But the look will be given just as well on occasion where there is a rustling of branches, or the sound of a footstep followed by silence, or the slight opening of a shutter, or a light movement of a curtain.These are all potential points from which one might be seen, ie become an object. It is this ‘gaze’, the one seemingly embedded in and punctuating the world, which is so uncanny. To see why, we can contrast it with another type of gaze that has a more specific profile. Zizek:
“Imaginary identification is always identification on behalf of a certain gaze in the Other. So, apropos of every imitation of a model-image, apropos of every ‘playing a role’, the question to ask is: for whom is the subject enacting his role? Which gaze is considered when the subject identifies with a certain image?This ‘gaze in the Other’ might be that of, for example, a harsh Paternal figure: …
he is humiliating himself, preventing his success, organizing his failure, and so on; but the crucial question is again how to locate the vicious, superego gaze for which he is humiliating himself, for which this obsessional organizing of failure procures pleasure…….In any case, this gaze has content – it is, if you like, a definite question. But the uncanny gaze is different.
Zizek cites the proverbial cinematic sequence where a subject approaches ‘some uncanny object’ such as a house (say, the house in Psycho). The impression is that the house looks back. And this moment, when the object ‘sees’ us, is in a way more anxiety provoking that if a real person simply looks at us. This phantasmatic gaze, which may or may not be present, this gap in the visual through which something does or doesn’t peep, this has a peculiarly ‘castrating’ quality. What such ‘points’ represent is not an actual being-seen, but the very possibility of being seen from a position which the subject cannot occupy. The parted curtain, the dusty windows of the house on the hill, the wind in the door, these are the crevices in which this same impossible gaze nestles. Zizek again: “The gaze ‘stands for the blind spot in the field of the visible from which the picture itself photographs the spectator.” [EYS, 201]
Such ‘points’ or blind spots, then, are all the more ‘uncanny’ for not being attached to a bearer. We might for one compare it to the similarly uncanny disembodied voice, the voice that arrives out of nowhere, that may or may not be ours or god’s or no-one’s (perhaps it has arrived from the future). This is the ‘acousmatic’ voice that cinema theorist Michael Chion speaks of. Because this voice is not ‘sourced’, it greets the subject as a naggingly insistent demand, as if it were demand itself, prior to any content. The subject does not know ‘where it is coming from’.
The uncanny gaze, likewise, is not ‘sourced’. Under, for example, the parental gaze or the gaze of the beloved, one has an idea of the image that this gaze demands. Corresponding to – ie answering - these gazes there is an Imaginary response, there is a scene that can be staged, a masque that can be performed, and this ‘masque of the Imaginary’ is propitiatory. The question of who am I for this gaze, although not free of anxiety, has at least an imaginary security, an imaginary security and Symbolic fastening. The uncanny gaze of the house on hill, the mysterious object in the landscape, has no imaginary answer. This is what has been subtracted. The disembodied gaze, like the disembodied voice, is the voice or gaze minus the Imaginary. (And complimentarily, minus the Symbolic).
The disembodied voice and the disembodied gaze, because they are not sourced, greet the subject as a demand minus content, we don’t know, in each case, ‘where it’s coming from’. But what this uncanny experience in fact reminds us of is that there is, in any voice or any gaze, this accompaniment of empty demand. The unanswerable agitation of demand as such.