Project-Fetishising the object of your eye


Article: The scoptophilic instinct and identification : by Otto Fenichel

P327 The Visual Culture Reader


Para 1

Readers are in some way devouring the text unconsciously  …..(Strachey)

The text is not always clear- the sentences are too complex… eg line 8 ‘another conclusion which…..’….. what are oral incorporation tendencies?? – perhaps it would be clearer if reading in the original article.

Reading may be incorporating things into our egos, and may involve losing other things at the same time.

Some may gain erotic feelings through eating, some through reading, (and some do both together)


Looking as devouring: eg.  The wolf and little red Riding hood, lots of other examples.


In magic ‘looking’ can equate to devouring…. or rendering someone defenceless or paralysed by a look  (the vampire’s gaze on his victim)


Dracula hypnotises a victim (Dracula, 1957)



Also snakes and their victims, hypnotists and their ‘victims’,

Freud says the eye often symbolises the penis.

But often the eye is unmistakably acting as a mouth……

Andersen’s (Hans Christian ?) story of the tinderbox involves the eye as a symbol of the erection.

The eye is both actively sadistic and passively receptive of the ‘victim’.

Para 4

The eye can act in games, by placing a spell of imitation eg. in the jungle book Kaa the snake makes the monkeys imitate his dance … and they dance into his mouth!

Can i think other examples of imitative magic??

In the  60’s horror ‘The Sorcerers’ with Boris Karloff and Ian Ogilvy…’ the old couple use a machine to hypnotise a young man, and can see and feel all he does, and can direct his actions!!!


The Sorcerers (1967), dir. Michael Reeves


In psychoanalysis the ‘magic gesture’ is the symptom we want other people to do

(to us ????- what about masturbation?).

Para 5

Looking as identifying- children seeing their parents having sex.

Para 6

Looking glass (mirror PH? ) magic and folklore. Mirrors often used here

They change the relationship between the ego and the non-ego… (not sure what this means practically yet).

My examples of mirrors/mirror like objects in films

Dorian Grey Represents the ageing of Dorian because Dorian thinks Beauty is the only thing worth  its place.
Hammer House of Horrror- The Guardian of the Abyss A scrying glass is central to the action
The  king who must look for a magic mirror in order to improve his health To find the new him, he must work on his life,(gets up early every day, and goes to bed early) and after this all mirrors are magical- they show him rejuvenated!
The Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter. a mirror, which, according to Albus Dumbledore, shows the “deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.”-Harry sees his parents alive again with him.
Mirror of Galadriell-in the Lord of the Rings. Shows images of far off places and times.


ⅠⅠ.         The scoptophilic instinct is a natural part of sexual instinct- we go from looking to doing the sex act. As in life in general, the eye/sight may be the most important sense in sexual forepleasure.

The visual scoptophilic desire can be repressed, and can cause psychoses such as viewing the world through other senses or concepts.

The object of the instinct is to look at the sexual object and share in its experience.

‘Scoptophilic perverts’ : are defined as wanting to look and thereby share the experience of another couple. He says that these people generally do it in a homosexual sense.

Is watching Pornography Scoptophilic- i think so, and  you want to share the experience- in my case with the woman and without the man .

Looking  as destroying or consuming is also part of the scoptophilic instinct, as in sadism.

ⅠⅠⅠ.  Defn:  Pregenital – pertaining to the early stages of psychosexual development (oral and anal), before the genitals have become the dominant influence on sexual behavior.

Sentence 1 is very complicated !

Incorporation is like ‘’I wish what i see to enter into me’’

This entrance can be through several portals,  skin, lungs, oral, and also the eye.

Is the desire to incorporate a seen object/s the same as the desire to experience the object/s ?

Can things be incorporated through the eye?

Empathy, introjections and identification are related, but i m not clear how!

The arguments in this essay are complex (language, concepts, length of sentences), and consequential , so if you cannot grasp one argument, the next tends to be difficult.

Ⅳ        Para2

Looking for sexual gratification is more staring and fixed and active than ordinary looking

The author gives us no evidence for this, and even says that it can be argued that it’s no more active than ordinary worldly looking experiences (Freud thought this too).

It’s stated that libidinal seeing is the same as ordinary seeing, but is perhaps more intense and has a stronger motor element.

