voyeur and exhibitionist

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daya dissanayake

“Every writer, without exception, is a masochist, a sadist, a peeping Tom, an exhibitionist, a narcissist, an injustice collector and a depressed person constantly haunted by fears of unproductivity.”- said Edmund Bergler, the psychoanalyst who has been called “one of the few original minds among the followers of Freud.”

A psychoanalyst could have his own opinion, but not many writers would agree with him, at least not completely. His description could also apply to almost everyone on earth, from a doctor to a farmer, an engineer to a sculptor, a businessman to a soldier. Among all the human weaknesses mentioned by Bergler, perhaps a writer could be called an exhibitionist and a voyeur.

“For every voyeur there’s an exhibitionist, and for every exhibitionist a voyeur”: That’s the lucky equation in Alberto Moravia’s novel, “The Voyeur.”

“Moravia suggests that novels are like keyholes. Novelists are voyeurs, he says, and so, often, are characters within their narratives. Of course, readers are voyeurs as well, peering over the novelist’s shoulder: Moravia is just too polite to say so.” says a Los Angeles based critic, Susan Slocum Hinerfeld.

“Miller’s true importance is not as a pioneer of free expression but as an exhibitionist of the soul, and lies in the triumph of one man over chaos that is achieved in an ironic collusion with chaos.” American novelist Steve Erickson had said about Henry Miller.

Rushdie has been called a writer who had become an exhibitionist with words, “a serial creator of self-delighting sentences” wrote Alok Rai in Outlook.

The Tameri Guide for Writers, states, “Writing is intellectual and emotional exhibitionism.” and advices “If you do not want others to know your thoughts, you should not be a writer.”

These are all the opinions of the critics, and many readers may not agree with Alok Rai or Hinerfield, in the same way a writer would not agree with Bergler. All writers do not follow the Tameri Guide.

It is unfortunate that the terms ‘exhibitionism’ and ‘voyeurism’ have been associated with sexual perversions and as a psychopathological condition. Exhibitionism in a broader sense could be explained as the revelation of one’s mind, and when it is sometimes exaggerated or inappropriate or when used to dominate social interactions, it is considered psychological or psychic exhibitionism. And it is also good business for psychiatrists.

Exhibitionism is found in nature, among all life forms, as we see in the peacock, and the lion too comes to our mind immediately, and so does the rose and the lotus. The male animals do it to attract a female partner and the flowers to attract the bees and the butterflies.

Thus writes James Hartley, a Landscape architect”…the shameless exhibitionism of the more flamboyant summer plants to the exclusion of all others. These summer showmen, which often are far more demanding than their more subtle counterparts, seduce you, but can leave you wanting at the end of the year.” .

It is only among mankind that the role has been reversed and the female has been compelled to attract the male. Probably that is why the human male has become perhaps the ugliest male creature in the animal kingdom, and why he covers his body and is always fully clothed, when the woman is trying to wear minimum clothing. And this could be the reason for man to exhibit himself in other arenas, in technology and arts.

Exhibitionism has been defined as extravagant and conspicuous behavior intended to attract attention to oneself. It is not only actors and singers who resort to this, because their survival sometimes depends on attracting attention to themselves. Even among businessmen, sometimes it would be necessary to flaunt one’s wealth to get an edge on a business deal, or convince a client of his financial standings. Like wearing a most expensive brand of a wristwatch, while never keeping to a time schedule, or keeping the latest fastest desktop computer on the desk, beside an iPad, but getting the secretary to read and respond to one’s e-mails.

A writer or a painter too sometimes needs to attract attention to himself, because in today’s world of commerce, often one has to sell oneself to sell one’s creative works. Musical stars and actors could be sometimes exposing themselves on stage or on camera, and they can always blame it on ‘wardrobe failure’ and get away with it. Most writers today are compelled to become an exhibitionist in order to sell himself to a publisher or a literary agent, and then to the reading public. An artist has to sell himself to an art gallery, the actor to a producer.

Vanity Publishing is the term used from about the mid 20th century, for self-published writing, paying their own money for it, assuming it is because of their vanity. Hence vanity publishing, for vainglory, too could be considered as exhibitionism.

Autobiography, is considered as a literary art form mostly in the West, perhaps because the exhibitionist tendency was more common in the Western culture.

There are books openly considered as narcissistic/exhibitionist autobiographies beginning with ‘Confessions’ by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘The Sexual Life of Catherine M’ by Catherine Millet, or ‘The Story of My Life’ by Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt, and ‘My Life and Loves’ by Frank Harris.

We have the works of D. H. Lawrence and Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, and later authors like Harold Robbins who exhibited their sexual fantasies to the public, making the reader to be the voyeur, and they could be called advertently exhibitionist.

If not for voyeurism, narcissism and exhibitionism, writers would not have anything to write about, or singers to sing about, or cinematographers to film about.

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