Biennial Lecture at the College of St. Scholastica

April 9, 2018

2017 marked a year of revealing what was once concealed, a trend that has ongoing reverberations in current American culture. Things that once functioned repressed or hidden have come into view. Veiled transgressions, eclipsed by history, politics, and power have begun to play out visibly in the world. Confederate monuments, signifying for many a history of slavery and therefore representing, as New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asserted in a special address in May 2017 “a lie by omission,” were removed from public view. Conversely, allegations against Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment and assault came to light, emboldening other women and men to step forward to reveal additional stories of sexual misconduct. The #MeToo hashtag and Time’s Up provoked women wear black to the Golden Globes. All of these represent visible displays of wounds deep within the fabric of American culture and society. In this lecture I explored these wounds through the metaphor of sight to reveal the complicated way power and domination circulate to interfere with both what we see and how we see. Considering slavery and sexual harassment as intersectional traumas incurred by suppression and control exposes how they function in dual planes. One plane relates to the relative visibility and repression of these traumas, and the other relates to the mode of seeing that must occur in order to facilitate their reality in the first place. I confront these dual dimensions of seeing, expressed in terms of Søren Kierkegaard’s theological account of the loving eye, and set against Jean-Paul Sartre’s interpretation of shame related to what he calls “The Look.” Reading these interpretations alongside Marilyn Frye’s feminist understanding of the loving and arrogant eyes establishes a gaze that bestows human dignity and offers the possibility of seeing people into their wholeness.

By Stephanie Arel