Staring: How We Look

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OUP USA, Apr 23, 2009 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 254 pages
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From a very young age we are told not to stare, and one hallmark of maturation is the ability to resist (or at least hide) our staring behavior. And yet, rarely do we master the impulse. Despite the complicated role it plays in our development, and its unique brand of visual enticement, staring has not been considered before as a suitable object for socio-cultural analysis. What is it about certain kinds of people that makes it impossible to take our eyes off them? Why are some visual stimuli irresistible? Why does staring produce so much anxiety? Drawing on examples from art, media, fashion, history and memoir, Garland-Thomson defines staring, explores the factors that motivate it, and considers the targets and the effects of the stare. A bodily inventory then enumerates how stares actually operate in daily life. A section on "Bodies" focuses on the question of size and scale as key indicators of normalcy, while certain body parts show themselves to be disproportionately arresting, as passages on "Faces" "Hands" and "Breasts" reveal. A concluding chapter on "Beholding" considers the frisson at play between starer and staree and offers an alternative way of understanding visual communication between people. Featuring over forty illustrations, Staring captures the stimulating combination of symbolic, material and emotional factors that make staring so irresistible while endeavoring to shift the usual response to staring, shame, into an engaged self-consideration. Elegant and provocative, this book advances new ways of thinking about visuality and the body that will appeal to readers who are interested in the overlap between the humanities and human behaviors.

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About the author (2009)

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is Professor in the Department of Women's Studies at Emory University. She was named one of 2009's "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World" by UTNE Reader, and is co-editor of Re-Presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum (2010, Routledge).

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