Msnowe's Blog

Literary Voyeurism: This ain’t yo mama’s telescope.

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on May 30, 2009

Stop looking, Jimmy!

Stop looking, Jimmy!




1: one obtaining sexual gratification from observing unsuspecting individuals who are partly undressed, naked, or engaged in sexual acts ; broadly : one who habitually seeks sexual stimulation by visual means;

2: a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous.

(Okay, so m.snowe knows it’s totally “undergraduate comp & con essay” of her to quote Merriam Webster at the beginning of her post, but just deal with it.)

The fact is that these definitions just aren’t cutting the literary (and real-life) mustard. And it’s a complex and favourable seed, to be sure.

Voyeurism is defined mostly by its a. sexual deviance, or b. covert stimulation. The voyeur is blamed for his or her actions, but nowhere is the detriment to (or self-flagellation of) the voyeur defined. And that is a telling omission–because in one way or another we all are voyeurs, and all similarly troubled by what we are able to observe in secret–not all of it sexual.

Literature–and especially fiction and poetry–has a long, noble tradition of voyeurism. (What is reading a book if not peaking into the imagination of the author and looking for juicy tidbits, unnoticed and whenever we please?).  Courtly poetry was all about voyeurism–the poet would fetishize his beloved’s ankles if he was lucky enough to steal a glimpse.  These poets crafted verses of rapturous delight, and it can only be assumed these raptures were the literary equivalent of visual stimulation (i.e. Sir Phillip Sidney was one filthy, filthy sonneteer). And how many novels can you name where either: a. a major character is a voyeur, or b. the reader is asked to be a voyeur? m.snowe would have a shorter list if she looked for books that did neither a. nor b.

So what does this all amount to? The voyeur is always a tortured soul. Seeking gratification by vision from afar is never an end in itself, and always leaves a slight and inevitable void. And therein lies the hook, boys and girls. What literature is able to do–the dirty deeds we get to glimpse upon in type, will always have us back for more. Some people might see this as a problem, but m.snowe isn’t ready to turn in her binoculars (i.e. reading glasses) just yet.

Afterthought: voyeurs are traditionally seen as male. Is that why “feminist”-leaning literature is so hard for some in the establishment to stomach? (Not their brand of porn?)

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One Response

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  1. fictionadvocate said, on May 30, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    OMG check out the size of his lens.

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