INTRODUCTION TO ' THE
EROTIC EYE AND ITS NUDE'
an inquiry into the vicissitudes of the scopic and the phanic
'the ecstasies of eros'
by Stefan Beyst
"Ooit zal de mens verantwoording moeten afleggen,
omdat hij verzaakte aan geoorloofde geneugten'
Judging from the massive production of erotic imagery in photomagazines,
films, television, video and internet - not to mention the universal
practice of 'girl-watching' - voyeurism and exhibitionism must occupy
man's mind, if possible, far more than sexual commerce in the strict
sense of the word.
That does not prevent people from invariably feeling embarrassed when
the subject is mentioned. Even researchers, who otherwise do not refrain
from exploring even the most remote corners of the human psyche,
all too eagerly evade the study of the most practiced erotic passtime.
I increasingly had the impression of entering an unexplored territory.
It was extremely difficult to make a somewhat substantial
Most contributions are part of books on more encompassing subjects. The
few books exclusively devoted to the subject are either purely
(art)historical (Clark, Linda
Williams) or moralising (feministic literature). As a rule, they
restrict themselves either to the erotic eye (scopic drive), or to the
(representation of) the nude (phanic drive). Especially psychoanalytic
literature excels in its silence on the subject. In the index of Freuds
a mere five references to 'voyeurism'. Also the
image is utterly neglected: in the ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ dream,
images - that are anyway merely
accessible through verbal rendering - are
reduced to 'dream- thoughts'. Apparently, as
heir of Moses, Freud was far more
interested in the ear that listens than in the eye that indulges in
relishing the (nude in) the image.
Reasons enough to write a book on the phanic and the scopic drive.
Whoever wants to write a book on the erotic eye and its nude cannot
restrict himself to the written word: there is an abundance of often
very beautiful images. But the existence of something like copyright is
responsible for the fact that we cannot show the best examples from
sculpture, painting, prints and photos. In this Internet version, we had
to content ourselves with the photos of living photographers who gave us
the permission to use their work.
This restriction is not the
responsible for the sometimes poor
quality of the images in our
selection: if we could have chosen freely, the number of high quality
pictures would certainly have increased,but that would only have
emphasized the surprisingly poor
artistic quality of the overall production of erotic imagery. Precisely the
argument of this book will explain why.
Within these limits, the choice of the photos has been made according to
two criteria. Our first concern has been to find a fitting illustration
for each topic in the text. Only when we had the choice could we select
according to aesthetic criteria. For some topics, we could not find any
fitting illustration at all, because it either simply does not exist, or
because we could not find an image with the required aesthetic
standards. That explains why high
quality pictures often go side by side with minor works. It is our intention to gradually raise the artistic level,
so that 'The erotic eye and its nude'
become a kind of touchstone for erotic photography.
Suggestions are always welcome.
In this book, an entirely new theory is presented on what is
referred to as 'voyeurism' and 'exhibitionism'. In our opinion, these
'partial drives' are merely two particular forms of the more
encompassing scopic and phanic drives that form in principle an
undivided unity: both drives elicit each other. We will describe the manifold
manifestations of the scopic and the phanic drive and explain how and
why they develop. This theory on the scopic and the phanic drive is
situated within the broader frame of a general theory on love, as it is
unfolded in 'the ecstasies of eros'
In 'The erotic eye and its nude' I only present my own view on the
subject. Discussion with other authors have deliberately been omitted.
What is thus
in clarity and accessibility, will be lost in academic
charms. More than often, an unusual thesis will be advanced without
further comment, while, conversely, seemingly obvious points of view are
rather controversial. But all these disadvantages do not measure up to
the advantages: a concise and clear text. Other theories will be dealt
with elsewhere on this site (section
The text of the book is written in a rather neutral tone. It was my
intention to have the images play an important role in conveying the
more 'emotional' freight of what is meant. No doubt, the eloquence of the images
will seduce the reader to a cursory reading of the book. Needless to say
that a close reading
of the text is necessary to follow the development of the
From the same author: 'The
Ectasies of Eros'
There are many erotic
senses: the eye, the ear,
the nose, the skin and the genitals.
