci-Glucksmann's discussion of the reverse scenario; that is, the male desire to immobilize, or petrify, the feminine body.4 On a more general level, I will explore the typical binary distinction that equates the male with activity and strength, and the female with passivity and weakness - a division that is also frequently seen to manifest itself in the notion of the male as the active bearer of the gaze and the female as the passive recipient. Mulvey's study of the male gaze will serve as the starting point for discussion of this topic5, with Berger's analysis of the gendered nature of looking (in which women watch themselves being looked at and thus turn themselves into objects of vision) also serving as an important text.6 However, I will branch out from this to consider the notion of the active female gaze (which Bowers discusses in relation to the Medusa)7, questioning whether the fear that the Medusa evokes may relate in a more general sense to fears about the possibility of resistance and reversal of the male gaze, whereby an active female gaze positions the male as an object of vision. Indeed, regarding this point, I will refer to examples (such as those provided by Zoonen)8 of mechanisms typically employed in order to resist this objectification, and ask why it is that such a reversal is seen to be so troubling. Also under consideration will be the ways in which poets have responded to the image of the Medusa, with reference to the potential problems that can arise when looking upon and describing a work of art. Indeed, I will argue that such issues are of 1

Sigmund Freud, 'Medusa's Head', in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. by James Strachey, 24 vols (London: Hogarth, 1955), XVIII, pp. 273-274. 2 Creed, Barbara, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 111. 3 Philip E. Slater, The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and the Greek Family (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968). 4 Christine Buci-Glucksmann, 'Catastrophic Utopia: The Feminine as Allegory of the Modern', Representations, 14 (1986), 220-229 (224). 5 Laura Mulvey, 'Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema', in Movies and Methods, ed. by B Nicholls, 2 vols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), II, pp. 200-248 6 John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: Penguin, 1972), pp. 36-64 (p. 47). 7 Susan R. Bowers, 'Medusa and the Female Gaze', NWSA Journal, 2 (1990), 217-235. 8 Liesbet van Zoonen, Feminist Media Studies (London: Sage, 1994), pp. 98-101.

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