The Gaze of Orpheus
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"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.
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).
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)