Ways of Seeing
Ideas, books, and a new podcast from me (!) for July
In his seminal 1972 book and BBC series ‘Ways of Seeing’, the art critic, novelist, and painter John Berger famously wrote:
“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another....
A few years later, the feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey articulated this idea as “the male gaze” – a term still circulating in our shared vernacular - and shared experience - fifty years on.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these half-century-old ideas recently. Not long ago, I interviewed author and Riposte magazine founder Danielle Pender for the first episode of my new podcast DEEP READ (which you can listen to here, or wherever you stream your podcasts). Among many other things, Danielle and I discussed her new short story collection ‘Watching Women and Girls’, which explores “how women and girls are looked at, look at one another, and look at themselves.”
As I said to Danielle during our interview: in a world where women are still expected to present ourselves in neat, respectable - and, increasingly, commodifiable - packages, I appreciated the visceral rawness (and occasional depravity) of her characters. Her response:
"We're taught that from such a young age that we have to fit into these roles in society. We have to be 'normal' and we can't express these darker, more transgressive parts of our personality... We have to make ourselves so palatable; we have to hide ourselves and shrink ourselves in so many situations. [Writing the book] was almost an experiment of, "What would life look like if we didn't do that?"
Please give it a listen and let me know what you think. There’s a further reading list for this episode featured on the PL website, which pulls together some of the books Danielle references in the course of our interview, as well as a few short story recommendations of my own.
This month, I’ll be exploring ways of seeing both in this newsletter and on Instagram. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading or watching Berger’s series of the same name – there’s also a copy available for browsing at the new PL space if you want to come and check it out there. (For those who may have missed the memo: yes, there’s a new space! More info here).
I’m working on programming some events for the coming months but, in the meantime, feel free to drop in to browse the library selection or pick up one of the zines and mags we have for sale.
Hope to see you there!