All this seems quite woollArty and little evidence is quoted (compare the article on Modernist painting by Clement Greenberg). As a biologist I struggle to understand the complex quasi biological language- what would others do??! Eg. ‘ the stronger motor component’ presumably means that more  afferent and efferent motor neurones  are firing eg. to the genitals, lips, etc??? But he does not make this clear. The next sentence seems to clarify that seeing in a sexual (or any archaic/primitive sense) is associated with motility (movement?), more than ordinary seeing, but that any seeing cannot be separated from a host of other bodily activities.

A primitive seeing joins up the quadruplet of stimulus- body- thought- active response quite tightly, whereas more sophisticated/later ideas of seeing tend to break this down into separate components such as thoughts/ideas/perception/behaviours.

So primitive thinking is less complex (more motile?), but this less complex way of seeing is said to exist somewhere in or behind more complex seeing also.

Full seeing/perception involves both the sense organs, but also the identification of the object (perhaps as something external to our own body?)

Linking perception to introjections (incorporating or experiencing the seen) is attempted- that introjection is like a primitive seeing where the perception and motility is bound tightly. So libidinal ( ie archaic) perception tends to introject the image, reducing the ‘thoughts/ideas’, and increasing the concept of a more overwhelming and physical experience.

I don’t agree with the penultimate sentence:  line 7 p333, I think the stimuli to the nose (particles) are no more real than the stimuli to sight or hearing (light and sound rays) when it comes to sex!…or perhaps they are- there are arguments both ways. The small particles make up the sex partner’s body (eg sweat particles, secretion particles), but the light and sound waves are as physical as the smell particles, but admittedly they are waves transmitted through air, and don’t exist on the body like smells do.

Ⅵ        Freud recognises the eye as a phallic symbol and ‘to be blinded is to be castrated’.

Definition- Tertium comparationis (Latin = the third [part] of the comparison) is the quality that two things which are being compared have in common. It is the point of comparison which prompted the author of the comparison in question to liken someone or something to someone or something else in the first place.

The eye is similar to the phallus as it is noble and vulnerable. Additionally  ideas of introjections may reinforce the symbolism.

One female patient dreamt of men with normal upper bodies but stone legs and belly- thereby repressing the visualisation of men’s genitals as a child

To be turned to stone by visualising something terrible (eg.  Medusa’s head), is to view the woman’s genitals, and to be castrated by doing so.

Loss of motion and power signifies death/castration /loss of the penis. As the sight viewed is often a staring eye, it is symbolic of a devouring woman’s genitals.

How has the eye achieved an oral (devouring) significance? Probably through the idea of  the eye as a penis.. and by extension a vagina, and by extension a mouth.

Being turned to stone standing for immobility, can be a ‘representation through the opposite’ (Freud), and symbolises the experience of a child seeing the intense movement of his parent’s copulation (the primal scene), and being helpless to its enormity of physical/emotional power. Also the anxious paralysis of breath and muscles would feel like being turned to stone.

Also turned to stone- were Job and his family. This was because one is forbidden to  identify/experience GOD. The bible says thou shalt not view a graven image either.

Also similar to being turned to stone is viewing a stone body (eg. The guest of stone in ‘Don Juan’), where the power is transmitted from the viewer- to the viewed.

Research : the stone guest represents heaven, and is so annoyed with don juan’s behaviour that heaven sends a peal of lightning to consume and kill him

The moon is often found in patients to represent a ‘dead man’ , and that one cannot help look, but should be punished for it. It resembles the eye of the hypnotist/snake, and forces somnambulists to walk in a particular way. It is a face, an eye, a primal scene, a scotophilic (libidinal) object.

These ideas lead to the act of looking as being equal to the act of identification, which will finally lead us to the effects of shock and traumas, and our inability to cope with excess and excitement.

Ⅷ      The idea of someone who paints a picture or takes a photo (with the eye), as being magic, and taking something bodily from the object is well known, for example in primitive man or native Americans. Here the eye acts as an organ which robs/bites/removes. X-ray pictures act as an eye that really does look into our bodies, and some patients have developed anxieties around having photos taken or x-rays.

