Saturday, May 21, 2011

Summary&Review: Ways of Seeing / John Berger

John Berger - "Ways of Seeing" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3

John Berger's now classic article "Ways of Seeing" (1972) revolutionarily, for his time, analyses the manner in which men and women are culturally represented, and the subsequent results these representations have on their conduct and self as well and mutual perception. In "Ways of Seeing" Berger claims that the representations of men and women in visual culture entice different "gazes", different ways in which they are looked at, with men having the legitimization of examining women, and  women – also examine women.

At the opening of "Ways of Seeing' John Berger notes that the cultural presence of the woman is still very much different from that of the man. Berger argues that a man's presence in the world is all about is potency and is related to what he can do, power and ability. On the other hand, Berger says, a woman's presence is always related to itself, not the world, and she does not represent potential but rather only her herself, and what can or cannot be done to her, never by her. The sources of this identity are for Berger the age old notion that the woman was destined to take care of the man. He argues that as a result the woman is always self-conscious, always aware of her own presence in every action she performs. The woman constantly imagines and surveys herself and by this her identity is split between that of the surveyor and that of the one being surveyed – the two rules that she has in relation to herself. For this reason, Berger notes, her self value is measured through the manner in which she is portrayed, in her own eyes, in others' eyes and in men's eyes. 

Men, says Berger, survey women before they relate to them and the results of this measuring determine their relation to the woman. As a result all of women's actions and appearance are indications of the manner in which she would like to be treated. That is, a woman's actions indicate the way she would like to be observed, contrary to man's actions which are just actions. Berger simplifies this notion by arguing that "men act – women appear". Women look at themselves being looked at. The surveying woman is a man, the surveyed woman is a woman, and by this the woman objectifies herself as a subject of a gaze, this is the meaning of Berger's title "Ways of Seeing" – essentially meaning that there are different ways of seeing man and woman.   

Ways of Seeing by John Berger | Summary & Study Guide

John Berger - "Ways of Seeing" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3

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  1. When talking about the nude Berger concentrated on nude women. No mention of nude men. Plenty of them in art history - classical Greece and Rome, the Renaissance, etc. Berger seems never to have visited the Vatican galleries and never mentions Michelangelo. His is the view of the heterosexual Marxist.

    I might have had more respect for his criticism of the evils of capitalism if he had recognized the murderous disaster that was Marxist-Leninism. You can see why Kenneth Clark refused to have any Marxist working on his series "Civilisation". Students should approach Berger's work with caution.

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