From Self Contempt to Dignity


Dr Sabar Rustomjee, a senior Australian psychiatrist and group analyst, has offered the following photographs for our Blog. She will be presenting at our conference in August. Hans Holbein’s magnificent ‘The Ambassadors’ hangs in the National Gallery in London, home to one of the world’s greatest collections of European art and close to the National Portrait Gallery and British Museum and the many other attractions of central London less than an hour away from the conference venue. Take the opportunity this summer to go and see the original. This is a painting I have known for over fifty years and I can promise you a stunning experience.
Paul Holmes Conference Blog Editor

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Sabar writes in our Programme:

This presentation starts with an explanation of Anamorphosis, a form of optics used to create an image of an object that appears in its correct proportions only by looking at it from an off-centre angle. Jacques Lacan refers to the painter Durer’s woodcuts to illustrate how vision works to create flat two-dimensional images. Hans Holbein’s famous painting of ‘The Ambassadors’ (1533) includes at the bottom centre the anamorphic perspective of a distorted skull which can be seen only by observing the painting from the left-hand side. The ambassadors on either side represent the scholars and the clergy, whether they are or are not divided. This inspired Lacan to develop the construct of the image in the Imaginary register, including a sense of self consciousness and self-image. SH Foulkes’ ‘roving eye’ certainly absorbed all angles of a group at work. John Keats is well known as one of England’s Romantic poets, and for his description of the application of Negative Capability as the art of enduring ambiguity, doubt and mystery ‘without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. This realisation of Keats has led psychoanalysts to improve their technique especially during Transference, Countertransference, helping their analysands and themselves.     

The gaze is distinct from the conscious act of looking. It is seen as marked with the deceptiveness of méconnaissance (not knowing). “The definition of the gaze contains both vision and representation that slips forever from our grasp – as object a” – Gaze as cause of desire. “The Gaze” (Murphy, Sara. 2001. The Compendium of Lacanian Terms. p.79)

Similar to Freud, Sara Murphy discusses the “split” between Perception and Consciousness – a concept that had been in the making as the Object Relation. It is brought about through Desire . It needs interpretation of the content, its own anxiety,as well as that pertaining to transference, and countertransference, regarding the grief of human reality. It is bound up with the notion of Lack derived from primordial separation and anxiety of castration. All these concepts are also explored by Lacan.

The Gaze integrates the domain of vision into the field of Desire. The split is always between the gaze and the look. The Voyeur is caught out in the act of looking and perhaps reduced to ‘shame.’ He sustains himself during fulfilling his desire along with dependence on the Subject.

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It is also only recognisable when looked at from a certain angle. This is an example of one being entrapped by the power of ‘anamorphosis’. The artist Durer also demonstrates how one cannot know what is around any corner, unless it is seen directly . ‘The essence of the relation between appearance and being is in the point of light’. (Lacan. J The Line and Light.(1978 p.94) Other aspects of Gaze are like the ‘Evil Eye ‘of envy by the Gaze can also be seen as an object in its own right. (Quinet, A. 1995.)