Desire enters at the eye. That's an old, old truth. We desire first what we can see. Dr. Lecter makes that point to Clarice, and I'm tempted to repeat the dialogue in his voice. First principles, Clarice... Beauty enters at the eye, and desire enters with it. We covet first that which we see.
This takes us to the presumed evil of the male gaze. I know the background of the term--- Laura Mulvey applying Lacan's idea of the Gaze to feminist film theory. I know too that Mulvey herself has written that she never quite intended the term to become an indictment. But there is a hostility abroad in the world of feminist theory to the idea of looking. To be looked at is to be objectified, to look is to assert power. Well, to look is to begin to desire; that's inescapable.
There are writers who take the idea further. I've read books where exploration and travel and science are all treated as suspect because the idea that the world is there to be understood is regarded as an assertion of power, control, and "entitlement". Who are you, they ask, to want to know the world and what's in it? I cannot begin to tell you how ridiculous I find such writers to be.
Desire enters at the eye. I know that it does, and I know that I look at the world and find things worth desiring. I will look at the lovely girl entering the room, and I hope that she recognises it, and that she feels something like tribute offered to her beauty. I may well never know her name, never speak to her, but I want her to know that her beauty is valued.
There's one set of objections to the male gaze that dislikes valorising beauty. To admire physical beauty, the argument runs, is to value only "appearance", and not essence. Well, desire is based on what we see. We don't desire what we can't see. My gaze lights on the young and lithe and elegant and long-legged. Those qualities are what I desire. Beauty is about striking a pose, about knowing how to strike a pose.
Every morning as I walk through city streets to office, I look out at the world and re-arrange it in my mind's eye. I use the bits and pieces for stories in my head. The world is all there in my gaze. And I'm glad that there are beautiful things. I'm glad that lovely girls move through my field of view. I desire beauty, and beautiful young companions. And even for those girls that I'll never speak to and never have, I'm simply glad that they're there. I do desire them, and that won't change. But even if my desires remain unrequited, they add beauty to my world.