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an inquiry into the vicissitudes of the scopic and the phanic drive

by Stefan Beyst

"Ooit zal de mens verantwoording moeten afleggen,
omdat hij verzaakte aan geoorloofde geneugten'


see also:
'the ecstasies of eros'


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 pas
stime. I increasingly had the impression of entering an unexplored territory. It was extremely difficult to make a somewhat substantial bibliography. 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 collected works there are 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 a true 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 main 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' will eventually become a kind of touchstone for erotic photography.

Suggestions are always welcome.


In this book, an entirely new theory is presented on what
is traditionally referred to as 'voyeurism' and 'exhibitionism'. In our opinion, these isolated '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 gained 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 in fact 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 'reviews').

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 argument.

Stefan Beyst

From the same author: 'The Ectasies of Eros'


Chapter I:

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 scopic drive.

Chapter II:

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.

Chapter III:

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.
The metamorphosis is further enhanced through the desire to see the orgasm rather than feel it. The erotic appearance is eventually turned into a hermaphrodite body. Voyeurism appears to be the mother of fetishism.

Chapter IV-V:

The desire to heighten and to prolong pleasure leads to the introduction of ever more sophisticated techniques of revealing and concealing. A central role
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 itself.

Chapter VI:

Clothes divers
ify 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. Finally, they offer new possibilities for the hermaphrodisation of the body and fetishism.

Chapter VII:

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 after
the introduction of clothes and heightens the beauty of the image to unknown heights (Chapter IX).

Chapter X:

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 f
rom the proceedings.

Chapter XI:

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 final destruction.

Chapter XII:

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.

Stefan Beyst

From the same author: 'The Ectasies of Eros'

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