Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Towards Day 25 (Th, 12/4): "“The Veil, Desire, and the Gaze"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Coursekeeping
K, S & I updated the schedule/portfolio instructions:
* By 5 p.m. Sun, 12/7: post your contribution to the 'zine (so 'Zinesters can get it to Sarah T for printing by Tuesday a.m.)
* By 5 p.m. Mon: posting #14--your reactions to and questions about the work of the New Zealand feminist economist Marilyn Waring.
  How does it invite you to think differently about internationalizing feminism? I'll structure class around those posts.
* For class on Tuesday, we'll discuss Waring's work:
your options are to read 4 selections (abt. 35 pp.) from her book, Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth:
"Preface by Gloria Steinem," "Introduction to the Second Edition," "If Counting was the Limit of Intelligence," "Epilogue," 
or to access Waring's work in video form, by watching Who's Counting?
* 4 p.m. Tuesday, 12/9:
set up our portrait gallery in the Campus Center (fold and assemble 'zines @ that time?)
* Noon-2 p.m., Fri, 12/12:
Our Intersectional On-Campus Event, in Rhoads (help for Nkechi, Natalie?)
Other details to review later, but you'll be glad to hear that Sara's re-scheduled her long paper for midnight, Monday, 12/15.
We have also posted a prompt for the final cluster-wide intersectional paper, and Kristin will discuss that with you on Monday.

II. On Tuesday, we had a good, thorough, probing ("whoa!") discussion of "nego-feminism";
coupla more ideas I wanted to highlight from Nnaemeka's article:
* when do certain acts become "culture"?
* true development of human beings involves inner fulfillment, not just material things
* anonymity of communal voice in narrative forms, proverbs
* deconstructive, subversive nature of African literature
(would like to understand more about that/talk w/ Linda-Susan Beard...
was Americanah "deconstructive, subversive"?
is nego-feminism "deconstructive, subversive"?)
* interrogate/reposition two crucial issues in feminist studies: positionality and intersectionality--
constant interrogation of positionality as active subject location of shifting reciprocity
shift of intersectionality from being there to doing what there (passage rebeccamec flagged):
going beyond historicizing to focus on history of now, moment of action
an application (and great topic for final paper): making intersectionality visual @ #PhillyDIEin

II. for today, I asked you to read
Banu Gökarıksel and Anna Secor's “The Veil, Desire, and the Gaze:
Turning the Inside Out.” Signs (Autumn 2014), thinking that it might both continue the process of
"defamiliarizing feminism," and help you write a paper about Persepolis.
two of you posted responses, full of reactions!--so let's start there:

I found the fact that veils were neither purely religious nor for only a fashion statement as an important point....many woman try to match their veils with their outfits and find it as a way of expressing themselves while many in America think of veils as Islamic "suppression" of women....women who wear the veil feel judged by Islamists and secularists....The overall choice to wear a veil is that of the much women would try to find the perfect veils for their outfits...reminded me so much of how many US women and men get very focused shoes or bags to compliment their outfits and it made the veil seem so less "unusual"...

I realized how little I knew about veiling and veiling fashions....I am now beginning to think that I have no place making judgements about wearing a veil or not...where does our fixation on veils come from? much we overlook when we think about other cultures at surface level...



III. "scopophilia"!
* what do you know about "the gaze"/the "history of the gaze"?
John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972)
, p. 46: "A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself...she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constiutent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for...the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another."
taken up by film theorists in particular; queered, eventually de-binarized, by queer theorists, etc. etc. etc....
* Jacques Lacan, controversial French psychiatrist (d. 1981):
importance of desire (in relation to a lack);
movement from available mother to language, when she fails (i.e. language expresses a lack; we name what we do not have..)
* context for this exploration of a practice not common here (though also not absent!):
for further information about the subjective experience of being veiled, view the Bryn Mawr performance of The Hijabi Monologues (and script).  As the manual explains, this script differs from "The Vagina Monologues," which give voice to a mostly private aspect of women's lives: "The Hijabi  Monologues" take something public, which everyone seems to have an opinion about, and give it a personal voice. The characters of each monologue wear the hijab, but the hijab is not the focus of any story.
I was very excited to find this essay, because it
* focuses on the subjective experience of women
* treats them as subjects-who-are objects (decision makers who are viewed/judged by others)
* displays the complexity of their choices (the tension between piety and self-display)
* makes this continuous with (yet distinct from) our own experiences,
placing ourselves in the "scopic" regime.
(What is "scopic"? "scopic regime"? "scopophilia"?)
* attends to the depths of the surface, the dynamic relation between "outside" and "inside"
* incredibly complexified my understanding of veiling, as not removing oneself from the "gaze,"
but as explicitly placing oneself in a (very particular, Islamic) visual regime
* also to discuss? the Islamic ideal of "being freed from multiplicity" (vs "ours," of reveling in it?)