Many people resent and become anxious of having their photo taken, others revel in it ( eg. The selfie, Facebook posts). Is this due to this idea ? I have always thought those people are anxious because they are less photogenic than the others, and do not fear losing something (except by extension their own self esteem when viewing the post ).

The idea of ocular interjection and having one’s genitals bitten off may be part of many people’s shameful thoughts.

Ⅸ   The idea that myopia may be caused by someone  using the eyes for erotogenic reasons too much is common. So the eyes of a scotophilic person may change and not function for normal vision.  It s thought that there’s no beneficial reason for the eye not to focus properly on far away objects ( ie. From the evolutionary model).  Perhaps  myopia is caused by changes in the muscles and tissues of the eye of a scotophilic person , due to the mechanical actions of  over-looking. Perhaps the straining of the eye to incorporate the libidinal image causes this change?

As in much of this article, there is no scientific evidence quoted so the reader does not really know if this is pure hypothesis, or in some way based in fact).Perhaps the evidence exists within the bibliography literature-in which case would citations be more effective for his argument?



Article : Fetishism   Sigmund Freud , p324-326,  Visual Culture: a reader

Para 1 -Fetish ‘eases their erotic life’, and is not necessarily accompanied  by suffering or harm to the men.

Para 2-   the fetish is always the same substitute- for a specific penis- the penis which was important in childhood and lost in adulthood – the penis the boy thought his mum had, but then realised she had not.

What are the reasons (…’familiar to us’) why the boy does nt want to lose the belief in his mum s penis???

Para 3 –     The boy refuses to believe his mum does nt have one, because if she has lost her’s he may lose his penis (and balls?). This is of great psychological  dread for him J. Repression of this thought is a reasonable alternative. He says that there is a sort of unconscious compromise between knowing the mum has, and has not got a penis, and in German its called Verleugnung (Disavowal)

The fetish is the substitute and becomes intensely interesting due to the power of the idea of castration, but there is also always an aversion to the real female genitals.

The fetish is like a protection from castration, but it also allows him , undetected , to obtain sexual pleasure, where normal men have to do complicated things lie wooing/romancing for the same result.

Para 4-      The organs/objects which replace the penis, may be connected with the penis , but also may not. It s as if sometimes the last memory before the idea of castration is held as the memory/fetish, as in a traumatic loss of memory of an event.

In the case of two fetishists, they had ‘scotomized’ the deaths of their fathers- but although the death  was ‘repressed ‘ in one train of thought, other thoughts had accepted the death…. ie the compromise.

Freud thinks if the death ( or any thought ??? ) was repressed  absolutely, this would cause a psychosis.

It makes me want to ask the question do i have any fetishes???? Briefly,  I ve never consciously thought of the castration ideas above. A lot of my sexuality is built around women and their bodies, and I m not scared of their genitals. I do have a very close relationship with my mum, and a distant one from my dad when he was alive. I also came to sex late in my mid twenties.

Objects or ideas which I might classify as my fetish???? I know  what i obsess about – sex, being loved, being found attractive, improving my skills in artistic subjects like art and music, but can these be explained as fetish??

The divided nature of fetishism is shown in many cases. Sometimes the division  (ie. that women are both castrated and not castrated)  can be seen within the Fetish object . Or the division can  be seen in the treatment of the fetish, eg by treating it with both affection and hostility.

How does this relate to the idea of a fetish in African or primitive cultures? Are they the same root??

How is the Fetish used in Hammer house of Horror’s ‘Charlie Boy’ ?

scotomize: In Psychology Psychiatry: to avoid or deny (an undesirable fact or reality) through the creation of a mental ‘blind spot’.

Scoptophilia or Scotophilia:  (Psychiatry) the condition or act of gaining sexual pleasure from openly looking at sex organs or acts

Fetish (free online dictionary) This broadens the definition from the specific Freudian definition.

  1. An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially such an object associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices.
  2. An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence: made a fetish of punctuality.
  3. Something, such as a material object or nonsexual part of the body, that arouses sexual desire and may become necessary for sexual gratification.
  4. An abnormally obsessive preoccupation or attachment; a fixation.




The OCA Visual Culture Guide  P20.

My Notes:

Phenomenology: an idea  that effected 20th C artists and philosophers enormously.

