FACS 1900 C
Arts and Ideas
Instructor: Robert Gill
Room: ACW 206 for lecture, ACE 006 for tutorial
Time: Friday 11:30 to 1:30 PM for lecture, 2:30 to 3:30 for tutorial
Sorry for the delay. The console is not allowing me to put the blinds down. That will be a
problem with the PowerPoint. For those of you at the back, are you able to read the PP?
There is a typo on the assignment. It should say component 2, not component 1, should
contain approximately 1000 words. Make sure you read the handout really carefully, start
discussing this with your TAs. I will rely on them to give you feedback about concerns
and issues, if anything significant arises I will address it in the lecture.
Today, still Hall and Foucault. I showed you this painting last term, an image by Degas.
What it means to shift our focus from language to discourse. A very famous painting. If
we were to think about it in the terms that Hall is discussing in the shift from language to
discourse we would do something like this. According to semiotic theories we would read
this picture as an image, we would read it for its meaning. How would we interpret it as a
Hall talks about the idea that in semiotics we think we can understand things in terms of
linguistic systems which are relatively self contained. In art history we would talk about
things like the way it’s painted, other paintings in relationship to this painting, other
impressionist painters, the historical context of the work, what he is referencing, the
quality of the work and so forth. We would be talking about it in reference to other
pictures, other images within the language of painting.
We don’t want to focus simply on this internal self contained image, we want to
understand art and creativity in context. We can think about it as a representation of
femininity. This is a shift from a surface reading, from the quality of the image itself to
seeing it as an active thing, an image that does something. Representation is not a thing
but a process.
In the word femininity I highlighted “ity” at the ending. We’re not talking about a thing,
we try to understand femininity as a contingent thing, something historical, a quality that
is open to interpretation as to what it means, it is not self evident. Femininity is
understood very differently in all kinds of different social cultural contexts. How
representation has shaped how we think about all kinds of ideas and ways of knowing in
our world. Gender is something very intimate and very close that we can think about
The concept of the discourse and its relationship to the body. Bodies are not just there,
bodies are things that are shaped by all kinds of contextual factors. A body isn’t just a
body. The body is something that we understand historically, our ideas about bodies are
1 themselves historical. Part of the reason we understand bodies a certain way is because of
a certain scientific attitude that we have about things. Bodies as things that are
We think that we are rational. To understand the history of the body in our society we
have to understand our ideas about the body and how science historically has constructed
these ideas. There is a body that can be studied, it’s part of the scientific method. We are
fascinated with the body, with what happens to bodies and with the gaze of science. We
have an attitude about bodies more generally. We too have absorbed the idea of the body
as a thing that is there to be known. We have absorbed a certain language of the body, a
set of cultural norms.
Even our belief that the body is simply a biological thing is socially and culturally
determined. We absorb a certain conception of how bodies are and that informs how we
think about ourselves and about others. Foucault then addresses human reality, the
various historical ways of knowing the body that have become common sense. Sense that
is common to a shared group of people. Shared among a large group of people, but also
we think it’s natural to think this way about the body.
We want to rethink how we think about bodies, about the formative impact of bodies,
what shapes bodies to be certain kinds of bodies. How we created a disciplined body,
focused, paying attention, task oriented, not running around on the field outside,
conducting itself in a certain way, your body in this room. We can think about our own
bodies in this space and how we are living in a particular kind of body. The body is not
natural, it is cultural.
I will leave sexed and gendered bodies today. We will be coming back to look at the
sexed and gendered bodies in a few weeks when we look at Judith Butler. Let’s look
more at the concept of the gaze of science. The history of the scientific viewpoint. The
scientific gaze of power. If you think back to your experience in science classes, there is
an idea that when you’re conducting an experiment you have to impose a certain kind of
control on the variables that you’re observing. You can’t let get them out of hand, let
what you study become too complex.
The scientific method asks us to focus on things and to reduce the complexity of things to
make very specific judgments about those things. If you look at the history of various
cultures and of European cultures in particular, in order to enhance this objective view of
reality science created all kinds of technologies to focus our view on the natural world.
Many scientific technologies were developed to enhance our ability to control what we’re
looking at. For us the most important technological advances over the last few hundreds
of years came with the increasing development of imaging and visual technologies.
Various kinds of devices were developed to intensify our sight. If you think about the
story of CSI, it is referencing our fascination with a cutting, scrutinizing view of the
body. Fetishizing cutting people open and finding what is going on in there. Some of the
characters in CSI are these technologies.