So: what does this analysis do to/with our understanding of [the treatment of the veil in] Persepolis?
How much does that graphic novel now seem to cater to Western presumptions about what veiling is-and-does?
(links to two articles about popularity of fiction, from the Middle East and Africa, which caters to "our" tastes...)

Anne's reading notes
per Lacan: the unity of identity is constructed on the surface:
the skin a surface enclosing psychical contents,
dress makes a "self-conscious individual image," linked to "idealized visualizations"
perspectives of women who veil rarely impetus for theorizing about veiling
veiling does not mean blocking the gaze but mobilizes a particular visual regime,
enacting its own aesthetics and ethics: veiled women are visible in a particular manner,
and active participants in producing that visibility
clothed body the site of a project to map an ideal of a unified, harmonious appearance,
ruptured by materialist, corporeal desire (nefis); veiling vashion both incites nefis and governs it
veil has been read as preventing women from experiencing themselves as subjects,
or as interrupting masculine fetishization of women's bodies
veiling is being visibly Muslim, actively participating with the domain of public visibility
within the field of gaze, the subject plays with her own image, according to the coordinates of her own desire
psychoanalytic treatments of the veil as symbolic object, rather than as part of women’s lived subjectivities;
veil becomes part of self-formation: significant to cultivation of piety and making of an ethical self
growing literature on rise of fashionable veiling, placed within broader market of Islamically inflected goods,
a (controversial) “Islamic consumptionscape”
signification of clothing associated with politics, aesthetics, fashion, class status;
Islamic virtue turned into economic value
analytic focus on how women represent who they are
fashionable veiling upends veil as blank barrier with “deficiency of expression,” and
promises compulsive innovation and self-expression,
the constant renewal of desire in the field of consumption,
a route to constructing visual identities
designed to be looked at: alacrity of fashion cycle, sense of obligatory renewal
contribute to vibrant industry catering to increasingly visible Islamic bourgeoisie
women struggle to reconcile demands of modesty w/ imperatives of fashion,
are subjected to political, moral, aesthetic scrutiny
scopic regime: particular dispensation of looking and desiring,
women as spectators using consumption to mediate their identification with the fashionable image
veiled woman incites a desire and an identification
demand for visibility: the law of fashion and its circulation demand display of brand name
but interplay between looking and desiring is shaped by the particular ethical practice of Islamic modesty
women say fundamental purpose of veiling is not to attract attention,
but wearers of fashionable veils operate both as spectators and part of the spectacle;
tense, anxious interplay between scopophilia of fashion and modesty of veiling
ambivalence of veiling fashion: the “closed boxes” are the most alluring ones
@ stake is image of self as both fashionable and pious; gaze is social and theological
exacting aesthetic regime makes great demands on the women:
how to be both modest and beautiful?
ideal that no strand of hair escapes smooth surface of scarf
aesthetic of harmony between elements of dress,
between appearance and conduct, between appearance and belief--
so aesthetic outrages include an ethical dimension
concern for consistency in comportment,
due to critical public gaze on veiled women,
seeking hypocrisy, “the soft spot of a covered person”
discursive function of harmony: no gap between interior and exterior
critiques of those wearing all-encompassing outer garment,
which creates a suspect inner space,
site of danger, sexuality, hypocrisy
(cf. more form-fitting clothes, seen as more transparent,
revealing a reliable image of self)
looking-desiring of veiling fashion set in motion by ideal image of perfectly exteriorized self,
a “sustained striving for perfection” that resonates with Islamic ideal of being freed from multiplicity
striving fro seamlessness a struggle with nefis (“soul”),
which ruptures the unity between God and humankind,
by pulling the self toward material, egoist desires:
power-seeking, arrogant, self-indulgent—and must be governed
this the greater jihad: war against one’s soul, spiritual disciplining, purification;
hallmark of piety is restraining nefis
conundrum: veiling orients women toward Islamic modesty, piety,
yet fashionable veiling incites nefis, pulls away from God
women report fashion and piety not easily melded
veiling a technology of the self producing certain desires, behaviors;
fashionable veiling inserts women into an economy of the gaze and material objects—
governs, and incites; conflict between veil as desirable commodity and discipline of the soul
Lacan: subject maps herself within the field of the gaze, strives to occupy her own ideal image,
projects ego onto surface of the body, idealized in clothes
unable to see herself, she strives to occupy the position of her own ideal image
women who wear veiling fashion are subjects/objects of looking and desiring,
seeking an ideal image of harmony and unity, disrupted by the agency of nefis,
the pesky imp of material and corporeal desire,
forming themselves as ethical, pious, desiring subjects
women engage in veilng to align themselves with an ideal image—
and thereby enter the scopic regime of the city
veiling fashion is the mark of women’s participation in circuits of desire
surface of the body is site upon which they project their ideal selves