An inquiry into the relation of the eye to the other
erotic senses reveals that the eye tends to usurp the role of the other
erotic senses: it tries to postpone the
unrolling of the centripetal move from hearing, over seeing and smelling, to touching and orgasm,
if not to cancel it alltogether. This inaugurates
what we call 'the visualisation of love':
the subordination of love under the primacy of the
Starting point for the visualisation of love is the opposition between the
rather archaic sight of the genitals and the aesthetic sight of the more
peripheral parts of the body. Social factors enhance the effect of this
natural given. As a consequence of the 'exchangeof beauty for
benefits', the initial reciprocity of the phanic and scopic drive is destroyed. Male voyeurism comes to oppose female
exhibitionism, the archaic penis the beauty of the female body. Since
there is no longer genuine love, the 'soul' is banned from the
proceedings and the body is reduced to a faceless trunk.
A further transformation of the erotic appearance is induced through the
propensity to aestheticise the archaic sight of the genitals through
substituting them with more peripheral parts of the body.
metamorphosis is further enhanced through the desire to see the orgasm
rather than feel it. The erotic appearance is
eventually turned into a
body. Voyeurism appears to be the mother of fetishism.
The desire to heighten and to prolong pleasure leads to the introduction
of ever more sophisticated techniques of revealing and concealing. A
is played by clothes. They divide the body in covered and
uncovered zones, several layers are introduced (underwear and outerwear),
the covered parts are intimated. Clothes become a mean of prolonging
sexual seduction, but threaten to eventually usurp the role of the body
Clothes diversify the erotic appearance: in ever new cultures, periods and
social layers, ever new aspects of the body are accentuated. Clothes
also make it possible to take the appearance of the opposite sex. They
often tend to surpass the charms of the body itself.
offer new possibilities for
the hermaphrodisation of the body and fetishism.
Clothes can also serve the purpose of modesty. The heightened charms of
the body only fuel the resentment of the lesser beauties and induces
efforts to hide the charms of the partner from the view of competitors.
This conflict is mirrored in the
very structure of clothing. It leads to
efforts to ban erotic charms not only form the public sphere, but from
life as such. In sharp contrast with such ascetic efforts,shame
is entirely put aside in the orgy, where the body is exhibited and
enjoyed in public.
Chapter VIII and IX:
First and foremost the image completes the unfolding of beauty. It tries
to remedy the many forms of inherent blindness of the erotic eye
(Chapter VIII). Above all, it enhances the accessibility of the nude
the introduction of clothes and heightens the beauty
of the image to unknown heights (Chapter IX).
The image removes many an obstacle for the erotic eye. Sexual desire is
fuelled, but cannot be released by precisely the image that unleashes it.
That is why the exhibition of the nude unfolds to the staging of the
theme of 'the beast with the two backs' in all its forms: the primeval
scene that excludes the onlooker from the proceedings.
That cannot but fuel the feelings
of resentment that unleash a destructive
urge against beauty staged in the image.
Thus, the separation of exhibitionism and voyeurism, heightened in and
through the introduction of the image, gives birth to sadomasochism. Sadomasochism in all
its variants -from the inducing of pain, over all kinds of
sadomasochistic scenarios, to tattooing and plastic surgery -
comes down to a sacrifice of beauty. We describe the open and hidden
forms of this sacrifice and show how the image, precisely thoughenabling the full unfolding of
exhibitionism/voyeurism, ultimately leads to their
The erotic image can only be saved from this destructive move through
aestheticising. Other methods are the removal of the erotic charge of
the image, which eventually leads to a total ban on the image as such
(mimetic taboo). We describe the various ways of circling around the
nude and show how the repressed continues to return nevertheless.
From the same author: 'The
Ectasies of Eros'