Power & Rousseau: The looker, the gaze, and the human subject

“[S]ocial man lives always outside himself; he knows how to live only in the opinion of other, it is, so to speak, from their judgement alone that he derives the sense of his own existence” (Rousseau 136).

It could be easy to pass this statement off as simply a result of Rousseau’s oversimplification of nascent society. On the other hand, I would argue that it is an important statement about power dynamics in the society. I’d like to point out that this view on society supports Hobbes’ ideas about moral relativity. If we live outside ourselves we let others approve or disapprove of our actions. This stays true to Hobbes’ theory that justice is an aspect of society not of humankind itself. It is interesting that these two particular thinkers would agree on a topic like this because their views of the state of nature are radically different. Rousseau states here that we evaluate one and other based on others’ perceptions. By allowing the people around us to dictate how we act we are giving them power. In being the so-called bearer of the look, they hold all of the power. The enact their gaze upon us, the objects and therefore determine how we act. We are subject to the gaze as opposed to being holders of the gaze no matter what. It is impossible to escape. This begets the question, how do we live with the gaze? Are some gazes more important than others? I would argue yes, I think Rousseau would agree. While all matter to a certain extent, the governmental or medical gaze has much different consequences than the friendly gaze. All enact a certain judgement. All hold power that we will never possess. All gazes are not equal, in the same way that all people are not equal in nature according to Rousseau. This means, to live the most fulfilling existence, we must derive it from the right people and therefore the right holders of the look.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply