The Object Stares Back – Feminist Critical Returns to/of The Male Gaze

Posted: April 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

As I tried to suggest in class, one of the great endeavors of Surrealist art was to argue that modern science – a supposedly disinterested and value-neutral method of approaching the world – is, as a matter of fact, driven by multiple unacknowledged desires and fears. To employ a term made famous by Sigmund Freud, science has an Unconscious. To expose the unconscious of science is precisely the point of Buñuel and Dalí’s film Un Chien Andalou, which takes it cues, scene for scene, from the writings and diagrams of Rene Descartes. What this film tries to show is that scientific knowledge is gendered, male. This cinematic critique of the supposed objectivity of modern science is invaluable.

However, one can’t help but notice that this film, for all that it sheds light on the desires driving science, nevertheless continues to play with the objectification of women. There have been a number of responses to the scandal of Surrealist art, including at least two different Feminist responses. The first, which we might associate with second-wave feminism of the ’60s and ’70s, would be shocked and outraged at the overt sexism of Buñuel and Dalí’s art, and the way Surrealism, in general, objectified Woman. By contrast, the second, which we might in turn associate with third-wave feminism of the ’80s and ’90s, would be intensely curious about the ways Surrealist practices problematize normative modes of perceiving Woman, or gender in general, as well as male-dominated scientific knowledge, and, by extension, all “objective” reality.


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