2 Very generally, Foucault and others have argued that these are all surveillance
technologies. Everything from a telescope to a microscope, a film camera, a surveillance
camera are about surveillance per se. One if the subtexts of CSI, it’s a story about the
surveillance of the body. If you do something wrong or if your body is subjected to harm,
we have the skill and the capacity to explore it and learn what happened. This is a
symptom or a metaphor for society more generally.
We have become a society of people trained to think and observe the world as if we were
scientists. In the 19 century a photographer Edward Muybridge, with the help of a
wealthy patron, conducted explorations of motion. A highly skilled photographer, got a
lot of money to take these photographs. One example is a series of photographs of a horse
galloping. When a horse is running does its body leave the ground all at the same time?
He was able to prove that the horse’s body does entirely leave the ground. Photography
became a tool for looking at bodies in space and understanding them scientifically. The
gaze of power, a photograph is a tool to understand something, it says something about
how we view and think about the world.
All of these technologies have created an idea, a secular faith, that through the use of
expanding scientific technologies we can have an objective understanding of the world.
Think back to your education. One of the things we are trying to play with, you come
here with an idea of objective thinking about the world. We can play with this notion of
objectivity, some argue there is no objective view of the world. It’s been constructed
The objective principle of thinking about reality is a principle that creates a problem. It
tends to decontextualize what is being viewed. Objectification, turning something into
an object to understand it, has a certain kind of pitfall. We think that the word objective is
a positive word. In some cases objectivity is a good thing. We tend to equate objectivity
with the moral value of goodness. Objectivity always runs of risk of failing to see that
something always is being created in a context. It can lead to the problem of not
understanding things as processes. We need to think about the process of looking at the
body and the body itself as a process that is evolving across time.
Objectivity runs the risk of obscuring the social dimension of things. Of seeing that
things are socially complex. In sociology there is a very long tradition of training to
become an interviewer, with these tools you go out in the world and you start
interviewing people. They tell you what they think and you take that information and
treat it as scientific and you make conclusions about what they told you. It’s very
problematic. Quite often when you interview someone they will tell you what they think
you want to know. I go into a community and I start asking questions, what is it like
living here, what’s your relationship with the police like. Potentially very controversial
topic. Immediately you will say to yourself, this guy wants to know a certain thing about
policing in this community. There is research to suggest that when interviewing people,
people tend to tell you what they think you want them to say. We always have to be very
careful when we see information and ideas about humans, we have to be very suspicious
3 about what is being said. We have to think like Foucault. When we think about anything
having to do with human beings, we always have to be skeptical.
Ideas about things are historically variable, they change across time. At the end of the
class today I will show you a short film on Edward Said who studied images of people
from the Middle East. How do we view and understand people from a particular part of
the world. We have an Orientalist view. When we look at any group of people we have to
be very skeptical about the words we use to describe what human beings do.
Foucault observed that even science itself is developed in a social context. Human beings
created science, it’s not separate from human society. Science is always bound up in
politics and human affairs. It is always contingent on the context that it’s coming from.
Scientific thinking is always contingent on power. I go knocking on your door, you
answer, you let me in, I give you a card with my credentials, that gives me some kind of
authority. Immediately it sets us up in a relationship of power. As a PhD supposedly I
have some valued knowledge in my head and there can be a relationship of
objectification with my interviewee. Science is always linked to other social institutions
around it. It is always done for some reasons other than finding things out.
In the 1960s there was the space race, Americans and Russians waging this cold war
between them to see who would get on the moon first. For what reason? It’s a glorious
idea that people can go on the moon, but why? It hasn’t done anybody any good. All of it
was about one of those two societies wanting to be perceived as having the most power.
The space race was about setting up infrastructure to observe what happens on our planet.
It resulted in intense development of surveillance technologies that have become just part
of the ecology.
In all scientific inquiry “knowledge” is linked to power. We have to be very skeptical
about what anybody is saying. To not believe what anyone is telling you. That is the most
fundamental skill. You respect what someone is saying but you take that and compare it
to something else, put it in context. How is knowledge created, what is creating
knowledge, how is it linked in some way to power? This is true in the humanities as
much as it is in the social sciences.
The role of the humanities in creating a certain kind of body. How anthropology invented
the racialized body. I am doing this to convince you that Foucault’s ideas about the body
are very useful for rethinking our assumptions about what people are and can do.
Foucault looks at how we think about people and he observes that humanities led to the
creation of a system of class