Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gaze Symbology

It is, in fact, the eye which allows for the greatest extension of man’s conscious awareness. With it, he could contemplate the various constellations, and more recently, the physical nature of the universe. Reaching back some 5, 000 years, the symbology of the eye can be found in the Egyptian myth of the Horus-Osiris cycle, where the “eye of Horus” was a ubiquitous talisman of great significance. This myth of death and “rebirth” helped sustain the rule of the Pharaohs for some 3, 000 years, and is believed to have inspired the construction of the great pyramids.

Therefore, we will not be surprised that this myth can be described as a metaphor for the ancient struggle to master death, transcend separation, and master the dangerous aspects of human nature.[i] It has been noted that the word for the eye of Horus – Wedjat – is considered feminine, and eye contact has also been linked to the theme of separation – individuation and object constancy.[ii] (See figure 3) Thus, eye contact can be understood as instrumental for bonding with others. This may help explain an additional meaning (besides castration) of the Oedipus self-enucleation myth – Oedipus’ desire to renounce his capacity for bonding. The psychiatric literature reflects that ocular self-injury is fortunately rare, and often associated with command auditory hallucinations, severe psychosis, religious and sexually-related delusions.[iii], [iv] In addition to the hypothesis about symbolic castration, the eye may also represent a condensation of the entire self.[v] In this sense, self-enucleation may be considered a form of suicide by proxy.

[i] Whitehead C: The Horus-Osiris Cycle: A Psychoanalytic Investigation. Int Rev Psycho-anal, 1986; 13: 77-87.
[ii] Mahler M: The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant. New York: Basic Books, 1975.
[iii] Brown R, Al-Bachari M, Kambhampati K: Self-inflicted eye injuries. Br J Opthal, 1991; 75: 496-498.
[iv] Field H, Waldfogel S: Severe Ocular Self-Injury. Gen Hosp Psychiatry, 1995; 17: 224-227.
[v] Menninger K: Man Against Himself. New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1938.

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