The Gaze of Orpheus  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
The Gaze of Orpheus is derived from the antiquarian Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Following his descent into the Underworld Orpheus disobeys Hades's and Persephone’s condition (that he should walk in front of her and not look back until he had reached the upper world) for release of his captured wife Eurydice. In his anxiety, he breaks his promise, and Eurydice vanishes again from his sight.
"To you this tale refers, Who seek to lead your mind Into the upper day; For he who overcome should turn back his gaze Towards the Tartarean cave, Whatever excellence he takes with him He loses when he looks on those below." [ “Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 3.52] (Cited in “Greek Mythology Link: Orpheus”)

The Gaze of Orpheus has since been evaluated by many a philosopher and literary critic. Common analogies are made between Orpheus’s gaze and writing processes, philosophical interpretation, and creativity. Some of the most famous uses of the gaze of Orpheus can be found in Maurice Blanchot’s work The Gaze of Orpheus and Jacques Lacan’s work on the mirror stage.


Maurice Blanchot

Blanchot's interpretation or use of the Gaze of Orpheus is in artistic creation. Some have offered, “…the Orpheus myth as a model which provides ways to discuss many of the features of Blanchot's work, which until now appeared not to have common thematic links” (Champagne 1254). The path taken by Orpheus from light to dark and back to light is symbolic of the artist’s journey from reality to the edges of the surreal, “…the force that enables Orpheus to cross the boundaries of light and life, and to descend to Eurydice, according to Blanchot, is that of art. Rendering this dark point, the lure, the point in which the artist's control is undermined, is also the object of the work of art.” (New Media Narratives). Blanchot uses the myth to transcribe the creative process. “Eurydice's disappearance symbolizes a loss that is recuperated by the compensatory gift of Orpheus's song” (Huffer 175).

Jaques Lacan

Lacan’s perspective on the gaze of Orpheus is more a matter of desires and yearning. On one hand we have Orpheus gazing towards the underworld, which serves to dissolve the connection between Orpheus and his desire, Eurydice. On the other hand Orpheus’ role in the upper world is to use his creativity and artistic talent to transform his desires into a recreated form. Lacan uses the topography of the myth to construct his mirror stage. “The mirror stage is not an isolated event or situation that results in a particular configuration of vision: it is both a loss (of primordial polymorphous, autoerotic wholeness) and an ‘achieved anxiety’ (a precocious anticipation of an impossible maturity or return to wholeness” (Linder 82)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Gaze of Orpheus" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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