‘The unprejudiced descriptive study of whatever appears to consciousness, precisely in the manner in which it so appears’ Martin Heidigger.

This seems a world away from the two articles I ve just read- they seem to explain the observations ad infinitum, in a complicated way.

He advocated re-looking at the world without any suppositions. His ideas were incorporated by Sartre, De Beauvoir, Derrida.



In your BLOG…


How does what you have read help your understanding of why and how we look at things in a ritualised way – for instance going to an art gallery?

Here are some examples of what we may choose to look at in our everyday lives: the art gallery, TV, people and their dress/appearance, the cinema, and the natural environment.   Looking, like reading, may function to incorporate new thoughts in our mind, and also remove old ones. In this sense it is logical that in the stressful 21 st Century life we lead, we might choose to watch so much evening TV, or to go to the cinemas or art galleries in our relaxation time.  It may allow us to replace those ideas which have built up during the working day ( ideas which are often negative, competitive, and anxiety  prone), to be replaced by more healthier thoughts about culture, beauty, comedy, or compassion and love.  Even drama and horror, if viewed vicariously, may allow us to think ‘at least it’s not happening to me’, and to breathe out psychologically.

The idea of devouring images may allow us , in a similar way, to let off emotional ‘steam’ by giving us a feeling of being relatively free, and relatively powerful- whether it be looking at images  of  beautiful landscapes in a gallery (freedom to travel), a glamorous film (freedom to find  people attractive both physically and emotionally), or the freedom to  devour tasty food (in the glut of baking and cooking shows that are currently on air) instead of the Findus ready meal  we know we have in the freezer for dinner.

Perhaps when we move through a busy crowd and notice how men and women are dressed, how they wear their hair, or the way they walk, we are driven by the strong scoptophilic instinct  to be viewing these  people as potential sexual partners. We scan to find those we pass with who we want to experience the intimacy of sex.  A small admission here, that I frequently scan a crowd and enjoy the sight of attractive people – I have no partner so this is probably natural. For those who have   partners, the scoptophilic observation  may allow them to identify and experience a little intimacy  with a stranger. This in turn might allow them to  keep faithful to the (less exciting)  current and/or stable relationship. It may also work the other way though- and tip someone towards infidelity by offering a glimpse of a more exciting lifestyle.

  1. Do the articles suggest to you reasons for staring at someone being at best bad manners and at worst threatening ?

If we stare at someone we are looking intensely. We know that sight is the most powerful sense through which we approach our world and life, and that the scoptophilic (or libidinal) instinct is chiefly made up of visual looking. Also being an archaic form of looking, the scoptophilic stare is potentially latent within a stare which we feel is more refined and less primitive. But if we have it wrong, and have mistaken our intentions, the scoptophilic stare is a necessary prelude to any sexual encounters, and by priming us with ‘forepleasure’ naturally leads (in ontological terms) to sex with the object of desire. So when we stare at someone we must be aware of how complex and powerful,  aggressive, unwanted (or wanted), or dangerous, the act may be in the scoptophilic sense!

Leaving to one  side the scoptophilic issues, nor are we simply on the beginning of a look which could lead us psychologically to expect physical sex. When we stare hard we may equate this to devouring the person (who we instantly make a passive victim) with our eye, and arguably thus our (metaphorical? – psychological?)  mouth, or our vagina, or our penis. Women too,  may stare with their eye  functioning as  a missing (Freudian) penis and not their vagina- and have erotic thoughts of having sex with a partner as ‘the man’).

It does not end there.  By our stare we are also in danger of the hypnotic stare, which  ultimately renders the person  powerless, and immotile. If we decide, we may further incorporate the imitative stare and invite the object to follow our lead and execute any motions which we perform. This obviously leaves them at the mercy of our actions, or unwittingly  instrumental in  any nefarious motions which we may want them to do to others  or ourselves. This active sadistic stare will also be accompanied by a tacit passive request for the victim to look at us, become fascinated, and thus potentially to be the  perpetrator  of  harm or crimes (as well as the victim of them).

In this sense staring is at best an imposition on the object, and at worst, can involve psychological aspects of physical and sexual abuse.  This analysis would appear to warn against the strong interaction of staring at a stranger, in a public place-Be careful how you stare…..



Be careful how you stare……

  1. Can you make any suggestions as to the need for some people to avidly watch television?

As  previously  stated, watching TV in general, may allow us to incorporate less anxious thoughts into our mind, replacing those from stressful days at the office, trips out with the mother-in –law, or visiting the bank manager.  In more specific terms, we may watch a horror or drama on TV, because of the ability of our eye to allow us to feel like we are directing the action, or are the hero (the imitative look). Or, working in reverse, perhaps we may feel like we are thus empowered to take control of our own lives- not necessarily by shooting , fighting, loving, and copulating, in extremis, but in smaller ways such as applying for a promotion,  asking a friend out to dinner, or taking the kids on an adventure holiday.





Perhaps TV with it s vast range of programmes, and all its emotional  range (from miserable, dirty, shameful, to joyous, exciting and loving), is simply the best and easiest way that we can enjoy a fetish in our everyday lives.  The range of emotions we experience are thus reflecting our range of emotions connected to the idea of our mothers castration, and the threat of our own (this idea can be applied to both men and women).  Perhaps the TV is so ubiquitous that it was always an accompaniament to the psychological traumas we had about sex/castration etc when we were young. Those thoughts in adulthood may be repressed  by us, but our mind may relive them by focussing on the memory which immediately preceded  the trauma- ie. Watching or hearing the television.

The television may represent an eye looking at us, and lead us to be hypnotised by it, and perhaps achieve some psychological rest from the busy day, or perhaps we view it as looking upon us and being receptive to us- and thus giving us some extra justification in our difficult and anxious existences. Watching the television in the sense of a latent  archaic/‘scoptophilic’  look, allows us to tightly bind together the TV image and our thoughts and responses (to incorporate or introject or identify the visual image?). This sense of looking is more visceral and exciting, and it s like we are really there alongside all the images w are seeing. The power of this for escaping our humdrum lives is obvious.

To mention but one more possibility, if the eye is a Phallic symbol, as Freud suggested, then  watching TV for a few hours  on an evening is like stimulating our genitals, and is both pleasuring, and also  relaxing.  We can even do it together as a family, and the hidden nature of the symbolism rids it of any sense of shame or embarrassment.

  1. What visual fetishes have you noticed in everyday life-your own or others’?

The extract from Freud neatly allows us to generalise the idea of an object fetish. They are basically substitutes for the child’s mother’s absent phallus, but need not be sexual objects themselves. Due to the mind’s ability to think  about lots of things at once, and it s power to try and protect us from trauma, a fetish could be literally anything that the mind was thinking about at some time before or immediately before the thought of castration occurs. Note though that this definition still ties the reason for the fetish as being explicitly related to the trauma of Castration.  The idea of a fetish as substitute object for any other  concept ( such as that quoted in the handbook- where a city dweller replaces his lack of countryside for paintings of the countryside),  is a broader definition, and is not discussed in either article.

That being said, my fetishes may include

  • Pug dogs, because I find them cute, and attractive, but they are not as difficult to talk to as women.
  • My job as a vet (one visual associated object may be my stethoscope, or my  clinic smock) because, it represents an attractive job to the general population, and thus may (as in all these discussion, the may is debatable) make me attractive and lovable to people.
  • My interest in art, music, history, singing, and the piano (visual objects include books-specific and general, my piano, an intense desire for a GRAND piano), because it may make me appear to be a cultured and sensitive person
  1. Why are people so keen to display wedding photos or family portraits?

The reasons for this may be many-fold. The photo may represent part/or the whole of the photographed person/s, as taken by the camera. So a picture of a dead spouse may remind the viewer of the physical or emotional attributes of their lost spouse. The photo of a young adult on the wall of a parent’s house- reminding them of his/her presence, helps them cope with the sense of loss which they feel now he s gone to university. The photo reminds them of his physical presence. The familiar ‘graduation photo’ represents pride in their child, but must represent (academic) achievement too. The reminder of the achievement passes to all who see the photo- but it is hoped that the achievement does not actively drain away from the graduate as their image is observed on the wall, as more primitive men might have thought.  The owner of a photo of a celebrity in a magazine may be symbolising his power over the subject. This may be a power to take or gain some of their esteem, or wealth, or power, or to take their body-or have the subject take his/her body in a sexual way (the devouring eye).